Miss Maitland Bristow
14 Bathurst Mews
4 May 1902
I found myself in the most unimaginable of circumstances, Maisie, and the decision to leave was of my own volition. Father came home from the gambling house Wednesday with a man I had never before laid eyes on. He made the man comfortable, offering him a drink and a pipe, and with a hand firm on the seated man’s shoulder, he bade me, “Adeline, welcome Mr. Shapcott to our family.” My eyes flickered around the room, trying to make sense of it. He continued, “Magistrate will make it square first thing on the morrow.” He turned to the man, and--in a mock whisper that could have been heard in the servants’ quarters--told him, “She’s a fine prize--worth every penny.” It was then that my father’s intentions were made clear. His wretched debauchery has cost our family its fortune, and it seemed he meant to fix it all through me. Maisie, you should have seen the man. I daresay he was my father’s own age. I could smell the brandy on the both of them from across the room. Shapcott stared, fixated on me the entire time. A thick beard covered much of his features, but his eyes were as coal in the firelight. The startling pronouncement that I was to marry this loathsome stranger sent the room spinning. It did not make sense. The idea that he would sell me in this way was terrible enough, although not entirely unexpected. But why this man, this way? It wasn’t long before it struck me as I stood there trying to disguise my trembling hands. The father I hold dear had wagered me away that night. I looked to my mother, but she would not return my pleading glances. All the while she simply sat in silence, looking at her dress.
I had not the capacity to utter a single word. At length, Father sent me to bed with a disgusted look on his reddened face. Mother, heading me off at the stairwell, pulled me in close and said hurriedly, “Shapcott was released from Strangeways Prison in Manchester last fall. I am not privy to the details of his crimes, but your father has kept company with him for months now, and he depicts him as mad. You must leave here tonight. Go to your uncle in Paris--in Le Marais; see if he will have you. Do not write me.” She tucked a thick roll of notes tightly into my hands, and turned from me without so much as a small kiss. I haven’t any idea where my mother might have obtained such a tidy sum, but I felt sick to think what she would suffer for the sacrifice. If the money belonged to my father, he will see her punished.
I crawled into my bed and lay still, listening to the crass laughter below. I waited patiently for the sound of the stranger to be ushered out the front door; listening intently for the collecting of the crystal, and my father’s heavy foot-fall as he attended to his perfunctory lockstep at the close of every drunken evening. Not long after, the house became still. I felt paralyzed, and utterly unable to do anything but stare at the walls of my room. I shuddered at the thought of the future laid out before me, married to a drunk like my father. I saw myself bruised and battered, my children huddled in the corner of a squalid dwelling, hungry and afraid. The horrid vision was enough. I packed but one small bag and set off downstairs, creeping quietly past my father, who lay sprawled and insensible in his armchair. Having seen his pathetic state, I did not take much care to quiet the latch on the door as I swung it open. I crept outside, pausing at the threshold to glance back at the smoldering fire in the hearth, the dying flames illuminating the face of my unconscious father. Perhaps you will not think it much to leave behind, but the whole of it made my chest ache. I closed the door. My journey had commenced, and It wasn’t long before I was on the train that would take me to Dover, where I would board a ship for France.
I do not know that I have ever told you of my uncle, Charles Westley. My father and Mr. Westley haven’t spoken for as long as I can recall. All I knew of him was that he was a man made wealthy through the industry of war, and that he harboured a deep hatred for my father. Hardly an encouraging connexion, but where else had I to go? By the time I reached Paris, it was early morning, and I was tired and muddied. I made my way to the Champs-Élysées from the station. I hadn’t any idea how to find my uncle, or what I would say if I were to be so fortunate. I thought it likely my father, once sober, would piece together where I’d gone off to. I also knew he would never come for me; not if it meant facing his brother. I walked for the better part of an hour, asking passersby if they knew of a Mr. Westley, but to no avail. I then found a small bakery and, in my terrible French, asked for a pastry and inquired once more if anyone was acquainted with Monsieur Westley. The boulangerie fell quiet and no one spoke. I watched as the patrons stared at the man limping over to me with his cane in hand, the sole of his boot dragging along the floor. My heart began to race as I watched him approaching, and when he at last stood before me, he lifted his eyes just up from beneath his bowler, and in a low, booming voice he spoke, “I am Mr. Westley.” Shaking visibly, I told him my plight. When I informed him that I had come at my mother’s request, he questioned, “Elyse sent you?” I went on with my story, but he turned from me, and walked out the door, propping it open with his cane. Confused and unsure, I followed him to his waiting carriage, and he did not object as I slid onto the seat across from him. We did not speak the duration of our ride to his estate. The carriage was greeted by servants who didn’t question Mr. Westley about his unexpected guest, but rather quickly ushered me inside and found me a room.
So much has transpired since my coming to Paris, but not enough to keep me from missing Paddington, and from missing you. Mr. Westley is a man of few words, but has provided me with a home, and it is more than I had hoped for. I can scarcely await your correspondence.
23 rue Saint Paul