Letters from Armorica: Dinner Party (29 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

25 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

The weather having been fine and the moon being full, Squire and Mrs. Willoughby hosted a dinner party this past week, to which I and Brother Edward were invited. It was my first dinner party in Wickshire! And it was a much grander thing than a mere tea, though of course not nearly so grand as a ball.

I have been cataloguing, for my own benefit and appreciation, the kinds of social events one might encounter here in the country. First there is "coming over for tea," which is a small gathering of not more than five or six people, congenial or otherwise. In Yorke, "coming over for tea" lasts precisely for the socially acceptable half-hour, except among family or intimate friends, and then either takes one's leave or escapes gratefully, depending on the company. In the country, possibly due to the distance between homes and the vicissitudes of winter travel, however, tea may be much more prolonged.

Then there is Market Day, where one might meet and speak with almost anyone—within the bounds of propriety, of course, pace my brother Edward. Market Day is a delight in good weather, and an excellent time for meeting a friend, for one might promenade about together at length. One is constantly interrupted, of course.

And then there is the dinner party, which is rather more like Market Day than tea, only more constrained. In Yorke a hostess plans the guest list for a dinner party most carefully, choosing to invite those who will get on well together, or those to whom one owes an invitation, or those who will strike sparks from one other, all according to the needs and inclinations of the hostess. It is much the same here in Wickshire, except that the pool of those one might invite is much smaller; and unlike a ball, one needn't invite those one dislikes.

The guests gather in the drawing room, as in Yorke, for conversation, and then go into dinner together in strict order of precedence…but precedence in the country is quite a different thing than precedence in Yorke. To my surprise Squire Willoughby honored me by taking me in himself, though of course I was seated rather further down the table.

"Privilege of rank," he said to me, with a broad smile.

"La, sir," I said, in my most affected tone, "you shall turn my head! And you old enough to be my beloved Jane's father!"

"And so I am," he chuckled, patting my arm, "and so I am!"

But I get ahead of myself. In Stourton, on Market Day, one may greet anyone in one's acquaintance that one chances to pass by, be it Miss Willoughby or Lieutenant Archer; but in the drawing room a young lady must be less forward. When Edward and I arrived, therefore, I immediately went and sat with Miss Willoughby, whom I had not seen in some days, and then waited for the young gentlemen to come to us.

Which they did, of course. There was no room on the sofa for Edward but he took up station nearby, adopting his most forbidding mien. Lieutenants Pertwee and Archer soon joined us despite his manifest, along with another handsome young man I had not met but who proved to be Edward Hargreaves the scientific farmer.

My dear Jane performed introductions, introducing the two Edwards to one another; and shortly thereafter the doors were opened and the good squire came to take me in to dinner.

Once I was seated I had to laugh; for Mrs. Willoughby had placed Lieutenant Archer to my left, between Jane and myself, and Lieutenant Pertwee to my right, while Brother Edward watched in consternation from several places down on the opposite side of the table.

I spent the first course chatting not unagreeably with Lieutenant Pertwee, who is a decent man, though dim, and hearing about events at the garrison and how Pollock had beaten Maskerton at whist.

"Rolled him up, too, took his entire allowance," said Pertwee. "Bad business, that. Can't stay away from the cards in garrison, of course. Not much else to do this time of year. Still, it was a bad business."

With the next course, Archer turned to me with a gentle smile. "And now, Miss Montjoy, how do you do?"

It was my first chance for a prolonged exchange with the good lieutenant, and I took full advantage.

"Your brother officer tells me that it is quite slow in garrison this time of year," I said. "Tell me, how do you find it? Has Anaxagoras been the balm for which you were hoping?"

"Not he," he said with a laugh. "A few choice ideas, mind you, but hidden amidst a mass of infernal nonsense. I was quite disappointed."

"It seemed an odd selection to me," I said. "Do many officers go in for ancient philosophy?"

"Hardly," said he. "But am not your typical officer, you know."

"I see that, of course. What accounts for it, if I may be so bold?"

He gave me a rueful smile. "It has long been the tradition in my family that the second son serve in one regiment or another. But until the passing of my brother Ernest I was the third son, and so was bound for the University." He shrugged slightly.

"Why, I am sorry for your loss!" I said. "I hope you do not find the military life too…too—"

"Physical?" he said. "Not at all, for I am a countryman myself. But I try to keep up my studies. And service does have its present compensations."

I rewarded him with a demure smile. "More of your philosophy?" I asked, deliberately misunderstanding him.

"It is quite to my taste. But, again in keeping with family tradition, I am most interested in wizardry. My uncle belongs to the Royal College, and in his day my great-uncle Matthew was Court Wizard to the King who was."

