Author Archives: Will Duquette

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Letters from Armorica: The Orthopractor: (19 August 37)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

11 July 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

This would have been a delightful week except for two unfortunate circumstances. Maximilian is still in Cambershire; and Edward Hargreaves is not.

I have received letters from both Maximilian and my father. Their meeting went well, so well that Mother asked Maximilian to stay to dinner. Mother was taken by his charm, so Father says, and as for Father he has no further objections to make given the change in Maximilian's circumstances. Now it is only necessary for me to discover for myself whether his charm is on the surface, only, or whether he is gold clear through.

Which I cannot do while he is in Cambershire, dear Armand, and it is making me ever so cross. I have had to apologize to Miss Derby several times a day.

My unwanted suitor Edward Hargreaves is not helping. I believe someone has spoken to him about his awful behavior while he was in the thrall of Matilda Grimsby, and so he has redoubled his efforts to win my hand. But that is not quite right. He considers, I believe, that he has already won my hand, and has redoubled his efforts to make it clear to everyone that he never lost it.

That is what I think he is doing, at least, for it is difficult to determine the motives of a man who comes to tea and speaks only of seed drills.

Whatever his intentions, he has certainly redoubled the amount of time he spends calling on me, and as nothing I say makes any impression it has been difficult to discourage him. I am not a hard-hearted person, Armand; I do not wish to cause him pain; and I worry how he will respond if Maximilian offers for my hand and I choose to accept. I do believe he will be surprised and hurt.

In the meantime, I have been relying on Brother Edward and Lieutenant Pertwee for my succor. Brother Edward said to me some days ago, "I fear you have quite enthralled Mr. Hargreaves, Amy. In the most natural way, but there it is. I see that it won't do." And so, Edward has been particularly careful to be about the house whenever Mr. Hargreaves might visit, so that he might happen into the room to tell him about some new agricultural wonder, and in all likelihood lead him away. Both Miss Derby and I have been grateful.

And then, Lieutenant Pertwee came to my rescue on Market Day. Now that the spell has been reversed he is quite his old self; and greeting me warmly he escorted me all about the square and to and from the Library, carrying my parcels and utterly refusing to attend to Mr. Hargreaves' hints, and in all ways acting the perfect gentleman.

Mr. Hargreaves was quite put out.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Hargreaves, truly," I said, "but the Lieutenant has been so helpful that I mustn't abandon him."

"Least I can do for Max, Miss Montjoy," said the Lieutenant later on, as he handed me into my carriage. "And pleased to."

The other highlight of my week was the visit from Orthopractor Simms. "Orthopractor" is quite a forbidding title, is it not? But Simms himself is a charming man, and not forbidding at all, or at least not to me. He is a slight, dapper man, perhaps my father's age, with but a fringe of brown hair to his head.

"I am delighted to meet you, Miss Montjoy," he said. "My name is Simms, and I am orthopractor for the Royal College of Wizards. I would like to speak to you about, ah, recent events."

"Of course, sir. But I have never met an orthopractor before—how ought I to address you?"

He smiled cheerfully. "Mr. Simms will do quite well, Miss Montjoy."

"Very well. And if I may be so bold, what does it mean to be an orthopractor? It is rather an unusual title."

"So it is, Miss Montjoy. It is my task to investigate accusations and occasions of incorrect practice among the wizards of Cumbria, and, ah, put them right. Forcibly, if need be."

"I presume you are not so much concerned with errors in technique, as with—"

"Let us say, errors in judgement, Miss Montjoy. Quite so."

"Well, then, I am delighted to meet you as well, Mr. Simms, and I hope I may be of help in your task."

"Very good, Miss Montjoy. If you please, tell me what you know about the Grimsby family."

"I first met them when I came to Wickshire to stay last December. My father was careful to introduce me about, and they are, or were, our nearest neighbors."

"And, ah, how did you find them?"

"Insufferable, if I may say so. I— Mr. Simms, I fear that to explain it to you, I must perhaps be indelicate." He nodded, and waited for me to go on. "I came to Wickshire after having broken off an engagement with—"

Simms held up one hand. "I am acquainted with the man, Miss Montjoy; he is, ah, a relation of mine. And may I say, from my long-acquaintance with him, that I rejoice in your escape, and can only wish that the duckpond had been deeper."

I blushed. "Well. But the Grimsbys made me welcome, inviting me to tea with great frequency and feigning the greatest joy in my presence. I soon realized that so far from acting out of kindness, they were persuaded that I had been ruined and were daily looking for the signs of it."

"And so what did you do, Miss Montjoy?"

