Her Twelfth Letter to Kate

Iowa Prairie Grasses by Randy Sprout | Landscape paintings, Grass painting,  Abstract landscape


Back to the Beginning

Dear Kate,

It is well that you saved the bit about my father’s headcold until he was better, and you had good news. I should have been uselessly worried otherwise, at the other end of the ocean, which we would be led to believe is flat as a well-made book…

I should dearly like to hear more of your wedding plans, as you make them. Will you be married from Layes Cottage? What will you have for the wedding breakfast, and have you already ordered your wedding clothes? I am hopeful that I may be able to take leave twice a year, for while Michaelmas is always spoken for, this would mean I could attend your nuptials! Honestly I do not know what I am and am not permitted.

The rules are rather vague here, not being written down anywhere that I can find, and I suspect there is a great deal I do not understand. Of course I knew there would be unknowns. But I am suffering from unknown unknowns as well, and this may as well be a flu of the most virulent kind, because I don’t know where I caught it, but it has laid me low for the past few days.

People here look at me in the queerest manner, and it is rare that I can get a straight answer out of anyone. My landlady still tends to ignore me, but at least that shopkeeper at the general store, Mr. Lorelli, continues verbose.

I put it off for two days before I gave in, and asked Mr. Lorelli where I could find Mr. Ridgetop. His eyebrows rose sky-high when I said that name.

Mr. Ridgetop, eh? Well miss, I imagine he isn’t in the office, or else you wouldn’t be asking. Can’t say I’m surprised. Well, you go on down Main Street, eastward, and ride a good fifteen minutes north by northeast. That’ll be his cabin there.”

There is only so long one can spend wading through undated, miscellaneous paperwork before it seems worthwhile to embark on such a trek, in the heat of the day, obviously without a horse, to speak to a person who has been derelict in their duties for no apparent reason. Despite my having seen Mr. Ridgetop working away in the office as I told you, Kate, I began to doubt my senses, and to think that he was no employee at all, for who would indifferently wander out on their new District Official? But Mr. Lorelli did confirm that Mr. Ridgetop has been employed with the District Office for nearly six years.

Now I am new to this matter of working as opposed to studying, and I imagine we are the same, Kate, in that our insides wriggle disgustingly at the idea of being anyone’s keeper. But I desperately needed someone to orient me, and so whether or not I wished to be someone’s “superior”, it seemed I had to go corral this Ridgetop.

So I began my hike to see this supposed subordinate of mine, and I will add an honest preface to this account by saying it was an error in judgment.

Firstly, I should be surprised if it were really only a quarter-hour on horseback. I walked for over an hour, and it was only after I had gone what seemed to be a long way – what I hoped to be at least halfway – that I began to regret my heavy trenchcoat, wonderful as it is against the dust, my lack of a hat, my lack of water, and my lack of a compass. I should never again like to rely upon my sense of direction alone in a strange place. Especially not one 70% comprised of identical, rolling swathes of grasses.

Secondly, once a small cabin finally did come into sight, I was overcome by hesitation. What if this were not his home? What my feet had not carried me in that poetic-sounding, yet imprecise direction called “north by northeast”? What, in fact, did I actually mean to say to him?

Thirdly, I had taken off my trench. This might seem sensible given the first item. But anyway.

I approached the place very slowly, given my internal debate, and as I drew nearer and nearer without coming to any conclusions, I drifted from the beaten footpath (hoofpath?), and paced back and forth, thinking and delaying the inevitable. Only, Kate, at that moment I was not conscious of the fact that there is no abundance of trees out on this plain. No bushes, hardly anything to interrupt one’s vision. I was completing another turn when the door of the cabin shot open so loudly I jumped.

“And what can I help you with, this morning, Miss Walker?”

Yes, that’s when I realized he could have seen me plainly, in my aimless snaking back and forth, from either of his front windows.

Well I did my best; re-composed myself, addressed him respectfully, by name, and asked when he would be coming in to the office.

“You walked out here to ask that…?”

I could not see his face in the glare of the sun, Kate, so I still don’t know what he meant there. But there was a long pause, and then he stepped back into his cabin, with a wave of the hand that seemed to mean I should follow him in.

I confess that for a moment I had visions of wild animals waiting inside, to rip me limb from limb, but it was accursedly hot, and so I went inside.

“Water, Miss Walker?”

With calm and great restraint I gracefully accepted. And I sipped as slowly as I could manage, sitting at his table, and desperately trying not to look around, which was impossible, because it was as small a place as you can conceive of. His table itself, Kate, was not broad enough to feel as though there were sufficient space for two place-settings. Mr. Ridgetop, opposite me, was frequently glancing off to one side and frowning. Clearly I had to undertake the mammoth’s share of the conversational work.

“You do still intend to continue work at the District Office, do you, Mr. Ridgetop…?”

“Do I?” he frowned at me in the most accountable manner.

“Well – well I should hope so, although I should never meddle in your affairs. If you do intend to continue on, I shall have a number of questions as I, ahm, get accustomed to the Office.” And here I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth. “In fact, I was hoping to rely somewhat on your guidance. I don’t mean to impose, however.”

Mr. Rigetop undertook a deeper study of the log wall to his right; I drank while trying not to gulp eagerly, and all around it was the most dismal thing imaginable.

“I can be in tomorrow around 9 o’clock,” was what he finally said. And I drained my cup to the bottom, stood, and said some sort of empty pleasantry, relieved and afire to get out of there.

Except that he frowned again, and went to a few hooks by the door, and took down a hat. I don’t recall the precise words he used, except that there was a pointed insinuation as to how foolish it looked to be traipsing about without one. I know I never should have gone without a bonnet in England, but I had thought things different here. More wild and free? Anyway, I didn’t see any way out without putting it on, and so I did, even though it smelled very strong indeed.

Thus I made my escape, in an ignominious, battered brown hat, and the only silver lining to this story is that the walk back to the inn seemed to pass more quickly that the walk out, although it was even hotter than before. I went up to my room with the intention of washing up before I went back to the office. But this, Kate, is what I saw in my mirror: a wild-haired, dirt-encrusted madwoman, face burned red as a beet, who’d sweated straight through her shirt and thus, without the trenchcoat, had been exposing her brassiere to the world.

Needless to say I gave myself the remainder of the afternoon off, and wallowed despairingly in my room. Please do send me some of your mother’s cream of aloe if you are able.




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