Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul
9 January 1903
Your Christmas letter was like a serial! I know you were genuinely frightened, and I was so horrified for you, dearest, but at the same time it was quite a thrilling read. Now, don’t think me unfeeling, Addie. If I thought you were in any real danger I would currently be on a train to Paris to fetch you, not sitting here calmly writing you a letter. I do not blame you for fearing Mr. Westley, especially under the circumstances. André ought to be ashamed of himself—feeding you such nonsense. I’m sure you have already reached these conclusions, but permit me to point out that, for all his sinister suggestions, André has not a whit of evidence to substantiate a crime on Mr. Westley’s part. He was intoxicated, Addie, and is more than likely superstitious to boot. Think on it, Addie—would your mother have allowed Mr. Westley to murder his own child? If the “atrocity” she referred to was indeed murder, would she have failed to alert the authorities, and merely posted the beast a scathing Christmas card some months after the event? Surely not. And I am just as certain that Madame Fifette, whatever her weaknesses may be when it comes to her “Charles,” would not have comforted a cold-blooded child killer and recommended that he not “be so hard” on himself. The idea is ludicrous. If the child did indeed perish, and if Mr. Westley deserves any blame for the tragedy, I am sure it was something less than outright murder. In fact, Addie, I have given the matter a great deal of consideration, and I think I may have solved the mystery of the portrait, the Christmas card, and the estrangement of the two Mr. Westley’s. Do hear me out. If my theory proves true, the little girl in the portrait needn't have been murdered at all. In fact, she lives still. Have you never considered, Addie, that the little girl in the portrait might be you? That perhaps you are Mr. Westley’s daughter? I know it sounds far fetched, but think on it, Addie. What if, for reasons best known to himself, Mr. Westley refused to care for you as a child? Perhaps he wished for a boy … or perhaps his wife died in childbirth, and he could not find it in his heart to love the child he held responsible for her untimely death? I do not know, Addie, but it would certainly make sense that your mother (or rather, your aunt) might have taken pity on you--a tiny infant bereft of her mother and rejected by her father—and agreed to raise you as her own. Perhaps she was unable to have her own children. This would indeed account for the chastisement she directed at Mr. Westley in the Christmas card, and the estrangement between your father and uncle. If, indeed, the man you have called Father is truly your uncle, that would also shed light on his less than affectionate treatment of you. Perhaps he is jealous of the compassion and affection his wife has bestowed upon another man's child? Perhaps he resents the financial burden of your care (wretched man!) and blames you as well as his brother for this obligation? It all fits, Addie. The woman you call Mother would certainly be haunted by the idea of Mr. Westley's obsession with your portrait--indeed, I am rather troubled by it myself. It would also explain Mr. Westley's rather reserved affection for you, and his willingness to take you in when you arrived so suddenly on his proverbial doorstep. Upon meeting you he could not have helped but love you--you are quite irresistible--but surely the guilt and regret over his abandonment have been eating at him these eighteen years! His rejection of his own daughter is very likely the "terrible mistake" Madame Fifette was referring to. I could be wrong, of course. But it would be so romantic, don't you think, to find out you are heiress to a great estate? No amount of wealth could make you more lovable than you already are, Addie, but it could certainly make you more comfortable.
As for Julien Fortescue, I am quite uneducated when it comes to French men--but if they are anything like British men, I suspect he is fascinated with you. If Stuart is any guide, the more he bewilders and infuriates you the greater the likelihood he will eventually propose. A man like the young Mr. Fortescue could likely take his pick of Parisienne girls--and as much as the knowledge of that fact may gratify his ego, the reality of the matter must bore him to tears. How much more interesting, then, to pursue you--the one girl in Paris who continually rejects him?
