Monthly Archives: January 2021

Letters from Armorica: At the Ball (8 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

6 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

We have had the ball, and now everything has gone wrong. I do not at all know how to account for it—though I know the moment it all went wrong, at least within a quarter hour. I will endeavor to explain, and perhaps you will see something I have not, though surely too late to be of any good.

Mama and Papa arrived from Yorke this past Thursday, and at six of the clock on Friday Tom Coachman dropped the four us, Mama, Papa, Edward, and myself, at the front steps of Stourness. We were greeted by the Squire and his wife, all most warmly, and if I am not mistaken the Squire dropped Brother Edward a wink!

My dear Jane was waiting within, lovely in a green dress that set off her eyes, which she flashed to good effect. Edward for his part was on his best behavior, and in his best looks, and offered to find her some refreshment; and as she took his arm and led him off to find some, Mama and Mrs. Willoughby exchanged such a meaningful and cheery look that I quite began to wonder what other letters have been flying back and forth. I began to look forward with some justifiable complacence to a successful conclusion to the evening.

My enjoyment of the evening was hampered only the arrival of Edward Hargreaves, whose name I am sure you are tired of hearing. Mr. Hargreaves was outwardly everything a young country gentleman should be, I am sure: handsome, polite, well-dressed (albeit in a country mode), and attentive to his occupations, and I suppose I could quite like him if he were not so bent on sharing those occupations with me. Still, one must make the best of things, and as—well, as Lieutenant Archer is still away, it is better to have a handsome gentleman in attendance at a gathering of this nature than not to have. It gives one countenance, and allows one to condescend pleasantly to such as the Grimsby sisters, who are not so attended.

Yes, I know how that sounds, my dearest Armand. Here in the country, one must find one's entertainments where one can.

Oh, dear, I suppose that sounds no better. I shall change the subject, though I may say I am quite out of charity with the Grimsbys, and should be inclined to give them much more than my condescension given the least opportunity. But I run ahead of myself.

All was well until the dancing began, as it did shortly and mercifully; for having no understanding with Edward Hargreaves I was not obliged to stand up with him more than twice, and if that meant having the likes of Wallace Hampton and Thomas Porter on my dance card that was no more to be expected.

I was careful to dance with Mr. Hampton only the once, and that for the second dance, before he had had a chance to spread himself, as I believe the country phrase is; he was quite polite, and informed me that he had recently become engaged to a young lady, a Miss Claverham, from the far side of the county. I of course wished him joy.

All went well until the seventh dance, which was a Gallivant—a dance with which I was not familiar, as it is quite unknown in Yorke, but which dear Papa assures me was all the crack in Wickshire in his youth. As it is likely to be unfamiliar to you as well, I shall take some pains to describe it.

The Gallivant is something like the Sir Roger de Coverley: the sort of dance in which the dancers form in two long lines, facing each other, and move up rank by rank while the pair at the head join hands and go dancing down the middle. It is a fast and sprightly dance, accompanied by much laughing, for there are no set steps; instead, it is expected that the gentleman will preen and show off as he takes his partner down, improvising steps to match, which is the occasion for much of the laughter; but it differs further from the Sir Roger in that the couple do not simply return to the foot at the end of each complete figure. Rather, once every man has danced with his lady there is a complex and extremely confusing exchange in which everyone acquires a new partner. It depends on one's position in the line, and the order in which everyone lines up to start with, which is tolerably random. One might find oneself dancing with just anyone and nothing to do about it, which is the occasion for the rest of the laughter, and there is much broad winking and guffawing. It would never do in Yorke, and yet at a simple country ball it is not unfitting.

Edward was partnered with my dear Jane, for the beginning of the dance, at least, and I with Mr. Hargreaves. Yes, Armand, I will admit to accepting him for this dance all of a purpose.

All went well through the first figure, for Mr. Hargreaves could not be talking of farming at such a time, and though I had not danced the Gallivant before we contrived to make our run up the middle quite creditably—though I must say that Mr. Hargreaves is too serious by nature to do the dance justice. At the exchange I was pleased to find myself partnered with Lieutenant Pertwee, quite dashing in his regimentals; Jane was with Wallace Hampton, and our poor beaus were partnered with Agatha and Matilda Grimsby respectively, much to their chagrin. Agatha Grimsby's face resembled that of the cat who ate the canary; if her younger sister was not so sanguine she was at least pleased not to be dancing with Thomas Porter any longer.

