Letters on WIP Wednesday

letter writerIn these days of email, instant messaging, Skype, and a myriad of other ways to connect with our loved ones, we find it hard to imagine how much distant separated families and lovers in the past, and how important letters were to keep them connected.

I am working with my friend Mariana Gabrielle on Never Kiss a Toad (being published in parts on Wattpad), where the lovers are separated for years, with letters the only contact they’re permitted, and those vetted by the heroine’s father. But my piece today is not from Toad, but from one of my short stories. I wrote Magnus and the Christmas Angel for a prize as part of my support for Cat Day, and I’m currently rewriting it as a novella, to bring some of the backstory into the foreground.

As always, share your excerpts about keeping in touch: any method, from letters and verbal messages through modern social media and the telephone, to the ansible or whatever other sci-fi device your imagination has given future heroes and heroines.

Mine doesn’t quote a letter. Instead, they’re discussing years of lettersMagnus and the Christmas Angel.

Magnus remembered her letters? From the day he left, she had written to him. A few lines a day, a letter a week, a bundle of letters posted every month. Trivial stories of a country girl on her ordinary daily round. And he had written back, letters from all down the coast of Africa, then up the other side and into Asia, and across the Pacific. Letters full of exotic stories and drawings of strange and wonderful places.

How boring he must have found her dull and commonplace ramblings.

“I kept writing,” she blurted. Letter after letter, at first sent in the hopes the missing ship would finally appear, and later put into the chest where she kept the much read, much cried over letters he had written in return.

“After my ship went down?” Magnus asked, his eyes warm.

Until the evening before her date at the altar to marry Magnus’s cousin. That letter, much smudged where she wept on it, and creased where she crushed it in her hands, lay with the others in her chest at the Abbey.

Callie nodded.

“I should like to read them,” Magnus said.

Callie shook her head, helplessly. Her domestic ramblings, her outpouring of grief after her father died, her increasing desperation as her brother spiralled down into ruin, stripping the estate to spend his wealth and eventually her dowry on horses, gambling, drink, loose women, and ever more extravagant schemes to rescue their fortunes. Abetted and egged on by his dear friend Lewis Colbrooke, who somehow always seemed to be the winner in any game of chance, and to come unscathed out of any risky venture. Until the swine won even the deeds to Blessings, and Callie took refuge with Squire Ambrose and his wife.

Magnus took her shake as refusal. “Not if you do not wish me to,” he said, the warm eagerness in his eyes turning to disappointment.

“I am afraid you will find them dull,” she explained. And far too revealing. She had censored nothing, thinking no-one would ever see them.

“Never dull.” The warmth had returned to Magnus’s eyes, and his voice slowed to the meditative tones, like rich brandied honey, that always sent a shiver through her. “They were home to me, Callie. I read them over and over and again, until they were thin with touching, and they brought me here, to Blessings and to the Abbey; to my own land, and to you. When the ship went down, I had your latest package of letters with me, inside my shirt, and as they hauled me out of the water, all I could think of was that I had a little part of you still with me.”

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7 thoughts on “Letters on WIP Wednesday

  1. And just because I can, these letters aren’t from a romance, but rather, from Blind Tribute, which is a mainstream historical set during the American Civil War. The following is sent by the main character to his wife.

    ***

    July 31, 1861

    To Mrs. Anne Wofford Wentworth, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    By the hand of P. H. Wentworth III, Charleston, South Carolina

    My beloved wife, Anne,

    As you well know from our long years together, I am not a man accustomed to admitting wrongs. In this case, however, I must acknowledge my ill-advised decision, and rescind my invitation for you and the girls to join me here. The situation is much too precarious for you to be adequately protected, even by me. I was arrogant to assume our welcome and grossly misjudged the social environment.

    It is my desire that you remove to Europe at the earliest opportunity. Once there, you may draw indefinitely on my bank in London, and may enroll the girls in a suitable finishing school anywhere on the Continent, with an eye toward presenting them at Court in London. Our daughters are more than worthy of marrying into the nobility, and I will feel far more secure about your safety an ocean away from this war.

    I plan to stay in Charleston for the duration of the conflict. With God’s grace and protection, I will join you in Europe at the conclusion, so we may again take up the life now so uncertain. As always, your immediate expenses will be paid by my agents in any locale where you choose to reside, and I am confident that this, and the proceeds from the sale of the Newport house, will suffice for my family’s comfort until such time as I rejoin you as your husband and father to our children.

    Your loving husband,
    Palmer

  2. Since you didn’t print a letter from Never Kiss a Toad, I will. 😉 It is long, but it is the only one that is complete thus far. Since I can’t use formatting to indicate the epistolary sections, I will set them off with + + +.

    ***********************************************************************************************

    Sal’s hand was as familiar as his own, having seen it at least three times weekly, unless he was seeing the lady herself, since he left for Eton at age twelve.

    + + +
    Dear Lord Abersham,
    I was surprised to hear you were in Town again during Cambridge term time and under circumstances of which my parents will not speak.
    + + +

    The word Town was capitalized in the first sentence, a flower drawn into the o, and the “n” contained a tell-tale flourish, a curlicue that almost added an “s” on the end of the word. That was to tell him to read the letter in their old code. TOWNS—Truth, Opposite, Wish, Nonsense, Secret. Sure enough, he ran a finger along the edge of the page, and she had cut notches and drawn pictures in the margin, as though for decoration, that would tell him how to read every line. To start, her first line was an Opposite—she wasn’t surprised, and her parents were talking about it, which meant his parents were talking about it, too.