"Wizardry? Truly?"

"Quite so—not that I seem to have any great talent for it, so perhaps it is best that I was compelled to take on another career."

Philosophy, wizardry, quite the gentleman, and so well-looking in his uniform—if I were dangling after the officers, Armand, I fear I should be quite jealous of my dear Jane Willoughby.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Edward (22 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

18 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Oh, it is too, too bad. My brother Edward, so far from being consoled by my father's words to him, has determined that it is his duty to "stand by me"—that is his phrase—"during this difficult time." And what "stand by me" means is to remain here in the country with me, breaking up my peace and in no way alleviating my tedium, while preventing me from attaining that free and easy social discourse with the other folk of the district that is all that can console me for my exile here.

Which is to say that he still does not understand about the duck pond, and that he is determined to prevent me "dangling after officers," however free of concern our male parent might be. It is too provoking!

You will say he means well, and so he does; or so he would if he were more concerned for me and less for the good name of Montjoy.

Though perhaps I wrong him, Armand. But he is like a monstrous creature from one of the more lurid penny-dreadfuls: he cannot be stopped, and he cannot be made to go away. Only a shining hero can end him—and that on the last page, only—and I give leave to doubt that any of the local heroes would seek to win my heart by destroying my father's heir.

But you have not seen Edward in some years, and so you surely do not know what he has become; and perhaps, he being so much older, you were perhaps never well acquainted with him to begin with. So I suppose I must offer you a sketch.

Edward Trevelyan Montjoy, to give his full name, my father's heir, is now three and thirty years of age. He is a gentleman; and as our family holdings in Wickshire are well managed by Blightwell, he need do no more than flit about London, drone-like, sipping at nectar, smiling at pretty young things, resisting the blandishments of society mamas, whilst attending prize fights and horse races and driving high-perch phaetons too fast, all in the precisely proper attire: all the things that society expects of a young man in his position.

And yet he cannot even do that. He disapproves of horse races and prize fights on principle; he happily attends assemblies at Harrington House but has, as yet, managed to attach no young lady of the ton, nor her mother either; he drives perfectly, and sedately, in a low phaeton with nary a cape to his coat; he dresses well enough, but with no special distinction; and I am quite at a loss to state how he spends the rest of his time, for he neither engages in trade (for that would be low) nor manages the estates (for that would be needless), nor practices politics (for that would be unpleasant).

And now, instead of indulging his principles elsewhere, he has brought them here, where he spends his time in my library reading aloud to me from improving books and trying my patience.

If only the duck pond were not frozen over. For we do have a duck pond here at The Elms, Armand, a lovely duck pond in a seldom visited part of the garden, a pond that, when not frozen, is quite choked with weeds and slime. It would be perfect for my purposes, if only Edward were doing something actionable instead of merely being benevolent and improving towards me in the most objectionable manner imaginable!

But alas, my conscience prods me.

He means well; he does. And should I meet a tall, handsome, scoundrel with designs on my fortune and my virtue, I should be quite glad to have a tall, stouthearted brother to send him packing.

Not that it would help me, for he will not be convinced of the lack of good intent of anyone, it seems, but myself; for I have quite failed to convince him of the lack of good intent of the one tall, handsome, scoundrel I have met. I solemnly swear, Armand, that if he mentions the name of that loathsome object one more time I shall surely lay about him with the fireplace poker.

May the weather break soon! I must get out of this house for a time.

Your cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Confounded Spite (15 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

11 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I am delighted to have heard from you at last! You seem to be doing quite well for yourself with your Amelie and your daughters and your town and your wagonworks. I remember how often you and Uncle were at daggers drawn; more than once I quite expected to see blood on the drawing room carpet, so cutting were your words. That is the second person plural, my dear Armand; I am by no means blaming it all on you. Nor can I blame you, in truth, and so I am glad that that is all behind you.

I thank you for your delicacy in not asking after my erstwhile beau—though I am sure you have not been so reticent with Jack, not that he knows anything more than you do. And that is all that I shall say about that loathsome object.

How little I have to tell you, to be sure. Life in the country is so slow! One daily has tea, and perhaps even crumpets, but one usually has it alone; one never receives morning visits; one never goes for a promenade in the Park. One can walk or ride, when the snow isn't all encompassing, but of course it is; one can go out in the sleigh, but only when there is somewhere to go—unless one delights in being frozen for its own sake.

And so I have remained at home, snug in my library, sitting by the fire and sipping tea in quite unladylike quantities. Even without a reply to spur me on, I find writing to you to be one of the bright spots in my week; I think I should go mad without it. So it is embarrassing to be caught with so little matter for reflection.

