So this would be the opening letter of the epistolary GBB that I am not writing. Pity I'm not, because it would be a lot of fun.
... there may or may not already be a second letter.
(The third would be not a letter but a journal entry for which I would have to research late-18C zoology and natural history, which obviously I am not going to do.)
August 27. Charlotte Bradbury to the Comtesse von Baum.
You must forgive me, my dearest Dorothy, for taking so long to reply to your last; and I know you shall, for I am altogether too charming and delightful for you to remain cross with me two hours together! Besides, if you only knew what a time I have had of it out here—I truly believe that I shall never learn to be a gracious and unruffled hostess, no matter how my friends school me. But you see, I have forgotten the rules of composition already, and begin my story at the end.
To leap back to the middle, then.—You know how I like to use the back stairs and hidden passages whenever there is nobody but the servants to see. I have been doing so well, remembering to behave like a real lady instead of a savage; but yesterday evening, after almost everybody had retired, it occurred to me that I must talk to my cook about Mrs. Sanditon’s constitution—as of course I ought to have done before they arrived last week, and had I done so we might perhaps have avoided her bilious attack yesterday forenoon, when—there, you see? This is why I am always obliged to write two or three drafts of a letter before I send it, to anybody but you, for I simply cannot cure myself of the habit of writing down my thoughts just as they arrive in my head.
I came down by a set of little stairs which lets out by a hidden door in the western sitting room—only I forgot that I had given permission for the gentlemen to use it as a smoking room! And of course there were Colonel Sandition, M. Walker, and young Mr. Stark sitting around talking about whatever it is that gentlemen say on these occasions, faced all of a sudden with their hostess—with her hair down and her powdering gown over her déshabillé! Of course, they were all perfect gentlemen: the dear old Colonel was indeed quite anxious to be sure that there was nothing the matter, and so I blurted out the first thing that came into my head, which was that I was looking to see that the passage had no infestation of ants. Ants, my dear Dorothy! I felt in that moment that I should never be able to look one of them in the face again.
I flatter myself, however, that I am your true student: I believe I said it with such charm and such a smile that the moment was mine to command again. All three bowed, or laughed; and away I skipped to the kitchens! And it was not, after all, so humiliating as the occasion on which I mistook Sir Montmartin’s valet for his own self, as he was wearing such a very fine hat.
I believe I am learning to laugh at myself, my dear Dorothy, and at the world; and at the very least, I am no stranger to being a stranger.
Now, as to the fearfully important business of pleasure: you will be pleased to hear that I have (I think) undertaken both of your little schemes to perfect effect. Mrs. Stark is by this time quite charmed by the talents of Mlle. Walker, and has engaged her to tutor Miss Stark in harp and voice. That charming instrument has been the means of forwarding your other instructions. You predicted quite rightly that young Mr. Stark needed only those few little persuasions which we have given him to become as enamoured of Mlle. Walker’s person as is his mother of my inheritance. He now eagerly claims for himself the privilege of fetching forth and putting away the instrument for every lesson; by which means, with a little sleight of hand, he may slip a note for the fair beloved between the strings, and receive one in return. Persuading his ambitious mama to change the rich and careless Mlle. Bradbury for the penniless and devoted Mlle. Walker, now—there will be a task that will, I fear, exercise all your ingenuity and influence!
By the by, I hope that it was only as a companion to his sister that you had me invite M. Gordon Walker, and not with any more particular purpose? He certainly seems to think it a pointed compliment, which might perhaps lead to more. There is no avoiding him in my own house! He seems to be everywhere I go, and determined to flatter me with unflattering presumptions. Were I to marry, he would not be the man for me—I do not scruple to tell you so, nor shall I be less plain to him should he speak or act any more boldly.
There is another business, my dear, on which I should like your advice—or I should say, another unfortunate within reach of your busy and benevolent interest! You remember Gilda, I hope?—the fairy bound to the farthest of your family estates, she who found me wandering in the wilderness and guided me back to civilisation. I have for three years kept up a correspondence with her, though dear old Miss Moseley (who is, alas, not feeling well just now) did think it rather foolish for a young lady in my position—and lest you yourself should be too busy in your mind with scolding me to attend to the rest of my letter, I shall offer you my justifications in advance! “Not only a dependent, Charlie, but a slave, and a sub-human!” “Gauche, quite gauche; and your own manners are not half so impeccable that you can afford the influence of so untutored a provincial.” “What need have you of such distractions and reminders now that you are a true society lady, and move in the best circles in the land?” Yes, yes, you may forward all the arguments you please, and I shall only answer them thus. Firstly, that I owe Gilda a duty of gratitude and friendship, not merely for saving my life, but for her unsolicited devotion and companionship at a time when they were sorely needed; secondly, that—while your own friendship and instruction, and those of my dear Miss Moseley, were precious to me beyond count in re-learning the ways of society—no less precious were the letters of a friend who had no part in that world at all, and who understood what I had come from better than what I was going to; and thirdly and simply, that she is my friend, and more than worthy of that name: that I love her dearly, and treasure her esteem and affection.
And now that that is done with—and I promise you may discipline me just as you please when next we meet, provided you wear that delicious nightgown of your own devising that reveals nothing but suggests everything—onward to the purpose!
My dearest Dorothy, though it be to the detriment of the Stonningbridge estate, I must beg your help in finding another position for Gilda. I have all too good reason to believe that her life under the stewardship of your cousin there is not in accordance with the laws that govern fairy bondage—and that her misery has been greatly increased in this last year, since the news of the rebellions in Westmere and the duchy of Abbotskin have stirred such vicious opinions against her kind even in our own country. You know that it causes a fairy physical pain to speak or write anything against her owner, and that she may not lie about him unless expressly ordered so to do; and so you will appreciate that what Gilda has communicated to me is not the sort of abuse to be brushed lightly aside. Though she has told me few stories, her hints of her troubles in previous letters led me to suggest to her the precise tracts of law that pertain to her bondage; and she has in her latest appended a list of articles and sub-articles which have all (she says) been violated only within these last three weeks. I enclose that list herewith.
I should like to add to that my own personal reference as to her truthfulness: Gilda may not lie about her owner, but she would not lie to me. Besides, she loves those woods and hills far too well to think of leaving them without pain. She is a good creature, and gentle, with a livelier wit and stronger sense of duty than most humans I have met; and my dear, she does not deserve this. I will have her out of there; and I hope you will help me.
Did not the fairy belonging to the Campbell estate pass on last year? and are not their Blackridge lands said to be very beautiful, on quiet, wooded hills? Perhaps you might mention her there, if you think it suitable; and do me the honour of introducing me at the next opportunity, should they need a reference as to her character? I fear that your cousin will not at all answer the purpose.
Do write soon, and be sure to let me know how to proceed with each of the hares I have in chase!
I remain, my dear benefactress, your devoted and affectionate friend, &c.