I never knew my homeland

Until I let it lie

Beyond the crowned escarpment

On the river’s brighter side

Give me again the easiness

Of one who does not know

What serves a delimitation

Or where wanderers go

That place that is a childhood

In itself, the world’s own heart

Never lost and never aching

For anything a river apart

To walk with

Only think of how I could make you again

In roses’ roots and the last atoms’ rays

In salt, the colours un-fading

Back to what they were

In the wildest farthest of days

Step from your dead ivory seat

To the bedrock, wet and gleaming

And if you walk to me

By Arjuna’s arrow you’ll see

Our thousand worlds above the reef

Denser text

Give me not what lighter meaning

Would happily bestow; the locks and transitives

Lead us but one way superseding

The wheels and wings and charged crossings

The empty spaces freely wandering

And all that was our blood’s first beating

Before ink and logic’s anchor sunk below

The pages folding ever thinner

And yet their bounds redoubling, stronger

Their weight, a snarled infinity in lignin round

So give me not the free words flying

The are the means unbound and will undying

No false simplicity as it came before

But eat and speak as we are given

The parenthetical a trench as surely

As we read, and could no more go erring

Though laughter still would leave us dreaming

Or the bee in blue-bright autumn fell to ground

Her Twenty-Seventh Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

Dearest Kate,

This missive, written so close upon the heels of the last, is a function of the limitations of the human body. Although events were still very much in motion after my impromptu run to the post office, my pen-hand was exhausted and I was burning the midnight oil, so to speak – not midnight to be exact, but even ten o’clock is a late hour the night after one has had much too much to drink.

May I just say your plans for a new window-box herb garden sound wonderful? So calm and soothing. I daresay I ought to build one as well.

When I returned home from the post office, at more regular pace and having smoothed my hair the best I could (although I still looked a fright, I saw in the looking-glass as I got back), I was dismayed to find Mr. Ridegtop still there. Mostly stone-faced, but also slightly bemused, he was sitting at my kitchen table. In my favourite chair. I do admit that I have only two chairs, and one very rickety indeed, but I still felt obscurely infringed upon. Not to mention that my dearest wish at the moment was to wash up and change my clothes.

He began by asking me what was the matter, whether there had been some emergency. I told him no, there was nothing. Perfectly lovely morning (in fact, it was the afternoon, and I dearly desired solitude so I could shudder over what I could remember of that letter I’d written). He asked whether this was a convenient time to discuss my findings. I lied that yes, of course it was.

Mr. Ridgetop did his infamous raised eyebrows, as if I needed anything more to regret undertaking that conversation at that particular moment, and I stubbornly pressed on, asking if he would like some tea.

I had the sense from his response, albeit in the affirmative, that Mr. Ridgetop is not a tea-drinker. But he did seem all too apt an observer as I flailed about with my aching and wobbly head, struggling with the new stove and generally making a farce of the tea-brewing process, whilst simultaneously trying to hide my dirty dishes.

It was likely a relief to us both when I sat down, the teapot and two cups on the table. My discourse then was neither as orderly nor as convincing as I had planned, for I had forgotten all the fine wording that I had put into my report thus far. Perhaps in an effort to reacquire the knowledge by visual osmosis, my eyes kept straying to the bookshelf where I had last stuffed my papers in order to clear the table – to the point that Mr. Ridgetop asked me if there were something on his shoulder. However, I managed to communicate the main ideas, and I told Mr. Ridgetop that I had intended to raise both the development of the limestone deposits and the well-drilling regulations with the County Authority. As for the potash, I was not sure if there were sufficient local demand by crop farmers to warrant investment at the moment.

Mr. Ridgetop, who had been quiet during this time and had hardly drunk half his tea (in the meantime I had polished off most of the pot), finally spoke up.

“You have been busier than I knew, Ms. Walker. Afraid I’m not sure of the uses of this potash stuff, but when it comes to matters like a limestone quarry, and the number of wells we can drill hereabouts, I’m afraid there might be a spot of difficulty with the County. They’re apt to allow folks to raise only one issue per township at a time.”

“Do you mean I could not, after all, bring both matters before them at once? That seems rather inefficient, if I should have to go back a month later or some-such.”

