Woodston, April the 27th
Henry tells me that congratulations may be due by summer's end, and I'm therefore sending them with great joy. We are both delighted, of course, and I expect regular progress reports.
Just after I posted my last letter to you, I received one from our Mrs. Allen, who aside from mailing me fashion plates at as the seasons alter, does not usually correspond. Her news, coming so unexpectedly, quite astonishes me. She is invited to the house of a very prominent personage in our county, Mrs. Rebecca Horne, and has asked me to be her companion, in lieu of Mr. Allen who is again not well. (I suspect, in truth, that her invitation of is a pretext to solicit leave to stay here at Woodston both coming and going, as it nicely breaks her journey, but care I? No!) She is to arrive tomorrow afternoon!
I have heard much about Mrs. Horne, who lives some miles up towards Evesham in a very fine manor house called Westward. Henry tells me that it was until lately kept by servants, as Mr. Horne lived on the Continent (possibly in Italy?), but that on his death, his wife has returned to her native country. She is to throw Westward open for the enjoyment of all her friends, and their companions, this coming May Day. (Henry has some concerns regarding the Heathen proclivities of May Day celebrations, but I'm sure I've never seen anything of the kind, despite having kept a sharp eye, as they say.) I of course accepted with many thanks, and my only wish was that you could take part in my adventure. Failing that, I promise to write you an account of every detail.
My apologies for the shortness of this letter, as I want to sent my congratulations with the first possible post, so that you may receive them immediately.
Sealing this now, with all my love, as ever your affectionate sister,
PS. Henry has told me that, given your present circumstances, I am absolutely not to alarm you with any kind of "romantic fantasies," to which he claims I am prone. I objected most strenuously to this characterisation, and I assure you that my forthcoming (and longer) letter will be completely factual on every point, devoid of speculation, and possessing only the barest descriptions and no poetry of any kind. Yours,
PPS: Thank you for the book of poetry. I'm certain that I will adore it. I haven't read this Mr. Scott before, but remember that you spoke well of his German translations. Yours,
Westward House, April the 29th
My dear Eleanor,
I finally have a moment to myself to write! Mrs. Allen has spent the last day telling me of all the news of Fullerton, all unremarkable to one not born there, and about a hat she got while in Bath over the winter, which I must allow to be very fetching. All the news of my parents is quite ordinary, and I will not trouble you with it.
One mystery has been solved: Mrs. A. and Mrs. Horne were great friends at school, and this is the first time they have met in some years. I have begun to suspect that Mrs. A's reasons for attending the house party have less to do with reacquainting herself with our hostess, and more with pursuit of a mutual friend. But I've gotten ahead of my horse. I'll have to tell you all about our journey, and Mrs. H, and her friends for you to understand.
As I said in my last letter, Mrs. H. lives up towards Evesham, quite in the middle of the hills, which as you well know are very wild. It may be only thirty miles, but I feel as though we travelled half way to Scotland on the way there. The house itself is quite new, perhaps dating from the Restoration, with the large windows one expects from that time. Behind the house, a wild crag rises up before meeting with a larger mountain (which Henry would doubtless tell me is indeed still a hill). I didn't see it properly for the rain, but I believe a path leaves from the house for those who wish to take the air and an excellent view down over Gloucestershire and across to Wales. I don't feel it's quite as picturesque as your own dear Abbey, and it does face some frightful gales in the winter, according to Mrs. A, and that was one of the reasons Mr. and Mrs. H. lived abroad.
Mrs. Horne herself is a great beauty, though her mode is a little old fashioned. (Quoth Mrs. A. I believe it suits her.) She has lovely blonde hair and kind eyes, and made me feel very welcome, saying that she was very pleased to meet me, and that her house was "Honoured to host such a pretty young lady this May Day." I believe that we were almost the first to arrive, except another school friend of Mrs. H., who has I think been staying with her for some days. Her name is Miss Amanda Fairfield, and I have not yet seen enough of her to make a firm impression, past great beauty and style, and a certain reserve around Mrs. A. I assume they must also have been at school together, but they did not seem on the best of terms. Mrs. A. said that it had been some time since they'd run into each other, and the tone in which Miss F. replied suggested that it had perhaps not been as long as either might have liked.
