From a Mother to Her Daughter, on the Eve of Her Wedding – Elliott Gish

From a Mother to Her Daughter, on the Eve of Her Wedding – Elliott Gish

May 2022

May 8, 1888

My dearest Louisa,

By the time you read this letter, the most wonderful day of your life will be over, and night will have stolen over the grand, grey house that you must now call your own. In my mind I clearly perceive you sitting by a yawning fireplace, shivering a little in the chill of the spring evening. Above you, gloom; behind you, dimly looming, the wide stretch of your marriage-bed.

What will you be doing? Here my imagination fails me; it has never been powerful. I recall clearly the times when you begged me to tell you stories as a girl, only to roll your eyes and harrumph when I offered you the well-worn tales I knew from nursery books. “Not a story like that!” you would cry, your face puckered and displeased. “A new one!” And you would fuss, and kick, and pinch, until finally I sent you off to bed in hopes that you would sleep away your fit of temper. I never had a new story to offer you, my darling, and for that I am sorry.

Your husband being elsewhere, attending to some man’s affair, I hope that you will finally grow weary of waiting for him, just as you used to grow weary of waiting for me when I could not keep up with you during a walk or a game. Up you will get to walk off a bout of nerves, pacing to and fro, until your eyes come to rest on your hope chest, cold and forlorn in the corner of the room. (How I pray that it is there, and not abandoned in some hallway, or left to gather dust beneath the stairs!) Your gaze will slide along its elegant cedar panels, the rich curves of your initials carved into the wood, and you will be moved to cross the bedchamber and throw open its lid. There you will find this letter, tightly sealed with wax, nestled comfortably atop your muslin nightgown.

Louisa—stop now and listen. Are there footsteps in the passage? Can you feel eyes staring at you through a crack in the door? Are you certain that you are alone? If so, read on, for at last I have a new story.

When, as a girl, you first became interested in this alien thing called Love, you asked about how your father and I met, how we courted, why we married. My reply was so meagrely furnished with detail that you wandered away before I finished, throwing over your shoulder a scornful remark about my lack of romantic feeling. But although you have only ever known me as a staid old matron, I was once a girl like you, brimming with fire and honey, so full of passion that I scarcely knew what to do with myself. It was in this state that I met your father, on a warm summer evening at a garden party.

Even from a distance, he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Slim and tall, with dark gold hair and dark brown eyes, a firm chin and a soft, girlish mouth. I watched him cross the lawn with a swift, sure stride, stopping here and there to briefly greet a gentleman of his acquaintance, or drop a careless compliment in the lap of a pretty girl. He seemed to be a man with a destination. What that destination might be, I could only imagine; and, as I have said already, imagination is not my strong suit. I know it is yours, so perhaps you can imagine my surprise when this angelic creature stopped directly in front of me. His nostrils flared slightly, as though he inhaled my scent, and he smiled.

“We do not know each other, I think,” he said. I remember those words as clearly now as I did that night in bed, hearing them echo sweetly in my ears. His left hand bore a silver signet ring on its smallest finger, set with three brilliant yellow jewels, two large, one small. It winked in the sun every time he shifted his grip on his walking-stick, flashing like a Morse lamp, a beckoning call in a code I could not read.

I shall spare you further details of our courtship, our outings and walks and conversations; no mother may hold her daughter’s attention with such tedious remembrances. Suffice to say that by the time he proposed—as he did, after seeking your grandfather’s permission for my hand—I had been thoroughly wooed, and accepted with scarcely a flutter of nerves. My days became lightsome and busy, filled with those duties so particular to brides—the same duties that have filled your life these past few weeks, my darling, as you strained your eyes and pricked your fingers embroidering handkerchiefs and hemming linen and sewing flounces of lace to your bridal-gown.

“I cannot sew a moment longer!” you shouted only days ago, so carried away by temper that I thought you might tear the dress up and kick it into the hearth. But soon enough your anger ebbed, and you became again distracted by dreams of your husband-to-be.

On the morning of my wedding, rather than walking a short distance to my old village church, I climbed into your father’s carriage for a long journey across the moors; it was, I had been told, a custom of his family that brides would be married in the family chapel. How I shivered when I first saw the vast black hump of my new home, huddled on the horizon like a sleeping giant! It was so large that I could see it for a good hour, and felt almost as though it approached me, not the other way around. The closer it drew, the more my nerves began, finally, to flutter, and the more I began to wish that I were back at home, tucked safely into my virgin bed.

