Her Twenty-Fourth Letter to Kate


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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,

Georgia

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Her Twenty-Third Letter to Kate


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My dearest Kate,

If you say I am being silly calling myself an old maid then I must believe you, and thank you, and send you my love as best I am able with this sorry excuse for a pen. I declare I have to sharpen it every letter.

Some boundary troubles emerged between two farmers last week, but I am happy to say that I could leave the matter to Mr. Ridgetop, so that I could continue with my map of what I have decided to call the Marlin Plateau. Therein lies the limestone, and I am drawing it most delightfully if I do say so myself, and there will be an accompanying report. It shall take a great deal of time I think, and I shall have to ride out innumerable times more. Which is all for the good, because I do believe Lorenzo enjoys the exercise, however little he wishes to let on.

Mr. Ridgetop has not asked what I am working on, and I have not nerved myself to mention the redoubled irregularity of his office hours. It is quiet as a library in this dusty Office.

I was summoned to the Haverly at lunchtime today to recover two items I had forgotten – my hairbrush, and trade paperback romance that I do wish had not come to Mrs. Brougham’s notice. I was also subject to a barrage of inquiries, and told a great many lies about how I am settled in the cabin.

“That so? Good enough, then. And I imagine now you’re due for tea with the Thurstons or the Dells (I was not – I was going back to work!). Fine folk.”

And she looked at me with a piercing eye, as if to say that I did not look the part. But in fact, at the young ladies’ behest I have ordered three dresses, Kate, a near-intolerable expense, and I laid up the entire night afterwards unable to sleep. I am hoping I will feel less awful about it once the dresses are actually made.

So I am still going out in my usual attire. And there has been another dance, too, only I did not write to you about it, for somehow nothing really occurred there. I seem to be smiling more and more without knowing quite why everyone else is smiling.

Anyway, a day or two after Mrs. Brougham’s remark I was in fact taking tea with the Thurstons and the Coopers, parents and daughters all, and one unruly six-year old son who had Mrs. Cooper most distracted. There was a very languid, pleasant sort of conversation going on about the summer heat, and the cows that sometimes get sunstruck. And Mr. Cooper mentioned that “it should all be much easier, if only the well weren’t so far.”

There I perked up, Kate, for I felt as though I actually had a chance to speak about something real. I asked Mr. Cooper if he were constrained by the restrictions on well-digging, and when he naturally said that was the case, I told the assembled party that I might try the County Authority when I had the chance, and see if I could change the rule.

“Change it, Miss Walker?” Mrs. Thurston asked. “You don’t say.”

She sounded doubtful, and I very nearly took off, a whole speech unrolling my head about the iniquities of the present system, its basis in outdated science, etc. etc. But I didn’t get further than four syllables before Mr. Thurston clapped his knee.

“Right-o, jolly good! Always said we ought to be able to have more wells drilled so we can water our cattle, eh, Cooper?”

“Why, that sounds fine, Miss Walker. When can I give you a lift up to Taybridge? Only say the word.”

“Oh dear,” Miss Cooper turned to me, “only it is such a long road, and I am afraid our carriage is hardly sprung like it used to me. You must wait for mama and I to badger papa into buying the new one.”

“The new one?” Mr. Cooper guffawed. “You talk as if it were already a done thing, pet!”

In such a way nothing was said about the advancement of human knowledge, the unique features of the land beneath our feet, or the status of the aquifer. We passed into a thorough discussion of carriage upholstery, and I sat there, as agreeable as any other piece of furniture in the room, eating more than my share of the biscuits.

Yours always,

Georgia

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Underside man


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He ate my nightmare and I woke

To his reaching for my last years

In raging torrents and parched channels

Roots and roofs mired in tears

I would have lived the dreaming through

With all its miseries

Rather than see his hands dispersing

Earth into hollow galaxies

And I had given him nothing

I had not crowned him underside

An arbiter of fates with appetite

To eat fruits of mouth and mind

But he had his crown of the people

All neighbours but strangers to me

And I was helpless but to yield him

My future wrapped in my dreams

*

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