Letter 14 - The Note Under the Pew

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

14 October 1902

Dearest Addie,

Please do not fret over me. I must admit I have been a bit less adventurous of late when it comes to roaming London on my own, but other than that I have recovered from my frightful brush with danger quite smartly. Peter has not spoken of the incident, and I have not dared to mention it to him, although I am particularly curious as to how he managed to appear in the nick of time that dreadful evening, what he said to my attacker (who shall not receive the honor of a proper name from me!), and why he has not exposed my egregious behaviour to Dad. I had judged Peter too harshly, as I said, but he continues to act his usual pompous self in other matters, and I can't help but wonder why his mercy applies to this particular incident but not to any others. For instance, only yesterday he was teasing me relentlessly for hiding from Stuart Hill at church on Sunday, and just this morning he seemed to think it necessary to lecture me regarding the improper way I was using my fork to cut my egg. Still, it is a bit of a mystery. At first I believed that Peter had simply come to fetch me upon discovering I was not at home, that Miss Highmore had indeed asked him to take her home early due to a headache. You may imagine my surprise, then, when I overheard Miss Highmore, returning from a ride in the park with Miss Loxley and Emily Carrington, complain to her companions regarding her escort: “Mr. Bristow could not be bothered to stay for the entirety of your garden party, Emily, and he left so suddenly that I was forced to beg for conveyance home from my least favorite cousin.” Now I think on it, I am not entirely sure Peter has been out with Miss Highmore since that night. If they are quarreling, I hope I am not the cause, for Peter’s sake. At any rate, I have begun to think that perhaps Peter never believed my lie in the first place, and came home expressly to expose my falsehood, having known or suspected I would sneak out to the dinner party. Whatever the case may be, I remain indebted to his well-timed arrival and his kindness in the matter of my rescue, so I will return what goodness to him I can in kind.

I must tell you of the curiosity I happened upon at church two days ago. As we were leaving after the service I spotted Stuart Hill in the doorway, turning his head this way and that as though looking for someone. Stuart is hardly a member of our parish, and I doubt whether he often darkens the church door in any case, so I was taken rather by surprise. Peter was a good way ahead of me, and I saw Stuart lay a hand on Peter’s shoulder and seem to make some sort of inquiry. I knew the moment I saw a wicked smile bloom on Peter’s face that Stuart had asked after me, and that Peter would give away my location without a qualm. So I ducked, Addie. I was standing near your family’s pew, and I just dropped to the floor and crawled under the bench, for all the world like a 3-year-old child who wishes to avoid a spanking. You have my permission to laugh, Addie, as I’m sure it was quite hilarious. Peter certainly thinks so, as he told me later that the sight of me, wide-eyed, sinking from view so suddenly, was the single most humorous sight he had beheld in weeks. Now, perhaps I should explain. Although I have seen Stuart since the time I made an absolute clown of myself by shouting at him in the park (and I did not drop dead of humiliation, although I dearly wished it), I have not yet spoken to him in the absence of other company. I could only guess why Stuart should be searching for me in particular, but I was keen to avoid a private conversation with him, as I seem to have a low tolerance for his teasing, and the result is nearly always the demise of my self-restraint. Therefore, I ducked. Peter told me later that he was so incapacitated by gales of laughter that Stuart moved on to ask Mum as to my whereabouts, and left shortly thereafter as Mum had not the slightest idea that I was, at that precise moment, staring at her hem from under your pew. Again, you may laugh. It was not my finest moment, Addie, but it proved opportune. As I huddled there, waiting for the church to empty so I could make my escape, I spied a scrap of paper on the floor. Not having much else to occupy my time, I picked it up. It was a note to your father, and it read as follows:


Yes, but she supposes herself to be a dead child.
I must also caution you that it would not
be prudent for you to continue to try me.
I am at your service, so long as you hold
true to your end of our mutual agreement.


Whatever could it mean, Addie? The first line of the note appears to be an answer – if only we knew the question! It must have slipped from your father’s possession during the sermon. It is clearly addressed to him, but as for the author of the note, “B” could be almost anyone. I can’t help but wonder if the “she” refers to you, Addie? Is it possible that your father has got a spy in Paris? Perhaps a servant in your uncle’s employ? What is Madame Fifette’s surname? I am likely jumping at shadows, Addie, but it worries me a bit. It seems that someone of your father’s acquaintance knows how you feel about your mother and father’s abandonment, and has perhaps been promised compensation for passing on such knowledge. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I did notice that your mother had on a fine new hat at church, and that your father seemed quite proud of her appearance ... perhaps your father’s gambling has paid off for once, and our “B” is aware of it. I would advise him to collect quickly, however, as your father’s wealth tends to be fleeting. I mean no offense to your family, Addie, but you know it better than I do. At any rate, I would advise you to be careful to whom you confide your true feelings. Perhaps you can discover the traitor, and ask Mr. Westley to dismiss him. I do not like the idea of you being watched, Addie. I do not like it a bit.

Before I close I must comment on your letter. Addie, dearest, darling Addie! I care not in the least if you are known as the most difficult and unmannerly girl in Paris. In fact, I would be proud! It is your spirit that sets you apart, darling, and if Mr. Rousseau does not like it he can jump in the Seine! To think of him lecturing you on etiquette, after he and his companions neglected you all evening without regard for your entertainment or welfare! I hope, at the very least, that your words have dissuaded him from attempting to court you. After all, if he desires a submissive French lady, I say let him have her, and may he remain happily bored stiff for the rest of his cursed days!

I will write again soon, dearest, and do be careful.


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews

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