If you leave a lover alone with her thoughts for twenty-four hours, here is what will happen:
She will start by pining, consumed by her own sighs, and lost in the memory of her beloved. He occupies her thoughts day and night. She is in love to the point of distraction. Nothing holds her attention. She won’t take food or water. She will starve before she ever sees her beloved again. Her thoughts take a turn.
Her beloved is dead. His horse and carriage have turned over. He was killed in a duel. The victim of a political assassination. He jumped off the side of a cliff. The thought destroys her. There is no life after him. She goes through a list of things she has to live for, and nothing comes to mind. She doesn’t have time to mourn him. Her imagination is running away. She is coming up with fifty ways to die. She can live no more. Her life is already over. She throws herself into the abyss of despair.
All feeling is gone. She is cold and calculating. All she needs is a plan. She thinks about flinging herself off a cliff, too. Maybe she’ll drown or drink cyanide. The possibilities are endless. She’s enraptured by her own imagination. How else could she do away with herself? A knife to the femoral arteries. Her father’s revolver he keeps in a drawer in the study. There’s some rope laying around. She could make a noose and tie herself to the willow tree outside.
The willow tree. This is where her beloved first touched her hand. She wasn’t wearing any gloves, and he touched her! A reason for living springs to mind. Maybe he’s not dead. She has no proof. She has been locked in this room for far too long. Despair metamorphoses back into hope. Her heart begins to thaw. She decides to eat the first morsel of food she’s had in days. Clarity returns. Love reigns in her heart once more.
Now she is flying. She takes no notice of the time. The sun rises and the sun sets. This is all she notices. She is optimistic. She finishes the duties she’s left neglected for the last fortnight. There is a tray of letters in the hall she hasn’t read yet. There is one from her beloved, and she really knows now that he is not dead. The letter is short. Her optimism fades to mortification.
He hates her. She has never been so absolutely certain of anything in her entire life. She couldn’t be sure he was dead. She’d rather him dead than hate her. She won’t give him the satisfaction of killing herself. He will have to hold on to his own hatred for her. She turns red. Her anger flares up. She has done nothing to deserve this. The burning inferno inside her turns cold. Her stomach drops.
What if she has done something to deserve his ill favor? She reads the letter over and over again. He has not said what she has done wrong. She makes a new list. The new list makes her want to die, too. It is everything she has done wrong ever in his presence.
She was too cold. She was too capricious. She was too bold. She was too honest. She had the audacity to approach him. Her manners were too affected. He hated her gowns. Her coiffure was too gaudy. Her curls too tight. She had no accomplishments. She was undomesticated. She showed her concern too soon. She preferred the tender charms of Petrarch to Baffo’s sonnets. Everything is wrong.
The willow tree. She should hang herself there. She has the memory all wrong. She has blown things wildly out of proportion. He didn’t touch her. He merely stumbled and grazed her arm. Her imagination has magnified the smallest detail. She has lost all sense. She can’t think straight.
The next morning she doesn’t get out of bed. The maid comes and wakes her up. There is a gentleman caller in the drawing room. It all comes back to her. It is the fifteenth of the month. Her beloved is downstairs waiting for her. She wants to fall to pieces when she sees him.