The Lettered Affair 1
(The Bering Sisters, Part 1 of 4)
Copyright 2016 Alice Ayden
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For Mom and Dad
Table of Contents
The Lettered Affair 2 Excerpt
Also by Alice Ayden
Letter 1 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
January 3, 1810
Dearest Juliana, please forgive your sister for
what I am about to write. It is improper and shameful, and I am
likely to be punished for eternity. I seek my husband’s
forgiveness for something he must never discover.
I met Lord Halithorpe - Henry. Oh, dearest sister, if you could see
me, you would have quite the laugh at my nerves. My hand barely
writes fast enough as my mind leaps forward thinking of him.
I stood up straighter around him, smiled more, and worried if my pink
dress - the one you made me buy three months ago - brought out the
colour in my normally pale complexion. I even lamented if my light
brown hair were too drab for someone of his taste and wished I had
your depth of brown.
His blue eyes absorbed me and would not release me. His gaze did not
wander to someone more beautiful. His attention was not swayed by
someone more interesting.
Henry possesses such confidence - true confidence based upon strength
of knowledge and not the ineptitude of so many newly titled gentlemen
who cannot tell a footman from a chamber pot.
Did I exist in a perpetual trance of mediocrity?
When Henry’s eyes met mine, and he spoke
my name… it was the first time I took
notice of my heart. I assumed it to merely function much like a limb.
I never realized it could simultaneously induce madness and passion.
Since you are staying with Lady Rebecca, who lives so near to
Edenfield and Henry, dare I ask? Do you see him often? Forget that. I
am ashamed of my lingering thoughts. It is not proper.
I have only been married a month! But I am
convinced Henry is the man I should have married. During the last
years of his life, Father worried what would become of the Bering
family and Ashland. I had to keep the estate within our family. I had
to ensure his wife had a home, and you would be free to choose your
own husband. This I gladly accepted without regret. I married
father’s heir. I did what was expected of
me. I did my duty. James is no more in love with me than I of him. I
am sorry that I relate to you what you, of course, already know. I do
not recognize myself. I exist on a precipice between the allure of
madness or the temptation of unattainable happiness.
I am not the person I have aspired to be. I have
sought to be true and respectful and an example to you. I believed I
was a good person. Perhaps that was a lie. Oh, what would my mother
think of me? Her sacrifice would have been for naught. I would have
gladly lived my days with James unaware of love’s
cost. Will it be enough for me to know Henry exists if I may never
know the happiness of him?
I have released my deepest thoughts to you. I
trust your discretion, dearest sister. Please do not allow your faith
in me to be shaken. I will not disgrace our father's name or my
mother’s memory. I will not dishonor my
husband, or endanger your future. I can never see Henry again nor
receive another of his letters.
I draw strength from my mother’s
memory. Not one ever uttered a harsh word about her, and they mourn
for her still. I must be more like her. I shall convince myself I am
suffering a curable malady. Perhaps a new blue hat or purple sash
will cure the madness. I must cease to think of him and a future
which is impossible. Do not fret, Juliana. I will return to my normal
self in due time. Forgive me for my indiscretions. It was never my
intent to shake your confidence in me.
Your sister, Cassandra
I am including the letter Henry wrote to me. It is
safer with you. I do not want it under Ashland’s
roof; I fear disgracing my mother. And if any of the servants found
it… I could not face their wrath again.
Being called a selfish child whose saint of a mother sacrificed her
life for nothing is not something I wish to relive ever again. Please
do not think harshly of me.
Letter 2 ~ Henry to Cassandra
January 3, 1810
Cassandra, you haunt my dreams and invade my days. I am ardently in
love with you, and I am yours forever. This letter is highly
improper, but I am not the sort of man to deny our connection. It is
no use wishing things were different. You are spoken for, but I will
never love another.
I think of our first meeting every day. It started
innocently with the arrival of guests, and you walked into the
parlour with James. You arrived in a blur of pink, and James
introduced you. For a few minutes, I had not realized he had stopped
talking. I only remembered him saying, “Cassandra.”
He must have said more, but I fear James never
held my attention. I am sorry. I should not speak of him like that.
Forgive me. There, I am glad I was able to write those words. I
feared my nefarious mind would prevent me from bestowing any
compliments upon him. And now, I have realized I did not compliment
him at all. I am sorry for that as well.
This is not my way of turning you against him. It is just my way.
Most find me impertinent and rude. Or they would were I not in
possession of the title Lord Halithorpe. People forgive much as long
as money and title are attached. Why is that? If a servant acted the
way I did or even entertained my thoughts, he would be ostracized
immediately or possibly imprisoned. Would I have been different had I
been born with less? Would I have conformed to convention?
Interesting how I can write to you as if we were talking still.
Back to that glorious day in the parlor at Edenfield where we first
“Henry and I were schoolboys together at Eton
and Oxford where we went to school during our schooldays,”
James said, as if reciting from a paper.
James had a way of obviously stating the obvious.
stopped to clear his throat a few dozen times. I knew him well enough
to realize the noises he made were not of necessity but rather of
irritation to what he was about to say. “Henry
is Lord Halithorpe now with the passing of his father who died. It
has been just about six months, has it not Henry? I am sorry for your
loss because I always respected your father who was coincidentally
friends with my father because they in turn went to school together
too.” James fidgeted too much as his eyes
darted back and forth between us.
Then my butler told him about the gardens, and he scampered off.
You sighed slightly as you smiled at me. I fear James might wear you
out with his nonsense chatter.
“I am sorry to hear of the passing of your
father, Lord Abbotden,” I said.
You smiled. “Thank
you. Most people talk about how he survived longer than he ought
which I find rather strange - as if he did something wrong and should
be ashamed for his continual living.” You
looked at me startled as if you said something wrong. “I
am sorry, Lord Halithorpe, I do not know why I told you that.”
