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Lisbon
6 March 1813

Pen

My dear Carfax,I should have thought even an attaché was deserving of some semblance of a private life. No, don’t answer that. I can hear your response, down to the last inflection and the imperious lift of your brow.Mélanie de Saint-Vallier Fraser is a very beautiful woman who might be wreaking havoc among the attachés and junior officers were she not exceedingly adept at balancing their attentions. Charles found her stranded with her maid (also exceedingly charming) in the Cantabrian Mountains. Her parents had been killed by French soldiers, and she and the maid had later been attacked by bandits. Charles asked me to lodge her at the embassy, which of course I did. He proposed not long after, and they were married (at the embassy) on 7 December. Not sharing your views on the lack of necessity for a private life, I gave Charles a few days leave for a honeymoon. They are expecting a child in the summer.What Charles feels for his wife is Charles’s business. He is certainly not acting like a moon-calf, but then I can’t imagine Charles acting like a moon-calf were he to change places with Romeo on the day of the Capulets’ ball. They don’t live in each other’s pockets (he shows no signs of jealousy when other gentlemen cluster round her, and he is still inclined to retire to the library at large entertainments). When I last sent him off on a mission, he appeared to have quite forgot that it was Valentine’s Day. But he is solicitous of her comfort, and they appear to be well-suited. She has a quick mind and has several times helped him decode intercepted dispatches. Far be it from me to extol the virtues of the married state (which I have heretofore studiously avoided), but you might consider that sometimes a wife may to prove more an asset than a liability. Even to an intelligence agent.Yours, etc…Stuart


White’s
25 February 1813

Pen

My dear Stuart,My son apprised me of Charles Fraser’s marriage, of course (which has caused the inevitable talk in London). I must say it took me by surprise. I always thought one of Charles Fraser’s assets as an agent was the solitary nature of his life. Removed—estranged—from his family, without a wife or even (from all I’ve heard) a mistress. Such men will run risks without traitorous thoughts of wives and children to distract them. One doesn’t need to worry they’ll whisper confidences across the pillow or disclose their deepest secrets to prove their devotion or give way to the impulse to put love ahead of honor. Not that Charles strikes me as the sort to wear his heart on his sleeve on his sleeve or indulge in romantic fancies.David is careful with his friend’s confidence, but from what I can make out, Charles appears to have come to the aid of a young woman who was left orphaned and penniless in the war. I understand she’s expecting a child. David was distinctly vague about the dates, which leads me to suspect she may have been in a delicate condition before the marriage. In which case, knowing Charles, I very much doubt he is the father. All of which leads me to suspect that this marriage was born of Charles’s desire to take care of everyone (a desire which more than once has turned his sympathies in directions I have had cause to lament) and may be more a marriage of convenience than a love match. Which should make it prove less of a distraction. However, I’ve also heard his bride described as a stunner. Not that Charles seems the sort to fall for a pretty face, but even he isn’t blind.Send me your view of the marriage and your assessment of this young woman. Daughter of the Comte Saint-Vallier, isn’t she? Haven’t heard of the family, but there are so many French titles that isn’t necessarily surprising.I hear excellent reports from my networks. I begin to feel cautiously optimistic about the spring campaign.Yours, etc…Carfax


Lisbon
22 February 1813

Pen

My dear David,I hope this finds you well, and Simon safely returned from the north with good news of his family. We go on quite well here. Still a bit of a lull but things look to turn interesting come spring. I think Wellington has hopes of actually turning the tide this year. Difficult to believe this cursed war could end after all the endless years of back and forth across the Peninsula.And how, I can almost hear you ask, is married life? Or perhaps you wouldn’t ask. Your exquisite tact is one of your many excellent qualities, my dear David. And yet you’re one of the few people—perhaps the only person—to whom I might actually give an answer to that question. I can’t say I make a very good husband. I actually forgot Valentine’s Day—or I would have if Stuart hadn’t reminded me. In truth, I fear I still have a regrettable tendency to forget I am married. To forget there’s someone wondering if I’ll come home to dinner, some to inform when I’m sent off at a moment’s notice. Despite the quiet I seem to constantly be being sent on errands of one sort or another. Mélanie is very forbearing about summonses delivered in the middle of the night (she actually got up this last time and made me tea, can you imagine?) and hastily scrawled notes informing her that I’ve been sent from town and have no idea when I shall return. Of course perhaps she welcomes the respite from playing our roles of husband and wife. She can’t but find it as awkward as I do, though she’s all cheerful comradeship and at the same time so damnably enchanting—It’s odd, at times I feel I don’t really know her. Well, of course I don’t, we only met four months ago. I hate the fact that she may feel obliged to play a role as my wife, yet I have no right to ask her to let me beneath the surface. That would be an appalling intrusion. And yet— It’s quite remarkable walk into my lodgings and find her there, to laugh with her over a book, to have her cap my quotations, to analyze the latest news over supper, to return from another endless embassy party and have someone to talk it over with. She helped me decode a document last night. We managed it in half the time I could have on my own.Which I suppose means that however much of a hash I am making of married life, I am enjoying it far more than I have any right to do.Love to Simon.As always,Charles


