The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
25 March 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
I am by no means an idiot or a fool, as I hope you know; and yet somehow the behavior of my brother Edward passes all understanding. On the one hand we have Mr. Blightwell, my father’s man-of-business. I have mentioned him to you before: he has been seeing to the manor here at The Elms since before I was born. And by “manor” I do not mean only The Elms itself, the house in whose library I am sitting, or even its immediate grounds; I mean the farms which together comprise the remainder of my father’s land here in Wickshire. He is responsible, hardworking, and the cornerstone of my father’s prosperity.
And on the other hand, we have my brother Edward, who has been talking with Edward Hargreaves about scientific farming, has read a book or two on the subject, and is confident that he, having not the slightest acquaintance with the day-to-day realities of farming, knows better than a man who has exhibited his competence repeatedly this past age.
And yet he must be listened to, for he can justly claim to be Father’s representative. It is beyond enough for me, and worse for poor Blightwell, who came to me almost in tears this past Wednesday.
“It’s Master Edward,” he said. “He’s bound and determined that we should plow our fields under and put in something called mangelwurzels!”
“Mangelwurzels! They sound quite horrific,” I said.
“Beets, Miss Montjoy, a kind of beet. The coming thing, he says. They feed ’em to stock, he says. But they won’t grow here, miss, it gets too cold, nor we don’t have any stock to feed ’em too. And there’s worse!”
“What could be worse than mangelwurzels?”
“He wants to plant the apple orchards with ’em! Ten years I’ve been growing those orchards, and they’ve only just started bearing the last two!”
I stared at him. “You are saying that my brother wishes you to pull down bearing fruit trees root and branch, so that he can plant some kind of beet that doesn’t grow in these climes, in order to feed animal stock we do not have on our estates?”
“Yes, Miss Amelia! And he’s told me to do what I’m told, and not to bother your father with it.”
“He can’t do that!”
“He told me it was to be a surprise,” said Blightwell in miserable tones.
“I should think it would be!” I nodded firmly. “I shall certainly bother my father with it, you have my word. In the meantime, do nothing to the orchards; I shall answer for it if need be, and I shall endeavor to keep brother Edward occupied until my father can post down and put things to rights. Shall we shake on it?”
“Oh, no, Miss Amelia—your word is good with me. So is your brother’s, more’s the pity: what he says he’ll do, he’ll do.”
“Leave him to me, Blightwell; I’ll see to him.”
And so I have. I wrote to Father immediately, of course and expect him tomorrow; and have I led Edward a merry romp? I should say so!
First I invited Lieutenants Archer and Pertwee to tea—not them alone, of course, for that would look too particular, but also Mrs. and Miss Willoughby and La Grimsby and her daughters. I sent out the notes on Wednesday for tea on Thursday, and once they had quite gone I announced the affair to Edward.
“Oh, Edward, we are having some of our acquaintance over to tea tomorrow.”
He looked up from Barber’s South Cumbria: New Methods in Agriculture. “Oh! Have you invited Miss Willoughby?”
“Of course, for you have been teasing me to do so this age. And also the Grimsbys, for I must return their kindness to me, and a couple of officers from the garrison.”
His face darkened predictably. “Not that Lieutenant Archer!”
“But of course, dear Edward. Who else? Well, and Lieutenant Pertwee.”
He closed the book and inwardly I rejoiced. And then, when he had finished berating me for my loose ways and left me alone, swearing to compose such a letter to our father, I sent out invitations for a dinner party with a light heart. For he had already missed the post for the day, so that Father was sure to receive my letter first; and in my letter I had explained to Father in detail what I meant to do.
The tea party went off quite well, if by “well” you mean that it was calculated to keep Edward’s best foot backward. I was careful to see that Jane Willoughby was seated by Lieutenant Archer—for though I would prefer to speak with him myself, a largish afternoon tea is no place to discuss matters of arcane geometry, and I do wish to placate her; and having Jane by the lieutenant is calculated to frustrate Edward almost as much as it would if I had him by me. Then, I sat Edward between La Grimsby’s two daughters, Agatha and Matilda; for he is a fine figure of a man, and I felt sure that they would therefore keep him occupied. I sat between the good Mrs. Willoughby and Lieutenant Pertwee. The latter was all good cheer, and the former could not keep a sparkle from her eye as she gazed about the drawing room. The squire’s wife is a woman of understanding, and I am sure she was more alive to the social undercurrents than I was, who had engineered them to the best of my ability! More, I expect she has some inklings of Blightwell’s difficulties with Edward.
The dinner party will be in two day’s time, on Thursday; and I have been keeping Edward on tenterhooks all of the week, filling him with details as to the courses and refusing to speak about the seating arrangements—for of course Father will be there and must have the last word, though Edward is not to know that for now.
Be sure that I shall communicate the results to you, dear Armand!
Your impish cousin,
photo credit: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel Still Life with Apples and Pears (ca. 1891–1892) by Paul Cézanne. Original from The MET Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. via photopin (license)