Once upon a time, I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Rebecca, The Dowager Countess of Matlock (née Rebecca Fairchild) for the first time since she told me her amazing love story, The Earl’s Conquest. I’d never interviewed someone before, so I requested questions from readers who submitted some very insightful inquiries for the impertinent grandmother of Fitzwilliam Darcy. I thought I’d share it again here. I hope you enjoy!
LLD: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me once more, Lady Matlock.
LM: It is my pleasure. I cannot pretend to understand why you wished to know so many particulars of my and Gerald’s story, but I do hope you were pleased with the tale.
LLD: I was, and I enjoyed writing it immensely. I have had a few favourable comments and reviews from readers as well.
LM: (Blushes) I understand they have questions for me.
LLD: They do. I hope you don’t mind.
LM: (Smirks) Well, I suppose that depends upon the question.
LLD: Then I’ll get right to it. Our first question is from Patty. She would like to
know “What is the one thing that drew you to the earl?”
LM: One thing? As in one attribute or personality trait?
LLD: Yes, perhaps something you noticed when the two of you first met?
LM: I do not know if I can single out one trait. When I first met him, he was everything handsome and kind—even if I found him infuriating at the time—after all, he was spying on me as I danced. As we came to know one another he certainly earned my respect and my love. That man could have the patience of Job when he was determined, and he was insistent he would win my hand.
LLD: He never wavered, did he?
LM: He did not! Bless him! He was one of the most steadfast and loyal individuals I have ever known.
LLD: The next question is from Debbie. “How did you adjust to your new situation when you married the earl? Did you find it difficult, even with the support of your husband?”
LM: It was challenging in that it took time for me to learn all of my duties. I had been accustomed to running Marysden, but that house was a great deal smaller than Matlock. I also had the home in London to run as well. I was fortunate that Gerald had good housekeepers in place who did not mind helping me along.
Gerald and Sophie both aided me socially. Sophie took me on calls during my first London season and sponsored me when I was presented to the queen—such a ridiculous bit of pomp if you ask me! The gown I was required to wear was a monstrosity. (She rolls her eyes.) I do hope ladies wardrobes have become more sensible in the future.
LLD: (I laugh.) It depends upon the lady.
LM: (She gives a dry chuckle.) I suppose there is always a Caroline Bingley.
LLD: Yes, there is. Before we get side-tracked, how did your husband help your transition to countess?
LM: Oh yes! He remained by my side when we were at the theatre or a ball, especially when we were first wed. If he was required to be with the gentlemen, I had Sophie nearby. She never left me to the wolves.
LLD: Speaking of sisters, Jennifer asks, “How about a favourite moment with your sister, now that she ate humble pie.”
LM: She is referring to Sarah? (Her brow furrows and she pauses for a few moments.) Sarah was such a different person after her first marriage. Initially, she was so timid and worried Gerald would not forgive her previous behaviour, though she was rather humorous when she finally accepted Gerald’s cousin.
My father was travelling when they became betrothed, and I remember Charles waited until after dinner that evening to request permission from Gerald. Sarah had said naught of his proposal, but became so out of sorts. She paced. She bit her fingernails. She made one or two attempts to sit, but her skirt would never touch the chair because she would bounce back to her feet.
She was so concerned Gerald would withhold his consent. As if he would! He was just as pleased for her as he was for Charles.
LLD: Our next question comes from Gail, who asks, “What are some of the everyday moments from your relationship that made your marriage stronger?”
LM: We made time for one another every day. Even when the children were old enough to take meals with us, we at least had tea or a luncheon where it was just the two of us. We spoke of concerns, of trivial matters, and we teased—we were always finding humour in one another.
I remember Gerald took me to see Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and I fell asleep.
LLD: You fell asleep? Really?
LM: Oh yes. I was with child at the time. I had just felt Henry quicken a few days prior to the performance. Gerald wished to remain at home that evening—he could tell how exhausted I was, but I was stubborn and insisted.
At some point during the second act, my head dropped to his shoulder. He never let me forget it either. He always said he would take me to the theatre if I could manage to stay awake, or he would ask if the play being performed was interesting enough to keep me awake. If I could not sleep, he would offer to take me to the theatre. (Chuckles.)
