The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
16 December 1014
My dearest cousin Armand,
Today I once again attained the peak of the social whirl here in Wickshire, at least I have so far experienced it: I attended tea at the Grimsbys.
No, perhaps that is too hard of me. The true peak is tea with Miss Willoughby at Stourness, but that is a rare treat: for I still have no carriage. I am assured—Blightwell assures me—that the restoration of the family equipage is proceeding apace, and that we will soon have a team and a coachman to drive it. For my part, I should be as happy with a chaise-and-two, though the weather has been chill, and I much fear that the snows will render the carriage useless before it is ready. Then, of course, I shall have to wait for the sleigh to be refurbished for my use.
Blightwell has acquired horses for Miss Derby and myself—a pair of dreary spiritless hacks that convey one from place to place at a halting amble. He pretends that no better mounts were available at short notice, and that they will do quite well, as I am no horsewoman.
The dreadful part, my dear Armand, is that he is quite correct. One has no need of a horse to promenade through the Park in Yorke, not unless one is a young single gentleman of good family on the hunt. One walks, or one rides in the chaise of an admirer. I do believe the last time I sat a horse was when I was last in Wickshire, and I fear that the horse in question was most likely a pony. And while I am bewailing my lack of skill, I suppose I should admit that I could not drive a chaise and two if one were available.
There is worse. I have discovered, to my shock and dismay, that it is not the done thing for a young lady to pay morning calls or come for tea upon her own horse! I may ride where I like, certainly, provided that I wear a proper riding habit and keep Miss Derby with me at all times; but I must not pay social calls in a riding habit. It would be like wearing a morning dress to the assembly at Harrison House, or so I am told. No more vouchers for ever and ever, amen!
I tell you truly, Armand, I had no notion that country life was so hedged about with rules. Why, it is as bad as Yorke!
And so I may ride for diversion; and I may have speech with any of my acquaintance I should happen meet. But if I wish to go visiting, I must either be driven or I must walk. And though I am accustomed to walking in Yorke—that is, I was accustomed to my three times around the Park each morning, in those merry days before I fell in with He Whose Name I Shall Not Remember—walking in Yorke is not like walking in the country. And with the weather as it is has been, it is beyond enough to keep the hem of one’s skirt clean enough to enter anyone’s house but one’s own.
The country is beautiful, but it is not well-groomed. I do wish my never-to-be-sufficiently-forgotten beau had revealed his inner wickedness in the late winter rather than the late fall, for we should all have been much happier. Except for him, of course, the poltroon!
Yes, cousin, I called him a poltroon. I do not know quite what the word means, but it cannot be sufficiently bad, I assure you.
And so today I took tea with Mrs. Grimsby and her two ill-favored daughters, for she was good enough—if good is the mot juste—to send her carriage for me. She is a sharp-nosed, sharp-tongued old harpy, and I do believe she regards me as a parvenu even though the Montjoys have held property here since time out of mind. More, she is a gossip, and she never fails to quiz me on the reasons for my rustication—for we have not revealed the reason for my sojourn here to anyone. The official story is that I have been sickly, and have come to the country for my health.
And so every week she summons me for tea, and inquires after my health, which word she utters with what would be a simper on a better favored countenance, and I assure her that I am feeling quite the thing while her daughters laugh at me behind their fans, and respond to all her searching queries with cheerful pleasantries. It would be all too infuriating had I not the experience of being snubbed by the best in Yorke. As it is I retain my composure, and ask after their relations and the county news, and tot up the number of defects in their dress and their manner, for I have been keeping a record. They would never do at Harrison House, Armand, never.
Today, however, there was an extra diversion: we took tea with a Lieutenant Pertwee of the 2nd Hussars, a fine looking young man with long side whiskers and no mental capacity to speak. I rejoiced to see him, for it meant that I was spared many of the Grimsby’s little attentions. Instead, she plied him for news of the garrison, and was greatly rewarded.
It seems that a Lieutenant Milton in one of the other companies has been—I believe he said “cashiered”, which is an odd sort of word, Armand, I do think—has been relieved of his office for gambling! Or, not for gambling, I suppose, but for gambling when he hadn’t a feather to fly with. I do believe there was more to the story than Lieutenant Milton was willing to share with us of the fairer sex, for he ended with, “Beg your pardon, ma’am,” and a fit of coughing I quite failed to believe.
There were many exclamations of horror from the Sisters Grimsby—Agatha and Matilda, if I have not previously named them—and sententious moralizing from their mother, followed by speculations as to his replacement: for the 2nd Hussars is a crack regiment and his place will surely be filled in short order. The Sisters Grimsby are hoping for a gentleman—by which they mean not a gentleman, merely, for of course an officer must be a gentleman, but rather a gentleman with expectations.
“But a gentleman with expectations would not be pursuing a military career,” I objected, for I must do my duty as a guest, you know, and say such things as will allow my hosts to feel the fullness of their superior judgement and character.
“He might, you know,” said Agatha. “He might be seeking glory in battle. Or, perhaps he will be fleeing an undesired marriage.”
“Or trying to forget some great sorrow,” said Matilda, adding, with a ghoulish leer, “And even a younger son might inherit under the proper circumstances.”
I refrained from arguing that a young man fleeing an undesired marriage would hardly have funds to purchase a lieutenantcy, or that while they were dreaming they should hold out for a captain at least. Not these points did not occur to me, but the Grimsby had a pointed look in her eye, and so I remonstrated no further.
Lieutenant Pertwee absented himself shortly after, and moments after that I was consigned to the care of John Coachman and returned, belittled but unbowed, to The Elms.
And so it was not an entirely objectionable outing, Armand; for at least now if I should happen to encounter the good lieutenant while out riding, I may greet him. It is but a little gain, but such are my social victories here in Wickshire.
Your affectionate cousin,