“Well. More like a year later, Ms. Walker.”

“A whole year?” I was flabbergasted.

“Seems they feel they have more than enough business to deal with, and when it comes to major items like changes to County regulations, or development permits, as of a few years back the Councillors decided to limit deliberations to only one issue per township per year. Supposed to be fair for all. It’s an informal rule; you can submit as many things as you like for their consideration, only they won’t actually look at more than one.”

It was a sorry end to the airing of all my great ideas, Kate. I did not have much to say in the face of this bureaucratic reality. Mr. Ridgetop took his leave after I informed him, with a growling stomach, still-messy hair, and as much dignity as I could muster, that I would continue to work from my cabin that day, but that I would be back in the Office on Monday.

I am almost sorry to find him a more reasonable human being that I first thought. Makes me look very silly, I think. But I should not be choosy when I have gone and offended all the cattle ranchers around Kingstowne.

With all my love,


P.S. Hardly got any work done during the remainder of the day, with my rotten head and that letter to Edward hanging over me like the sword of Damocles. I feel positively sick.


What hold the lights,

What hold the sounds –

What silence scares me so

I ask nothing more than seeming

Mooring against the undertow

The land we knew

The land we forgot

Has never been and never will

And we carve ourselves poor crevices

Paste where glass once glowed

Only let me keep the stories

That can never be my own

The laughter of a dozen strangers

The comfort of a kingly home

What hold the light,

What hold the sounds

But a papery sanctuary

Against a sea long lost in changing

And the charts that sinking go

Her Twenty-Sixth Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

Dearest Kate,

You are the kindest and best of friends for endeavouring to refute Miss Dell’s every charge; but although she may have been mistaken in many things, there may be a grain of truth in what she said. I seem to find something wrong everywhere I go since arriving in Kingstowne, and after one or two instances one must begin to question whether oneself is the problem, and not everything else. I must avow that since the beginning I have remained afraid that my taking this post has been a mistake. It has not gained me Edward’s attentions, that is for sure, and what a horrid reason that is to have taken the post – far from the solemn motivations one would expect of a District Officer of the British Empire. But more, alas, on Edward forthwith.

There is good and ill. No, I did not go to the County Authority in Taybridge Tuesday last, and I also did not go to the Office for the rest of the week following the two-pronged attack by the ladies and Mr. Ridgetop. Instead I imitated that most noble of animals, the turtle. I sent word by means of Mrs. O’Shaughnessey’s youngest girl that I was indisposed, and I withdrew into my shell, working from my kitchen table (after shimming two of its legs) and Lorenzo’s back. A clandestine trip to the Office late Tuesday night provided me with all the documents I needed to continue with my study of the Plateau.

The town at night, without a soul to concern me, agreed with my digestion. I went out for a walk the following night as well. And the night after.

Only during such wanderings after dark was my attention drawn to the saloon, tucked behind the main street. I had not paid the building much notice at all during the day, being rather small and nondescript, and a good ways from the Haverly. But with a healthy murmur of voices and light streaming from within, past sunset it made itself the centre of town.

It is both fascinating and alienating to prowl past such a bright and busy place, alone at night. And the fact that the saloon was already on my mind may help to explain my accepting Mr. Ridgetop’s invitation on Friday evening.

I had a knock at my cabin door on Friday afternoon. Recently returned from an outing with Lorenzo, and mapping out my latest measurements at the table with a cup of tea, I rose expecting Mrs. O’Shaughnessey on some errand or other. “Good afternoon,” was out of my mouth before I saw Mr. Ridgetop – and of course I was evidently hale and hearty, and not ill at all, standing right before him. Mr. Ridgetop was not so delicate as to hide his taking in of this fact, looking me up and down with raised eyebrows.

But in the course of the past few days I had become angry, Kate. Angry to a breaking point, in fact. Even if Miss Dell and Mr. Ridgetop had been largely correct – instead of largely mistaken – in what they said to me, they were abominably rude to do so, particularly on such short acquaintance, and with no prior explanation of themselves. One does not simply run about picking apart the behaviour of one’s neighbours, out of the blue and directly to their faces – the natural order of things should fall into chaos, I am sure, if we were so outrageous. After all, for what did we invent notes, and rumours, and passive-aggressive asides? (You know I am not entirely serious, Kate. Yet in the event that one is unable to have a sensible discussion, any of the former three would be preferable to full-frontal assault).