undisclosed location
18 February 1813
(original in code)

Pen

I’d be the last person to underestimate the importance of the commissariat. The news about the metal cooking pots is interesting. Wellington has a keen eye for detail that makes him all the more dangerous. I remember him as a boy in Ireland. Overshadowed by a brilliant elder brother, but with a remarkable combination of determination and practicality even then. His family were inclined to underestimate him. He didn’t—still doesn’t—have his brother’s urbane charm, but I always thought he’d make something of himself. With Arthur coming from a staunch Tory Anglo-Irish family, I knew we were unlikely ever to be allies, though I confess I never anticipated quite what a formidable antagonist he’d become.I fear a number of our commanders still underestimate him. The next months will be challenging to stay the least. Needless to say that means your work will be all the more invaluable. Charles, as you’ve noted, is a very capable agent himself. Go carefully. Focus on what you need to do to get through each day to the next.I’m here whenever you need to talk.Oh, and I can’t remember the last time I took note of St. Valentine’s Day either.Take care of yourself, querida.R.


Lisbon
14 February 1813
(original in code)

Pen

Charles is off on an errand for Stuart again. This time I managed to wake up when he slipped out of bed in response to a summons from the embassy. I brewed tea for him over the spirit lamp. He was surprisingly grateful. I don’t think he’s much used to people fussing over him. Not that I think of myself as the fussing sort, but I suppose it is a wifely duty. That I think of myself as a wife most of the time.Once again, Charles left few clues to where he’d gone (he’s an admirable agent, not at all the sort of aristocratic dabbler one often expects of Foreign Office attachés who undertake missions). But he says the errand will only take a day or two, so I suspect he’s meeting with a contact in Portugal. He could even be taking information to Wellington. The latest news is that the British soldiers are to have sheet metal cooking pots to replace the cast iron kettles that so weigh down the pack mules. Not insignificant news. Don’t underestimate the morale boost that can come from regular hot meals.Charles sent me a note from the embassy confirming that Stuart was indeed sending him off. He apologized for missing St. Valentine’s Day, confessing that it had taken Stuart to remind of it. Then he said perhaps it was as well he’d been called away as we’d no doubt have been subject to the sort of tiresome quips and arrows broken upon newlyweds had we dined out together. He too feels the awkwardness of pretending our marriage is other than it is. Made more awkward still by the fact that I’m not in the least sure what it is.I, of course, had quite forgot about Valentine’s Day as well. I think the last time I gave it any heed my father presented me with a new red hair ribbon.Keep safe.M.


The Albany
11 February 1813

Pen

My dear Simon,Thank God your uncle goes on better. That’s splendid news. As to being marooned in the country with your family, you have my sincerest sympathies. Charles says it’s excellent training for diplomatic dinner parties. Or ironing out differences over a bill without losing one’s temper.If I manage to hold my tongue better than you do, I often think it’s because I lack your courage. One of the first things I admired about you was your fearless ability to speak your mind. Having sat through all too many dinners—and breakfasts and receptions and God knows what other events—with my thoughts bottled up in my head, I could scarcely imagine what it would be like to speak so freely.London continues gray and dreary. I dined at Glenister House the night before last along with my parents and Kenneth Fraser. Honoria presided over the table, looking every inch the hostess, though I think Evie had actually done much of the work of organizing the dinner. Difficult to believe they’re both so grown up. Quen was absent, and Evie changed the subject when I asked where he was. Val was up at Oxford of course, though from something Honoria murmured under her breath I gather he was nearly sent down just after the holidays.Last night I spent a much more convivial evening with Bel and Oliver. We all spent a delightful hour playing with the children in the drawing room. I’m glad you’re getting time with Abby’s children.Difficult as it may be, I know you well enough to know you’ll be glad you had this time with your family My regards to your family and my love to Abby and Will and the children.I miss you more than I can say.As always,David


