During his Washington years John Bidwell felt like he was navigating a minefield of social missteps and blunders. In his letters he often refers to his fear of giving offense. He had spent the last 25 years on the Western frontier, where ladies of Annie’s social standing were rarely met. Now he was head-over-heels in love with her, and very fearful of saying the words or making the gesture that would lose her good opinion of him forever.
Still, there was that diamond. And if he could get her to accept it, that would be proof of her regard. More than regard, surely. It would be proof of her love, even if she was not ready to admit it.
The trick was to get her to accept a gift that looked exactly like an engagement ring, before there was any engagement to be married. How did he manage it?
The clue comes in a letter from Annie to John in October 1867. At this point she had decided to accept his proposal of marriage, but had not actually told him so yet. She writes:
Sallie [her sister] concluded I ought not to wear the ring, that however we might regard it, you must, could not avoid, associating it at least, with an engagement ring. The assertion to the contrary was unavailing.
Sallie was more perceptive than Annie, it seems.
I told her you would never offer a ring, in part a gift to you [the diamond had been given to him], as an engagement ring, and gave her your words–written from New York. Papa and Mamma agreed with me, assuring me I never would have accepted, even on my terms, any other than this ring; that had you purchased one for me, or had not the diamond been a “rough one” shown me in its rough state, and an American diamond,–etc.–with other attending circumstances–which you know, that I would not have worn it.
So if he had simply gone to Tiffany’s and bought a ring, she would have turned it down. But the fact that it was an American diamond, which she had seen it before it was cut and polished, combined with the understanding that it could be returned at any time, and so on and so forth, gave her the excuses she needed to keep it and wear it. And once it was on her finger, even if he was far away in California, how could she forget him? Clever John Bidwell!
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