The lettered affair, p.4
The Lettered Affair, p.4Alice Ayden
Letter 85 ~ Lady Seaton to Cassandra
October 24, 1810
What on earth have you done to my grandson? I did not believe it possible that you could be so cruel. He is beside himself. He knows not what to think. I have had to stop him many a time from rushing to confront you directly, but I fear his rashness.
Please explain yourself. I am rarely wrong about people. Once I have decided someone’s character, it is impossible that I could be so deceived. Please contact me at once with your explanation.
Letter 86 ~ Cassandra to Lady Seaton
October 24, 1810
I do not understand. What has happened? Why did Henry not write me directly? Have I done something I must seek forgiveness for? Please tell me.
Letter 87 ~ Henry to Retton
October 25, 1810
I am unsure how you will find this letter. I am unsure of what help I can be in your search for Juliana. I do not know what to think or feel anymore. Have I been a fool?
Since receiving Cassandra’s letter, I have spent hours tracing back through our meetings, her words, everything. How could I have been so wrong? Did I not see what was right in front of me? Could she really not love me? I cannot finish this. My mind is not right at all.
I have been a fool. How could I have been so blind? Do not worry about me. This will be rectified. Please let me know anything I can do to help you find Juliana. Take it from me, cousin, once you find your love, never let her go.
Letter 88 ~ Nathaniel to Patience
October 25, 1810
Why must you vex me? I have tried to convince you that you need not marry that earl of whatever. You do not need the title. Let us celebrate together. We have won. They have all fallen. Why can we not just sit back for awhile and watch our enemies suffer?
You are always such a schemer, are you not? I know I must be patient. I trust you implicitly. Please contact me soon. I get irksome when you are not near, and I am likely to do something which you quite possibly would not approve. Consider yourself sufficiently warned. It will be your own fault should I proceed with my plans. Just realize I will not let you marry another.
Letter 89 ~ Patience to Lady Seaton
October 26, 1810
I am sure I am but the last person with which you would like to share correspondence, but, as you can probably guess, I am most desperate. Your grandson, Nathaniel, is a most persistent creature. I have many plans which have taken quite the maneuvering to achieve. All of which he threatens to undue out of pure jealousy.
Can you please convince him that me marrying another man means nothing. It does not mean I think any less of him. If he had been born titled, I would most assuredly consent to marry him. I must have a title. Surely, you can understand that.
Imagine how dull your life would have been if you had not been born the daughter of a marquess and subsequently became the wife of an earl. You would not have the protection nor the riches you have always been surrounded by. Surely you can at least find it in your heart to understand my motives.
Perhaps you cannot or will not. Perhaps you are full of spite that so many of your class have in abundance. Well, I guess it is just as well if you refuse to help me that I did go out of my way to hurt those closest to you. I should consider you one of my many enemies as well. Tell me, why do so many people seek to destroy me? Is it as I have long suspicioned purely a jealous motive that sees me as someone much more attractive and clever? Or perhaps people are just spiteful in excess. It matters not. If you will not help me dissuade your grandson, then you have only yourself to blame for what I am about to do.
I do not know why I endeavored to waste my time trying to help.
Letter 90 ~ Henry to Retton
October 27, 1810
I hope that you are closer to finding Juliana. I am sure it is only a matter of time. Given the damage Patience has attempted, it is only natural Juliana must recover from such a shock. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.
If I do not describe the events that have recently happened I will surely burst. I neglected to inform you exactly what happened in the last letter. I really could not form the words, and also did not wish to add to your burdens. Suffice to say, I received a letter from Cassandra that shook me to the core. I had not planned on it or ever entertained the possibility for it. Perhaps that is another of my failings. I assured myself that I was loved by the woman I loved. It was a love we shared and was equal in attachment.
When I received Cassandra’s letter informing me she loved me not and was in fact attached to one of James’ cousins, I was rendered speechless. I wish there was yet another word to describe when the mind itself stops. I could not think nor eat nor focus nor feel.
When grandmother finally managed to unclench the letter from my hand, she turned pale upon reading it. I could tell by her eyes that she was entirely shocked. Normally Grandmother allows for such eventualities since she believes animals and plants and birds have better souls than the majority of humans. However, she had given Cassandra more credit than most. This made the sting more painful.
I am not sure how long I stood in silence, but when I did finally realize I was still staring at the fire and Grandmother still clutched the letter I had not the words to utter.
“Henry,” Grandmother said. “Please say something. How did this happen? Why did this happen?”
I must have mumbled something.
“Speak up, Henry.”
I shook my head. I did not know what I had said or what could be said. My life as I had understood it…My life as I had come to imagine it had disappeared. Was it always meant to be so fleeting? Was I too naive to believe it to be in danger?
I regret the thoughts that I do remember conjuring were not what any gentleman ought to entertain. Ever. I wanted to inflict pain. I wanted to inflict suffering. Specifically, I wished to inflict pain on Cassandra. I am horrified at those thoughts and did not believe myself capable of such horrors, but I will not deny it. Those cruel thoughts leapt across my mind as if I was a twelve year old leaping across the rocks of the pond.
So ashamed I was at those thoughts that my mind did immediately seek absolution. “I should marry quickly.” I muttered it aloud, but I was not sure why.
Grandmother scoffed. “You are a great many things, Henry, but you have never been cowardly.”
I looked at her wondering what on earth would make her say those things.
“Life is difficult and love even more so. If you are so willing to forgo the difficult for the easy, then you will get exactly what you deserve: you will get what you settle for. Nothing less and certainly nothing more.”
I sighed. Grandmother’s wisdom - no matter how correct - was not something I wished to be privy to at the moment.
“No, Henry. You should marry. There are plenty a simpleton who desire nothing more than to marry an earl. Just go out the door, find the first idiot girl who fancies you, get married, and live a perfectly bland existence.”
I finally threw myself down in the chair closest to the fire. I did not believe I could take any more.
Grandmother waited a while then approached me. She touched my shoulder. “You have always been my favourite. Your brother was born to make life difficult. You were born to make life better. You are meant for something extraordinary. Do not give up so easily. It has been my experience that life demands much from us. We must say what we mean and mean what we say. It is when we are closest to our dreams they are the farthest. I believe it is the last test. If you shrink away, then you were never meant to achieve your dreams.”
It was then that my heart began to beat again. It was then I saw what was right in front of me the enti
Before I knew it, I was standing in Grace’s parlour waiting for Cassandra to be told of my arrival. I wanted to listen for her footsteps, but all I could hear was the beating of my own heart. I could not breath, but I was sure I was in fact breathing.
My mind raced. What would I say? What would I do? I only knew that I would discover everything the moment I looked in her eyes. I waited for what seemed an eternity, but I am sure it was only a few moments.
Then the door opened, and she stood there. My beautiful Cassandra. As soon as I saw her, my doubts melted. I knew what had taken place.
Cassandra smiled and ran to me. “Henry, I have been so worried since I received the letter from your grandmother. What have I done? I wanted to stay here in case Juliana returned. Otherwise, I would have run to Edenfield if I could have.”
I shook my head. “Forgive me.”
She frowned. “Why? For what?”
I looked down ashamed at my previous thoughts of doubt. “I received a letter. I thought things I never should have.”
I handed her the crumbled piece of paper. She opened it and started to read.
She stopped after a few sentences. “I do not…who…what is this?”
She returned to the letter before shaking her head. “I cannot.”
I looked at her. “Can you forgive me for believing you had written this?”
She looked at me as if trying to see through me. Then her expression changed towards anger. “Patience.”
I nodded. “That is what I believe.”
Cassandra closed her eyes. “Why is she so incredibly cruel? Why does she seek such vengeance against sins that have never taken place?”
“Forgive me for thinking the worst and wanting…” I stopped. Could I actually have told her what I wanted? Perhaps if she truly knew what I was capable of even thinking the letter would indeed come true.
“You believed I wrote that?” Cassandra asked. “You believed I could say those things to you? That I actually fell in love with…” she looked at the letter. “An Edward Hawksley which I do not know even exists. That I was going to live back at Ashlands. I am sure that would be quite the shock to the current family.”
I instantly regretted everything and hated myself for it. How could I have thought such things? How could I have dreamed of such—
Cassandra took my hands in hers. “I love you, Henry. I loved you from the first moment we met. Right or not, I have kept you in my heart never believing I ever deserved you. Never believing you would ever be mine. It would be impossible to ever love another because my heart is yours. You are my always. You are my forever.”
