“A circle?” I asked.
“No, no, no, that’s not it at all,” Astley shouted, rather startling me.
“Cir-cuss. Like the roman word,” he explained.
“Very fancy, that sounds lovely dear.”
I rather thought Astley was having one of his funny turns. He often had ideas and I’d learned it was best to smile sweetly and nod.
“Can’t you just see it – the stage, the lights, the drama!?” Astley wobbled up and down on the balls of his feet while swooshing his right arm through the air.
“Yes dear, it all sounds very dramatic,” I replied.
“Oh Georgette, I knew you’d understand,” he said.
At first I didn’t look towards him because I wanted him to take in my profile. I had taken extra care not to turn my head left or right when we walked around the garden. It was so he could focus on the outline of my cheeks and nose, which everyone says is exquisite. However, he became so fidgety that I had to look him full in the face to make him pause for a while. I was shocked that his usually neat brown moustache was turning up at the corners and his top hat was skew whiff. As I raised my hand to straighten his hat, he grabbed my arm.
“You mustn’t be so forward in public darling,” I said, shocked.
“We’re married now, I can kiss you right in the garden if I liked,” he replied.
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of marriage in that way. I suppose you’re right.”
I had always thought of marriage as my very own house and my very own garden, with my very own maid of all work to boss around. I never thought about the kissing.
“When we’re touring the country, I’ll kiss you every night,” Astley said rather too amorously.
“Touring? Whatever do you mean darling?”
“Well, the circus. We’ll take it all around the country. From Blackpool to Brighton, everyone will want to see it,”’ he gasped.
“But what are they seeing exactly and why does it mean that I have to leave home?”
To my amazement, Astley grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me round and round and round until the summer garden was a blur of green lawn and bluebells and cherry blossom.
“They’ll see it all my dear. Strong men who can lift anything. Women with beards trailing down to their petticoats. Tightrope walkers and acrobats who do stunts up in the air. And clowns! Oh, the clowns. Juggling and laughing and ooohhh, my darling Georgette, can’t you see it!?”
He dell into a coughing fit and I was feeling rather dizzy so I just had to sit down, right there on the grass.
“You want people to pay to see trumped up acts from a May Day fair!” I exclaimed, really rather cross after all that spinning. “Why on earth would anyone want to see a woman with a beard? The only one I know is Widow Hawkins and with her nose and general hygiene, no one would spend time with her by choice.”
“But darling, I thought you understood…” Astley stuttered.
“And clowns! Men in makeup, running about like fools. No Astley, this will never work. I want to raise respectable children in a respectable home!”
“But, we could be rich,” he cried.
It was awfully warm for April and the sun must have gone to his head. I stood up and shook the wrinkles out of my crinoline day dress. After six weeks of marriage, I wished I could shake the wrinkles out of my slightly demented husband. Astley really just needed to settle down in the family business and not focus on his dreams.
“Now, I do consider myself a rather modern woman. I recently read that new type of book, it’s rather novel, it’s all about gentlewomen and it’s written by a woman – Jane Austen – fancy that! But really, this circle idea of yours is too much,” I said.
“IT’S CALLED A CIR-CUS,” Astley screeched, red in the face.
“Well the name doesn’t even make sense,” I retorted.
“You stupid woman. It will take place in a ring, a stadium, what the roman’s -”
“Don’t you dare call me stupid,” I cried and stuck out my bottom lip. “I know you’re having a funny turn but you really mustn’t. Oh Astley dear, let’s go inside and have some tea and forget about all of this nonsense.”
Given the dire situation, I had to forget all propriety and put my arm around his waist to lead him back towards the parlour.
“I’m sorry darling,” said Astley. “I thought with your natural charm and beauty, you would be the star. You would be famous.”
“Me, I couldn’t – ”
“You’d add the style, the glamour,” he said. “We would get you some new dresses and –”
“Dresses? New ones, just for me?” I asked tentatively.
“Well yes, darling. We’d need you to look your best at all times,” Astley smiled weakly.
“Oh, well. I guess it makes sense. Everyone’s always said I’m the prettiest girl in town. So, a circus – that’s what you’re calling it? Well, I’ll need quite a lot of dresses and new jewels if I’m to refine it – and no bearded women – let’s think it all through over tea.”