"I maintained perfect composure, gave no sign of noticing their malice, and rejoiced in their discomfiture as the weeks went by and no such signs appeared."

Simms smiled broadly. "Well done, Miss Montjoy."

In the hour that followed he questioned me minutely about the Grimsby family and what I had seen during the disastrous ball at the Willoughbys.

"And have you any other observations to make, Miss Montjoy," he said at last.

"Yes. I cannot believe the Grimsby daughters did this on their own; and I cannot believe Mr. Grimsby to be responsible. Indeed—"

"Yes, Miss Montjoy?"

"Mr. Grimsby is well-liked in the district, Mr. Simms, always cheerful, always polite, but he hasn't much to say. And my father, well, my father knew Gertrude Grimsby when she was only Gertrude Smotherwick; he left Wickshire to avoid her. And, well—"

"You fear that Mrs. Grimsby acquired her husband by wizardly means."

"Yes, precisely. But I cannot think that Mrs. Grimsby is a wizard." Simms raised an eyebrow, and I continued slowly, "She is a cunning woman, but not a wise one. If her understanding were better, her malice would be less obvious, do you see? And if the skill were hers, I do not think she could forebear to use it."

"In short, if she were a wizard, I would have made her acquaintance long before now, Miss Montjoy. Yes, I quite agree." He rose to his feet. "I am quite looking forward to making her acquaintance now," he said, "and especially the acquaintance of her husband. You have been a great help, Miss Montjoy."

"Will you inform me of the results of your investigations?"

"If not I, then one of my brethren from the College, Miss Montjoy. And now I must bid you good day."

And so now I must wait, Armand.

Your increasingly impatient cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Joy Abounds (12 August 37)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

4 July 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

So as not to leave you in undue suspense, yes, the banns have begun to be read, and Brother Edward is to marry my dear Jane Willoughby in a month's time. He has resumed his work with Blightwell for the time being; and it is an understood thing that in due course he will succeed Squire Willoughby as the Squire of Stourness and the surrounding region. The wedding will be in Stourton, for Edward has said that he has had enough of life in Yorke.

"I wasted thirty years of my life in idle pursuits, Amelia," he said to me yesterday. "I shall visit Mother and Father, of course, but my life is here now."

Brother Edward and I have had several such warm conversations in the past week. He is grateful beyond all measure for my efforts on his behalf, and has quite changed his opinion of Mr. Archer.

"You cannot know the horror, Amelia," he said to me. "I was in a fog, and the only light was—", and here he paused and swallowed hard, screwing up his face as though he had been made to take some unusually vile medicine. "I beg your pardon. It was as if the only light were Agatha Grimsby. All of my faculties rebelled against it, against abandoning my dear Jane and my duties on the estate, but I could not help myself. Apart from Miss Grimsby I could not think, and with her I did not."

"How boring for her," I said. "Though I suppose she did not want you for your wits, but rather for your stout appearance on her arm."

Edward frowned at me. "Now, now, Amelia. We must not leap to rash judgements." Then he frowned even deeper, and continued. "Though I confess I cannot but think you correct in this."

Leaping to rash judgements is all we can do with regard to the Grimsbys at present, for they have left Wickshire and are believed to be residing in Yorke. I do not know how Mr. Grimsby was persuaded to undertake such an expense—for it is as unlikely that he was a party to his daughters' game as it is certain that his wife was the driving force. (And if that is rash judgement, Armand, so be it.) Two such poorly matched individuals I never saw.

Except, now I come to think on it, in Stourton on any Market Day this past month.

Oh, Armand! Is that how Gertrude Grimsby caught such a fine gentleman? I shall have to speak to my father, and see what he remembers from those days. But the poor man, the poor, poor man, tied for so many years to that harpy!

Dr. Tillotson has left us, to resume his duties in Edenford, but he assures us that he has communicated the entire affair to the Royal College of Wizardry. "Steps will be taken," he promised me. And further, he has promised that we shall be informed of the eventual outcome. "Indeed, I am sure that Orthopractor Simms will choose to speak with you," he said. "He is the one who corrects such offenses."

"And then, Miss Montjoy," he went on, "we must see to your continued education in wizardry. I do not know whether you have a scrap of magical talent about you, but your grasp of theory is excellent, so far as you have been able to go into it. Skilled practitioners of the wizardly arts are rare, Miss Montjoy, but skilled theoreticians are far more so. May I have your leave to correspond with your father?"

Of course I gave it to him, dear cousin. And be sure I shall keep you informed as matters progress.

But what of me, what of your darling cousin Amelia?