“Henry,” I corrected
only because I selfishly longed to hear my name on your lips.
“Perhaps you find me easier to
Your perfect porcelain complexion blushed with a
slight shade of pink to match your dress. I must confess: I was not
slighting your husband. I was giving myself a compliment. One of my
many grievous sins is over confidence in my abilities. “I
guess that is another problem with the ruling class. We were never
given boundaries to learn the art of humility.”
“I do not plan on saying outrageous things. They
just scamper about and run amok.”
You laughed again. Then it was my turn to blush for I rarely ever
said things like that aloud. I wondered if you thought me odd or
careless with my affections.
“No one has ever talked to me like that,”
“We are English. We rarely talk about important
things at all,” I whispered as if I would
have been hanged immediately.
Then my grandmother arrived with the flurry of
black that is expectant of her being in mourning the past thirty
years. “That is what Joan said. The
wretched woman informed me of the child's name. After much insecure
digestion, I was able to chew on said name - such an unfortunate name
for an unfortunate child.” My grandmother
stopped quickly and stared at us. “Henry,
I did not know you were entertaining.”
“This is Countess Abbotden,” I
said. “Countess Abbotden, this is my
grandmother the Dowager Countess of Halithorpe.”
asked, looking horrified as if she had squashed a maid. “Why
is someone as young as you a Countess?”
“She is married to James Hawksley,” I
Do you remember the look on my grandmother's face?
She looked you over as if you were a hat in her favourite soup. I was
not sure if she were more mortified that you married or that I
mentioned James' name. She quickly lost most of her colouring and
looked as pale as that pale soup the cook unwisely served us last
week. “James Hawksley? He is here?”
She glanced to the sofa by the fireplace as if he had thrown himself
under before she entered.
I motioned towards the gardens.
She peered in that direction and squinted until
James came into view. Her expression can only be described as aghast
- part fright and part fear – as if I had
just married her off to a footman.
“Oh my, they are here. Good grief. I mean...
what are we to do?” Then, she looked at
you, and everything clarified. “You are
Cassandra Bering. Oldest child of Lord Archibald Bering. Of course.”
She looked you up and down and then glanced again
towards the gardens. “I understand, dear
child, I do understand. I admire your sacrifices to be loyal to your
family. It is a rare quality these days. Your father would be pleased
that Ashland remains within the Bering family, but I do apologize for
it. If only your brother had survived infancy... The entail is a most
dreadful business.” She shook her hands
to be free of the idea. “I am just glad I
had one son and two grandsons and did not have the worries of a most
inconvenient union. I am more sorry than you can ever realize.”
She glanced a few more times towards the garden
and then disappeared down the hall muttering of catastrophes and
famines as she wrung her hands.
“Well,” you smiled.
“That was interesting.”
“Yes, she is. I hope you are not offended.”
You waved your hands away. “It
is nice to meet someone who admired and liked my father.”
“And your mother?” I
only asked wanting to know more about you and to prolong your visit.
But my question, I fear, offended. Your colouring changed as if you
became instantly ill and lightheaded.
“She died giving birth to me,” you
said, barely above a whisper.
I had to catch my breath. I had forgotten that.
“Please forgive me. I meant your
“I have no idea. She is away and was never much
for writing. I should be grateful. Not reading a tiring list of my
shortcomings, negative traits, and varied disappointments gives me
more time in the day.”
I flinched because it pained me to hear of anyone
causing you distress. “Surely she is
happy Ashland will remain within the immediate family.”
You shrugged. “I am
happy my sister will have more choices.”
“More choices than you were offered?”
You quickly glanced away from me to study the rug in the parlour that
I admit had not crossed my attention in years. I did not even
remember it possessed so many bright, yellow flowers, and I hoped you
liked it. If you despised it, I would change it immediately. I did
not regret saying what I did. Maybe I should have, but regret is not
an emotion I am quick to entertain.
Uninterrupted, I was able to study you clearly. As
your green eyes watched me, strange and silly things grasped my
thoughts. Your beautiful light brown hair was held up with some
contraption. Ladies’ accoutrements fall
well beyond my purview. I wondered of your hair’s
length and how it fell across and over your shoulders. I have never
looked at a woman’s head and wondered
anything about her hair. Then I thought about your beautiful eyes and
all they had seen in your young life. I hoped few tears crossed your
cheeks, and that smiles introduced themselves easily to you. You have
the most inviting smile. It takes my breath away and makes me forget
my own name.
I hoped you looked at me without utter disgust. I fear my hair is
shorter than convention and have spent hours listening to my
grandmother rail against it. My forehead sometimes juts out too far,
and, if I am not careful, too easily betrays my disgust and anger. It
is hard for me to hide my intentions, but I hoped you were gracious
enough to not be too offended how I looked at you.
For an entire hour, we talked about nothing and
everything. No one interrupted us. It was the finest hour in my life.
I have never felt more content to be so accepted and understood. I
did not fidget as I often do when bored. My mind did not wander. I
did not worry or misbehave. Peace. That is what I felt. Calm swept
through me like a warm summer’s day of
pure joy. It was everything I had always longed for but never knew
Then James returned. Time continued to chug as it had before, and
nefarious thoughts invaded me.
James must have stood there for a few minutes before I even realized
anyone else existed. You had already become my everything.
“The beautiful gardens are beautiful, Henry.”
I stared at him as if he were a statue. “Yes,
thank you, James. We are blessed with good soil.” I
heard myself speak but thought I detected a stranger. When I talked
with you, I was honest, true, and genuine. Talking with anyone else,
I heard the decayed enthusiasm in my voice. With you, I was eloquent
- at least I would like to believe I was - and interesting. I can
only hope you found me interesting. With James, I stammered and
stalled as if I were back in school being accused of something I most
surely and deviously perpetrated.