The dance continued briskly until the end of the second figure, just prior to the exchange, when there came a loud shriek and a din and a crashing sound from outside. The fiddle player stopped in confusion, and we all ran to the windows to discover that one of the coachmen had thrown another into one of the trestles that held the servant's repast, knocking it all to pieces and scattering the food across the lawn.

Squire Willoughby put a stop to the altercation in language that the ladies present quite failed to hear, and remained to see things put right; and after the fiddle player had mended his upper string we continued with the next dance. It was shortly after that that I noticed that everything had gone wrong.

I was partnered with Brother Edward, which would have been too lowering if the ball had been larger, but at a small country ball one does what one must. He had no attention to spare for me, of course; but it was not until I caught a look of horror on my dear Jane's face that I realized that his attention was fixed on not on Jane, but on Agatha Grimsby, of all the people in the world!

At the end of the dance I looked about for Mr. Hargreaves, hoping he could find me a glass of punch, for he had the habit of appearing at my elbow between dances, but he was nowhere to be seen. The gallant Lieutenant Pertwee, seeing me at a loss, came to my rescue: "A glass of punch, Miss Montjoy? Back in a jiffy." And as he was returning with it, I saw Matilda Grimsby sipping from a similar glass and simpering in a sickening way at Edward Hargreaves.

I can't quite put a name to what came over me in that moment. To lose Edward Hargreaves as a suitor was a thing greatly to be wished; but to Matilda Grimsby? It was beyond enough! Worse, it was unaccountable! That the Grimsbys might have charms that have escaped me to date is, I suppose, possible, my dear Armand; that they were on display on this particular evening was not, for I had seen them dance, and truly, Armand, their skill was nothing remarkable.

I was not the only one dismayed. Dear Jane vanished after the dance, fighting tears; Mama and Mrs. Willoughby, sitting with the other older ladies by the wall, were sharing worried looks with each other; and when Squire Willoughby returned from chastising the coachmen and saw Brother Edward gazing into Agatha Grimsby's eyes he cast a look at him that I am sure I would not wish have cast upon me.

The ball broke up shortly after that, and we were bundled unceremoniously into our carriage; and I must admit that I sneered—inwardly, at least—at the Grimsby's coach as we passed it, for I noticed that their coachmen was sporting a black eye and that his uniform was much stained with food.

The ride home was silent, Mama and Papa looking stiff-faced and Brother Edward seemingly in another world.

And here it is Tuesday, and nothing has changed. Where once he went cast glances toward Stourness whilst striding about the farm on business for Blightwell, now Edward is taking tea with the Grimsbys and neglecting his work with Blightwell altogether! I tried speaking of it with Papa before he and Mama returned to Yorke yesterday, but he would say nothing more than, "Edward is old enough to know his own mind." I was quite shattered by the disappointment I heard in his voice.

Your distraught cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Spring (1 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

29 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Brother Edward has been taking my advice, in the face of all history, and I have high hopes that we may soon see an understanding betwixt him and my dear Jane Willoughby. We have been together for tea on several occasions; he has been quite clear about his devotion to her, and as he has adjusted his manner (and as the intriguing Lieutenant Archer has remained on leave, in some other part of the country), I do believe Miss Willoughby has begun to return it.

Indeed, I know she has, for she spoke to me briefly upon leaving just this afternoon.

"I believe I was quite mistaken in your brother," she said. "You had taught me to think him dull, but we had quite an enjoyable chat just now. And he seems to be taking to country life. We spoke of Father's plans for his flocks, and Edward said—oh, but you don't care about farming, do you, my dear?" And she tapped me on the shoulder with her parasol, and mounted her carriage.

But there remains a cloud in Edward's sky: the attentions he continues to receive from the Grimsby sisters, who are quite shameless and every bit as determined as Edward Hargreaves. They plague him in Stourton, if he should chance to go to town; they find if he goes riding; while he is out in the fields talking with the men, across the fields they come walking. They have done everything but show up at our door and demand to see him!