I fell to my knees. “I will never again feel like I felt upon first reading that letter. Helpless. Lost. Meaningless. Angry and jealous. I wished to…hurt you.”
She shook her head. “You would never hurt me. No matter how angry. You are a decent man who could never harm another, especially not a woman.”
I closed my eyes and nodded. She was right. No matter how angry I was, no matter how angry I have ever been, I have never deliberately harmed anyone. Nathaniel’s continued existence is proof of that. And I would never harm a woman nor allow her to be harmed. “I cannot be parted from you any longer. Marry. Me. Now.”
She muttered something about Juliana.
I did not hear her nor did I want to hear her. “I do not know why, but there are forces seeking to tear us apart. We must not let them. We are stronger together. We have waited not as long as we aught but certainly long enough.”
She stopped me by kissing me. Everything disappeared. Anger. Pain. Sadness. Fear. Crippling doubt. All dissipated. They were replaced by peace and a calmness of surety that I have finally found. Grandmother was right. If I had allowed my stupidity to cloud my thinking, I would have lost Cassandra forever.
Never give up hope, Retton. You will find your Juliana as I found my Cassandra.
Letter 91 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
October 28, 1810
I know you are no longer at Bath with Aunt Grace, but I must believe you will somehow get this letter.
It actually matters not if you are legitimately my sister by blood. You are my sister. That is final and resolute. Nothing will ever change that. You are my confidant, my best friend, my sister. Is it not better that we can be sisters by choice than have it thrust upon us by biology?
There is no shame in your birth. You did nothing wrong. Obviously. Patience used this knowledge to try to humiliate you and seek vengeance for slights that only she is privy to. Do not let her. Do not let Patience win. If you give up your life and force those who love you to suffer then Patience indeed wins. Just the thought of her malicious smile is enough to sicken me.
You will never be a burden or an embarrassment to me. I care little for what others think about that. Yes, it is I who wrote that. I spent my entire life trying to redeem the sin that my mother died giving birth to me. She was loved and perfect, and I had to endure anything and everything to make my life worthy of taking hers. That, as you well know, was nonsense. And it mattered not. It did not incline me closer to sainthood. It merely harmed those closest to me - that of which was never my intention and one that I did not realize until now.
You must come home. I punished myself enough for both of us. It did not make Father love me more. It just made me an easier target for his machinations. My entire life I tried to believe it was a maid I had overheard telling another that it was a shame it was not I who died that day because my mother was so perfect. Actually, it was father who said that. It pains me even now to write it, but I must seek and acknowledge the truth.
“Elizabeth was so beautiful and loved, and Cassandra is the exact opposite. Why can I not have Elizabeth? Why am I burdened by this daughter I refuse to love?” he said without even a hint of whisper.
It mattered not if I overheard him, but I can indeed trace back my frailty to that very moment. It was I who took my mother’s life, and it was I who had to atone. From that moment, I became the dutiful daughter hoping and praying that one day he might reverse his words - that he would love me and not see me as a murderer. He did not.
I chose to awash myself in misery for events that were not of my making. It was only when I stopped living someone else’s dream and finally started living my own that I healed. If you do not learn from my mistakes, it will be even more of a tragedy. Come home. You and Retton can start your life together. We can all live together at Edenfield. Oh, yes. I did not mention that Henry and I are married! Can you believe it! I am sorry to wait so long in the writing of this letter to tell you…
Of course I wanted to wait until you returned, but this only means you must return quickly to chastise me for my selfishness. I am happier than I ever believed anyone could be. I cannot imagine my life before. I refuse to write to you the details of how it all came about. For that, you must return home, and I will share everything. If you love Retton as much as I believe you do, do not punish yourself or him by staying away. I miss you terribly.
Letter 92 ~ Retton to Henry
November 8, 1810
Henry, I am returning home. Juliana is no longer in Bath. I believe Aunt Grace knows her exact whereabouts but will not divulge the information. I have to admire Grace for her loyalty to Juliana.
I understand Juliana seeks the truth. She needs to know her history, but I only wish she realized it matters not to me who her father was. I left a letter for Aunt Grace to give to Juliana detailing as much. I will never stop loving her or looking for her, but I do understand she must return only when she is ready. I will not force her to abandon her quest.
I will never forgive Patience nor Nathaniel for the misery they have spread to Juliana, Cassandra, you, and, of course, Rebecca. I do not seek to pretend to understand nor do I ever hope to understand the motivations
Please accept my congratulations. I am so relieved you and Cassandra have united. Although I will exist in perpetual misery until Juliana returns to me, I am so happy for you both and cannot wait to personally welcome Cassandra to our family.
Letter 93 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
November 12, 1810
Retton has returned to Edenfield. He is dejected and in such turmoil that I fear for his health. If you could at least write to him, that would alleviate much of his suffering. I trust you will do what is right.
Letter 94 ~ Juliana to Retton
November 14, 1810
My Dearest, I hope you will be able to forgive me for leaving Bath without word of my whereabouts. I am happy you have returned to Edenfield and am so sorry for the trouble I have caused. Believe me, it was never my intention to hurt those I love.
When Patience first told me I was not Lord Bering’s child, I was distraught and disgusted. I believed I did not deserve to be in my sister’s company or ever be a burden to her. I left fearing what my existence would mean for her future. And I left so that you would be spared the embarrassment of pursuing an engagement with someone of less than distinguished parentage.
I know you, Retton. I know you would have stood by me regardless, but I could not allow that given all you have suffered. I would not allow you to be tainted by me. I am now no longer the daughter of an earl. I am not a lady by title, and I have no last name. I only know my mother, and she is the last person I wish I knew.
I am sorry you have to suffer because of me, but I must find my past. I cannot move forward until I know who I am. Surely, there has to be some good blood in me. If I can seek my real father… If I can find out that he is decent and that, if given the chance, would have loved me…. Perhaps I might be worth something after all. Maybe it is little wonder why Lord Bering never had much use for me. I would like to fool myself into believing he treated me with disdain because he knew I was not of his blood. But, that would not explain why he treated Cassandra so harshly and demanded so much from her. Maybe I am just unlovable. Maybe I must content myself with that.
I would tell you to seek someone else, but I know you. I know you did not give your heart away so easily just to give it away to another. Please forgive me, but I must seek some resolution. Maybe if I learn the entire truth, I can be worthy of love.
Please give my love to my… I was going to say my sister. Please give my love to Cassandra. I have tried to write her many a time, but it is too painful yet. Please let her know I love her always and think of her and miss her guidance.
Letter 95 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
November 15, 1810
Retton is feeling a bit relieved after receiving your letter. Henry does worry about him so. We see little of him. I think it pains him to see me and be reminded of you. I will not entertain the possibility that you are not my sister, and I will not mention that you have not written me. Although, I just did.
I will continue my letters as if you are having a holiday in Bath with Aunt Grace. That is what I choose to believe. The reality is too painful to contemplate.
I have news that will be of interest to you. While reading - actually I was not reading but contemplating how handsome Henry is. I only pretended to read because staring at him from across the room proves to rattle his grandmother into many a lecture about decorum and ‘in her day.’ I know she secretly is very happy for us, but I can do without another lecture of how many people are not lucky in marriage and can barely tolerate each other.
While pretending to read and staring at my husband pretending to proceed with some business correspondence in between smiling at me, his Grandmother entered the room holding a letter. Then, she stared at the ground.
“Grandmother…” Henry waited but her eyes remain fixed upon the floor. “What is it?”
She finally understood he had spoken to her. She handed him the letter.
“It is from Mrs. Crason,” his grandmother said. “A most disagreeable woman.”
Please forgive this letter, as I know this is very impertinent of me writing so. I do not know if you remember me, but my mother was—”
“Mind yourself not with that, Henry,” Grandmother said ripping out several pages of the letter. “She is not burdened with brevity.” She sat down. “Suffice to say, her mother was once one of my maids. Why she required three and one half pages to explain that is beyond me.” She waited for Henry to understand. “You can continue now and thank me later.”
I wish I did not have to write this, but it is concerning your grandson, Mr. Nathaniel Seaton. I am afraid he has been detained and is currently awaiting trial.”
Henry stopped reading and stared at me. “He will never change.” Then, he looked at his grandmother for an explanation.
“You need not stare at me, Henry. It is all written there.”
“What has happened?” I asked.
Grandmother nodded. “I do not blame you for lacking the will to continue. Her roundabout way of conveying what should have been written about in one scant paragraph left me lightheaded.”
