Letter 18 - Bonfire Night at Bridgwater

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

24 November 1902

Dearest Addie,

Darling, I am so happy for you! I must ask you, however, not to allow Eduard Steichen to take you away to America! I shall not survive it. It is quite bad enough to have the Channel between us, I do not think I could abide to be separated by the Atlantic! When he proposes, you must use your wiles to convince him to take up residence in England. I must also ask you to note my opinion concerning Peter, however you may choose to regard it. Addie, as you are being courted by a renowned artist who is handsome, charming, and obviously enamored of you, I think it entirely inappropriate for you to compare said gentleman with Peter, and really quite daffy that Peter should come out the better in your view. There, I have written it. You are a dear girl, Addie, but I do question your judgment when it comes to my brother.

I must tell you about Bonfire Night. Peter and I were to take the GWR to Bridgwater. It was only as we left for Paddington Station that Peter deigned to inform me that he had invited a few of his Oxford chums to join us for the Carnival, and only upon the actual appearance of said chums that I discovered who was among them. Imagine my chagrin, Addie, as the crowd parted just enough for me to spy Stuart Hill waiting next to the train with Phillip Davies and another fellow I didn’t recognize. I knocked Peter in the arm as squarely as I could. Peter feigned innocence, of course, but I am sure he only invited Stuart to antagonize me. I decided at that moment not to play into Peter’s hands. I vowed if Stuart or Peter or any one of those cursed boys should attempt to rile me, I should not rise to it. The unknown young man was introduced to me as John Blackstone. And so I greeted them all quite civilly, boarded the train, and proceeded to courteously ignore them for the entirety of the journey. When we arrived at Bridgwater I was the first of our group to disembark, and a glorious scene awaited me outside the station.

The costumes alone, Addie, were well worth the visit. And after my self-imposed confinement of the last few months, it was exhilarating to be out in the crisp evening air, in the packed streets, with lights and music and exuberant faces every which way I turned, shimmering skirts and petticoats swirling amidst a sea of fascinating people. The procession was not something I shall soon forget, nor the lighting of the squibs. The citizens of Bridgwater paid homage to His Majesty King Edward by duplicating the State Coach to the finest detail, illuminating it with paraffin lamps, and having it drawn by eight lovely palominos at the head of the procession. Nevermind the cars, Addie, you should have seen the horses! I was like to have been blinded by the glittering finery draped on each and every horse, and the bright hoof paint! I was quite pleased when my favorite exquisite Shire horse, a fine black mare drawing a car made to represent an Egyptian pyramid, won several awards for her costume. I was masquerading myself, as were most of the revelers, although my costume consisted only of my second best black dress and a jeweled mask I acquired at one of the Carnival shoppes. I must admit the boys looked quite dashing in their masks, and there were more than a few ladies in the crowd who seemed to agree with me. As we made our way from the concerts at the town hall to the Cornhill for the bonfire we were moving through the crowds in a sort of line, with Phillip and John in the lead, Peter next, then myself and Stuart at the end. By the time we had reached the top of the High Street, two of my four escorts had vanished, each having been lured away, no doubt, by a mysterious lady. I was left with Peter and Stuart, and we decided to cross to the far side of the street, so as to be in a better position to see the squibs go off. No sooner had we secured a good spot than Peter exchanged a meaningful glance with Stuart, announced his intention to get us all something from the costermongers, and disappeared into the crowd. Upon finding myself alone with Stuart, I performed the mental equivalent of throwing my hands up in despair. "Miss Bristow," he began, "I have a grave confession to make, concerning the Ambleside holiday--" And I couldn't seem to stop myself from interrupting him, Addie, no matter my vow. I maintained my composure, and said, “Let me see if I have the gist of it, Mr. Hill. Upon hearing of your poor, homely cousin’s plight, it immediately occurred to you to save another pitiable and plain creature from loneliness, namely myself.” Stuart did look rather surprised at my outburst, but nodded politely and said, “Am I so transparent, Miss Bristow? I fear you see right through me to my deepest and most guarded secrets.” To which I replied, “Well I thank you for your noble intentions, Mr. Hill, and I hope you have enjoyed trying your hand at matchmaking, but I’m quite capable of survival without your assistance.” He then had the nerve to look amused, and said only, “I shall bear that in mind.” I don’t know what it is about him that infuriates me so, but I am beginning to worry that it is rooted in my attraction to him. It is truly a wretched thing to be a woman, Addie. Peter returned with baked sweet potatoes (which were quite delicious) and we watched the squibs while we ate. It was glorious, Addie – imagine a golden fountain of light covering a large stretch of the street and shooting several metres into the air, and you still shan’t be doing it justice. The music, the costumes, and the excitement of the squibbers and the masqueraders all combined to make it nothing short of magical.

It was very late when we trudged off to Mum’s cousin Louisa’s, where we had arranged to stay overnight. We slept late into the following morning and returned to London in the afternoon. Happily, Peter's friends wished to stay an extra day or two, so it was only Peter and I on the train home. I had enjoyed myself so hugely (for the most part) that I had already forgiven him for inviting Stuart. It seemed almost like old times, the two of us gazing out the compartment window at the countryside rolling swiftly by. I was rather content, Addie, and I kicked Peter on the shin to display my feelings of affection. I thought it perhaps a good time to ask him a few things I have been wondering about, so I said, "Peter, I haven't seen Miss Highmore much of late, why didn't you invite her to Carnival?" Peter was not particularly eager to talk, it seemed, but he did say, "Well, I don't think Miss Highmore would have accepted my invitation." I began to apologize for my part in his obligation to abandon her at the Carrington's garden party, but he interrupted me and said, "Try not to speak utter nonsense, please. It's none of your affair, Maisie, and hasn’t anything to do with you, unless ... did you tell her ..." and then he stopped short. "Tell her what?" I prompted, but he refused to answer my question. "Really, Maisie, I don't know why you should care. You never liked Frances much, did you?" So ended my brief spell of camaraderie with my brother, as we didn't speak the rest of the journey home. I suppose he is quite hurt over Miss Highmore's rejection, but he needn't have snapped at me and spoilt my good mood.

So, Carnival behind me, I now have the much dreaded Ambleside holiday to look forward to. I shall write you from the Lake District, next, Addie.


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews

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