Posted on 2010-01-14
"Billy! You're here at last!" exclaimed the elderly woman from her wheelchair.
Despite hating being called Billy, William answered cheerfully, "Yes Aunt Cathy, I'm here."
The tiny lady's voice boomed. "I am Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my dear boy and you will not forget your manners and remember to address me so! Now Billy, give us a kiss!"
William rolled his eyes and leaned over to kiss his aunt who was simply Cathy Bouroughs of Slough. Her delusions were getting worse as time wore on. William was the only family she had left. Cathy's imagination had been let loose the last year and most of the staff at Sunny Acres had grown used to living with a noblewoman amongst them. "Lady Catherine" and her demands weren't any real trouble so no one saw any harm in letting her persist in her belief.
"Well then, Lady Catherine, how are we feeling today?" He asked as he sat in the chair next to hers.
Cathy answered him excitedly, "I am well dear Billy and I know that you will be well too now that you have come for your wife at last!"
This is a new one… "Wife? Oh yes, my wife. Perhaps you'd be so helpful as to have your.." He needed a moment to think of what the right word might be. "…manservant fetch her for me?"
"Oh yes, that's exactly what I shall do!" Cathy pressed the call button that was attached to the rail on her hospital bed. She began to talk animatedly with her hands flying through the air. "I am so glad that you and Miss Eliza were able to work through all your difficulties my dear boy! I always knew you'd need a spirited wife and she is lovely!"
William took her right hand in his in order to help settle her down and gently patted it with his left, leaving her unable to flail about. "Thank you for all your encouragement Lady Catherine. I know how you love to be useful."
A nurse's aide whose ID badge read Fred poked his head into the small, private room. "Yes, Lady Catherine? How may I be of service to milady?" he asked with a small bow.
"Frederick, please be so kind as to ask Miss Eliza to come and see her Aunt. You may tell her that her husband has come to bring her home at last!"
Fred could not hide the look of confusion on his face and replied, "I'll get right on that milady." Looking at William and nodding towards the hall he asked, "Milady, if I may have a moment of your nephew's time?"
She fluttered, "Of course! I'm sure Billy can help you with anything you might need for the management of the estate. He is an excessively clever young man!"
In the hallway, Fred confessed to William that they had no idea who Cathy could possibly be talking about. Earlier in the week, she had begun to speak with increasing frequency about Miss Eliza and how happy she had made her dearest Billy. The staff was working to figure out who it was that Cathy could be referring to, but had no idea as yet who William's phantom bride was. William thanked Fred for the heads up and returned to his aunt feeling more troubled now than when he'd arrived. What if this is a sign of further decline? Her delusions seem to be getting worse.
As William returned, he clapped his hands and rubbed them together, trying to think of what to say without upsetting her. "Aunt Catherine, I'm afraid that Miss Eliza is…" What? A figment of your imagination? "..unable to attend you this evening. She is feeling unwell and will need to trespass on your…hospitality a little bit longer."
"That will not be a problem at all dearest Billy. You will come back for her soon. She is wonderful and I know she loves you so. Eliza is everything a young woman should be."
Not knowing what else to say, he offered, "Well, Lady Catherine, I am glad you approve of my wife."
She motioned for him to help her get back into bed. As he helped her settle in, she said, "And why would I not? I made the match myself! You would have been too shy and aloof to ever have approached her had it not been for me. You'd have just continued to stare at her and never say a word! We women like to be wooed you know! Even the ones who say they don't still like to hear they're loved and thought beautiful."
William was about to ask for more details about his alleged bride but Cathy spoke abruptly saying, "I think I shall rest now. I am tired. You will come and see me soon, dearest Billy."
He leaned in once more and kissed her cheek goodbye and promised he'd return soon.
The same scenario played out at least twice a week for the next month. Each visit Cathy was excited that Billy had come to take his Eliza home and with each visit it was becoming increasingly difficult to make excuses why his mystery bride never materialized. The staff had not changed and as William was Cathy's only visitor, they were at a loss to explain the origin of this delusion. It was decided that playing along would be the best option. Cathy's overall health seemed to be in decline and thinking her nephew was happily married gave her some small comfort so there was no real harm done.
At least over the last few weeks William had learned some details of his beloved make-believe wife. It seemed that Eliza was twenty-seven, a teacher, had blue-green eyes, and was crowned with long, curly auburn-brown hair. She also was athletic and loved to hike, cycle and swim. His wife was a great cook, loved to camp and was a master story-teller. William was astounded by the level of detail that his aunt had conjured up. The picture she had painted of this imaginary woman was so vivid, he could see her clearly in his mind's eye and was saddened that no such woman actually existed.
It was Aunt Cathy's seventy-sixth birthday and William had cleared it with her doctors to take her out for a celebratory lunch. After a wonderful afternoon dining at Cathy's favorite family restaurant, they were in the car returning to Sunny Acres when Cathy had a moment of clarity.
After recognizing she was in William's car and seeing the wrapped-up cake in her lap, she asked, "William? Today is my birthday, isn't it?"
