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From the deposition of Mrs. James Tarleton to the Joint Representatives of the British Ministry of Magic, the War Office, and the Foreign Office
I suppose that if I were going to blame our involvement on anyone (which I see no reason to do), I would be compelled to say that it was all Aunt Charlotte's fault. If she had not been in such a dreadful temper over Kate's marriage, Kate and Thomas would not have decided to take their wedding journey on the Continent in preference to remaining in England, and James and I would not have gone with them. And then very likely we would never have known anything about any of it.
Kate is my cousin, and now that she is married she is a Marchioness, which is what put our Aunt Charlotte's nose so dreadfully out of joint. Admittedly, Kate said some awful things to Aunt Charlotte, but after the way Aunt Charlotte treated Kate, she deserved every one of them. She made matters worse by hinting that I ought to be as put out as she, because Kate was going to be Lady Schofield and I was only going to be Mrs. Tarleton. So it is her own fault that none of us wished to stay and listen to her nagging.
At first James was dubious about our joining Kate and Thomas on their wedding journey, though he and Thomas are nearly as great friends as Kate and I. I felt compelled to point out that even if we did not accompany them, they would have Lady Sylvia traveling with them at least until they reached Paris. "And if Kate does not object to having her mama-at-law with them, you ought not to be such a high stickler about our going as well. Besides, she and Thomas invited us."
"You mean you cooked up the idea and talked Kate into it, and she persuaded Thomas," James said. "Sometimes you go too far, Cecy."
"I did not!" I said hotly. Which is not to say that I would not have done so if I had thought of it, but I saw no reason to mention that to James. "Kate came to me, I promise you, and it was Thomas's idea, not hers."
"Thomas wants us on his wedding journey?"
"It's our wedding journey, too," I pointed out, feeling rather annoyed. "And I believe he thinks he is doing us a favor."
"Aunt Charlotte," I said succinctly.
"I am perfectly capable of handling-" James broke off suddenly, looking rather thoughtful. "You're right," he said after a moment. "That does sound like Thomas."
"If you are quite determined, I can tell Kate to tell Thomas that we have other plans," I said. "But since he already knows perfectly well that we haven't-"
"No, no, I'll talk to him," James said hastily. He turned away, muttering something about keeping me out of it, which I chose not to hear.
So James went off to see Thomas, and they ended up in some gaming hell or other and were odiously drunk. (Or so my brother, Oliver, informed me. He was quite scathing about it, until I inquired very sweetly how he had happened to be there to see.) And when I saw James late the next day, he had agreed that when Kate and Thomas and Lady Sylvia left London, we would go along with them.
James made a point of asking who was making the arrangements, and he seemed quite relieved to hear that Lady Sylvia was managing it all. I gather that he does not entirely trust Thomas's skills in that regard.
Naturally, Aunt Charlotte made a number of shocked and uncomplimentary remarks when she discovered what we were planning. As it was none of her affair, James and I ignored her. After all, Aunt Elizabeth did not see anything amiss about it, and she is at least as high a stickler as Aunt Charlotte. (Well, actually, what Aunt Elizabeth said was that if going on a wedding journey together was the oddest thing the four of us ever did, Aunt Charlotte should be grateful.) Papa, of course, was delighted, and gave Kate and me each a long list of antiquities that he said we must see (most of them quite unsuitable, but I dare say that didn't occur to him).
The wedding was rather small, as we held it barely three weeks after the announcements appeared, but it was most elegant. James and Thomas stood up for each other, and Kate and I were each other's maids of honor, and Papa gave both of us away, since Kate's Papa has been dead these five years. I must confess that at the time I somewhat regretted the haste and the quietness of the ceremony, but I would have gone to much greater lengths in order to be married along with dear Kate. Upon reflection, however, I see that it was a very good thing we were so quick about matters. If we had waited, Aunt Charlotte would probably have unbent and begun speaking to Kate again, and then she would certainly have tried to bully Kate into wearing a wedding gown identical to mine (which was Brussels lace over cream satin), and it would not have done at all. Kate is far too short to look well in the styles I wear, but she was perfectly stunning in the white silk brocade that she and I and Lady Sylvia picked out.
Kate was a little nervous before the ceremony started; I believe she was afraid she would trip while she was walking up the aisle, or become entangled in her veil, or tear the hem out of her gown. Nothing of the sort happened, and I am quite sure she forgot to worry as soon as she saw Thomas waiting for her. She looked very happy indeed, and positively floated down the aisle. I am afraid I didn't pay too much attention to Kate after that, because it was my turn to walk up the aisle and I was looking at James.