But let me see. The weather being particularly trying this week, I ventured no farther than the Grimsbys—and a badly judged outing it was, too, for a stray blizzard required that I must stay the night. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my room had been properly aired, with candles to spare and a decent fire; but I believe that one of the housemaids has taken a liking to me, for I am sure that La Grimsby did not order it so.

Of course, it is ever and always my plan to be pleasant to the Grimsbys, cheerful and demure, never rising to their bait, which is plentiful—for how better to confound them? I have no lack of repartee, Armand; I am not one of those who thinks of the right thing to say hours later, on the staircase. But this is the country; and so often the right thing to say would be the wrong thing.

I may say it has given me a great if bitter pleasure over the last four months to observe the faces of La Grimsby and her daughters when I come to call—for I am no naïf, Armand, and I know what it means when they glance at me in that way. They are looking for signs of my impending, so they suppose, confinement, and wondering how long I will continue to be seen in company. May they choke on my company as the months go by!

Poor Armand, I believe I have shocked you again. But I assure you that there is nothing in it: it is merely their ill-bred, low-minded spite that would lead them to think such a thing. The looks of disappointment on their faces are a joy to me, and I mean to heap the burning coals as high on their heads as I can.

And indeed, think whatever ill you may please concerning the loathsome object I spoke of earlier—but you must acquit him of that, at least. He is not so abandoned—or, if he is, the harm he did me was not of that kind.

Of what else may I write? The gardener's dog has had a fine litter of puppies. Miss Derby was afflicted with the ague, but is now quite well. Blightwell sent a man to deal with several persistent drafts; and if he did so in part by completely stopping up the music room door, I can well make do with the smaller piano in the drawing room. And if I missed my weekly promenade through the market in Stourton last Thursday, I can assure you that no one at all was walking through Stourton for pleasure this past week.

It is little enough to delight in, I am afraid. Perhaps next week's letter will not find me quite so at point non-plus.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica: Planning the Ball (8 April 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

4 February 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I have been much with Miss Willoughby since I last wrote you, as we have been engaged in planning the ball the Willoughby's will throw at the beginning of spring. You might say, "But Amelia, isn't the beginning of spring many weeks away?" And so it is, of course—but my word, Armand, one mustn't leave these things to chance.

There will be dancing, that is beyond dispute, for it is to be a ball. But will there be waltzing? I dare say there will not be, for I am assured that some of the older ladies in the district think that even the quadrille is too spritely to be quite proper.

And then, what food shall be served, and what drink? These things are of particular importance, especially the drink—for, at a ball, of course, fetching food and drink is one of the few ways an admirer may licitly show his appreciation for a young lady, at least between dances. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the drink be palatable, Armand, for if one cannot drink it one cannot ask one's admirers to fetch more.

And then, one must give the guest list careful consideration. This is dreadfully important, and all the more when one is new to the district as I am. Not, of course, that our consideration shall change the list in the slightest degree, for the society here in Wickshire is fixed, and no one can be omitted without giving grievous insult. Mrs. Willoughby is, I am sure, a perfect hostess, and will only give grievous insult deliberately and with good reason.

Nevertheless, I say, it is necessary to consider the guest list. It is vital to know, for instance, that Sir Roger de Montfort has clammy hands, and wheezes in your face; and that young Thomas Porter, though handsome as Apollo, is unutterably dim; and that Edward Hargreaves talks only of scientific farming and the draining of fields; and that if one must dance with Wallace Hampton, one must be sure to do so before he drinks enough to forget himself.

Gossip, you say? Well, and so it is, I suppose. But just as Lord Doncaster required good intelligence of the countryside while campaigning in Provençe, so too I require it while campaigning in Wickshire. I am the general, and my dear Jane Willoughby is my scout.

But I may have given a mistaken impression, for the guest list will not be solely made up of the Wickshire gentry; there will also be a selection of officers from the garrison, Lieutenants Pertwee and Archer among them. And here, Jane's knowledge of the county is of no help: we must seek further afield for our intelligence.

Delightfully, I am now in a position to acquire such; for the sleigh is repaired, and the horses are available, and the snow is thick, and so I am able to repair to Stourton whenever the weather permits, and most usually on market days.

I was there this past Thursday, Miss Derby at my side, and chanced to meet Lieutenant Archer coming out of the lending library—for we do have a lending library in Stourton. Father had Blightwell acquire a subscription for me when we arrived, but beyond making a quick survey of its stock I have not yet had to avail myself of it; for of older books there is no lack at the Elms, and of newer the latest are those which were all the crack in Yorke over the past season and which I have already read.

The lieutenant greeted me cordially though without undue warmth, and at my inquiry showed me the book he had acquired: a book of philosophy, in all truth, by a Graecan of whom I had never heard.

