Letters from Armorica- The Elms (9 February 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

9 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

Yes it is I, again. I fear you are to be stuck with me, at least so long as my sojourn here in Wickshire extends. But I shall endeavour, as in good faith, to make my wailings and lamentations as diverting for you as they are not for me.

Father has now returned to Yorke, leaving me here with Miss Derby, the two of us alone in this ramshackle old pile. Yes, ramshackle! Inwardly, at least; Blightwell, Father's most unfortunately named man of business, has taken good care of the farms, the gardens, the grounds, the roof, and all such visible things that might reflect upon Father and Mother here in the County. But within, The Elms has been languishing under holland covers these past ten years or more. Blightwell has made it a point to pass through the house every week or so, so there are no leaks or damage of that sort. But there was no housekeeper, no caretaker, no maids, no cook, no butler, no grooms, no horses. Beds were unaired; linens mouldered in the linen closets; cups and dishes gathered a layer of dust; what little silver was left here, locked up tight in the butler's pantry, has turned quite black; and everything within is as cold as the stones without.

Father has not left me entirely orphaned here. The state of The Elms was so far beyond enough that we were obliged to put up at the King's Scones in Stourton while Father hired a local couple to do for us: Mrs. Morphick will keep house and cook, and her husband will be a kind of butler-cum-footman. And then, of course, we had to remain in Stourton while the house was made livable. We shall not be opening the entire house, of course, just enough for our use. And Father has given instructions to open the stables and find hacks that Miss Derby and might ride, weather permitting.

I must give Father credit, Armand. He will insist on confining me here in Wickshire—that is, in the Back of Beyond—"until the talk dies down in Yorke"; and I may say to you that though I wish to scream "I care nothing for the talk in Yorke!", and have done so, I fear, at times, I am just as glad not to see the old ladies look at each other and smirk when I enter a room, yes, and the young ones too. It is too vexing, Armand! Too, too vexing, for I have done nothing but give a sorry excuse for a gentleman the ducking he deserved.

But though Father's sense of the right thing to do in these circumstances is dire, there is no shabbiness in him, as you know as well as I. He is not playing the pinchpenny here, nor has he requested the Morphics to spy on me, but rather to make me comfortable in every way. Indeed, I believe they are related to the aged chief servants I remember from a child, and they dote on me in the extreme. It is another reason why I write these lines to you rather than to Mother, for she could but take them as ingratitude after all of Father's efforts. You, I know, understand the need for discretion where one's people are concerned.

So there will be horses; indeed, Blightwell is seeing to the refurbishment of our old carriage, and of the sleigh we use in fine weather when the snow is too deep for a carriage. And I am exceedingly grateful, for else I should not be able to leave the grounds until spring, or visit the shops in Stourton (such as they are) or take tea with friends there.

And may I say, Armand, that Stourton is quite a colorful place this year? For the 2nd Hussars are in residence nearby, and it is a treat to see the officers in their blue coats and shakos promenading down the high street with the local damsels on their arms. The horses cannot arrive soon enough for me!

No, no, Armand, I do not aspire to become one of those damsels, think what you will. It is too soon. But the house here is so dark, and the days so dreary, that I am mad for any diversion, any bright thing to observe and take delight in, and for any conversation but Miss Derby's. A fine woman, do not mistake me, and devoted to me, but I am all too well acquainted with her complete store of observations.

Of course, in order to take tea with friends, I must first acquire some. Here again, Father did not leave me quite orphaned. He introduced me to Mrs. Grimsby and her daughters, the inhabitants of Ukridge House—they being our nearest neighbors; and also to Mrs. Willoughby and her daughter, who live at Stourness on the far side of Stourton, her husband being the local squire. The Grimsby is well named, I fear, though in prudence I may not shun her; but I have great hopes of Miss Willoughby should I be able to extract her from her mother's presence. Mrs. Willoughby has been good enough to send her carriage to fetch me twice since Father left, and so I must pay her every attention when I come; but once our carriage is ready I shall be freer to visit her daughter.

Need I say that Father introduced me to no gentlemen at all? Not even to Squire Willoughby, though of course I expect that that will come in time.

But I have reached the end of my paper, Armand. I hope you can decipher my crossings! Do write me, though I know it shall be months before I can hear from you! Until then, I remain,

Your lonely cousin,


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photo credit: George Stubbs / Public domain, 1793, “The 10th Hussars”

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