It is here that I come to Mrs. Allen's ulterior motive, for barely having introduced me and exchanged these few words with Miss Fairfield, Mrs. A. abruptly asked when a M. Gabriel Piton might be arriving, and did not hide her disappointment very well on finding that he was not come at all. She seemed to have her heart set on meeting with him, perhaps more so than renewing her connection with our host! I might have been put off, but Mrs. H. seems used to her old friend's ways, and even laughed when Mrs. A. suggested that she should have ensured that M. P. came for her sake.
We've all gone up to settle into our rooms and change now, and I must sign off. I read more of Mr. Scott's book in the carriage, and have found that my opinion of history has not changed since our first walk together these three years past. It is all together too dull, and there don't seem to be any ladies in the entire land, save the poor Queen of Scots. But you have recommended it, and I intend to persevere!
Your sister, always,
— Catherine Tilney
Westward House, April the 29th
Eleanor, my darling,
I shan't get a chance to post this until tomorrow late, as mail is infrequent here, and 'tis now Friday evening, but I better like writing to you than in my diary. At least you'll have something to read.
Dinner was quite informal, with just the four of us here. Mrs. Allen had Mrs. Horne's attention entirely, asking her particulars about Milan and Paris, though I heard Mrs. H. say, "I've been avoiding Paris since they began beheading people at the drop of a hat, and therefore cannot tell you if the Revolutionaries wear lace." I am almost entirely sure she spoke in jest, but I confess to not quite getting the joke.
In any case, I had Miss Amanda Fairfield to myself almost the entire evening, and I will tell you that I was quite wrong about her being reserved. I think it is mostly that she does not care to talk to Mrs. Allen, which is I'm sure due to some misunderstanding between them, but Miss F. was quite civil to me. I asked if she had ever had occasion to travel to France, and she said that she had just returned from the Continent, but that she had a similar aversion to the country as Mrs. H. She said, and these are her very words, "Once one has had one's heart broken in a place, my dear Catherine, one can never return." But she would not speak to the circumstances, only that her hopes had been cast down, and she'd had to flee to Bavaria, and had only just returned to England from thence. She intends to stay with Mrs. Horne until she finds a house to hire in England.
I asked if she was afraid to travel with just her maid, if she was afraid of banditti, but she dismissed the entire topic with a toss of her head. I wished that I could ask her how she gets her hair to curl so gracefully, but I didn't care for her to think me obsessed with fashion, as I sense she finds it boring, though she herself always looks very well. She then told me, in a whisper, and I am only telling you this because you are my dearest sister, that she had had to put off a very rude gentleman in Bavaria, and that he was part of the reason she'd been forced to leave, even though she'd been very welcome in the home of a Baron Holstein, and had had some hopes in that regard. All ruined now. I feel for her to the depths of my heart, to have been twice disappointed, and in such short order.
In regards to Mr. Scott's book, I have quite given up on the preface and the endless appendices and skipped to the heart of the volume. Though I did pause on my paging through to read a most illuminating passage regarding the superstitions held in that region. Imagine believing in spirits and fairies even into modern times! To bed, go I. I shall remember you in my prayers.
Westward House, April the 30th, Morning
Stayed up half the night reading that dashed book. Everyone in Scotland is remarkably violent! They're not at all like old Sir Robert we met in Bath, or the Salisbury canon. If Henry knows you read this, I cannot imagine what he could find to object to in any letter of mine. If the poems are to believed, the entire country is comprised of banditti, constantly stealing each other's ladies and running each other through. My heart is quite broken for the poor Maid of Norway! I am reminded of Emily's peril in Udolpho, when her Italian ship struck the coast of Narbonne. I shall never travel at sea, I promise you. I'm sure that Mrs. H. will be appalled at my use of candles. It's entirely your fault, though I love you still, but to breakfast and, by the Lord's good grace, tea!