British embassy, Lisbon
14 February 1813

Pen

My dear,Stuart has an errand for me, as you probably guessed when I received his summons and had to go haring off to the embassy in the middle of the night (thank you again for getting up to make me tea; you can’t know how much that meant). The errand will take a day or two. Stuart apologized with unusual profuseness for sending me away from my bride on this particular day. It was, I confess, only then that I realized today is St. Valentine’s Day.Forgive me. If Stuart hadn’t called me in, I might have forgot the day entirely. I’ve had little enough reason to remember it in prior years, you see. It always struck me as a rather silly custom for lovers to acknowledge each other one particular day out of the year. Perhaps in some ways it’s as well I’ve been called away. If we’d dined out tonight, we’d have no doubt been subject to a tiresome number of newlywed lovebirds quips and comments. You bear up splendidly under such conditions (a testament to your acting skills), but I hate to put you in the position of pretending our marriage is other than it is.And yet— I would have liked to be home today. With you.Happy Valentine’s Day, wife.Charles


Craydon
6 February 1813

Pen

My dear David,Remind me again why I thought it necessary to pay a visit to the north of England, in the middle of winter? Oh, yes, my family. The ties that bind, though sometimes I think we’d all be a deal more comfortable if we loosed them.I arrived to find Uncle George much recovered from the attack that sent me posting up here. It was a distinct relief to hear his stick thudding on the floorboards and the boom of his voice. He’s back to visiting the brewery and the mill every day. Which does him a world of good, I have no doubt. Of course, it also means he’s in good enough condition for us to argue in the evenings.I looked up a friend yesterday. A chap I went to Uncle Matthew’s school with (in that brief interval before they decided to have cousin John tutor me at home because I asked too many difficult questions). Thomas—the friend I went to school with—now works in Uncle George’s cotton mill. As do his wife and three of his five children. And they still don’t have enough food to put on the table. I filled their larder. Tom protested, but I told him it was for the children. Damned awkward. I don’t much care for playing Lord Bountiful, but I couldn’t think what else to do. The children’s glee smoothed things over.Needless to say, my return from the visit didn’t make for pleasant dinner table conversation. I seem to spend my visit going back and forth between needling Uncle George and Aunt Catherine over the factory and needling Aunt Mary and Uncle Matthew over Methodism. Abby says the only change from when I was ten is that my barbs are more deadly and devious. I swear I don’t mean to. I sit down at the dinner table or for tea in the drawing room with the best of intentions and then before I know it something sets me off. I need you here to kick me under the table. I told Abby it probably would have been better if I hadn’t come, but she said that was nonsense, they don’t see enough of me. Triumph of cousinly affection over all common sense.I escape to Abby’s as much as possible. It’s good to see her and Will and the children. Will spends much of his time treating the factory workers, which doesn’t exactly yield a fashionable doctor’s income. But the appear remarkably happy. The children are growing up. They’re schooling them at home and staring to read classis with Meg and Henry. They’ve also read my plays. We read one out loud after dinner a couple of night ago. Meg has the makings of an actress, and she and Henry got nearly all the double entendres, much to their pride and delight.The candle is guttering. Off to my cold and lonely bed.I love you.Simon


undisclosed location
25 January 1813
(original in code)

Pen

Years of practice makes it easier to know what to say. And as to rank flattery, there was none involved. I had severe qualms about this mission, many of which, as I recall, I voiced to you in considerable detail. Only my knowledge of what you had done in the past and my faith in what you could do in the future brought me round to agreeing to it. That, and the suspicion that were I to adamantly disagree you could go ahead and undertake the mission in any case.I have no fear that you’re in danger of collapse. You’re far too efficient and capable. I’m more concerned you’ll suppress everything so efficiently that your health will break years down the line, just when we need you most. Never forget that I’m here to listen. I grant that I’m far from perfect as a confidant, but I am always here, and there’s little about deception or betrayal I haven’t experienced.Take care of yourself, querida,R.