There are no banns in the offing for me as yet. Mr. Archer—his given name is Maximilian, I have discovered—was compelled to leave Wickshire this past Friday, for reasons related to his leaving the regiment. I hasten to assure you that his elder brother Octavian is perfectly well, and still heir to the family name and fortunes—I am surprised at you, Armand, wishing ill on such a fine gentleman—but it seems that Maximilian has inherited the estate of an elderly cousin on his mother's side, he being the only male heir. As such he is no longer penniless—what joy!—though to be sure the estate has been much neglected in recent years; and so he has much to do down in Cambershire as he takes up the reins.

I do believe he planned to make a stop in Yorke and have a word with my dear Papa as well—seeking leave to court me, Armand, not to offer for my hand. For truly, we hardly know each other. He has fine manners, and a fair countenance, and I am most grateful to him, but until this past week or so we have hardly been able to speak two words together without my brother or Mr. Hargreaves interfering. I rushed into an engagement once; I shall not do so again.

And yet, dear cousin, I think that soon enough you may have cause to wish me very happy.

As for Edward Hargreaves, well. The world has changed about him, but I am not at all sure that he has yet noticed. Crop rotation, forsooth!

Your hopeful cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: The Reverse Langston (5 August 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

27 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

When I last wrote we were on the way to resolving the wicked situation caused by the Grimsbys and their wizardly supporter. It pleases me to be able to tell you that the situation has indeed been reversed and that the Grimsbys have received a public set down they shall not soon forget. Indeed, it is everywhere expected that they shall have to leave Wickshire in shame.

Our first task was a non-magical one, though it did take some swift talking on the part of Mr. Archer, Dr. Tillotson, and myself: we had to enlist the support of Squire Willoughby. He, like my father, was convinced that my poor brother Edward was an inconstant, fickle, cad, a bounder who could in no wise be trusted with any matter of importance—the sort of sentiment, you know, which is driven in large measure by a dire sense of betrayal. Once he was satisfied with Dr. Tillotson's credentials, and his detailed (if less mathematical) explanation of what had gone on, however, Squire Willoughby was firmly on our side.

"It's a damn shame!" he said. But he turned a stern eye on Mr. Archer. "But I am surprised at you, Archer. I should think that detaching Mr. Montjoy from my daughter would be your very wish!"

Archer looked rather embarrassed. "Your daughter is a fine woman, Squire Willoughby—you know her accomplishments better than I. But I am not the man for her. And even were I the sort of fellow to take advantage of such a contretemps as this—which I am not, sir!—I should still wish to free my friend Pertwee. No one should have to labor under such a wizardly tie as that."

"Well said, young Archer," said the Squire. "I shall help in any way that I can."

I can admit to you, Armand, that I was of two minds about this speech. On the one hand, I had no desire for Lieutenant Pertwee’s unwonted and unwanted devotion to me to continue; but on the other is having your heart bound to one such as I really such a horrible thing?

I fear I am not always so good as I ought to be, dear cousin.

With the Squire on our side we were able to explain the situation to my dear Jane, who I may say looked most dangerous after she had taken it in. "Why, those harpies! I shall never take tea with them again, never," she said, fiercely. "I shall cut them dead in the street and explain why to anyone who asks me the reason. May their hair fall out and their complexions be ever blotchy!"

The next step was to gain the cooperation of Mr. Hampton, for, as Dr. Tillotson said, "We must include everyone who was part of the original spell. In principle I could simply remove the enchantments from the four young men involved, but the four young women are linked into the spell as well, and the energies involved could redound upon them. It might be harmless, or it might be disastrous; without knowing more about the original spell I cannot say. But with everyone's aid we can an arrange a full reverse Langston and resolve this cleanly." But Mr. Hampton's aid was not so easily acquired, as, torn between his love for his intended and his false ardor for Jane Willoughby, he was still doing his best to drink himself to death.

"He must be present," said Dr. Tillotson at last; "but he need not be in compos mentis. Squire Willoughby, may I rely on you to retrieve him from the King's Scones at the appointed time?"

"You may."

The appointed time and place, as you have perhaps guessed, dear cousin, was Market Day in Stourton, this past Thursday. It was a necessity that we break the pair of spells at more or less the same time, both magically—in case the two were linked in some unnecessary and incompetent manner—and practically, so that we should take both Grimsbys by surprise. And on Market Day, we knew, Agatha and Matilda would be promenading in Stourton with the spoils of their campaign, to wit, the Edwards Montjoy and Hargreaves.