“What did he do now?” Henry grabbed my hand for support.
Grandmother sighed. “Before I tell you what was in the letter, I must admit I did receive a letter of my own from Nathaniel.”
Henry and I sat down next to his grandmother.
“I believe it was a goodbye letter. He did profess some sort of regret for his actions.”
“Did he mention Rebecca?” Henry asked.
Grandmother paused before shaking her head. “I have always found him to be so unlike you, Henry.” She closed her eyes as if remembering events she liked not to dwell upon. “You always felt everything. You cried when the trees lost their leaves.”
Henry squirmed and squeezed my hand. “And now she has just conveyed to my beloved a not so manly memory of tears over leaves. I do so hope you not believe me to be an imbecile…”
I patted his knee. “I already knew.”
His grandmother laughed. “I realize I give you both such a hard time with all your inane giggling whenever you are in the same room which is always since you refuse to part with each other, but I am so glad that love exists in this house.” She looked us over before continuing. “Henry only cried over leaves when he was very young.”
“That is better than saying it happened last week.”
She smiled. “And you always knew what to say to alleviate or horrify depending upon your audience. You love passionately and feel what others feel. You would never deliberately harm unless warranted or deserved.”
We could tell she was hesitating. She knew how to flatter someone out of asking questions, but Henry understood her tricks. “What else did he say?”
“He did not want to be a continuous burden to the family.”
“And how much did he ask for this time?”
Grandmother stopped and stared out the window. “He actually asked for nothing.”
“Why was he arrested?” Henry waited, but I did not have to wait for long. The answer was too obvious. “Patience.”
“Many a young man has been ruined by unscrupulous women,” Grandmother said.
Henry shook his head and whispered to me, “I have heard her say that my entire life.” He confronted his grandmother. “And what is my usual answer to you?”
“I know, Henry, the young man has to consent to be ruined.”
“He could have walked away.”
She nodded. “I know, but so many men are so…” She hesitated in search of a most appropriate word.
Henry took a deep breath to prepare for whatever adjective his grandmother would use.
Henry laughed and glanced at me. “That is one of her more positive compliments.”
Henry looked at me. “Have I ever apologized for my brother?”
I shrugged. “Can we hope that Patience is now married and a burden to someone else?”
Grandmother shook her head. “Unfortunately not, and I do believe she is going to have a child.”
I gasped. “And she did not marry?”
“Apparently, some men do not appreciate marrying someone who is about to have someone else’s child.”
I sighed louder than I ought. “I have lived almost my entire life with her, and I possess not one positive memory. I only wish she would cease her destruction.”
“Oh…” Henry remarked. “The child is not…”
“No,” Grandmother said. “Patience had quite the few suitors she had strung along, so you will not soon be an uncle.”
I shook my head trying to understand Patience. “What is she seeking that she does not already have? And where is she now?”
“I do believe she is still in the north of Scotland. She requires constant bedrest for it will not be an easy pregnancy. Mrs. Crason is honoured to keep me informed.” Grandmother rolled her eyes. “I am but so lucky for that.”
“So, neither of them will be affecting us any time soon?” Henry asked.
“No,” his grandmother replied before smiling. “At least you will be free to continue reveling in each other’s presence before problems compile.”
There you have it, Juliana. Dreadful news indeed. We cannot worry about them. I must implore that you will not further punish yourself or us and return home.
Letter 96 ~ Patience to Cassandra
November 16, 1810
I can only assume that by now word has traveled to let you know of my predicament. With your boring little life, you can think of nothing else but those whose lives are much richer than your own.
I thought everything was lost, but, as fate usually steps in to save me, I am now found again. I was about to marry a man who could have given me title and money and a rather large, albeit homely estate. I loved him not, but it was not his person I sought. Nathaniel Seaton however refuses to let me go. I realize I have that affect on men, but he went farther than any of the others. I must admire him for that, although, it nearly cost me everything I had planned upon.
I will not detail everything, but clumsy Nathaniel has been arrested. I will not be marrying the earl, and I will have to remain at the local hospital for the duration. I was to request you send money so that I might be more comfortable nearer London. In fact, a very handsome doctor has rescued me. He comes from a very wealthy family and took to me immediately. I do believe he is just what I need. He has more than enough money to provide for me. His family’s estate made even Ramsbury look to be a dilapidated sadness.
He is unfortunately married, but I have never let inconveniences of that sort stop me from getting what I deserve.
As I have heard the rumours of your marriage to Lord Halithorpe, I suppose you know what I tried to do concerning a letter I sent to him. I will not apologize. You deserved it. Did you find me clever that I created an Edward Hawksley? I did not have enough interest to actually inquire as to whether James had a cousin named Edward, but every family has an Edward. I could only assume the Hawksley’s were not unique. That particular scheme failed, but I have many more to rely upon.
Oh, I suppose I should convey something to you concerning Juliana. I did let her know the truth. I am unsure whether she told you or was too embarrassed, but as you might have already guessed you and she are not actually sisters. I have relieved you of that particularly loathsome burden, and you should be grateful.
Letter 97 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
November 17, 1810
I do not want you to worry about me. I am fine. I am sorry I have not written, but it proved to be a more difficult task than I would have realized. I know I am being selfish with not wishing to see anyone, but I must do this. I must seek my own blood. I must understand the truth.
I know you worry about me. I have enough money. I am currently staying with one of Aunt Grace’s friends. And she also is kin to an inn owner, and I have been invited to stay there as well.
Please forgive the shortness of this letter. Please be happy, and give my regards to your new husband.
Please do not fret if you should ever wish not to continue our acquaintance. I will not think less of you - of that I would never allow - nor would I blame you. Merely, stop writing to me, and I will slowly get the hint and never bother you again.
Letter 98 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
November 19, 1810
I am glad you are doing well, although I am more concerned with what you did not tell me than the few words you managed.
To that other unpleasantness you were so incredibly stupid to bring up… please do not prevent me from naming you my sister. That is what you were born into. That is what I think of you as. That is what you will always be. Period. I refuse to think of you any different. I am the eldest, so you must do as I wish. There, that is out of the way. Do not ever repeat that foolishness again.
I know you are well aware Retton has relinquished his title. He is no longer heir to Ramsbury Court nor to the title of Marquess. You also must be aware that it did not have anything to do with you.
I am referring to one of Retton’s odious brothers. I am not sure if they are all odious, so perhaps I should state that it is Charles, the new heir, to which I am odiously referring.
Yesterday, Henry, Retton, and myself were enjoying a particularly delicious breakfast. But, everything is delicious since I have married Henry. Colours are brighter. The birds are happier. I am sorry, I must not say those things. Not until you are indeed married to your love as well. Anyway, Lady Seaton was not dining with us. She has forced me to call her grandmother. Is that not delightful! Neither of us ever had a grandmother! We were eating when the door flew open. Retton’s brother Charles rushed in as if he had been invited!
He looked over the table full of food and ignored the butler who glared at him. “You are still eating?”
Henry put down his fork. “Something I can do for you, Charles?”
Charles ignored my husband and stared at me with a most disturbing grin. He may be deranged. I am not sure.
He bowed. “Lady Halithorpe. The former Lady Bering and former Lady Abbotden. You do like the title, do you not? Pleased to make your acquaintance. Your beauty has been described to me, but it was not given it’s true due.”
I smiled. I did so out of duress. I was still unsure of the meaning of his visit or of him.
“Although…” Charles hesitated.
Retton threw down his napkin onto his plate. “Here it comes.” He then looked directly at me. “I must apologize for whatever my brother is about to say, Cassandra.”
“Should you not address her as Lady? You are entirely beneath her since you lack a title.”
Charles smiled. “Do not worry, brother. I was only about to commend my cousin, Henry, for continuing along with an engagement that most assuredly should have been broken given the nature of her former sister.”
Henry sighed. It was not the normal sigh of disgust or of boredom. Rather, it was the kind of sigh dedicated to providing more time before rash or violent actions commenced. “You were not invited to my house. You will not insult my wife nor my cousin.”
Charles sat down slowly as if relishing every movement when most sane and decent people would have taken the
“What do you want, Charles?” Retton asked with little in the way of civility.
Charles knocked on the table to get the butler’s attention. “Bring me a plate.”
The butler glanced at Henry who shook his head.
“You are not invited. You are not staying,” Henry said.
“Pity,” Charles said. “That bread looks delicious. Might I have a bite of yours, Lady Halithorpe?”