So I was angry, and I am unashamed to say that I glared openly at Mr. Ridegtop, just as openly as he was staring at me. I do not know whether he was taken aback by this or not, but instead of answering my “Good afternoon” he straightaway said that he was going to the saloon that evening, and Old Man Lorelli could not come as usual, but would I like to join him around eight o’clock.

How lovely it is to feel that zeal for battle with one’s enemies, instead of merely wishing to run away. I told him “Yes, thank you”, and shut the door in his face, which was very satisfying.

This, Kate, is the “good” that I mentioned. It was nearly suppertime already, and although I had felt rotten for days, I was almost happy in the righteous indignation with which I flew about, eating cold odds and ends and getting myself dressed as carefully as a knight must fuss with his armour. I have the suspicion that I shall not be attending any more barn dances, or dinners, or teas with the Thurstons and their set, so I took one of my new dresses, those absurdly expensive things the young ladies coaxed me into buying, and I put it on with the greatest contentment in thinking a saloon might be the finest establishment it should ever grace.

I even powdered my nose, and did that trick with the faintest bit of rouge on my mouth like you showed me, years ago. Of course, the rouge disappeared with my first glass.

I arrived at the saloon quite punctually, and I should have liked to have been further miffed by Mr. Ridgetop’s being late, but unfortunately he was already at a table, clearing a supper plate. To mollify myself I strode straight past him to the bar and ordered a beer. Is it not plain, Kate, that I was quite out of my senses? Without having drunk a drop I don’t believe I cared for anything. I even tossed my head as I cut him, and as I had let my hair down from its braids, it was most fluffy and jaunty a gesture.

Drinking did not improve my behaviour, as you may have guessed. Thus comes the “bad”.

I had not had anything by way of alcohol since leaving England. I also had not eaten what one might properly call a meal before I went to the saloon. The beer slid to me over the counter was all the more delicious for how long it had been since my last (my first years at university, when sneaking out to places we ought not to have been), and my first sip (well, gulp) had me one fourth of the way down the glass before I glanced up over the rim and saw that Mr. Ridgetop had sidled over and was not quite looking at me.

“A table… Miss Walker, if I may…”

He turned about to try and show me to his table, rather maladroitly, I would note, but it was clear to me that I did not want to sit in the midst of the saloon. One cannot see the comings and goings from there, and one is altogether too seen; besides, the tables along the side had benches, which sported cushions rather than bare wooden seats. I declared my preference (I did add, “should it not incommode you”, at least) as Mr. Ridgetop was pulling out a chair (likely for me, now that I think of it). He put back the chair, and I selected a bench and table to my liking.

As I have already mentioned is not a large saloon, Kate, and I thank all the stars and comets that there were only two or three other people there. For I sat down, and with another healthy swig of beer I felt perfectly ready to speak my mind. I waited only for Mr. Ridgetop to settle down with his own beer, and then I sprung.

“Do you know, I have found yourself and others here rather lacking in consideration, Mr. Ridgetop. Let us not speak of Monday afternoon just now, for I have no interest in that” at which, I am sorry to say, the sarcasm was thick, “but let us, perhaps, go back to the very beginning. I have no idea why there should be a local allergy to clocks here, but I really must inform you that you are short eighty-nine hours at the Office – and that is only since the resumption of your normal duties after my arrival. Eleven more, and as per the Regulations, I will be forced to report you to the Head Office back in London. As you can imagine I don’t appreciate being put to such trouble.”

Yes, this was how I had planned my offensive, which I had been rehearsing since afternoon. And Mr. Ridgetop looked just as startled as I had envisioned. Ever since finding and reading the District Regulations for the Township of Kingstowne I had been storing up that information, agonizing over how and whether I should deliver a warning. Now that he had broken diplomatic protocol, as I saw it, I opened with a bang.

“Is that so…? Eleven more, you say?”