Lisbon
19 January 1813
(original in code)

Pen

How do you always know just what to say? While I suspect there may be some rank flattery involved in your claim that this mission is the most difficult you’ve ever encountered, I know the difficulties full well. We discussed them (at rather exhausting length as I recall) before I undertook it. I don’t know whether to be flattered or terrified by your faith in my ability to carry it off.Have no fear. I’m in no danger of collapse. In fact there are moments when I sink so easily into my role that I forget my charade for an hour or more at a time. In many ways my circumstances are much easier than in the past. I don’t sleep in bracken or drafty barns, my pistol beneath my cheek, with one ear open for the sound of enemy footsteps. I’ve almost forgot what it’s like to miss a meal, let alone to wake wondering if this day would be my last. I have more leisure to read than I’ve had in years. And I’ve been using the same alias for so long that my cover story becomes second nature. A great deal to set in the scale beside those few moments when I wake feeling I’m trapped in glass with no way of escape. Or look into Charles’s eyes and wonder what I’ve bcome. Moments which I’m sure will grow fewer and farther between. When, after all, have I ever let guilt interfere with what needs to be done?Keep safe.M.


undisclosed location
12 January 1813
(original in code)

Pen

New Year greetings. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the holiday season. I shouldn’t waste any energy on guilt. One can feel affection for people and enjoy their company without agreeing with their goals. From a practical standpoint, the more deeply one enmeshes oneself in a deception the easier it is to carry it off. And the more difficult of course. Because no matter what I just said a certain degree of guilt is inevitable. But neither of us would be where we are today if we hadn’t learned to compartmentalize. Whatever my own abilities at deception, it would tax my skills to the breaking point if I tried to say that the mission you have undertaken was anything less that the most difficult I have ever encountered. But I wouldn’t have entrusted you with it if I didn’t have every faith in your ability to carry it off.

Brighton
30 June 1813

Pen

David darling,

I give up. I’ve tried to be a good, loyal friend. I’ve tried to smile, bland as butter, in the face of inquiry, to turn a deaf ear to the gossip and hope it dies down, like one of those annoying songs that are in vogue for one season. But I’ve reached the end of my rope. One would think the passage of time and the persistent antics of Caro Lamb and Lord Byron would distract people. But with the news of the birth of little Colin Fraser it’s all started up again. The World (or that small portion of the world with whom we dine and drive and sip tea with tiresome regularity) want to know the truth behind Charles Fraser’s marriage. I heard three different theories alone yesterday while I was pushing Billy’s baby carriage along the Promenade. The only thing people seem to agree on is that there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Who would have thought Charles Fraser of all people would be the center of such gossip. Though when one considers his fortune and his lineage, I suppose it isn’t surprising. I even heard Mama mutter something about “gentlemen who don’t have the sense to choose a nice English girl”. By which I have the most lowering feeling she meant me, which is quite absurd, as you know Charles and I would never have suited (much as I love him, it would have been a bit like marrying a brother). And of course people can count and though Lady Frances did her best to smooth things over, once the news of Colin’s birth reached England it wasn’t difficult for the inquisitive to count backwards and draw their own conclusions.

Conclusions which I’m sure fall very wide of the mark. I’m quite sure Charles would never— I can’t quite bring myself to pen the words, but you’ll take my meaning. And I’m equally sure he’d never marry without true affection. That is– I confess I can imagine him offering his name and his protection to a lady who found herself in an unfortunate situation. In which case, I pity them both, for I’m quite sure his name and his protection are all he will offer her. Charles doesn’t give of himself easily and under those circumstances, I fear he wouldn’t give of himself at all.

Surely Charles has told you more. If he confides in anyone, he confides in you. Surely you can share at least a bit of it with your sister. Something more than turning a blind eye is required to confront this barrage of inquisitiveness. I need more facts at my disposal to marshal a defense on Charles’s behalf. And—oh, poison,I confess it, I’m curious myself.

Do, pray, write quickly. And do tell this business of the East India Charter will soon be concluded so that you and Oliver will be released from Parliament.

Your loving and shamefully inquisitive sister,
Isobel

South Audley Street
23 June 1813

Pen

Dearest Geoffrey,

You have always had an uncanny knack for gauging my moods. To you I can confess that I was indeed anxious for intelligence. Naturally about Mélanie’s health and the baby’s safe delivery, but also about Charles’s state of mind. He did write me a quite charming letter the night of the baby’s birth, As usual one has to read the lines to determine anything about his feelings, but reading between the lines I have a sense of both his excitement and his trepidation at fatherhood. Indeed, his feelings seem to be far more deeply engaged than many gentlemen’s on such an occasion. My own husband was playing whist at Brooks’s the night Cedric was born, at Newmarket when I was brought to bed with Aline, and at a masquerade at Vauxhall for Christopher’s birth. I honestly can’t remember where he was when Aline was born and of course he had died before I have birth to Chloe. Though I suppose in his defense, save for in Cedric’s case he could be pardoned for thinking he had had very little to do with the whole business from the start.

