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.

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,



Her Twenty-Third Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

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,



Her Seventeenth Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

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Dearest Kate,

As I was working away in the office yesterday, the unfortunate door was flung open most abruptly, and Mr. Ridgetop – very tardy indeed, in coming back from his lunch break – threw down his hat on his desk and ran out again.

“Rogue cow!”

The poor door (I do think it is on its last legs) swung madly on its hinges in his wake. I righted it before I went after him, both because it seemed like the kind thing to do, and because I was deeply apprehensive about what I should find outside.

As I learned after the event, the infamous dreyflies of New Britain are not normally found out on the plains near Kingstowne. They like to lay their eggs in the stills of otherwise free-flowing water, and although very little else is known about them, it is known that if they do appear on the plains it will most likely be in late summer – despite the counter-intuitive dearth of moisture here in said season. The one other thing I learned about them is that their bite, while it releases a substance which could be termed a poison, has fascinated entomologists for many decades because of its extraordinary hallucinogenic effects.

Out on Main Street, in the blinding sun, I peered about and was both relieved and disappointed not to see a scene of chaos as I had imagined. There was indeed a cow within view; it was of the butchering variety, brown and hefty. There was also a general congregating of people, drawn like magnets, and all looking rather grimmer than seemed necessary.

I saw our good Mr. Lorelli, and ducked my head to him; the local smith, whose name was Gibbons, according to my landlady; a middle-aged rancher, who had introduced himself to me one morning on my walk to the Office, and whose name I had forgotten, but who gave off a relative air of well-to-do-ness; there was also the latter’s wife, clutching his arm, and fanning herself into an excited swoon. Meanwhile, the cow plodded along towards us, her lead trailing and her head swaying gently. For a brief interval she picked up her feet to skip (lumber, more like) along, and then she stopped, and looked here and there, and kept plodding.

There were at least a dozen or so other people about, some whose faces I recognized but without names to put to them, and others I did not know at all. As I grew less interested in the cow I became aware that a great many of my fellow human beings present were glancing at me. Almost as if there were something on my face, or as if they expected me, at any moment, to do something.

Another minute or two and I surely would have retreated into the Office, but then with a muffled commotion a man with a great burlap sack in his fist bounded into sight, followed by Ridgetop, with a great lot of rope.

Now the cow took exception – now that she was approached, she became more worthy of that epithet, “rogue”. The poor, dear thing, Kate, had looked so very pleased with itself – floating along as if in a fairy land, seeing who knows what. But upon noticing the two men her feet stomped and I do believe that if she could have growled she would have. Can she be blamed? This is my own reaction when being disturbed from a most enchanting dream.

The well-to-do rancher’s wife gave a little shriek. The cow snorted. Ridgetop threw his lasso and the other fellow ran forward headlong, sack thrust out before him as if he were armed with a crucifix against a devil, a rope of garlic against a vampire. For a moment it was very thrilling.

Then the lasso fell home and the bag was simultaneously thrust over her nose; all fight went out of the cow, and, with a surprised look, she began contentedly chewing at whatever was in that bag.

A cheer rose all around, and being a little too excited to go straight back to my desk, I made my way over to Mr. Lorelli. Here I had his explanation of the dreyflies, one of which had evidently bitten this cow, and throughout his voluminous discourse I was discomfited by the sidelong, almost sly looks that other Kingstownians were throwing me as they dispersed, and by Mr. Lorelli’s own alternating sympathetic looks and stifled chuckles.

I finally had to interrupt him, and ask if I had any ink on my chin.

“Oh, no, Ms. Walker. Right as rain! You must be thinking it strange, this whole dreyfly business. It doesn’t happen too often. But when we do get them roague cows, it was always Mr. Inglethorp rushing out, to go about catching them. Master wrangler, he was. Well, you have a good afternoon, Ms. Walker.”

And isn’t that one of the most unhelpful pieces of information you have ever heard? Better to let me think they were all looking at a pimple of mine, rather than expecting me to leap forth like my cowboy predecessor! I can hardly change the truth, that I have never before wrangled a cow.

At least I was left to my own devices that afternoon, for of course Ridgetop went off with the inebriated cow. In the Office I was able to daydream about secretly practising knots, and throwing, or whatever else is necessary for trussing up unsuspecting animals by their feet or necks, and thereby astonishing all the townsfolk. Only I determined by the end of the afternoon that it all seemed like more bother than it was worth, and I wandered home regretting not having actually done my work.

