I dutifully agreed to watch the Lillie Langtry mini-series with Peg – yet another BBC production – and I was mostly just bored. It was a drawing room drama and I have never liked such things. Patsy only appeared very briefly, and while I found myself interested in Lillie Langtry’s life story, the rest of it meant nothing to me. I am not a patient movie-watcher in any event – I love books, not videos. Peg, on the other hand, spent the time exclaiming over the fine clothes and fancy furniture while I smothered yawns.
Nonetheless, since Peg was working full time and I was an at-home mom, I decided it wouldn’t hurt if I attempted some research. This was long before the internet, and I lived in a working class part of the state, so my only resource was a library in the city of Waterbury, often referred to as the armpit of Connecticut. Library budgets were hardly a priority there, but my own town being even poorer and smaller, I packed up a diaper bag, loaded my infant son in his car seat and headed to Waterbury, determined to see what I could find.
I tracked down a few books of interest and checked them out, but close perusals of the indexes disclosed no one called Rachel whatsoever. However, Patsy appeared in a number of places, and I read as much as I could about her.
This was interesting, since no one was flightier, or more flirtatious, than Peg. In fact, my first husband, a grumpy, authoritarian sort, forbade me from having anything to do with Peg at one point, convinced she was having affairs with half a dozen men and fearing she would somehow influence me. It was certainly quite a coincidence that Patsy was so similar in personality to Peg, especially since Peg knew so little about her – only what she had gleaned from the BBC show, where Patsy comes across as a fairly normal member of the aristocracy. Peg’s convictions regarding this past-life identity revolved solely around the BBC mini-series, in which Patsy was mostly a walk-on, the woman who famously lent the impoverished but ambitious Lillie Langtry her one little black dress in an era when other women aspiring to meet princes and dukes had trunks full of dresses they rarely wore twice in a season.
Peg knew nothing of Patsy’s propensity for riding a tea tray down the stairs, throwing herself assiduously at every man in the room, and her general reputation for wild behavior. The wholly unsubstantiated, yet oft-repeated, rumored affair with Prince Bertie would have occurred when she was merely 16, a scandal that is difficult to measure in modern terms, since unmarried young women were strictly off limits to the otherwise philandering aristocracy and royals. It is difficult to believe in its truth primarily because Bertie was known to have adhered strictly to the rule that one never seduced an unmarried girl, as to do so meant literally ruining her entire life. Nonetheless, her wildly flirtatious behavior toward the prince could easily have been the origin of this still-persistent rumor.
My friend Peg was, in her own way, equally wild, especially when it came to throwing herself at every man in the room. Everyone felt dreadfully sorry and embarrassed for her shy, quiet, tolerant husband, who did eventually divorce her after 20 years but only, it seems, because he wanted to have children and she did not. Patsy had less choice regarding motherhood, having had three children at a very young age, but she seems to have been an unsympathetic and inattentive mother, and it was easy to see why someone who might have been Patsy in a past life would quickly choose not to have offspring at all.
But what about Rachel?