We gathered behind the King's Scones—Dr. Tillotson, Squire Willoughby, Jane Willoughby, Lieutenant Pertwee, Mr. Hampton, Blightwell, and myself. We were fortunate that it was still early and Mr. Hampton was not yet far gone in drink; and when Squire Willoughby placed the facts of the matter before him he was out of the Scones in a flash, his nose red, his legs unsteady, but his will firmly resolved. There we waited until Mr. Archer informed us that our quarries were present and at opposite ends of the high street.

"It is time," said Dr. Tillotson. He handed Jane Willoughby and I each an object resembling a glass bead, smaller than a thimble. "Hold these in your right hands," he told us. "Pertwee, you will give Miss Montjoy your arm; Hampton, you must give Miss Willoughby yours." They did so.

"Now, one of two things will happen when you approach the Grimsbys," he went on. "Either they will revel in bringing you low, or they will be alarmed to see you. The former case presents no difficulty. In the latter," and here he turned to the Squire and Blightwell, "I expect you two to ensure that they are not able to run off. You need not be ungentlemanly, but try to be very much in the way." He paused to reflect. "In fact, it might be best if you approach them first, and hold their attention as Miss Willoughby and Miss Montjoy draw near."

"Gladly!" said the Squire, and Blightwell nodded.

He turned back to Jane and I.

"Now," he said, "Miss Willoughby. When you approach Mr. Montjoy, release your escort's arm and offer him your hand. He is a gentleman; however he is in ensorcelled, he will take it. At the same time, crush the bead in your other hand. I know it looks like glass, but I promise it will not hurt you. Miss Montjoy, you do the same when you approach Mr. Hargreaves. The old spell will be negated, and all four gentleman will be freed from their bondage."

He pursed his lips.

"I suppose I should tell you that it might cause quite a scene. I've no doubt that Montjoy and Hargreaves have accumulated a degree of rage over the past several weeks. It may be mortifying for at least some of those present."

"What choice do we have?" I said.

"None at all," said Dr. Tillotson.

"Quite right," said Squire Montjoy.

"Off you go, then," said Dr. Tillotson; and off we went.

Blightwell strode out onto the high street, and guided by Mr. Archer turned left down the pavement; Lieutenant Pertwee and I followed him more sedately.

"Must apologize," said the lieutenant to me as we walked along. "Cutting you dead on the street like that. Not the gentlemanly thing."

"I have quite forgotten it, my dear lieutenant. I consider that you have behaved exactly as you ought, and you have my deepest thanks for involving Mr. Archer."

I was about to inquire as to why Archer had left the regiment when I perceived Blightwell just ahead, asking Mr. Hargreaves his opinion on some matter of farming. I was, I confess it, amused to see that Edward's state of thralldom by no means overcame his enthusiasm for riding his personal hobbyhorse, for he was in full spate as we approached.

And then, I simply did as I was instructed. I went up to Edward, standing there arm-in-arm with Matilda Grimsby, and offered him my hand. Lieutenant Pertwee released my arm, not without a moment of hesitation, and as Edward took my hand I crushed the glass bead.

I felt a small thrill run down both arms.

Lieutenant Pertwee emitted a sharp gasp.

And Edward Hargreaves continued lecturing Blightwell about crop rotation.

Oh, that wasn't all he did. He glanced down at the arm that Matilda Grimsby held clasped in her own, and looked extremely puzzled; then he looked at her and frowned blankly. Then he said to me, quite in the middle of a sentence, "I beg your pardon, Miss Montjoy," released my hand, and used his own, thus freed, to disengage the Grimsby from his other arm.

Then he offered his arm to me, and the three of us, Hargreaves, Blightwell, and I, proceeded down the high street leaving Matilda Grimsby behind us in a highly flummoxed state. Not less than a dozen people saw her, abandoned, speechless, mouth opening and shutting like one of the exotic fish in the pond at the Golden Exhibition.

At just that moment we heard shouts from well down the way. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Hargreaves, but I believe I hear my brother calling." He nodded, and as I retreated toward the scene continued to tell Blightwell about the crop yields he had achieved over the last several years in fields that had been left fallow the season before.

I felt quite blissfully unescorted as I hurried down the pavement towards the source of the noise, where I found that a crowd had gathered. Mr. Archer was watching from a short distance away, and so I joined him.

It was a sight to see: on one side my brother Edward, clearly in a towering fury. His countenance was as dark as I have ever seen it, his mouth a thin line, his fists clenched; he had Jane Willoughby on his arm and the Squire right by him; and on the other side stood Agatha Grimsby, entirely alone. There was no sign of Wallace Hampton, and I presumed, quite rightly as I later found out, that he was on his way to put himself together before going to see his intended in Claverham.