The latter sentiment, I think, must embody the very essence of being “adult”. What a great number of children we could terrorize, Kate, if we went about disseminating this truth!




Her Sixteenth Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

Dear Kate,

Mr. Lorelli has put me on to what may be a perfect solution for my accommodations. There is a contingent of O’Shaughnessys here in Kingstowne, who own a sizeable ranch not a twenty minutes’ walk from the District Office, and who a few years ago built a sort of secondary little cottage on their land to house the young Mr. and Mrs. James O’Shaughnessy, lately married. It seems that Mr. James has decided to go work on the railroads, and once the young family decamps two weeks hence, the little cottage will be empty.

So I have a visit to the O’Shaughnessys in my agenda, and out of prudence I will stay well wide of the subject of fruit punch. I must ingratiate myself if I hope to board a horse with them as well.

Mrs. Brougham, if initially taken aback by my mentioning this idea, has since taken it over as being of her own origination, and has told me that although the cottage is “by no means so nice” as her own rooms, I will “do well enough” there. She has warned me not to buy any furnishings without seeing what is to be had at her church jumble, and not to buy a horse without speaking to her son-in-law.

I have perhaps been remiss in describing the running of the Haverly; there is Mrs. Brougham, and a maid of all work, and a man who comes in from time to time (called Thomas, as I know from how this is wrathfully shouted when he does not complete his tasks to standard), and that is all. I had no notion of my landlady having any family, and was afraid to ask, in fact, lest there have been some sort of terrible tragedy involving fires or floods or bee stings. Instead it turns out that Mr. Brougham died several years ago of a very ordinary pneumonia – apparently he always had weak lungs, or so Mrs. Brougham told me, her manner quite disapproving – and Mrs. Brougham’s daughter and son-in-law live four houses over.

I shall have to speak to this son-in-law soon, for a proposal has come in to open a fresh quarry (the present one being apparently nearly exhausted) and I don’t see how I’ll get up in those hills without a horse. Am I not busy socially, now?

Never mind that attempt at a jest and tell me more about the parties you have been attending. I am starved for the silliness of society.

With love,

Your Georgia


Her Fifteenth Letter to Kate – and to her father


Back to the Beginning

Dear Father,

I saw an inverted rain spout today, at one corner of the general store here in town, which lasted all of two minutes, and had thankfully very little effect, this being a dry climate.

It sounds as though my uncle’s pewter soldier collection may have finally overreached itself – but so it has seemed many times before! And I am sure you know you are contributing to the mischief, in notifying him of such things as thumb-sized steamcannons for sale.

Your research is continuing well, I hope? Do give me plenty of notice ahead of when your book will come out, will you?

Your daughter,


Dear Kate,

It has been some time, I know. At present I am reconciling myself to the need for a horse, extravagant an expense as that seems, and daunting logistically as well – all I, myself, need is a room or two, but think of the land one needs for a horse!

We did have fun though, those years ago at our great-uncle’s farm. A pity Irene never got over her fear of animals any larger than a sheepdog.

So perhaps a horse will be worth all the trouble and expense; if I cannot travel about to conduct surveys, what sort of geographer would I be? And at least I have Mrs. Brougham’s advice in seeking lodgings for myself and an equine companion, now that she has come around to seeing me as some helpless, misguided British girl marooned on her doorstep, and I can hardly resent this when she is offering me seconds of her biscuits. I do tend to run her tidbits of wisdom by Mr. Lorelli at the general store, however, in a covert manner, for a second opinion. At the notion that Old Woman Brown up the road might like a lodger (Mrs. Brougham’s current favourite scheme), Mr. Lorelli was a blur of waving hands, and protestations that a young person should not shut themselves up inside a coffin full of doilies.

And no, Mr. Ridgetop has not improved upon further acquaintance, Kate, though I thank you for your unceasing optimism vis-a-vis my working life. He was singularly unhelpful the other day, in fact.

The matter of the restrictions on well-digging was still bothering me, and I had read as much as I could find, over and over, without enlightenment. I had also posed one or two questions to Mr. Ridgetop on the subject, but he always seemed to answer at cross-purposes.

One never likes looking silly for asking the same sorts of questions a thousand times, especially when the other person is so very nonchalant on the subject, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. But I was fairly boiling with frustration and I finally launched an interrogation without any scruples as to how it would demonstrate my own ignorance.

“But why, Mr. Ridgetop? I understand that no more than one well of a depth of 100 feet or greater can sit on two hundred-and-fifty square acres, and the procedures in place, and the levels of approval necessary, but why?”

