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smirk

the 21st letter

Posted by tinuviellen on 2006.04.13 at 22:49
Christ Church College
Oxford University
Tuesday, May 18, 1891

Darling Polly,

Never think that we would blame you! I hope you would trust that in any case where Grandmother was involved, we would know where to lay the fault. Of course you have done the right, the only thing you could have done, Polly, and I am filled with pride for your having done it. Have you ever met anyone with such faith in their own utterly wrong, misguided notions as our Father’s Mother? Grandmother sometimes beggars belief. It is all of a piece that Grandmother insisted on staying home with Mother (fancying herself ill-used every moment); she fulfills her obligations out of spite. Sometimes I think she’d have just as soon Father never married; of course in the end, she does feel some affection for us, and I imagine she must be pleased to see Grandfather’s name move forward a generation. But truly, is this removal not what you have always wanted? No one would think that you had done other than fulfill your long held aim of complete financial independence. Of course the timing saddened Papa, but he is proud of you, Polly, as I am. If you insist upon my burning the letter of course I shall, but really that seems more melodramatic than necessary.
As for giving pain through complete disclosure - it is painful, but it is perhaps better to know the truth. And I must confess it does not come as much of a surprise to me as it did to you. I can’t imagine she did not say that much, or worse, to Papa at the time. It’s rather a wonder they still speak with her; Father truly has the most sainted temper. And I wish I had Mother’s talent for ignoring fools. (She looks so well, does she not? And her new dress is so marvelous. But I digress.) Aunt Sylvia has told me enough of Grandmother’s vile railings and jealousy of Mother (yes, jealousy) for me to see it only as another piece of the same cloth.
Poor Aunt Sylvia; she spoke much about Grandmother during the months I was recovering from malaria in her care. Sometimes I think removing to Bath (trivial a place as it sometimes seems) was the saving of her life. You can’t imagine the things she related! I shall tell you just one - a poor reward for your honesty, perhaps, to repay it in kind, but you might as well know the worst. You may want to prepare yourself, in fact. When she received news of the twins birth, Grandmother folded the letter, turned to Aunt Sylvia and sighed. “I suppose if she can survive this,” Grandmother lamented, “we’ll never get rid of her.” I hope you do not blame me for not telling you before; I had a long time to think about things that winter, and I wanted to be noble, I suppose, and bear the knowledge alone. I hoped, as well, that perhaps as time went on she would be sorry for her words and her attitude, but time brought Grandfather’s death and then the lawsuit, and not reform.
Can you imagine having grown up in that house? Poor Aunt Sylvia, stifled by their mother’s unthinking preference for her brother. Dear as she is, what might she have become with proper encouragement, I wonder? I think it is only our Father’s decency and love that kept poor Aunt Sylvia from feeling utterly bereft by her family. And of course Grandfather. It has not been so long since his passing, but I do forget his ability to counter Grandmother’s nonsense and excess. Had I no other reason, were his personal claims on my affection less, I would lament his loss out of selfishness; he could have made Grandmother see reason about the lawsuit. Without him, her imprecations against Mother move from grumbling to unchecked rage. I do not believe, from what I have been told, that Grandmother would have found any woman good enough for her darling son, even if Mother had not been an impoverished American; it enrages but does not surprise me that she resorts to inventing grievances against Mother when she can find no flaw in her actual conduct.
And what a preposterous absurdity her accusation is! She can have no understanding of Mother’s character, or even of what her cherished son does with his days if she truly believes that slander. Why, peat bog mummies are not at all in his field of study! Nor are Celtic or Gallic remains. The perpetrators of the hoax showed their ignorance in even choosing his name as their alleged expert. I ask you! I suppose it is that irrational aspect that renders the entire affair so maddening to me - it seems so patently amateurish that the number of otherwise reasonable people who believe it leaves me dumbstruck. No, I cannot countenance it.
And had Mother been involved in anyway, surely that would have come out at trial. None of the villains tried to so justify themselves, and did they not grasp at every other straw? Would they not have been quick to point her out, to claim her as their contact, their authority? Why ever would they not, if it were true? No, this is a foolish invention born of Grandmother’s bitterness at having lost her place in the center of Father’s affections. I could almost pity her, if she was not so resolutely poisonous in her suspicions. I have tried to pity her long enough, however. If her grief harmed no one else, it would be one thing, but to slander Mother to slight acquaintances! To be so lost to propriety, to decency, to family feeling, to reason! To attempt to win you away from Mother! The very idea makes me want to throw things again.
It is the only possible balm for such aggravation to have Mother home, and to see from her reunion with Papa how selfishly wrong-headed Grandmother has become. How I wish you could be here, Polly! What a maddening turn of fate that separates us again! Thank Heaven for placing Miss Westcott in your life, for I do not know how you would bear such isolation otherwise - let alone the practical assistance she has rendered in finding you a suitable boarding house. How I long to meet this stalwart new friend! Perhaps I can convince Father to bring me with him when he comes to London - for after all that has occurred, Polly, Grandmother has declined to come to Oxford, and ordered our Papa to her side instead. Her telegram arrived soon after yours (soon enough for suspicion, I must add); I am glad to have your letter to explain all. I shan’t make anything known to Mother or Papa if you don’t wish it, but do not be surprised to receive inquiries from them.
I will write again soon - perhaps later today, for I have news to impart, news that will interest and I hope please you - but at this moment I can think of nothing but what you’ve written here. Yes. I must take a walk to compose myself, perhaps punt so that I might do a small violence to something (be it only the blameless brown water of the Thames) and relieve my feelings so I may write you again as soon as may be. I’m so saddened, love, by what you must be suffering - but I also long to hear the details of your life in this hamper, and thrill for the adventure you are just beginning. God bless you, brave sister.
All my love to you and to your guardian angel,
Alice

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