LLD: One more question about Gerald. (She nods.) This one is from Kathy. She asks, “How did you cope, how did you manage to go on, after you lost him? How did you go on living with the joy in life that you still have after he passed?”
LM: I admit I did not cope well when he first passed. The physician believed his heart just gave out as he slept. I never had any clue or reason to believe he was unwell, so it was a shock. (Her eyes well with tears, and she dabs the corners with a handkerchief.)
I did fall into despair, but I saw the repercussions of my melancholy in the behaviour of my son and grandchildren. They were so concerned I would follow Gerald—that I would wish to follow him. I admit that a part of me did indeed want to go with him, but that attitude would not have pleased Gerald. He loved my laughter, my wit, and my happiness. He would have despised seeing me in such a state.
I realised my family needed me as well, and I would have missed so much if I had surrendered to my grief. My granddaughter, Lizzy, says she is not meant for melancholy, and I believe I am of a similar nature. Goodness knows, Lizzy and I have much in common and certainly are kindred spirits! We both much prefer laughter to tears.
LLD: Now, Lynn asks, “Is there one of your grandchildren that you feel is the most like your husband? If so who and why?”
LM: (Appears puzzled.) What a difficult question since each of my grandchildren share traits with Gerald. I would have to say Colonel Fitzwilliam is the most similar in personality and looks. He has Gerald’s sandy brown hair and eye colour. My grandson is also loyal and steadfast. I have heard the colonel described about Town as “not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman.” (I can hardly be partial since he is my grandson.) So, whilst the colonel shares similarities with Gerald, he is not the same. Gerald was a very handsome man.
LLD: Lora asks, “Did you find it frustrating to help raise Catherine and see how difficult and unloving she turned out although she lived most of her childhood in a loving home. She never came to love her younger half-siblings as she should have.
LM: (She sighs.) Catherine was so recalcitrant, which was certainly frustrating. I attempted to spend time with her—just the two of us. I would take her shopping or to an art exhibit, but she never relented or showed much emotion. It broke Gerald’s heart, and that had to be the most disheartening aspect. Gerald offered to hire masters for her to learn piano, drawing—whatever accomplishments she desired to learn, but she refused them all. As she became a young lady, we had to insist she join us on family outings to the park or to ride as she preferred to remain in solitude.
Catherine and Anne had a friendship of sorts after Fitzwilliam was born, but of course, that was more for Catherine’s benefit than that of true caring on her part. She never did give up hope that Anne would help her betroth Fitzwilliam and her daughter, Anne DeBourgh.
LLD: Jennifer also asks, “Any other thoughts on that “mother – daughter” relationship?”
LM: That is broad. (Chuckles) I wish I could have enjoyed a mother-daughter relationship with Catherine as I did Anne. I do not want it to sound as though I expected them to be similar. They were as different as chalk and cheese, but I would have been pleased to giggle with her over a silly joke when she was young or a handsome boy when she was old enough.
After Catherine’s debut, I had a maid bring a tray with chocolate and biscuits to her bedchambers. I hoped she might like to speak with me, and I wanted to hear her impressions of her ball. I knew she might refuse, and she did. I was very happy to share the experience with Anne when the time came.
LLD: Your last question is from Carol. She asks, “What is your favourite book?”
LM: I cannot imagine picking one favourite, though I have taken a great deal of pleasure in an author whose first novel was published only a few years ago. The books are said to be written by “A Lady.” I imagine you might know her true identity in your time.
LLD: I do, but I know how she values her privacy too.
LM: (Gives a sly grin) I can keep a secret, but it is probably best that you do not tell me. I would not wish to break her confidence by mistake.
LLD: The readers and I thank you for your time, Lady Matlock.
LM: I have enjoyed the time we spent together, Mrs. Diamond, though I am still vexed you would tell me so little about the future. All I have seen is that device you always place on the side table.
LLD: I do apologise, but that was part of the agreement.
LM: Yes, but you need not remind me of that. I confess I hoped you would forget!
I was persuaded to remain for dinner before I returned to my own time and home. Lady Matlock still attempted to wheedle information from me about the authoress she favours, and I enjoyed changing the subject. She is an intelligent lady and much more used to ferreting out information than I am!