Mélanie seems an eminently sensible young woman judging from the letters she’s written me. A quick enough wit and a keen enough understanding to match Charles and a level enough head on her shoulders to cope with the vicissitudes of marrying into our family. A warm heart too, from what I can tell. I hope Charles is able to appreciate that. I understand your delicacy in talking of their marriage. I hope you realize that my curiosity is owed only to my concern for my nephew (well, no, I would undoubtedly be curious in any event, but I would perhaps not be so brazen as to voice the questions). I can read between the lines quite well. I can also count. And knowing Charles, I would suspect the truth behind the seven month interval between their marriage and Colin’s birth is far more complicated than the explanation which leaps immediately to mind.

It is perhaps as well that they will be staying abroad for the foreseeable future. By the time they return to England, I’ll have had a chance to muddy the waters a bit about dates and times and attention will have moved on to a new scandal (there are times when I’m excessively grateful for the beau monde’s short memory. For the present, I need hardly say that Charles’s abrupt marriage has caused a great deal of talk. It’s only to be expected. Charles might have insisted he’d never marry, but when a gentleman is heir to properties in Scotland, England, and Ireland, an Italian villa, and a Berkeley Square townhouse, any number of young ladies (not to mention their mothers) are bound to mark him out as husband material. Honoria Talbot went quite white when I told her (given what I suspect has passed between her and Charles in the past, I thought it only fair to call at Glenister House and inform her in person). She came perilously near to dropping her teacup (Sèvres too, her grandmother’s), which for Honoria is a sign of near nervous collapse. Lady Carfax raised her brows (really, she over plucks them) and murmured in well-modulated tones that Charles had always had a knack for surprises (ever since Charles and David became friends at Harrow, I’ve thought she wanted to catch Charles for one of her own daughters). Lady Melbourne called on me and demanded the whole story. I gave her an edited version, to which she replied that she was sure there was more to it, and she’d press me further if she didn’t have quite enough on her hands at present (which you will understand if you’ve followed even a fraction of what’s gone on between Caro Lamb and Byron these past months).

I must close. I promised I’d walk in the park with Judith and Gisèle and Chloe and Miss Newland (I truly am endeavoring to be a better mother, though I fear it does not come easily to me). I need hardly say that everyone waits anxiously for news of Wellington’s latest campaign. I know you said you were likely to have to go into the field in the summer (and I suspect you may have contrived to delay leaving until after the baby’s birth). Do take care of yourself, Geoffrey.

All my love,
Frances

Lisbon
14 June 1813

Pen

My dear Fanny,

I’m sure Charles will write to you shortly, if he has not done so already. Your niece-in-law was safely delivered of a son a few hours ago. I was summoned to their lodgings in the early hours of the morning to be greeted by Charles, voice matter-of-fact but knuckles suspiciously white round the candlestick he held. Mélanie, propped up against the pillows while her maid (a quick-witted child) bathed her forehead, said she was sure the birth was still some hours away. She’s asked a number of sensible questions of me these past weeks, saying it’s much less intimidating if she knows what to expect. She’s a remarkably cool-headed young woman—but then I suspect she’s been through a great deal in her short life thus far.

Charles insisted on being present throughout , for which I commend him—I wish more men knew the truth of childbirth, it might do them and their wives a world of good. He was very pale and turned a bit green at one point, but he managed not to spill the bowl of warm water I gave him to hold, and he talked to Mélanie in a steady, conversational voice which was just what she needed (I don’t think I’ve ever before heard the source of a quote—they were arguing between “Twelfth Night” and “As You Like It” —or the point at which Beatrice and Benedick fell in love debated over a childbed).

The labor lasted some hours, but it was a relatively easy birth, particularly for a first. The baby is small but looks very healthy. They’ve named him Malcolm and are already calling him Colin. I wish you could have seen the look on Charles’s face when he cupped his hand round the baby’s head. I’ve known him all his life and seen him in a number of unguarded moments (in so far as Charles ever allows himself to be unguarded). But I’ve never seen such wonder in his eyes. I confess that for a moment looking a the three of them in the wash of lamplight, I rather regretted not having experienced parenthood myself.