James cleared his throat again. “Do
you know how they achieved such a vivid shade of red on that flower
by the edge of the property? Forgive me for not providing the proper
name of the flower. I am sure, unless you have changed, you do not
admire or study them as I do.”
I relinquished the need to understand him fully.
“You would have to ask the gardener.”
“Of course,” James sniffed.
Even as boys, I recognized the haughty nature James possessed. He was
untitled but wealthy and smarter than the rest. He believed those of
us born with titles were useless, and I am sure he was correct in his
assessments of many of my class.
James cleared his throat awkwardly as if he
intended a symbolic meaning behind his irritation. “Henry
is part of the class who fears getting his hands dirty and his mind
I grinned. James tried to sting me, but he lacked
the proper attachment. “Did you see the
fern like plant by the fountain?”
James looked upon me as if I were a lowly idiot.
“I recognized it immediately. It is a—”
“It is the most beautiful being I have ever
seen,” I quickly interrupted. “Strong.
Selfless. Unique. I did not believe those qualities could exist.”
Of course, I was speaking of you, Cassandra, and
not the fern. I am sure James did not suspect. He lacks the romantic
nature that inspires most men to be deceitfully sly.
Enough about James. My hand tires of writing of him, and my mind
hardens to his descriptions. Before I met you Cassandra, I thought
little of love. I regret I believed it to be a fairy tale or an
infection for the afflicted. The moment I saw you, I knew how wrong I
had been. I long to see your emerald eyes sparkle again.
Circumstances might prevent us from ever being together, but I wanted
you to know there was someone who ardently loved you, would fight for
you, will die with your name on his lips. You are in possession of my
I am yours, Cassandra, now and forever.
Letter 3 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
January 12, 1810
My sweetest Cassie, do not fret, for I am
incapable of judging you. Your secret I will hide away forever.
Unfortunately, my acquaintance with your Lord Halithorpe has been
postponed because Rebecca has ventured out little from Ramsbury in
her brother’s absence. Lord Kemnay,
Retton, is not only Henry’s cousin but
also his dearest friend. Hopefully, I will soon encounter this great
man who has captured your heart.
You married James because you assumed it your duty. I never wanted
you to do it. I only wish Father had not pressured you. Your marriage
made him happy in his final days, and he died in peace knowing his
beloved Ashland would remain in Bering hands. You should be proud of
your sacrifice, but he should not have detained selfish desires.
Yes, your mother was very beloved as are you. My own mother is not.
She married Father because she wanted the title and money. She did
not want him specifically. Neither made the other happy. Given their
fifty year age difference, he should have realized as such. It pains
me he suffered such a sour union and then expected you to marry out
of responsibility rather than love. I am sorry of my obsession over
the matter: I have said as much as I can without further offense but
not as much as swirls consistently in my mind.
Do you not think it strange James introduced you
to Lord Halithorpe? You needed your new husband to introduce you to
your true love. Quite peculiar, is it not? That awareness has stalked
me. I also do not think it bizarre you love someone so soon after
meeting. I would adore love. I imagine the heart beats fast like the
speediest of horses, and the world’s
mysteries finally reveal themselves from their foggy veil. I cannot
It pains me to think of your suffering,
Letter 4 ~ Henry to Retton
January 6, 1810
Retton, you must help me, cousin. I have met Cassandra Bering, and I
am doomed to a life of misery because she is recently married to
You may recall James from Eton and Oxford. He is
rather congenially dull and odd. I am certain he would make an
adequate husband to someone who did not require or expect much but
not to Cassandra. Her home, Ashland, was entailed to him since
neither her mother nor step-mother bore surviving sons. Originally,
the estate was entailed to James’ grandfather,
but Cassandra’s father survived much
longer than anyone planned. The estate had to be entailed to James'
father and then to James. Rare that Lord Abbotden outlived so many of
Not only is Cassandra the most beautiful I have ever seen, but
speaking to her was absolute peace. I could have told her anything
without fear of repercussion. I could stare into the clarity of her
green eyes forever and never be bored or crave another. She is
everything I ever wanted. She possesses such strength and loyalty
mixed with the fragility of someone who knows not their own power.
Have you ever succumbed to love? You suffered many a crush, but I am
not sure if your feelings were ever as deep as the roots of the
mighty oak. Trust me, cousin, it is everything you imagined or feared
it to be - such a dichotomy of hope and anguish.
What am I to do? My heart has been found, but hers will never belong
to me. How do I submit to such agony? I wish you could tell me what
to do, but I can hear your words. You would say she is married and
lost to me.
This age we live in can be so infuriating. Had not
that illogical entail been enforced, Ashland would be Cassandra’s
birthright. She would be free to marry her choice. I wish the newest
earl of Abbotden no ill will except perhaps an untimely death. Sorry,
cousin, forgive me for that impertinence. I do not wish James ill. I
would never wish ill upon a soul, and I could not bear a single
sorrow from Cassandra.
I realize my actions rarely meet your approval. You are the morality
and guardian of our souls - the best of our family.
I failed to mention this fact: I wrote to Cassandra. Take a deep
breath, cousin. I cannot dance around delicacies nor will I engage in
petty flirtatious nonsense.
I love her. I have said it. Yes, I realize I have
only met her once, but that meeting changed my life. It changed the
course of my life. It will alter you, cousin. Your reason will fail
once your heart begs for another. I long to see the unflappable
Retton’s sensibilities shaken.
She has possessed me. I think of nothing but Cassandra Bering. I
close my eyes and believe her to be here. Dangerous, I know, to tempt
my sanity, but I will not risk her reputation to see her. Besides, I
trust not myself.
