The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
23 December 1014
My dearest cousin Armand,
I have had a triumph this week!
No, the carriage is not yet ready; or, rather, it is ready but the team is not. It seems that horses truly are scarce in Wickshire, or at least horses of the appropriate sort for drawing a carriage; for we might find any number of stout draft horses suitable for drawing haywains and beer wagons. Blightwell tells me that Father has purchased for me a set of matched bays, respectable though not flashy, and will be sending them down with Edward and a coachman “as soon as the weather permits.” Considering the time of year, the weather, and Edward, I am practicing patience.
No, the triumph is that this past Thursday was a fine midwinter day, cool but clear, and I happened to capture Blightwell on the verge of driving out to Stourton on estate business. Blightwell has nothing so grand as a carriage, but must make shift with a small cart; but the cart has quite enough room for two, and so, after much browbeating, I compelled him to take me along.
“I shan’t be able to escort you about, Miss Amelia,” he told me.
“Nor shall I expect you to. Will be you be carrying goods in the back of the cart?”
“Not today, Miss Amelia. It is market day, but everything will be delivered.”
I had known quite well that it was market day, and that Blightwell was too grand a personage to cart his own groceries. “Then Miss Derby can be seated quite comfortably on an overturned basket in the back of the cart. For, as I am sure you know, I do so wish to behave with all propriety.”
As it happens, my dear cousin, Miss Derby was standing nearby, basket in hand, for I had made my plans most carefully.
“But the cart isn’t suitable, Miss—”
“A fact I will be sure to mention to my Father when I inquire as to Edward’s delay in bringing my team to Wickshire.”
“Very well, miss.”
Blightwell is a good man, truly; he doesn’t wish to disoblige me, though I feel sure he would prefer it if I were in Yorke where I belong.
And so I was able to go to Stourton! A small thing, I know, but how grand it was!
Blightwell stopped the cart at The King’s Scones which name, so he informed me, dates back to when some Cumbrian king of diminished memory spent the night in Stourton some centuries past; and while he was arranging for his horse to be fed and groomed, Miss Derby and I ventured out into the market square.
Truly there was not much for sale, harvest being past. I bought a supply of thread and a paper of needles, for I find that walking out in the country is hard on my walking dresses, much harder than my promenade in the Park ever was; for the only harm my apparel ever took in the Park was the turned up noses of some of my less favored acquaintance. I also looked for a length of cloth with which to make up a new dress, but found nothing I cared for. How does your Amelie make do, Armand? Surely she does not wear homespun?
I confess I also purchased a jam tart for myself, and another for Miss Derby, something I would never have done in the open air in Yorke. But then, the air is so much more sparkling here in Wickshire. Truly, I would not have credited it.
But I did not come to the market for the needles, or the pins, or the spools of thread, or my new thimble, or even for the jam tarts, but to see and be seen. My acquaintance is not wide enough for me to be greeted by anyone but the stallholders I patronized; but alas, there will be time for my acquaintance to increase, and I wish to be known here, Armand. I willnot be that poor ruined lass who is being hidden away at The Elms, whatever the Grimsbys may think!
So I took a turn around the market square, and then proceeded down the high street, nodding at the ladies I passed and outwardly ignoring the officers of the 2nd Hussars in their blue coats—for none of them were Lieutenant Pertwee, the only one of their number I might deign to speak to.
And then, blessed day, I came face to face with Mrs. Willoughby, the squire’s wife, and her daughter, followed by a footman.
Miss Willoughby smiled at me, but deferred to her mother, who greeted me. “Why, Miss Montjoy, I am glad to see you abroad,” she said. “I have been remiss, for I meant to have you to tea last week. Wednesday, perhaps?”
“I have no carriage as yet, Mrs. Willoughby,” I said, taking care to smile ruefully.
“Tosh,” she said. “I shall send ours. Look for it on Wednesday afternoon!”
And that, my dear Armand, is the Squire’s wife in a nutshell. Stout, good-hearted (or so I believe), and a force of nature, arranging the surrounding countryside to suit herself.
But she was not done. “Now, Jane,” she said to her daughter, “I must attend the market; but if you wish you may make take a turn around the village with Miss Montjoy and her abigail. I shall be quite all right with Porter, here.”
“Yes, mother,” she said, dutifully, to her mother’s rapidly retreating back, and then to me, “It is chill today, Miss Montjoy, isn’t it. Would you care for some tea?”
“Indeed I would, Miss Willoughby,” I said warmly.
“There is a shop nearby,” she said, coming to my side and taking my arm.
Soon we were seated in a small teashop, nothing like what that phrase would mean in Yorke, but snug enough for all that, with Miss Derby sitting at a separate table some yards away. Have you ever been in a teashop in Yorke, Armand? I suspect you have not. They are one of the few places where ladies can sit down together in public for a tête-à-tête. We were shortly served with tea and scones, though not, I hope, the King’s scones.
“I am so glad to have found you, Miss Montjoy,” she said, “for I have been longing to speaking with you privately. Mother is all very well, but she does tend to fill a room, rather.”
“And I you,” I agreed, not presuming to comment on her female parent. “For the last weeks I have had no society but that of the Grimsbys.”
“None at all? Why, you must be quite cross!”
“Not at present, Miss Willoughby, not at present.”
She smiled over her tea. “Jane, please. You must call me Jane.”
“And I am Amelia,” I said, and she nodded, and there we were, in a united front against the Grimsbys of the world! Never let it be said, my dear cousin, that Mrs. Grimsby has never done me a kindness!
We chatted for some time, of this and that—of things I am sure I would never wish to bother you with, cousin—and she was shocked when she learned the very limited span of my acquaintance here.
“We shall have to have a ball,” she said. “It is the only thing. We’ve not had one at Stourness in ages, and surely the Grimsbys will never throw one.” She looked apologetically at me. “I am sure it will be a simple affair by your standards, nothing like Harrison House.”
“It will be quite good enough for me, I am sure,” I said stoutly. “And let me tell you a few things about Harrison House!”
I shan’t bore you with the rest of our conversation; but may I say I am quite looking forward to tea on Wednesday?
Your surprisingly cheerful cousin,