The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria
2 September 1015
My dearest cousin Armand,
In but four short days, I shall be a married woman.
Everyone has gathered. Mama and Papa are here at The Elms, and Maximilian’s parents also; the old place has not been so lively since I was a small child. Maximilian is stopping at Stourness with the Willoughbys, as is only proper, and his brother Octavian is with him—to be his prop and stay, he says, as if my Maximilian needs such a thing.
I had occasion to say this to Mama and to my dear Mama-in-Law to be, and they surprised me.
“His knees are knocking, I shouldn’t wonder,” said Mama, and Lady Archer confirmed it by saying, “Nor and he’s no fool, my son Max. He has sense enough for two, and that just makes it worse, for he can see what’s coming at him.”
I admit I was somewhat offended. Lady Archer saw it on my countenance, for she held up a forestalling hand. “I am glad he chose you, dear daughter-to-be, never think otherwise.” She smiled, looking up into a corner of the ceiling. “I remember how my husband described marriage to me, a little after Octavian was born. ‘A carriage pulled by two unruly horses, with the children inside and no one at the reins.'”
My mother smiled broadly. “That’s a very good figure, Margaret. My dear, until now you’ve only been acquainted with old married couples, who have learned to trot along in harness together in good order. And Edward and Jane, of course, but they are too newly wed to begin to take each other for granted.”
“I am sure I shall never take Maximilian for granted!” I said, with some heat and dismay.
“Of course you will, dear Amelia,” said Lady Archer. “How not? You’ve not taken his full measure yet. You are choosing to trust him on what would be a scandalously short acquaintance if it were not much the usual thing. But the time will come when you will know what he will do without needing to ask, indeed, without thinking about it.”
“And there’s the difficulty, I think,” said Mama, with the air of one thinking through things she had long known but never consciously considered. “You and Max will do very well, not tearing at each other like some I have known. But you will think you know his mind long before you truly do.”
“And so with him,” said Lady Archer, nodding.
“And so you will pull left when he pulls right, and the whole carriage will turn topsy-turvy, and you will be days picking up the pieces.”
The two looked at me half-solemnly, and sipped tea with a demure air.
“Aye,” said Lady Archer. “No one will make you as angry as my Maximilian.”
“Of course not,” said Mama. “For no one else’s opinion will matter as much to you.”
I looked from one to the other in horror. “But if the married state is so awful—” I began, and they laughed merrily at me, and shared a secret smile.
“It is not,” said Mama. “But there will be trials, and I would not have you encounter them in ignorance.”
“And besides,” said Lady Archer, “I find that the good times can take care of themselves.”
“For the most part,” said Mama, and Lady Archer nodded.
“For the most part,” she said.
And then they proceeded to explain things I shall not speak of even to my dear cousin. You might have a word with your Amelie if you are curious.
I have had many such small conversations with my two mamas these past days, and have discussed some portion of them with Maximilian on the all too rare occasions when we have been able to speak privately. He, I gather, has spent his evenings drinking quietly with Squire Willoughby and Octavian, and not infrequently with his father and Brother Edward as well.
Today, while we were out for a drive together, I asked him, “Have they been giving you similar advice, dear Maximilian?”
“Not precisely,” he said. “As articulate as your brother is when it comes to farming, he becomes tongue-tied when the topic approaches the married state—though it is clear that he approves of it.
“No, the squire has been telling me of his life here in Wickshire, and of all of his happy memories. Many of them concern Mrs. Willoughby, and many are tales about his own foolishness.” He cocked his head. “I suppose you may say that your ‘mamas’ have been teaching you the theory while Squire Willoughby has been describing the practice.”
“And what of your own father?”
“He’s had many a tell to tale, as you can well imagine. But of course I already know all of his stories.” He cast a reflective look at me, briefly, before turning back to the road. “He did tell one tale I had not heard before. I shan’t go into the details, for it isn’t my story to tell. Mother might speak of it to you, if you ask. But I have one of my own, you know.”
“Do you?” I said, with some surprise.
“Yes. You remember the day I came to you, to accuse you of enchanting Lt. Pertwee.”
“How angry you were! And you were quite right, though your anger was woefully misdirected.”
“And you were magnificent. You neither crumpled, nor hurled abuse, but merely set me straight. Heatedly.” He shot me a warm look. “And from that, all else has followed.”
“Why, yes,” I said. “So it has.”
Your soon-to-be-married and ever so remarkably giddy cousin,