Letter 43 - Primula Auricula

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

25 May 1903

Dearest Addie,

You know how I admire a fine intellect, and it seems that you have found one in Mr. Rousseau. I know nothing of medicine, of course, and little of French, but it seems to me that your suitor is well placed to make a name for himself among the well-respected scientists and scholars of our time. If you are happy, Addie, I congratulate you with all my heart. I am not, however, altogether secure in the conviction that you are happy, dearest. My advice is this: speak to him--invite his confidence. Surely there is not a man alive who could resist your pretty coaxings on so trivial a point. He is intelligent, respected, and he has saved your from frightful danger at great personal risk. Only you can decide whether it is enough.

As for me, I have a good story for you. I returned from my ride this morning to discover Mum in a state of mild agitation. She informed me that Mr. Murphy had called soon after I went out and--upon learning that I was not likely to return for better than an hour--requested permission to wait. Mum granted it to him, of course, and she described him as a lively companion for the first hour of his stay, after which he began to express some concern that I would not arrive home before he had to take his leave in order to make an appointment. He then applied to her for a bit of paper and a pen in order to scribble me a note, whereupon she directed him to my own well-stocked writing desk. Mum was wild with curiosity over what he might have written, he having disappeared for some time before emerging from my room and begging his leave to call again tomorrow, as he was required at Scotland Yard almost directly, and could not wait a moment longer. I will not pretend I was not curious myself, and I proceeded to my room to find a single flower on my pillow--a primrose, and such a lovely old English garden flower as I have always admired in the country but never managed to coax into bloom in any of my flower boxes. Beneath the blossom was a sheet of my own stationary, folded in half. His script is not so elegant as some, Addie, but his words were so pure--so artless! I shall copy it for you:

Dear Miss Bristow,

I had hoped to see you today, and deliver this small gift to you from
my hands. As that cannot be, I leave it for you to find in my absence,
and hope that it is no less pretty for the delay. I had greatly wished to
see you today, but will wait patiently for that privilege on the morrow.

Your humble servant,

James Murphy

The reason for his prolonged disappearance was soon explained by the small pile of discarded papers which had been tucked neatly into the bin next to the desk--each an attempt at conveying the same message, but with varying language. I cannot say how sweet it seemed to me, that he would worry so about the particulars of this simple note.

I am so sorry, Addie, I had meant to finish your letter sooner, but I have been occupied with one thing or another these past few weeks. I hope you will not think ill of me when I tell you that I have spent a great deal of my time with Mr. Murphy. Mum is highly gratified, of course, and I can only excuse myself by telling you that his presence serves to distract my mind from the desolate reflections that plague it so continually when I am left to myself. I told you of Mr. Murphy's note at the start of this letter, and I am now well positioned to inform you that he gained his objective by returning the day after leaving my primrose. He truly did seem delighted to see me, although I am not sure what would account for anyone's pleasure in my company of late. Mum asked Mr. Murphy to stay for tea and he in turn requested that I accompany him in taking a turn round the park while the preparations were made. I offered to stay and help, of course, but Mum would not have it. She may as well have shooed me out the door. So we walked, and the day was so fine I could not help but appreciate the lovely scents and the sunlight on the water of the pond. Mr. Murphy is not tall or striking in appearance, Addie, but his features are good. He has a very pleasant face, and is so earnest and good-natured a fellow that his looks are enhanced by it. Neither is he poor in conversation. He spoke of his family in Ireland and I spoke of you, dearest. I have come to the conclusion that he is either extremely polite or particularly sympathetic, for he seems to always inquire into my affairs with genuine concern and interest. He introduced the subject of riding and, although he concealed it admirably well, I believe he had been under the impression that Dad was merely a glorified ostler for Sir Charles. I am sure he must have been puzzled by our situation in the mews, however, because (as far as his expression alone might serve as a guide) the revelation seemed to satisfy some inquiry which he had not thought it polite to make, and yet also to upset him in some way. He afterwards informed me quite modestly that, while his own father was not a celebrated equestrian, he himself had learnt riding at an early age, and if there was any thing he missed about his former country home (apart from his family) it was his horses. Here was such a sincere expression of appreciation that, had I been disinclined to ride with Mr. Murphy, I would yet have felt obliged to offer him the opportunity. As it was, I was not at all opposed to the idea, and immediately engaged him to ride with me the following morning. I should have invited him to ride that very evening, had I not promised Mum to accompany her to the New Theatre to see Rosemary, and I told him so. I only wished I had some excuse to avoid the theatrical excursion altogether, as I had heard that the play is a light romance, and I was in no mood to tolerate any such thing. I did not mention my aversion to trifling displays of romantic frivolity to my companion, however, and had sunk into a silent reverie on a topic I should do better to avoid when Mr. Murphy interrupted my thoughts with, "Do you attend much theatre?" I could only reply that I did not, although I worried it might disappoint him. Gladly, he seemed to share my taste on this head, and exclaimed that, for himself, he was quite tired of it. Before he settled in London he had not had the opportunity, coming from a country farm in Ireland, and since he had arrived he had been invited to plays far more often than he could wish. He was only too happy to hear of my usual habit of walking or riding in the evening in place of going out, and I rather suspect that--as I later discovered that his beat is an evening one--he was somewhat relieved to know that I was not spending those twilit hours at the theatre on the arm of some other gentleman.

