A Letter

23/09/2014 21:57

This story was written in response to another prompt at Black Ship Books. If I do Nano this year, the characters featured in this letter will form part of the cast.


From Robert Lenoir, Esq
Lenoir Manor, Cornwall

To Mrs Emily Cunningham
12 Falkner Square, Liverpool

29 September, 1852

My dear Madam,

I trust that this letter finds you and Emmaline in your usual good health and spirits.

At this time of year, one's thoughts naturally turn to the future. Autumn may signal the approach of the end of the year, but it also signals the beginning of the new term. I collect my rents and pay out wages, and deal with any other matters that require my attention. The pleasantest of these is my regular epistle to you and my sister.

I have been casting my mind back over the correspondence that we have exchanged over the last eighteen years and it occurs to me that neither my father nor myself properly expressed our gratitude to you for stepping in as you did at our hour of need. Let me remedy that, now. Nobody but yourself can properly understand your feelings at the loss of your only daughter, but please believe me that my father lost a very dear wife and I lost the dearest of step-mothers. Emma gave her life for Emmaline, leaving us behind crushed by grief. Neither of us was, at that moment, capable of taking the necessary care of my half-sister but you were there to take matters in hand.

You have often said that raising your grand-daughter softened the pain of losing her mother, and for that I give daily thanks to God.

Once again, my heart-felt thanks for all that you have done for Emmaline. I can offer no excuse for letting eighteen years pass before those words were said, but I ask your understanding. At first, there was the immediate grief that we all felt, then, as you know, my father did not long out-live his wife. In the meantime, I also married, became a father and a widower. Since then, my days have been a round of managing my estate and raising my own daughter, Valentina.

My step-mother was unable to make a will before she died but, as you know, my father stipulated that her entire dowry should be kept intact for Emmaline to be made over to her on the occasion of her own marriage, whenever that happy event should take place. He also set aside a yearly amount to be paid to you for her education and I know from your regular reports that this money has been spent so as to fully promote all of my sister's natural gifts.

Although she has now completed her formal education, I will continue to send the money until she marries as I am sure that there are other expenses that a young lady cannot help but incur. It was the wish of my father, and it is also mine, that my sister should be as light a burden to you as possible.

I have often been on the point of inviting you and Emmaline to stay with us but something has always occurred to make me feel it would be better to wait a little longer. Now, however, I find that there is nothing to prevent my inviting you both to join us for our Yuletide celebrations. In fact, to be perfectly candid, I find myself wishing it above all things. I hope you will not think me selfish in making this request now when it could, and perhaps should, have been made many times in the past. Please believe that I am prompted by my love for Valentina, who is, quite literally, the centre of my world.

February last saw her reach the age of sixteen and I suddenly found myself with a young woman in my home rather than the little girl that she remains in my heart. She had out-grown her governess without my noticing the transformation and although Miss Clifton remains with us, it is more in the role of companion than teacher. But Valentina has lived her whole life in Lenoir Manor and I am wary of sending her out into the world, even to the most cloistered of finishing schools.

We are a very tiny community in this particular part of Cornwall. Our nearest neighbour is an elderly widower who is himself childless. Although he dotes on my daughter, her youthful high spirits are wearing on his nerves. The nearest village contains nobody of respectability except for the young vicar and his wife, and the nearest town is more than an hour's drive away. When Valentina was very young, I rejoiced in our isolation; now it feels like a penance.

In short, Mrs Cunningham, she needs the society of people of her own age and social standing. From what you tell me of Emmaline's accomplishments, learning, abilities and understanding, she seems to be an ideal companion for Valentina, quite apart from being her aunt. This is the selfishness that prompts my writing to you at this time rather than at any other time, a selfishness that I hope you can forgive.

We keep Christmas quietly here, perhaps more quietly than you and Emmaline are used to. However, I hope that being within the bosom of her loving family will more than make up for the subdued nature of our festivities. Please believe that nothing would make either Valentina or myself happier than the news that you have decided to accept this offer.

Valentina begs that I add her pleas to my own and to say that she “will be in an agony of anticipation until we have your answer”. You will understand that it is part of a father's duty to take dictation from his daughter.

And now nothing more remains except to say that I hope you will treat this invitation with due consideration and will find it in your heart to return a favourable answer.

I am now, and will always be, your humble servant,