Her Seventeenth Letter to Kate


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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!

Yours,

Georgia

Her Sixteenth Letter to Kate


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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


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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,

Georgia

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,

Georgia

Her Fourteenth Letter to Kate


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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,

Georgia

Her Thirteenth Letter to Kate – and her mother


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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,

Georgia

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

Her Twelfth Letter to Kate


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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, Ms. 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, Ms. 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.

Yours,

Georgia

Her Eleventh Letter to Kate


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Dear Kate,

The definition of a breakfast is something I have never questioned before. A gruel, I think we would both agree, does not qualify – it is the choice of invalids or paupers (in the latter case, not really a choice) and knows no one single hour of the day. A roast, on the other hand, is certainly meant for supper, or served cold at an ensuing luncheon. And those sweet confections which we enjoy and our fathers so love to disparage, the pancakes and cream, the eclairs, the fruits, those are most certainly a dessert or a breakfast, on an equal footing with the traditional English, eggs, bacon, toast, romanesco and all. I am ever so glad beansnever caught on, my father’s own wishes aside.

What, then should one’s reaction be when sitting down in the morning to two stout, round, puck-like looking things, browned across the top, crisp edges steaming, topped with something that looks like the inside of an apple pie? I must admit I sat and stared, beflummoxed.

Upon my asking, my landlady, Mrs. Brougham, brought me cutlery and informed me stiffly that they were fried biscuits. And oh Kate, they were heavenly! The heavy, buttery biscuit hot from a pan! The sliced apple and cinnamon cooked to one caramel consistency!

As you can probably tell, I am restored to more or less my usual state, and I must apologize for the tone of my last letter, and the delay in writing this one. There has been ever so much to do. It seems I was never to stay at The Haverly indefinitely, and so I have decided it is most sensible (lazy) not to finish my unpacking, and I am presently engaged in searching for more permanent lodgings. Which, in a town as diminutive as Kingstowne, is not the simple matter I would have expected in England.

Why, at home, one can hardly walk a mile without coming upon a cottage or something or other. Here, the sighting of any sort of habitable structure is a thing of purport.

I was informed just this morning by the generous Mrs. Brougham that I have precisely a month to find myself a fitting situation (she did not soften, as I had hoped, under the influence of my compliments on her biscuits). And so this has preoccupied me above all things the past few days, more so even than my new post…

…But heavens, Kate, I had to leave this letter and return to it in order to think what I am to say. District Official to Kingstowne, in the County of New Cambridge? It sounds far more orderly than what it really is!

The Mr. Inglethorp, who wired me to accept my candidature and hasten my arrival on the scene, has decamped and I daresay I shall never see the man in the flesh. I discovered this only after asking three residents for directions to Mr. Inglethorp’s office, receiving blank looks twice and a voluble correction once. It seems he was my predecessor – resigned his post back in the spring – was most annoyed at delaying his departure for the boulevards of Cartaeser until another Official should be procured – and finally spirited himself off days ago. Despite incessant speaking on this part of a good shopkeeper, I discovered nothing more of import about Mr. Inglethorp, but I did finally get directions to the District Office.

The latter is directly on the main road, toward the west end of town and therefore a not insignificant walk from the Haverly. By the time I had managed to gather the necessary intelligence and make my way there, it was fully 10 o’clock in the morning. Or so I think it must have been, had I a clock anywhere to tell by!!

Well. I stepped inside and the dust of the road came with me. No gutters, no stoop, no front mat, shoddy windows, shoddy door. I took this all in in an instant. And there a rectangular one-room affair, containing two desks, and a person whom I assumed must be a part of the staff.

He being seated at one of the desks. With a pen in hand. All quite official-like, if it weren’t for his boots being up on the desk itself, and an air of carelessness.

I said Good Morning. I said that I was the new District Official. I paused and then spoke a dangling Mr. –, so that he might readily introduce himself.

Then he rose, and I was thanking my lucky stars because it had begun to feel awkward, when that person turned around and stared at me a good five seconds. Then he shoved his hands in his pockets, squinted, and said “Charmed, I’m sure.” And he told me, that should I need anything, he was at my disposal, in a way that most certainly meant the opposite! And he left just like that. I am not exaggerating in the slightest, Kate, this is precisely how it occurred.

I am writing to you now comfortably alone, and seated in the other desk, for I would rather burn that chair than sit where he’d been.

With love and exasperation,

Your Georgia

P.S. No one else has shown their face at the office. Was that person the only “staff” to speak of?

P.P.S. The files are too much a mess to be called such; I cannot make heads or tails of anything, except that the two recurring names I see are Inglethorp and Ridgetop. So I presume that person’s name was Ridgetop, and I am afraid I will actually have to speak to him again.

Her Tenth Letter to Kate – and Others


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My Dear Mother,

I have arrived safely in Kingstowne, and the landlady, Mrs. Brougham, showed me to a comfortable apartment that had been reserved for me. There is everything I could need – a desk, shelves, chest, closet, bed, sofa and breakfast-table. The fireplace and hearth look very good indeed. I do not think I will be cold in the slightest.