“That is so. Perhaps your time sheet could use some attention before any business of whether or not I talk of this or that, which some folk may or may not desire, and which may or may not have a perfectly sensible solution – as I have already explained – down in Taybridge. But never mind me. The lot of you with your limestone and potash – and too many heifers for an absurd paucity of wells – can just continue on as you always have.”

To be honest I was proud of that speech at the time, my beer quaffed and a hankering for whisky creeping on. I signalled to the barman.

“Miss – ”

“Ms., please.” And I ordered the first of two ill-fated whiskies.

“Ms. Walker. I have been thinking that we ought to start afresh.”

“Is that so?” I pretended disinterest Kate, but even I did not find myself convincing.

“Your Mrs. Brougham was at the waffle breakfast the other day, when I, ah, happened to be airing some opinions. On the matter of the rancher wells.”

My Mrs. Brougham?” I managed to stop myself from adding “Waffle breakfast?”, despite an immediate surge of resentment at not being invited to such a thing. I took another sip; the whisky was not particularly good, but I smiled at the retreating barman. He had told me his name but I had already forgotten it, and this was worrying me.

“Yes. Mrs. Brougham. She took exception to one or two remarks.”

Now it was not surprising that Mrs. Brougham should contradict someone, but in my favour? I goggled at Mr. Ridgetop. “Do you mean to say Mrs. Brougham vouched for me?”

“Not – not precisely.”

I stared at him.

“Well, her precise words were that you were an oblivious milksop.”

I should have known. I did not get any waffles, and then this. I stuck my nose back into my whisky, wondering how on earth I could get even with a being such as Mrs. Brougham, but Mr. Ridgetop was still speaking.

“I must own, Ms. Walker, that I have taken you to be rather standoffish. Humourless, perhaps.”


“Well you certainly did not seem to appreciate any of my own jokes.”

“Jokes?” I asked. Mr. Ridgetop looked rather surly.

“When we first became acquainted, Ms. Walker. You did not seem amused.”

Kate, for the life of me I do not recall Mr. Ridgetop making a joke when first I met him, or ever after. However, I did lean back on that cushy bench and promptly begin laughing at him. The world brightened up again. Had had my wits about me, I should have worried at how very comfy and cozy the saloon was seeming

“For heaven’s sake, Mr. Ridgetop! A girl just arrived from overseas, with a hundred worries on her mind, and you her senior at the District Office – she fails to laugh at a joke at yours, when she is surely thinking of six dozen other things, and so in high dudgeon you deem her humourless? There, now. You have succeeded in making me laugh.”

Mr. Ridgetop’s mouth opened and shut, the saloon was most agreeable, and I ordered the second whisky.

“Well this has been quite the experience,” I remarked. “I think I shall go home tomorrow.”

Mr. Ridgetop seemed confused. “Tomorrow? Not tonight?”

“Of course not tonight, for there are no airships to be had at one’s whim at ten – er, ten-thirty pm on a Friday. People here make things much too difficult, you know. Oblivious milksop, is it? Well nobody tells me anything, and then I am somehow supposed to do everything right. I call those unrealistic standards. If I am to be subjected to unrealistic standards then at least I would like them to be those I am more familiar with.”

I may have pouted – you know how one’s mood can change so quickly when drinking. Mr. Ridgetop may have looked amused, but at that point I was aware that I was drunk and meant to pout in earnest, not for anybody’s amusement.

“You don’t really mean to return to England, do you?”

“Why shouldn’t I? I have ruffled more feathers here than in all my life in England thus far. And the man I love is there, you know.” Taking a sip, I believe I was imagining myself as some wistful heroine. I do not want to know how I really looked.

“I see. Ms. Walker, what were you saying about limestone?”

My glass was emptying again, Kate, and I was most offended by this baldfaced change of subject on Mr. Ridgetop’s part. I was thinking of Edward’s eyebrows and answered only grudgingly.

“Why, only all the nonsense in your backyard that no one has bothered either to develop or to stake out for conservation. This really is cow country.”

“Ms. Walker, do you think you might come back to the office tomorrow?” Mr. Ridgetop had the effrontery to steal my nearly-empty glass from me as he spoke, quite the effective distraction. “I should like to hear more about your thoughts on the matter.”

“I find my cabin much more comfortable, thank you.”