Should I die never losing myself in her beautiful
green eyes or knowing her touch or hearing the lilt in her voice when
she says my name or… I should end this
letter before I fully regret where it is likely to proceed. My mood
has soured with regret.
Forgive me and I hope you can overlook my sins, Your cousin,
Letter 5 ~ Retton to Henry
February 12, 1810
Cousin Henry, I apologize for not answering sooner, but I was rather
alarmed at your admission. I cannot say I fully understand your
heightened emotions having never experienced love myself. Normally, I
envy your passionate energy. Now, I fear your passion has mistreated
Regardless of the ardent nature of your feelings, Countess Abbotden
is indeed lost to you. You must cease your infatuation. I hold no ill
will towards her, but she is married. Nothing can change that. Do not
continue your correspondence. I fear of what would become of either
of you should your letters be made public. Do not place her in
Perhaps you could assuage your heart by knowing you did indeed love
once. You might easily love again. Many a young lady long to be
mistress of Edenfield and might make you happy. Please be not
offended by my suggestions. We shall discuss matters further when I
return to Ramsbury.
Letter 6 ~ Cassandra to Henry
February 18, 1810
Henry, I began this letter hundreds of times. I received your letter
and can recite your words from memory as I have read them so often.
Thank you for your candor. I have never been on the receiving end of
such passion. I am not ashamed to admit I have lived all of my twenty
years in an unromantic state.
Being the oldest child without a brother, my father impressed upon me
his desire that Ashland would never leave the Bering family. It was
assumed at an early age I would marry his heir. I agreed only to
appease him and alleviate his worries in the last few years of his
I am not prone to romantic notions. I only professed a daughter's
duty and fulfilled my promise. When I first met James Hawksley, I
found him a very agreeable man, and all believed we made a good
match. We did what was expected and married, but we exist as brother
and sister without romantic allusions or stirrings.
I fear I have lingered over an explanation you never sought. Why do
you have such power over me? Is this the true meaning of love?
Forgive me for using that word to a man who is not my husband. Will I
be forever haunted by this sin? I fully intended upon pleading with
you to never write me again. I wanted to tell you to forget about me.
When I chose the paper upon which those dreaded words would be
placed, my hand refused.
I am well aware words without actions are still a
betrayal to my husband. My father would be aghast. I hope I never
once lent a crease to his face nor a shadow to his heart. I fear of
what my mother would think. She sacrificed everything to give me
life, and ever since I turned away from being a selfish child I have
sought to live in her memory’s shadow. I
allowed her example to guide me, but I am ashamed I have fallen so
Each day I hear whispers and believe my secret is known. If someone
glances at me suspiciously I become that little girl again
overhearing the servants discussing why my mother had to die for such
a useless and devilish child. I cannot return to that shame. The
thought of it lays ruin to my appetite, heavies my head until I lose
balance, and fills me with dread knowing I am not worthy to have
survived when my mother did not.
All my life, I did what was right. I lived not for
myself but for my family. I would have been content all my days to
continue. Then I met you. Your gaze took me in and held me safe. I am
not too naïve to
believe you never looked at another like that. How did I capture your
imagination? Why were the fates so cruel to delay our meeting until
after my marriage? I should wish for you a proper wife and not a
relationship based upon sheets of paper, but that would be
disingenuous. The thought of another fills me with dread and worry.
Until you return to your senses, I am grateful for your love. Please
know it is returned a thousand times over. I am sorry I lack the
language to profess my emotions more clearly.
I exist in perpetual dizziness. I have to be the dutiful daughter,
wife, and sister, but my heart longs for something that can never be.
I only pray James never discovers this. I will not cause him shame.
He does not deserve it. He is not a spiteful man nor is he evil.
This has to be the first and last letter I write to you. The fact I
have allowed myself to put pen to paper and admit my true feelings
fills me with a malignant shame. And now I will be strong and ask
that you do not write me again. You have awakened my heart to
feelings I knew not that I possessed, but I must spend my remaining
days in repentance for my sins.
Letter 7 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
February 26, 1810
My sweetest Cassie, I went to Edenfield! Can you tell I am grinning?
I must purge this while it roams freely in my memory. Here is what
Rebecca flew into my room with two of her
flustered servants and a dozen different coloured dresses. Rebecca’s
thick black hair freely danced and tangled as she pranced. “Retton
will be there, and I must see him for it has been so long,”
she said in between gasps for air.
Now, as you well know, I pride myself in understanding silences as
well as speech. The furtive glances the maids exchanged expressed
more than words alone could have conveyed.
Rebecca picked up a yellow dress. “This
one? Will it bring out my eyes? Will my brother like it?”
I did not want to ask why yellow would bring out Rebecca's dark brown
eyes, but I had not the chance. She threw the yellow dress down as if
it suggested something nefarious.
picked up another dress which was much greener than it ought to be.
“Better?” Her teary eyes pleaded with
me as if my opinion would secure her happiness for years.
Before I uttered a sound, she violently threw the
innocent dress down. I swear I heard the dresses moan in terror. She
picked up a bright pink one and held it under her chin. “This
one? Would this one be better still?”
The poor maids had a time of grabbing dresses and sashes and hats
that flew this way and that, and it is a wonder someone was not
strangled amidst the carnage - I must give her maids credit for their
Rebecca is recently recovered from that mysterious
sickness which almost claimed her last year, and I worried her
breathing would labour again. I quickly picked up a rather pretty
blue dress which almost matched the shade of a perfect sky. “What
about this one? It is very pleasing.”
Rebecca smiled and calmed immediately. “Thank
you, Juliana, you are the best of a friend.” She
picked up the dress and studied it. “Oh,
to have that match my eyes. Your sister has blue eyes, does she not?”
