BC Book 1 – Chapter 3 – The Letter

Time passed slowly, measured by the weekly visits to Amelia by Alice and Rupert.  Alice was beginning to swell beneath her corset and soon it would be apparent that she was not just putting on weight from over-indulgent living. She longed to tell Amelia her news, but judged that she would not take in what she was being told. On the other hand she did not want Amelia to guess and she would much rather tell her, herself.  As the weeks went by, Alice started to notice the odd gap in the vacant expression and the tearful countenance and in the sixth week after the funeral, she even managed to get a wan smile out of her friend, and plucked up the courage to suggest to Amelia that they go for a short walk in the nearby park. Without showing very much enthusiasm Amelia agreed and they spent a pleasant half hour walking along, enjoying the fresh air, the trees and the flowers.  Just as they were about to part at Ameila’s front door, Alice turned to her and said “I have some news I must share with you. I am going to have a baby”.  Amelia looked at her with the warmest smile Alice had seen in many months. “Oh that is good news. I am so pleased for you. Is McKenzie thrilled? I’m sure he is. When is it due?” “In around 3 months time” she replied “I have been desperate to tell you, but you were too distraught with your loss and I thought it unfair to tell you my good news, when you were in mourning for you terrible loss.” They hugged. “You are such a good friend. I don’t think I would have got through this without your support, and Rupert,” she added as an afterthought. Amelia entered the house with much more awareness than she had shown in the last 6 weeks. Two days later, Rupert called and Amelia noticed for the first time how good looking and well dressed he looked, quite the Man about Town. Generally, they spoke of trivial things, and Rupert quite often ran out of conversation and resorted to telling Amelia about the latest fashion of the gossip of who was up and who was down.  For the most part she took little notice but now she began to respond to what he said, and she asked him what he had been up to since his last visit. Rupert was living his usual lifestyle, cadging money off whichever member of the extended family was most likely to sub him, then parading with his fellow Drones, gambling, drinking, whoring and moving from dance to dance through society on the lookout for a rich heiress. His great experience with women, both high and low class and his observation of how his friends fared led him to a restricted definition of who he might marry. She had to be rich and titled, of course, she also had to be young and beautiful, but of key importance, she had to innocent and not particularly clever. He had seen how one or two of his friends had married with apparently prospects for a sweet and easy life, only to find that the young woman had distinct ideas of her own and kept her new husband within strict guidelines if they were to continue to get their ‘allowance’.

On two counts,  Amelia was not on his list. She was good looking with dark brown hair and brown/green eyes (they seemed to change colour with the light), but she was far too clever for comfort and she did not have the necessary level of inheritance to keep him in the manner to which he had become accustomed.  So why did he visit Amelia on such a regular basis?  In the first place he was always welcome. Amelia had been hardly aware that he was there, but he flirted with Mary the maid, so that she would always stoke up the fire and give him refreshments or even a meal. In the second place, he saw it as an investment. Once Amelia was on the road to recovery, he could begin tapping her for the occasional financial contribution, and she was an orphan, so if anything did happen to her he may well be in line for a share of her modest estate.  As she began slowly to come out of the valley of the shadow of death, he found her more and more interesting to talk to, although her range of subjects was restricted because she went out so little, and having heard that she had been to the park with Alice determined to find somewhere to take her. She was still heavily swathed in widow’s weeds and he wondered how long it would be before she felt confident enough to discard them and dress in brighter colours.  Rupert, not wishing to rock the boat in anyway, consulted with his friends and members of the family on what the requirements of society were as regards the period of mourning.  For a close family member, six months was the absolute minimum with a year being the acceptable figure. There were no rules however for a Ward losing a Guardian, especially if two had been lost at the same time. So he was in a bit of a dilemma, Amelia was clearly coming out of mourning at last but he thought it quite inappropriate to make any suggestion himself and he bided his time and waited for something to turn up. Which in his experience, it usually did.

As she passed the 3 month mark since the funeral, Amelia began to feel distinctly better. The periods of intense sadness started to occur less frequently and became shorter, but she was still prone to uncontrollable bouts of crying, which seemed to come on without warning and at times proved embarrassing. She was now in the habit of taking regular walks and rides with Alice and together they even took in the occasional art exhibitions and musical afternoons. the weather was mild but sometimes there was a cold wind and rain. Amelia continued to wear her black and a veil. She could not decide just when to change over but she still did not feel comfortable making any sort of change just at the moment.

Then a letter arrived.  It was addressed to Mrs Cynthia Hawthorne from a Mr Samuel Cooper.  Amelia opened the latter with interest .Mr Cooper was a subaltern in her father’s old regiment. He had recently returned with the regiment from India. He had been informed of the death of Major Hawthorne, expressed his condolences to Mrs Hawthorne and asked if he may visit her in two days time. There was no address, so there was no way she could have replied to inform him that Mrs Hawthorne had also passed away.  She was intrigued and not a little excited that she would meet someone with connections to both her parents and her Guardian. The regiment had done its duty in sending a representative to the funeral and someone to check that she would not fall into destitution, but once they had been convinced that she would be comfortably off, they took no further action.  Almost before Alice had come through the door the next day and removed her hat and gloves, Amelia was thrusting the letter into her hands.  “I wondered what this means”, she said “Why would a young Subaltern from the Regiment come to visit me. Do you think he may have some special relationship with father and mother and my Guardians?” Alice laughed “How should I know? He may have heard what an attractive woman you have grown into, comfortably off and will come a’courting”. “Don’t be ridiculous” Amelia retorted “How could he possibly know my circumstances? How could anyone have told him?” “Well Amelia” Alice retorted “Why is he coming then?” She was secretly pleased that her provocation of Amelia had had the desired effect. She had risked Amelia slipping back into her depression, but her pleasant laugh at the interchange dispelled Alice’s worries.

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