But such thoughts are common to brides, and when I began my walk down the aisle and saw your father waiting for me at the end of it, all ivory and gold, my girlish fears evaporated. I did not mind the draftiness of the chapel, or the incoherent mumbling of its ancient vicar. I did not mind the strange wine we were bidden to drink at the altar, which tasted both bitter and sweet. I did not mind the way my husband’s guests—all of them men, and family, I assumed, for they shared his golden beauty, and wore the same silver ring with three yellow stones upon their fingers—watched my every move, scarcely blinking. All that mattered was that I was his now, to have and to hold, to honour and to cherish—that I was now, at last, a Wife! So eager was I to have your father to myself that I rather chafed at the celebration that followed the wedding. I could not stop my teeth from gritting, nor my eyes from narrowing at anyone who chose to have another glass of champagne, another slice of cake, another turn around the ballroom. Why could these people not disperse, I wondered, and let me enjoy my wedding-night?

At last the guests began to yawn, and one by one they made their excuses, bade us good fortune, and stumbled out into the night. I had been longing for them to leave all evening, and yet, now that my wish was granted and I was finally alone with my husband, I was suddenly shy.

Your father, however, seemed to know what to do. He kissed me briefly—only our second kiss, for he had waited until we met at the altar to kiss me for the first time—and told me to take the greater staircase up to the second floor. “Your bedroom,” he said, “is the third door from the left. Obey the instructions on the bedside table, and in time, I will come to you.”

I puzzled over these words as I climbed towards my destination. Why was it to be my bedroom, and not ours? Were we not to sleep in one bed, as behooved a couple united in wedlock?

The bedroom that was to be mine was very grand and very gloomy, with only a single candle burning on the bedside table to give its shadows depth. A crisply folded piece of your father’s stationery was propped up beside it. I opened it and saw, in your father’s neat hand, the following instructions:

Remove your clothing.

Extinguish the candle.

Draw the bag over your head.

Wait on the bed.

The bag in question I found on the eiderdown. It was a little sack, such as one that might hold flour, with a drawstring in its mouth so that it could be pulled tight around the neck.

Faced with such a queer catalogue of demands, perhaps you, Louisa, would not acquiesce; perhaps you, more brazen than I, would storm downstairs and confront your husband, demanding to know what he meant by such a list. But I was not like you, and so I did not think to disobey. I removed my wedding-dress—a difficult feat, as no maid attended me, and it fastened with two dozen tiny pearl buttons—and my petticoats, and finally, reluctantly, my unmentionables. Unclad, I felt at once the draft in that great room, and I shivered as I blew out the candle, pulled the bag over my head, and felt my way to the foreign bed, mounting it clumsily in the darkness.

After my engagement, my mother had made occasional opaque references to ‘the state of wifehood’, vaguely insinuating that my transition into this state would take place, not at the altar, or during the signing of the registry, but over the course of the wedding-night. I must confess that I had some faint inkling of what this state might entail; during my childhood I had often seen animals enacting their strange rituals of courtship in yard and field. My childish brain recognized the connection between these curious animal dances and the later arrival of kittens, piglets, foals, and calves. I was able to eventually draw a parallel between this state of affairs and that of Marriage—to understand, in a dim, unfocused way, that since a Woman united with a Man in wedlock will usually bear children, a similar dance must take place between them. This I pondered as I lay in the dark, the bag firmly drawn over my head, trying to imagine what change awaited me when your father entered the room.

I have no way of knowing how long, dear Louisa, I lay upon that bed before your father came into the room. The long wait had made me fretful and nervous, and when the chamber door flew open with a bang, I could not help but shriek in fear, my body on that enormous bed jerking as though shot through with lightning.

“You must lie very still,” he said, and his voice was suddenly much colder than it had been hours before, when we had exchanged our wedding-vows. And thus our night began.

My daughter, to frighten you is not my aim, nor yet my purpose in this letter, and yet I must tell you that until that night, I did not know what Pain was. The unitary act, of which I was so ignorant, provoked in me such a feeling of terror and agony that I felt I would be ripped down the middle like a paper doll. With the bag over my head and no candles lit beyond I could see nothing, not even the dimmest outline of your father’s face, but I could hear his harsh and ragged breath, the stream of unintelligible words he muttered as he laid his weight upon me; and it seemed to me that he had not two hands but dozens, all emerging from the darkness to pin my shaking limbs to the bed, gripping them so tightly I was sure the nails would pierce the skin—and so they had, I saw the next day, when I examined myself before the mirror and beheld a number of deep punctures in my arms and legs, the skin around them purple and bruised.

