I was honoured to make your distinguished acquaintance at the home of my cousin, Mrs Lennox, last month. I thank you for the felicitations you sent recently upon the announcement of my betrothal to Mr John Thornton of Milton. I was most gratified by your condescension, for I know it is not commonly thought of as a fashionable marriage. Nevertheless, I am delighted, and doubly gratified for your friendship and support at such a joyous time. I hope to continue our acquaintance. Mr Thornton and I would be honoured to receive you in Milton if you ever have cause to visit our fair city.
My dear girl,
The honour was, as you might be assured, entirely mine. Why, what a delight it was to find such a bright and merry blossom in that familiar drawing room, nestled safely amongst chintz and chinoiserie.
For a moment one was quite transported back to one’s own betrothal, many moons since, for I was not always the sensible, respectable old fellow you witnessed sipping tea beside the hearth. Treasure the moments as they pass, for the years are gone in the blink of an eye. Indeed, my dearest Mrs Wickham might tell you a tale or two of fashionable marriages or otherwise, though she is given to romance as much as she is given to the acquisition of millinery.
Our home is open to you and to your husband, of course, surely the most fortunate gentleman in the land.
My dear Mr Wickham,
You are kindness itself, and my humble words are insufficient to express my gratitude for your heartfelt well wishes. I suppose it is natural for a woman approaching marriage to feel so, but I have been most bereft without my dear father. It is with the greatest pleasure that I anticipate maintaining our correspondence. You may imagine that my engagement to a Milton manufacturer has engendered dismay in one or two quarters, and I am warmed by your open congratulation. I am assured that upon an introduction to my dear Mr Thornton, one of your experiences and discernment cannot help but admire him as I do.
I would dearly love to meet your lady wife, should circumstances ever permit. I understand she is a woman of accomplishment and lively spirits, as well as impeccable taste. I myself am a woman of modest conventions, but my future home in Milton is rather a deal larger than I have ever fancied for myself. It is a sombre, utilitarian home, and I am afraid it has been appointed in a most severe, ornate old fashion. My future husband is all goodness and generosity toward my own sense of décor, but it would never do to disrespect my future mother-in-law’s ways. Should your dear Mrs Wickham find it within her means, I would cherish a visit from her, not to mention a few well-placed suggestions regarding what subtle improvements might be made to brighten the dreary aspect of the home without causing undue discord to unsettle our domestic harmony.
Here I must pause to apologise for the length of this letter. My dear Mr Thornton returns to London on the morrow for a visit, and I find myself a curious flutter of nerves. My cousin has retired for the evening and writing serves to calm my spirits when sleep is fleeting. Good sir, have I adequately expressed to you my admiration for the man I shall marry? Though not a gentleman by birth, nor even quite so in manner, he is decidedly gentlemanly in honour and character. That he should deem me worthy of himself, I am not a little astonished.
I know you will be good enough to pardon my ramblings, for you have told me of the great love you bore your own life partner and the felicity you have found in your marriage. I must beg your leave to impose upon you yet a little further. If it is convenient, Mr Thornton and I would be deeply honoured if you and your dear Mrs Wickham could attend us upon the occasion of our nuptials. It would gladden our hearts to be surrounded by wisdom and good will.
I remain yours most respectfully,
My dear girl,
What a joy it was to receive your letter and please, make no apologies for its length, I might happily have read tenfold the pages and still wished for more. Indeed, as my dear wife will tell you, there is naught that gives me greater cheer than the company of friends, be it around the table, beside the fire or contained in the pages of a letter. A most fragrant letter, in this case, and all the more welcome for it!
A Milton manufacturer, a militiaman from the shire, both are likely to excite a good deal of concerned whispering amongst the friends and family of the bride to be, eh? Indeed, what a tale I might tell you of my own courtship, but the ramblings of an old fellow like myself can hold little interest to a young lady with the whole world to discover. I do not know the gentleman in question but a gentleman he must be if he has won the heart of such a lady and on the day that I make his acquaintance I shall be sure to congratulate him as warmly as I do you. Let the people who thrive on the business of others be dismayed with all the might and disapproval they can muster until they blow themselves out as surely as a north wind, for such gossip always finds itself diverted before the wedding supper has grown cold on the table.