He turned and saw she was looking at him with focused attention such as he had not seen for several years. He'd been told she occasionally had these moments, but he had yet to see her have one. Wiping a tear from his eye he answered, "Yes Aunt Cathy, it's your birthday today. You called me William!"
She smiled and touched his cheek. "Don't cry William. It's alright. And what else should I call you but by your name?"
He shyly answered, "You usually call me Billy."
Cathy chuckled. "You haven't been called Billy since you were five! I am sorry, my dearest William. I know I don't have much time but I need to tell you how very much I love you and that I am grateful for all the love and care you give me. Your parents would have been so very proud of you. If only we could find you a nice woman…"
William shook his head and stifled his laughter. "That's alright. I'm sure I will someday."
As they pulled into Sunny Acres' parking lot, she began to speak about taking a turn about the gardens and he knew the moment was gone. He was grateful that she knew how much he loved her and that one moment was worth all the rest of the hard ones.
While Cathy was waiting for William to get her chair out of his trunk, something caught her eye and she began pounding on the window to get William's attention. He was getting her chair set up and her personal belongings together and so did not notice her agitated state until she blew his car horn. The noisy blast startled him silly, causing him to bang his head on the edge of the trunk lid. The yelp of pain and nonsensical words which subbed in for profanities did not go unnoticed.
A beautiful, young woman possessing blue-green eyes and curly auburn hair came over to ask if there was any way she might assist. She smiled and explained she'd just returned her father from lunch and could not help but notice his trouble.
William was wondering exactly how hard it was that he had hit his head! It was her! It had to be. His head was still pounding though and he wasn't sure he could speak coherently, so rampant were the thoughts running around in his mind! William made a motion towards the front of the car and she took the chair from him while he shut the trunk. As he came around to the passenger's side, he saw his aunt hugging the woman and talking excitedly to her.
As William drew near, Cathy grabbed his hand and exclaimed, "Billy! She's here! Miss Eliza is here and is ready to go home!"
He looked sheepishly at "Miss Eliza" and shrugged his shoulders in apology for his aunt's presumptions. She shrugged her shoulders in answer and said, "Now Lady Catherine, I know that you believe rank excuses everything but you know that my husband hates to be called Billy and prefers William instead. Now, shall we return you to your room? The Earl has returned and sends his regards."
William exhaled a sigh of relief and mouthed "Thank you." to her.
Cathy looked to "Miss Eliza" and asked, "The Earl? Do you think he'll be at court?"
"Miss Eliza" began to push Cathy's chair and answered, "Oh yes, I know for a fact he's there even now! I'm sure he'll be thrilled to spend time with another peer."
William opened the door for them and followed them to the courtyard atrium. Seated in a wheelchair at the end of the room was a man of about sixty-five or so that appeared to be, indeed, holding court. Several ladies were seated in front of him as he was spinning tales about his escapades with Prince Albert and other members of the Royal Court. The woman wheeled Cathy over to where her father "The Earl" sat and William watched as his aunt was instantly captivated.
Once free of her charge, the woman stepped over to William and introduced herself. "Hello William, I'm Beth Bennet, or as Lady Catherine calls me, your wife."
He shook her hand, "I'm relieved to make your acquaintance."
Looking at him with her piercing eyes, she quirked an eyebrow and questioned, "Relieved?"
William was only too happy to explain, "Oh yes, most relieved! You see, I feared you didn't really exist. I am very pleased that you do."
And so, William and Beth spent the rest of the afternoon together.
He learned her father had been a history professor at Newbury College and had always been fascinated by times gone by. Since having been diagnosed with Alzheimer's several years ago, the man who had always been eccentric had only become more so. The greatest example of this was refusing to answer to any other address except "The Earl". Mr. Bennet had been transferred to Sunny Acres two months ago and had been holding court ever since.
She learned that Cathy had always been obsessed with what she felt were more romantic times. William explained that his Uncle Lew was the least romantic man in the whole UK and even before her Alzheimer's set in she'd 'escape' into another world. When her dementia began, it was just natural to retreat into the imaginary world she'd always loved.
Beth and William found they had much in common and after spending a fascinating afternoon getting to know one another, decided to extend the conversation over dinner.
William was surprised to find Cathy had been as descriptive to Beth regarding him as she had been about Beth to him. When he asked how she knew he hated being called Billy she giggled and teased him that no one would prefer being called Billy. Then she confessed that one afternoon in the atrium Cathy had a few lucid moments and had told her all about her most wonderful nephew William and that was when she realized he existed and must be the same "Billy" that she'd assumed was her husband.
He was truly grateful for the kindness she'd shown his aunt. "Thank you for playing along with Lady Catherine and pretending to be my wife."
She demurred and said teasingly, "It was no so difficult, dearest husband Billy."
William grinned and teased back, "I should hope not, dearest Eliza."
The wedding of William Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet the next summer was truly wonderful. If anyone was confused when the minister mentioned Eliza or Billy during the ceremony, no one said anything about it.
As they stood before their friends and family at their wedding reception, William stood and offered a toast, "Beth and I would not be here today were it not for my aunt. My Aunt Cathy knew with absolute certainty that we belonged together and for that we have Lady Catherine to thank."The End