Letters from Armorica: Dinner and Mangelwurzels (3 June 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

1 April 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

Papa arrived at The Elms not too early in the afternoon last Wednesday, while Edward was berating me yet again for my high-handed, injudicious, and socially injurious plans to host a dinner party.

"For a young unmarried lady such as yourself—" he was saying, when we both caught the sound of coach wheels on gravel.

"Who can that be?" I said calmly—for I have been strategically calm all week, my dear Armand—and glided out of the drawing room into the front hall, where Morphick was already opening the front door.

"Why, Papa! How good to see you," I said, kissing him lightly on the cheek, and giving no sign that I had been expecting him for the past hour.

"Indeed, it is good that you are here," said Edward in thunderous tones. "I must speak with you immediately."

"Yes, Edward, we must talk," said Papa cheerfully as he took off his heavy traveling coat and handed it to Morphick. "But first I must have a tot of brandy to take the chill off, and then I must speak with Blightwell. Would you fetch him for me, please? If he isn't in his office I am sure he will be about the Home Farm somewhere."

"Of course, Father," said Edward, with the greatest reluctance, and went to do so.

"And now, Amelia, come with me and tell me what's to do."

"Mangelwurzels, Papa," I said as we entered the library. "Mangelwurzels are what's to do. Oh, and Edward wants to speak with you about tomorrow night's dinner party, because as a young unmarried lady I ought not be hosting such a thing. Here is the seating chart. You must rearrange it however you like."

He took the chart and glanced over it. "I see you have invited the Grimsbys. Was that truly necessary?"

"Of course it was, dear Papa. They have been so attentive these past months."

He sighed. "Yes, I know. It's simply that I knew Mrs. Grimsby when she was just young Gertrude Smotherwack. I see that you have Edward sitting between her daughters."

"He has been…challenging, Papa. I will move him if you prefer."

"No, no, he has sown the wind; it is only fair that he should reap." He pondered the chart for a few more moments. "I believe I know everyone here except your two Lieutenants. Tell me about, yes, tell me about this Lieutenant Pertwee."

"Good hearted, cheerful, stalwart, likely a good friend in a pinch, and of no mental capacity whatsoever. I met him at tea. At the Grimsbys, as I recall."

"And this Lieutenant Archer. I have heard a great deal about him from Edward already; now I should like to hear from you."

"I believe I should like you to come to your own conclusions," I said.

"Like that, is it? So Edward was correct?" He wasn't angry, Armand, but his gaze was beyond pointed.

"No!" I said. "No! I—I don't know, Papa. Oh, what does it matter! He is quite taken with Jane Willoughby, I believe, and she with him."

'Ah. And what about those books you asked me to procure for you?"

"Oh! Did you bring them? Are they here?"

"In my trunk. I trust your interest in wizardry has to do with young Archer?"

I blushed, Armand! I, who have been out long enough to win and then jilt—that is to say, I surprised myself.

"Well, yes, Papa, he spoke of it once. And yet, the subject has quite captured my attention. Perhaps I am merely turning blue with boredom."

"And what do you think of it?"

"It is quite a difficult study, I find, but it speaks to me somehow. Perhaps the new books will help."

"Very well," he said, handing me the seating chart. "I see no need to amend this. Indeed, I am quite looking forward to it."

Edward returned with Blightwell at that moment; and I am afraid I can give you no account of their discussion, for Papa sent me off to ask Morphic to bring a decanter of brandy. I may have lingered in the vicinity long enough to see Blightwell march out with a smile on his face. He closed the library doors firmly behind him, and came to me.

"Thank you, Miss Montjoy. It will all be all right now." He nodded, and strolled away humming under his breath.

Being wiser than Edward, I did not linger to witness my beloved brother's discomfiture, however tempted I surely was.

Edward was quiet all of the next day—I saw very little of him, in fact, though he came into the library once or twice looking for a book, being myself involved with instructing Mrs. Morphick and the servants we had hired for the evening.

The dinner party was a joy and a delight. I sat Mrs. and Squire Willoughby on Papa's left and right, with myself next to the Squire and Lieutenant Archer next to Mrs. Willoughby—close enough to allow Papa to observe him closely, but not so close as to make any kind of untoward public statement. True, both lieutenants were closer to the top of the table than Yorke manners would admit; but it has not been that long since the war against Le Maréchal, and folk here in Wickshire are still in the habit of showing their appreciation to our gallant soldiers. If Papa could not contrive to have a word with him over the port and cigars, well.

I put Jane next to him, for I am not heartless, and that tiresome Edward Hargreaves next beyond her, for I am not stupid. Lt. Pertwee was to my right, with the Grimsby girls and Edward beyond him, and Mr. and Mrs. Grimsby at the foot of the table.

Have I mentioned The Grimsby's husband? I believe not. He is an estimable man, silent, cheerful, attentive to his food, and utterly deaf to his wife's constant flow of speech—to which I rather think he pays no attention at all. The few times I have met him in Stourton he has greeted me with a smile and a tip of his hat and asked after my health. I find that I feel somewhat sisterly towards him, for in him I detect another who has learned the value of a strategic calm. He is much welcomed by hostesses here in Wickshire.

There were no fireworks—truly, Armand, you should know me better than that! Though Brother Edward seemed rather harried before the first course was removed. I am sure I do not see why, for young Agatha and Matilda Grimsby seemed eager to please him, and I am sure that he neither understood nor marked the honeyed barbs the sisters were flinging at each other. Edward Hargreaves was a perfect gentleman, attentive to his dinner companions—which is what I would expect from him, I may say—and if he shot me a longing look or too I heartlessly failed to see them.

For my part I had an enjoyable meal. I paid no more attention to Lieutenant Archer than to anyone else, which is to say I greeted him warmly and then let him make his own way. I heard him speaking with the Willoughby ladies about his experiences in the war, and about garrison duty in Wickshire, and nothing at all about wizardry, which made me smile to myself. Squire Willoughby is always good company, flirting outrageously while yet staying firmly within the bounds of propriety—a true skill, I have come to believe—and Lt. Pertwee was happy to listen to me babble about my difficulties with arcane geometry, nodding as if he understood—not that I understand it myself, though having looked into the tomes Papa brought for me I now know what symmetry is. I told Edward this morning that he is perfectly symmetrical, which made him bristle.

"It's quite true," I said. "You're known for it. Ask anyone."

Father returned to Yorke this morning. Before he left, he said to me, "Your Lieutenant Archer seems a fine young man, Amelia; I quite like him. His family is good, and I see no signs of dissipated living. But please take care. A soldier is no kind of husband, nor is his allowance generous enough to support you as you would wish. If he were the eldest, well. You could do better—you have done better, in fact—but the Archers are an old, respectable family. But as things are—"

"I know, Papa. I know."

Edward, I fear, has spent the last days in a state of tense fascination mixed with frustration. I have heard nothing definite, but he has been following Blightwell about the estate like a baby duckling; and I gather that Papa has commended him for his newfound interest in the management of our affairs here in Wickshire, promised to do all he can to ensure that he learns everything he needs to know in that line, and has put him firmly under the thumb of the esteemed Blightwell. I am grateful, as it gives him little time to concern himself with my affairs.

In the meantime I have continued my studies—but this letter has already gone on far too long.

Your studious and cheerful cousin,


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photo credit: stanzebla Futterrübe via photopin (license)

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