Westward House, April the 30th, Afternoon
I promised Henry that you'd get an account of this weekend entirely uncompromised by romantic notions, so please keep that in mind when I tell you that I have just met the most sinister man. We were having a very fine breakfast, and I had just worked out from
Am Miss Fairfield that the reason Mrs. A. is so put out is that her M. Piton was a very great influence on ladies' fashion, and that she'd likely come solely for his company. Though she is rallying this morning, and I expect will be back to her old self. In any case, we were just finishing a lovely breakfast when the butler gave Mrs. H. a card, quite to my surprise (the breakfast room partially overlooks the drive, but I neither saw nor heard a carriage, and I would have). She glanced at it, apparently perplexed, then turned it over to see something written very lightly on the reverse. Then she looked at Miss F. and said, "A friend of yours?" and I saw Miss F. go pale. It was quite remarkable, like in a novel. All the colour left her face, and I only then perceived that she was wearing rouge, for it stood out in bright spots. She bit her lip and told Mrs. H. that she had no idea what she could mean. She had only just stood to leave (and too hastily for her dress snagged) when a man entered.
He was dressed for riding, and quite elegantly so, and still had his hat under his arm, and for all Miss Fairfield's distress, he barely glanced at her. Mrs. Horne introduced him as Mr. Adrian Montague, lately of New York City, and smiled as if that were a joke. Miss F. dropped back into her chair with huff, and gave Mrs. H. quite a shocking look, which Mrs. H. pretended not to see, though she did, I am sure of it. "It's the wrong MacLeod," Miss F. muttered, but wouldn't explain herself, then, though she did later. Meanwhile, Mrs. H. was inquiring into Mr. M.'s visit, and he said that he had been in the county when he'd remembered her party, and meant to pay his respects. Mrs. H. said of course he was welcome to stay, though she wondered if he were hunting (which struck me as a peculiar question, as it's hardly the season for it). He smiled and shrugged, but said nothing. I cannot seem to convey why this made me shiver, for it was a pleasant smile, and he has a pleasant face, but there was something in his eyes that I found unsettling. Mrs. H. said she did not allow hunting on her land, but that she was otherwise delighted to have him.
Miss Fairfield was still looking a little pale, so I asked if she'd take a turn with me in the fresh air. Yesterday's rain has entirely cleared, and the sky has been as blue as a robin's egg all day long. Westward House does not have much in the way of gardens, kitchen gardens aside, nor of a lawn, being on such a hill, but Miss F. knew a path up along to the south side of the house and around a low hill. Once outside and away from what she called "prying ears," she told me that Mr. Montague was the cousin of the reprobate who had driven her out of Bavaria, breaking her ties with the kindly Baron, and that she'd been afraid from Mrs. H's introduction that it had been the cousin, not Mr. M., planning to hunt her down, and further that all of Mr. M's talk of hunting had unnerved her. She was worried that the cousin, who she would not name, had spread lies about her and that Mr. M. now held her in ill regard on her cousin's behalf.
I must say, dear sister, that in the face of such a shocking tale, I found myself at a loss for advice. After all Henry's assurances that such things did not happen in England, and a resolute quashing of speculation of any kind, I had gotten quite used to seeing ordinary explanations for things, and to hear a story that seemed as though fresh off the pen of Mrs. Radcliffe herself, rather stymied me. Eventually I said, perhaps too weakly to be entirely convincing, that I was sure that no harm could come to a guest in Mrs. Horne's house, which did seem to comfort her somewhat. Perhaps foolishly, I asked if there were anything I could do to help. I really ought to have learned after the whole affair with Miss Thorpe not to venture assistance to a new acquaintance, but Miss Fairfield looked so distressed that I felt I had to speak.