“Green,” I answered. “Cassie’s
eyes are green like our father. I took after my mother with the brown
“I used to pray for light eyes.”
drifted with her gaze. Then, she flew out of the room. It only took a
few minutes for the two maids to scoop up the spilled madness, glance
at me with a knowing look, and scurry after Rebecca.
I assumed Rebecca’s
panic had little to do with her brother. I do not have a reference as
to how sisters should behave around brothers, but I rather doubt so
much effort would commence upon a sibling. I would gladly sacrifice
anything for you, but I would not introduce madness just for the
right shade of fabric. I believed something else tempted Rebecca's
mind rather than her brother's return.
An hour later, I waited in the carriage. Rebecca changed her shoes
then her hat then her sash and then finally her gloves before she
“I am so sorry, Juliana. I am ready now.”
Rebecca sat down gingerly in the carriage and
wiped at her already glistening brow.
The driver waited several minutes to ensure Rebecca would not flee
“Are you alright, Rebecca? Dare we even venture
“Venture out?” Rebecca
suspiciously looked at me as if I had just suggested a royal coup.
“Why on earth would you even—”
“I am sorry.” I
touched Rebecca’s hand to calm her. “I
worry about your health.”
Rebecca sighed and stared through the carriage window at the bumpy
Suspicions can quickly be appeased with words of concern. Most people
are usually thinking of themselves and find it not at all peculiar
when someone else inquires about them.
I know I am devious, but I do not appear as such. Perhaps it is my
angelic appearance, pleasing manners, or the innocence that rests
behind my eyes. Forgive my madness. I am only having a bit of fun at
my own expense.
Rebecca sighed loudly. “I
hope the Dowager Countess is away. My great aunt likes me not.”
She fiddled this way and that with her already
mangled gloves. “I do not know why I
inspire such derision.”
I quickly turned away as if admiring the scenery. I did not wish
Rebecca to see my malicious grin. I have known Rebecca for a few
years, but she is challenging company.
We continued on the carriage ride, but Rebecca did not pursue her
normal inane conversations. She has been known to casually chatter
about strings or plants or leaves or monkeys as minds spin in a
The carriage turned down the tree lined street that would take us to
Edenfield, and I do not mind admitting my heart skipped a bit faster.
I would soon meet the man who captured the heart of my favorite
sister. Yes, I realize you are my only sister, but is it not better
that you are also the favorite?
I noticed Rebecca clasped her hand over her heart
many times. As we neared Edenfield, my heart raced. The estate is
grander than Ashland. The stone is a lighter grey, and the statues
smile instead of being trapped in a frozen frown. The gardens feature
every shade of green. The windows are quite large with at least a
dozen panes each. I grew tired of Father's aversion to sun and
resented Ashland’s heavy red drapes which
trapped us in perpetual darkness.
At our arrival, we were shown into the entrance hall. Cassie, dare I
admit, I could see you gliding down the stairway as mistress? The
ceilings were so tall I feared my neck would forever be ruined should
I seek the end of the height. I allowed myself to peer over the many
portraits of the former Lords and Ladies of Edenfield. Not a one
could be described as hideous.
Rebecca squealed quickly, and I feared the worst.
She ran to greet a man who I assumed was the brother she speaks about
nonstop. “Oh, Retton.”
He was not different than I imagined, but Rebecca is not often
accurate with her more descriptive adjectives. You might not
recollect since you were usually busy with father, but Rebecca has
grown quite beautiful with porcelain skin and deep brown eyes and
midnight coloured hair. Her brother's hair is brown but anyone would
believe them to be related given their perfect features.
“Retton, I would like you to meet Lady Juliana
“Oh,” he startled
himself, and I was not sure what he meant.
said. “This is my brother. My oldest
brother. Actually my closest of all my brothers and sisters. The rest
long ago left.” Rebecca paused as if in
deep thought. After a few moments, she shook her head and continued.
“He is the direct heir to my father the
Marquess. May I present Lord Kemnay.”
I bowed. “Pleased to
meet you, Lord Kemnay.” He might be the
oldest brother, but he cannot be more than six and twenty.
“Rebecca wrote that you were visiting,”
he said. “I hope you
have found Ramsbury pleasant?”
Pleasant? I found myself lost six different times.
I was not even sure if I were still in England when I visited the
east corridor. “Ramsbury is quite
extraordinary, Lord Kemnay.”
“It is rather embarrassingly lavish,”
he said shyly.
It is rare that a gentleman would possess such dignity and humility.
I assume him hesitant by nature, but he did not avert his attention
from me as others would have.
Rebecca giggled and blushed. “Is
she not beautiful, brother? Is she not exactly as I described?”
Lord Kemnay cleared his throat.
“My sister is much more beautiful,” I
said which I entirely believe.
“Then you two must entice every gentleman you
meet.” Lord Kemnay flinched as if he had
not intended to say such things.
Another man walked in behind Rebecca’s
brother. I knew him instantly. This was the man I always imagined for
my favourite sister.
Lord Kemnay winced. “Where
are my manners? Lady Juliana, this is my cousin, Henry. Lord
Henry smiled at me. “Lady
Juliana, I met your sister.”
“Cassie told me,” I
“Cassie?” he asked.
“I like that.” His
eyes showed an understanding that I knew about everything. “I
am glad you two are so close, and I applaud you for wrestling a
compliment from my cousin.”
“You believe me to be stingy with compliments?”
Lord Kemnay asked playfully.
“Just not as sure of yourself around a beautiful
lady.” Intelligence and deviousness
existed behind Henry’s blue eyes. He was
handsome and direct with a confidence and never ending smile. It is
little wonder he captured your heart. He had such an air of authority
and compassion. If I had all the paper in the world, I would never
tire of decent adjectives to describe him.