The Grimsby, for her part, was railing at Edward and Jane like a fishwife, her face red and blotchy, her tone cutting and vicious. I saw any number of women wincing in horror at her words, which, dear Armand, I will not repeat. The men in the crowd seemed equally appalled, at least for the most part, though I believe some were impressed by her command of invective.

At last the Squire shouted, "ENOUGH!"

The Grimsby sputtered to a halt, and the Squire continued, "It's on your own head, Agatha Grimsby! Now, away with you, and leave these good folk in peace!"

She turned white, and then red, and then white, and then hurried off, huddled into herself, and, so far as I could tell, weeping tears of rage.

Edward watched her go, and then, still scowling, turned to the Squire and spoke quietly to him. The Squire replied, and after one or two more exchanges my dear Jane squeezed Edward's arm tightly and began to cry tears of joy.

"So," said Mr. Archer to me, "Miss Willoughby has your brother Edward back; and you have your Mr. Hargreaves."

"My Mr. Hargreaves?" I exclaimed. "He is a worthy man, to be sure, and will make some poor women a fine husband someday. But I do assure you, Mr. Archer, that I claim not the least portion of him."

He looked at me in surprise. "Is that so," he said, thoughtfully. "Perhaps, Miss Montjoy, you would care to walk with me and tell me of your studies?"

"Perhaps I should," I said, and so I did.

And that is all I have to write for today, dearest cousin, though the affair is certainly not over—for we still do not know who aided and abetted the Grimsbys in their foul machinations.

But for now, I remain,

Your much-relieved and ever-so-happy cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Langston Transforms (29 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

20 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

No doubt you have been worried and disturbed by the news I've been sending you. You might even have enough affection for Brother Edward that you are distressed by his plight! I am sure I never observed such whilst you were here in Cumbria, but then I have been surprised to learn that I harbor considerable such affection myself.

Poor Edward's condition has been growing worse day by day. He seems to be in a fog, has nothing to say, does not respond to questions. He goes through the motions of his day, dressing, eating, driving to the Grimsbys, and so on; and perhaps he is more animated when he is with them, I do not know.

If you have been so troubled, you may set your heart at rest—or, if not at rest, you may rein in your heart's gallop to a gentle walk. We have determined what those hags have done, and we have plans in train to put an end to their wickedness.

You will recall from my last that the former Lieutenant Archer—and I have still not gotten a satisfactory answer from him about that—rode off at speed to find someone who might help. He returned yesterday morning with an older gentleman, a cheerful looking fellow in tweeds.

"Miss Montjoy, may I present to you Dr. Tillotson of Edenford University. He was my tutor during my brief time there, and I believe he can help us."

"Miss Montjoy," he said, taking my hand. "I am delighted to meet you. It is rare to find a woman who is inclined to the wizardly arts."

"Inclined but in no way proficient, Dr. Tillotson."

"We shall see! Now, as to your problem, I believe I know what has been done here. A most incompetent display, I may say, Miss Montjoy, quite leaving aside the wickedness. For I must tell you that it is quite out of court to include ordinary men and women in any magic geometry. Other wizards, sometimes, when collaborating on a major working, you know, but ordinary men and women, never."

"Is it against the law? Ought we to summon the Runners?" asked Blightwell, whom I had asked to join us.

"Against God's law, most certainly, Mr. Blightwell. But as for the King's law, the Royal College of Wizards has an…arrangement. We shall find out who assisted your neighbors in these endeavors, most assuredly, and put a stop to their antics."

I could not help but shiver at the chill in his tone—a shiver, but I must confess, a great deal of satisfaction as well.

"Now, Miss Montjoy, attend." And so saying, Dr. Tillotson took a notebook from his pocket and drew a diagram, which he handed over to me:

"This is the state of affairs during the first figure of your gallivant, yes? Wallace Hampton is partnered with Miss Grimsby, Edward Montjoy with Miss Willoughby, Lieutenant Pertwee with Miss Matilda Grimsby, and Edward Hargreaves with yourself."

"Yes, exactly so."

"At some moment, most likely just prior to the end of the figure and the changing of partners, the Misses Grimsby invoked the spell. That needn't mean that they are wizards, Miss Montjoy, only that they were given some means of triggering it."

"I never thought they were, Dr. Tillotson, for I have met them. Malicious, yes; incompetent, perhaps; cunning, certainly; intelligent, no."

"Quite. Now, what resulted from their efforts is what we might call a double unterminated partial Langston Transform." And then he looked at me expectantly. I tell you, my dear Armand, I have seldom felt so put upon the spot! Not even when—but doubtless you are tired of hearing about the duck pond.