For her part, Miss F. looked as though she would ask something of me, then shook her head and said rather dismally that if Mr. M.'s cousin did indeed come, there was no hope for her. I wish that I had better facility for words, but you know well that I am strong in sensibility, but sometimes lacking in how to put it to use. I rested a hand on her wrist as we stood overlooking the valley and the little village far below, hoping that it would convey my sympathy. We spoke only of light things on our return, which at least seemed to lighten her spirits. By the time we'd arrived back at the house, Mrs. Horne had installed Mr. Montague in the room two doors down from my own, and across from Miss Fairfield's, which she seemed to think was more amusing than either Miss F. or I did. I do not mean to speak discourteously of my hostess, who has treated me with all possible kindness, but it seems to me that Mrs. Horne can be a very peculiar woman at times.
Which is all the news I have at the moment. Several other guests arrived, a married couple recently returned from the Indies, and originally from France, who everyone seemed to know. But I did not speak to them over lunch. I think I shall see how Miss F. fares, next. More later. Must get this to post.
Your affectionate sister, always,
Westward House, May the 1st, Morning
I feel strangely rested this morning, despite having stayed up to finish the book. The Scots are clearly obsessed with murder, but have nice metre (though I'm not convinced by some of the rhymes). More guests came after dinner, and I did not have time to meet them, so should go down for breakfast soon, but must tell you of last night.
Amanda came after dinner briefly. She begged me to forgive her for alarming me earlier in the day. She claimed to have been overwrought, and had only me to confide in, as Mrs. Horne was intent on letting Mr. Montague stay, and would not credit Amanda's account of Bavaria. She had such a lovely, pleading expression, that I couldn't help but put my hands over hers and promise that I'd be ever her confidant, if she needed one. She smiled most gratefully at this, and such a look made my heart glow, as though an unbroken pony had allowed me to put my hand on its muzzle, or a deer had come to me in a field. I do not think that Amanda trusts many people. She said, growing serious of a sudden, that would not ask me what she was to ask next, save she thought it no danger to me, and a great help to her, perhaps her salvation. I made the usual assurances, and she said she had but a small parcel, the only things she'd been able to take with her when she fled Bavaria, and she was afraid that Mr. Montague would seek after it, on word of his cousin, but would surely not think to look in my rooms. The very idea of a gentleman searching a lady's rooms struck me as shocking and unlikely, but the idea seemed to give her peace, and I agreed. I hope I have not done ill, or placed my trust wrongly as I have before, but Amanda seems so sincere, and so
beautiful wronged, that I cannot help but feel great compassion for her.
Westward House, May the 1st, Evening
My dear sister, I hardly know what do say. I at least owe Amanda an apology for thinking earlier that her story strained credibility, or that she was overwrought. I may not have included such to you, but I was privately thinking it. Or I had been thinking it up until we went down to breakfast together.
There were perhaps a score of people now, and some must have arrived this morning as I do not think Westward House has the capacity for so many guests, unless a good number of them have agreed to share rooms. And what an odd assortment! There were several foreigners who only spoke a little English, and not just French like Lord and Lady Valicourt, who I mentioned in my last letter, but a German and some who had the most peculiar accent. Furthermore, not all were of an English hue. I have no idea what Mrs. Horne's school years were like, but it must have been a very cosmopolitan affair, given how many claim to know her from those days! Mr. Montague was sitting at the far side of a very long table, and I did not see him much, for all that Amanda was watching him under her lashes. I do not think he noticed us at all, and had his eyes fixed on the German gentleman, who was looking back at him with a striking intensity, almost as if they were school boys competing to see who would be first to blink. I asked Mrs. Allen who he was, and she told me his name was Herr Dieter Sauer, of Wittgenstein, and she seemed to like him even less than Mr. M., on account, she told me, of his being at fault for ruining some very fine lace when they'd crossed paths in Bath. Indeed that had been the same year we met. "I almost had him for it," Mrs. A. added in a low voice, but would not explain what she meant.