Cassie, I wish you had not sacrificed yourself to save Ashland. I
wish I were the older sister and you would have been free to marry
Henry. I could have married James. Drat. That was most difficult to
write. I do not mind him much, but he is peculiar. Sorry, but you
must be with Henry. I will see you two married. I am sure of it. I
mean nothing untoward, but, by my determination, it will be done. Now
I only need to wrestle with the pesky details.
Anyway, we were shown into a parlour with intricately carved
fireplaces, more than two dozen chairs and sofas, various rugs, and a
few statues and colorful vases on each table. The room had the most
amazing glow as the light from the fire danced around the walls and
instantly warmed us.
I sat next to Rebecca on a small yellow sofa by the fire while the
two gentlemen remained standing. I was well aware Lord Kemnay had not
taken his eyes from me since meeting, and I was not sure yet whether
to be annoyed or flattered. For that, I would require much thought.
He is all Rebecca described with fine eyes and a pleasing smile, and,
yes, he is very handsome indeed. If I was careless, he could take my
breathe away. I cannot believe I wrote that...
Lost in thought, I almost did not see an older woman stomp into the
room and quickly sit down opposite me. She wore all black. Even her
bracelets, necklace, and rings were black or a variation of dark.
Only her pale face and curly white hair provided definition. She
murmured and muttered, and I feared she was not at all well. I
noticed neither of the gentlemen paid much attention. I did not
believe there to be immediate danger, but Rebecca fidgeted as if
uncomfortably sitting on a servant. I could only deduce it was her
great aunt, the Dowager Countess.
The woman made sure her dress was straight and all
bracelets faced the right way. After much haranguing, whispering and
muttering, she glanced up. “Henry, why
was I not informed we had company?”
“I am sorry, grandmother, but we have company.”
She produced quite a determined look. Rebecca sunk further into the
sofa. This woman could wither without saying a word. How grand was
that? I already admired her immensely.
“Are you in the habit of allowing me to wander
about? Why did you not attempt to stop me?” the
“You give me too much credit to believe I could
have stopped you from doing anything,” Henry
said with a most devious grin.
She stared at him with a mixture of disgust and admiration. Her
expressions held such power and were more understood than an hour
long lecture. It is an art that, as you well know, I have been
practicing and trying to perfect for years.
“Forgive my lapse,” Henry
said as he stepped forward with a grand gesture. “Grandmother,
may I present your great nephew, Lord Kemnay.”
She produced another sour look. This was followed
by a grand sigh. “You have such wit, do
you not, Henry? Wherever did you acquire such wit?”
He grinned. “I am sure it was inherited.”
The woman could not suppress her smile. “It
is good you have returned, Retton. And did your rest produce some
much needed clarity?”
I was not sure what she referred to. Since both
gentlemen quickly glanced at Rebecca, she had to be the reason for
Lord Kemnay studied the rug. “Perhaps
in due time.” I tried to divert my eyes
when his gaze returned to me. This is what I have been able to deduce
so far: to his sister, his eyes reflected pain and pity. To his aunt,
his behaviour hinted at fear and intimidation. With Henry, his
demeanor told of a deep friendship and trust. To me, I received
attention of a somewhat flirty and shy nature.
Henry studied me for a few minutes as if trying to
see you in me. “Grandmother, this is Lady
Juliana Bering. Lady Juliana, this is my grandmother, the Dowager
Countess of Halithorpe.”
“Bering? You must be Lord Abbotden's youngest. I
met your sister not long ago.”
I nodded. “Yes,
Cassandra was here. I am glad you met her.”
Her gaze bore into me for several minutes as she
studied my hair, eyes, dress, and the way I clasped my hands together
in my lap. Then, she smiled. “I approve.”
She leaned closer. “I
admired your father very much. And your sister’s
sacrifice was very admirable.”
“Thank you.” It is
so rare to have compliments about Father. “We
miss Father so.”
“That is much to your credit to miss him and
much more to your credit to mean it.”
I saw Henry's smile and Retton's blush again.
Then the Dowager Countess snapped her neck and
glared several times at Rebecca. “I see
you are here with my great niece.”
The temperature dropped sharply. Retton took a deep breath while
Henry cleared his throat.
“I have been staying at Ramsbury since my sister
“Of course,” she
said, suspiciously eyeing her niece. “And
how have you enjoyed the visit, Lady Juliana?”
“Very much,” I said.
“Although, I miss my sister terribly.”
“Well, I am sure the visit will brighten now
that my nephew has returned.”
Rebecca shifted and stared deep into the fire conversing with the
The Dowager Countess smiled as if she enjoyed
frightening her niece. “Lady Juliana, sit
next to me so we can discuss things further.”
I did as she requested but found it rather difficult to look at
Rebecca who sullenly sat alone growing paler by the second.
interrupted the silence. “Will you not
inquire about Rebecca?”
She stared at Henry as if he had just barked. Then
she forced her gaze to Rebecca. “If I had
planned upon making inquires, dear boy, I would have already done
so.” She shifted positions sharply so
that her jewelry clanged together at once.
After a few more moments of awkward silence, Henry
cleared his throat. “Rebecca, we have a
new pianoforte in the music room. Would you like to—”
Before Henry finished, Rebecca clapped and ran out of the room. Her
boots loudly clomped down the hall until the thumping grew quieter.
The Dowager Countess slowly removed her hands from
her ears. “Upon my honour! I do believe
she is getting worse.”
Retton quickly glanced at me and then placed his
hands behind his back to steady himself. “There
are days when she appears quite content.”
“And others?” she
Retton shook his head without further response.
“And have you made any decisions?”