It has become quite a joke with the men, Blightwell tells me…though when I inquired as to what kind of a joke he turned quite red and refused to say.

Though I surprise myself by saying it, I must call myself comparatively happy in Mr. Hargreaves' attentions, for there is only one of him, and as he has duties of his own he cannot be constantly underfoot. But Agatha and Matilda Grimsby seem to have no other thought in their head but Edward; and as they pursue him as a pair, neither willing to let the other out of her sight, he must be always dealing not only with their unwanted presence but also with the slow bubbling current of sisterly bile that passes constantly between them under their too sweet smiles and protestations of affection.

I mean to say, even Brother Edward has noticed it.

I thought to help him, for with his new work and his new love he has become a much less vexing companion, and so I invited Miss Willoughby and the Misses Grimsby to tea yesterday, trusting that the latter would take note of the dashing of all of their hopes; and I have no doubt that they did. All of Edward's attention was for Jane, while I did my best to occupy the Grimsbys with every country matter I could put to my tongue: the lovely spring weather, the latest regimental gossip, the upcoming ball, the prospect for a warm summer.

The Grimsbys said little, casting many a pointed glance at my brother and at each other while I babbled at them; for if they are divided in their pursuit, they are at the very least united in their determination that Jane Willoughby shall not have him. But what can they do? I may say I had quite a warm feeling in my heart as I bundled their disgruntled selves into their carriage and sent them home.

Oh, yes, the ball, the long-awaited ball! It is to take place at Stourness this coming Friday, for the moon will be full. The invitations have been sent and the responses received, as I well know for I have been Jane's assistant in all of this, and it promises to be quite the affair of the season. Papa and Mama are coming up from Yorke to attend, and I have every hope that when next I write I will have news of an engagement.

Your cheerful cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Absences (24 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

22 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am at an impasse. I cannot proceed with my magical studies without a teacher—without someone who can explain what all of these tantalizing words mean and what they are for. The books I have are no help—no further help—and the only man in the vicinity I might ask is unavailable. Doubly, perhaps triply unavailable.

I speak, of course, of the good Lieutenant Archer, who might or might not even know the answers to my questions, but whom I have been completely unable to speak with at any length.

As we are not affianced, I cannot write him letters.

I can invite him to tea; but for my own countenance I must invite others, with whom I do not at all wish to discuss wizardry.

I can speak to him on the street in Stourton, should I happen to pass him; but not for long before Edward Hargreaves charges in and begins to bristle.

I suppose I must write Papa and see if he can find me a teacher, or at least a wizard with whom I may have an interview.

In the meantime, Edward Hargreaves is far too much underfoot. He insists on squiring me about Stourton whenever I visit there—as if he could ever be the squire—and on riding with me if he chances upon me whilst I am out for my daily ride. I do believe he lies in wait for me. And then, he comes to visit Brother Edward nearly daily to talk about farming, which is quite reasonable; but then Brother Edward brings him to the library to torment me.

Yes, dear Armand, that is unfair. Edward does not bring the man in precisely to torment me. But he does bring him in, and then I must use all my address to avoid being rude.

I begin to think I must begin to be as rude as I know how, if I wish to discourage the man. Though I am not at all sure it would work, for Mr. Hargreaves has quite settled his mind. I am not sure I could change it with a cannon: head gone, idea still present.

Have I shocked you, dear Armand? I am sorry, if so.

I have had a small respite this last week, for Mr. Hargreaves has gone into the city for some reason or other; but though I looked eagerly for Lieutenant Archer at the market, I did not see him. I did meet Lieutenant Pertwee, who told me that Archer had been given leave to go home over some kind of family matter "but would no doubt be back soon, right as rain."

I do have one spot of bright news. Mrs. Willoughby invited Brother Edward and I to tea this week, and Edward had the good sense to ask me what he should talk about.

"When it comes to your activities with Blightwell," I said, "only answer questions they ask you. Let the Willoughbys guide the conversation. Ask Jane about her health and how she is enjoying the spring weather."

