Letter 36 - Sense and Sensibility

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

18 April 1903

Dearest Addie,

I received your letter with gladness, but read it with mounting concern. I cannot begin to fathom the horror of your experience--and for these recollections to come on you so suddenly! I also know that you have experienced much disappointment in regard to your suitors, and I fear this revelation regarding Mr. Rousseau might be, in your mind, the worst of the lot. However I may dislike him for his past treatment of you, it would not do to show him less than gratitude for the service he has rendered. But you do not owe him more than that, Addie, and I beg you to remember it. Even wrapped up in my own concerns as I have been--how selfish and indulgent!--I cannot repress the curiosity that your letter has inspired in me. It seems to me that Mr. Rousseau has been suing for your favor as long as he has known you, yet he held back his part in your rescue for some time ... what can he mean by it?

I have news for you as well, and it is perhaps not less puzzling than your own, if for altogether different reasons. Stuart came calling for me the day after I left him in Green Park, and I baldly refused to receive him. Dad was rather concerned, Mum was abidingly patient, and Peter--as far as I know--was entirely ignorant of my situation. Stuart came to apply for an audience with me every day for a week, and I dutifully refused him each time, and was quite miserable for my pains. Mum was persistent in inviting my confidence, and at length I explained to her all that was troubling me. I did not enter into details, of course, not wishing to indict Stuart to the point that his reputation might be harmed, but I expressed the painful conclusion that I had been intentionally deceived. It was not difficult for her to convince me to speak with Stuart, and allow him the opportunity to acquit himself. I am not unaware of the irony which attended my interventions on his behalf--why should I care for the maintenance of his good name if I truly believed him to be unworthy of it? The natural conclusion is that I was quite as eager as Mum to have the lie explained away, and so, having gained the patronage of my mother for what had been my dearest wish all along, I dressed for the outdoors the following morning and prepared to receive Stuart at last. I was not keen to have my accusations overheard by any other member of the household, and so I asked Stuart to walk out with me, and he obliged. I was painfully reminded of the last time we had walked thus together, and I could not bring myself to accept the arm he offered as we started out toward the park. I had decided to allow Stuart a chance to excuse himself, but hadn't any idea of how to begin. At length, as we rounded the pond, Stuart spoke. "How have I offended you, Maisie?" His voice was gentle, and his every gesture careful and subdued.

"I do not fancy being lied to, Mr. Hill."

"But what lie do you speak of?" Had Stuart been innocent, this query might have passed as his attempt to discover the root of my confusion, and thereby to correct my understanding. As I knew he was quite guilty, it suddenly occurred to me that he had likely been party to more deceit than this, and wished to discern which untruth I had uncovered so as to avoid revealing any of the others by misstep. This, I confess, spurred my anger and prompted me to speak with more passion than I had intended.

"Do not pretend with me, Stuart! Do you deny knowing that your friend Mr. Collins was dead long before you supposedly met him at Portobello Market?"

At this, Stuart ceased walking. I do not know that I have ever seen him at such a loss. He covered his face with one hand for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. "I do not deny it." I had not expected this, Addie. I had been sure he would attempt to cover his lie with yet more prevarication. But I was glad, in a perverse sort of way. My anger had been vindicated, and I could unleash it on its object without scruple. I no longer cared who overheard. "Then what were you about, Stuart? If you knew the man was not Mr. Collins, why did you address him as such?"

"'Collins' is what he called himself. I merely played along."

Again, his response staggered me. Was this honesty, then? I looked up at Stuart to find him gazing back at me, his brow creased and his green eyes intense with apparent concern. His right arm twitched slightly toward me as I looked at him, but he seemed to think better of the impulse and clasped his hands firmly behind his back, frowning slightly. "I don't understand you, Stuart. Why would you do such a thing? To what purpose?" Stuart exhaled sharply, smiling grimly as he shook his head. "Maisie, I am sadly unqualified. Or, more probably, you are exceptional. Whatever am I to do with you?" This last was delivered in a rueful tone, but Stuart's smile had lost some of its bitterness, and he reached for my hand as he spoke. I snatched it away from his reach. Indeed! Had he supposed I would be softened by such a cryptic speech? I could only think that he was toying with me again, and it rendered me quite furious. "Mr. Hill, unless you can explain your behaviour to my satisfaction, I have nothing more to say to you." He attempted to tip my chin up to meet his gaze but I swatted his hand away with all the energy of my indignation. It did not help that he met this violence with what could only be described as amusement and admiration, and had the cheek to say, "You are so very irresistible when you are in a temper." I had never slapped a man before, Addie, but I slapped his face with every bit of strength I could muster, and turned to leave him. He caught my arm and I turned back with every intention of slapping him again, but the look on his face stayed my hand. His expression was grave, yet behind the gravity I could just perceive an anguish so well concealed that it could only be genuine. What was Stuart to do with me? Indeed, what was I to do with him? Such a mixture of fury and compassion as I felt must surely have torn me apart and turned all the world topsy-turvy--and yet I remained whole, and the frozen earth beneath my boots was as solid as ever. Stuart released my arm and continued to gaze at me in silence--if he had any inkling of the involuntary sympathy I felt for him at that moment he gave no sign of it. All trace of levity had left him, and his voice was almost too low for me to hear.