    He had come home from his first term at Eton secure in the knowledge that his letters home would probably be read by someone, somewhere, besides their intended recipient, so he and Sal had spent the Christmas holidays at Wellstone devising a code by which he could tell her what was happening in his life, without anyone else learning the truth of things.

    By the number of notches he cut in the edge of the paper, and which relevant pictographs he doodled in the margins, among many that were irrelevant, she would know how to interpret each sentence. His efforts had always been rudimentary, but Sal, on occasion, had brought out her watercolors and made art of it. They could tell any secrets of their hearts this way, without risking their mothers or fathers, or any of his schoolmasters or mates, knowing what they were truly thinking. He traced his fingers down the stars, hearts, flowers, spirals, and squares that added so much meaning to her short note. After all these years, Sally was the only one who knew what was truth, what was lies, and what was purely wishful thinking.

    + + +
    I suppose you are in disgrace again.
    + + +
    Truth.

    + + +
    I do not wish to see you. You cannot expect my support when you behave so badly.
    + + +
    Opposite

    + + +
    I daresay the heir’s wing here at home could tell worse tales, if the walls could talk. I walked the halls of my father’s old apartments only the other day, when I inspected the monthly clean, and it is as though ghosts of Haverford’s misspent youth live there still. No one goes there now, but once a month to dust and preserve the furniture until such time as my brother is old enough to warrant his own establishment.
    + + +
    Truth

    + + +
    Are they lonely, do you think, these rooms that were once the scene of many a tryst?
    + + +
    Nonsense.

    And it made him smile. Uncle Haverford had once been so notorious a rake that the main bedroom in the heir’s wing at Haverford House had been dubbed the Fornicatorium.

    + + +
    I think I will try to visit them more often, perhaps around eight in the evening, when the shadows are lengthening, but the ghosts of my father’s notorious past have not yet had time to congregate en masse.
    + + +
    Secret

    + + +
    I hope I will not feel lonely when I get there.
    + + +
    Wish

    Eight in the evening? Was she asking him to meet her alone at night in a trysting spot? He straightened in his seat. Sal? That cannot be right. Not Sal. She would not ask him to meet her alone. At least, not in the city. If they were at Margate or Wellstone, or if Sal weren’t almost a grown woman, or if Toad hadn’t just given his word to his father that he would stay home, it would be the most natural thing in the world to slip out of the house and meet his best friend. But not in London.

    + + +
    But I ramble. You must think me shatter-brained, dear Abersham. Please assure me that you will amend your ways.
    + + +
    Truth

    He winced. Even Sal would lecture him over this, if she knew what he had been about. His finger touched the three notches and the star that meant Opposite applied to the next paragraph, and was unaccountably grateful when he read the corresponding words:

    + + +
    You cannot expect my support when you behave so badly. I have nothing important to say to you, and I do not wish to see you. Indeed, I need nothing from you I cannot ask a dozen other friends to help me with.
    + + +

    She would not hold his misdeeds at Cambridge against him, which made him strangely comforted by the idea she might have overheard her parents discussing the events that had seen him expelled. Furthermore, she had some problem that only he could help her with, which infused a sense of pride in him. He might be a rake, but he was still a man that a woman—and a friend—could depend on in a time of need. She did not wish her parents to know, or she wouldn’t have written in code, nor asked to meet him in an abandoned part of the house, which dovetailed rather nicely with Toad’s need for His Magnificent Ducalness to believe he remained under house arrest.

    + + +
    Do not bother to reply until you have made recompense for your transgressions.
    + + +
    Nonsense.

    He folded the letter and tucked it into the pocket in his coat, then poured another brandy and considered which of the half dozen escape routes he would use to leave Dalrymple House without being caught, and how long he could keep drinking, but still appear sober when he met Sal at eight o’clock.

    • A wonderful example of their use of the code. We’re going to have some real fun with this, and people who are not already following their adventures might like to consider doing so.

  3. Ah! Letters. Mail from home plays a significant role early in The Reluctant Wife. When the daughter that Fred (thoughtless man that he is) has finally noticed, brings him mail that has arrived from England, he discovers he has overlooked many things…like the fact that his house steward has been intercepting mail from home for fear it would either upset the boss or worse cause him to leave India.

    The little one eyed the message in her hand, curiosity naked in her expression. He wished he could remember her name; shame that he couldn’t irritated him. “What is your name?” he growled, causing her to cringe.
    “Meghal,” she mumbled, eyes down.
    He repeated silently to fix it in his mind.
    “Well, Meghal, shall we read this missive that so offends Prahdi and see if it is indeed uncomfortable?”

    Fred turned the letter over in his hand a few times. Heavy, there must be something inside. I hope it is appropriate for a child.
    He popped the seal, opened the folded edges, and spread it out. When he did three tinier messages fell out. He glanced quickly at the signature.
    “It is from my sister. Your aunt.”
    “I have an aunt?” she gasped in wonder.
    One more piece of neglect to lay at my door. “You do indeed. Like many older sisters she worries about me.” He suspected Meghal worried about her little sister too.
    “As I wrote last month…” Month? How often does Catherine write? He knew for a fact he didn’t get one every month.
    “What does it say, Papa? Is it bad news?”
    He absent-mindedly put a hand on the little girl’s head, staring at the paper. “No. No bad news.” He read it out loud.

    • Fred’s conscience, now that it has escaped his firm control, will not let him rest. I love the ‘I have an aunt?’ she gasped in wonder. Poor motherless little thing.

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