But a Montjoy rises to the occasion.

"I see. Double, because repeated twice, one for each of the Grimsbys"

He nodded encouragingly.

I continued, "Partial, because power was only applied to some of the nodes. I am guessing that that would be the Grimsbys again."

"It is of all things likely, Miss Montjoy."

"Unterminated—" I began, and felt a chill strike me to my heart. "But that means that the magical power might run anywhere! One must always keep one's geometry properly terminated, Arcane Geometry is quite clear about that, though I had no idea what that might mean until just now. Are you then saying that the effect on Lieutenant Pertwee and Mr. Hampton was unplanned."

He smiled and nodded.

"And then, a Langston Transform—I do not quite recall, Dr. Tillotson, but I believe it involves moving some quality from one node to another."

"Well done, very well done, Miss Montjoy," he said, and then to Mr. Archer, "You were quite right to bring me, Archer. Quite right." Quickly, he drew another diagram and handed it to me. "And this is what eventuated."

"These numbers," I said, "4, 3, 2, 1—is that the amplitude of the magical power? So the power transferred from Agatha Grimsby to my brother Edward, and then to Jane as his previous partner, and thence to poor Mr. Hampton. And it decayed at each step…because the geometry was unterminated?"

"Indeed, Miss Montjoy. In a properly balanced geometry, the power flows to an equilibrium. Here it merely poured out until it was too diminished to have any further effect."

"And that would explain why Lieutenant Pertwee and Mr. Hampton were not as strongly affected."

"We are fortunate, Miss Montjoy, that our errant wizard did not apply more power to begin with, and that the pattern was to some extent self-terminating."

"Self-terminating—oh, I see. You mean that each foursome exchanged partners, rather than changing with yet more couples down the line." I shuddered. "But that would mean—"

"Yes, Miss Montjoy," said Lieutenant Archer. "In theory, all of the dancers might have been effected. The result could have been immeasurably worse, and much harder to fix."

"We are also fortunate the fellow did not terminate the geometry," said the professor. "If he had done the thing properly, I fear your brother's affections would be permanently affixed."

"How might it have been done properly?" I asked.

"You must tell me, Miss Montjoy."

I thought madly. "Suppose instead of a partial Langston, it had been a full Langston. I mean, suppose the wizard had applied the same magic force to my brother and to Mr. Hargreaves. That would balance the forces, leaving the new couples in equilibrium. And then it would take little power to to terminate it on each side. But that would also leave the Grimsby magically smitten as well, would it not?"

"Bravo, Miss Montjoy. Nearly correct all down the line. Without termination the arrangement would be what we call an unstable equilibrium; whether any power would pour out onto the other couple in each foursome would depend on the delicacy of the wizard's technique. I think we may take it that his technique is lacking in this regard. And the termination would be trickier than you might think, due to the inherent symmetries in the exchange of partners. But on the whole, quite so. There are also other methods, of course."

I blushed, Armand; I admit it.

"Well and good," said Blightwell, who am I afraid was growing impatient. "But how do we fix things. Must we throw another ball?"

"Oh, no, no, no, Mr. Blightwell," said Dr. Tillotson. "That would not serve at all."

"And why not? It worked for them!"

"I can't think of anything more likely to put their backs up," said Lieutenant Archer. "No, we have quite something different in mind. Dr. Tillotson has devised a spell that should serve, but we will need the aid of Miss Willoughby, Lieutenant Pertwee and Mr. Hampton. And yours as well, of course, Miss Montjoy. I have spoken with Pertwee already. With proper timing, we should be able to resolve matters before the Misses Grimsby know what has hit them."

And now I fear I must close, dear Armand, if Morphick is to get this to the post. Expect the best of news in my next!

Your increasingly hopeful cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Wickedness Afoot (22 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

13 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

There is wickedness afoot in Wickshire, and I intend to put a stop to it. Much that puzzled me is now clear—or, if not that, let us say that the sun is rising to shake out the skirts of the world. Someone has been meddling in forbidden things, and I will not have it.

Having written you last Tuesday, I awoke last Wednesday morning still perplexed, worried, and heartsore, a state that only deepened when I perceived through the morning room window my dearest Brother Edward driving away in a new curricle, dressed to the nines. "We are undone," I said to myself. "He will be marrying her soon. We are completely undone." But I straightened my back and stiffened my shoulders, and said nothing to Miss Derby, who was sitting nearby with her sewing box.

"Oh, miss," she said; for though her understanding is not of the best, it does not take marked intelligence to know when a man is being a fool.

