Shoot the messenger


Lydiatt House
April 8th 1853

I am quite beside myself and have not the remotest notion of what to do!

This morning, as I made ready to leave for Blindingham, Villiers appeared with a smirk on his face and a hand-delivered note on the salver. The note, he said, had been pushed through the letterbox at break of day and was found lying on the doormat as innocently as you please. I saw at once that it was addressed to Josiah, in the handwriting of an uneducated person with the word ‘Urgent’ scrawled across the top of the envelope. Fearing it might be something to do with one of Josiah’s business interests, or perhaps some underhand communication from an employee, I decided immediately to pack the note in with my belongings and set off.

Villiers saw me place the note in my pocketbook and gave one of his little squeaks. I know that sound to mean that he has something to say to me but wishes me to invite him to speak, rather than wait for an unsolicited approach. I also know that this is a device by which he can impart unwelcome information and blame me for requesting it. Really, he is as devious as a woman at times.

“Villiers,” I ventured, “Is there anything you wish to say to me?”

“I am afraid there is, ma’am, yes.” He looked at me gravely, as one who is carrying bad news might. “I think ma’am may be interested to know the sender of this note before it is transported to Blindingham.”

I was curious, of course, but determined to observe the conventions of written communication in a civilised society. They have been arrived at through gentleman’s agreement and there is as yet no law against opening envelopes addressed to others, even one’s own relatives. But that should not mean I am at liberty to pry where I am clearly not included – where would society rest if we all did just as we wished, even in moments of high passion?

“I expect I shall discover the identity of the sender as soon as the note has reached its rightful destination, Villiers,” I said, as coolly as I could. “The note is meant for Mr Hatherwick, not myself.”

“Indeed it is, Ma’am. I am sorry to have suggested otherwise. I am sure she will not be expecting you to read the note before Mr Hatherwick does.” Villiers then dashed out of the room and hurried as quickly as propriety would allow down the stairs and into the servants’ kitchen.

She? What She? Did Villiers mean that the note was delivered by a woman? A woman known to me?

I busied myself with my gloves and twittered about with Dauncey whilst the maid laced my boots and called for the carriage. I watched the driver load my luggage on board, then climbed inside and instructed him to begin the journey. The note was in my pocketbook, on the seat beside me.

I glanced up at the house as we left and saw Villiers and the maid standing at the top of the street steps, laughing.

I took out the note and stared at the writing. It did indeed seem familiar. It wasn’t Boo’s writing else I would have recognised it straight away, and besides she has no call to write to Josiah without my knowledge.

A moment later, as the carriage struck a particularly poor section of road, my heart leapt straight out of my chest and sat beating loudly in my mouth. I remembered where I had seen that writing before.

The ill-formed letters, the poor arrangement of the words and the smudging of the ink all combined to bring me to a quite shocking conclusion.

The note had been sent by The Girl!

Why would she write to him? What could possibly be so important that she, a servant, should take it upon herself to make direct communication in writing to her previous employer? Why could not her master, Josiah’s friend, have written?

It was at that moment the full horror struck me. The note and the manner of its delivery could only mean one thing.

I was to carry to Josiah the news that his friend and associate had died.

I have had a number of fretful journeys to Blindingham of late, but none so worrisome as this one. My poor husband was to receive sad news of the death of his friend and I was to be the bearer. I spent the whole time thinking how best I could bring cheer to him, such that by the time I alighted at the Cornbench’s house (how tiresome that we should still have to accept their thin, grey hospitality) I was exhausted.

Josiah walked out to greet me and all my plans for a loving reunion were forgotten. I took his hand, kissed it, and gave him The Girl’s note. His face drained of all its colour the moment he saw it – his powers of mental alertness are much more finely honed than mine and he must have deduced immediately what the envelope contained. He took it from me and opened it as he walked away towards the garden. I watched as he read it. My poor, poor darling, I could see he was much affected by its contents.

He has been alone in the dressing room for four hours now, and will not admit me into his company. All I can do is wait outside and listen as he suffers. I wish he would call me to comfort him, I could ease his torment I know I could.

Oh, I cannot bear this a moment longer! My husband is in pain and I cannot help him!

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