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 Willoughby.

“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,


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photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar Hills and clouds via photopin (license)

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