“As prudence would say, no more than one well per two-fifty acres.”

“Yes, yes, but why? What is one being prudent of?” And here I had to resist pulling on my hair. “What is the risk present?”

Here he blinked, and said of course it was the risk of toxic updraft in this part of New Britain. And here I opened my mouth, and then shut it, and then opened it again to said that was all very well, for a method had been developed, and tested, to identify such problem areas (I had two classes worth of lectures on the subject in one of my courses in senior year). We should be quite all right with digging more wells if we surveyed the sites properly first. There should therefore be no impediment to amending the rules, as requested innumerable times by innumerable (well no, I admit they are very numerable) ranchers.

I believe Mr. Ridgetop was downright suspicious of me, Kate, and I had some work to do in explaining to him the peculiar spiral rock formations, and porous, rocky soils which characterize known sites of toxic updraft in the new land. In the end, however, he shrugged at me.

“Well you’ll have the County Authority to convince, but that’s as you see fit.”

The trouble being that the County Authority is in Taybridge, some twenty miles away, and I have already learned how unwise it is to walk a mere hour’s distance. Another reason for that horse…

Yours ever,



Her Fourteenth Letter to Kate


Back to the Beginning

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.

Always yours,



Her Thirteenth Letter to Kate – and her mother

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Back to the Beginning

My Dear Mother,

The office is more than adequate for our staff, and I have been growing more familiar with Kingstowne and its environs. I am afraid that no, they do not have any fruit trees here like you spoke of – I believe that is more on the west coast – but there is an amazing array of grasses that truly impress the eye with their variety.

I will be changing lodgings soon, and will let you know when I have my new address. I am hoping to find something more tranquil than the Inn, as pleasant as it has been. One does not always want to be in the very centre of town.

Speaking of which, I did not realize Irene had taken new lodgings ahead of her studies this fall. She did not mention it in her last letter. When you have her address do send it to me.

Love from your daughter,


Dear Kate,

Three weeks remain and I still have no idea of where I shall be staying after the Haverly. But how can I help it? I know no one here.

I continue in my role of generally incompetent booby at the District Office; and should not be surprised if I always shall be such. This keeps me busy enough that I have not even been able to enjoy the little phenomena that I see from time to time, and for which I can hardly spare a thought or a line of ink; the polka dot rainshowers of yesterday, after which the whole street looked like someone had randomly painted perfect circles in a darker brown, or the dust devil the size of a thimble that wouldn’t stop twirling on the office windowsill.

Now, you have asked what Mr. Ridgetop is really like, and consequently I had to properly examine him. Although I suppose I had to at some point.

To satisfy your curiosity, Mr. Ridgetop is tan and he wears a beard. He is not terribly tall. And I know that sort of thing is not what you were asking, Kate, but I would much rather dilly-dally than dwell upon his character.

Having managed to buy a small pocketwatch from the general store, and having wound it by the station clock, I can confidently say that he is not punctual, even after choosing such a lax hour as 9 o’clock to begin the day. He also continues quite surly. And what a disappointment it is, when I have no other workmates here, and I arrived blindly presuming that I should find kind and collegial persons here, much like at the university, with whom I would enjoy free trade of thoughts and expertise.

I am lonely, Kate. I am writing the most insipid poetry in the evenings, thinking of stupid Edward, and even Alexandra. Clearly I am being punished for not appreciating my fellow students of geography when I had them!

I have myriad questions about the lay of the land, and these I ask Mr. Ridgetop as often as I can without (hopefully) crossing the line into pestering. Most of the time he can answer as to whether a problem is old or new, solved or unsolved, and I am slowly dating and sorting the files, determining what work actually lies before me. But we do not speak otherwise.

To be honest, I dread the sight of Mr. Ridgetop. He has lived here much longer than I, has worked in this office much longer than I, and every question I ask sounds foolish somehow once it is spoken aloud. His air of confidence has not diminished, and he comes and goes as he pleases.

I do not care that there is no semblance of my being his superior. But it does feel terribly bleak to realize that one is not even considered an equal. It is plain that Mr. Ridgetop is one of those New British frontier men of solid, practical experience, who (according to novels, at least) are prone to nurture scorn for educated fools who have “never got their hands dirty”. I am one of those educated fools, Kate, and both he and I know it.

When he came in to the office for the first time after I had made the ill-fated walk out to his cottage, I could swear he started at the sight of me. And I know I was very, very red indeed, but I declare that was no invitation for him to go laughing to himself, however quietly!

With Love,

Your Georgia