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24 February 1828 Tangleford Hall, Kent
It was splendid to see you and Thomas and your boys again this fortnight past. (And I still think that Baby Laurence is the image of his papa, even if he is still quite bald. In deference to Thomas's feelings, however, I shall not mention the resemblance again until little Laurence is old enough to have grown some hair.) My only regret is that we could not stay longer at Skeynes. You have turned it into such a comfortable home that I do not wonder at your reluctance to go up to London, though I do hope James and I can coax you all to visit Tangleford next summer, so that we may return your hospitality.
Two weeks was hardly enough time to catch up on all your doings of the past few months. I know James was as sorry to leave as I, and as for the children—well, you saw how Baby Alexander cried when we left, and Diana and the twins all sulked for two days straight. (I had expected it of Diana, who is only four, after all, but I had hoped that at the age of nine, the twins would have grown out of such tricks. Apparently it takes longer than that.)
Speaking of the twins, I am afraid Arthur has confessed that he and Eleanor sneaked into Thomas's study on the last day of our visit. Eleanor has been suffering from a trifling ailment since we left—no more than a bad cold, but Arthur was convinced that it must be the result of some dreadful magical protection they had triggered, and so he poured out the whole story to James and me the night after we arrived home. I do not know where he can have come by such a notion, but he was so earnest in his concern that both James and I had difficulty in keeping a sober expression. I promise you that we did so, however, as neither of us wishes to encourage him to undertake any similar adventures in the future. Poking about in a wizard's study is serious business.
The reason I mention it is that Thomas may need to readjust his warding spells. (I am still not entirely sure how Arthur got past them; please do let me know, if you should discover it.) And I wish you would advise me whether Thomas maintains a continuous scrying spell on the gazing ball in his study. Arthur claims to have seen things in it, and if he is neither making up tales nor using an existing spell, I may need to find him a magic tutor who can oversee more advanced work than his present teacher.
James is going up to London to consult with the Duke of Wellington. (I suppose I ought now to say with the prime minister, but I am not yet accustomed to thinking of him so.) Though I am not sure what the duke has in mind this time, I am quite pleased for him by this turn of events. James becomes bored and most unhappy when he does not have enough to do, which is a habit I am sure he picked up on the Peninsula when he was aide-de-camp to Lord Wellington. And whatever the duke needs, I doubt it will be boring!
At first, I had hoped to go to London along with James, but both Baby Alexander and Diana show signs of coming down with Eleanor's cold, and I really cannot leave Nurse to manage them all alone, most especially if Arthur is going to remain in good health. For he is sure to get into some scrape while her back is turned, and she has a decided partiality for him that sometimes persuades her to be less firm with him than she ought.
Indeed, I am feeling nearly as sulky as the children, for I had been looking forward to seeing Aunt Elizabeth and Mr. Wrexton again. What with Mr. Wrexton's work at the Royal College of Wizards, they are so firmly settled in London now that it is nearly impossible to induce them to visit outside the city. (I cannot bring myself to call Mr. Wrexton "Uncle Michael," though he and Aunt Elizabeth have been married these ten years. I suppose I have never quite got out of the habit of thinking of him as my magic tutor.) I especially wanted Mr. Wrexton's opinion of the discursive-chain cantrips Thomas and I had that disagreement about.
I had also hoped to order a few gowns in advance of the Season, and to review the redecorating of our town house (for you know that now the duke is become prime minister, we shall have all kinds of distinguished persons visiting, so it is most important that everything be properly done).
Now it must all be left to the last minute, for James is quite hopeless at such things. I daresay he would not notice even if the drapers put crimson drapes in the blue salon. It is most provoking, and of course I cannot complain of it to James. So I write to you instead.
25 February 1828 Tangleford Hall, Kent
My dear Thomas,
The eldest of my young hellions has confessed to sneaking into your study near the end of our visit. The offense has already met with suitable punishment, but I trust you will let me know of any damage or disruption that he has not seen fit to mention. He has not provided any reason for the excursion other than a desire "to see a real wizard's study." Sometimes I think he takes after my dear Cecelia a little too much.
