“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls; for thus, friends absent speak.” –John Donne
Cousin Sarah had always been a bit of an odd-feathered bird. Mother had always insisted that she must be a changeling – though Mother and Aunt Augusta never quite got on. Mother had originally been a Haggerston, and Aunt Augusta a Dawson, and there had always been some bad blood there, though that was never discussed in polite company. At any rate, it was the common consensus that Sarah had marched to a different drummer for as long as drummers had been drumming. We had always been close.
Since Mother was frequently busy playing Doting Wife to Father for the benefit of his business benefactors at their many extravagant Dinner Soirees, Father and Uncle Abram had come to the agreement that Cousin Sarah would be employed as my nursemaid, much to Mother’s dismay. Sarah was considerably older than I, as Uncle Abram was my father’s eldest brother (Father, in following, was the youngest of that particular generation of Chamberlayne), and yet unmarried, so the suggestion was quite natural, and Sarah moved in with us for several years before my eighth birthday.
It was around that time that Father finally made his mark on his benefactors and Mother shifted her focus to impressing the benefactors’ wives, which meant bringing her poised young daughter along to Luncheons and High Teas. It was only because of Sarah that these outings were bearable. Though she was not my governess, Sarah had impressed upon me an extraordinary love for literature, and with that love quite a vivid imagination. Crafting stories in my head about all of the dreadfully boring businessmen’s wives was the only way to entertain myself and appear polite simultaneously.
Thus Sarah moved from our home in Northwood Park back to her parents’ estate in Northdon. It was not long after that Uncle Abram and Aunt Augusta departed for a hunting retreat at one of Uncle Abram’s business partner’s country houses, though as fate would have it, they would never arrive. There was a terrible accident with their carriage on the road, and neither survived. As their only child, Sarah handled their funeral arrangements and had them buried in the family plot. She inherited the estate, including the property and Uncle Abram’s wealth, and along with his brothers, received equal stake in his businesses.
Though I wrote to Cousin Sarah every month for years thereafter, I got a reply only once for every twelve, usually around Christmas. It was always short, a few meager sentences assuring me that she was well and required no aid, and apologizing for not writing more often, though she never amended it. These letters came for the ten years following her parents’ deaths, then stopped for several years in succession. In the meantime, I continued to write, now describing Mother’s slow descent into lunacy over my not yet having procured a suitor, and her vehement insistence that it was completely Sarah’s fault for having ruined me as a child. I thought she would glean as much, if not more, amusement from it as I.
I worried little about Sarah in the four years without a letter from her. None of my messages were ever returned to me as undeliverable, and Sarah had always been resourceful. If anything, I was merely curious as to how she was occupying her time.
Then, in the fifth year, I received an unexpected letter near my birthday, yet halfway from Christmas.
My Dearest Helena,
I am so glad to hear that you are well, and that you seem to have inherited any measure of my rebel spirit. It does not surprise me that your frantic Mother is hastily shoving every man she can find in your direction in hopes that something will stick. Had I not been out of the house, mine would have done the same to me.
I am so, so sorry that I have not written you more often. I know that I say the same every time I write, but this time I truly do mean it. I have been so busy these last years with so many great and all-consuming things, and I do so wish that I could share them with you. Unfortunately they are much too complicated to disclose here, and so now I must apologize for stoking your curiosity only to abandon the fire. In due time all shall be revealed to you, that I do promise.
I must cut this letter short, as there are many matters presently which require my attention. Happy Birthday.
All my love,
I wrote Sarah twice more before before a gentleman caller arrived at the door for me around two in the afternoon on a dreary Tuesday at the end of August. Mother was both aghast and delighted, because she did not recognize the young man, but (wrongfully) assumed I had been about in town of my own volition.
The man introduced himself as Benjamin Feldsmith, esquire, which really got Mother tittering, the eldest son of Feldsmith and Sons, Attorneys-at-Law, and then requested to speak with me privately. Mother protested, citing some ancient rule about supervision in courtship, before Mr. Feldsmith corrected her with his insistence that it was not a social call. Mother allowed us use of the salon.
Mr. Feldsmith apologized that our meeting was to be preempted by such an unfortunate affair, then handed me a sealed envelope addressed by what I recognized as Sarah’s handwriting.
If you are receiving this letter, I trust that it is from one of the Feldsmith men to whom I have entrusted it. I am so sorry, but it seemed best to tell you myself, rather than allowing you to suffer a call from some clergyman or doctor. My dear Cousin, there is no easy way to say this. I am no longer part of this mortal world. I have gone, I hope, to better things.
Please don’t cry. I know you were never one for flagrant displays of emotion, but I beg you now not to succumb. You must listen to what else Mr. Feldsmith has to tell you, and you must do it. For me.
I love you so much.
I asked Mr. Feldsmith if what the letter said was true. He assured me it was, and again apologized before he continued with Sarah’s instructions. I was the only one that was to be officially notified of her death, he told me, and the only heir. Everything that once belonged to Sarah was now mine, including Uncle Abram’s estate and what money was left in his accounts, as well as Sarah’s share of the businesses. The caveat was this: I must go to the estate in Northdon myself and see to her affairs, and only when everything had been settled would I recieve what was left of Sarah’s money. In the meantime, my needs at the Northdon estate would be paid for by the trust overseen by Mr. Feldsmith, and there was no money allotted for the hiring of outside help. My transportation had already been arranged, and a coach would be round to pick up myself and my things after tea. Another letter with further instruction would be delivered to me upon my arrival there. To refuse was to forfeit the inheritance, in which case the entire estate would be liquidated and donated to charity.
I quickly agreed to these stipulations and thanked Mr. Feldsmith for taking the time to come and speak with me. He wished me luck with handling the estate and excused himself to allow me to pack.