I writhed—I wept—I begged your father for mercy, and received none. He said not a word to me throughout this torturous ordeal, neither of comfort for my weeping nor of remonstrance for my inability to remain still. It seemed to me that many painful hours went by while he thrust and poked and grappled with my flesh as though he were the Devil himself, until finally he let out a long, strange moan, his hands gripping ever tighter until the sound abruptly ceased. In the darkness beneath my hood, I heard him sigh, then felt the burning weight of him leave me.

Footsteps creaked away across the bedroom floor. The door opened, then shut. He did not say goodnight, nor bid me well. He did not even remove the bag.

I hope to never again have a night as wretched as that one. Alone, unclothed, I abandoned myself to a wild fit of hysterics that went unnoticed in that great house. I am sure that my weeping could be heard in every room, but no one came to comfort me—not your father, not a servant, not even a curious dog. Loneliness weighed so heavy on my soul that I felt as though he lay upon me still.

Oh, how I shuddered when I saw your father there at the breakfast-table the next morning! He was as handsome, as golden, as charming as ever, but the sight of him made me shiver all over, like a dog who, having once been kicked, trembles to see its master.

We broke our fast in silence, attended by his grim, grey servants. Questions roiled within my unsettled mind, so pressing and urgent that I felt I might burst with them. How could he who had only yesterday promised to love and care for me have hurt me so dreadfully, ignored my cries of protest with such a will? How could he sit there calmly with his coffee and his paper after my person had been so grotesquely outraged? How, how, how could he act as though all was well, when nothing was well, and never would be again?

The next few months of my life felt like a hideous dream. During the day, I would wander the manor, some servant always trailing silently behind me. During the evening I ate dinner with your father, who often brought his friends with their silver rings to eat with us; they spoke together in a language I did not know, all hissing consonants and harsh, spitting vowels. At nightfall I would enter my bedroom with a thumping heart, my eyes landing immediately on that hideous table to see if it bore another folded note, bidding me to strip, blind myself, and wait. There was no logic to these nights as far as I could tell, no pattern I could learn that might allow me to steel myself. Sometimes he would appear five nights in a row, leaving me so sore I could barely stir from my bed; then he would abstain for weeks, even months, until I began to think that perhaps I was free of his hideous attentions forever.

And then, inevitably, a note would appear on the bedside table, and a bag on the bed, and the horror would begin once more.

I tried to explore my new abode, but many of the doors were locked, and sometimes even if they were not, whatever servant accompanied me would step before me and prevent me from entering, telling me that my husband had declared it ‘out of bounds’. The library was out of bounds. My husband’s room and study were out of bounds. Conservatory, parlour, drawing room, dining room, nursery, even the kitchen and the scullery were off-limits to me when not in the company of my husband.

“I am the mistress of this house!” I cried one day, frustrated by the constant barrage of refusal; and the servant who had denied me entrance said, without missing a beat:

“Yes, madam, but you see, he is its master, and yours, too.”

One of the few places I was permitted was the long gallery. On days that were cold or rainy I would walk there to get my exercise, gazing up at the portraits that lined walls at regular intervals, your father’s ancestors stately and beautiful as angels. All of them, I saw, bore silver rings on their left hands, the stones as golden as their hair. The terrace was also within my accepted bounds, as were the gardens scattered across the house’s sprawling grounds. Ordinary, orderly gardens they were, full of roses and hollyhocks, wisteria and foxglove—and yet there were stranger blossoms scattered throughout, monstrously large and tinged with foreign colours whose names I did not know, their perfume so delicate and strange it made me swoon.

On one occasion I plucked one of these flowers and set it in a vase beside my bed, wanting to fill the air with that curious scent. I dreamed that night of another garden, somewhere far away. In the distance I could see the shadowy outlines of ruined towers, as though I stood in the pleasure-garden of a palace only recently brought tumbling down by Time. Those mysterious flowers bloomed all around me, making the air hazy with scent. When I looked upwards, instead of a single sun, I saw three: two large, one small, burning in a sky whose colour was all wrong.

I woke up the next morning with a ferocious headache, and the vase on the table quite empty. A servant stood at the foot of my bed, looking dourly upon me.

“The master says the flowers ain’t to be plucked,” she said.