"Why, Lieutenant Archer, such an unusual choice! I had not thought that lieutenants were meant to be interested in anything more serious than whist, whiskey, and warfare."

"No more we are," he said with a rueful smile, falling in beside me as we continued down the high street toward the square. "But Anaxagoras here seemed so lonely and unloved. He has never been opened, do you see? How long must he have languished on the shelf, unread! Since the library was founded, I should think."

"Your concern does you great credit, I am sure," I said. "Still, you have not yet accounted for it."

"Ah, well. My concern might prove to have been misplaced, you know, for I have never yet made his acquaintance. Perhaps loneliness is all that he merits! And now, I must return to the garrison," he said as we reached the square, "for I have the duty this afternoon. A good day to you, Miss Montjoy!"

Anaxagoras! What news I shall have for my dear Jane when next I see here! Perhaps she is the general, and I the scout.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica- Books (31 March 37 AF)

First Letter

My dear M. Fournier,

I am delighted to hear from you, mon ami. And I am even more delighted to learn that you have a new stock of books from the publishers in Yorke, for I must tell you I am in dire need of Cumbrian literature!

Yes, the word "dire" is a strong one, but nothing else will suit the case. For I am to tell you that I have two young apprentices here, Luc and Bastien, and between them they have devoured all of the books we have available to us.

It is Luc who is doing most of the actual reading, mind you; for Bastien is still learning to read and speak Cumbrian, though he is proceeding apace. Such a surprise he was to me! My Amelie found him for me; he was to be a help for me around my shop, and something of a guard. I feel quite strange using that term, "guard," but you will remember what happened to me last year—no, my goodness, almost two years ago now!—when that man Trout abducted me for use in some scheme against the Crown. And so I have been advised by His Lordship to take precautions.

And so my Amelia found me Bastien, who is a bastion in truth: tall, broad, taciturn, and devoted—and possessed, I was surprised to learn, of a mind and a talent quite at odds with his stolid appearance. I found Luc reading to him and beginning to teach him the Cumbrian language, and discovered that Amelie had found me not only a guard and a helper, but a new apprentice.

But you can see my problem. Luc and Bastien are eager to learn, but they have read everything we have, in both Provençese and Cumbrian. Aye, and they have re-read all of it as well!

And now you tell me that you have expanded your stock of Cumbrian books immeasurably, and I could not be more pleased. I believe you know what you have sent me already; I should be delighted to receive anything new. And not just works of fiction, though I admit I should like to renew my acquaintance with Becker's Banister novels, but also anything you have about the natural and philosophical sciences, and especially about mathematics! I shall teach them forming myself; but I would not have them ignorant of anything in the world.

Please, also send us such Provençese works as seem good to you. Many of my people here in Bois-de-Bas are more comfortable in Provençese than in Cumbrian—some hardly speak two words of it—and so I must improve my grasp of it. And besides, it makes Amelie happy for me to read to her in her native tongue.

I suppose—I suggest this with the greatest diffidence—that you might arrange to send me some volumes from M. Harte's stock as well: something more adventurous and exciting than Dorchester Cellars. If you can find some that are not too lurid, you know. For boys will be boys, and though I know that Luc will struggle manfully through the Banister novels, asking me countless questions, I should like to able to hand him something more restful—for both of us. Something by M. Lapin, perhaps, or another writer of his ilk? I read him in translation, as a boy, and I admit I should like to meet D'Artisan in his own language. "One for all and all for naught!"

Dreaming of swordplay, I remain,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Father Investigates (25 March 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

13 January 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I beg of you to forgive me for not writing last week. All was in a whirl, but we are quite all right now.

Brother Edward trotted dutifully back to London after the New Year began, carrying news of my supposed enchantment with certain officers of the 2nd Hussars; and far from yielding the motherly but stern letter which I had feared, his news brought upon me a descent by my dear Papa and a fatherly but stern lecture!

He greeted me warmly on his arrival, and bade me join him for mulled wine in the library—for other than his manner he was cold clear through. I have been spending most of my time in the library, fortunately, so the fire was going apace; the drawing room would have been unpleasantly dank.

I sat in the deep arm-chair I had taken for my own; he stood by the fire with his wine until his shivers had quite stopped, and then took his place behind his desk. "His" desk, I call it, as if he had spent any amount of time there in living memory! "So, Amy my girl," he said, "what is all this that Edward tells me about you dangling after officers?"

I sighed dramatically, casting my eyes to the ceiling in the most affected way I knew how. "Oh! Oh! How I long to live in garrison, upon cold toast and weak tea and bully beef!" I cried. "What joy to live in a cold tent, waiting by a tiny fire for my husband to return from playing whist with the other officers in the mess hall while the rain and snow falls outside. Oh! to live in mud amid the thunder of cannons and the rumble of drums! Can anything else be so romantic?"

