Marian Halcombe Camlet’s journal
Sandett House in Hampstead, 2 April 1872
Early this morning the upstairs bathroom door flew open with a crash, revealing my tall twenty-two year-old stepson startlingly clad in nothing but a towel. “You confounded brats!” Micah roared at his siblings.
Little Tad scurried back out of range. “Brother lost his trousies!”
Eight-year-old Merry giggled at the sight. “Your complexion’s past improving, Micah.”
Secure in the dignity of her twenty years, Lottie announced, “We all have to share, brother.” She swept past him, neatly sweeping her long blonde braid clear as she shut the bathroom door behind herself.
“Lottie!” Micah hammered on the door. “Give me my dressing gown!”
There was no reply, and Tad squealed with laughter. His only excuse must be his age, for he is not yet three. And Merry cried, “Lottie, it was my turn! I need to go!”
Theo’s grey head became just visible as my dear husband ascended the stair. “Merry, you are noisy. If your need is so great, you have your bedroom utensil.”
“I kicked it over last night,” my younger daughter confessed artlessly. “Lottie was dreadfully unkind about it.”
His own dressing gown unavailable, Micah emerged from the boys’ room in William’s, which was far too short for his six feet of height. “This is a bear pit, Papa.”
“At least William and Lester are away at school,” my dear husband replied in placid tones. “Come the long vacation we shall be full to the brim. Marian, my bird, would you come down? I’d like your opinion on a letter. And you, naughty miss, are far too boisterous. Come use the downstairs water closet.”
Merry happily took her papa’s hand so that she could be ‘jumped’ down the stairs. I handed my little Tad over to his nurse, and Micah retreated simmering into his chamber again.
“The roof will fly off the house,” I said to Theo. “William is but half Micah’s age. And all three girls crammed into the one bedroom? I think I shall have Lester down in my dressing room.”
“We’re a large family,” Theo said, quite unruffled. “You must remember to keep the doors closed.” His hazel twinkle was so naughty that in spite of our recent difficulties I had to laugh. At colossal expense Theo has fitted Sandett House with the most modern plumbing. We have a water closet on two floors of the house, a luxury unknown to many an earl. To this I can attest from personal experience! On the main floor Merry pattered barefoot into the facility in the back hallway, and I followed my husband into his study.
I was surprised when he shut the door. He gestured for me to sit. “Marian,” he said quietly. “Has Lottie ever shared with you her correspondence with John Prower in Massachusetts?”
“From my Yankee sea captain turned librarian?” I called up in my mind’s eye Mr. Prower, tall and well-built, with his blond moustaches and the far-seeing dark eyes of the sailor. “They come every fortnight or so. She occasionally shares the enclosures. You remember the pressed magnolia blossom from last summer. And she’s read out amusing bits, or messages. He wished us all a happy Christmas last winter.”
He sat down at his big cherrywood desk. “But you’ve never looked over an entire letter.”
Theo is of a liberal persuasion, and would never insist on reading his daughter or wife’s correspondence. But there are reasons why many men do. “Do you suspect him of impropriety?”
“No. But I fear for my daughter’s peace.” From a cubbyhole he took an envelope so plump it bore extra American stamps, and passed it to me.
Within I found another letter, folded and sealed with a wafer, with Lottie’s name on the outside. And a covering letter, written in a firm manly script:
Sandett House, Hampstead, London
My dear sir:
Of your great kindness you gave me permission to conduct a long-standing correspondence with your daughter Lottie. We have been exchanging letters for nearly four years now.
I regret to say that although I have enjoyed the correspondence greatly, I am obliged to cease writing to her. I look to alter condition, residence and career in the near future, and shall not have space in my new life for it. I enclose a final note of farewell to her. May I ask you, whose dearest care must be her happiness, to break my news to her gently, before giving it to her to read?
John Ledyard Prower
NB: She need have no fears about her own letters. I shall return them to her as soon as I may.
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