“Then… perhaps I might call on you. In the afternoon?” he was eyeing me in an almost worried manner which was to make more sense to me the next day. But at the time thoughts of my cabin began to supplant the attractiveness of the saloon and I waved my assent, saying that of course he might call if he needed to discuss anything, and perhaps we should both turn in for the moment.

“Yes. May I walk you back?”

“By all that the Earth is round, Mr. Ridgetop, Kingstowne is not such a maze that I should fail to find my way home! Good evening, good evening.”

My overriding thought, Kate, was to be alone. But how little I was to be trusted! I flew off, very drunk indeed, and made a beeline for my cabin. For my writing desk. And it was only when the foreshadowed knock came at my door the next day, startling me up from bed with a nasty headache, that the fog over my late-night escapades began to clear, and I remembered the letter I had written before falling into bed.

Headache and all, I jumped into trousers and a shirt, and I bolted outside, my half-salutation to Mr. Ridgetop doubtless lost in the wind. I ran all the way to the post office, but it was too late. As the angle of the sun told my sinking heart long before I arrived, it was well past noon, and all the letters dropped in the mailbox up to that morning had been dutifully carried away by Kai, the postman. Among them, a drunken poem and confession of my undying love for Edward.

Your newly-sober,


P.S. Please do not try to console me. I know how perversely efficient the post will be just when I would most wish otherwise, and have very little hope of the letter being lost. Maybe a fire on board one of the little cutters, if I am lucky.


Her Twenty-Fifth Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

Dearest Kate.

You ask whether my lot has improved since that dinner at the Thurstons. I am afraid it has only gotten worse.

I dropped your previous letter in the post-office box on Monday morning, and Miss Thurston and Miss Dell came to the Office on Monday afternoon. Ostensibly for tea, each with a picnic basket under her arm, but we all three knew why they were really there. Veritable steel under their smiles.

Blessedly, Mr. Ridgetop stepped out partway through this torturous interval. Miss Dell, with her dark eyes very large and serious, relieved Miss Thurston in taking the offensive, but when the same arguments did not produce the effect she desired, she disarmed me by asking whether or not I was happy in Kingstowne.

My uncertainty plainly showed, although I answered in the positive. Miss Dell tossed her head, and said that I should not be happy unless I determined to like the place instead of looking down upon it – that she saw in me a person determined always to be reserved and unsatisfied – and that I could begin doing better, by having more care for my acquaintances. Otherwise, I had no real business staying, and should do better giving the Office up to someone else.

With that assault they left, taking the last of the crumpets with them.

I believe I was still in shock, Kate, when Mr. Ridgetop returned on the heels of the ladies’ departure. When he asked me what “that” had been all about, words slipped out rather in spite of me. I told him that I had the prospect of going to the County Authority in Taybridge the very next day, in order to argue in favour of digging more wells. I had intended to wait until I could bring other development projects as well – but it seemed people thought that unwise – although I had also intended to prepare myself better, in general… I said a number of things, all of them confused.

Mr. Ridgetop just looked at me, and finally said, “I suppose its no surprise, with all the dances and teas those ranchers have been giving you.”

Perhaps a ten second delay, it was, before I took his meaning and felt myself go red from tip to toe. It was most unjust – I had not even decided to go – and even if I were to go, why should he insinuate such a thing?

I turned around, back to my desk, and I heard Mr. Ridgetop sit down as well, and his pen began scratching away. But I could not read a single word. I took a handful of papers at random and now I am home, with the cabin door barred although it is broad daylight, still unable to read and mostly just dreaming of other ways I could block out the world.

Your unfortunate,


P.S. I have been through my accounts and I have enough to buy my passage back to England and return with some savings to show for myself. But England means Edward, and Edward has not written. How small I am, Kate, and yet I have something humiliating awaiting me on two separate landmasses.


Her Twenty-Fourth Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

My dear cousin,

Raised as we both were by fathers who disapproved of every ha-penny spent on a cut of meat too fine, every extra log thrown on the fire when the barethermeter was already at 1.014-and-nineteen – in short, every luxury that a great many people of middling comfort would deem in fact a necessity of life – surely you must know that feeling of great exultation in the vicinity of one’s wallet when one has, serendipitously, avoided a significant expense.