I never picked a flower on the grounds of your father’s house again, although that dream came back to me over and over.

My dear, are you quite sure that there is no one else present? Have you checked beneath the bed? in the wardrobe? behind the chiffonier? Are those drapes stirring faintly in a draft coming from the window, or do they conceal some gleeful spy?

Never mind. I must trust you to know that your solitude is complete.

When I had been married for nearly a year, I found another folded note on my bedside table. I removed my clothes, eased the bag over my head, and blew out the candle before climbing onto the bed. However, I found as I lay back on the bed that I had not pulled the drawstring as tight as usual, and that if I lay with my head far back on the pillow and my chin tight against my neck, I was able to peep through the slit at the bottom of the bag. It was a full moon, the room so brightly lit it was almost like day, but I could see little enough: my own body pimpling in the chill of the room, a sliver of bedpost and curtain, a hint of the darkness beyond.

I was reaching up to pull the drawstring tight around my throat when I heard the creaking of feet coming down the passage. Hastily I returned my hand to its resting place on the eiderdown, just in time for your father to make his entrance.

I saw only the briefest of glimpses from my accidental peephole. A cloth of some kind thrown carelessly onto the floor; a patch of skin, silver-white in the moonlight; and then he began his usual line of attacks on my person. By now I was so used to these nighttime ministrations that they had become almost dull. Even though I still felt my body seize in terror at his approach, even though the smell of him still filled me with loathing, I found myself bored by his efforts, and by my feelings of panic and dismay. The reactions of my body wearied me; I was left cold by my own suffering.

And then one of your father’s hands slipped, catching on the loose sackcloth gathered at the top of my head, and the bag pulled inadvertently up over my chin, my nose, my eyes. And I could see all.

The thing that straddled my body in the moonlight was no man. Its eyes were your father’s, and its smell, and its voice mumbling words in no language I had ever learned; but the face was long and thin, the mouth a lipless gash, the nose no more than twin holes in its face. The body was painfully slender, grey-white skin pulled tight over tendon and bone, with arms (and it seemed to me that there were more than two, Louisa!) ending in grasping talons, grabbing greedy handfuls of my flesh and twisting it as though they meant to tear it off in lumps. Between the cadaverous legs, sliding in and out of me, was its member, a thing that I cannot describe—not out of feminine decorum, but because the sight of it so horrified me that I could not keep the image of it in my head. Even now I am unable to picture it, try as I might. All I can see is a mess of wormy skin, exposed nerve, pulsing muscle.

This glimpse of your father’s true form lasted only a moment, and then his eyes met mine, and whatever impulse had frozen me in place disappeared. I screamed, long and louder than I had ever screamed before, and he screamed too, the thin slash of his mouth gaping impossibly wide into a great black hole. He scuttled away from me like some monstrous crab, back and back until he fell off the bed and onto the stone floor. After a moment he stood, pulling a length of cloth around him like a robe—and then I saw it was not cloth at all, but skin, the same skin he had discarded moments ago. He was wrapping himself in human flesh, swaddling his grotesque body in the shape that I had come to know as my lawful husband. In a moment he stood before me as I had always seen him, beautiful and fair, his silver ring winking in the moonlight. He looked at me, his face twisted as though he was as horrified as I was, then turned tail and fled the room, oaths in that unknown language dripping from his tongue.

I did not want to go downstairs the next morning; I had no wish to share a room with that thing, knowing now what lay under the beautiful skin. But go I did, forced downstairs and into my seat by your father’s servants and their strong, cruel hands. Your father watched them manhandle me into my chair, drinking a cup of coffee. The agitation of the night before seemed to have left him; he looked entirely calm.

“You were not meant to see what you saw last night,” he said.

This was so obvious a statement—the snuffed candle! the bag!—that I could not suppress a bark of laughter. He registered this with barely a twitch of his elegant eyebrows.

“The proper thing to do,” he continued, “would be to kill you. That is the usual consequence of women spying on that which does not concern them.”

The silence that followed these words seemed to have a tangible weight, pressing on my eardrums as though I were suddenly underwater. Your father took a sip of coffee and hummed under his breath.

“However,” he said, “there is the matter of the child to consider.”

My face in that moment, I am sure, was as blank as any woman’s face could be. “The what?” I said.

“You are pregnant,” he said, and smiled, the same smile that had so captivated me upon our first meeting. Just as they had then, his nostrils flared. “Even after one night, I can smell my seed finally taking root in you.”