It was Retton’s turn to sigh. His sigh indicated he was more hurt than angry. “If there is something you wish to discuss with me, we can do so elsewhere. I will not allow you to intrude.”
Charles hissed. “Do not address me as if I were a child. I am now Lord Kemnay, the heir of the Marquess. I demand you show me some respect.”
“When did you ever respect Retton?” Henry asked.
Retton calmly looked at his brother. “Respect is not something to be demanded.”
Henry’s grandmother arrived, sat at her normal place beside Retton, and smiled at us. The butler scurried to attend to her, but it was only when she was served that she realized Charles was there.
“Oh, good heavens! What on earth did we do to get a visit from you?”
Henry laughed, and I hid my smile by quickly taking a drink.
Charles blushed. Perhaps he was unaware he was so generally hated. “I am only here to inform my brother he did a great disservice to our family by allowing our demented sister to be buried with our cherished ancestors.”
Retton’s face flushed. I wish you were here, Juliana, to comfort him because we could all see the hurt that lingered at the mere mention of Rebecca. I credit him with not saying what I truly believe he felt and what Charles deserved.
“This was merely a courtesy call,” Charles said as his eyes darted around the room. “She has been removed to a more suitable place. You should not have demeaned our family like that. How did you find that particular hue?” He stared up at the ceiling.
“She was your sister,” Henry said.
Charles shrugged. “She was a mistake. An aberration. I knew her not. What I did hear about her made me grateful I did not know her well. At least…” Charles shifted in his seat to get truly comfortable. “…not as well as Retton did.”
Retton jumped from his seat. It was soon followed by Henry.
Lady Seaton grabbed Retton’s arm and smiled at the butler to get his attention. “Mr. Worthington, please be so kind as to remove the unwanted succotash as well as the unwanted guest from my presence. I do not wish my appetite to be ruined because of either.”
Charles allowed his mouth to gape for an inordinately long period of time. He jumped up, scraping the chair along the floor with a frightening shriek that most likely scared the horses. “Rest assured, I will never darken this house again.”
“Promise?” Lady Seaton asked, smiling.
Charles stomped away slamming every door he managed to get his stubby little fingers upon.
“Well,” Lady Seaton motioned for both Henry and Retton to sit back down. “He was right on time, do you not think Retton?”
Retton did not answer.
“Surely you knew your brother would have to make a show of force to parade himself about, did you not?”
Retton shook his head. “The things he said about Rebecca.”
“It matters not,” Lady Seaton said. “Do not fret over the opinion of those who neither respect nor love.”
“Retton,” Lady Seaton interrupted. “Rebecca has been properly attended to.”
Retton frowned at her.
“She is ensconced with the family. Your real family.”
Retton closed his eyes and smiled. “Thank you.”
“Surely you realize that I have received letters from most of your brothers and sisters…” Lady Seaton said.
“I can only surmise,” Retton said. “I can guess they did not approve of what has happened but will not say anything against the new heir. To that they will remain always loyal.” He sipped his tea with disgust.
She nodded. “They are well trained to always fall in line behind the heir.”
Retton sighed. “I remember when they approved of me and everything I did for Rebecca but refused to write to her or visit with her or provide me with any help at all.”
Lady Seaton threw her hands in the air. “Let us not discuss such things. They must live with what they did not do.” She smiled. “Now, about more pleasantries… Henry and I discussed the matter, and we both agreed.”
Retton glanced between them. “Actually…” Lady Seaton smiled at me. “Even my new granddaughter agreed wholeheartedly.”
“Agreed to what?” Retton asked.
Lady Seaton put down her tea and turned in her chair to face Retton. “Retton, you have always been my favourite nephew. Actually you have always been the favourite of anyone living at Ramsbury. And that includes my dear brother whom I adored because he was very decent to all he met. The same cannot and has never been uttered about your father, or mother, or any of your brothers or sisters.”
“You are my family,” Lady Seaton smiled. “You are more my grandson than Nathaniel ever was, and I wish to formally adopt you.”
Retton looked between us all. “But I am hardly a young man in need of name or money.”
“You are in need of your true family,” Lady Seaton said. “Now, there will be no title, of course, since Henry is the heir. I have since disinherited Nathaniel which should increase my life span a great many years. But you will be entitled to remain at Edenfield for as long as you wish because the estate will be divided between you and Henry.”
Retton immediately shook his head. “That I cannot accept.” He pleaded with Henry. “Think of what you are giving up.” Then he looked at me. “You are recently married. Do not give up half of your birthright.”
Henry raised his hands to quiet him. “Edenfield is big enough for all of us. I trust your business sense in doing whatever necessary to allow the estate and lands to thrive, and I do not wish to lose the only person I have truly considered to be my brother.”
Retton nodded. I do not believe he dared to speak because tears quickly formed in his eyes. It took him several minutes of silence to compose himself before addressing me. “Are you sure, Lady Halithorpe, that you wish to do this?”
I nodded. I knew he used not my true name but my new title to make a point. “I am not sure of anything as much as this.”
Retton lost himself in contemplation. He stared down at his plate and then smiled very broadly. “This will also secure Juliana’s future…should she ever return to me.”
“She will return to you. Trust me on this,” I said. “I know my sister.”
So, there you have it, Juliana. You cannot make a liar of me. Find yourself and then come home. You have a home, a sister, a brother-in-law, and a gentleman who will wait for you forever.
Letter 99 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
November 20, 1810
Thank you for letting me know Retton is safe and will always have a home at Edenfield. That calms me immensely. Since you stubbornly refuse to release me from this sisterly bond, I will attempt to let you know what I have been doing with my time.
To say I miss you would be an understatement. I must be strong. I will not wane on about how lonely I am. I refuse to feel sorry for myself. I am so grateful that you never had to endure what I have in the past few weeks.
I will not bore you the intimate details, but just be certain that life is not kind to someone who has no place in it. Without title, I am, of course, not accepted by the former class with which I grew up. I sought out friends in London, but they conveniently have forgotten they ever knew me. I have tried to seek information from Patience’s acquaintances concerning my n
For all of Patience’s methods, I have come to admire her utmost dedication to following through upon promises to alienate and dissociate me.
Furthermore, I am not accepted by those I should say were not either blessed or cursed with title and money. They rightly assume I was not born one of them and have no knowledge even how to converse with them!
Yesterday, I attempted to visit with one of Lord Bering’s distant cousins. I am not sure what I expected or even what I believed they would do, but as I found myself near their town, I thought it my duty to visit. Actually, I was starving, had lost what was left of my money and hoped to at least find a good meal and perhaps some rest before continuing.
I knocked on the door and was greeted with a most unusual butler. He was neither too tall nor too short, but his smile dissipated upon looking me over and trying to parse out my name. I know you will never have to try to explain that you were born with one name but now do not quite know your true name. It is most confusing and one in which most people assume they should not associate.
Upon telling the butler all of this, he hesitated, invited me in, hesitated, showed me to the drawing room, hesitated, then showed me to a large parlour, hesitated, and then showed me into a much smaller parlour that seemed to be used for those guests whom the family possibly needed to see but did not wish anyone else to see.
I waited in the room for an eternity. It was a very drab, dark room, and I am not entirely sure the exact colour of the walls since all of the curtains were drawn.
Intermittently, I heard someone attempt to open the door before whispers commenced. The door was then abandoned. I was not sure what to do. Everyone knew I was there. I had already been there over an hour and a half. I did not think it proper to just leave, but I was obviously unwelcome. Perhaps, they were testing me to see how long I would remain until I gave up.
Then, very quickly the door flew open, and I believe the head housekeeper stared at me. She dressed entirely in black and had such frowns in her face I assumed she would never have known a smile if it was thrust upon her. I jumped up not knowing what was happening.
She looked me up and down. “I remember you,” she hissed.
I was not sure if that was good or bad.
“You were Lord Bering’s youngest,” she stated more to remind herself than to confirm with me.
“You used to be Lady Bering, now Lady Halithorpe’s, unfortunate sister,” she interrupted.
“Yes, I just wanted—”
“The family cannot possibly see you.” She continued to stare at me and keep her distance as if I was contagious. “Surely, you must realize that.”
I looked down at the ground. I had realized. I could not tell her that I was…that I needed…
She cleared her throat as if she knew my thoughts and sought to interrupt those as well. She held the door open for me and moved aside it. “Please do us a favour and seek help elsewhere.”
