My dearest Catherine,
I beg forgiveness for not answering your last letter in a timely fashion. Can I acquit myself by saying that I write from my sick bed? No, that is disingenuous, for I have been confined to this bed for a mere six hours, having awoken this morning with a dreadful headache, a sore throat, and a host of other maladies with which I will not bore you. Pray, do not concern yourself. It is nothing serious, only a spring cold, which is always a perverse thing. Wet winter days are far more suited to suffering than blossoms and warm afternoons. One always likes the weather to reflect one's state of mind. My housekeeper has been in, and given me a calculated look. Tonight there will be tepid gruel and weak ale and very likely some foul-smelling concoction which was handed down to her by her great-grandmother and which is alleged to cure all manner of ailment, but which was in truth first devised as a means of torturing Lollards. I shall pull my blankets over my head and pretend not to hear when called to dinner.
Reading over what I have written (it is now some hours later), I could crumple this letter, but I think perhaps you are better knowing the awful truth about your betrothed. You have likely guessed it already, but dear Cathy I must tell you plainly that the man you have so generously agreed to marry is in fact a very poor sick room resident. I complain. I screw up my face like a child at the sight of a draught. I attempt to go abroad too soon, and argue with those who would tell me otherwise.
I am, I think, more than usually unhappy about my minor ailment (and I, who have been in sickrooms that contained true suffering, ought not to complain about a trifling cold) because Eleanor is not here to perform the office of nurse. I am accustomed to writing these lamenting letters to my sister who, kind soul that she is, comes to me at once with flavorful broth and soothing drinks; who stands firm against the housekeeper's attempts to feed me a witch's brew of strange herbs and eye of newt. Now, even a short note to my sister must be conveyed by means so full of secrecy and trickery as to put men of espionage to shame. I cannot even dream of calling her to me as a nurse.
What a dreadful letter! I should not even send it, but I am too tired to compose another, and I fear what you will think if you do not hear from me soon. Remained assured of my tender affection and love for you, dear one. My heart remains yours, and this house becomes dear to me only with the thought that you will someday be its mistress.
My daughter Catherine has informed me that you are presently unwell. By what method she has discovered this, I know not, but young ladies have the means to discover information which their parents do not, and I am content to probe no further into the matter unless given a reason to do so. I trust I will not be given such a reason. You have Catherine's love, sir, and I know you to be worthy of it. Have faith that things will resolve as they should, in time.
As you are a bachelor at present, and without a mistress to tend you or your house, it seemed a kindness to share the bounty of my own family. You will find enclosed some things which the women have prepared for your relief, along with my own raspberry wine which is, and I hope I may say this without vanity, well regarded in the neighborhood as a restorative.
The man delivering this letter and package to you is Peter Miller. He has been promised on your behalf a payment of five shillings, the second half of his pay for the service. Before you pay him, you must check that the package contains all it should--raisin bread--a scented embroidered sachet (meant to go under your pillow)--tea mixed with dried ginger--pickled cucumbers--Gooseberry jelly--a bundle of cheese cloth containing herbs and tied with a ribbon (meant to be immersed in hot water and the fumes breathed, do not under any circumstances drink it!)--a tin of drop biscuits (two dozen less one lost to the kitchen floor)--raspberry wine. Count the cookies. Peter is quick to take any manner of unattended treats.
All of these things have been used to nurse me and my brothers and sisters through innumerable colds and flus and scrapes and bruises and even some broken bones. My mother says that asking an invalid to eat only gruel and ale does nothing but take away their desire for this life and make them more eager to pass into the next. Pray forgive me that some of what I have sent you is not so fine as it ought to be. I rushed the embroidery on the sachet and the vines are very ill-done indeed. The raspberry wine is my father's creation, and was sent at his desire. He claims it has medicinal properties, but I fear I must suggest that you wait until you are recovered to taste it since most who have had it find that they are more likely to need rather than to receive physic because of it.
Now I must tell you how I came to send you something at my father's request. After receiving your last letter (which was a fine letter, and not dreadful at all, and far less complaining than some we have received from my brothers when they have taken ill at school) I thought to make you some things for your relief. I was so much in and out of the kitchen, with so much secrecy, that my mother finally demanded an explanation of me. It was a terrible thing, for I could never be so disrespectful as to lie to my mother, but neither could I tell her the truth and force her to acknowledge that we are still in correspondence when so much relies on my parents pretending not to know of it. I told her only that a young man of my acquaintance was ill, and begged her not to ask me anything more. She was kind enough to oblige me, and began to offer suggestions as to what I might add to my package, and even gave me a jar of her pickled cucumbers, though they are running scarce now, and it will be some time before she can make more.
For propriety's sake, my father sends these things to you, as a kindness to a fellow clergyman. I hope you do not mind the cost. I am very sorry that you cannot have your sister to nurse you. It seems an exceptional meanness on the part of your father, and I cannot think well of it or him. I am sorry for the uncharitable thought, but I assure you that it is only because I love you so well that I have such trouble thinking well of anyone who would be unkind to you. I am ever yours.
Your grateful and devoted,
P.S. I can easily abide complaining, and I think everyone makes faces before they take their medicine, but please do not go abroad before you are recovered. You must promise to stay warm and dry and drink plenty of tea.
I thank you with a grateful heart for your kindness and assure you that I will never give you any reason to probe into your daughter's affairs. The authority and respect of a father is something I do not take lightly, and I am glad for Miss Morland that she has such a father as you, never harsh and unreasonable, and always having an eye toward what is best for his children. My esteem for Miss Morland is what it ever was, and though certain unpleasant circumstances make a union between us impossible at present, I assure you that my feelings for her have not changed. I live in accord with my faith, sir, and do all that I can to make my house a place which she will someday rejoice to call her home.
Your devoted and humble,
My dear dear dear Cathrine,
Never in my life have I parted with five shillings so joyfully. What you have sent me is beyond all price. Your mother's pickled cucumbers have restored me to being able to ward off my housekeeper and her noxious preparations. Tell your esteemed mother than I quite agree with her. While my suffering has not been so great as to make me indifferent to this life, drop biscuits and raisin bread have done much to keep me attached to the material world. You must ply me with no more treats lest I become fleshly and decadent. I must refute your claim of any of your gifts being anything short of sublime. I never saw such lovely vines or such neat flowers, and I have never slept so well but with your sachet under my pillow.
Your injunction to stay indoors will be obeyed. Though I am feeling much better, and the sun is bright and beaconing, I will confine myself to sitting by the window and enjoying the sight, and after I will steep your herbs to sooth my throat and lungs.
You need not apologize for any uncharitable thoughts toward my father. I have been known to indulge in more than a few myself. I have a letter from him in which he--but, best not to speak of such things. If I thought it would do any good, and were I not enjoined against leaving the house 'till no trace of illness remains, I might go to my father with your gifts and demand that he place a price on them. To be sent such goodness, met with such kindness by your family when they had all reason to hate me for what my family had done to you and your brother--my father would have me forsake that for an heiress, but no price is high enough to compare to a woman whose value is so far above rubies.
Dear Catherine, you reduce me to paraphrasing Shakespeare when I tell you that I would run through fire and water for such a kind heart as yours. I shall steal again from the bard and close by saying that
One half of me is yours, the other half yours-
Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours,
And so all yours!
P.S. I have smelled your father's wine. I will take your advice and wait until my strength has returned before I venture to taste it.