Letter 47 - Performance

Miss Adeline Westley
23 rue Saint Paul

14 July 1903

My dearest Addie,

I hardly know how to express my feelings, Addie, but I must write to you again today, for I have extraordinary news--which is rather less extraordinary than you might at first suppose.

James and I were engaged to dine with some particular friends of his, Mr. and Mrs. Breckenridge, along with Mr. Breckenridge's sister and her fiance. Upon arrival I was introduced to all three Breckenridges, but the one who would make us an even party had yet to arrive. We passed a quarter of an hour pleasantly enough, and when the call for dinner came we were still only five. Upon entering the dining room I saw just five places set, and James seemed to notice the discrepancy as well. Miss Breckenridge, a tall girl of extraordinary beauty and exuberant expression, seemed to notice our puzzlement. "Ah, you are wondering where my gallant young fellow is, are you? Well, he is not coming. It is a recent development, so you will forgive my brother for not informing you of my disappointment." She said all this with such a smile that I assumed he was but detained for the evening, but her brother looked rather uncomfortable at her speech, and she chided him, "You needn't be so delicate, William--I am quite glad to see the back of him. And now you are shocked! Never mind, you need not be shocked on my account." Mrs. Breckenridge caught her sister-in-law's eye and smiled a little. I admit I was more puzzled than ever, and also intrigued, but I did not like to pursue a subject that was apparently distressing to the master of the house. It fell out that I needn't have pressed, for Miss Breckenridge was only too happy to go on as we were seated and the first course brought out. "Before poor Mr. Murphy and Miss Bristow puzzle themselves to death, I had better excuse the absence of my former fiance. I assure you, it was I who sent him away, and therefore you needn't pity me." I really could not understand her, Addie, having recently suffered a very similar disappointment, but this only served to intrigue me all the more. Miss Breckenridge glanced at her brother and smiled indulgently, "Dear William, do not be ashamed of me!" And William, looking more upset than ever, replied, "I am not ashamed of you, Maggie--not in the least. But I cannot let his behaviour pass so lightly as you seem to do. I could wish for a return of dueling when I think of him." At this his sister only laughed, raised her brow, and shook her head as if to playfully suggest that she could not but humour such old-fashioned notions in her beloved brother. Turning to James and myself, she at last was able to satisfy my curiosity. "In short, my charming fiance was forever excusing himself from my presence for some business or other, and at length I discovered that I was not the only lady he admired," she said archly. I was rather more inclined to emulate her brother's feelings, and James seemed to be of an accord. "Let us subscribe to a more modern sensibility, ladies and gentlemen," she said with feigned solemnity, "or we shall be forced to spend the remainder of this fine evening in mortified silence. Since I am the one who has been offended, let me remain the only one." Accordingly, she tucked into her turtle soup and engaged Mrs. Breckenridge in conversation about the hat she had purchased the day before. Addie, I was taken by surprise, but it afforded me some thought on my own situation. I began to feel that I should follow Miss Breckenridge's example of modernity, and put Stuart behind me with as much lightness and good humour as I could command. James had soon initiated conversation with Mr. Breckenridge, and I joined in where I could, reserving one ear for the ladies' continuing dialogue. I am an admirer of fashion, Addie, as you know, but I am hardly in any position to speak knowledgeably of the latest trends. I had very nearly given up all hope of contributing anything of value to the female discussion when the two ladies dropped the topic of style altogether, and renewed the theme which had so captivated our little party at the start of the meal. I could not help but listen more attentively when I heard Mrs. Breckenridge say to her sister-in-law, "You never told me what he said to excuse himself." Miss Breckenridge seemed, of all things, eager to speak on the subject! "Oh, yes, Charlotte--it is quite worth telling, too. He denied it without qualification, and claimed his father's ill health as the chief reason for his frequent absences. Imagine his extreme discomposure when I informed him I had it all from the downstairs maid, and knew every detail of what he had been up to! Had I not been so amused I might actually have pitied him." Mrs. Breckenridge seemed to enjoy hearing the tale as much as her sister-in-law enjoyed telling it, and urged her for more detail. "Do not worry, there is more to amuse you--upon realising I was fully aware of his deception he took another tack altogether, and claimed some righteous and mysterious agenda in courting this other woman! He became quite serious, took my hand with an air of resigned melancholy, and suggested with his next words that if I only knew the purity of his intentions I should forgive him straightaway, but that he could not justify himself, for he was not at liberty to do so. Upon my word, he should have pursued a career on the stage."
"I suppose he should have liked you to believe his other lady a poor invalid, or a slighted woman to whom, by his noble actions, he was attempting to provide some little comfort before she left this world altogether! What a performance it must have been!"
"It was, indeed, Charlotte, but I knew better. Sally said his other lady was with them at Christmas (out of town, indeed!), and mentioned her as a striking beauty in excellent health, quite as dark as I am fair. Which leaves me to conclude that he is a man who requires variety at the expense of fidelity. I only thank heaven I did not marry him!--if indeed he ever intended to go through with any such ceremony."
"And did you tell him as much?" asked Mrs. Breckenridge. "Oh, yes--I did not spare him, I can assure you. 'Mr. Hill,' I said, 'This is not to be borne. I will not be your play thing any longer, and if I but knew the identity of your black-haired beauty, I would illuminate her without delay.' At which point he had the humility to put all pretense aside, inform me that it was over between he and his other lady, and positively beg me to remain with him. He is handsome and well-spoken, as you know, Charlotte, and in a moment of weakness I may have become subject to his charms, but I was prodigiously angry, and quite able to refuse him. I must laugh, and remember that there are honest men in the world quite as wealthy and handsome as he, and rather less jealous and obsessive. You will be interested to know that I am quite convinced that my former fiance has set some of his friends to follow me about and report to him my interactions with other gentlemen--I have seen them at it!"

