Letters from Armorica: Camberwell (26 August 37)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
18 July 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I have no news about the fate of the wicked Grimsbys, as yet, but I rejoice to tell you that Maximilian has returned from Cambershire and is guesting with the Willoughbys. He drove up in an elegant low-perch phaeton this past Friday, behind a pair of lovely bays.

“Should you care to go for a drive with an ex-officer of hussars?” he asked me when I found him in the drawing room.

“I should like nothing better,” I said. “Depending, of course, on the particulars.”

“The particulars?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “There are many important considerations, you must see that.” I counted them off on my fingers. “Why did the officer leave his regiment? Is the weather fair, or cloudy? Is his name Maximilian Archer? Those will do, for a start.”

“Ah, I see. Well, then. Family duty; as fair as could be wished; and I have always been told so. Although….”

“Yes?”

“So that you may be quite sure, the ex-officer’s full name is Maximilian James Archer.”

“I suppose one mustn’t quibble about a James here or there. No, I believe you have met my requirements in all particulars.” I gave him a smile that quite failed to express the singing in my heart. “I shall be down directly!”

And I was, too, Armand, you needn’t look at me like that.

“I arrived late yesterday,” he told me after we turned onto the road to Stourton. “I had intended to take a room at the King’s Scones, but I happened to meet Squire Willoughby on the high street, and he forbade Dabney to take me in.”

“He did? Whatever for?”

“He insisted that I come home with him. He said it was the least he could do for the man who brought Dr. Tillotson to break the Grimsby’s enchantment.”

“And so it was. And yet, it must be odd to be sharing a roof with my darling Jane.”

“I would find it most uncomfortable, I admit, if she weren’t about to wed your brother. I am most delighted that she is.”

“Truly?”

“If she were not, I would be sleeping at the King’s Scones.”

“I find that I am consumed by envy,” I told him.

“Oh? But why?”

“Jane has been so consumed with preparations for the wedding that I have hardly seen her this age, and there you are, ensconced just where I should most like to be.”

“Most?” he asked drily.

“Well. I do admit this phaeton has its attractions at the moment.”

“Then I rejoice to inform you that I am in the way of meeting both your likings, for I have been directed to bring you to tea at the Willoughby’s.”

“Tea? You monster, I am not dressed for tea!”

“Have no concern; the Squire simply asked me to bring you by while we are out on our drive.”

“You are still a monster, not to have warned me!”

“I see,” he said, casting a wry look in my direction. “I shall be careful to avoid duck ponds in future.”

I blushed deeply, Armand. I admit it.

Tea with the Willoughby’s was a merry thing. It was just the six of us: the Squire and Mrs. Willoughby, Jane and my brother Edward, and Maximilian and I.

I apologized for my dress, but Mrs. Willoughby said, “Oh, pooh. You will be one of the family in a fortnight, my dear.” And indeed, the Willoughbys were themselves not dressed for visitors, but for whatever endeavors they were pursuing when we arrived. Even Edward was wearing the suit he wore when working with Blightwell.

The conversation then turned to the plans and preparations for the forthcoming nuptials, which I shall spare you, dear Armand.

When Maximilian and I resumed our drive, I asked him about the state of affairs in Cambershire—for you should know that we have had little enough time to discuss such things.

He grimaced. “My late cousin Oswald proves to have been something of a pinchpenny. He left me a generous competence, for which I am truly grateful, but I do not believe he spent a shilling on his dwelling in Camberwell in the past forty years. It is in a fair way to collapse. Oswald has quite the reputation in Camberwell, and I am afraid it is not a good one.”

“I suppose the folk of Camberwell must be inclined to dislike you.”

Maximilian laughed. “Not after I cleared his accounts with the local tradesmen. I do believe they would find anyone at all to be an improvement. But I admit I am somewhat at point nonplus, so to speak. The house is not livable; in the end, my cousin and his man were huddling in the only two rooms not overcome with mold and drafts. It would be an arduous task to repair it, and would consume much of his legacy.”

“Are there any lands?”

“None to speak of.”

“So what do you intend?”

“For now, nothing. I have shut up the house; and I have provided for his servant, which my esteemed cousin did not. In the longer term, well.” He glanced in my direction. “We shall have to see, won’t we?”

“Perhaps we shall,” I said. “I do believe we shall.”

And there you must leave us until my next, dear Armand.

Your happy cousin,

Amelia

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