The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
11 July 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
This would have been a delightful week except for two unfortunate circumstances. Maximilian is still in Cambershire; and Edward Hargreaves is not.
I have received letters from both Maximilian and my father. Their meeting went well, so well that Mother asked Maximilian to stay to dinner. Mother was taken by his charm, so Father says, and as for Father he has no further objections to make given the change in Maximilian’s circumstances. Now it is only necessary for me to discover for myself whether his charm is on the surface, only, or whether he is gold clear through.
Which I cannot do while he is in Cambershire, dear Armand, and it is making me ever so cross. I have had to apologize to Miss Derby several times a day.
My unwanted suitor Edward Hargreaves is not helping. I believe someone has spoken to him about his awful behavior while he was in the thrall of Matilda Grimsby, and so he has redoubled his efforts to win my hand. But that is not quite right. He considers, I believe, that he has already won my hand, and has redoubled his efforts to make it clear to everyone that he never lost it.
That is what I think he is doing, at least, for it is difficult to determine the motives of a man who comes to tea and speaks only of seed drills.
Whatever his intentions, he has certainly redoubled the amount of time he spends calling on me, and as nothing I say makes any impression it has been difficult to discourage him. I am not a hard-hearted person, Armand; I do not wish to cause him pain; and I worry how he will respond if Maximilian offers for my hand and I choose to accept. I do believe he will be surprised and hurt.
In the meantime, I have been relying on Brother Edward and Lieutenant Pertwee for my succor. Brother Edward said to me some days ago, “I fear you have quite enthralled Mr. Hargreaves, Amy. In the most natural way, but there it is. I see that it won’t do.” And so, Edward has been particularly careful to be about the house whenever Mr. Hargreaves might visit, so that he might happen into the room to tell him about some new agricultural wonder, and in all likelihood lead him away. Both Miss Derby and I have been grateful.
And then, Lieutenant Pertwee came to my rescue on Market Day. Now that the spell has been reversed he is quite his old self; and greeting me warmly he escorted me all about the square and to and from the Library, carrying my parcels and utterly refusing to attend to Mr. Hargreaves’ hints, and in all ways acting the perfect gentleman.
Mr. Hargreaves was quite put out.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Hargreaves, truly,” I said, “but the Lieutenant has been so helpful that I mustn’t abandon him.”
“Least I can do for Max, Miss Montjoy,” said the Lieutenant later on, as he handed me into my carriage. “And pleased to.”
The other highlight of my week was the visit from Orthopractor Simms. “Orthopractor” is quite a forbidding title, is it not? But Simms himself is a charming man, and not forbidding at all, or at least not to me. He is a slight, dapper man, perhaps my father’s age, with but a fringe of brown hair to his head.
“I am delighted to meet you, Miss Montjoy,” he said. “My name is Simms, and I am orthopractor for the Royal College of Wizards. I would like to speak to you about, ah, recent events.”
“Of course, sir. But I have never met an orthopractor before—how ought I to address you?”
He smiled cheerfully. “Mr. Simms will do quite well, Miss Montjoy.”
“Very well. And if I may be so bold, what does it mean to be an orthopractor? It is rather an unusual title.”
“So it is, Miss Montjoy. It is my task to investigate accusations and occasions of incorrect practice among the wizards of Cumbria, and, ah, put them right. Forcibly, if need be.”
“I presume you are not so much concerned with errors in technique, as with—”
“Let us say, errors in judgement, Miss Montjoy. Quite so.”
“Well, then, I am delighted to meet you as well, Mr. Simms, and I hope I may be of help in your task.”
“Very good, Miss Montjoy. If you please, tell me what you know about the Grimsby family.”
“I first met them when I came to Wickshire to stay last December. My father was careful to introduce me about, and they are, or were, our nearest neighbors.”
“And, ah, how did you find them?”
“Insufferable, if I may say so. I— Mr. Simms, I fear that to explain it to you, I must perhaps be indelicate.” He nodded, and waited for me to go on. “I came to Wickshire after having broken off an engagement with—”
Simms held up one hand. “I am acquainted with the man, Miss Montjoy; he is, ah, a relation of mine. And may I say, from my long-acquaintance with him, that I rejoice in your escape, and can only wish that the duckpond had been deeper.”
I blushed. “Well. But the Grimsbys made me welcome, inviting me to tea with great frequency and feigning the greatest joy in my presence. I soon realized that so far from acting out of kindness, they were persuaded that I had been ruined and were daily looking for the signs of it.”
“And so what did you do, Miss Montjoy?”
“I maintained perfect composure, gave no sign of noticing their malice, and rejoiced in their discomfiture as the weeks went by and no such signs appeared.”
Simms smiled broadly. “Well done, Miss Montjoy.”
In the hour that followed he questioned me minutely about the Grimsby family and what I had seen during the disastrous ball at the Willoughbys.
“And have you any other observations to make, Miss Montjoy,” he said at last.
“Yes. I cannot believe the Grimsby daughters did this on their own; and I cannot believe Mr. Grimsby to be responsible. Indeed—”
“Yes, Miss Montjoy?”
“Mr. Grimsby is well-liked in the district, Mr. Simms, always cheerful, always polite, but he hasn’t much to say. And my father, well, my father knew Gertrude Grimsby when she was only Gertrude Smotherwick; he left Wickshire to avoid her. And, well—”
“You fear that Mrs. Grimsby acquired her husband by wizardly means.”
“Yes, precisely. But I cannot think that Mrs. Grimsby is a wizard.” Simms raised an eyebrow, and I continued slowly, “She is a cunning woman, but not a wise one. If her understanding were better, her malice would be less obvious, do you see? And if the skill were hers, I do not think she could forebear to use it.”
“In short, if she were a wizard, I would have made her acquaintance long before now, Miss Montjoy. Yes, I quite agree.” He rose to his feet. “I am quite looking forward to making her acquaintance now,” he said, “and especially the acquaintance of her husband. You have been a great help, Miss Montjoy.”
“Will you inform me of the results of your investigations?”
“If not I, then one of my brethren from the College, Miss Montjoy. And now I must bid you good day.”
And so now I must wait, Armand.
Your increasingly impatient cousin,
photo credit: Rushen! Trimeresurus sabahi fucatus, Sabah pit viper (female) – Yong Waterfall National Park via photopin (license)