Letter 12 - Dinner with Sir Rothschild

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

22 September 1902

Dearest Addie,

I am a fool. For all my education, I have the common sense of a tea cozy. Peter told me not to go to Mr. Rothschild’s dinner party, but I wouldn’t listen. How could I have been so blind? But I am getting ahead of myself. You deserve the whole story, Addie, and I shall tell it to you, although you mayn’t think much of me when I am through. If you think me an imbecile, I shall not have the inclination (nor the evidence) to argue with you.

I began scheming the moment I read your letter, Addie. I posted my favorable reply to Mr. Rothschild’s invitation along with your letter. I was intent on seeing Mr. Rothschild again and getting some useful answers from him. I had planned to tell Mum and Dad that I would be attending the garden party at Emily Carrington’s Saturday evening, but, as Peter was also invited, I asked him to keep my secret. Peter was irate. He had heard all about my previous disastrous visit from Dad, and was really quite rude to me. “Stop acting like a brainless child, Maisie. You are not going anywhere near that man, and I had thought better of your taste.” I explained to him my reasoning, but he wasn’t having any. He threatened to tell Dad, which would have erased any chance I had of getting my answers, and so I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done before in my life. I lied to Peter. I pretended to sulk and said in that case I would simply stay home Saturday evening, “As I’m sure, Peter, you would be quite disgraced to be seen in public with such a dimwitted, tasteless child.” Peter was unrepentant, but he seemed to believe my falsehood. Luckily, as I thought, the Carrington’s garden party was to begin at six o’clock, and Mr. Rothschild’s dinner party at half past seven. Peter had departed by half past five and Mum and Dad were away at a glee singing. I put on my best dress, Addie, and did my hair up with my new pompadour frame, and I felt quite grown up and excited about my little adventure. As Kensington is so near, I was able to walk to Mr. Rothschild’s residence without incident. I arrived at quarter to eight o’clock, and was ushered in to a lovely sitting room (not the parlour Dad and I had occupied on our previous visit) lavished with fragrant flowers. Mr. Rothschild joined me shortly, and it was only after we had exchanged pleasantries for more than quarter of an hour that I began to feel uneasy. Where, I began to wonder, were the other guests? I was greatly relieved when my host stood and offered me his arm so as to escort me to the dining room. As we walked out of the sitting room and into the hall, I asked, ever so nonchalantly, if he remembered our earlier conversation about Monsieur Bellefeuille, his old friend from Louis-le-Grand. His face darkened for a moment, Addie, but then he seemed to think better of whatever he had been about to say, and he answered with a simple nod. Encouraged, I inquired as to the name of Mr. Bellefeuille’s daughter, and reminded him of my quest to find the author of the inscription in the book. Again, he looked loathe to speak of it, but schooled himself and answered quite civilly, “Mademoiselle Bellefeuille was a pretty little thing; we used to call her Ellie.” At this point we had reached the dining room, and I was again struck with the distinct feeling that something was amiss. It was much too quiet for a dinner party. To my horror, Addie, the dining room was perfectly empty but for a small table, set for two. I stood frozen on the threshold, letting my arm slip from my host’s as he continued into the dining room. “What is the matter, my dear?” he asked, returning to my side. I couldn’t speak, Addie. I simply shook my head and allowed him to lead me to the table and help me into my chair. I cannot remember a single thing that I ate that night (if indeed I ate at all), nor a single word that I spoke during the meal. I must have said something, as Mr. Rothschild continued to make conversation as he ate, but all of my thoughts were focused on my dilemma, and I could only wonder desperately how I was to get myself out of the ridiculous mess I had so willingly wandered into. I am sure I must have looked a sight, likely as pale as a sheet and trembling, too. When it seemed the meal would soon be over, I seized my chance to escape. I stood, and excused myself, and began making my way to the door. I had not gone five steps before Mr. Rothschild was there beside me, wrapping his arm firmly about my waist and entreating me to stay a while longer. Addie, from the moment I saw the dining table, I had been under the extremely uncomfortable assumption that Mr. Rothschild intended to court me, and I had no intention of becoming his eighth wife! It very quickly became apparent, however, that he had nothing so honourable in mind. I have never been more terrified in my entire existence. Not when Peter dressed up as a vampire when I was only a child, nor when one of Master Loxley’s horses spooked while I was riding him, nor even when I was mistakenly locked in the dark library at Cheltenham over night. This was a whole new kind of fear, Addie, and I suddenly thought I might have an inkling of how you felt when your cursed father brought home that drunken lout to claim you as his wife. By the time I had recovered my senses enough to struggle, it was too late. That horrible old man had pinned me to the wall, Addie, and I tried to scream but he only smiled and said, “These walls are thick, my dear, and we two are alone tonight. Come now, don’t be difficult.” I stopped screaming, and all I could manage was a breathy, “You --,” before I fainted dead away. Just before everything went black a single, despairing thought flitted across my mind: I hoped never to awake again. But I did awake, Addie, and the voice I heard was more welcome than any other sound I could have hoped for. Peter was there. Peter was cradling my hand in his, and (rather contradictorily) slapping my face with the other, beseeching me to wake up. My assailant was no where to be seen, and I gratefully allowed Peter to help me up from the dining room floor and walk me home, as I would never have made it alone. As it was, Peter might as well have carried me most of the way. I was crying so hysterically I could not even see properly. I was not harmed, Addie, so do not worry. Peter must have arrived just as I fainted, and he would not tell me what he said to Mr. Rothschild, but he assured me I would not be bothered by the beastly wretch again. I would have expected Peter to lecture me the entire way home, to tell Dad of my childish and dangerous behaviour, and to have believed me to be the densest and most inexperienced creature who ever took a breath. I cannot be sure of his opinion of me, of course, but he maintained a concerned silence as we made our way back to the Mews, without so much as a single, “I told you so.” He put me to bed and didn’t speak a word to Mum or Dad when they returned shortly thereafter, saying only that he had returned from the garden party early as Frances had a headache.

I scarcely left my room for a week, and Mum was sure I was ill, but I wouldn’t allow her to call for the doctor. Forgive me, dearest Addie, for envying your exile and distress. And for abusing Peter in my previous letters. I have learnt better on both accounts. The only other good thing that has come of my misadventure is the tiny bit of knowledge I have gained regarding the inscription in the book. Luc’s daughter was called “Ellie,” so perhaps we can attempt to locate an Éléonore, Élise, or Eloise Bellefeuille.

I am quite content, at the moment, to sit at home of an evening, listening to Mum and Peter discuss cricket, or horses, or any old thing. Please do not disdain me for my folly. I eagerly await your next letter, and the description of your (comparatively) happy dinner engagement.


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews

1 comment:

madame cameo said...

I am enjoying the twists and turns and the wonderful mastery of the English language that both girls have! do continue,my dears!