“I am sorry,” I said. “I should not have come.”
“No, you should not have,” she said. “Apparently you also lost your manners when you lost everything else.”
I was so surprised that she continued to glare at me without a hint of remorse or intimidation. I had seen the staff at Ashlands seek to persuade Lord Bering or to chastise Patience, but, while their words quickly found their target, their eyes remained averted as if they could be forgiven for their words but not their eyes of insolence.
This woman, on the other hand, had nothing to fear from me. I could not run to the family to scold her. I could not gossip about her and lead to her ruin. I was nothing to her. I had nothing to give. Nothing to intimidate. It was that moment I realized how precarious my life was without any sort of family protection. It was then I also realized the dangers most people lived in and how sheltered I had been.
“I am sorry,” I said as I walked towards the door. When I crept closer to the housekeeper, it was only then that she averted her eyes. I do not believe she did so out of respect but out of disgust.
“Please do not tell the family that I was here,” I pleaded.
She chortled. “They never knew nor will they ever be told. Seek your mother’s family. That is all you have left, child.”
I nodded and left. I wanted to tell her the real reason I was there, but, I hesitated. I do not blame her. I cannot blame her. I am in disarray. I have only a mother who is so scorned that no one would take me in. My former father’s family will never acknowledge me because they need not. I am not their blood, so I am not their burden.
I write this to you not to force you to pity me. That is the last thing I wish nor to make you feel bad for me. I am fine. I will be fine. Just promise me that you will always be grateful for your birth, for your title.
Before the ill timed visit which I described above, I did visit with one of Patience’s friends. They are friends no longer because there was something concerning a gentleman, so I will not shock you with those details. I will also not provide any more information about that visit. Let me just say that this friend of my mother’s surpasses her in vulgarity. I did get a name for someone who may have been my natural father. Apparently he was once a stable boy at Ashlands. He now works at Lord Bering’s cousin’s house which is why I was there. I regret that I never inquired as to the protocol when a servant had a guest or even if they are allowed a guest. Since I had been to that house many a time, I thought it proper to inquire within. Once I knew I had done everything wrong, I could not ask for the man who still worked in the stables because I did not wish to do anything which would have harmed his employ.
I managed to leave the house and the grounds without looking behind me because I knew the housekeeper would have kept watch first from the downstairs then each upper window until she could see me no longer. I waited until I had walked what seemed to be three miles before I came upon some bushes leading to a downslope that I hid behind until the housekeeper tired of keeping me in view and returned to her work.
I waited until it was dusk. Since I had worn a dark blue dress, I thought I would better blend into the countryside the darker it became. Once I believed I was no longer spied upon, I crept along the bushes and made my way to the stable. Once inside, I saw several stable boys and a grown man hard at work. The man kept his back to me and did not know I approached. I wondered if this could be the man I sought.
“Miss, do you need assistance?” one of the stable boys of about fifteen asked.
I shook my head, but the man stood up and looked directly at me.
At first, there was a hesitation in his eyes, but then his eyes did look upon me with a recognition. “Is it really you? Lady Juliana?”
His smile waned when he realized the stable boys stared at him and then me. “Boys, you need to bring the horses in. Go now.”
They did as they were told and left us.
The man waited until they were out of sight. “It is not wise for you to be here. What if they see you?” He asked looking towards the house.
I shook my head. “It matters not. Patience saw to it that I am no longer one of them.”
The man frowned. “Why would she do that? How could she do that?”
I laughed. Apparently, he did not know her that well. “Then you are him? You are Mr. Patterson? You are my real father?”
“I always hoped I was. Although I know that is selfish.”
I hesitated. I had long sought a father’s love but did not know what to do upon receiving it. “Did you love Patience?”
The man blushed. “I was so young, and she was so beautiful.” He picked up a broom and started to sweep. “I will not speak ill of her, but…she had…she was…quite popular with many a men.”
Those words stung me. I might never know for sure who my father really was. Oh, Cassandra, I do hope you are grateful that your mother was such a decent person who would never have acted in such a way as to in
I did not say any of this aloud, but I must have appeared quite sickly. Mr. Patterson helped me sit down.
“Are you ill? Need I fetch someone?”
I shook my head. “I am lost. I am without a home. I have no name. If you are not my real father, what am I to do?”
“What about your mother?”
I laughed aloud, and I heard the insanity in my voice. “I dare not hope it possible that she is not my true mother. Would it not be grand if I was somehow stolen from the local village? Maybe from the wife of the vicar or from a passing criminal? Anyone else would be preferable to Patience.”
He shook his head. “Surely it is not as bad as all that? I used to watch you when you were so little, and you always smiled.”
I remember being outside and laughing and running. “It was because I was with Cassandra or one of the nannies. Patience had little use of me and did not treat me well.”
“Lady Cassandra…I remember how sweet she was to all of us who worked for the family.”
I smiled and tried to will the tears not to fall so freely. Hearing your name made me miss you even more. “She still is. Even if I am not her real sister, she has not and will not abandon me.”
Mr. Patterson straightened up. “Then why are you seeking elsewhere what you have already found?”
I looked up at him and wiped my tears.
“I would be most honoured if you were my daughter, but I have nothing. My wife recently had our twelfth child. Do you think any of ‘em would not trade places with you? They will have to each of ‘em work from the moment they can walk until they can walk no more.”
In those feverish moments I wondered what I could do. How I might help them all, but I could not help myself.
“You were born into privilege, Lady Juliana.”
It pained me to hear my title again.
“You cannot go back. If you do not seek your former life, you will be forever lost. No one will accept you. Trust me, you cannot be born like you were and then try to live amongst the rest of us. And why would you want to?”
“Patience told me I was not Lord Bering’s daughter. None of them will accept me now.”
“What of Lady Cassandra? She will not abandon you.”
I shook my head. “Why would I seek to inflict such gossip upon her?”
“Why would you care if she does not?”
I heard stirring outside the stables and realized the boys were just outside with the horses. “I am sorry I have bothered you here.”
“Thank you for seeing me. Do not forsake your name. You were raised at Ashlands as Lord Bering’s daughter. It matters not whether you are of his blood or not. You have a name. Use it.”
I left so the stable boys would not be able to spread gossip about Mr. Patterson. He is a decent and honourable man. I would be lucky if he were my father, so I must take his advice as if he truly was.
How could I have been so selfish as to walk away from everything I ever knew without thinking of those who would have died to have my life?
I have much to think about.
Letter 100 ~ Nathaniel to Lady Seaton
November 20, 1810
I can only assume that by now you have learned the truth about where I am currently. Why you have not written to me is beyond my comprehension. I implore that you do what you can to move me from my present circumstances.
I did nothing wrong. You know me. A few kind words from you would get me a release sooner. I do not belong here. I am not a dangerous fiend.
I have tried not to entertain the other possibility - that you have become convinced of my guilt. Surely you would not allow those around you, namely my brother and quite possibly his cousin, to persuade you to abandon me. It would not be right and certainly not of your character. I do implore you not allow them to bear falsities against me especially when I am not able to completely defend myself.
If you have indeed been persuaded as to my lack of character, then I have pity upon you. I always believed you were the smartest of us, but denying your own blood is beyond normal. It is beyond charity. It is beyond reason. Why would you allow my brother’s word to bear more weight than my own? I have been neglected of love my entire life. Surely you once realized how much I have endured and yet to deny me when I need you most is egregious. I like it not. I trust it not.
It has to be Henry or Retton’s doing. Retton is such a smug little thing, and he will forever hold a grudge with my relationship with his sister. He should be grateful that he is now free. He would never have released her of his own volition. And it was not like she was sane. She surely is not missed by even her own family.
I do entreat you, grandmother. Be wise in your counsel. Do not be so deceived. You will do yourself a disservice. If you turn your back on me now, I will never forgive you. Who among your friends would want to associate with someone who could do that? If I hear from you not after I have pleaded with you, then your heart indeed has become stone. I will no longer think of you as my family. I already have denied I ever had a brother. Am I also to deny I had a grandmother?
Please be the person I always knew you to be.
Letter 101 ~ Lady Seaton to Nathaniel
November 21, 1810
I received your letter and thought very carefully about your words. I must seek your forgiveness. I always believed you were redeemable, but, alas, I fear you are as lost now as you ever were. Perhaps, there never was an ounce of good in you.
I must seek forgiveness as well to all of your victims and perhaps to the world at large. By always providing a safe haven to you and for defending you to your own parents, your brother, your cousins… I somehow unleashed you upon an unsuspecting world who considered your name and your family to provide you with decency and manners.