I winced at his crudeness—and winced again as I thought of how I had come to be in such a state, how brutally he had used me.

“And so,” he continued, “you have two choices. You may leave, remove yourself to your father’s house, if he will have you, or wander the streets as a beggar or a whore, if he will not. You may birth my child in filth and squalor, knowing that when you do, I will snatch him from your arms and drown you in the nearest river. And make no mistake, I will do this. Should you go to France, or Bohemia, or Timbuktu, I will find you, and I will take what is mine. According to the laws of my people—and yours, I believe—a child is the rightful property of his father. The mother is merely the vessel through which he enters the world, the jug from which the water pours.”

My people, he said. But what people were those? I remembered, suddenly, the dreams that had plagued me after plucking that strange flower, the vision of that faraway garden under three burning suns, that palace crumbling into dust. The three stones on your father’s ring caught the morning light as he took a sip of coffee.

“And what,” I asked, “is the second choice?”

“To be the lady of this house,” he replied. “To lie with me without complaint, to bear the children that will bear my name, to appear by my side when I need you to and disappear when I do not. Do these things, and you will live in comfort for the rest of your life—although it will be short, as all your kind’s lives are.”

“Shall I live in safety, as well as comfort?” I asked, and now it was his turn to laugh.

“These are your choices, wife,” he said. “Live with me knowing that I could kill you, or run from me knowing that I will.”

I have never been brave. I made my choice.

For thirteen months I carried you, longer than any woman is meant to carry a human child. Your father’s strange friends would appear at all hours of the day and night, pressing their elegant hands to my stomach, saying not a word to me but toasting your father with glasses of bittersweet wine, praising his virility in that language I did not know. “A son!” they cried, their rings glittering in the lamplight, “a son!” And I pictured a ghoulish creature like your father sliding out of my womb, and wept.

But of course, you were no son, and when, after a day and a night of labour, I finally looked into your little pink face, I felt myself overcome with relief and fear in equal measure. Relief, because you were a human girl-child, and not some unholy wraith; and fear, because I had no inkling of how your father would react to a daughter. When he saw you, however, he only shrugged and said, “A girl may have her uses, given time.”

He continued to visit me at night, trying to beget a son, but your time inside my body seemed to have robbed it of its creative powers. Still, I called for hot water whenever he left me to rid myself of his stink and seed, and made the servants brew me thick cups of pennyroyal tea, to make sure that no other child could take root.

Louisa, you were the only thing in that hideous house for me to love, and I loved you with all the strength I had. I insisted on feeding you from my own breast. Although your father soon procured a stone-faced woman to act as your nursemaid, I kept you by my side whenever I could, letting her trail wordlessly behind us as we frolicked. I taught you how to read with the wizened letter-blocks from my own childhood nursery. We played hide-and-seek in the gardens, tag in the echoing ballroom, ran footraces along the marble length of the long gallery, your father’s ancestors smiling down at us from within their ornate frames. As a toddling thing you paid them no mind, but as you grew older you began to look at them more closely, squinting up through the gloom at those fair and winsome faces. Once, I recall, you turned to me and asked:

“Mamma, why are there no ladies in any of these pictures?”

It startled me, that question, for until that moment I had not noticed that, indeed, the portraits were all of gentlemen. Not a single woman stared down from that gallery wall.

The older you grew, the more I understood how unlike me you were: brash instead of meek, bright instead of dull, bold instead of timid. You were not afraid to ask questions, even when I could not or would not answer them. When you split your chin on the edge of a table, you scarcely cried; when you tripped over a loose cobble and broke your wrist trying to catch yourself, you let the doctor set it without a murmur of complaint. You climbed to the top of the tallest trees, dove into the coldest lakes, approached the wildest snarling dogs with your hand outstretched, offering friendship. I have been blessed to be your mother, my brave and beautiful darling.

Louisa, I need you to be brave now, for I am approaching the heart of the matter.

Your father paid you no attention when you were a child, nor yet when you were a girl; but as you approached womanhood, he suddenly took an interest in your habits, your manners, your bearing and dress. You recall that at the supper-table—the only meal we all took together, and that rarely—he began to correct your posture, to ask you what you were reading, to observe your growing body and comment upon its form, its fullness. “You will be an easy mother,” he said to you once, looking at your broad hips, and you flushed and looked ashamed.

“What did he mean?” you asked me later, sounding so puzzled and unhappy that I had to stifle the urge to run to your father and wrap my hands around his throat.