My wife, the fragrant Mrs Wickham, does not respond well to words such as sombre and utilitarian, whilst severe is likely to bring her out in a vapour. I have conveyed your very kind invitation to her and she is, my dear, very keen to accept. Our own houses are far, far and might I add another, far from sombre, but quite the opposite. Indeed, upon returning from business overseas to welcome the most recent addition to our legion of grandchildren, I was surprised to find that our calm retreat from town had been transformed into a scene from the most elaborate of Egyptian temples, full of colour and light and what one can only term eye-opening antiquities. To that we might add Mrs Wickham’s previous penchants for ancient Rome, the court of Camelot, the Venetian palaces and so it goes on. When my wife was appointed mistress of our first home she expressed her most entertaining personality in her millinery, now she has made our drawing rooms her canvas! She is not all Marie Antoinette and magnificence though, and has it in her power to be subtle in her decoration when no gold and gilt is to be allowed, so never fear!
And now I find that I have reached the portion of this letter that has been giving me cause for a most broad and cheerful aspect this past day. Your invitation to attend your nuptials was, I must confess, as unexpected as it was welcome and it is my honour and privilege to accept on behalf of my dear wife and myself. I shall look forward to the day with all the hearty excitement one’s grandchildren show the approach of Christmas, for to be witness to such a blessed event might well add a little more coal to this old man’s embers.
With respectful wishes from the court of Nefertiti…
I shared your most recent letter with my dear Mr Thornton and he was excessively diverted. I know that you framed your response in all sincerity, but such arrangements as you describe are so far from his experience that he naturally assumed you to be in jest. He is most eager to make your acquaintance, for I think it has been some while since he laughed so heartily.
I must confess myself in awe of Mrs Wickham’s talents. I think perhaps my future sister, Mrs Watson, would no doubt admire your home so much as to wish to emulate it in every particular. I understand that she has recently undertaken some dramatic improvements of her own involving Indian wallpaper, but I have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing the effect for myself.
I regret to observe that Mrs Wickham might find all of Milton rather stark and dreary after such a gay and colourful existence as she enjoys. We are a developing industrial city, and though I am proud of Milton’s place in the kingdom- as well as my betrothed’s influence thereof- it is sadly deficient in more genteel ornamentation. We have no fine parks or walks, and I fear your lady wife would find the architecture most appallingly bland and cold. The rude picture of endless solid gray stone after the beauty of my native Hampshire sent me into such a shock as to cause me to question all I had ever known. I learned precisely how coddled my experiences in the ambrosial southern counties had been!
I would be intrigued to hear your experienced opinions on Milton, for I do remember something of our first conversation upon the occasion of our meeting. You propounded most eloquently on the subjects of industry and international relations, and I sensed that perhaps there was a deal more you would have shared, had you not the grace to avoid monopolising my aunt’s table. John- pray forgive me for writing so informally of him, for my pen had etched the name by which I now know him before I had quite corrected myself.
John, as you may imagine, is a man of rather forceful character and strong opinions, but he was fascinated by what I told him of your reminiscences from your travels abroad. I believe he intends to ask you some rather pointed questions, and I beg you would take no offence to his direct manner. He has been described as a “bulldog” on more than one occasion, but allow me to assure you that his bark is far more terrifying than his bite.
I am eagerly anticipating next Wednesday, the day on which I shall take my dear John’s name and home as my own- not least of all that it shall answer my wish for at last introducing you both. My cousin Mrs Lennox has requested the honour of your company at dinner on Tuesday evening, and I must seriously enjoin you to accept. I can think of no more delightful way to pass the final evening of my maidenhood than in the company of those dear to me.
