My Dear Kate,
Cutting a pitiable figure may be the best – or only – way for me to do better for myself here in Kingstowne.
My sunburn was peeling, as sunburns do, and in my defense I had also slept badly, and I was vexed with still not understanding why the digging of wells remains so restricted in the County. Before the looking-glass, a half-hour before I was due at the office, I regarded my peeling face and I am ashamed to say I began to cry. I simply couldn’t prevent it.
Usually I would have heard the footsteps in the hall, but crying is as crying does. The door was opening before I knew it, and Mrs. Brougham was there with an armful of linens, looking at me goggle-eyed, as if I were a dancing goat or something.
(The dancing goats, it would seem, are a myth. No such thing has actually been documented in New Britain by a reputable source).
“I thought I had heard… Are you well, Ms. Walker?”
I tried to stand up straight and thank her, and say that all was well, and wish her a good morning, but the continuing tears, which simply would not be stoppered, muddled all that up pretty badly. Mrs. Brougham put down her linens on a chair to look at me more closely, and I ended up going on about bonnets, and how I had thought they weren’t the thing here, and had consequently not brought any with me.
“Why, it’s hardly every woman who wears a bonnet, that’s true. But she does wear something – for the sun here may as well be Satan himself. Ms. Walker… why don’t you come on down with me to the kitchen?”
So I followed her, sniffling, thankful I had a handkerchief in my pocket. I had repaired myself to a degree by the time Mrs. Brougham showed me a basin of water and a jar of what appeared to be sand.
It turned out to be exactly that, Kate, and how well it smoothed my face! It did not hurt in the slightest. I was so grateful, and in such a queer mood that morning, that I was almost crying again as I thanked my landlady. At which point she asked me, in a much nicer tone than the usual, what it was that had brought me out here. And there I was confused, and said I had come to work as the District Official.
Mrs. Brougham studied me, and I declare she tutted. “We-ell, no matter. But I’ll tell you now, miss, you should take care with your overseas parlour manners. Folk could see you as putting on airs, and they don’t take kindly to that here in New Cambridge.”
Now this left me feeling like a pricked balloon, but at least I was a smooth-faced balloon. Mrs. Brougham did continue to explain, in a roundabout manner, that saying things like, “Good evening, Mrs. Brougham,” sound “stiff-like”. Now I am ever so lost as to what the correct alternative may be, for she mentioned none, and I still cannot see anything impolite about saying hello.
But I do have smooth cheeks. And Mrs. Brougham told me, in a kind, grandmotherly, and quite condescending way, that I should stay at the Haverly as long as I need until I find myself other lodgings.
How pleasant it must be to be able to do an about-face like that without blinking.