The wedding breakfast afterward was a sumptuous affair. Neither my brother, Oliver, nor Aunt Charlotte could find anything to turn up their noses about, but none of us wished to linger. Finally, a footman came to say that the carriages were at the door, and we said our good-byes. Aunt Elizabeth hugged us both and gave us each a pair of pearl earrings, which she had enchanted so that they would never fall out or get lost. Papa (who was beginning to look vaguely rumpled already) gave me a bottle of brandy (in case any of us should be carriage-sick) and another list of antiquities he had forgotten to include the first time. Oliver, to my complete astonishment, gave me a hug that did severe damage to his cravat and promised James and me one of Thunder's foals. Aunt Charlotte sniffed and said she hoped none of us would regret it, and then presented Kate and me with identical boxes of starched linen handkerchiefs. Kate immediately found a use for one; her sister, Georgina (who has always been something of a watering pot), had already soaked her own handkerchief, and Kate was too kind to let her continue dabbing at her eyelashes with a soggy ball.
We escaped at last, climbed into our carriages, and started off. Lady Sylvia travels in the first style of elegance. She had a carriage for herself (I thought it was out of kindness, to keep from invading the privacy of the newlyweds, but Kate told me later that her carriage is specially sprung), one for each couple, two more for the servants, and a sixth that was completely filled with baggage (most of it Lady Sylvia's, as Kate and I had not had sufficient time to assemble much in the way of bride-clothes). Most of the servants were Lady Sylvia's, too. James had brought his valet and Thomas had brought a man named Piers, who he said filled the same office, but neither Kate nor I had had the opportunity to engage a maid. Lady Sylvia seemed to think that we would do far better to wait until we reached Paris to replenish our wardrobes and hire personal servants, and we saw no reason whatever to disagree with her.
Lady Sylvia was eager to return to France, so instead of taking the journey in easy stages, we went straight to Dover. Despite all her planning, we were not able to board a packet that night; the winds were against us, and no boats could cross the Channel until they changed. So we spent the night at a small inn in Dover. (Kate was quite thoroughly taken aback when the proprietor addressed her as "Lady Schofield.")
The following morning the wind had changed, so after Thomas and James finished arguing about who was to settle up at the inn (each of them insisted on paying the whole himself), we all went down to the docks. It was cloudy and looked as if it might rain at any moment, but there was a good stiff breeze blowing and the captain of the packet assured us that we would have a quick and easy passage to Calais.
If what we had was a quick and easy passage, I am not at all sure that I wish to return to England until someone invents a spell to whisk people across the Channel without benefit of boats. We were barely under way when I began to feel a bit peculiar. I decided to go and lie down in our cabin, but it did not answer; I was most vilely unwell for nearly the whole of the crossing.
James came in at least once, looking worried, but of course there was nothing he could do. I heard him a few moments later, talking to Thomas outside the cabin.
"Don't fret," Thomas told him, in what I thought was a most unfeeling tone. "Nobody ever dies of seasickness; they only wish they would."
Kate came by just then and made them go away. A little later she returned with a cup half full of something dark and strong-smelling. "Lady Sylvia made this," she told me. "She says it will do you good."
"If you have any friendship for me at all, you will not even speak to me of swallowing anything," I replied.
"If I have to take it away, I shall probably spill it, and someone will slip in it and break a leg," Kate declared. "You had better drink it."
"You haven't spilt anything in ages," I told her. "Not since you and Thomas finally settled things between you." But I drank it anyway, because Kate can be very persistent. It was not nearly as nasty as it looked, and it did help. On her way out of the cabin, Kate tripped over the doorsill, just to prove I was wrong about her spilling things.
Lady Sylvia's potion sent me off to sleep, and when I woke up the boat did not seem to be tossing about quite so much. I was just wondering whether perhaps I might dare to try standing up, when the door of the cabin opened and James came in.
"We've arrived," he told me. "Are you feeling well enough to come ashore?"
"For solid ground under my feet, I can do anything," I said fervently, and swung my feet out of the bunk. My head swam a little, but not enough to stop me. It was only when I reached the deck that I realized my ordeal was not yet over. Despite the multitude of travelers coming to France of late, no one had yet built docks in Calais suitable for receiving them. Instead, the packet stopped some way out from land, and we disembarked into smaller boats to be rowed ashore.
A crowd of workingmen waited on the beach. I thought they meant to carry our luggage, but when I mentioned this, Lady Sylvia said, "They will do that, certainly, but their first duty is to carry us."
"What?" Kate said, alarmed, but just then the boat must have reached some crucial point, for the men surged forward into the sea. They surrounded the rowing boat, shouting incomprehensibly. Having made the crossing many times before, Lady Sylvia rose immediately, stepped up on the seat of the rowboat, and with considerable aplomb seated herself on the shoulders of two of the men. She was borne off immediately, and the rest of us did our best to follow her example, with varying degrees of success. Soon we were deposited onshore, most of us only slightly damp from the sea spray and none the worse for wear (though Kate had somehow contrived to become soaked to the waist, despite Thomas's care in selecting two of the huskiest porters to carry her ashore). The sun was shining out of a clear, blue sky. We were in France.
Copyright © 2004 by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
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