In your last letter, you asked me for my frank views on your nephew’s marriage and if Charles was happy. I think we both know that happiness is never easy to define and judging another’s happiness is always a challenge. In Charles’s case, the events of the past five years, not to mention this damnable war, make the word particularly problematic. But he certainly seems more content, even optimistic than he did a year or so ago (whatever you feared then, I think you may now be at ease). It is always difficult for anyone (particularly a confirmed bachelor like myself) to judge the nature of another’s marriage. From what I know of Charles and have come to know of Mélanie, I suspect there is more to the reasons for their marriage than the obvious story of a whirlwind romance in times of danger. It would be indelicate of me to speculate further. Charles doesn’t dance attendance upon Mélanie or stare at her like a mooncalf (which has led some of my more obtuse colleagues to opine that he doesn’t appreciate her), but I have no doubt that he cares for her deeply. I catch him looking at her sometimes like a man who can’t quite believe he’s been trusted with a gift of such rare quality (and isn’t sure he deserves it). He also laughs far more in her presence than he had been wont to do. She even manages to persuade him out of the library at balls and receptions (not that I don’t entirely sympathize with his reasons for taking refuge at such events).

Charles has always taken his responsibilities seriously—perhaps too seriously—and I think sometimes the full extent of the responsibility of marriage and fatherhood overwhelms him. But I have great confidence he’ll be equal to the task.

With regards and affection,
Geoffrey

Lisbon
31 May 1813

Pen

Darling,

I know you will have to go to the embassy to report to Stuart before you can return home, and I wanted you to have this as soon as possible upon your return. It’s Richard III (Richard, Duke of Gloucester, that is) who says “But shall I live in hope?” and it’s Lady Anne who replies “All men, I hope, live so.” At the end of what must surely be one of the most brilliantly improbable (or improbably brilliant?) proposal scenes ever written. A sort of ultimate challenge to the actors, I often think. Shakespeare must have had a great deal of audacity and daring to have written that scene (your friend Simon, I think, possesses a bit of the same quality).

I wonder what the real Richard and Anne would make of that scene? How odd to see what I suspect was a heartfelt proposal and acceptance (I do like to think of them as childhood sweethearts, does that make me dreadfully sentimental?) transformed into a twisted game of power and seduction. Such a brilliant play and such a shocking travesty of historical fact. I wonder if it isn’t your own ambivalence about the play that made the source of the quote slip your mind. I’m eternally glad my father had me read Walpole after I read ‘Richard III” (and it did wonders for my English).

Geoffrey Blackwell assures me that I am in excellent health and that our child (also in perfect health from everything he can tell) is not likely to make an appearance in the world before his father is here to greet her or him. Geoffrey calls every day, often with a new book or a piece of music. Our discussions are a highlight of my day, the more so because he doesn’t try to be relentlessly cheerful. He talks about the war with wonderful frankness. I can’t help but suspect that you asked him to call on me, just as I can’t help but suspect that you have something to do with the fact that he’ll be in Lisbon for my delivery. For a man who warned me, almost in the same breath in which you proposed, that you wouldn’t be able to dance attention on me, you have a care for my comfort which I think many wives would envy.

Stuart has been to call three times and taken me driving once (he balanced his charming—and quite practiced—flirtation by saying a number of highly complimentary things about my husband). And I have not lacked for visits both from the diplomatic corps and the officers stationed in the city, though I am so very obviously far gone with child that I suspect the attentions have more to do with a desire to practice their Spanish or discuss the latest novels or perhaps with the quality of your wine cellar and Senhora Silves’s excellent cakes than with any attractions the hostess may possess.

Speaking of novels, I burned several candles to guttering over “Sense and Sensibility” (despite wanting to shake several of the characters at several points through-out the story). Marriage really is a shockingly commercial enterprise in so many ways. The author makes that point with elegant. knife point precision, without ever coming right out and saying so. Do hurry home and read it so we can have a proper discussion.

Your wife who misses you,
Mélanie

p.s.

Blanca has not qualms at all about asking to be remembered to Addison. In fact, she insists on it.