Mr. Murphy and I take our morning ride together now, and we have also spent considerable time pouring over books in the afternoons. What do you think, Addie? Mr. Murphy is a great admirer of literature! He has read all of my favorites--Austen, the Brontës, Dickens, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Lord Byron--I could scarcely have advised a better canon had I been consulted in the matter. Mum says I am never more animated than when Mr. Murphy has engaged me in a debate over some literary question. Last night I was at great pains to convince him that Heathcliff, while hardly a man to be admired in general, does in fact possess characteristics of merit. Mr. Murphy considers Heathcliff to be the vilest of beings, and cannot abide what Heathcliff's obsession causes Cathy to suffer; while I hold the opinion that the two of them rather deserve one another--being equally matched in both virtue and folly. Mr. Murphy was referencing the scene in which Cathy first shows kindness to Hareton, and as he opened the page in my second-hand copy, I saw it again--the inscription that had so preoccupied my fancy last summer. I was delighted, and related all of our speculations to James, whereupon he immediately placed himself at my service in the matter, volunteering to consult the London and Dorset county birth and marriage records for a Miss E. Bellefeuille in hopes of discovering our Rabbit's married name. I shall keep you informed, of course.

Before I post this long overdue letter (it is now over a month since I began it!), I must quickly relay to you a most singular event which occurred this afternoon while I was returning from a pilgrimage to Holywell Street Strand with Mr. Murphy. I had very much wished to visit my favorite shops in the hopes of finding some new and worthy reading material, and Mr. Murphy obligingly hired a hansom for the journey out, although I insisted that we make our return on foot through the parks. It was an exceptionally fine day, and I was very well satisfied with my spoils--three volumes of poetry which Mr. Murphy insisted upon carrying for me. It was a glorious day, and the only speck upon my high spirits was the apparent distraction of my companion, who had seemed somewhat preoccupied ever since we had arrived at Holywell Street. We were perhaps a third of the way back to the mews, on the point of leaving Pall Mall for Green Park, when Mr. Murphy stopped abruptly and asked me to kindly wait a moment, and not to move from the spot upon which I stood until he returned. I obeyed, but turned on the spot and watched him walk back the way we had come for some fifty yards, cross to the other side of the street, and approach two gentlemen who appeared to be surveying the contents of a shop window. He exchanged words with one of them briefly, tipped his hat, and returned to me without delay, taking my arm and steering me in our original direction. His expression was rather grimmer than when he had left me, but he volunteered no explanation for the strange performance. I had no intention of accepting his silence on the matter, however, and directly asked him what it was all about. "I had rather not say, Miss Bristow," he began, "but since you ask, I will not deny you. We have been followed all the forenoon, and at last I could no longer tolerate it. I confronted the guilty gentlemen and they admitted as much." I am sure I hardly need tell you, Addie, of my surprise upon hearing this little narrative, nor of the curiosity which such a limited explanation inspired. "Is that all?" I pressed, "How did they attempt to excuse themselves? What could they possibly mean by it?" Mr. Murphy halted on the path and turned to me with a sigh of resignation before speaking. "I do not wish to promote slander, Miss Bristow. Please do not think me motivated by petty jealousies when I tell you that the men who have been shadowing us were employed by one Mr. Stuart Hill of Grosvenor Square. They assured me that their employer had not sworn them to any vow of secrecy, and that I might take it up with him if I wished for privacy with the lady." I cannot recall particulars of the remainder of the walk home, as my mind was busily engaged in sorting and classifying this new information. I have come to the conclusion that I am well rid of a man who would interfere in such a way, when he himself is not willing to confide in me! I asked him for the truth, and he refused. How, then, does he see fit to meddle in my personal affairs? It is outrageous, Addie, and the only good that has come of it is this: should I meet Mr. Hill again, I shall have quite enough ammunition to withstand his stealthy attacks on my good sense. I shall certainly do as you advise in your letter, yet it would seem that although I myself have determined not to "allow my disappointment over Mr. Hill to destroy any chance for other amiable prospects," the aforementioned Mr. Hill will undertake the sabotage himself! I am quite angry enough at the moment that I do not think I should hesitate to throw objects at a certain man were he to present himself. Despite my long walk I am feeling exceedingly energetic, and believe that an excursion to the post office will do me good. Write soon.


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews

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