No longer at The Haverly, it is my own responsibility to launder my things now, and I chose to do so on Sundays, when I am not at all at the Office. And lucky I was to happen to go home for lunch on Saturday, and to see Mrs. O’Shaughnessey, at about one o’clock in the afternoon, catapult herself out of the big farmhouse towards her laundry line, a veritable Fury, and begin stuffing everything back into her basket. Taking a good look around, I thought I saw a similar commotion through the hedgerow, at the Price’s farmhouse just south.

There was something a little too embarrassing about stopping to ask my new landlady about such odd behaviour, particularly with her husband and children’s underwear in hand. So on my way back to the Office I popped in to the General Store to buy a peppermint, and to ask, just as I happened to be there, whether Mr. Lorelli knew anything about it.

As it happens, the afternoon sun in New Britain has an especial enmity for clothing, and is liable to bleach or discolour a good neckcloth in a matter of hours (bed linens and tablecloths, apparently, go unscathed). I had been living in blissful ignorance of this, but ever since I have been alive to the 1pm rush of housewives on sunny days.

So on Sunday morning I washed and hung my things out behind the cabin, where they are somewhat out of sight, and once I heard the whistle up at the main house, and Mrs. O’Shaughnessey’s swearing (for she is rather short for her laundry line), I also ran out to get my clothes. Thus were my garments preserved from a menace I should never have imagined, and I shall take similarly good care of my new dresses – what a horror, should one of those be ruined! It would amount to burning pound notes.

The whistle up at Mrs. O’Shaughenesseys’, by the way, is a little device every Kingstownian housewife seems to have hanging in a kitchen or parlour window. I cannot recall the name of the chemical, but a jar filled with this substance, once hit by the sun, will let off an excess of gas; when the sun is strong enough, this gas trickles through esoterically curved little pipes and screams out. This –


I had left off, Kate, thinking to finish this letter later, but I have quite forgot whatever I meant to write about the sun or the laundry or the whistling jar.

Sunday evening was a big dinner up at the Thurstons’. The Coopers were there, and no sooner had I sat down to the table then Mr. Cooper – who was on my left – told me he was up to Taybridge on Tuesday, and should be very happy to take me.

Now I had already a number of things planned for the week, including another ride out to the Marlin Plateau, besides not being at all prepared for a meeting of the County Authority. To be frank, I have not even established what I should need to bring before the Councillors. I smoothed out my napkin on my knees and thanked Mr. Cooper but said I should not be ready, and there were other matters I ought to study first before making the journey.

My napkin was nice and smooth and perhaps I imagined this but it seemed quiet in the dining room. I looked up, and had the eerie sense that people were turning back to their conversation partners just a moment before I set eyes on them again, whilst Miss Thurston, across from me, was unmistakably frowning.

Mr. Cooper pressed me on the matter of Taybridge, Kate, there is no other way to describe it. He expounded upon the great importance of the wells, and the comfort of his carriage, and told me I should be doing the town a deal of good. What else, he asked, should I need to study about the matter?

I declare I hardly tasted the soup, I was so uncomfortable. I offered up some nonsense about wishing to be well prepared to make my case, and then, for good measure, that I wished to present additional matters for their consideration when I did make the journey, such as the development of Kingstowne’s mineral assets.

“Mineral assets?”

The tone conveyed something between dismissal and disappointment, and many eyes were unmistakably on me at that point. Miss Thurston, frown gone, swooped in with a call for anecdotes from the latest dance, and the conversation turned; but with the icy silence of Mr. Cooper to one side, the simple pleasantries of Mr. Harlowe to my right were no panacea against my pleading a headache before dessert, and retiring.

However, Miss Thurston found me in the hall on my way out. And there she plainly told me that it should be unkind of me not to go up to Taybridge with Mr. Cooper, when he had taken such pains to arrange things for me; that everyone thought it a very good idea; that they had all considered me a friend, since my coming her; and that surely I must be interested in the livelihoods of one’s friends.

I do not know what I answered, Kate. I left feeling that I was not Georgia to any of them, but a mouth to the ear of the County Authority, and the government across the sea.

I wonder that I was calling any of these young ladies my friends.

Missing you greatly,