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."
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,