I raised a hand. "We will not speak of it, Miss Derby."

"No, miss."

It seemed but moments later, so deep was I in my reverie, when Morphick entered the room.

"You have a visitor, miss—Mr. Archer."

"Not Lieutenant Archer?" What, had I somehow come to the attention of the Lieutenant's elder brother? Or worse, his father?

"Yes, miss, him—but he said 'Mister Archer', miss. What shall I do, miss?"

It was not perfectly proper to receive him, alone in the house as I was. But I had Miss Derby by me, and that "mister"—

"Where is he, Morphick?"

"In the drawing room, miss."

I pondered but for a moment.

"Very well. Please ask Mrs. Morphick to make tea, and bring it to us here; then bring Mr. Archer along and remain within call."

He did not demur, for he has come to know me, but his face showed his concern.

"Yes, Morphick, I know. But I ask you to consider how successful we would be at summoning my brother Edward to attend on me here."

His face grew longer. Blightwell was not the only one watching Edward's progress with deep dismay.

My heart fluttering slightly, I composed myself to wait. It was but moments before Morphick returned and announced Mr Archer.

I looked up, smiling, but recoiled at the fury on his face.

He was not in his uniform, the first time I had seen him so, but garbed for driving; his long coat with its capes billowed behind him as he strode to the center of the room. His lips were set, his brows lowered in a scowl. He stared down at me.

"There you are, Miss Montjoy," he said in a cold, cutting voice. "You will do me the honor of explaining to me what you thought you were doing."

"I beg your pardon," I returned, equally coldly. "I have not the least idea what you are speaking of."

His brows lowered further, and his gloved fingers tightened on his riding crop.

"Pertwee!" he said. "Tell me what have you done to Lieutenant Pertwee!"

"I should quite like to know that myself," I said. "I have seen him only once since the ball at the Willoughby's, and on that occasion he cut me dead. As I have not spoken with him, I do not see how I should know what he believes me to have done."

"Don't play the innocent, Miss Montjoy. You have been meddling in matters you do not understand, I know you have!"

I found that I had risen to my feet, prepared to shout denials in his face, when a chill caught my heart. Pertwee's behavior was of a piece with—

"The ball at the Willoughby's," I said slowly. I must have looked stricken, for a wary look appeared in his face.

"Mr. Archer," I said softly, "when a wizard uses his power, it passes through him, yes?"

"Yes, of course."

"So a person can be a, a node?"

He nodded, eyes even more piercing.

"Miss Montjoy," he said, more quietly, "what have you done?"

"I, nothing. But—" And I found myself telling him about the ball, and the peculiar happenings that followed. "And a dance has a geometry, a symmetry, to it, does it not?" I said miserably.

He nodded, face dark.

"I—could I have—can one work such a spell, all unknowing?"

He shook his head, looking away. "No," he said in quite another tone. "And it would be the greatest wickedness to try."

"Yes," I said. "It would. In fact," I said, fury rising in my own heart, "it was."

I looked him in the face. "Mr. Archer—and you must explain the 'mister' to me at some point—acquit me of this. I have made no experiments in wizardry, I do assure you. But someone has. I mean to find out who, and put a stop to it. It can only be the Grimsbys, or someone associated with them.

"Please, Mr. Archer, sit down. We have much to discuss."

It was at that moment I observed Mrs. Morphick standing in the doorway with the tea tray, a look of vast consternation and outrage on her broad face.

The three of us looked from one to another with a sense of shared purpose.

"Mrs. Morphick," I said, "leave that and bring cakes. We shall need our strength."

"Yes, miss. At once, miss."

We spoke at some length. I told Mr. Archer of the unaccountable behavior of the two Edwards, and he explained Lieutenant Pertwee's actions to me.

"Lieutenants simply do not marry, Miss Montjoy, not without wrecking their career, and Pertwee means to make a career of the army. And then he found himself—I apologize, Miss, but I must use your word—unaccountably drawn to you. 'Fine woman,' he said to me. 'Sharp as a tack. Fond of her. But far too sharp for the likes of me, old man. Can't see it. Feels wrong.'"

"And it is no wonder, I am sure, that Mr. Hampton has taken to drink," I said, not at all appalled at Pertwee's assessment. "For I feel sure he has found himself similarly drawn to Miss Willoughby—and as the ball began, he was quite looking forward to his marriage to a Miss Claverham. He too must feel something is deeply wrong."

"And yet, your brother and Mr. Hargreaves are 'all in'," said Mr. Archer. He paused, coldness quite gone from his troubled face. "Miss Montjoy, I do not know what is to do. My knowledge is wizardry is slight, perhaps slighter than your own in all truth, though I have the benefit of family stories as you do not—for you will recall that wizardry has run in my family. But I know someone who might help."