I am off to London as soon as may be. Wellington's summons was waiting for me when we arrived home. I am not yet entirely sure what the business is about, which will tell you a good deal right there. Unless he has good reason, Old Hookey has always been clear about his orders; I infer that the matter is serious. I need not tell you to be discreet.
Cecelia stays here with the children. I shall write when I know more, and tell you what I can.
27 February 1828 Skeynes
I do hope full health has been restored to the Tarleton household by the time you read this. To be honest, it is but a faint hope, for things here at Skeynes are just as disease-ridden, all sniffles and coughing, hot bricks and red flannel. Nothing serious, thank God. This, too, shall pass, and you'll have your chance at London before you know it. It will be lovely to see the Wrextons again. I agree that it would be vastly preferable to have a bit of extra time with the dressmakers and the drapers for once, but I'm sure that you will work your customary wiles upon them, and that no one would ever suspect you accomplished so much in so very little time.
The same mail coach that brought your letter has brought us another visitor: Georgy! She arrived with only one maid, can you believe it? and we had not a word of warning she intended to come. Hardly the distinguished behavior one looks for from Her Grace, the Duchess of Waltham, you'll agree. "More to this than meets the eye," says Thomas darkly, "so I'll leave you to get to the bottom of it," and off he gallops to Waycross. Thomas claims he needs to see if the damage from the flooding is as bad as the man of affairs there says it is. Provoking man! He knows I know floods are a matter of utter indifference to him (until they intersect with his comfort, that is), so why not just stay here while I get on with interrogating Georgy? One might have wondered if there were a warrant out for his arrest, he set off with such speed. Anyone would think that a journey to Waycross in this weather was a high treat.
Come to think of it, given the sniffles and the coughing, it might have been a bit of a relief to the poor man to get away from the sound of sick babies crying. Not that he's subjected to much of that, thanks to blessed Nurse Carstairs. Without her, Cecy, I shudder to think what life would be like. Something akin to that big painting at the Royal Academy, you remember the one, with Thomas in a long white beard as Ossian, and the children and me as his faithful followers, huddled at his feet, wearing nothing but plaid blankets. Laurence would do very well swaddled in a plaid blanket, but I shudder to think how dirty Edward's feet would get. They are quite dirty enough now, with half the staff reminding him to put his shoes back on.
Enough of that. I can't tell you anything about sick babies you don't know from experience. All this vaporing is by way of explanation of why I haven't yet told Thomas about the incident of Arthur and Eleanor and Thomas's study. He was off before I'd even opened your letter. When he comes home, I will be sure to tell him.
I cannot help but admire the persistence the children showed, for that door is not often unlocked. You know your children best, of course, but I would not wonder if we learned that Arthur made the enterprise sound as if it were all his idea in order to protect his dear sister. Eleanor, when in health, seems far more likely to have had the idea originally. If I have heard her ask Thomas once to show her a spell please, I am sure I have heard her ask him a hundred times. She asks very nicely, of course, and there is no question that Thomas is the softest touch going when it comes to indulging a small girl's taste for such amusements. I don't fault her in the least for her interest. I merely point out that Arthur may have had a bit of help in entering the study.
From the piercing cries that just began to emanate from the nursery, I should judge that someone has spilt boiling water on a lion, or Edward has frightened one of the maids, or Laurence has awakened from his nap. The only thing that rules out the possibility of all three is the happy circumstance that we do not own a lion. My appearance on the scene will only intensify the din, but if I don't demonstrate a proper degree of concern, Edward will keep finding ingenious new ways of frightening the maids, and that will never do.
So I leave you, Cecy, precisely as you last saw me, halfway to distraction, but still your devoted,
1 March 1828 Tangleford Hall, Kent
Georgy arrived on a mail coach? With only one maid? Of all the utter goosecaps! Depend upon it, the news will be all over the Ton within a week, and all the gossips will be saying that she has run away from her husband. (I don't suppose that is what she has done? If she has, it would be the first piece of good sense she's shown in years—and coming straight to you would be the second. The gossips cannot make a mysterious elopement out of it if Georgy is known to be staying with her sister, after all.)