I would describe this in more detail, but I need to leave room for what followed after. Mrs. Horne had arranged carriages down to the village for church, though I did not see nearly as many there as were at breakfast. I suppose many of them must be Papists, and a few others Reform of one kind or another. I tried to ask Mrs. Allen about what the school had been like, but she said it was all too dreary for words, and didn't bear describing! And then she claimed a headache, and said that she would say her prayers in the house chapel, and would see me later. Amanda went, however, as did Mr. Montague, which seemed to surprise Amanda, who said, "I'd thought you were the Pope's man," to his face. He smiled and replied that he had been in his youth, but that he'd heard the same of her, or at least "Pope Alexander VI's woman," which I'll have to ask Henry about (I thought the Bishop of Rome was called Pius something), but Amanda laughed and patted his arm. I did not see Herr Sauer or the Valicourts. Many of the villagers seemed surprised at such a company, and all were gaily dressed for May Day, but I saw nothing of the local celebrations. I would note one young man in particular, who sat very near Mrs. Horne, and had deep blue eyes and glossy chocolate curls as one might see in an old painting. Please believe that I do not include such details for any reason than because they will be relevant later in this recounting.
Service was indifferent, and I do not think that Amanda paid the least attention to it, staring off into the air most of the time, and not singing to the hymns. I only note morning worship at all because during the collection, I promise you, sister, I heard a crack of thunder, even though the day was a fair and clear as any in May that I'd ever seen. I looked at Amanda to see if she'd noted it, but her expression had become a picture of placid devotion. Mrs. Horne, however, was frowning, and said something low to Mr. Montague, which I did not overhear.
Mrs. H. had proposed an afternoon picnic atop of the hill behind Westward House, and on return from church, we all went to change into our walking things. Amanda thence took my arm, and we started ahead of the rest, or so we thought at the time. Some servants were setting out already, carrying tables and things up the hill. As I said before, it was as fair as day as one could want, sweet smelling and full, and I could not see a cloud capable of a sprinkle, let alone a thunderclap. Amanda said she knew another route to the hilltop that we could take on our own, and led us aside so that we would not, as she put it, "be overrun by furniture and hampers." This path was narrower, and rocky enough that I was glad to have worn study shoes and my third-best muslin (you will perhaps remember the yellow sprigged affair, that I wore at Easter two years gone).
As we came around a bend, we almost walked into Mrs. Allen, whose hair was uncharacteristically ruffled, and who had about her the sheen of a brisk exercise (I may have been mistaken, but I thought I saw a smudge of earth on her cheek). I was too astonished to even take her hand, and said that I'd thought she'd been feeling unwell, that I hoped the air had sped her to good health. Amanda, for her part, was standing still as an elm, and would not look away. She really had the oddest expression. "It was you, then," she said. Mrs. A. laughed lightly, a girlish laugh, and claimed not to know what Amanda meant. Passing on this, Amanda asked something about the path ahead, looking particularly at me, and Mrs. A. answered that she would recommend it. "A lady will find it easy going," she said, then added rather meanly that she expected Mr. Montague was on the prowl, and if Amanda didn't mind her business, "One of those Scots will take your lovely head right off." At that she brushed past both of us, saying she was to change before lunch. I would have watched her go, but Amanda briskly took my arm and pulled me on.
As we continued up the path, which continued to narrow and caused one small detour where spring rains past must have disturbed the hillside, causing a slide of fresh black earth. When I was sure we could not be overheard, I questioned Amanda as to why she had not previously mentioned that Mr. Montague and his cousin were Scots, who I now account to be a violent people entirely. Amanda said she thought it had been no matter, and that the Scots had their good qualities, including an admirable directness and
virility vitality, which made up for many faults.
