Miss Maitland Bristow
14 Bathurst Mews
10 April 1903
My dearest of friends, how can I be of any consolation to you? I simply cannot fathom, any more than you can, a reason for Stuart's deceit. I will not feign to know the tribulations of your heart. My words seem of little use at a time such as this. If only I were there with you. You seem so certain all is lost, but if I know Stuart Hill, he shall not give you up so easily. Perhaps there is some tiny shred of goodness to be discovered amidst this madness. If there is anything at all that I can do for you, simply name it, Maisie .... I am happy that at the least you were able to spend some time with Peter. I am glad he is in good health.
I do have some news of my own to relay. It is rather disappointing, to say the least. Naturally, as all unpleasant things seem to begin, this bit of news pertains to the ever-present Vaughn Rousseau. This morning was the day I have dreaded ever since my return from Montparnasse--the day my conniving French tutor would return. The subject of my daily disgust and angst arrived precisely on the hour in the library. Madame Fifi came to alert me to his presence, but she must have been aware that I had been keenly listening for him all the morning; she did not press me to hurry as she usually does. I do not doubt that word of his lie has spread throughout the ranks of the household. I could feel my cheeks flush red as his name passed Madame Fifi's lips, and that rather ill feeling that Vaughn always seems to illicit accompanied me down the stairs as a myriad of indignant lectures sprang up in my mind--any of which I would have been happy to unleash upon him. I entered the room and there he was, sitting and casually thumbing through a book he had retrieved from the shelf. I sat down. I felt more uneasy than angry now; I had been so sure he would be fumbling over some poorly recited apology for his behaviour in Montparnasse. But there he sat, flipping through the pages of this book, paying me no mind at all. I say, Maisie, I was certainly not going to initiate conversation with the man! I crossed my ankles and folded my hands in my lap. Rousseau finally spoke, albeit without looking up from his book, "Good morning Adeline. I trust you have befittingly recovered from your drunken tryst in Montparnasse?" I was quite completely abashed--but the gullibility of my mind (which I am sure he had counted upon) did not outlast the realisation that Vaughn was only pointing out my indiscretions to detract attention from his own. I responded in my most flippant tone, "Well, I must admit, 'twas difficult to recover from my faux pas without the arms of my dear husband to help guide me." Vaughn put down his reading at once. He looked directly at me with fierceness, "Adeline, do you pretend not to understand?" Maisie, I assure you there was no pretense on my part. I felt altogether lost. I looked about the room, hoping to observe some obvious clue I had been neglecting, and stammered, "Vaughn--I do not know what--" He interrupted, his grimace hardening as he rose from his seat behind the desk. Spittle flew from his mouth as he chastised me, "You innocent young girl. Eduard never cared one whit for you." He was leaning in over the desk now, "I was the one who ransomed you from your captor." I felt suddenly weak, and subdued by this news . . . Vaughn saved me? He bent double to retrieve a bouquet of wretched lilies that had been at his feet. Instantly transformed, he proffered them to me and said softly, his voice cracking at the sudden shift, "I procured these on the Place Louis Lépine. You found it charming, did you not, when you went in search of purple irises for Madame Fifette?" He smiled with satisfaction as I silently took the lilies and began to restore order to the items on the desk that had been disheveled during his fit. I began to feel feverish, and quite physically unwell. Madame Fifi entered, and, upon measuring me with a shrewd look, said, "Is everything well? I heard you raise your voice to Miss Westley." She fixed an accusing gaze on Mr. Rousseau, and he returned it with one of haughty indignation, replying in a prideful tone, "Well, you know how difficult Miss Westley can be. She becomes so easily confused by the simplest of concepts." I stood and turned to Madame Fifi before she could leave, "Madame, please--I am not well--please reschedule Mr. Rousseau for another time. I cannot continue my lesson in this state." Madame Fifi turned to Vaughn with evident satisfaction, "Well, you heard mademoiselle--off you go." Madame Fifi shunted him to the door, notwithstanding his bargaining to stay. I went immediately to my bed. The idea that Vaughn was my saviour was sour in my stomach. I closed my eyes, trying to ward off the intruding vision of Vaughn saving my life, when the most peculiar oddity struck me: Vaughn had asked how I liked Place Louis Lépine--only, I have never been to the flower market to buy irises for Madame Fifi, or for any other reason . . . or had I? That moment, an image flickered in my recollection: I could see tiers of various perennials around me. There were cabbage roses, irises and gerberas in splendid yellows, pinks and scarlets. The smell of rosemary bushes and lavender perfumed the air. I could hear the barges trolling through fog over the Seine--perhaps I was on the Ile Saint Louis--no--it must have been the Ile de la Cité--I could see the two towers of Notre Dame. Indeed, I carried in my arms a handsome bunch of violet flowers. Through the thick air, a tall man approached me. He possessed a fine but worried countenance, his eyebrows drawing together, he asked me if I would assist him in finding a lost boy's mother. He explained that the boy was but five or six years of age, and quite afraid. I remember agreeing most immediately, and following the man with great urgency as he led me to the alley just behind the flower peddlers. He paused, and my eyes searched the empty alleyway for the child. I walked a few paces, my footsteps echoing in the damp street; the boy was nowhere to be seen. I turned to ask the man, "The boy--has he run off?" The stranger, saying nothing, walked slowly toward me, pulling a dampened handkerchief from his breast pocket. At that moment I knew I had made a grave mistake. The clatter of an approaching carriage ceased at the entrance to the alley. An uncultured voice called out, "Shapcott! We haven't got time for you to play a game of loll tongue! Do her down and let's hook it!" I looked up and into the man's dark eyes as he walked straight toward me, and then there was a flood of realisation--I knew him. It was the man my father brought home for me to wed. He was not immediately recognisable to me without the beard that had seemed to cover much of his face--but the black eyes were burned into my memory. I opened my mouth to scream--but the man seized me and covered my nose and mouth with the damp handkerchief. I remember the flowers falling onto the cobblestone street, and then there was nothing.
I can only wish for these vile recollections to stop, Maisie. It profits me nothing to relive these events, and I had much rather put it all behind me. I do feel rather sheepish that I was unable to compose myself long enough to require Vaughn to answer some questions about the ordeal. However did he find me? What's more, why did he not deliver me to Mr. Westley himself? I do not relish seeing him, but I must endure if I am to get the answers to my questions. Perhaps I should be grateful--I have wished these many nights to know the identity of my rescuer--and yet I cannot repress the profound disappointment of this discovery, Maisie. The thought of my rescuer had given me something of hope to cling to, but to know it was only Rousseau ... I feel as if I had bitten into an apple and found it to be made of wax. But all of this is trifling, and pales in comparison to your dashed dreams of a life with Stuart. I have no doubt you will have much more news for me in your next letter. Do take care. You are in my thoughts, always.
23 rue Saint Paul