As I finished this speech I clasped my fluttering hands to my bosom and cast my father a coy glance before restoring my normal mien and having a sip of my wine.

Father's lips quirked a trifle, which I was glad to see, but all he said was, "Don't try to gammon me, Amy. Out with it!"

"Very well, Father," I said. "I have met Lieutenant Pertwee exactly twice, once at the Grimsby's and once at the Willoughby's. He did seem quite pleased to see me again, though I have no notion of what might be going on in that tiny brain of his, and I assure you I have done nothing to encourage him. I should think he is similarly pleased with everyone he meets. As for Lieutenant Archer, I have met him only the once, which should have been plain even to Edward, and it was Miss Willoughby who was making up to him, not I."

"So there was nothing for Edward to be concerned about it, then?"

"Nothing at all, Father!"

He gave me a searching look, and so I was forced to add, "I do not deny I took a deal of pleasure in their presence, Father; for life is so very slow here in Wickshire, and I see so few people. But I was not dangling after them, nor will I. I am not at all inclined to once again put myself into a false position."

He pursed his lips thoughtfully, and sipped his wine, and then made as if to speak, but I fear I cut him off in a most unfilial way.

"No, Father," I said, holding up one hand. "I do not wish to speak of That Man. I have quite forgotten him. I wish only to remain here in peace until the ton have forgotten as well."

He put his cup down on the desk. "That may take some little time," he said. "For he has not forgotten you, and speaks of you often, so Edward tells me."

"I make no doubt that he does, and more I will not say."

Nor will, I Armand, for I can just imagine Him blackening my name. "Such a lovely girl; I confess I am quite pining for her. A pity she proved to be so unstable." For it must be that I am in the wrong, not He. Never He! Such a thing could never be borne!

I do not at all see the end of this, Armand. It may be that I shall have to settle for some farm boy, some squire's son, or perhaps live in garrison in truth.

Oh, but I must not given in to my fears, or I shall make myself quite miserable!

Father then read me a lecture about the honor of our family name, and about preserving my reputation, and this and that, as he was bound to do, I suppose, having come all that way; but in the end I was able to persuade him that I am unlikely to become attached to any of the gentlemen of my present acquaintance, and that Edward was being his usual fat-headed self. Not that either of us put it in quite those terms, but I believe we understood each other very well.

Father stayed with me two days, on the second of which we had tea with Squire Willoughby and his wife, and then he returned to London. I quite like Squire Willoughby, I find, though I shall have to give you an account of him in another letter; he is a bluff, hearty, good-natured man. Perhaps a squire's son would not be so bad after all.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica- Stourness (11 March 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

30 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

It has been such a week!

Wednesday was Christmas, of course, which we kept quietly, Edward and I. Yes, indeed! Edward appeared on the 24th with my pair of matched bays and my mother and father's best wishes; and he was accompanied by Tom Cotton, one of Father's grooms from Yorke, now promoted to coachman.

So I have a carriage, and I have horses to pull it, and I have a coachman to drive it (for surely I never had need to learn to drive a carriage when I was in Yorke); and as I greeted Edward the first real snow of the season was falling all around, deep and crisp and even as the carol has it. However, Tom Cotton has assured me that the sleigh is quite in order, if unlovely, and will be quite usable for this season whenever it should be required.

Edward, I may say privately to you, Armand, was both a comfort and a trial. A comfort, of course, for I have been lonely here in Wickshire, I who am used to living in the bosom of my family and participating in all of the life of the City; and I do love Edward; but he can be so stuffy, Armand, and he hasn't the least notion as to why I pushed He Whose Name I Shall Not Remember into the duck pond. And I quite fear to tell him, for if I did word would get to Jack, and Jack might take it in mind to call the blackguard out. Which would be a horrible thing, I assure you, for he would need to return to Cumbria from Armorica, abandoning his post with Lord Doncaster, and so threaten his future career; and if he were killed, I should have lost my brother, and if the Never To Be Sufficiently Forgotten One were killed, there would, I assure you, be Consequences.

All this would follow if I were to get the circumstances into Edward's thick head; which I fortunately I am not likely to be able to do even if I wished to, you know, for he does insist on thinking the best of everyone, and he is quite starry-eyed when it comes to—

But I have said too much. No good could come of it, is what I mean to say, Armand, no good could possibly come of it.

The Willoughby's carriage arrived on Friday to take me to tea, and as Edward was present to escort me I presumed to bring him along, heartlessly leaving Miss Derby at home. I do feel quite guilty with regard to Miss Derby, you know, for she sees so little diversion, and though her task is to be a companion for me, I fear I have been no sort of companion for her.