By this time, we had come to the hilltop, already settled with rugs and little tables. Now seeing it from the proper angle, I may give you a better description than the one of my rainy first arrival. It is both lower and less steep than my first impression, but has at its crown a copse of oak, and the most charming folly I've ever seen, done in the style of a ruined Grecian temple, with stone colonnades and all (if you'll forgive my ignorance of the proper terms for such things. James once tried to instruct me, but I remember little of it). A few others were there already: Mrs. Horne (looking entirely refreshed!), the Valicourts, and the young man who I had marked at church but not in Westward house. As Amanda and I settled on a rug, the house guests trickled in in ones and twos, eventually including a refreshed Mr. Montague and Mrs. Allen, but not Herr Sauer. Mrs. H. soon set us to searching for wild flowers from the slopes and a little wood. Bluebells, purple orchids, anemones and cowslips grew in bunches and shaded places, and we soon gathered fragrant armfuls, from which Mrs. H. selected the fairest and deftly wove them into full and beautiful garlands and crowns.
I am still a stranger to Gloucestershire and do not know its customs, but I have not seen such a May Day festival as I next witnessed, and I do wonder if you or Henry have either. The company bedecked the young man from church, a Mr. Colin Garrison from the village, and myself in flowers, garlands around our necks and crowns upon our heads. We then lay in the long spring grass at the foot of the folly, the sun westing and the edge of the shadows crossing our faces, and everyone laid the unbundled flowers about us, while we tried to lie as though dead. I heard Lord Valicourt ask if in Mrs. Horne's youth, they had "Done this with blood" but I did not hear her answer. I would have been quite startled, but Mr. Garrison told me it was a joke, and there'd never been blood here that he'd known of, not even a pigeon's like in Cornwall. We were keeping as still as could be, and I was trying not to blink at a bee on a late primrose just near, when Mrs. H. climbed the steps of the folly, and started to sing. Quite startled, I turned as best I could, I had to, for it was such a queer melody, and saw her standing with the sun hallowing her golden hair, playing on a simple harp. Her dress was in the new style, and I promise you had I painted a picture of her on a pot shard, it would not have stood out in one of James' history books. For a moment I felt strangely dizzy, as though rising too quickly while still half in a dream, but then the song ended, and she told us to rise. We did not touch, Mr. Harrison and I, not even in the friendly way of a dance, but I cannot say how I felt lying in there in the long grass, then standing beside him in the afternoon sun. I certainly hope Henry does not take it amiss. I begin to see now what he meant when he spoke of the older May Day rites.
I had not realised how late it had grown, but what I had thought a picnic luncheon turned more into an evening meal, with hot courses carried up from the kitchens, and a whole lamb turned on a spit in a brick oven just beyond the oaks. Mrs. Allen took me aside to tell me that I'd done very well as the Spring Maiden, though she knew I was a married woman now, but the youngest here still. I must say I got the feeling now that she'd brought me here with this purpose in mind, though I don't know why Mrs. H. couldn't have found a real maiden from the village, as she'd found Mr. Garrison.
We sat on rugs and ate, and talked, and for the first time since I'd entered Westward House, I felt at peace. Perhaps it was the rite or the fairness of the day, or Amanda's quite company as we leaned together against the folly's foundations, sharing a blanket against the growing chill of evening. The sun vanished into the Welsh hills, with no great show save for a profound shading from orange to yellow to teal to royal blue, all the clearest colours, showing like stained glass through the columns of the folly. Almost at once stars began to twinkle, and servants lit lanterns all about us. Mrs. Horne led us down the hill, a wider path, and back to Westward House, where I sit now to write this. It has been an extraordinary day, in many regards, but now that I've shared some of it with you, dearest Eleanor, I feel as if I might sleep. We are to breakfast here tomorrow morning, then begin for home. I expect I shall write from there, with what little account there is of that small journey.
Woodston, May the 2nd
My Dear Eleanor,
As you can see from the direction, I write you from my own sitting room at Woodston with a cup of tea at my elbow, which is I must say a great relief. I am more and more convinced that I am not cut out to be an Emily St. Aubert or an Ellena di Rosalba, and if you require proof, I shall disclose it directly!