Are you all well at home? I hope the new clock is still working well. I do not think there is anything else I shall need here, but if I should think of anything, may I ask you to send it over by the next airship? I can wire the postage to you.

Your loving daughter,

Georgia

*

Dear Irene,

It was difficult to see much of Kingstowne, arriving in the night. I believe it is a good-sized town, and at any rate, they have given me good rooms. Quite three times that of my bedroom at home.

This matter of all your papers coming due at once is unfortunate. Will you be all right? Alexandra took many of the same sorts of courses as you are embroiled in at the moment, so perhaps she could be of service.

How is Dean?

Love,

Georgia

*

Dear Father,

I have arrived safely in Kingstowne, and am happy to say I have comfortable rooms here. Kate told me that she has visited you, so I trust you have dug out my other letters by now, and have a fresh, empty mailbox for this one!

I will be back at Michaelmas for certain, so we shall see each other then. I am sorry for leaving so suddenly. Very much looking forward to a visit to England this winter.

Love,

Georgia

*

My Faraway Kate,

Oh, what a place this is! We arrived later than expected in Kingstowne, for these trains never seem to be quite to the hour, and the conductor was all very pleasant in showing me out onto the station platform. But then – can you guess? – there was nobody there to greet me!

I had to go looking for The Haverly Inn by myself in the dark (all right, it wasn’t entirely dark, there was a half-moon), leaving half my luggage on the platform, for it was impossible to bring it all in one go. Now the inn was not too far, yet there was not a light to be seen. And no bell. I knocked until my hand was fairly bruised before I roused the landlady, who was predictably dour upon being roused from her slumber, and who shewed herself displeased to have to wait while I went back for the rest of my trunks (unaided!), before showing me up to my rooms.

The apartment, two rooms separated by a curtain, might seem well enough to an impartial eye, if a bit rustic. Plenty of rugs, reddish, and brown furnishings rather in the vein of your father’s study, and dark wainscoting remedied by pale plaster above. But it is not home, Kate. How very far from it.

I am still dressed in my trench, but rather than feeling debonair as I sit here half-unpacked, unable to sleep, I feel homesick. And hungry.

When I think of this job ahead of me I cannot help but cringe. I had all those stories from Mr. Faulken, but to be frank, he was more interested in speaking of his own favourite adventures than of imparting any useful instruction to me. I am in no way prepared to serve as a District Officer. I would buy a ticket home now, if my turning up back in England wouldn’t be so humiliating, and if I didn’t know what private smugness that might bring Irene. My pride is the only thing keeping me here at the moment, and it also happens to be giving me a stomach ache, so I don’t know that it counts for much.

Your crybaby,

Georgia

P.S. I am sorry to be despondent, it is all just so strange. Did you know there are almost no clocks in New Britain? I saw only one on the whole train, none walking from the station to The Haverly, and none anywhere inside the inn or my rooms. I am in a place of true lawlessness.

Her Ninth Letter to Kate


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Dear Kate,

I saw the most extraordinary thing, my last day on the train! And Mr. Faulken, the District Officer for Denver, was with me, so I was treated to a satisfying discussion rather than simply going starry eyed, and wondering about it by myself.

We were at one end of the dining car with the window open, as Mr. Faulken enjoys a smoke (yes, oh yes, I do agree it is a disgusting habit), and I saw movement out on the plains of West Dempshire. The land undulates in this part of the country, not quite flat and not quite hilly, but a pleasing expanse of dips and rises that would be well-suited to agriculture, were the soil not rather poor. I saw this movement, and at first I could not say what it was. My eyes would not accept it. But after a few moments I discerned the great block of clay – not a rock, but reddish, packed earth sprouting prairie grasses – the size of a man, and regular as two cubes stuck together, sliding uphill.

I am afraid I pointed, and was largely inarticulate, but Mr. Faulken comprehended.

His discourse then on quarky ions, and the love of clay for high places, transported me from my undergraduate physics seminars to armchair philosophy and back again, whilst I watched the clay block, with its grasses swaying like untamed hair, reach a small summit, quiver, and seemingly disappear into thin air.

I had a number of questions for him then, largely around the theory that clay enjoyed high places – if so, then why did it disappear from just one such spot? Mr. Faulken scratched his ear and said that maybe this particular piece of wandering clay had been more sentient than most spotted in West Dempshire, and perhaps it knew that one cannot always have what one wants for long.

What a very yellow-bellied piece of clay that would be, in my opinion. It didn’t try to keep to its summit for more than two seconds altogether.