In the event, I found I had done right; for Mrs. Willoughby greeted him quite cheerfully, and bade him welcome, and we were also joined by Lieutenant Pertwee and another officer, Lieutenant Archer.

Lieutenant Pertwee greeted me with a smile, which caused Edward some dismay—I know, because he stood slightly taller, and looked solemn, which just goes to show how thick-headed he is. Having Jack for a brother, I assure you I have no desire to have an officer to husband!

Lieutenant Archer, I may say, is something else altogether. He is not tall, but lean, with dark hair and a point to his chin; and of a reserved nature, for he said but little, being almost as grave as Edward. I could tell that Miss Willoughby was taken with his appearance, and the few words he did let fall gave me no reason to judge her for it.

"Milton's replacement, don't you know," said Lieutenant Pertwee. "A fine fellow, too, for all he don't say much."

"Lieutenant Pertwee is too kind," said Lieutenant Archer.

"Is this your first post, Mr. Archer?" Miss Willoughby asked.

"Yes, miss," he said. "It is a family tradition. My uncle served in the 2nd Hussars in the last war."

"You are your father's second son, then, I gather," said Mrs. Willoughby.

"Just so, ma'am."

"Have you any prospect of seeing service abroad?" I asked. "My brother was in Andaluz and Provençe with Lord Doncaster, as he now is."

"It is not likely, miss," he said, with a rueful smile.

"No promotions in peace-time," said Pertwee with a laugh. "It's too bad, is what it is. Mustn't repine, though!"

"I do hope that wicked Marshal does not kick up any more fuss," said Miss Willoughby. "The thought of you fine gentleman going into danger makes my heart quiver!"

"Never fear," said Pertwee. "Raised to it, you know. Being under fire is what Archer likes best."

The good lieutenant made no demur, but his reserve deepened.

I rather think it was Archer's fine profile that made my friend's heart quiver, and I may say I do not judge her for it. The Grimsbys will be pleased with him, too, for his manner of speech revealed him to be a gentleman not just by breeding by also by upbringing, and where there is proper upbringing there is a good fortune, you may depend upon it. Or so said Mrs. Willoughby after the two men left us, Armand—you needn't look so shocked at me, for I am only reporting. For my part, I wonder what expectations a second son might reasonably have, past the expense of his his commission and whatever allowance he might be given.

But he is a fine looking man, and his manners would be unexceptionable even at Harrison House, provided his dancing were up to scratch. But of course I was not able to determine the quality of his dancing at tea time.

Alas, we are not to have a ball, or not soon. Mrs. Willoughby is in favour, mind you; but, she says, the weather is too chancy at this time of year, and that we must wait until spring. Spring! It seems so far off!

It was quite a pleasant outing, even if Edward did lecture me all the way home on the unwisdom of allowing my heart to be captured by an officer, no matter how fine he looks in his regimentals.

"It will not answer, Amelia, truly, I tell you, it will not answer. And how you can think of it, after—"

And there he stopped, for even Edward is able to see daggers when they are looked at him.

He assured me repeatedly that he had only my best interests at heart, which is quite true, and which I have never doubted; and I fear he has made himself certain that I am longing to be courted by one or the other of them, for nothing I said to the contrary made any impression. What an opinion he must have of my good sense! It is too lowering. And worse, I expect I shall be hearing from Mother by return of post.

Your loving cousin,

Amelia

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Letters from Armorica- Distance (9 March 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Thank you for passing along His Lordship's plans. A proper canteen at the encampment (which I suppose I must now refer to as "The Fort") will aid matters greatly; and yes, I am confident that some enterprising fellow will open a tavern nearby as soon as the weather permits. It is the time between now and then that concerns me. But please inform His Lordship that I conveyed his words to the leading men of the town this afternoon (you needn't mention the hot springs) and they were much comforted.

Leon has written me; he has a line on grand-blaireau pelts from St. Denis, one of the newer settlements to the west of Mont-Havre, and he suggests that it would be a fine thing to make our "wagon coats" out of blaireau fur. I am forced to agree, given Tuppenny Wagon's pre-history on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau (not that we will talk about that). He is making arrangements with a tailor to design the coats, and should have the first few in short order. Winter is nearly over; but I have suggested to him that we should give some away to our earliest customers now and plan to sell them when the weather turns cold this coming autumn. In this way, we can get the wagoneers to drum up business for us.

I am shocked and surprised to learn that you have heard nothing about Amelia from either her or your parents. It isn't as though you are out on maneuvers; letters should reach you as soon as anyone in Armorica, and probably sooner than most since they could come by government packet. I begin to wonder whether more went on than Amelia has said. Or, perhaps, they considered it no matter worthy of note. But I am concerned.