I woke with the robins this morning, and feeling that I could not sleep again, and having no book with which to amuse myself, I dressed and put on a heavy shawl and my good walking shoes. I felt the pull of that folly on the hilltop in a way that I could not explain, and I desired most dearly to take in the sun's rise over the Cotswolds from its steps. The path was easy enough to follow, even in the grey light that comes before the dawn, especially being so well trampled from the day before, and I made my way steadily up to the hilltop behind Westward House. I was so caught in the almost spiritual calm of the morning, the feel of fresh, chill air on my face, the song of a dozen different birds, that I did not hear the clash of steel until I came over the brow of the hill.
I have never seen such a thing, Eleanor, nor read of it! At first I did not believe my eyes, but the sun broke over the horizon just then, and in the light of day I could no longer deny it. Mr. Montague and another man were fighting in what appeared to be deadly earnest. They'd stripped off their jackets and cravats, and duelled fiercely with strange curved swords. These were no fencing blades, nor did either wear any kind of armour as a gentleman might. No, their naked blades clashed as they worked across the steps below the folly, then across the brow of the hill. I knew that I should do something, as I felt sure I was near to witnessing a murder, but I felt affixed to the spot, as though I were an insect with a pin through it. Instead of screaming at them to stop, or, more usefully perhaps, running back down to the house in search of aid, I stood in the middle of the path at the crest of the hill, with my mouth open like a ninny. At last, by some misfortune of the ground, Mr. Montague stumbled, and his challenger kicked him squarely in the chest, knocking him flat and sending his blade into the long grass. I did scream then, and fled too, as fast as I could all the way down the hill, my skirts hiked well above my knees, and my bonnet lost half way down.
As Mrs. Horne in was in the breakfast room already, and I fell into her arms, quite incoherent, I'm sure, babbling about what I'd seen and half crying that Mr. Montague was surely murdered. "I'm quite certain he is not," said Mrs. H., but when I asked her how she knew, she would not say, but pressed me for a description of the other man. I painted him for her as best I could: tall and broad shouldered, black hair cut to fashion, strong dark features, though I had not seen his eyes. When I told her how they'd both had the same sort of curving sword, which was neither a pirate's cutlass nor a cavalry sabre, Mrs. Horne suddenly laughed. "It's no matter," said she. "That is only Mr. Montague's cousin. They may at times seem intent to kill one another, but it is all in the spirit of friendly competition." "Goodness gracious!" said I, and fled from her arms up to Amanda's rooms.
Amanda's windows faced east against the hillside, and she must have already seen the men approaching the house, for she had her travelling cases almost entirely packed, and turned on me in a flurry of skirts and unwinding hair ribbons to ask if she could have again the package she'd left in my care. Then she stopped herself, and said, "No, I had better leave it with you. I'm sure he'll search, and Rebecca may let him." I asked how Amanda's friend since her girlhood could allow such a thing in her own household, but Amanda waved off the question as too complicated for the time we had left. She took both my hands in hers as she entreated me to go downstairs and see what might be done in the way of a delay. "He will not harm a mortal girl like you," she told me. "My neck is the only one at risk."
Not having the least idea what I might do, I nonetheless flew downstairs before I quite knew what I was about. I came to the parlour just as Mr. Montague and his cousin burst in without knocking. This close, the stranger was as handsome a man as I had ever seen, in Salisbury or in Bath, and I could easily see how he could charm a woman astray. He had my bonnet, which he held out to me. "I'm sorry if we frightened you, Ma'am," he said, "My kinsman and I were only sporting." At once a number of perplexing rhymes in Mr. Scott's book became clear to me, for he had a lilting way of speaking, that changed the middles of words and occasionally left the ends off entirely. It was not at all how any of the gentlemanly Scots I'd met in Bath spoke; they all sounded quite proper and English!
