Unable, and, indeed, unwilling, to believe that George was capable of laying so treacherous a trap as this for her, she went in person to Carlton House and asked him where she was to sit.
"You know, madam," said the Regent, "you have no place."
"None, Sir," she replied," but such as you choose to give me."
Then she withdrew, and, except on the evening after the fete, when, at a reception given by the Duchess of Devonshire, she passed the Prince as he was sitting chatting with Lady Hertford, she saw her husband no more. The splendid extravagances of the Regency Court were delights of which Mrs. Fitzherbert did not partake. She was living in quiet seclusion, for her heart was filled with bitterness and her mind with memories, but memories which, in spite of herself, she cherished dearly.
Memories of the Past
And George - his mind, too, was filled with memories, but he concealed them beneath a mask of gaiety; his self-esteem forbade him to reveal regrets. Accordingly, he was lavish in his attentions to Lady Hertford, installed her as the reigning lady in his Court, and inundated her with adulation, although she bored him as excessively as he bored her. In this way he hoped to pique Mrs. Fitzherbert, and to bring her as a suppliant to his feet.
Croker would have us believe that his love was dead, but this is a theory which subsequent events disprove. Forget the past he could not; imagination is creative, not a destructive force, even an imagination such as George's. It may have assured him that he was present at the battle of Waterloo, convinced him with such certainty that he dared even to appeal to the Duke of Wellington to confirm his statements - the Duke's answer is immortal, "I have heard your Majesty say so before," he said - but to make him forget Mrs. Fitzherbert was a task beyond its power.
In 1821, after the death of Queen Caroline, he endeavoured by means of another ruse to break her silence, and sent a message to her in which he announced his intention of marrying again. But Mrs. Fitzherbert was not perturbed. "Very well, Sir," she replied. And this contemptuous answer, perhaps, debarred him from his purpose.
In 1830, moreover, during the King's last illness she showed how real was her devotion, for her anxiety was distressing, her sorrow pitiable to behold, and there was nobody to whom she could confide the knowledge of her grief, during her later years, the past a subject upon which she was very reticent.
"Sir, - After many repeated struggles with myself, from apprehension of appear troublesome or intruding upon your Majesty, after so many years of continued silence, my anxiety respecting your Majesty has got the better of my scruples, and I trust your Majesty will believe me most sincere when I assure you how truly I have grieved to hear of your sufferings . . ."
Death also revealed the depth of George's love. As he was lying on his death-bed, he sent for the Duke of Wellington, and instructed him to see that nothing should be removed from his person after death, and that he should be buried in the very garments in which then he lay.
The Duke promised to fulfil his Royal master's last request, but later, when left alone in the chamber with the open coffin, he noticed a piece of ribbon, very thin through wear, encircling the dead monarch's neck. What was attached to that ribbon? His curiosity was aroused. Presently he unfastened the dead man's shirt, and then he saw that which enabled him, perhaps for the first time in his life, to understand the King whom he had lost. Attached to that ribbon was a locket, and in the locket a tiny miniature of Maria Fitzherbert.
Some weeks elapsed before the Duke acquainted Mrs. Fitzherbert with his secret, but when she heard of it her heart was filled with gladness. It was no small consolation to her who had loved to know also that she had been loved.
The Duke of Clarence, moreover, when he ascended the throne as William IV . did not forget his brother's widow. He was devoted to Mrs. Fitzherbert, and, through all her troubles in the past, had been her truest friend, and now he gave further testimony of his loyalty.
Mrs. Fitzherbert dined frequently with him at St. James's Palace, and was on terms of closest friendship both with himself and with the Queen. From purely official functions alone did she absent herself, and this she did merely because the question of precedence was a difficult one to solve. The King desired to create her a duchess; but this offer she declined, although she thanked him for the honour. She had been the wife of a king; this was honour enough. As Mrs. Fitzherbert, therefore, she remained, until on March 27,