As he left, he said to me, "I will return as soon as may be, Miss Montjoy. Until then, I beg of you, do not approach the Grimsbys or share anything of what we have learned. This tangle is snarled enough; we must not give them reason to make it worse."

I nodded solemnly. "As you say," I said.

And Armand, my heart sang as I watched him drive away. It is not my brother's fault that he is acting the fool! And more—when I told Mr. Archer that Edward had meant to offer for Jane Willoughby, and that she had meant to accept him, I saw no sign of dismay or displeasure cross his face.

Your exceedingly angry but increasingly hopeful cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Heartbreak (15 July 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

6 June 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am sure that I do not at all understand what has been going on here in Wickshire this past fortnight.

Following the ball, my foolish brother Edward has been in constant attendance on Agatha Grimsby: tea at the Grimsby house, walking out with Miss Grimsby, riding with Miss Grimsby, whilst the unlamented Mr. Edward Hargreaves has so been attending upon Miss Matilda Grimsby. There is little more for me to say upon that head, as virtually all of it has taken place outside my presence—for which I can only be grateful. It is no happy thing to watch a beloved brother make a cake of himself for the likes of Agatha Grimsby.

The loss of Edward Hargreaves I can much more easily bear, for as you know I did not want him, lowering though it is to lose a beau to Matilda Grimsby—though I am afraid I had to speak harshly to my abigail, Miss Derby, who made so bold as to try to console me for it. I was sorry, after, for she is too devoted to me, and serves me well; but in all matters beyond her duties she hasn't the sense that—but I must not speak harshly of her.

Meanwhile, I have had repeated visits from Jane Willoughby, who is in a lamentable state. She assures me that Brother Edward had intended to speak to her father and offer for her hand during the festivities, but instead he began making up to the Grimsby.

It is some consolation to me that when Edward returns home he does not spend those hours expatiating to me on the excellence and charm of his new beloved, for I could not bear to hear such twaddle come out of his mouth. Instead he sits quietly staring into the fire, or stands and stares out of the window, or retires to his room, and this worries me, too, for this silence it is quite out of character. When Edward has a new enthusiasm, everyone knows of it whether they want to or not.

I cannot account for any of this. Nor are these the only peculiar happenings this week.

This past Thursday was Market Day in Stourton, as usual. And as I was walking about the square—looking for quills, if you must know, dear Armand—I caught sight of Lieutenant Pertwee. He is a fine man, if a bit dim, and I quite enjoy passing the time of day with him; and on this particular day, with my dear Jane still so distraught, I wished to speak to him about the continued absence of Lieutenant Archer. Not that I wish her to transfer her feelings back to Lieutenant Archer, but the poor dear is so downcast!

I tell you truly, Armand, Lieutenant Pertwee saw me coming and ran. Turned about face, as parade ground as you please, and made for the hills of Wickshire at full speed—I suspect him of having marched double-time all of the way back to his billet. I have since invited him to tea, but my invitations have been returned unopened.

Meanwhile, Blightwell tells me that Wallace Hampton, he who is to be married to a Miss Claverham, has taken to drinking heavily at the King's Scones in Stourton. Now, Mr. Hampton has always liked his drink, at balls and such similar social gatherings, as the young ladies of the region know to their distress. He is no cad, I beg you to believe, dear Armand, or he surely would not be invited to such events; but a sodden man is no kind of a dancing partner. But this kind of heavy drinking is most unusual, even for him. I myself saw him, while walking in Stourton with Jane Willoughby. He caught sight of the pair of us, turned white with a suddenness that was shocking to behold, and reeled down the square and into the door of the Scones.

What is it about me, that I now drive men away by my mere presence? Though one must be fair—it might be Jane's presence. Not that Jane was in any way aware of Mr. Hampton's actions, for I spoke of them to her and all she could find to say was, "Oh, did he?"

I am pleased to maintain a light tone, cousin Armand, but truly I am at my wit's end. I pass my days in a state of dread that Edward will return home and announce that he is engaged to that. My dear Jane is heartbroken; Squire Willoughby is fit to be tied; and I have had a most unpleasant interview with Mrs. Willoughby in which I threw up my hands and proclaimed myself utterly mystified. She was forced, at last, to believe me.

It will be Market Day again in two days, and I fear the prospect brings me no pleasure at all.

Your perplexed and unhappy cousin,

Amelia

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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,

Amelia

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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,

Amelia

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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,

Amelia

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