Mr. Montague had not had the chance to introduce us so that I could reply when Mrs. Horne arrived and did it for me, saying that Mr. Montague's cousin was Mr. Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod, in the briefest way imaginable, before turning from me to Mr. MacLeod. "You've chased Amanda half way across Europe, Duncan." "Aye," replied he, "that I have, and with cause." "Will you not abide a truce, and settle things peacefully between you?" Mrs. Horne did not sound at all alarmed by this occasion, but my heart was in my throat, too easily imagining the violence that two such men could do against a slight woman like Amanda. Mr. MacLeod appeared to waver, and Mr. Montague, who had been watching and silent this whole time, sighed and told the room that it was none of his affair, and he was going to go up and pack, for he had a birth on a ship sailing from Bristol Tuesday noon.
With his cousin's departure, Mr. MacLeod's resolve crumbled, and he touched Mrs. Horne's elbow, saying in a plaintive tone, "Rebecca, she stole my horse." I cannot imagine why that made Mrs. H. laugh, but she put her hands to her mouth and was so overcome with mirth that she needed to lean against the wall and catch her breath. "Well, she did!" Mr. MacLeod insisted. "He was a good horse, and she sold him in Antwerp for not a third of his true value." Still smiling, Mrs. Horne stepped aside. "Your word that it will not come to crossed swords," she said, and though Mr. MacLeod muttered something about the speculated time Amanda's "pretty head" would stay on her shoulders, he did swear to forsake violence. "Then," said Mrs. H., "you will doubtless find Amanda climbing out her window." He seemed to know the house, and cut through towards the kitchens.
I could not imagine why Mrs. Horne had let him pass, but I equally couldn't think of a way to stop him, save throwing myself 'round his ankles. I said something of this kind to Mrs. Horne, who laughed again and said, "There is neither bird in a tree nor a man alive that Amanda cannot talk around. I should worry more for Duncan were I you." Seeing this did little to abate my distress, she laid a gentle hand on my forearm, and told me, "But you are a champion, to wish to defend a friend so new, and against such formidable men as the MacLeods. Bless you, and Blessings of Spring upon you, my Queen of Flowers." She spoke that last as though reciting from the Book of Common Prayer, but I'd never heard those words before.
Altogether disheartened by my failure to do the least to protect my new friend, I climbed wearily to my rooms. On impulse, I crossed to Amanda's, which did indeed have her bags missing and the window open. Through that portal I could see her on the hillside below, halfway to the gate of the kitchen gardens. She must have somehow scrambled to the wall surrounding them, though it would have been a trick to do, even for a school boy. Mr. MacLeod was there as well, and they stood close, her hand on his cheek. His face was flushed, and his hands fisted at his sides, but as I watched, he relaxed and allowed her to kiss him. They walked together, hand in hand, until I could no longer see them. Going back to my rooms, I found the box Amanda had left in my care and carried it down to Mrs. Horne, explaining its origins, and leaving it in her care. I will say no more of the matter, but leave my observations to stand on their own.
Mrs. Allen insisted that I eat, though I confess I had little stomach for it, and we departed Westward House not long after. I will say naught of the ride home, for nothing occurred, and Mrs. Allen was peculiarly silent, not to be drawn out with talk of any kind, not even hats. I asked her once why she'd asked me along, and she said, "Why, the Blessings of Spring, of course, my dear," and I suddenly understood her to mean that she wished my state to take after your own, and that my Henry had not been wrong chastising May Day celebrations for their heathen tendencies.
I do not, indeed, know what to tell dearest Henry of my adventure. Perhaps I shall give him the account he asked: free of romance and speculation. You know him best, and can hopefully advise me. I do know that I shall not likely return to Westward House, yet nor shall I forget its occupants, in all their peculiarities. I hope these letters have not alarmed you, for now, speaking of Henry, I recall my original pledge, and fear that I have broken it most shamefully, but I trust your heart above all others, saving Henry's, and feel that your advice will be best. If nothing else, I have diverted you these past few days. Please reply as soon as you may.
Your most affectionate and most relieved sister,
PS: Henry has just informed me that you sent along the second volume of Mr. Scott's poetry, which I believe I shall return unread, though I do of course appreciate your intentions. Yours,