He nodded seriously, and took it all in. I must say, Armand, country life has been good for Edward. Back in Yorke he was the most serious of his entire crowd, none of whom had any particular occupation, and was accustomed to think himself superior because of it. Here in Wickshire even the gentlemen his age have their proper tasks, tasks about which he knew nothing when he came—and he has begun to learn something about them. Perhaps one day, he might even listen to me if I tell me that I have not the least intention of marrying Edward Hargreaves.

Your pleased tho' frustrated cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Nodes and Nods (17 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

15 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I begin to think that the most import aspects of wizardry simply aren't written down. Perhaps they cannot be—perhaps they can only be taught through experience. But it is my belief that Cumbrian wizards simply do not want idle folk like myself engaging in wizardly experiments. Thus, they write down the tricky mathematical and theoretical bits, and leave the practical bits ensconced in their wizardly heads.

Somehow, it is clear, one produces a flow of power, which is then managed to some end. How one produces this flow is never stated. Where does the magical power come from? From the wizard? Or from some other source? If from the wizard, how does the wizard produce it? By force of will? By exertion of physical strength? By reading back issues of Martle's Peerage and concentrating on the really long entries?

Yes, dear Armand, of course that's absurd.

Then, once one has the power in hand, if that's the proper term, one directs it through a series of nodes. I have finally determined precisely what a node is. A node, I am given to understand, is something through which magic can flow. A sublime and satisfying thought! Something through which magic can flow! How could I have missed that?

And one's choice of node is of immense importance, so says Carmichael, for one must choose nodes suitable to one's end, considering their capacity, and luminance, and translucence, and sublimity, and esoteric weight, and a baker's dozen of other qualities, none of which are explained in detail except in terms of how they affect the calculations.

And then, one must arrange the nodes in pattern most conducive to one's end…which end is described in similarly helpful terms.

However, there is no list of commonly used nodes—or ends, either—in any of the books father has brought me.

But all is not gloom and despair. I have learned one useful thing about the symmetry of the nodes, which is that it has more to do with the relationships between the nodes rather than how they are positioned in space. One of the more introductory books spoke of beads and strings: what matters is which beads are connected to which other beads, and how long the strings are that connect them. The beads represent the nodes, and the strings represent the flows from node to node; and the length of the strings might be the distance in space—I think—but might also be in terms of other qualities. In some arrangements, all of the distances are measured in terms of the same quality; in other more powerful arrangements, the qualities may differ. And I think it depends very much on which kinds of node one chooses, though how you connect them remains a mystery.

So as you can see, dearest Armand, I have learned a great deal and gotten nowhere. But perhaps I am boring you, so I will dismount from my hobby horse and pass the news.

I invited Miss Willoughby to tea this past Monday, tête-à-tête, and naturally Edward joined us for a time. He said little, and stayed just long enough to consume a cup of tea and two rock cakes; but he greeted my dear Jane most politely and hung on her every word. It was most unlike him, and I do believe that he has taken to heart Papa's injunction that he must listen if he is to learn.

For I may say, Cousin Armand, that he is quite different from the agricultural enthusiast of whom I wrote several weeks ago. Blightwell tells me that Edward is really beginning to come to grips with the complexities of running a large and established estate—that there are no simple changes, for anything one does must necessarily affect half-a-dozen other things. And I do believe the work suits him.

Once he had left, Jane turned to me and asked plainly, "Did my mother put you up to this?" She had greeted me quite warmly on arrival, but now her tones were decidedly frosty.

"I presume you are speaking of my brother's presence?"

"I am."

"He does live here," I said. "One could hardly expect him not to pay his respects."

But she was not mollified, and selected a cake with a cold dignity.

"Very well, yes," I said, "your mother had a word with me. But if you think I put Edward up to anything, you are gravely mistaken. It is not as if he pays any attention to what I say." That took her aback, for she could not but admit the justice of what I said. I pressed on. "And more, Edward has been after me to invite you to tea for many weeks. I should have done so before now had the weather permitted."

The cake snapped in her fingers, leaving her all in crumbs. "He has?"

I nodded. "I know you haven't so much as glanced at him, but it is clear as day to everyone else that he's smitten."

"He is?"

"Certainly. And why shouldn't he be? Mind you, he has no idea how to go about it, poor dear. And he's off his stride at the moment, for he's being pursued by the younger Grimsbys."

