The Coven, Part XXV

Dear Lady Frey,

You’ll be glad to know that Miss Milton isnt a terrible dragin. She doesnt know much about maths, and she makes me practis music an hour and ½ every single day, but she never yells and she never uses the strap.

I still miss you. She can’t explane the realy hard books like you. Even thogh she’s nice, she’s still like other grown ups. She dosn’t always understand.

I’m glad Unkle Just is here, to. He takes me riding every day, just like Unkle Hope. Please write to Unkle Just and tell him that I’m not a soljer. Riding is always fun with Unkle Hope, but Unkle Just wants me to ride perfect.

Miss Chastity is always around. I don’t mind. She’s not as nice as Miss Mersy, but she’s always honest. I like that.

Tell me all about the palis when you rite. Is it grand? Is the Prince hansom?

Love,

Celeste

“Reading a letter on such a fine day? It must be from a beaux.”

I looked up from the letter to see Lady Innocence and Lady Purity, who were never far from each other’s company. They’d been catching butterflies in the garden, but had paused to take note of me.

“Not at all- this is a letter from Lord Frey’s ward,” I said. “I’ve been managing her education.”

“How kind of you,” Lady Purity said, absentmindedly toying with her net. She opened the net, and blue butterflies billowed up in a cloud around her before flying free.

“Oh yes, very kind,” Lady Innocence said. “I wouldn’t have any patience with a ward. I would have sent the girl away to school.”

“And there have been such rumors flying about. With Lord Frey being so handsome, well, you must worry about his past,” Lady Purity said in a harsh whisper, leaning forward conspiratorially.

“I don’t worry,” I said, folding the letter. “Lord Frey’s past is past.”

“You must love him a great deal, to trust him so,” Lady Innocence said.

“Don’t quiz poor Lady Frey,” Lady Fairfax said, sidling up to us with her fashionable, swaying walk. “She’s still a newlywed.”

The three of us curtsied to Lady Fairfax.

“Lord Ainsworth has been searching for you,” Lady Fairfax said to me. “Lord Fitzwilliam told him that you were in the gardens, so I took the short route to warn you.”

“I- I see.” Terror had risen into my throat and frozen there as a lump, but I tried to swallow it back.

“You might still avoid him, if you walk back with me by the fountains.”

Lady Innocence and Lady Purity were listening with keen expressions, and some of Hope’s advice came to me. “Never let them see your fears.

I straightened my back and shook my head. “I have no reason to avoid him. He is as welcome to speak to me as anyone.”

Lady Fairfax let out a great huff and fluttered her fan. “I should think that man’s tediousness enough reason to avoid him- but he is your father. Oh- here he comes. Away, ladies, before he bores us all with talk of exports and tariffs.”

Lady Fairfax swept the other Ladies up the garden path, and soon I could see my own father, limping on his gouty leg up the opposite path.

“Ah! Grace. There you are,” he said. “I’ve searched the whole palace for you. I wish to have a word with you, as soon as I can catch my breath. “

He plopped down on a wicker chair opposite me, and drew a handkerchief from his pocket. He wiped some sweat from under his wig, coughed a few times, and then leaned back to regard me through his spectacles.

“A word regarding what?” I asked.

“Regarding what? I miss my daughter. After all, I haven’t had a single letter from you since you left Willowbrook. Did you receive my letter?”

“Yes, I did.” Somehow, the courage the Ladies had left me with remained. My back stayed straight as I answered the red, panting man across from me. “I didn’t realize your concern for me was genuine.”

My father leaned forward, steepling his hands and smiling. “Ah- I see what has happened. You are truly under your husband’s control, now. Your obedience is to him, instead of me.”

“Believe what you like,” I said. I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of tearing up my father’s letter, and the look of shock on Hope’s face.

“I don’t mean to discourage you,” My father continued. “He is your husband now, and it is natural that he should be your master.”

“If that’s the case, then why did you ask me report on my husband?”

My father shrugged, and then shooed a butterfly away from his face. “I’d think that you would welcome any change to speak on your husband’s behalf. Malicious rumors are circulating, and I gave you the opportunity to contradict them.”

“Since I did not reply, you may assume there is nothing to report,” I said. “That should be contradiction enough.”

“And what about the rumors that aren’t so easily dismissed? I’ve heard about his little ward. They say that her mother was worse than a fallen women, and that your husband was intimately involved with her.”

“I’ve heard the rumors about Celeste’s mother, but rumors mean nothing. As to Lord Frey- his past is not my business.”

My father laughed out loud- a rough laugh that quickly devolved into coughs.

“Oh yes- I should have remembered.  Jealousy can’t touch an insensible girl like you. Don’t worry about the matter any further. As you said, none of this is your business. Obey your husband, occupy yourself with your books, and you’ll serve your purpose in time.”

My father brushed away the butterfly again, and it flew over to me, landing on my finger. It’s tiny feet clung to me with surprising strength, and I left it undisturbed.

“Well, I would be remiss in my filial duties if I didn’t look after you- husband or no. Is there anything that you need or want?” My father said, rising to his feet.

“I want-” my voice faltered, but I swallowed and stood to look him in the eye. The butterfly still clung to my finger as it fell to my side.

“Since my marriage, I’ve missed a mother’s help and advice. Might I have something that belonged to her? Anything small will suffice- her likeness, perhaps, or a personal item.”

Father’s jovial expression melted away, and his voice rang out like a crack of thunder.

Why would you ask a stupid thing like that?”

“It’s only natural-”

“There’s nothing natural about it. Your mother died when you were born, and you’ve never even seen her. You have no reason to think of her now.”

Father turned away and walked away swiftly. His gouty limp seemed to have vanished with his fury.

The butterfly let go of my finger, and flew up into the blue morning sky.

 

Part XXVI

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