You may imagine, Addie, my feelings upon hearing her wayward suitor named at last. So here was Stuart's great mystery--or one of them, at any rate. To hear that Sir John's downstairs maid had called me a beauty hardly assuaged my sense of inferiority upon comparing myself to Miss Breckenridge. Not only had I been one of two, but I was decidedly the inferior. It was horrible--no other word for it! Miss Breckenridge must have seen something of my feelings in my expression, and interpreted incorrectly, for she apologised for offending me with her frankness, and bade me put it from my mind, as she certainly had. "It is scandalous, I'll grant you, but such things occur more often than not in these modern times. I am already courted by another gentleman, and do not regret the change of scenery, as it were." James was regarding me with some concern, and his excellent discernment was in evidence again as he made our excuses shortly after the anchovies were served. All in all, Addie, I felt that I was coping with the news admirably. Had I learnt of it only a month earlier, I should certainly have been in hysterics. As it was, I had James at my side, and was only moderately outraged. It is amazing, Addie, what time will do--time and agreeable company. I could not but feel the sting of discovering that I was that much more the fool, but it did not grieve me as it might have, all things considered. I am determined to take a leaf from Miss Breckenridge's book, and move forward without undue dramatics. James, who could not have heard or understood as much of the ladies' conversation as I had, merely offered me his arm and the comfort of his presence, and these two things were all I desired at that moment to bear me onward.

How brave I am while the day lasts, Addie! I am afraid I cannot acquit myself half so well at night, when I am alone in my little room, assaulted by moonlight. My sentiments at ten o'clock last night, as I finished your letter and prepared for sleep, were quite different from those which I could honestly claim at half past three this morning. There is little comfort in such an admission, yet I must not pretend to you, dearest friend. I am weak, hopeless--a wretched, wretched girl! I awoke at the aforementioned hour from a nightmare so vivid it took me a good quarter of an hour to realise I was awake, and that it had been only a dream. I had thought sure I was in Hyde Park, riding my own Jinn, when Stuart's bay gelding appeared--breathless and riderless, its fine chest and shoulders covered in a bloody froth. I caught up the gelding's reins along with my own and went all round the park looking for the lost rider, but to no avail. I felt instinctively that it was of the utmost importance that I find him, Addie, but he was not there! The tears that overcame me in my dream were real, and I awoke sobbing with abandon, my pillow quite wet. The realisation that I had been dreaming was not the comfort one might expect, as all the hurt of Stuart's betrayal came crashing down upon my head and reduced me to ruin. I had thought I was removed enough to have suffered little at the discovery--my milder feelings of the previous evening had convinced me of it--but now I see that I was deceiving myself. That wound has not yet healed. The very worst of it, Addie, is that I did not weep for the injury done to my vanity or my dignity. I wept for the loss of the man--and there is no excuse for it. Pity me, if you will, but do not justify it--I know too well how pathetic my behaviour has been. But I could not help it, Addie, and that is what troubles me most. When will I be free of him?


Maitland Bristow

14 Bathurst Mews


Thora Sutton said...

What the? Just when I thought I was on Stuart's side... what is up? I need some resolution girls!!! Connect some of the dots, ya know?!!!

sunrabbit said...

Glad you are still reading, Thora! We have connected many dots, but they are not available to the general public, due to chronology issues. Soon you will be able to request the full MS! YAY! (Right?)