Chapter 1: January, Weymouth
Dear Mr Churchill,
When you elicited my promise of correspondence I must admit I was hesitant. I would never have guessed I would engage in such impropriety… but now that it comes to it I find that the prospect of being without you for the months and years ahead is too much. And So!
The Colonel and Mrs Campbell are to go to Ireland and I am to spend three months at Highbury. “Home” I suppose I should call it, but that never feels quite right. I don’t want you to think I lack affection for my dearest Grandmamma and Aunt Bates but I know myself and my own heart and I know that after a fortnight I will be longing to be away again. The trouble of course is that “home” isn’t with the Colonel either. Will Highbury feel more like home when I know you are near? I do not know.
It feels foolish to write that I do not know what “Home” is or how it feels but I know you always understand me. For you have said the same. How different the circumstances of our lives are - and how alike our feelings. You say your aunt ruins your home for you - I love my aunt dearly but toward the end of my trip I may almost feel the same way.
I long to see Ireland - I know you will be jealous but when he spoke of Ireland I could almost sympathise with Miss Campbell’s desire to marry him. Ah! I am cruel - he was not so bad and the attachment between them is strong and genuine and I am happy for my friend and glad that although our minds and likes are similar we differ in our opinions of men. But Ireland! When he spoke of it I could almost smell it and I was filled with a longing I struggle to articulate - is that home? But no - the prospect of being in a country that does not contain one Mr Frank Churchill is abhorrent to me, however briefly.
You’ve asked me for enough promises and now it is my turn. Promise me that, and now you see I am shy and I hesitate to write it, promise me that we will visit Ireland together. That Mr and Mrs Frank Churchill and Mr and Mrs Dixon will walk just as we used to.
Aunt Bates writes that you have been expected at Randalls these last several months - I only hope that when you finally arrive you will have time for me! I dread to think of what Mrs Weston will feel about you delaying your trip so many times - Miss Taylor was always so kind to me as a child although she had her hands full with her own charges - I can’t bear to think that I am the cause of her pain and resentment. And yet - will you love me less if I confess that the prospect of us missing each other in Highbury is equally as painful?
Dear Mr Churchill,
I’ve arrived safe and sound in Highbury. It’s comforting to know that as much as the world seems to change - the people and buildings of London and Weymouth - Highbury always remains much the same. My Grandmother is well and my Aunt is always in good spirits. The sounds and the smells never change. The same boy hands me from my carriage and the same faces nod at me in the streets.
There is one change, of course, and you know of it well enough already. Mr Weston has married and he hand his bride have moved to Randalls. I saw Randalls from the hill on the walk to Hartfield today. You’ll like it I think. I hope Miss Taylor - Mrs Weston now - will be happy there.
But of Mrs Weston, with whom you correspond already, you know more than I do. I haven’t seen much of her since I was a child.
I find your request to “acquaint you with all of Highbury” via my letters to be quite nonsensical. I can only tell you what I see and what I know - and were I to succeed what would they think of you when you arrive and know them already? No, you must form your own opinions. And yet, as you request it, I will try.
“Is Miss Woodhouse as pretty and accomplished as Mrs Weston claims, I must know if my new mother is unduly boastful.” What nonsense you write I can’t help but repeat it. Miss Woodhouse is indeed handsome. She has visited here and I have visited there and I think perhaps she is handsomer than ever. As for accomplishment, Mrs Weston claims all of the credit there. I know not what to say to that. It’s a word often applied to me and yet all I see are my own deficiencies. Miss Woodhouse appeared in good looks and good health, she spoke and played charmingly and that is all I shall say of her.
I feel, as I expected, a stranger in my own home. Two years absence is a long time. I have never been so long away before. Nothing here has changed - but I have. I feel like the space allotted to me in Highbury no longer fits quite right. The edges are just slightly wrong. And now ’tis I that writes nonsense.
Miss Woodhouse always seems so comfortable and confident - I do envy her that. She is always so… perfectly composed. She knows who she is and what that means. Especially when one sees her in her own home! And I, who have never been sure and have never fit anywhere, can’t help but feel discomforted around her.
There was music at Highbury, of course, Miss Woodhouse plays very well. Better than she thinks, I think. And she plays with such charming expression - I am technically proficient, I know. But I do not think I have mastered the art of playing to an audience as Miss Woodhouse has. I have had the benefit of masters and I know I play well - and yet somehow, Miss Woodhouse always makes me feel deficient. I do not dislike Miss Woodhouse - she’s uniformly charming and clever. But I feel like I can never get to know her. And I always feel that somehow she dislikes me. We are, I suppose, very unalike. And yet Miss Woodhouse reminds me of Miss Campbell whom I love more than I love anyone.
Miss Woodhouse asked after you - I panicked and did not know what to say. I am sure she saw right through me. I hardly know what I said about you. You must throw her off when you arrive. I feel sick at the prospect of your aunt finding out and taking you away from me forever.
Now I have made myself depressed. We are foolish and all is hopeless. Do write soon.