Back to the Beginning
I am indeed getting to know my neighbours. Only yesterday I took tea with one of the rancher families of Kingstowne, the Thurstons, who number among the town’s founders. They have the loveliest porch you ever saw. Young Miss Thurston had only just returned from Cartaeser, and was a most genial and polite hostess.
The matter of your joints aching is quite concerning, have you gone back to Doctor Watts? I own I suspect you of complaining without the intent to consult a medical professional! But you know these things never get better on their own.
Irene must be very busy, or in one of her moods, for I have not heard from her the last few letters I wrote. Perhaps I managed to offend her with one of my missives!
As the heavens and all their naked cherubs be my witness, I am not fit to deal with the intricacies of small town life. Being out here has brought home to me how much I appreciate big towns and cities, where one can easily disappear, whilst interactions necessary to daily life are greased by that veneer of universal, uninterested politeness that is the great achievement, in my opinion, of the modern age.
Would that your Everett might advise me. He sounds like quite the diplomat, suggested seating arrangements such that your mother and his shan’t have any reason to take offence at the wedding. Unfortunately, that is the very sort of thing I fail to consider.
I was having a lovely day – the very first, real, lovely day since I arrived in Kingstowne. The week prior a Mr. and Mrs. Thurston came to call on me at the Haverly, Saturday tea-time. They are, in fact, the well-to-do ranchers I mentioned in the context of the cow incident. Mrs. Brougham was at her most polished as she brought me down to sit with them in the front room and then whisked herself away. The Thurstons were most genteel; a light joke about the heat, but nothing about the cow; and they asked me to tea at their home, for their daughter was due back from a visit among friends in the city, and she would certainly be delighted to make my acquaintance.
So this afternoon I saddled Lorenzo (yes, he remains an unknown quantity) and went up to their ranch, for which Mrs. Brougham gave me most thorough directions, and advised me – with only a twinge of sarcasm – to wear a hat this time. I went to the trouble of acquiring a proper sort of split-skirt riding habit for the occasion, also on Mrs. Brougham’s advice, and was very glad when I arrived, for Miss Thurston was so prettily turned out that I should have felt immeasurably worse in my usual.
The Thurstons, however, were so pleasant so as to make me speedily forget any comparisons between myself and the daughter. And they seeming to be a busy sort of people, I was left for the bulk of the tea-time tete-a-tete with Miss Thurston, who was terribly engaging.
What a breeze, coming off the rolling grasses, and there in the shade of the porch, learning all sorts of gossip and drinking a cold tea, I felt I understood why some folk adore this place.
Only, when I took my leave and rode away down the cart-track, a passel of ranch hands made a great show of stepping out of my path, and ducking their heads. Not only was there was plenty of room to pass, but I own I was shocked to be treated like a lady as I was in England; ever since arriving in New Britain I have thought of myself – and have been received – as a District Official in a dusty coat. Now I should have forgotten all about the ranch hands, except that I had to stop by the general store for a hand salve on my way back to the Haverly, after having stabled the inscrutable Lorenzo. And at the store, when Mr. Lorelli asked after my day, and I said I had taken a very nice tea with Miss Thurston, there was a general oddness in the air. When I got back to my rooms, I realized that Mr. Lorelli’s usual volubility had converged to a more normal state – normal, that is, were it not he.
Now I am huddled at my desk in the Office, wondering whether I am paranoid but mostly sure that I am not; and mostly sure that Mr. Ridgetop’s muttered question about how I had liked Thurston’s ranch was both piercing and significant, in a way I cannot appreciate; and I am not in much state to consider the significance of winding valley formations right now, so I am writing to you instead.
I wonder whether all small towns are so troublesome. Who went telling Mr. Ridgetop that I was up at Thurston’s, anyhow? And why should anyone care whether my tea was a weak mint with one of Mrs. Broughams biscuits, or an Earl Grey with milk and little cakes with Miss Thurston?
Your bumbling cousin,
P.S. Perhaps Kingstownians are prejudiced against tea-cakes, Kate, and now that I have ingested some on New British soil I shall be persona-non-grata forever.