Your father’s friends, too, began to lay eyes upon you in all your blooming glory. You were a sheltered baby, and you had grown into a sheltered girl; I was terrified that one of these men would request your hand, and that, knowing no other men nor any other way of life, you would oblige him. I did not know for certain if they were of a kind with your father, if they, too, had wrapped themselves in man-skins to hide their proper forms, but I had seen their rings, and I did not trust them. Therefore I determined that you must have a proper coming-out party, as is customary for a young lady of your status, and sent dozens of invitations throughout the county, hoping that one of them would be received by an eligible bachelor. Marriage had destroyed my life. I prayed it might save yours.

You remember your coming out party, I hope—your beautiful gown of pale China silk, the freesias twined through your golden hair, the scores and scores of people in the ballroom who applauded you as you made your blushing way through the door, shy for the first time in your life. Your father’s friends were there in droves, but they were at last outnumbered, and my spirits lifted as I saw you speak to several eligible young men. There was one, I noticed, at whom you looked again and again, and who left your side but rarely that whole night—a handsome fellow with jet-black hair and eyes the colour of smoke. He wore the most elegant kid gloves, fastened at the wrist with cunning jet buttons, and when, later that night, I caught him alone and let him know that he was welcome at the Manor any time he chose to visit, he caught my hand with his gloved ones and kissed my fingers with gratitude and delight.

Visit he did, often and eagerly. From my window I watched the two of you stroll through the gardens, resolutely followed by your nursemaid, and felt a lightness in my heart that I had not known for years. I knew little of the young man, but what I did know I liked: he was clever and courteous, quick to joke but not to offend; he was rich, though not terribly so, and had political aspirations; he spoke lovingly of his family home some miles away, the beautiful gardens on its grounds. His name sprang to your lips, unbidden, at least five times a day; I admit, sometimes I would let our conversations wander in a way that I knew would draw your mind to him, and then smiled to myself when you mentioned him again. I had high hopes that you had formed an attachment, and when you came to me and told me that he had proposed, I urged you to accept. I had visions of you spirited safely away, to your fiancé’s family home or even the Capitol, free at last—free at last!

Your engagement party was a smaller affair than your coming-out party, but still memorable for being one of the few merry occasions at your father’s house. You were so lovely that evening, so clearly infatuated with your betrothed, that I could scarcely stop smiling. But I believe your fiancé smiled wider as he lifted his glass to toast your impending nuptials, your future happiness, and the blessing he had found in you, the sweetest of brides.

It was then I realized that he had not worn his gloves that evening. On the smallest finger of his left hand, gleaming in the light of the candelabra, was a silver ring set with three yellow stones.

I should have spoken to you that night, but I was frozen by my realization—frozen, and then shamed for the part I had played in it. Every day since then I have tried to speak to you alone, but it seemed that suddenly the servants attended your every waking moment, surrounding you like a cloud of houseflies. I had no chance to warn you, no opportunity to make right, until now.

I am writing this in the still hours of the morning of your wedding; the whole affair will be over when you read this letter. I can picture you in bridal-gown, its pink silk bringing out the innocent bloom of your cheeks. You will look beautiful, of course, and a little nervous, and young—this above all, for no one looks younger to a mother than her daughter. When I see you, it is not as the woman of nineteen that you are, but as many versions of yourself, one nested inside the other like those cunning Russian dolls. Yourself at fourteen, thickly flushed with blood—ten, swift and nimble as a boy—six, earnest and gap-toothed. And in the middle, in the heart, yourself as a baby, red and sticky with the mess of the womb. My own, my flesh.

Louisa, you must not have a wedding-night. I lost my youth to a silver ring. I will not see you lose yours, too.

When you have finished reading, put on your shoes and cloak as quietly as you can, and slip out of your bedchamber. Walk silent as a ghost down the stairs and out the door. Stay low to the ground and run towards the road, keeping to the shadows. I will be waiting there, my darling, with a horse and cart stolen from your father’s stables, and together we shall take our leave of these hideous creatures.

I have no idea where we shall go. I do not know if we will be safe from our husbands on the Continent, or in India, or South Africa, or Australia. I do not know if we shall manage to escape at all. You could be caught, or I could, or we could be captured together after we meet on the road or found later in some inn or on a ship. There are infinite possibilities, and a great many of them are ugly. But I will be brave for you, my daughter—for the first time in my life, I shall be brave.

With all my love,

Your Mother

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