Letter 21 - Albatross

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

15 December 1902

Dearest Addie,

I just arrived home this afternoon and found your letter waiting for me, a perfect welcome home gift. Darling, your portrait is exquisite! I think it nearly does you justice! Eduard has a finely honed eye for beauty, indeed. Peter caught me looking at it, Addie, and was quite keen to find out who had taken the photograph, although he feigned a casual interest. “That’s Miss Westley, is it?” he said, all too carefully averting his eyes. “Yes,” I said. I could tell he was frustrated with my ungenerous response, but he was quiet for several moments longer as I read your letter. Finally, he said, “I suppose it was commissioned by her uncle, then?” You know how I love to tease my brother, Addie. “I suppose,” was all I said. He was all but hopping up and down with frustration, I could tell by the vein popping out on his left temple. I stifled a giggle as I carefully left your portrait on the mantle and casually voiced my intention to go upstairs and unpack my things. I paused at the base of the stairs and peeked back into the sitting room to see if Peter had taken the bait. He had, of course, and was so busily engaged in examining the photograph that he didn’t seem to notice my spying on him at all. Addie, it could not have been easy for you to confide in me regarding your feelings for my brother. I did notice you leave during the graduation party, although I hadn’t the faintest idea that Peter, when he excused himself a moment later, had left to find you. I know I abuse him endlessly in my letters, but I do not blame him for loving you, nor you for wanting him. Still, it is a good thing you are taken, Addie. I would not wish my brother to attempt to court you and have his heart broken upon realizing at last that he is entirely incapable of handling such a fine creature as yourself, since he can’t even seem to handle your likeness with any sort of dignity.

But I must tell you about my last evening in Ambleside. Stuart asked me to walk with him to the High Sweden Bridge, and I obliged. It had become something of a nightly ritual during the holiday. We would walk the half mile to the bridge, all the while Stuart ragging me ceaselessly about my literary diversions, while I enjoyed his company under the pretext of defending the femininity of scholarly pursuits. I had been reading Coleridge, of course, and Stuart was pelting me with ridiculous questions, such as, “Perhaps you could illuminate me, Miss Bristow, as to why that old sea dog insisted upon wearing the dead bird around his neck.” As we arrived at the bridge and paused before going back to the cottage, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that it would likely be the last walk we would take together, certainly the last in Ambleside, and I had little hope that Stuart would continue the exercise once we had returned to London. Addie, the prospect of losing these little jaunts with Stuart was so disheartening that it frightened me. I had come to accept that Stuart was fond of me, but that acceptance only made me more aware of the fact that I wished for more than fondness from Stuart. It seemed to me as if the fortnight we had spent together was a lovely dream I was about to wake from. Snow had fallen earlier that morning and lay in soft swells of white in every direction across the fells. The sky was white, and snow had just started to float gently down upon us as we began our return trip. Stuart was gazing around at the peaceful countryside with a rather bemused expression on his face, so I was left to my thoughts. I was pondering all the way back to the farm, and so absorbed in my own bleak musings that it startled me when the steady crunch of Stuart’s footfalls in the snow stopped abruptly. A little afraid that he might have taken ill, I turned quickly to see him simply standing there, outlined against the surrounding white, looking at me. He spoke just as suddenly. “I lied to you that evening in Hyde Park, you know.” I knew perfectly well what night he was referring to—how could I forget?--but I tossed my head as flippantly as I could and said, “Whatever do you mean, Stu? We’ve spent many evenings in the park, and I’m sure you wouldn’t stoop to lying, it’s so unbecoming.” I made to continue walking, but he stopped me with a hand on my shoulder, and turned me toward him. Addie, I thought for sure my heart would gallop right out of my chest. He rested one hand on my arm, and lifted the other to tilt my chin so that I had to lower my lashes to keep him from looking into my eyes. “Maisie,” he said softly, “I did lie to you. I never planned to rethink my intentions to propose to you.” And then he kissed me, Addie! Right there in the garden! I was so conflicted, I couldn’t decide whether to slap him or bury my face in his coat. It was so unexpected. At long last I raised my eyes to his, and then quickly looked away. The way he was looking at me, Addie, and the intensity in his eyes … my limbs seemed to melt out from under me and he caught me around the waist to keep me from falling. Someone called from the farmhouse just then, and I shook Stuart off and ran inside. It was the most extraordinary feeling–-as if my blood had turned to quicksilver in my veins. I went directly to bed, but was unable to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. The scene in the garden played over and over again in my over-excited consciousness, until at last I fell asleep and dreamed that Stuart and Peter were walking side by side out on the frozen expanse of Windermere, dressed alike in dark overcoats like Stuart’s, looking almost like twins, except that Stuart wore a hideously decayed albatross carcass like a mantle on his shoulders. It was an unsettling dream, and I awoke feeling very strange indeed, until the memory of Stuart’s kiss the night before came rushing back and filled me with warmth and an almost feverish sense of anticipation. Addie, I wanted so desperately to see him again, but at the same time I was afraid to set foot outside my room in case he might be waiting for me. I dawdled over my dressing and packing for as long as I reasonably could, then made my way down to the dining room in a state of nervousness so advanced that I nearly jumped out of my skin when Emily asked me what had taken me so long. I’m not sure what I replied, as I was altogether too engrossed in scanning the hall, the dining room, and the kitchen for signs of Stuart. I needn’t have bothered, however, as Miss Brown came in from the garden a few moments later and, upon seeing me standing in the hall with Emily, hurried straight over to me. “Young Master Hill wished me to convey his regrets that he could not say his farewells in person,” she said, “He left early this morning to help Master Hill attend to some last minute business in town. He left you this.” And she handed me a small, ivory-colored envelope. Disappointment and relief warred within me for a moment before I managed to pull myself together and slip the envelope into my jacket pocket, Emily eyeing it rather suspiciously before it disappeared from view. What with all the bustle of preparation for the journey home, I was unable to find a private moment to open Stuart’s note until we had boarded the train and were speeding steadily toward London. Emily was buried in the latest issue of The Lady, and I pretended to look at the passing landscape as I quietly extracted Stuart’s message. It read:

Dear Miss Bristow,

I am awaiting your answer.

Yours respectfully,
Stuart Hill

Addie, how I wish for your advice! But I fear this cannot wait. I shall write soon.


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews


Anonymous said...

I think this letter is my favorite. Yes, I've decided. So glad Stuart finally put the moves on Maisie!

sunrabbit said...

Thanks, Anonymous. :) We're so glad you like the Letters!