Undisclosed location
25 May 1813

Pen

My dear,

I needed your assistance last night (yes, the minute I wrote that, I could see precisely where your mind had gone—I should have said I needed you in more ways than one). Which play do these lines come from “But shall I live in hope?” “All men, I hope, live so.” I keep thinking it’s one of the Henrys, but it doesn’t quite sound like Margaret of Anjou, and I’m sure it isn’t Princess Katherine. It came up last night over the last of a bottle of Rioja when I was dining with—well, never mind, more details when I return to Lisbon. I really should have a pocket-size edition of Shakespeare to take with me, though I suppose it might be prove a bit awkward should I happen to have my pockets searched and my current alias questioned.

Speaking of which, everything is proceeding according to plan, and I see no reason I should not be back with you as scheduled. Addison says I am to assure you on his word of honor (and mine) that there is no sign of trouble from my wound (which there shouldn’t be, it’s been over two months). And, as I insisted before I left, this particular errand involves little more exertion than a ride round a Lisbon plaza.

Though he is far too well-mannered to say so, Addison is no doubt also tired of my muttered imprecations (only in private, I’m not a complete fool) against Stuart, Wellington, and anyone else responsible for this current trip. To own the truth, I more than half wish I’d defied them. Despite Geoffrey’s assurances that you are unlikely to be delivered before I return, I find it difficult to forgive myself for deserting you at such a time. I think I warned you when I had the audacity to offer for you that I was not much of a bargain as a husband and would probably not be able to give you the attention you deserve. But even flattering myself that I had a clear-eyed view of my own imperfections, I never envisioned myself anywhere but at your side when our child is born.

I hope the copy of “Sense and Sensibility” we found is keeping you entertained and that the weather hasn’t been too tiresomely warm. If I know Stuart, he’s been to call on you more than once, as I suspect have all the attachés and most of the junior officers in the city. I don’t think you’ll ever be lonely, my dear.

I must close to put this in the hands of the courier who has promised to deliver it to you. I trust I shall be back with you not long after you receive it.

Always,
Charles

p.s.

I’m quite sure that Addison would ask to be remembered to Blanca did he not feel it inappropriate to so intrude himself.

Lisbon
19 May 1813

Pen

Dear Mr. Tanner,

I cannot thank you enough for your kind letter—you write just as I would expect the author of your plays to do—and for the most delightful and absorbing novel I have read in an age. Having read “Pride and Prejudice”, I am convinced I shall feel so much more at home in Britain when Charles finally brings me on a visit. I feel as though I have walked the streets of the village of Meryton, attended an assembly ball, glimpsed the splendors of Rosings and Pemberley (do assure me that Dunmykel isn’t anything like as grand—Charles is typically vague on the subject—he says it’s “home and rather rambling”).

And I quite feel as though the characters are old friends (or in some cases—Lady Catherine and Caroline Bingley—at least nodding acquaintances). I confess I do see what you mean about Charles and Mr. Darcy. There’s a certain reserve, an inability to express what they are thinking (or a refusal to admit that it’s appropriate to express it) which would have struck a resonant chord even without your comparison. As well as an intense refusal to compromise on one’s expectations of what one owns to one’s family and one’s own sense of honor (but then I’ve long known that my radical-thinker husband is a British gentleman to the core).

I have to say, though, that I can’t imagine a young lady on the edge of the dance floor hearing Charles dismiss her as “tolerable”. He has a sensitivity that would, I think, prevent him from uttering such words in a remotely public setting. And then there’s the fact that he would have undoubtedly disappeared into the library (or whatever room offered reading matter) five minutes after arriving at the ball. (Did he do that at home? Here I’m forever going in search of him). I should add that I’ve said nothing of this to Charles (who is presently engrossed in “Pride and Prejudice” himself). It goes without saying that I count upon your discretion, my dear Mr. Tanner.

As for Elizabeth Bennet –I should like to have a daughter with such self-possession and ironic wit (I have children on my mind at the moment, being less than a month away from my expected delivery). The author is a keen observer of life and paints a sharp portrait of the difficulties faced by unmarried women without a fortune of their own (difficulties as true in Spain as in England). Remarkable how the story moved so fluidly from the satirical to the moving. Rather like your play. Speaking of which, I do hope you have got past your qualms about your latest project. While I can well understand any artist suffering moments of doubt, judging by the one play of yours I have been privileged to read, you have no cause for apprehension.

