Thursday, January 18th, 2018
And a very damning letter, it is! They had let a viper into their family. None of them were safe!
“Mama, you do know that there is a letter on the hallstand for you? I think it was delivered early this morning.”
“Yes, Annis, I know. I saw it dear. From Addie—Lady Seymour. I have neither the patience nor the inclination to struggle through it at this moment. If you have time before lunch, please open it, my love, and see what it says. I do not have the time, for there are so many things I must see to before this afternoon and this evening.”
“Yes, mama. But I shall have to read it later also. I see that Ellie Davenport and her mother are coming up the driveway to visit us. They must know the turmoil that we are in and that we are not receiving visitors at this time. Why are people so inconsiderate?”
“Be patient, my dear. They do not mean to be unkind or inconsiderate as you say, but are being neighborly and seeking to help. We’ll need all of that, I expect. Perhaps they cannot attend either this afternoon or this evening and feel that they should approach us now.”
Annis read the letter with some difficultylater that morning in the privacy of her room after their visitors had at last departed. She had not realized that her godmother was such an untidy writer, although to be fair, it had obviously been written in haste. It was grammatically acceptable, except perhaps to a strict grammarian as had been the Reverend Coles who had taught all of the girls their lessons, for he firmly believed, unlike many of his persuasion, that girls should also be afforded as good an education as boys. But he would have taken great exception to the untidiness; for there were many blotches, even deletions, underlines, the occasional smudging of ink, corrections, and some minor additions, even in the margin—all of which interrupted the flow, and made it more difficult to understand, though the import of it was clear enough once she got into it.
My dearest Eliza,
It is difficult to know where to begin. Too much is happening of a dreadful nature to upset us all. I was devastated to hear of your tragic circumstance and am only sorry that I cannot get there as quickly as this letter. It is to be hoped that it is not as tragic as you fear. I shall come to you when I am able.
But to get to the point quickly, and I hope I am not too late. In this matter of Bella marrying William Devane that all of us had discussed when we met earlier, it should never [never, was strongly underlined twice] have been [the next word was unreadable at first, but then became obvious] considered at the start and must not be allowed to happen. The consequences of his continued presence among you and your other girls might be unbearable to you and the entire family.
She sighed heavily. “Too late now. The damage is done, for he has already married her. But how can this affect anything, for he no sooner married Bella than she was taken away from us and him? What consequences might she be referring to?”
I should have laid all of my reservations out to both you and his mother earlier, I know, but I did not wish to cause his mother any distress with my devastating and long-held opinion of her son, though I think she already knows it. I honestly never thought this plan of marriage would ever get this far, or I would have spoken sooner.
My objections to this possible connection going forward are numerous and persuasive. I provide details of such disastrous incidents that few in society know about, it seems, and those who do know have said precious little about. The less his name is linked with any part of your family, the better it will be for all concerned.
Most of my objections come from the time before he was banished by his parents but obviously led up to that action. I doubt that warfare and fighting for his country will have improved him any, for I understand it often does quite the opposite. Violent men are forever violent. It might have been better for all if he had not returned, for he was nothing less than a brawler, a libertine, even a—I hesitate to say the word, but it must be laid out without any timidity—rapist, and worse, if that were possible. Yet, it is worse, for I have first hand knowledge of one such affair to a dear relative of my own. Who knows what else there is that I have not heard about.
There were many more paragraphs ofmore detailed and damning revelations, which gradually deteriorated in their readability as the writer’s emotions had gradually overcome her. They concerned, even more, the iniquitous and highly disreputable William Devane, with hints of other scandals that were just unfolding since his return and some even concerning what had happened over on the Peninsula, though her godmother seemed to know few details at the moment.
She read it through and then read it again to glean some deeper understanding of it that she may have missed by struggling with some of the untidiness. She found she was trembling with an additional burden of growing anger, trepidation, and uncertainty over what had been let loose in their midst. She screwed the letter up in her sudden agitation and stared off into the distance out of her window. What should she do? She dare not show it to her mother. There was nothing that anyone could do right now, except to see him gone at the earliest opportunity, rather than press him to stay.
She straightened the pages and read it yet again with a sinking heart. At the end of the letter, she let it drift from her nerveless hands to the floor and sat in deep thought for some time.
They had let a viper intrude into their lives. But what could she do? He had behaved in only seemingly helpful ways, considering their current plight. His words had been kind, his behavior above reproach – what little she had seen, but his history as laid out by their Godmother (for she was godmother to both the Barristow and Devane children) suggested a villain waiting for his chance to strike in some way. But in what way? If their Godmother were indeed correct, then none of them were safe from him. How could his own sister not know him? Elizabeth was a good friend to her mother as well as to her late sister and would not have deliberately misled them if such a danger were so imminent or obvious. But then his sister was at least five years his elder and might not know his full history for she would not move in the same social circles that he might, and men sought different pursuits than women and strove to hide their teeth, and less creditable behavior from mothers and other relatives.
She would not broadcast this litany of vitriol through the house and possibly risk warning him that he had been found out, for there was more than enough upset as it was. She would keep a close eye on Mr. Devane but did not know for the life of her, how she might be able to deal with him.
She also resolved that she would soon write to her godmother and let her know what kind of a turmoil they had landed themselves in and ask her advice on how to extricate themselves as quickly as they might, and with the least harm.
“What did Addie’s letter say, my dear? I might have time to read it now.”
“Oh, nothing important, Mama.” She must keep it from her mother at a time like this. The damage had been done and there was nothing to be gained by revealing any of this sad history at such a time. Their troubles were more than enough without adding fuel to the blaze. It was to be hoped he was soon gone, and she would try to see that brought about. Either that or…she would need to protect her own family from him. She decided to say nothing of the disclosures.
“She commiserates with us all at some considerable length. We do not need to go through all of that. It appears that she has that secretive recipe for the lemon tarts from Mrs. Devane—and will tell you of it when she comes, as she says she will soon, and also gives you her secret to her marmalade. I thought we already had that first recipe.”
“We do. But I did not wish to tell her that.”
“Why do they all assume we want them around us at such a time as this?” Her impatience and frustration with everything was obvious.
“Oh hush, Annis. They mean well. They are only trying to be helpful and to lend some support.”
“Oh well, that’s good then, I expect.” She did not believe it. “Though what there is good in any of this, I cannot see. Anyway I have put it down somewhere and cannot lay my hands on it at this time.”
“No matter. Probably not important at all.”
“No, mama.” She resolved that she would see that one of her father’s pistols was by her bed from this moment forward and would have no hesitation in using it if he dared enter her room again or that of her sisters, and she would instruct her sisters to keep their door locked at night. Her mother was in such a peculiar and foolish state of mind that she would likely be inclined to believe nothing ill of this man anyway.