Yes, Jack, I know: I am always concerned. It seems to be my usual state these days.

What impresses me even more, however, is the rapidity and regularity with which I have been receiving her letters: two months from time of writing, smack on the dot, and more or less weekly. When I first came to Armorica the Courier's Guild ran only two packets, the Herbert and the Robert between Yorke and Mont-Havre; and as the trip took two months each way, we saw one or the other about every two months. Now someone (I do not even know whether it is the Courier's Guild) has packets arriving once a week; and they are speedy enough that a letter can get from Wickshire to Yorke to Mont-Havre to Bois-de-Bas in those same two months. It is a veritable fleet! Of course, His Lordship has been good enough to ensure prompt mail service between Mont-Havre and Bois-de-Bas; it would not be the same to other towns in this part of Armorica.

I have now written to Amelia, assuring her of my pleasure at hearing from her, and inquiring if there is anything I may do to be of service; not that there likely is, at this remote distance. And course it will be four months before I might receive any direct response.

For the first time, Jack, this strikes me as a hardship. Armorica's remoteness from Yorke was always its great attraction to me—though I have found others, since, of course; Amelie is by my side as I write, and Anne-Marie and Margaret Elise are playing at my feet. I have made a good life here, Jack; but now, for the first time since I arrived, I wish that it were possible to more speedily exchange letters with Cumbria, and perhaps even to visit.

It is a foolish dream, of course. The Abyss is what it is, and cannot be argued with.

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Miss Willoughby (24 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

23 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

I have had a triumph this week!

No, the carriage is not yet ready; or, rather, it is ready but the team is not. It seems that horses truly are scarce in Wickshire, or at least horses of the appropriate sort for drawing a carriage; for we might find any number of stout draft horses suitable for drawing haywains and beer wagons. Blightwell tells me that Father has purchased for me a set of matched bays, respectable though not flashy, and will be sending them down with Edward and a coachman "as soon as the weather permits." Considering the time of year, the weather, and Edward, I am practicing patience.

No, the triumph is that this past Thursday was a fine midwinter day, cool but clear, and I happened to capture Blightwell on the verge of driving out to Stourton on estate business. Blightwell has nothing so grand as a carriage, but must make shift with a small cart; but the cart has quite enough room for two, and so, after much browbeating, I compelled him to take me along.

"I shan't be able to escort you about, Miss Amelia," he told me.

"Nor shall I expect you to. Will be you be carrying goods in the back of the cart?"

"Not today, Miss Amelia. It is market day, but everything will be delivered."

I had known quite well that it was market day, and that Blightwell was too grand a personage to cart his own groceries. "Then Miss Derby can be seated quite comfortably on an overturned basket in the back of the cart. For, as I am sure you know, I do so wish to behave with all propriety."

As it happens, my dear cousin, Miss Derby was standing nearby, basket in hand, for I had made my plans most carefully.

"But the cart isn't suitable, Miss—"

"A fact I will be sure to mention to my Father when I inquire as to Edward's delay in bringing my team to Wickshire."

"Very well, miss."

Blightwell is a good man, truly; he doesn't wish to disoblige me, though I feel sure he would prefer it if I were in Yorke where I belong.

And so I was able to go to Stourton! A small thing, I know, but how grand it was!

Blightwell stopped the cart at The King's Scones which name, so he informed me, dates back to when some Cumbrian king of diminished memory spent the night in Stourton some centuries past; and while he was arranging for his horse to be fed and groomed, Miss Derby and I ventured out into the market square.

Truly there was not much for sale, harvest being past. I bought a supply of thread and a paper of needles, for I find that walking out in the country is hard on my walking dresses, much harder than my promenade in the Park ever was; for the only harm my apparel ever took in the Park was the turned up noses of some of my less favored acquaintance. I also looked for a length of cloth with which to make up a new dress, but found nothing I cared for. How does your Amelie make do, Armand? Surely she does not wear homespun?

I confess I also purchased a jam tart for myself, and another for Miss Derby, something I would never have done in the open air in Yorke. But then, the air is so much more sparkling here in Wickshire. Truly, I would not have credited it.

But I did not come to the market for the needles, or the pins, or the spools of thread, or my new thimble, or even for the jam tarts, but to see and be seen. My acquaintance is not wide enough for me to be greeted by anyone but the stallholders I patronized; but alas, there will be time for my acquaintance to increase, and I wish to be known here, Armand. I willnot be that poor ruined lass who is being hidden away at The Elms, whatever the Grimsbys may think!