You lack both. I wish you the best. At least I wish that you could grow up and realize the type of person you are and change. Perhaps that is too much to wish. It matters not. I am finished. I have completed my journey for your salvation. It was an abject failure. I release you from this family. I release you from being my grandson. I will not rescue you this time. I have officially adopted Retton as my grandson, and he will be allowed to live at Edenfield and receive a portion of the lands and the estate that could have been provided you.
I advise that you never again utter your threats against him. Your part in Rebecca’s fate, and your lack of remorse, proves how contemptible you truly are. Perhaps you are beyond saving. Your presence is no longer accepted at Edenfield. Should you be unwise enough to attempt to visit again, you will be treated as a stranger. Please seek another name to continue your life with. I do not wish you to use the name I also use. Retton is going to change his to Seaton as is normally the custom, and I know he would certainly not wish to share a name if you continue to abuse it.
I am sorry you could not take advantage of the blessings you were born into, but I lack the energy to continue to ponder your plight.
This is the final letter you will ever receive from me.
Letter 102 ~ Juliana to Retton
November 22, 1810
It is so strange to address you as that, and I do believe you are happy without your title and being the heir. I know you never sought it, but you did everything you could to provide for your family and live up to your name.
I am so glad that you and Lord Halithorpe are now truly brothers. Cassandra has kept me apprised of everything. She is so stubborn to not release me from a bond that probably does not exist. To that I am ever grateful.
I must apologize for being so selfish. I thought I was nobody if I did not know my father. I believed I did not have a name or a purpose or a reason to live. Mr. Patterson to whom I met made me realize that I am seeking what I already have. I was raised by Lord Bering so that automaticall
I heard from more than a few people who know Patience well enough to either detest her or pity her or begrudge her. She was not a shy person. She knew quite the few men who may or may not be my real father. Since only Lord Bering treated me as a daughter and claimed me as a daughter, I will always be his daughter. I was so naive to believe I could be raised as I was and then set myself out into the world. Given what Patience has said to anyone who will listen, I was not accepted by the class I was born into, and I was distrusted by everyone else. I no more understand their worries or plight then they care of mine.
If I truly wanted to punish myself I would continue on. I would welcome the rejection and the hard work - although I have no skills other than playing the piano and drawing. Oh, I can take quite a long walk, but I do not believe there is much call for those skills. I suppose being a governess would be all I was qualified for. Although, I have never even held a child so that future prospect is probably unwise.
Regardless, all of this I would have endured. I never realized just how much alike Cassandra and I are. I chastised her for allowing the punishment she thrust upon herself to nearly engulf her. Then, just a few months later, I voluntarily throw myself along the same path without the insight to realize I was doing exactly what I hated her for doing. What a lot the two of us are. We seek to punish ourselves for another’s sin. Then, we are both too stubborn to realize that by punishing ourselves, we are also welcoming demons to align with those who love us as well. Then, we stubbornly refuse reason or to understand that no amount of our own punishment will ever reverse the course of events.
I am so sorry I have been so foolish and so selfish. I spent many a day wandering the countryside talking with anyone who dared to speak to me. I pitied myself for my plight as I watched those who have so few choices in life scurry about at their lady’s whims or their lord’s orders. I have been so blind.
Please do not believe that it is only out of inconvenience I am writing. I fully understand if you no longer wish to be associated with me. I hate to admit I would almost welcome it. That would be a further disgrace I would proudly endure. It takes much more effort to admit my own wrongdoings, understand why I sought to punish myself, and return to a home where I am loved. Why is it so much easier to remain miserable than to be content and happy?
I implore you not to abandon me. I would have written that I deserve you not, but I will force myself into admitting that I do deserve you, Retton. I love you and will always be in love with you. I am a good person. I will be forever loyal to Cassandra, to Henry, to his grandmother, and now to you.
I have to deserve you. I will spend half of my life trying to deserve you and the other half trying to convince myself I deserve you.
If you still feel the same way about me, I am asking if I can come home. I understand it is most awkward now that Cassandra is living at Edenfield as well. Should you not wish to see me, I am sure Aunt Grace and I might seek residence nearby. I would then be able to see Cassandra without being a burden to you.
Please return your answer to me as soon as you can. I will not sleep until I receive it.
Letter 103 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
November 23, 1810
I know this letter finds you well. You are with Henry after all. You deserve all the happiness. I have written to Retton, and now I must write to you. I already know your answer, but I must propose the question.
May I please come home? I am sorry I was so selfish and foolish. You were right, as you always are. I miss you terribly, and I am so honoured that you refuse to disown me as your sister. Please forgive me. I sought answers to questions that were not mine to ask.
I thought perhaps if I suffered enough than I could be good enough to be associated with you. Does that not sound familiar?
Patience is a cruel and most wicked person, but she did choose to be with Lord Bering. I am sure it was due to his fortune and the title, but at least I received a most treasured sister in return. I am honoured to be your sister and am honoured still to retain the name of Bering if you mind it not.
I must insist you think about this. Accepting me will create turmoil amongst many of the Bering family and you might not be accepted as such by some of them. Please talk it over with your husband as well. If he has any reservations, please listen and heed them.
I will not blame you for anything.
Letter 104 ~ Retton to Juliana
November 25, 1810
You never need ask my feelings for you. They have never changed from the first moment I met you. My heart was yours from that day forward. It matters not to me the origins of your birth or even that Patience is your mother. You, thankfully, are nothing like her. You are her greatest achievement. Although, I do believe your sister is much more to thank.
I cannot wait until you come home. Cassandra has been so anxious for your arrival. She misses you so, but I am sure she has told you all of this. I hope you realize the letters she most assuredly writes you reveal little for how much she misses you. She did not wish to burden you any more than you were already suffering.
But it matters not now that you will be returning. Can we now be married? Finally? I will not seek your continuous assertions that you are still in love with me since you have already said as much. Hopefully my ego might forego the temptation to want to read those words from you again. Surely I am not so sensitive that I might only live for your words of love. Can you finally relieve me of my nerves and my ill temper and never leave my side again?
There, I must be done with that. I was embarrassing even myself.
Letter 105 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
November 26, 1810
Dearest and most cherished sister,
Devious thing! You are my sister. I would choose you always. I do pity those who will not accept you. They do not realize what they will be forsaking in their life. You are so wise and loyal with such fierce wit.
Do not think for one moment Henry would ever question my loyalty to you. I have to confess I would think less of him - if that were possible - if he did. Luckily, he is very wise and is so looking forward to seeing you again now as his sister.
I have only one question…when are you coming home? We will finally be living under the same roof again. It has been ages.
I was about to post this letter when a most heinous letter arrived. It is from Patience, and it is addressed to you. I will include the letter here. I did not open it, but as it is from Patience it will not be pleasant. Take a deep breath before reading.
My doctor has insisted I write you this letter. Although I did not believe you cared much one way or the other, but I must do what I have been asked if I am to keep him happy.
As you know, I am about to welcome another child. You will soon be an older sister. I do not know if you can impart much wisdom since you have little for yourself. It matters not. I believe I am in perfect health, but the doctor’s forehead increases in intensity whenever he is near me.
I naturally thought he was overtaken with me and beyond reason as most men are around me, but I am starting to believe he worries about my health. He tells me little so as not to frighten me, but I think he wished me write you in order to possibly see you one last time. I do not know if I am indeed that ill, and surely, even if I were, you would not be my first nor my last choice in visitors. I suppose I do owe you some explanations as to your beginnings. Come if you must and see me. I will not turn you away.
Letter 106 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
November 28, 1810
I am on my way to visit with Patience. I am unsure how long the trip might take, and I am more unsure of what I will find.
I fear I will not be able to sleep or eat until I have seen her, and it is done.
Letter 107 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
November 30, 1810
I did it. It is done. I arrived at the hospital not knowing what to expect. The nurses were so dour when they found out which patient I sought.
One of the nurses led me along a corridor to the farthest room. Upon arriving, I expected to see others, but only one bed existed in the large room. It was surrounded by a curtain, and I could not see around it. A few of the other nurses whispered as I walked past.
The nurse who led me stopped in the middle of the room and gestured for me to continue alone. I slowly walked to the bed. I could not hear anything, and I wondered if I was too late. Once I got to the edge of the bed, I caught my breath as I slowly drew the curtain back. I expected the worst, and I did not know how I was going to feel.
