Authors: Laura Kinsale
Cambourne House, Calcutta
15 October, 1800
My dear Cousin Charles,
I disturb your peace at my father’s behest. He wishes me to investigate the progress of a lawsuit concerning the proper location of a hedgerow. Knowing and caring nothing of this hedgerow except that it languishes, properly or improperly, in Shropshire, I beg you will do me the favor of not replying to this inquiry.
Lt. Robert Cambourne
1 Bttn. 10th Regt.
P.S. However, if by chance you should happen to send me a copy of Malory’s
Le Morte D’Arthur,
I should be forever in your debt, as my own has been appropriated by a mongoose. You may apply to the East India Company offices in Leadenhall Street to cover the expense.
20 April, 1801
My Dear Lieutenant Cambourne,
As my husband, Mr. Charles Hamilton, suffers from a severe attack of greenfly to his roses, it falls to me to acknowledge your inquiry. He tells me that you are a third cousin of his, so I am afraid, sir, that in the name of familial duty we cannot in conscience comply with your request to ignore you. You may inform your father that the hedgerow is still in Shropshire, and shows every intention of remaining there as long as the lawyers have a breath left to make out their bills.
From your petition concerning the Malory, I deduce that you are an admirer of King Arthur and his Round Table? I delight in encouraging these notions of chivalry amongst the gentlemen, in hopes that someday some particularly astute knight errant will at last discover that under my paisley shawl and mobcap I am actually a royal princess in disguise. With this ambition in mind, and it being a slow day in Toot-above-the-Batch, quite flat after the elopement of the cook’s piglet with the blacksmith’s goose (they were missing overnight and found disporting themselves in a most disgraceful manner under the bridge, I am sorry to say, and so the piglet’s reputation is in shambles), I took it upon myself to pursue the matter of your Malory. I walked to Tetham to see if I might discover a copy. I am most pleased, gallant knight, to present to you a fine edition, well-bound, as you will see. Never mind Leadenhall Street, you are to consider it a birthday present—I feel quite sure you must have a birthday. I send it with great satisfaction in the notion that it will travel from Tetham to Toot to some dark Indian jungle, perhaps transported upon elephants, or balanced on the head of a Native. I must warn you to keep your armor well-polished in such conditions, as humidity will be the worst thing for it.
Ft. William, Calcutta
17 September, 1801
My dear Cousin Folie,
What a pretty name you have! The Malory arrived (in a sepoy’s pack, rather than upon an elephant, but I assure you that he was an excessively fierce and exotic-looking fellow in a turban). Thank you. I did not actually expect you to trouble yourself. My feelings are a little difficult to convey, I find. I am not a hand at letters. Thank you. I am keeping my armor brightly polished.
Ft. William, Calcutta
19 September, 1801
My dear Cousin Folie,
A Brahmin mystic and magician has informed me that your birthday is the 20th of March. I even have some unreasonable confidence that this will reach you in time. I thought it was rather pretty, like your name. The pearl is from the China Sea; it came in a pirate ship. I hope that I may have the pleasure of continuing to write to you.
20 March, 1802
I think your Brahmin must be a powerful conjurer, for your present arrived precisely upon my birthday. I am twenty today, and I have never been past Tetham in my life, but now I have a pearl that has come all the way round the world to me, as your letters do. How I shall treasure them both! This morning I have put on my best blue dimity dress, pinned the bodice with your pearl stick and pranced all about the village, ruthlessly lording it over Miss Morpeth, who considers herself cosmopolitan because she has been twice to Shrewsbury. Even your cousin Melinda, who frowns upon me as only an eight-year-old can frown upon her stepmother, has admitted that I am a passable sight today, while our gardener has handsomely pronounced me “done to a cow’s thumb.” I must tell you, sweet knight, that Mr. Hamilton calls me a sad flirt, and says that gentlemen who send me pearl stickpins had better guard their hearts or they will find themselves helplessly caught in my toils. You are therefore requested and required to avoid falling in love with me, my dear Lieutenant Cambourne, and under those terms you may send me all the letters and pearls that you like. Indeed I do hope you will write to me again, and tell me about what you see from your window, or your tent, or wherever you may be. Tell me the color of the sky, and the feel of the air, and the sounds you hear, for I should like to know it all. Tell me what you did this morning. Did anyone make you angry? Did anything make you laugh? I so wonder what your life is like in that place, sweet knight.
P.S. However weirdly exotic you may be, I’m quite sure you have nothing to match Mrs. Nettle’s new hat.