"Am I to lose you over this, then?"

Addie, I am ashamed to tell you that I was nearly taken in again. Every instinct I possessed urged me to go to him, to comfort him, to assure him of my continued tender feelings for him. It was exceedingly troubling to discover the extent of the power he held over me, yet it was something much less ominous which checked my highly inappropriate impulses. I had not noticed his approach, absorbed in my own feelings as I had been, but at that moment I was addressed by a passerby who I assumed must have witnessed my assault on Stuart, and I felt my face flush with the heat of embarrassment. The man glanced at Stuart in a wary sort of way, planted himself firmly between us, and spoke earnestly to me. "Has this man harmed you? Shall I escort you home?" I was in no mood to explain myself to a stranger, and opened my lips to speak the words that would send him on his way, when my eyes fell on his face, and I recognized him. He was the very same cadet who had given me the clue to Stuart's undoing--but what coincidence was this? Before I could gather my thoughts, he spoke again, "Miss Bristow? I assure you that you are no longer in danger. If you would like to enter a complaint against this fellow, you have only to give the word." Stuart started at the sound of my name, and seemed to consider the cadet for the first time. After a brief study, however, he proceeded to ignore the cadet, and looked at me in wonder, "Do you know this man, Maisie?" Both men paused to wait for my response, and it was awkward indeed, but I answered that I did. The cadet looked very satisfied, and turned a challenging look on Stuart, who was more than half a head taller than himself. "I am Police Constable James Murphy," he said calmly, "and I advise you to depart at once." A great change was wrought upon Stuart--his face was suddenly alive with incredulity. He looked back and forth between us for a moment before focusing on me, and then asked, "Maisie, is it your wish for me to go?" It occurred to me that if I wished it, Stuart would go, and I was certain that my verbal expression of that wish would signify more to Stuart than it would to P.C. Murphy. Even more distressing was the sure knowledge that I did not want to send Stuart away. So strong was my wish for him to stay that I knew I must be merciless in my decision--the danger was too great. If I allowed myself the smallest modicum of indulgence, I felt sure I should never manage to detach myself from this man who thought it nothing to lie to me. It was not easy--it may in fact have been the most difficult thing I have ever been constrained to do--but I took the constable's offered arm and said, "Yes, Mr. Hill. I think it best you should go. P.C. Murphy will see me home." This accomplishment was not without cost. I could not bring myself to look at Stuart as I spoke, but I risked a glance as he replied. His expression was perfectly composed, his tone distant. He bowed slightly in my direction and said only, "I am at your service, Miss Bristow ," before turning away. I was ashamed that my own eyes had begun to fill with tears, and endeavored to quash the unwelcome emotion stirred up by the sight of Stuart's retreating form. P.C. Murphy seemed to sense that he was not privy to all that had passed between us, but was polite enough not to inquire as he walked me back to the mews. It occurred to me that he seemed to know the way, as I was no use at all and merely allowed him to guide me, and at length I asked him how he had come to find me. "Yes, that. I came to call on you, and your charming mother informed me that you were walking in the park." Dazed as I was by what had just occurred, this struck me as curious. "You ... came to call on me?" He smiled kindly and, as we were coming up on the Italian Gardens, asked if I would like to rest for a moment. I told him that I did, and he guided me to a bench with an excellent view of the fountains. "I must confess that I could not feel satisfied abandoning you in the state in which I saw you last, and here you are a week later, and you seem no better." I must have blushed--I surely felt self-conscious--for he added, "Forgive my familiarity. I should not have mentioned it. It is only that concern for you has guided my actions in coming to call on you--I had wished to find you in better spirits. I hope you are not still upset over the news of your friend? Indeed, I had meant to comfort you by it." I knew I should have felt gratitude toward him, Addie, and I think I did, but that most noble emotion was so greatly eclipsed by the anxiety I felt in regard to Stuart that I was hardly in any condition to do it justice. I said nothing, but smiled weakly at him, and he continued, "The ... gentleman ... who just left us--I have seen him on more than one occasion in Victoria Street. I wish I had taken more notice of him, as he is obviously a person to be monitored. I hope he did not offend you too grievously?" As little as I wished to speak of it, I could not deny the truth of what he suggested, and I steeled myself enough to say, "I am afraid that he did. I have just ended our engagement to be married." P.C. Murphy was understandably taken aback, but did not press for particulars. He merely expressed his regrets for my disappointment, and, as I had risen, offered me his arm and accompanied me home. I did not truly wish it, but I thought it courtesy to ask him to stay for tea. He cordially declined, however, claiming a previous engagement, and expressed the hope that he might be extended another such invitation in future. I was not sorry to see him go, and, ignoring Mum's attempts to question me, fled to my room and remained there until the following morning. I would likely not have roused even then, but for Mum's insistence that a letter had been delivered for me, and her refusal to give it into my possession unless I would wash and dress and come downstairs. Accordingly, I succumbed to her wishes. When she was satisfied she placed the letter on the table before me and excused herself from the dining room. I had hoped wildly,wrongly, that it might be from Stuart, and I was not disappointed.