As soon as I lifted the curtain, Patience sat there staring at me.
She smirked. “I guess I am lucky I did not truly need you. Why did it take you so long to arrive?”
I sighed and silently accused myself of wishing her ill or at least more ill than she appeared. Patience, of course, looked not at all different. She had colour in her cheeks, her hair was properly curled, and she even wore her normal jewelry.
“What has happened?” I asked thinking she perhaps was dire and only wished to look appropriate.
She laughed. “Do not look so serious, Juliana. There is but nothing wrong with me now.”
“Now?” I asked before noticing she was entirely slim again. “What has happened?”
Patience shrugged. “Once that burden was complete, I can now return to full health.”
I looked around the room but did not see any hint of a baby. “Is the baby healthy?”
Patience glared at me and dismissed me with a shake of her head. “Why would the baby be anything but fine? It was it who tried to harm me.” Patience looked out the window as her devious thoughts entertained her. “Devil child. Too bad I cannot have it arrested.”
“Who? The baby?” I asked not understanding what Patience was going on about.
She studied me. Then she grinned. I always hated her grins. She only produced them when her schemes were about to come to fruition.
“So the baby is fine. You had a little girl?”
“Yes, yes… it is fine. Now, how do you think I look?” She waited as if I should have complimented her immediately.
“You wrote me claiming to be near death.”
Patience sighed. “Is it not better to find me perfect?”
I sat down on the chair opposite her. I do not think I could have born my own weight any longer. “So, you are fine. Your daughter is fine.”
Patience frowned. “And how am I to know how you are. I have been here in this most…” she looked around the gray room. “Do you not think this is the most ghastly place?”
“I meant your other daughter…the one you just had?”
Patience threw up her hands. “How am I to know? Did you see the doctor?”
I shook my head.
“He is most delicious.” She started to play with the ribbons of a dress she held in her lap. “Although, he seems more odious now that I no longer need him.”
I closed my eyes. “Why am I here?”
Patience stood up and jumped behind the curtain with her dress.
I could hear her pulling and yanking at material.
“Stupid child…Will I ever get my figure back as it was?” She appeared dressed in a dark green frock with fringes and lace.
“Of course,” Patience said as if I had asked if she were human.
“Are you ready?” a voice from behind me asked. I hesitated to turn around. I had remembered that voice, and I did not wish to see the man it belonged to.
I gathered my strength and did turn around to see Nathaniel there waiting.
“I thought you had been arrested.” I heard the sound of my voice and did not recognize any hint of actual interest.
“A misunderstanding.” He grinned at me. “Well, Juliana. Should I still call you Lady Juliana? Are you still going by Bering?”
“What are you going by these days?” I could not believe I said it. I try to be good, Cassandra. I truly do. Why do some bring out the worst?
My question did wound him. He allowed himself a few seconds to glare at me, and I witnessed so much spite from that creature. Then, his glare turned back to a grin. “You have your mother’s wit.”
“Where are you going?” I asked not really caring for specifics but wanting to ensure it was not near Edenfield.
“Oh…” Patience grinned at Nathaniel. “We have many places to be.”
“Plotting is not really conducive to raising a child, is it?” I asked.
Patience looked at me before she and Nathaniel laughed. “Silly fool. I am not raising that thing. I had it. I am done.”
I hoped she would have laughed again and told me she was joking, but she did not. I then pleaded with Nathaniel. “Surely you do not wish your daughter to grow up without a family?”
Then it was Nathaniel’s turn to laugh at me. “That creature is not mine.”
I then looked at Patience who shook her head.
“I am not sure to whom it actually belongs.” Patience spoke so plainly and without any hint of emotion that she could have been discussing the drapes.
“You cannot put her through what you have put me through.”
Patience walked over to a small white table and opened the drawer. She gathered some things inside and put them into a small chest. “Poor, Juliana. I have put you on quite the fright, did I not? I heard you travelled far and wide in search of what you already knew.”
I hesitated to speak. It was the first time she spoke so clearly to me, and I wished to hear her truth before she flitted onto another subject.
Patience walked over to me and grabbed my arms. “While I did know quite the many men while I was being courted by Lord Bering, you are indeed his child. Unfortunately.”
I shook my head trying to determine her motives for lying to me.
“You are his child. You are legitimate and the daughter of the earl. Happy?”
“Only if it is correct.”
“Did you actually seek out that insipid Michael Patterson?” Patience asked. She looked at Nathaniel. “He was a mere stable boy. Very clumsy and inept. He could not possibly have fathered you.” She grinned at Nathaniel.
“He has twelve children.”
Patience shrugged. “Perhaps I taught him well.”
Nathaniel laughed. “Stable boy? You do love to lower yourself, do you not?”
I could not listen to them any longer. “Mr. Patterson thought I might be his. He actually longed for it.”
Patience tried to suppress her laughter. “Of course he would. You are the daughter of an earl. He is nothing. Why would he not seek some sort of compensation from you?”
I stepped away from her. “Are you saying Lord Bering was my father?”
Patience nodded. “Of course.”
“Why did you tell me otherwise? Why did you do that to me?”
“Why not?” Patience asked while looking at Nathaniel. “He and I have such fun together. You were so happy with that horrible cousin of Nathaniel’s.”
“Not a cousin any longer.”
“That is right. That old hag finally relinquished you.” She laughed. “Do not fret, Juliana. I was merely having fun. It was your time to be miserable. Cassandra had already suffered. Why should it not happen to you?”
“How can I believe you now?”
She thought about it, rearranged her jewelry, and grinned. “Not my concern.”
I stepped further away from her. I did not want her in my sight much less
Patience grabbed her stomach and laughed a wicked laugh. It was guttural and evil. It is a wonder nurses and doctors did not descend upon us thinking the gates of hell had opened unleashing indescribable beasts.
“Did you hope that I had thieved you from some proper lady?”
I nodded. “Who would want to be associated with you?”
Patience stopped laughing and stared at me. It was the first time she allowed me to insult her without repercussions. She looked at me and through me. Perhaps she even saw into my soul and recognized the magnitude of my hatred for her. She quickly looked away. “Well, Nathaniel, take me away from this tiring place.”
“And what of your daughter?” I asked.
She looked at me the way she used to look at servants. “Take it for all I care. It will be sent to the orphanage if you do not.” With that, she and Nathaniel walked out of the room. I hoped it was the last time I would ever see her, but I knew she would not disappear so quickly.
I thought it was safe, but Nathaniel stepped back inside. “I was able to eliminate Rebecca. You may be the daughter of an earl, but soon you will get what you deserve as well. Patience, did not do as much damage as she should have. Perhaps, in the future I will ensure you truly suffer.” With a most unearthly grin, he left.
It was only when I knew they were gone that I noticed the room warmed considerably. After a few moments, one of the nurses returned. She looked around the room to ensure they had left. “Are they truly gone?”
She grabbed the cross she wore around her neck. “Forgive me, but she is an odious woman. And that man she was with. He was no gentleman. I have never seen such coldness, and her eyes…”
“Black as death,” I said.
“Are you ill, Miss?”
I shook my head even though I did not quite believe I was fine yet. I would be, but Patience left deep wounds. Some would call them scars. They could not be seen. Although, I did look down at my left wrist and could make out the small white sliver of a scar from when she yanked me out of my nursery when I was four. She grabbed me with such ferocity that one of her bracelets dug into my flesh. She then hit me so hard I fell down when that wound bled onto her new dress.
That was at once a most painful day and my own liberation. It was then that father, whom I will forever cherish to name him as such, hired an extra governess and warned her to never leave Patience alone with me. I think that was the first time I allowed myself to smile.
“The child,” I asked. “Where is she?”
The nurse smiled. “Are you to take her then? I have been so frightened the horrible woman and her friend would flee with her. Then she only stated that we should call the orphanage.”
“I will take her,” I said. “What is her name?”
The nurse shook her head. “She does not have one. That woman screamed and spit and swore the entire time she was here. That poor doctor fell under her sway. I do not believe he ever saw what she truly was. But then, that horrible man came, and the doctor turned so pale I was scared for his health.”
“Is the baby healthy?”
“Do not worry, Miss. The baby is fine. Luckily, that woman did not even look in her direction, so she has never been witness to spite.” She looked me over. “You must be related to the father.”
I shook my head. “I am Juliana Bering. That horrid woman is my mother.”
The nurse again lost her colouring. “I am most sorry. I must give credit to your own father then. Stay here. I will fetch the baby.”