Anyway, I bid goodbye to Mr. Faulken after supper, for we have crossed the New Cambridge border; later tonight we shall arrive in Kingstowne, and I will disembark. Rather embarrassingly, it seems the gentleman noticed my green-eyed glances at his wristwatch-compass over the course of our short acquaintance, and upon parting he gave me the directions for the workshop on the east coast which makes them. He cautioned me that they are terribly expensive – but never mentioned the magnitude of the price. And I have no head for their New British pounds yet at any rate. All I could do was thank him effusively.

I will no doubt write to you soon with news of what Kingstowne is like.

Yours,

Georgia

P.S. Thank you for visiting my papa – you make it sound as though he were no too shocked at my sudden departure, and I shall endeavour to believe this to be true.

Her Eighth Letter to Kate


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Dear Kate,

It is my second day on the train and so much has happened. I hope that you continue blissfully well, that Everett is equally well (but not any more so than you), and that my uncle’s birthday has passed happily. Please give him my best wishes. On that note, have you spoken with my father at all? I am sad to have left England without hearing from him, and I am impatient to arrive in Kingstowne and to have any letters forwarded to me.

The first thing I noticed when I set foot on this new continent was that even the way buildings and streets were laid out gave an impression of an abundance of space, and that the attire of its folk gave an impression of boundless fashions. When I saw a woman in pants I realized – I can wear anything that I want here, and people will hardly look twice.

Neither did they look twice at the murmuring cats who crossed my path, or the funny cloud that was hanging low over a house of questionable reputation. It was pink as cotton candy. So you see my first anomalies have been benign, even if one cat did send me a withering look, and the only noticeable change in the physics is how easily a hop can become a jump. I was emboldened by the surrounding strangeness when I slipped into my first New British shop; however, I do not for one moment regret my purchases.

For I will be engaged in many rough and tumble things. I was remiss in explaining exactly how I will be employed, my vagueness partly out of habit from concealing gruesome details from Irene and my mother. I will ride about on survey, watching for landslides and fissures, approving (or disapproving) any new buildings or industry as per the Kingstowne Charter and basic prudence, planning for the future stability of the area, and helping to bring any remarkable students to the government’s notice. Thankfully I shall have a staff to help me in doing all of this, though I don’t know of how many and of what quality. The District Official is supposed to be someone “of irreproachable education and manners”, but I have no notion of the exigencies for an Official’s employees.

Anyway, after the talking cats and some reflection, I didn’t think skirts were right for the job. Besides, we wore much what your brothers did when caught toads and played dolls all in the same afternoons.

Yes, I bought pants. Pants! Don’t tell anyone, for fear of it getting back to Irene, as she will be sure to tell my mother, and I couldn’t bear all the discombobulation that would follow at my posterior being outlined for the public’s view. To be honest, I am rather proud of my posterior. Up top, Alexandra has always made me feel very small – maybe that is why Edward danced with her.

No, nothing about him. To go on, I also bought some plain but sweet linen shirts (I plan to embroider the cuffs), ones heavy enough to conceal my underthings, and the most magnificent leather trench to ward off the dust. The man in the shop got all strained and funny-looking when I said I wanted it. It makes me look like a pirate, Kate! I actually have to try not to swagger when I wear it.

I’m going to dinner now, and shall write more after.

Hah, I fancy a few people did look askance when I came into the dining car but I don’t care, I tell you! I am a stranger here. The Conductor had described another District Official to me, and I found the man (who is from Denver) by his cow boy hat and his large boots. He also wore a gleaming, ticking device upon his wrist. I wonder that the Conductor did not distinguish him by the device rather than all else together. Mayhap she didn’t know what to call it. He sat alone so I went up very boldly, and inclined my head, and said I hoped he would pardon me but I was on my way to be a new Official, and I should like to eat with him if it wouldn’t be a disturbance.

“A new one, eh? And a young lady at that, by jove. Good choice of coat. Sit down, sit down.” He had a very craggy face, and it got more jumbled as he smiled.

I was so pleased when he said that about the coat. And seeing how he was dressed, with weathered pants, a heavy vest, and great leather gloves set down by his plate, I was reassured in my own selections.

We talked about all manner of things. I told him that I was an MA in Geography, but that I had dabbled in many other subjects along the way, and when I said I was from the University of Bloomsbury he seemed rather impressed. He himself went to the University of New York for a BSc in Biology, specializing in mountain vegetation. He told me that he has been one of two Officials in Denver (it is a big place), for over twenty years. From him I heard all sorts of interesting and daunting stories about the work. He also saw my curiosity at his wrist device, and he explained it in detail; it is both a time-keeper and a compass, a marvel of gears and glass and little swivelling arrows. I covet it.

Kingstowne will be different from Denver in a thousand ways, but still I feel that I have a better idea of what I can look forward to. I shall only be on the train for one more day so I will try to talk to this District Official, Mr. Faulken, as much as I can before this leg of the journey is done.

Yours always,

Georgia

P.S. How is the weather in England? How are the flowers blooming in York? Does Everett bring you bouquets? At a word from you, I will hogtie him if he doesn’t (I am sure I will learn how to hogtie).