Letter 23 - The Fly in the Ointment

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

30 December 1902

Dearest Addie,

I have never met Eduard, of course, but I had grown so fond of him—observing his many charms through the windows of your lively letters. I had conjured up countless happy images of your future with him, and these little fancies of mine had become quite real to me--so much so that reading your last letter was like a blow, and I can only begin to imagine the loss you are suffering. I must not make light of that loss, I know, but I must also say this: Eduard has proven his unworthiness, and you are the better to be rid of him. There. I hope I am not cruel in saying this, and that you will come to realize that it is quite true, although you may hate me for it as you read this. I feel quite distinctly disappointed in Eduard, and my only admiration for him that remains is for his preference for you, my dearest of friends! I wish I could be there to comfort you as I once did at Cheltenham. I love you so, Addie, and I know that your future will include a gentleman much wiser and more deserving of you than Eduard. I must also tell you that I am quite surprised at the development of your relationship with Mr. Rousseau. Surely you do not confide in him those things closest to your heart? Again, I have not met him, but I find myself doubting his good intentions. Have you forgotten that someone is reporting your personal confidences to your father? I do not wish to take from you the friend who is offering comfort during this difficult time--but be wary, Addie. I could not bear to see you betrayed a second time.

Stuart came to call the morning after I returned from Ambleside. I had not yet decided how to reply to his little note, and I was out in the park, gazing over the pond, attempting to calm my nerves and determine whether or not I was being played for a fool. I suppose Mum told him I had gone to the park, because that is where he found me. Addie, it wasn’t long before I was quite convinced of his sincerity. Fortunately, the park was rather empty due to the early hour, and there were no witnesses to his methods of persuasion. Dearest, it feels wrong for me to be so happy while you are suffering so, but Stuart has been so lovely. He has spent the last fortnight showing me around his favorite haunts in London, so many places I had never even visited before, and we have been enjoying ourselves thoroughly. We spent Christmas Eve with the Hills and Christmas day in the Mews. The only fly in our proverbial ointment has been Peter. He has been a bit surly ever since we announced our engagement to my family. I had asked Stuart to stay for dinner, and he was keen to ask for my hand as soon as Dad had returned from the stables. Dad was very formal (and rather dirty, Stuart not having given him the chance to wash up), but Mum was positively ecstatic. She embraced Stuart warmly, welcomed him to our family, and just stood there looking so overwhelmingly pleased that it was almost comical. Dinner was a pleasant affair, with Mum fussing over Stuart and Dad responding enthusiastically to Stuart’s queries about Master Loxley's newest acquisitions--two fine Morgan mares and a Thoroughbred stallion. Peter was somewhat quieter than usual, particularly in contrast with the way he and Stuart customarily banter with one another. We were nearly finished with our main course when Stuart glanced at me, then turned deliberately to Peter. "Where's the funeral, old man?" he said, "I realize, of course, that I am dismally unworthy of your sister, but let me assure you that I will spend the remainder of my days in valiant efforts to become so." So saying, he turned his full attention to me, and bestowed upon me such a look of adoration that I am sure I flushed scarlet and was quite unable to meet his gaze. Peter maintained a surly silence. Without removing his eyes from my face, he directed his next words to Peter: "Come now, old chap, surely you're not still nursing a grudge against me over the Ashes, no matter how spectacularly my dear cousin and his team defeated England?" Peter was, unaccountably, furious. "This goes much deeper than cricket, you self-satisfied josser," he spat at Stuart, standing up from the table. I was so astonished at this unexpected and passionate response that I was rendered temporarily speechless and was only able to gape at Peter. I thought I saw a brief flash of anger cross Stuart's face before he turned to stare at Peter with an expression of mild surprise. Mum was quite upset and ordered Peter to apologize, which he did, albeit rather sulkily. He excused himself shortly thereafter, shaking hands with Stuart quite civilly before he took his departure. After I had recovered from the shock, I began to feel rather angry with my brother. Addie, hasn't Peter refused to allow me to avoid Stuart whenever he could manage it? Admittedly, I at first believed this to be sadism on his part, since he seemed to find my stressful interactions with Stuart so humorous. But what about our sibling trip for Bonfire Night that turned out to be a rather more crowded event? Hadn't he invited Stuart to Bridgwater, and arranged for us to speak privately during Carnival? Hadn't he encouraged me to go with Stuart to Ambleside? What, after all, was he playing at? Not wishing to spoil the event any further, I kept these thoughts to myself. But I could not help the feeling of resentment toward Peter that was growing ever stronger as the evening progressed. Perhaps Peter is a sadist after all, and wished to encourage my affection for Stuart only to snatch my happiness away from me as soon as it was apparent that my association with Stuart was no longer vexing to me. This particular thought nearly pushed me over the edge, but I managed to hold myself together for Mum's sake, and finish out Stuart's visit pleasantly--at least on the surface. As Stuart bade me goodnight, he laid his cheek on mine and whispered softly, "It's no doubt difficult for someone as protective as your brother to commit his baby sister to the care of another. Peter will come round." And I suppose he is right. But I haven't forgiven Peter yet. His behaviour was not justified, whether it stemmed from a ridiculously childish desire to protect me or not. He's a grown man, and ought to be able to keep his temper in check.

I must post this before Stuart calls, and I haven’t even begun to ready myself—we are going to Covent Garden for the afternoon. But, Addie, I hope you know my thoughts are with you, and although you are surely suffering great pain, there is just as surely happiness in your future. I love you, dearest. Do write soon!


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Dang it, Peter! What is your problem!?