I will write more, Cassie, but I must attend to my new sister.
Letter 108 ~ Juliana to Retton
December 6, 1810
I know this is highly unusual, but I must plead with you to come at once. I am staying close to the hospital where Patience was, and I need you.
Letter 109 ~ Cassandra to Aunt Grace
December 7, 1810
From my previous letters, I do believe you are now officially know all the news thus far concerning Juliana. I hope that your trip to Bath will end soon and that you can visit Edenfield. You would love this place and of course you would love Henry. He is the most of everything. I cannot believe that such happiness existed. So…
I think you have been saved by my incessant rambling about Edenfield and Henry. While I was about to commence, Retton ran into the room and mumbled something about Juliana being fine and that he needed to attend to something immediately.
I am unsure what is amiss. I will write to you soon with more news.
Letter 110 ~ Grace to Cassandra
December 12, 1810
Thank you for always being so kind as to write to me. I do so enjoy knowing what everyone is doing. I am grateful you have invited me to your new home, but I really must ask if it is okay with Dowager Countess Halithorpe. Actually, I believe she prefers to be known by Lady Seaton. She was never much for the formality of title. I am unsure if you were aware, but she and I knew each other when quite young.
We parted not at all as friends. I am unsure if she forgives me or if I forgive her. It happened so long ago. I am unsure which of us needs to be forgiven. Perhaps both of us do or neither.
I give you so much credit for Juliana’s strength. I dare say that my brother did not care for his children as he ought, and her mother… I hesitate to discuss such details in writing. She always scared me. There is true evil in her eyes. It is because of her that I never visited Ashlands even though I have such great memories there as a child.
Please inquire to Lady Seaton if she would allow my presence at Edenfield. I remember that grand estate as well. The stories I could tell you. I am so happy that you have made your home there. I will always be grateful how you tried to keep Ashlands within the Bering family, but I was so sorry that it was not your choice. You can finally be happy. Marriage can be a mighty unhappy affair if the two are not sufficiently in love. Knowing how much you love Henry and how he adores you, makes me so grateful that you can enjoy each other completely.
Let me know about Lady Seaton, and I will make arrangements if I am still welcome.
Letter 111 ~ Patience to Cassandra
December 13, 1810
I hesitated upon writing you. I am unsure whether you are willing to even accept my letters. I have never liked you, but I do respect you are someone whom others look up to and admire. I cannot myself see it so I must rely upon their discretion.
Juliana is about to partake in a most inconvenient situation. I would care not myself, and I really do not care at all for her. But, you must talk sense into her. I admitted to her that I lied about her parentage. She is indeed your true sister and Lord Bering’s daughter.
I am easily bored and admire myself for schemes to which others are so delicate. I did not know she would scamp across the country in search of her true family. It did entertain me many a times in thinking of her in all her finery visiting places where I am sure she was looked upon as such an odd little thing. Oh, I can be so deliciously cruel, but I would not be like others for anything in the world. They all lead such dull, uneventful lives.
Please do something about your sister. Or not. I care not either way.
Letter 112 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
December 16, 1810
I am getting entirely too worried. It has been days - a week - since I have heard from you.
Henry does not know where Retton has gone. When I asked him, he looked about the room as if Retton were hiding behind the fireplace. “Is he not here?”
I shook my head. Why must some be so aloof to what is going on around them? I just realized what I wrote. Forgive me for that since both of us suffered immensely from the aloofness of not seeing what was right in front of us.
Henry frowned. We both knew Retton’s business also concerned Henry and Edenfield. If Henry was not aware of what was happening, then it really did not have to do with ‘business.’
“You do not think it is anything concerning…” I had forgotten our last conversation as to what we decided upon calling Retton’s other family.
Henry understood my hesitation. “His former life?”
I nodded. That was what we had decided upon. “Yes.”
Henry shook his head. “I do not think so. He would have said something to me. Besides, grandmother…”
Just then she entered the room. “Am I needed?”
“Always,” Henry said.
She looked between us. “It is one of the rare occasions when you two are not hugging each other.”
Henry sighed. “I am guilty of being in love with my wife. Forgive me for being incredibly happy that the woman I love with all my heart actually loves me back and consented to marry me despite my many flaws.”
“Yes, Henry,” she said. “A most egregious sin, but she will soon learn of your many quirks.”
“Do you know where Retton is?”
She too looked about the room as if he were hiding somewhere. “Is he not here?”
“Well,” she said. “He is very quiet. He bothers no one, and he is usually in thought contemplating your sister.” She said looking at me.
“Cassandra said he left on business.”
Grandmother furrowed her brow. “What business? Nothing with…”
“His former life?”
“Right,” she nodded. “That is how we had decided to describe it.”
“The fact that he mentioned Juliana’s name…” I said. “I did get the letter from her and then one from Patience.”
Grandmother gasped. “Why on earth is that odious creature contacting you?”
I shook my head. “With Patience, it is never about what she writes. She schemes and plots and plans years in advance of an actual attack. We must be prepared, but…” I hesitated. “This is entirely off topic, but I have been inquiring as to when Aunt Grace can visit Edenfield.”
She shrugged. “This is your house as well. You may invite whomever you desire.”
“One of her letters hinted you and she might have had a…”
Grandmother laughed. “Yes, when we were younger. We did have quite the drama. It was a stupid quarrel over a young man, of course. All forgiven now. He is long dead, and I can only assume would not have turned out to be as handsome as he was younger.” She leaned in to whisper, “The men in his family aged ill. It was just as well he died while still handsome. Of course, Grace never recovered, but I do believe she is happier for never having married.”
Henry laughed. “You never change.”
His grandmother scoffed. “And why should I? I will leave you two.” She stood up and walked to the door. “Please commence the hugging and kissing.” She left.
Forgive the rambling letter. I just thought if I write to you, I would not allow the rising panic I am loathe to admit. If I were merely writing you about a normal day, I would not have to think about what was going on with either you or Retton.
Please let me know how you are soon!
Letter 113 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
December 22, 1810
You will not believe it! This is what happened…Retton arrived at once after I wrote to him. It had been so long since I had seen him that I had almost forgotten what he looked like. Not quite, but almost. I will not bore you the details of our reunion…
“I had to see you in person and ask you,” I said. “I had to see your face and your reaction.”
He nodded. “I am yours, Juliana—”
I interrupted him by grabbing his hand and leading him into another room to where the baby slept.
He looked at me. “This is her daughter, is it not?”
I nodded. “Patience would not even look at her. She would not even name her.”
He crept close to her and picked her up.
“I named her Elizabeth Rebecca.”
He looked at me as tears formed. “After Cassandra’s mother and my sister.”
I nodded. “She was going to be sent to the orphanage if I did not take her.”
“Of course,” he said as he held her.
“I wanted her to have a name…” I said hinting as to why I asked him here. “I wanted her to have a proper name.”
He looked at the baby. “Of course you did.”
“I wanted her to have my name. I wanted us to share the name.”
He still studied the baby and smiled. He did not grasp my meaning.
“Retton,” I said. “Do you still wish to marry me?”
He finally looked at me. “With all my heart.”
“Would you accept my sister so that we can raise her?”
He smiled and looked at the baby. “With all my heart.”
I walked over to them. “Elizabeth Rebecca Seaton,” I said. “You are going to have such a wonderful life full of love and laughter. We will have such a good time together. You will never want. You will never be afraid. And you will not face cruelty until you are old enough to know how to defeat it.”
Retton and I married, and so I will be returning to Edenfield as Mrs. Seaton. I am sorry you were not there for me, but I think neither of us are much interested in the circumstance and ceremony as we both are with marrying the men we truly love.
All three of us will return in a few weeks. I wish to show Elizabeth Rebecca around to where I used to live at Ashlands. I need to make peace there like I believe you did as well.
I cannot wait for all of us to start our lives together. Do you believe we can release the people and the parts of the past we no longer need? I hope so, because I only wish for peace in the future. I know Patience and Nathaniel exist to torture, but I will never allow them to harm this child. Since you and Henry are married and Retton and I are married, I believe we are much stronger together. They will not and cannot hurt us. We must not allow them.
What a journey we have been on, Cassandra, and may we finally live the life we have always dreamed.
Thank you so much for reading The Lettered Affair series and sharing your time with Cassandra, Henry, Juliana, Retton, Lady Seaton, Aunt Grace, James, Rebecca, and even Patience and Nathaniel. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
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