Retton glanced at me as if embarrassed to discuss delicate matters so
openly. I was unsure if he was more embarrassed for himself or for
me. I decided not to burden him with my all knowing gaze.
“Think of yourself, Retton.”
“I had better see to her.” Retton
bowed to me before leaving the room.
Henry waited until his cousin was out of the room.
“Grandmother, must you frighten him so?”
The Dowager Countess shrugged her shoulders. “Your
cousin is much stronger than he allows himself to believe. And, if he
is ever to capture the heart of this one…” She
patted my knee. “Then he had better show
himself sooner rather than later.”
I should have blushed or protested or something ladies are meant to
do, but blushing is not in my true nature. Besides, a woman as wise
as the Dowager Countess would have seen through any emotions and
thought lesser of me. I was determined to remain on her good side.
The Dowager Countess smiled at my discretion: her
temptations did not trap me. “And how has
Rebecca seemed to you?” She raised her
hand. “Before you answer, be aware you do
not have to spare your words to spare feelings. Some of us...”
She gestured towards her grandson. “…prefer
the harsh realities of truth rather than the mediocrity of a soothing
I could not help but smile. “Can
I be you when I grow up?”
The Dowager Countess laughed.
Henry sat down opposite us. “You
are wise beyond your years.”
“You are not intimidated by me. Good,”
the Dowager Countess said. “It
is refreshing to be confronted with admiration rather than
complimented with fear.”
Henry snorted. “I do
not scare easily.”
“Of course not. Otherwise you would not have
entertained an infatuation with a married woman.”
Henry quickly glanced at me.
“You do not have to be so shy, Henry. Lady
Juliana is much too smart.”
I shrugged. “Cassie
He closed his eyes. “What
am I to do?”
“Try not to throw yourself into the pit, dear
boy. It would make such a mess.”
Henry shook his head. “You
are a stone, are you not wicked woman?”
She chuckled and then returned her attention to
me. “I am anxious to know your thoughts
concerning the awkward situation known more simply as my niece.”
“In regards to Lady Rebecca…” I
hesitated because there is a thin distinction between speaking one’s
mind and offending. “I do not believe it
my place to discuss, but since you have asked... I can only admit she
is a bit emotional lately and prone to rather disruptive outbursts.
She has been looking forward to her brother's return, and I can only
hope Lord Kemnay’s presence
The Dowager Countess laughed. “That
was probably the best way of saying exactly what needed to be said in
the most delicate manner possible. You give your father credit for
your manners. Henry, might you trouble yourself to fetching my new
He immediately stood up to leave and then looked
his grandmother over. “You are wearing
your new shall.”
“Then might you trouble yourself to leave so
that I may speak more candidly with my new friend?”
Henry waited for me to protest, but I did not. He
then directed his attention to his grandmother. “Be
“Aren't I always?”
She did not see his reaction since he was almost
at the door and out of her line of vision. Once alone, she turned to
me. “Now that the fusspots are away, pray
tell me how does someone as intelligent and interesting as you
befriend my grand niece?”
“Several years ago, we met at a party. We were
both in London visiting relatives.”
She jerked back a bit. “You
met her and still wished to befriend her?”
I could not admit I found myself fascinated with
Rebecca. I rarely come across someone of her temperament. I looked
about the room to ensure we were still alone and leaned closer to the
Dowager Countess. “Has she been like this
“Dreadful, is it not? My dear grandson tries not
to impress upon her anything which might produce a fit, and Retton
must get away on occasion when she has exhausted him. It is no wonder
her parents stay away as long as they do. They hope they will be
greeted with news of their youngest daughter's impending marriage and
will only return to Ramsbury on the assurance she will live there no
I could not help but frown. “But
to be forced to stay away from your own house?”
The Dowager Countess nodded. “And
have you been witness to many of her fits?” She
scrunched her face into a most unflattering position. “They
are dreadful, are they not? I did not believe it possible for someone
to shatter one's nerves and produce so many tears over such
trivialities. She has obsessed over the post, the moon, and my other
grandson, Nathaniel. Of course, I need not chastise her for that.
Nathaniel could produce fits in even the holiest of men.”
I could not prevent myself from laughing. “Can
I say what a pleasure it is to meet someone who does not allow
convention to force themselves to act contrary to who they really
“Now that, my dear, is one of the nicest things
anyone has ever said to me. We are going to be friends. I knew upon
waking this day that it would be a great one.” She
studied me further. “And how do you find
“He is very handsome and well thought of by
She glanced at me slyly. “And
do you approve of his feelings towards your married sister?”
I could not suppress my smile. “Honestly,
I wish Cassandra had met Lord Halithorpe before her marriage.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And
how do you find your new brother-in-law?”
I looked at her quickly and thought of you Cassie,
but I could not help myself. Being around her is absolute freedom. I
dared not lie or even deceive a little. “He
is nice but dull and not one I would have chosen for my sister. He
lacks passion, and I fear she has challenged her life with someone
who could not possibly produce even the slightest bit of interest in
her. To see my beautiful, intelligent sister wither is more than I
can bear.” I was not afraid to allow the
tears which I have kept hidden for so long to spill. I quickly dabbed
at my eyes. “Forgive me. I do not wish
you to be burdened.”
“Fear not, dear child. Your feelings matter and
are valid. I met James Hawksley many times. Dullness is a hereditary
trait shared by all in his family. His grandfather pursued me most
ardently many years ago.” She shook as if
the feelings were too difficult to remain with her. “Let
us talk of happier things.”
“May I say, meeting you makes me wish I had
known my own grandmothers.”
“You did not know either of them?” She
asked with eyebrows raised. “Oh, what am
I saying? Your father was my age. But what about your mother's
I shook my head.
