Letters from Armorica: Staffing Up (14 September 37)

Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
8 August 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

The previous week has not gone at all as I had expected. Mother and Father are here, as you know, and I had planned a week of blissful chats with Mother and Father, mingled with blissful drives with Maximilian and teas with the Willoughbys. The reality has been far otherwise.

Maximilian went off to Camberwell last Wednesday, to begin “closing up shop there,” as he puts it—which is to say, to begin the process of selling off his late Cousin Oswald’s property. I am mildly sorry, for the state of the house is “beyond all rational discourse” according to Maximilian, and so I should like to have seen it in all of its disheveled and seedy glory, just for purposes of comparison in future years.

Why yes, dear Armand, I do expect to have that phrase applied to me at times. How not?

But I cannot disagree with his decision. We have no acquaintance in Cambershire, nor had Cousin Oswald any acquaintance for us to “take up,” as it were, he being a bitter old miser by all accounts. And if we will not live there, why keep the rotting old pile?

But this does raise the question of where we shall live, a subject which has been much on my mind in light of Mama and Papa’s activities this week. As I have indicated, I expected a round of feasting, outings, and cozy chats; and yet I find that my beloved parents are bent on industry.

In my time here, as you’ll remember if you have been paying attention, The Elms has been mostly closed up, staffed only by Morphick and his wife, and by Tom Coachman, with maintenance being seen to by Blightwell as part of his management of the larger estate on my father’s behalf. And of course I have had Miss Derby by me. It has been a tiny but satisfactory establishment, but it is not nearly enough to keep up The Elms in right and proper fashion, nor to support a growing family, nor to sustain the reputation of the future Squire of Wickshire, for Edward and Jane intend to make their home here.

One might think, as I did, that they might live with Squire and Mrs. Willoughby; for Stourness is the squire’s seat, and Jane will certainly inherit it in the fullness of time; but Mama assures me that it is the most uncomfortable thing for a new bride to set up her household in her mama’s shadow. And how can her husband be the man of the house, under such circumstances.

So they shall live here, at The Elms; and so Mama and Papa intend to open up the house fully for the first time in decades, which means that it must be fully staffed. All of this is by way of being a surprise wedding present—for Mama assures me that Edward, for all his seriousness, will have had no thought to spare for anything so mundane—and so must be well in hand before the newlyweds return in at the end of the month.

Now, if you were a proper Cumbrian lady, dear Armand, you would be exclaiming over the impropriety of hiring new staff in Jane’s absence. But it is not so bad, really. It is Papa’s house, of course, and so it truly is his responsibility. Morphick and his wife are old, but must be kept on for at least a few more years as a reward for faithful service, and because they know the house and grounds. Then they shall be properly pensioned off; Papa will see to that. And then Jane may choose whom she likes as their replacements. Jane will of course bring her own maid with her, and Edward, for his part, may choose to hire a valet should he ever discover the need of one. With his serious and understated notions of proper dress, notions which suit him so well, he has never yet done so.

They will need a competent cook, for Mrs. Morphick will have no time for that in future; Mama will hire someone from Yorke. And the remaining servants are neither here nor there, so long as well they are dutiful and well-mannered.

But as you are not a proper Cumbrian lady, and so have no compelling interest in the hiring of servants, I shall move on.

There remains the question of where Maximilian and I shall live following our own nuptials. Though I must soon meet Maximilian’s parents, we shall certainly not live with them in Nexinghamshire, for that should be as uncomfortable for me as remaining at Stourness would be for Jane; and barring catastrophe their house in Nexing Cross must pass to Maximilian’s elder brother in due time.

We might dwell in Wickshire, for we have many dear friends here; but there are no suitable establishments for sale here, barring the Grimsby estate—and you will not be surprised to find that I have no wish at all to dwell in there. And though Maximilian is now well able to support a wife and family, a country estate is rather beyond his touch.

To be practical: we must live in some town. But what town? In what county? Stourton is lovely but perhaps too small, and buying a home there seems foolish when we can simply come and stay with Edward and Jane from time to time. Yorke is too dear, I am afraid, though I expect we will visit from time to time, as there is no longer any reason for me to stay away: my wedding to a gentleman of good family will quite repair my reputation, and even enhance it.

Oh, Armand, I am chattering away from an excess of nerves. I do not know where we shall live, but I know that Maximilian has a plan he has not yet revealed to me, something he wishes to be a surprise. I cannot quite see what it will be, and yet I cannot help trying to work it out, and so am I all a-flutter. And you know my darling is well able to keep his mouth closed when it suits him, even if he were here for me to badger.

But Amelie—such a charming name!—will be wanting to know of our wedding plans. We shall be married out of this house, ideally in about two month’s time. Once Mama and Papa have The Elms in order the three of us shall join Maximilian in Nexing Cross where we shall meet his family, who, Maximilian says, “are far less grim than the Grimsbys, I do assure you.”

And after that? I am most eager to find out!

Your impatient but resolutely cheerful cousin,


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Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

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