I had intended to close and post your letter as soon as I had gotten back from a small errand for Mum, but, Addie—I’m so upset I can scarcely hold my pen. Mum has been out all day visiting friends in Marylebone, and she instructed me to go and fetch her Wedgwood teapot from the potter’s before 5 o’clock. I had told Peter I’d be back soon, gone out and collected the teapot, and returned home. As I entered the hall I froze where I stood. Stuart’s voice was emanating rather loudly from the sitting room, thick with sarcasm. I had obviously interrupted some argument, but the first bit I caught was, “ … the change of heart. I particularly liked the bit where you shouted at me in front of your parents, that was lovely, that was.” Then Peter’s voice rang hard and cold from the same room, “You’ve been sneaking around.” A brief silence was followed by a rather incredulous laugh from Stuart, and then, “I’ve been ‘sneaking around’ for simply ages, old boy, I don’t see why it should make any difference to you, of all people—”
“Because I didn’t know about it before, old boy. And because now you’ve got a wife to think of!”
“Oh, that’s rich, Peter. I suppose you’re reserving yourself for the occasional lucky ladybird that crosses your path, are you? How very altruistic of you.”
“This isn’t about me, Stuart. I love her …” there was a heavy pause and then, more quietly, “and you’re going to destroy her.”
“You’ve seen this, have you? You’re a prophet, then? The bloody Saint Trick Seer, I suppose—”
“Shut your filthy mouth!”
“—you’ve seen how it’ll all play out—”
The anger seemed to have been sapped from Peter’s voice when he spoke again: “I’ve seen enough to know the odds are not in your favor on this.”
At which point an abrupt silence fell over the house, and I suddenly realized that the teapot was no longer in my hands, but was lying shattered in myriad pieces across the entryway. Stuart emerged from the sitting room with Peter close on his heels, and immediately began sweeping up the shards of china with his hands. My mind was reeling, but somehow I knew that sitting there watching him dispose of the mess wasn’t quite the thing to do, and I began clumsily helping him scrape the pieces into a pile. “What’s happened, Maisie, have you just come in?” Stuart asked. I can only imagine how I must have looked to him, shaking slightly and no doubt drained of colour. I merely pointed to the floor and said, rather unnecessarily, “Yes, I—I broke Mum’s teapot …” Peter silently carried the pieces to the bin while Stuart helped me to the settle in the kitchen. “Are you all right, then? Not harmed? You don’t look well.”
“No, I—it’s only I dropped the teapot … but what are you doing here, Stuart?”
“Yes, that … well I had a bit of gentleman’s business to discuss with Peter. I’m off now … shall I come round for dinner later?”
“Yes.” And he kissed me on the cheek, donned his coat, and disappeared into the street. I rounded on Peter, my confusion turning swiftly to anger. “What was all that about, then?”
“Gentleman’s business, like the man said,” Peter offered dismissively, picking up his Gazette.
“Is it … were you accusing him of what I think you were accusing him of?”
“Eavesdropping, were you?” Peter’s laugh was bitter indeed. “If you’re going to listen at doors you shouldn’t be surprised that you don’t like what you overhear. I suppose you heard everything, then?” I was becoming angrier by the minute. “‘Enough to know the odds are not in your favor on this.’” Peter smiled grimly. “Maisie, you don’t know anything.”
“Well then perhaps you could remedy that, Peter, as you seem to know quite enough to share around.”
“It’s none of your affair, Maisie. Go make the tea. And please tell Mum I won’t be back for dinner.” And with that he left me there in the kitchen, a small trickle of blood dripping from my finger onto the floor.
How could he, Addie? Why is he trying to ruin everything for Stuart and me? Peter knew I would be returning before tea, perhaps he wanted me to overhear, to turn me against Stuart? Or is he truly trying to protect me? Is it possible that Stuart is … not who I think he is? You’ve no idea what it cost me, Addie, just to set that last down in print. I feel horribly as if my writing down the wretched thought has made it more likely to be true. I can’t seem to find the will to do anything but fret. I know if I don’t do something soon I’ll go off my onion with fear and worry. It’s only, I’m all tied up in knots—I haven’t the faintest idea what to do. But I shall have to face Stuart soon, and I know this: I cannot pretend it never happened.
14 Bathurst Mews