So I took a turn around the market square, and then proceeded down the high street, nodding at the ladies I passed and outwardly ignoring the officers of the 2nd Hussars in their blue coats—for none of them were Lieutenant Pertwee, the only one of their number I might deign to speak to.

And then, blessed day, I came face to face with Mrs. Willoughby, the squire's wife, and her daughter, followed by a footman.

Miss Willoughby smiled at me, but deferred to her mother, who greeted me. "Why, Miss Montjoy, I am glad to see you abroad," she said. "I have been remiss, for I meant to have you to tea last week. Wednesday, perhaps?"

"I have no carriage as yet, Mrs. Willoughby," I said, taking care to smile ruefully.

"Tosh," she said. "I shall send ours. Look for it on Friday afternoon!"

And that, my dear Armand, is the Squire's wife in a nutshell. Stout, good-hearted (or so I believe), and a force of nature, arranging the surrounding countryside to suit herself.

But she was not done. "Now, Jane," she said to her daughter, "I must attend the market; but if you wish you may make take a turn around the village with Miss Montjoy and her abigail. I shall be quite all right with Porter, here."

"Yes, mother," she said, dutifully, to her mother's rapidly retreating back, and then to me, "It is chill today, Miss Montjoy, isn't it. Would you care for some tea?"

"Indeed I would, Miss Willoughby," I said warmly.

"There is a shop nearby," she said, coming to my side and taking my arm.

Soon we were seated in a small teashop, nothing like what that phrase would mean in Yorke, but snug enough for all that, with Miss Derby sitting at a separate table some yards away. Have you ever been in a teashop in Yorke, Armand? I suspect you have not. They are one of the few places where ladies can sit down together in public for a tête-à-tête. We were shortly served with tea and scones, though not, I hope, the King's scones.

"I am so glad to have found you, Miss Montjoy," she said, "for I have been longing to speaking with you privately. Mother is all very well, but she does tend to fill a room, rather."

"And I you," I agreed, not presuming to comment on her female parent. "For the last weeks I have had no society but that of the Grimsbys."

"None at all? Why, you must be quite cross!"

"Not at present, Miss Willoughby, not at present."

She smiled over her tea. "Jane, please. You must call me Jane."

"And I am Amelia," I said, and she nodded, and there we were, in a united front against the Grimsbys of the world! Never let it be said, my dear cousin, that Mrs. Grimsby has never done me a kindness!

We chatted for some time, of this and that—of things I am sure I would never wish to bother you with, cousin—and she was shocked when she learned the very limited span of my acquaintance here.

"We shall have to have a ball," she said. "It is the only thing. We've not had one at Stourness in ages, and surely the Grimsbys will never throw one." She looked apologetically at me. "I am sure it will be a simple affair by your standards, nothing like Harrison House."

"It will be quite good enough for me, I am sure," I said stoutly. "And let me tell you a few things about Harrison House!"

I shan't bore you with the rest of our conversation; but may I say I am quite looking forward to tea on Friday?

Your surprisingly cheerful cousin,

Amelia

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Comedy and Siegecraft

Author K. J. Parker (also known as Tom Holt) has two books out about a siege of a thinly disguised fantasy Constantinople. The Robur Empire is made of up of two kinds of people: the Robur, and everyone else. But most of the residents of the Empire are “everyone else”, and most of the folks who enlist in the army are “everyone else”, and one of their leaders, Ogus, has had enough. He’s subverted the provincial armies and taken over the entire empire…except for the City.

That description makes it sound like Ogus is the hero; which he ain’t.

In Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, the Colonel of the Imperial Regiment of Engineers, a milkface named Ornhas, is the senior officer left in the City when the besieging army arrives—because everyone else, from the emperor’s top aide on down, has fled. He’s faced with defending the city for the Robur against Ogus—his childhood friend, with whom he mostly agrees—because it’s his job.

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It concerns the seventh year of the siege in which Notker, a playwright, actor, and mimic of important people, is forced to stand in for the Hero of the Siege (who has just been killed by an enemy bombardment) and ends up being made emperor.

Both of these books are intended to be funny in an observational sort of guy-stuck-riding-the-tiger kind of way. I found them interesting, not usually all that funny, and more than a little tedious in spots, but I also got the feeling that Parker had done his research about Constantinople, history, and siegecraft. This is supposedly a fantasy world, but there a none of the trappings of fantasy beyond a bunch of made up names and peoples, all of which have a greco-roman sound. Even the religion of the Robur, supposedly the worship of the Invincible Sun, is a thinly disguised Christianity.

So…not sorry I read them, because history geek; but not firing on all cylinders as humorous fantasy either. Which, when I got to the end of the second and discovered that K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, surprises me not at all.