The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
4 February 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
I have been much with Miss Willoughby since I last wrote you, as we have been engaged in planning the ball the Willoughby’s will throw at the beginning of spring. You might say, “But Amelia, isn’t the beginning of spring many weeks away?” And so it is, of course—but my word, Armand, one mustn’t leave these things to chance.
There will be dancing, that is beyond dispute, for it is to be a ball. But will there be waltzing? I dare say there will not be, for I am assured that some of the older ladies in the district think that even the quadrille is too spritely to be quite proper.
And then, what food shall be served, and what drink? These things are of particular importance, especially the drink—for, at a ball, of course, fetching food and drink is one of the few ways an admirer may licitly show his appreciation for a young lady, at least between dances. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the drink be palatable, Armand, for if one cannot drink it one cannot ask one’s admirers to fetch more.
And then, one must give the guest list careful consideration. This is dreadfully important, and all the more when one is new to the district as I am. Not, of course, that our consideration shall change the list in the slightest degree, for the society here in Wickshire is fixed, and no one can be omitted without giving grievous insult. Mrs. Willoughby is, I am sure, a perfect hostess, and will only give grievous insult deliberately and with good reason.
Nevertheless, I say, it is necessary to consider the guest list. It is vital to know, for instance, that Sir Roger de Montfort has clammy hands, and wheezes in your face; and that young Thomas Porter, though handsome as Apollo, is unutterably dim; and that Edward Hargreaves talks only of scientific farming and the draining of fields; and that if one must dance with Wallace Hampton, one must be sure to do so before he drinks enough to forget himself.
Gossip, you say? Well, and so it is, I suppose. But just as Lord Doncaster required good intelligence of the countryside while campaigning in Provençe, so too I require it while campaigning in Wickshire. I am the general, and my dear Jane Willoughby is my scout.
But I may have given a mistaken impression, for the guest list will not be solely made up of the Wickshire gentry; there will also be a selection of officers from the garrison, Lieutenants Pertwee and Archer among them. And here, Jane’s knowledge of the county is of no help: we must seek further afield for our intelligence.
Delightfully, I am now in a position to acquire such; for the sleigh is repaired, and the horses are available, and the snow is thick, and so I am able to repair to Stourton whenever the weather permits, and most usually on market days.
I was there this past Thursday, Miss Derby at my side, and chanced to meet Lieutenant Archer coming out of the lending library—for we do have a lending library in Stourton. Father had Blightwell acquire a subscription for me when we arrived, but beyond making a quick survey of its stock I have not yet had to avail myself of it; for of older books there is no lack at the Elms, and of newer the latest are those which were all the crack in Yorke over the past season and which I have already read.
The lieutenant greeted me cordially though without undue warmth, and at my inquiry showed me the book he had acquired: a book of philosophy, in all truth, by a Graecan of whom I had never heard.
“Why, Lieutenant Archer, such an unusual choice! I had not thought that lieutenants were meant to be interested in anything more serious than whist, whiskey, and warfare.”
“No more we are,” he said with a rueful smile, falling in beside me as we continued down the high street toward the square. “But Anaxagoras here seemed so lonely and unloved. He has never been opened, do you see? How long must he have languished on the shelf, unread! Since the library was founded, I should think.”
“Your concern does you great credit, I am sure,” I said. “Still, you have not yet accounted for it.”
“Ah, well. My concern might prove to have been misplaced, you know, for I have never yet made his acquaintance. Perhaps loneliness is all that he merits! And now, I must return to the garrison,” he said as we reached the square, “for I have the duty this afternoon. A good day to you, Miss Montjoy!”
Anaxagoras! What news I shall have for my dear Jane when next I see here! Perhaps she is the general, and I the scout.
Your loving cousin,