Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
3 Madrigal Court, Yorke
24 May 1017
As you can see I am back in Yorke; for if I am to write these memoirs I need details, and it seems that the details are to be found here in Yorke in the War Records Office.
But I get ahead of myself. I returned to Yorke several days ago, quite surprising my Mama and Papa who had not looked to see me for some months; and the next day I paid a call on Lord Doncaster at his club—Blacks, on St. Michael’s Street.
The porter sent a lad to ask His Lordship’s wishes; and the lad on his return led me to an alcove to one side of the main lounge, where His Lordship was ensconced in a wide leather chair, a cigar at his side, the Times in his lap, and the most forbidding look you can well imagine on his face.
I’d had it directed at me before, of course, and conscious that I was on the side of the angels was able to stand firm.
He shook his head at me. “It won’t do, Montjoy, it won’t do. Indeed, I am surprised to see you here, attempting to drag on my coat-tails. You must know that I can have no position for you.”
I affected shock. “Of course not, sir. Had I been lackwit enough to approach you on such a subject as that, I’d have applied to you in Thurmond Street.”
And with that His Lordship quite lost his severe look.
“And doubtless before breakfast, too, like that idiot Carstairs this morning. I tell you, Montjoy, from all the traffic on my front step you’d think my coat-tails were broad enough to support the entire population of Yorke.” He harrumphed, folded his paper, and cast me a pointed look.
“Well, then, Montjoy, out with it.”
“I have two related items of business, sir: a word from the front, as it were, and a favor to ask.”
“A ‘word from the front,’ is it?”
“Yes, sir. It so happens that I have been asked to write my memoirs of the late war, and I wished to ask whether there were any topics you’d prefer to, ah, pass over in silence.”
“Hah! It’s like that, is it? Rollicking hi-jinks and goats in your captain’s bed, is it? As I chose not to cashier you at the time, I shan’t cavil now. You may publish and be damned!”
Lest you misunderstand, Armand, he said this with an air of great merriment and fond reminiscence.
“Alas, sir, you have me wrong—though I greatly wish you had me right, for it should be much more fun. No, the publisher wants a sober look at the progress of the war from a subaltern’s perspective.”
“A sober look at the—does he know any subalterns?”
“I believe not, sir. So you see my difficulty. If I still had access to your papers, I could remind myself of the precise location of each individual mudhole we found ourselves in, and the role played by each skirmish. As it is, I don’t and won’t.”
“Quite. And as you are looking to provide a view from the inside, the despatches as published in the Times will be of very little use to you.”
“So I would guess, sir.”
He considered for a long moment.
“I do believe you’d best apply to old Melliman at the War Records Office in St. Vincent’s Square. All of my despatches and other correspondence home will have ended up there by now, probably piled in boxes in some back room. You might get some cooperation from him if you offer to sort them out. You may tell him I sent you.”
“Thank you, sir!”
“Don’t thank me too quickly, Montjoy, for I have a price.”
“I shall require you to write up the rest of your memories as well, for my own amusement. Publish them or not, it’s all one to me, but I want to see them.”
I didn’t salute, of course, for we were neither of us in uniform and of course I no longer hold a commission. But I might as well have.
His Lordship’s name proved to be a word of power in St. Vincent’s Square, as did my offer to make myself useful. In short order I found myself at a desk in the backroom with the pile of boxes.
And so I have taken up residence once again in Madrigal Court. My plan is to live as quietly as possible, the better to avoid my creditors. I shall creep out by dawn’s early light to engage with the enemy in the depths of the War Records Office, no doubt filling many notebooks with dust and bones. At noon I shall return to Madrigal court, where I shall have a quiet lunch and then endeavor to put flesh on those bones and make ’em dance around a bit. But not too much, lest I scare the pedestrians.
And then, in the evening, over a glass of my father’s brandy, I shall record how it really was, and the pedestrians be damned. Perhaps I’ll send you a word or two of that as I go along.
Your solitary and monk-like cousin,