She pursed her lips, clearly deciding what to think about that. "I did notice that you sat him with them at dinner. I assumed it was his preference, and I confess I thought poorly of him for it."

"No, no, I am afraid I was working off a grudge. Against him, not against them, you understand. But he's far too good for them, and he has steadied a great deal in the past weeks. Were you aware that Blightwell is teaching him how to manage our estate here?"

"Mother did say something, I believe, but she is always saying things, you know. One can't always be listening."

I agreed that one couldn't, and we passed onto other matters. But I have planted a seed; now it is up to them as to how they go on!

Your scheming cousin,


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Letters from Armorica: Chance Meetings (10 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

8 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Now I am for it, and no mistake. I wish to relate to you three social events that happened this week, from which you may draw your own conclusions—in addition to the ones I shall of course provide for you.

This past Wednesday, Edward and I were invited to tea at the Grimsbys. This was unusual: they do invite me to tea, though less frequently now that it is clear that I am not in an interesting situation, but they have never before included Edward in the invitation.

By now, you should have some idea of what tea with the Grimsbys is like—just on the edge of insulting, at least for me—but I could hardly imagine they would treat me so in my brother's presence, nor did they. Indeed, they treated me to tea and then ignored me. Instead, Agatha and Matilda devoted themselves to Edward while their mother smiled and said pretty things to him.

Edward said little on his return to The Elms, though distress painted his face, and fled into Blightwell's cubby and his new work as another man might head for the decanter. I found the event instructive, for I learned many things in a short time: how to use a sharp elbow, and how to step on a sister's hem so that she cannot arise, and things of this nature, and not least, to my great surprise, that I really am quite fond of Edward.

It was no new discovery that I do not want a Grimsby for a sister.

Thursday was Market Day in Stourton, and a fine spring day, so I had Tom Coachman drive me and my abigail into town. I won't bore you with a list of my purchases…but as I passed the library I happened to encounter Lieutenant Archer. Miss Derby dropped back a few steps, as a well-trained abigail should, so that the lieutenant might take my arm.

"I won't ask what brings you to Stourton, Miss Montjoy," he said, waving at the crowd, "for the reason is everywhere plain."

"Indeed," I said, as we continued down the square. "Though I am grateful to have met you here, lieutenant, for there is a question I should like to ask you."

"Is there?" He seemed puzzled, and not sure whether to be pleased or worried.

"Yes. I have been doing some reading about wizardry—", I began, and felt his arm jerk just a trifle, "—and I beg you to explain—"


The air of worry was stronger, now. I at once inferred that Miss Willoughby had been asking him questions he found difficult to answer…or, perhaps, he found the answers impossible to explain.

"What, pray tell, is it good for? From the books I have looked into it seems to be solely an intellectual and speculative endeavor, with no practical uses of any kind. It might as well be a branch of mathematics."

"Well, it—"

"I mean to say, your great-uncle was the Royal Wizard. Surely His Majesty got some use out of him? Surely he was more than an ornament, a court functionary of the sort intended to add color to the court and allow His Majesty to boast to the other monarchs?"

Whatever he had feared I would ask, this was not it, for he smiled at me; but before he could answer we were accosted by a stormy Edward Hargreaves.

"Miss Montjoy," he said, tipping his hat. Then, in darker tones, "Lieutenant."

By the standards of Market Day, Lieutenant Archer should have relinquished my arm and bid me good day, but the greeting was a challenge that the lieutenant could not readily ignore. He retained my arm and said, mildly but with a barely perceptible edge, "Is there something you wish to say to me, Mr. Hargreaves?" he replied

"No, sir, nothing at all," said Mr. Hargreaves, but as he said it in the same tones his meaning was perfectly clear: he wished for the lieutenant to vanish into the distance and never reappear.

Lieutenant Archer regarded him coolly for a moment, then released my arm and said, "Another time, Miss Montjoy," bowed slightly, and left us. Mr. Hargreaves watched him go with a surly satisfaction.

