Letter 3 – Part 1
Spending time with the young married couple—she very young—seems to have dislodged recollections of us, my dear, from a darkened chamber of my memory. Last night I was dreaming of the recollections; then awoke and continued, without interruption, collecting them like pretty presents strewn along a great curving corridor—around each turn is another. One was of the bemused glances we exchanged while taking our vows because of Reverend Grayling’s whistling lisp, the two of us on the brink of giggling and destroying the solemnity altogether. We had to look away from one another as the reverend twittered through his text. And there were the births of our three beloveds, and our great joy as each was born healthy and strong-lunged into the world. I recalled how the worry drained from your troubled brow at learning that we were fine, the new babe and I. Your great-aunt shepherdessed each child and delivered you the good news as you waited in the parlor with your cider and your papers. I lay exhausted in bed as you entered the room to meet the newest arrival. Your face was similar, my dear, on the day you returned home with news of your own: that Mr Pfender was promoting you to chief clerk of the northern accounts. What a time we had, the five of us, celebrating the recognition of your hard work!
However, as I lay lonely in our bed, with only the earliest workmen moving hushed in the dark street, other sorts of memories returned to me, too: black memories of Maurice and his empty bed and Reverend Grayling’s inadequate words and your shattered countenance, a crystal platter broken asunder; and your packing for your business affair, not knowing the length of time you would be away from us—and your sudden silence, maintained these many weeks. I do not scold, my love, only express my worry. Every time the postman arrives I hold my breath in hopes that he is ending my fretting with only a few of your words saying that you are safe and making plans for your return. But not even the latter is necessary: only to know you are well, that simple intelligence would be more than enough to make me happy. I would turn quite the girlish cartwheel in the hall! (Though I’m dreadfully out of practice!)
Changing subject: Since returning from tea at Mr Smythe’s I find myself thinking about the wife, Mrs Shelley—there is something quite magnetic about her. In her presence one can hardly bring oneself to look away, to not stare at her, especially her eyes, whose hue registers somewhere twixt leaden grey and azurean blue, something like the seawater caught in a tidal pool after a thunderous storm. Though she was perfectly calm during our encounter at Mr S’s I suspect those eyes could become quite tempestuous indeed—the young woman seems to possess such passion locked inside that pacific shell. That was my impression at least. I can hear your chiding me, Philip, for allowing my imagination to run, for claiming to understand things about Mrs Shelley that I could not reasonably deduce during such an abbreviated encounter. You would be right to chide me, of course; but I cannot keep from feeling right, too, in my impressions. I shall do my best to keep in mind that they are only working hypotheses, mere assumptions. I will perhaps have opportunity to bolster or dismantle them as I have sent Mrs Shelley an invitation to tea—and to peruse our copious volumes to see if she may like to borrow one or two, as long as they are not among Felix’s favorites.
I have been preparing for her visit; in fact, preparations are complete and they came to be so with relative ease in large part due to the industrious Mrs O, who, among other tasks, baked a batch of gooseberry scones to serve with tea. I suspect you may disapprove, but I’m allowing the children to join Mrs Shelley and me in the parlor. I cannot count on Robin’s joining us—he has been particularly reclusive since returning from Mr Smythe’s—and I have a feeling that Mrs Shelley will be more at ease with the children present. She is after all not much older than a child herself; and yet there is an independence to her spirit which I imagine could be a positive influence on the children, especially Aggie, who seems of an age to be in search of role models. Perhaps that is why she has taken so to Mrs O’Hair. Moreover, it will perhaps make up for my not allowing them to attend Mr S’s soirée. . . .
The children enjoyed appareling themselves for the grand event. Felix borrowed your cravat, the same that Robin wore, and he tied it in a similar, though unpracticed, fashion. It hung to his knee but he was visibly proud of its smartness, so I did not intercede to attempt a re-adjustment. Agatha wore her best frock, the pearl grey with the rose-pink bib. I braided her hair, which reaches her slender waist; and Mrs O unearthed a strand of red ribbon from somewhere with which she tied a complimentary bow for Aggie’s braid: très chic. Dressed so, it was not difficult to imagine our little girl as the mistress of her own house, a situation which will come about quicker than not.
We were expecting Mrs Shelley at 2 so when it became 3 I suspected the young woman was prevented from our appointment. Felix and Agatha were paragons of patience, he reading in the corner of the parlor, she hostessing her own tea with Miss Buzzle and her other dollies. I was attempting to follow our Felix’s example and had selected a book of verse by Prior, The Turtle and the Sparrow; however, my mind was too full to focus on the poems for more than a stanza or two before wandering. That is more and more the way of it: I must remain busy every moment for the second I attempt to repose I begin to flutter through a kaleidoscope of cares. If I am assisting Mrs O in the kitchen and we are waiting for something to rise or to bake or to simmer, my mind immediately turns to a worrisome topic. Luckily at night, when I retire, I am generally so exhausted that I can full asleep before my mind can engage such thoughts. These letters help to settle my turbulent head, in part because they contribute to my exhaustion. (I’m sorry, my dear, for sidestepping onto this track. I shall return to describing the events of earlier in the hope that they shall amuse you.)
Ted Morrissey is the author of four books of fiction as well as two books of scholarship. His works of fiction include the novels An Untimely Frost and Men of Winter, and the novella Weeping with an Ancient God, which was named a Best Book of 2015 by Chicago Book Review. His stories, essays and reviews have appeared in more than forty publications. He teaches in the MFA in Writing program at Lindenwood University. He lives near Springfield, Illinois, where he and his wife Melissa, an educator and children’s author, direct Twelve Winters