My dear Maisie,

I am deeply sorry for my light treatment of your concerns yesterday. I was so relieved to discover the cause of your rejection, and to realise that it was of no import, that I allowed myself to approach cheerfulness too soon. Please forgive this error on my part, and know that it was only the sudden removal of the heavy burden of care which I had borne these past seven days which occasioned it. I ought to have exercised better judgment, and given more thought to the fact that your mind was not yet relieved of worry.

When you told me to go ... I admit I was, once again, despondent. It seemed to me that your desire for my absence might be a permanent condition of your heart, and this was not a welcome thought. I realise that I am not yet clear of the danger of losing you. Therefore, I approach what I must tell you next with great trepidation. You asked for a satisfactory explanation of my deception regarding the man whom I led you to believe was Joseph Collins. Maisie, I cannot give it. I can assure you that my actions were necessary and prudent, and that the consequence of my being constrained to deceive you was not entered into lightly on my part. You will remember my plea for forgiveness that very day, and you must believe it was in earnest. However, I can explain no further, and I must ask you to abandon the subject from here and forward. It is not within my power to satisfy you in this matter, and I beg you to grant me grace and forbearance.

If you can find it within your capacity to trust me, Maisie, please make it known. For my part, I shall no longer attempt to displease you with my presence unless you ask for it.

I am, respectfully,
Your obedient servant,

Stuart Hill

Addie, how I wish for your advice and sympathy! It has been a week already since I received this missive, and I have yet to make a reply. I have explained my peculiar weakness when it comes to Stuart, and I very much fear it might take precedence in light of this most eloquent petition for pardon. Why cannot it be simple? My heart is in favor of forgiveness, but my intelligence begs my heart to please refrain from such utter foolishness. How is it that affection for a man can lead to such hostilities within myself? Write with all haste!


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews


Thora said...

Agh! What is Stuart's deal?! I can't even decide if I should trust him! Are we ever going to find out what is going on in his very secretive life--- even back to what he and Peter argued over? I am already waiting for the next letter!

sunrabbit said...

Yes, you will find out. I will say that the results of the poll so far have been conclusive in favor of hearing from our men ... wouldn't you like to know what was going on in Stuart's head that fateful day in Portobello Market?

Sticht Fam said...

I'm kind of thinking she should trust Stuart. I can't wait to find out what happened and why it's such a secret.

Biff said...

Not only should she trust Stuart, she needs to marry that man!

But methinks he needs to trust her a little bit more with his secrets as well. My 2 cents. ;)

Biff said...

Oops! This is Cheryl; I'm just on Brandon's account...

sunrabbit said...

Wow. I thought maybe we got some burly Biff character converted to reading Edwardian romance ... but I am just as glad that it is you, Cheryl. :)
P.S. Um ... why does Brandon go by "Biff"?

Mema Cactuslou said...

This has brought out my impatience! I want to know everything right now! However, I do think Stuart should be trusted...maybe.

sunrabbit said...

Cactuslou, welcome! Welcome! Addie's next letter should post this weekend ... hopefully it will soothe some of your impatience. :)