I made haste to speak, for it was all too plain what sort of gallantries were likely to ensue, and I had no patience for them. "Why so stormy, Mr. Hargreaves?" I began, feigning not to know, which took him aback; and then, before he could navigate his confusion I continued, "And is it you who has been filling my brother's head with mangelwurzels?"

My strong nudge to his hobby horse succeeded in diverting him. He took my arm, and as we proceeded, he said, "Mangelwurzels, Miss Montjoy? I may have done. Great things are being done with them down south, you know."

"Were you aware that Edward proposed to plant them here?" I did not mention Edward's plan about the apple orchard, for as I say I have a newfound fondness for him and did not wish to expose him to ridicule.

"But he mustn't do that!" he cried in true horror, which I admit raised him slightly in my esteem. He enumerated the reasons why around two sides of the square, where we were met by Mrs. Willoughby.

"Just the young lady I was wanting to see," she said with a smile. Hargreaves bid me good day with an air of disappointment; Mrs. Willoughby continued to smile as she watched him walk away. "He might do for you," she said. "Easy to manage, that type."

"I think I should prefer Lieutenant Pertwee, on the main," I said lightly. "Having no thoughts of his own, he would have no thought but for me, and I wouldn't have to come second to mangelwurzels and irrigation."

"Not Lieutenant Archer?"

"He's penniless, poor lad," I said. "Of good family, my father assures me, but he's a younger son."

"Ah. A pity, I may say. He is quite a fine figure of a man."

"So is Edward Hargreaves," I said drily.

"Yes, but it is about Lieutenant Archer I wish to speak."

I looked at her in some surprise. "How so?"

"Come now, my dear, you cannot have failed to note my dear Jane's interest. Indeed, I know you have not, for you put them together at dinner last week."

"Why, yes, I did. She had been angry with me, and I wished to make her happy."

"Over the good lieutenant?"

"As you say."

"But you have just said that you have no interest in that direction."

I stopped and looked at her. "I—" I began, and stopped in confusion.

She nodded, and squeezed my arm. "And what of him? What are his feelings?"

I shook my head. "I don't know, truly. He is warm, and polite, but I have never known him to be otherwise to anyone. Well, except to Mr. Hargreaves, just now."

"And to Jane?"

"The same. In my sight, at least."

"And in mine," she said. "Miss Montjoy, we should have tea." And so saying she steered me into the tea shop where we were soon seated with tea and buns. Miss Derby, that treasure, took herself to another table some distance away.

"Now, Miss Montjoy," said Mrs. Willoughby, "I shall open my thoughts to you."

I nodded, wondering what was coming.

"It has perhaps escaped you that my dear Jane is our only child."

"Oh! And so her husband must be the next squire."

"That is right. So let me be plain. The Willoughbys have been squires in this manor for centuries. It is essential that Jane's husband be a man of the district, and willing to carry on that tradition."

"And Lieutenant Archer is not only not of the district, but might be sent anywhere at all."

Mrs. Willoughby nodded grimly. "And even if he were the eldest, his family's station is far more lofty than that of the Squires of Stourness. He would not settle her, nor would he ever be happy here."

"I think you do him a disservice, Mrs. Willoughby; but it is true that I cannot see him in your husband's place. Squire Willoughby is all that a country squire should be, if I may be so bold. But a man of the district—you cannot wish her wed to Edward Hargreaves!"

"Certainly not."

"But then who? Not Thomas Porter, my dear Jane would go mad. Nor Wallace Hampton. And Sir Roger de Montfort is surely far too old!"

"There is one other."

I must have looked a complete blank, for she laughed.

"Your brother Edward is an estimable man," she said. "And it does appear that he intends to remain in Wickshire, does it not? He is in training with your man of business, is he not?"

I studied her face. Her ever-present good humor remained, but I could tell she was in earnest. I finished my bun as I pondered, and she waited patiently.

"I suppose I needn't tell you that there is some attachment on his side," I said. She nodded, as well she might. "And if he could be brought to study Jane's happiness as he is currently studying farming, why, I suppose he should succeed at making her happy. But what of Lieutenant Archer?"

"Ah!" she said, and there was a world of meaning in that simple utterance.

It is beginning to seem to me that there is quite as much complexity in social as in arcane geometry, my dear Armand; perhaps more so.

Your embattled cousin,


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