I hope she does not keep you guessing as to her purposes for too long. The Season will be starting soon, and once it does, her behavior is certain to be the primary topic of conversation. Fortunately, it will probably not be long before some new scandal arises, but in the meantime, I should like to be prepared with whatever story the pair of you decide to set about. Or, more likely, with whatever story you and I decide to set about, as Georgy is seldom of any help in such matters. It is just like Thomas to abscond at such a moment.
As regards Thomas's study, I am quite certain that Eleanor was up to her pigtails in the matter, right along with Arthur, but even I would not venture to guess which of them was more responsible to begin with. Had I been able to interrogate them both immediately after Arthur's revelation, I might perhaps have discovered more, but Eleanor was too ill at the time, and now it is much too late. Arthur may take after me (as James often asserts), but I think Eleanor is more like you (which may have something to do with Thomas's susceptibility to her wiles)—at least as regards concocting plausible tales.
On rereading my letter, I see that it sounds rather snappish. Do believe that I am not out-of-reason cross with Georgy; she has always been a pea-goose, and I suppose she always will be. I am simply out of sorts this morning. James has been gone since Monday; the children are all absolutely full of colds (except for Arthur) and running Nurse ragged; and Arthur has been running me ragged.
I expect I had best tell you the whole, but you are not to worry. Last night, I was sitting up rather late over my books (what with the children's illnesses, it was the first opportunity I had had to look over the copy of Gregorius's Arcana that Thomas so kindly loaned me). It was well past eleven when there was a soft rap on the study door, and a moment later, Arthur slipped in.
I was at first inclined to read him a lecture, for though I do not keep so complex a magical laboratory as Thomas's, I try not to neglect my Arts, and the children all know that they are not allowed to interrupt when James or I are in the study. But Arthur was plainly much agitated; his eyes were wide and he was as tense as one of the strings in your pianoforte.
"Mama," he said before I could speak, "I am very sorry, but there is somebody outside in the garden, and I think he is trying to get in."
"Is there indeed," I said. I marked my place and set the book aside, then rose in a leisurely fashion, for I have found that a show of great calm is very reassuring to agitated children. I was not nearly so sanguine as I appeared, however. Arthur is a creative child, but not generally an overimaginative one, and so I had every dependence on the accuracy of his statement. "You did very well to come to me first, instead of alarming the servants," I told him as I snuffed the candle. "Now, show me."
We went down the hallway and across to the back of the house. There is a small, oddly shaped room there that is used mainly for storage. The window bows out over the back of the house, and moonlight was streaming in. Arthur scrambled into the window seat and pointed.
At first, I did not see anything. Then the bushes below the scullery window shook, and wobbled, and the dark figure of a man emerged. All I could determine with certainty was that he was of medium height, for he wore a workman's cap and a jacket that seemed to be several sizes too large for him. He brushed himself off and started toward the next window.
I was not much concerned, for he must have tried several of the rear windows before he reached the scullery, and the wards were holding. I was therefore tolerably sure that he was no magician. I whispered to Arthur to be very quiet and not move, and then I cast the Greater Cessation. Fortunately, it is not a long spell, if one already has solid wards in place to use as a base.
Arthur was, surprisingly, a model of decorum. I finished the spell and looked down, expecting the prowler to be frozen in place. Instead, I saw him continue to move, though very slowly, as if someone had attached lead weights to his arms and legs. His head turned, and then he began to— well, run is not precisely the right word, as even Baby Alexander could have caught up with him easily. Still, it was clear that he was trying to run, and he did succeed in moving. And the farther away from the house he got, the faster he went.
I shook off my surprise and turned to Arthur, who was staring, wide-eyed. "Go and fetch Mr. Hennesy," I told him. He barely took time to nod before he bolted for the door.
Needless to say, I did not sleep for the rest of the night. First I set Hennesy and the footmen to scouring the grounds. Though I had very little hope that they would find anything, I thought that the evident activity would discourage any further attempts at intrusion.
Excerpted from The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer. Copyright © 2006 Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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