“That is probably just as well. I will not
pretend to have heard flattering compliments about your mother.”
I lowered my head in shame. “No,
I can imagine few would seek to flatter her.”
The Dowager Countess patted me on the knee. “Dear
child, do not bear the sins of your mother.” She
sat back and studied me further. “You
remind me of myself. Perhaps that is why I like you so much.”
We shared a laugh and were about to broach nicer subjects, but
Rebecca screamed back into the room and threw herself down on the
chair in a pout. This was soon followed by the return of Retton and
The Dowager Countess quickly glanced at me and
drew a breath before she inquired. “What
is the matter now?”
Rebecca folded her hands together tightly. Her
cheeks were bright red as if she’d been
crying, and some of her hair stuck to her neck. “The
keys on the pianoforte treated me ill.”
The Dowager Countess threw up her hands.
Retton leaned close to Rebecca, “I
am sure our cousin will allow you to try again when the situation is
“Of course,” Henry
added. “You are welcome anytime.”
The Dowager Countess smirked and snorted to which Henry pleaded with
her not to further torment.
She leaned close to me and whispered. “Why
must civilized people be held hostage by the madness of a few?”
Henry then caught his grandmother's attention and gestured to her as
if prodding her to say something.
She shook her head.
He mouthed, 'for Retton.'
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Yes,
Rebecca, you should come again and play. Your music...” She
gritted her teeth as if each word produced a sandy response.
“...manages to fill the room.”
widened. “Really? Do you mean it?”
“I rarely say things I do not mean.”
Rebecca jumped up and lunged towards her aunt
hugging her before she could slither from her grasp. “Thank
you! Oh, thank you! That means the world to me. I will try again
right now!” With that, she ran out of the
room leaving her aunt to smooth out her dress and readjust her
“That is why I dislike physical contact. It
ruffles too many things which took a great deal of time to be
“Thank you,” Retton
The Dowager Countess nodded. “Now
would you please do as I have asked and either get that girl a proper
doctor or a proper husband. Or perhaps save some time and combine
them. I hate to see you wasting your life for her.”
Retton shook his head. “I
“You are the heir, Retton. The eldest son of the
Marquess. Your father’s title will be
yours before you know it. You must not forget the loyalty to your
parents as well as yourself.”
He shook his head, and I saw in him a stubbornness
I admired. “I will not abandon her as
The Dowager Countess did not take that as a slight
against herself. She shrugged. “Your
parents have lost much, Retton. Do not begrudge them their sanity as
My heart beat a little faster as I studied Retton. He is very
handsome indeed. Have I mentioned that already? No matter. It could
be repeated. His loyalty is obviously unsurpassed. You and I could be
married to cousins and best friends and would see each other always.
I know, I am getting ahead of myself. Your husband still breathes.
Forgive me for that last statement. I thought of crossing the words
out, but I know you would be able to read them still. I plotted
beginning the letter again, but I lacked the energy. I only wish
things were different, but I do not wish tragedy to make them so.
I have more to say but must get this to the post.
I dare not allow my letters to meander unattended. I trust not some
of Rebecca's maids. I found one collapsed in the corner last week. I
feared the worst, but she claimed a lost hat stirred strong feelings
in her. Does Rebecca’s infection spread
to the unwitting?
I miss you terribly,
Letter 8 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
February 28, 1810
Juliana, perhaps you have touched the mad. Did I not make myself
clear? I cannot and will not betray my husband any more than I
Shame taunts me every day. I can never take that back, but I will not
I am married to James. It is done. Do not waste your time trying to
procure something that will not, cannot, and should not take place. I
refuse it! James is an honorable man. He is my husband. I am most
determined to be happy. I hope I can make James happy with me as
well. I must conclude this letter. My health and mood have entirely
Think not of me. I beg you to let me forget my foolishness.
Concentrate solely on your own happiness.
Letter 9 ~ Henry to James
February 28, 1810
James, I am not sure if you knew about the birthday celebration for
my cousins, Retton and Rebecca, but may I be the first to invite you
and Countess Abbotden. As you know, Lady Juliana has been staying
with Lady Rebecca at Ramsbury. She has expressed her deepest interest
in seeing her sister again, and Retton was very sorry he missed you
Please do not disappoint my cousins or Lady Juliana. Ramsbury and
Edenfield will be more than welcome to you. I hope we can renew our
Letter 10 ~ Cassandra to Juliana
March 1, 1810
Juliana, what have you done! Only a day after sending my last letter,
James spoke about nothing but attending the birthday celebration at
I cannot be certain, but I assume you had something to do with the
invitation. Do you not have enough to worry about with your own life?
Must you continue to meddle in mine?
I do not know how to make myself more clear. I am not pleased. I
cannot go. I will not attend! Rumours would swirl, and James would be
Your plans will most assuredly come to a hideous end. Speaking of
which - your mother has returned to Ashland. She is planning on
visiting Ramsbury soon. Having her hover over you will most likely
stop your dangerous plots.
Please use the next few days to ponder upon the foolishness of your
schemes and cease them. For my sake, Juliana. I implore you!
Letter 11 ~ Juliana to Cassandra
March 3, 1810
My sweetest Cassie, I will not apologize for
seeking your happiness. Unfortunately, your letter warning me about
Mother arrived with her. I had just stepped out the front door, and
my heart leapt when I saw one of Ashland’s
carriages. I so hoped you had reconsidered and arrived early to scold
I waited eagerly for the carriage door to open. I
imagined all the fun we would have and all the times I could see you
blush under the weight of Lord Halithorpe’s
gaze. I longed to hear your justifications about your marriage and
witness you struggle with your temptations. My eager smile quickly
evaporated like a sad, unwanted raindrop. Mother and her most
disapproving glare jumped out of the carriage.