Captain Lennox, whom I understand to have been your protégé of sorts, shall escort me to the church in my father’s stead. It would, however, give me the greatest pleasure if you and Mrs Wickham would deign to grace my family’s pew beside my Aunt Shaw and Mrs Lennox. Knowing your humble gallantry as I do, I imagine you will believe me to be simply humouring you with my request, but you see, that side of the church shall be conspicuously vacant if you do not accept. My cousin believes she has done me a great service in filling the rearward pews with her friends, but it is always the faces in the front of the church one searches for the sense of communion and continued fellowship so vital to two people building a new life together.
Once again I have written a disordered, protracted epistle, but I shall confidently claim all your assurances of pleasure in a lengthy correspondence. Please convey my heartfelt regards to Mrs Wickham. I hope this letter finds you both well.
My dear girl,
What can a fellow of my advanced years ask for other than the knowledge that he has made a gentleman laugh? Especially, I might be so bold to say, a gentlemen who has already shown such wisdom as to choose such a fine young lady as his bride. I must confess that I am very frequently given to jest for it is a fine manner of ensuring one’s survival in the harshest territory – be it marital or militaristic!
Before I go any further along the page let me tell you that your kind invitation to take a seat in your family’s pew on your happy day brought this old soldier up short. Captain Lennox is well known and most dear to our family and to take such an esteemed place on Wednesday will be an honour. Before marriage bestowed upon me enough offspring and grandchildren with which to fill a small continental principality, I too had little family of which to speak and Mrs Wickham and I will take our place in the church with pride, though an entirely acceptable amount of pride given the auspicious surroundings, I assure you!
Now, on the subject of Indian wallpaper, I confess myself an amateur. Address me on Indian military manoeuvres, the necessary pain of navigating the vagaries of Indian transport and the eye-opening ways of some Indian ladies – from an entirely academic point of view, of course – and I might write a volume, but wallpaper defeats me. My wife remarks that it is not for a mere man to understand such weighty matters, and that the mysteries of wallpapers are best left to your own superior sex and I, a simple fellow, must bow to her arcane wisdom.
I have seen Milton and find if at odds with all that Mrs Wickham holds dear when considering her décor but, I think, it will not always be so. Why, once a city becomes known as a place where one makes money, then the delightful Mrs Wickhams of this world will flock there like particularly ornate, happy sheep and in their wake come an army of shepherding milliners, carpenters, painters and seamstresses, their arms heavy with a rainbow of silks and paints. A little splash of gold here, a little touch of gilt there, some city planners with an eye on keeping those same ladies-who-spend happy and soon even the most glowering town takes on a touch of Nysa!
I believe that Milton is destined for great things amongst its industrial brethren but pray, let me confess it is a surprise and delight to converse with a lady who shows such a brain for business. Your new surroundings may be a world away from the bucolic pastures of your youth, but I think, if I may be so bold, that the city will be rendered all the brighter for your presence. Our own country retreat in Highgate is somewhat eccentric in aspect but you would be welcome here should you wish to spend some time amongst the meadows once again. Indeed, I do hope that you might accompany your husband and summer with us in Whitstable, where my most singular wife is currently plotting the creation of an Arabian desert palace in the dining room.
I have never been a man of forceful opinions and in my youth, I confess, I was on occasion somewhat slippery in my character, but an army life rather buffed off those less pleasing edges. It would be a pleasure to discuss my travels with your betrothed, and he may be as pointed as he might wish! I did once know a most charming bulldog, the companion of a fellow at the pinnacle of the Italian army. A curious creature, thick in body, flat in face, waddling and given to slobber. His dog, on the other hand, was quite adorable.
And so I must close and give dear Lydia my opinion on her newly-dressed hair, which will require all of my attention, as you might imagine. We shall be honoured to accept Mrs Lennox’s kind invitation to dinner next Tuesday and my dear, you and I shall talk our fellow diners into the ground, I am sure!
You must forgive an old man for taking up so much of your time, I have no excuses to offer other than sheer enjoyment of our correspondence. I shall look forward to Tuesday, and renewing our acquaintance in person.
With respectful wishes from the Arabian Nights,
… To Be Continued…