With warmest affection,
Mélanie Fraser

The Albany
7 May 1813

Pen

Dear Mrs. Fraser,

Confess it—David or Charles put you up to the shamelessly flattering words in your recent letter. No, don’t confess it—on the whole, I think I would rather bask in the praise, undeserved as it may be. Your letter could not have come at a better time—I have been staring at a stack of scribbled over (and much crossed out) pages that are supposed to be the draft of my new play. To compound matters, I was up into the early hours of the morning (while David was doing his duty at a family dinner) reading a much-talked about new novel, “Pride and Prejudice”. To say it was entertaining is merely to scratch the surface. I don’t know that I have ever read such sure, deft characterization or such sharply rendered depictions of the intricacies and absurdities of social intercourse. I closed the book (several hours after David returned home) with the sense that my scribbled over draft of my new play, which I had already thought hopeless, was in fact rather worse. Your letter at least gives me the confidence to see what can be salvaged. You have my sincerest thanks (not to mention the thanks of Rachel Ford, who is waiting for me to deliver the completed manuscript).

I’m enclosing a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” for you. I think you and Charles will both enjoy it. Aside from my craftsman’s admiration for the author’s prose, I finished the book feeling as though the characters had become old friends. Elizabeth Bennet is a refreshingly direct heroine (this book is as far as I can imagine from a gothic tale, but were Lizzy Bennet to stumble in to the pages of gothic romance, I’m sure she could be counted on to behave sensibly). I confess there were moments when I quite wanted to knock some sense into Fitzwilliam Darcy (he reminded me at times of both David and of Charles—some of those being precisely same moments I wanted to knock sense into him—a certain sort of aloof reserve and an inability to express one’s sentiments perhaps goes hand in hand with being born and bred to a certain position in life). But by the end of the book, Darcy has grown and the author has cleverly revealed more sides to his character (a bit like turning a faceted glass to catch different angles of light) and he certainly won me over (I should also say that in his more admirable moments he reminded me of Charles and David as well). I don’t consider myself a romantic (and if I did, I wouldn’t admit to it), but this is a love story that left me quite able to believe in the happy ending.

Do let me know what you think. If you enjoy it, I’ll send along the author’s first novel, “Sense and Sensibility”, which is also a favorite of mine.

You must persuade Charles to bring you to England soon. All of us who count ourselves his friends are eager to meet you (and we wouldn’t mind seeing him either).

Yours with warmest affection,
Simon Tanner

Lisbon
25 April 1813

Pen

Dear Mr. Tanner,

Odd how one may feel one knows a person to whom one has never been introduced. But I have heard so much about you from Charles that I can not but think of you as old friend. Charles, I think I need hardly tell you, does not confide his feelings easily, even to his wife (perhaps especially to his wife). But nearly five months of marriage have taught me something about how to read him, and I know or can guess what his friendship with you and Lord Worsley (does it seem odd for me to call him that? Charles always calls him “David” or “Mallinson”) and Oliver Lydgate means to him. My own life has been so unsettled I have not been able to keep many friends. I realize, more and more, how precious friendships can be, particularly those which stretch across the years.

Then too, I always think one learns a great deal about a writer from reading the words he or she pens, though perhaps one doesn’t always realize which words are the most revealing. In any case, “The Convenient Misalliance” is quite the most brilliant piece I have read in an age. I was convulsed with laughter more than once, as Charles will have told you. But I also had tears in my eyes during the last scene between Miranda and Ned– and I’m not a woman who cries easily. Something about two people making themselves vulnerable to each other touched me in ways I’m not sure I fully understand. Your skill with words, my dear Mr. Tanner, is equally rapier sharp whether skewering pretensions or dissecting the complexities of the human heart.

I do hope I am able to see the play performed one day. Charles talks a great deal about the English theatre—he can be so vivid I can quite hear the music from the pit and smell the oranges sold in the interval. He’s described the first time he saw Mrs. Siddons and Kemble perform and talked about the talented younger actors such as Brandon Ford and Cecily Summers. He has also explained the difficulties you face with the Examiner of Plays—I must say though there is undoubtedly a deal of power in words, I have difficulty imagining an idea so dangerous it can’t talked about. I know most writers have to cope with censorship in one form or another, but the zeal of the office of the Examiner of Plays does seem to be particularly intense. It could not but stifle creativity without a great deal of agility on the part of the writer. You are obviously very proficient at walking a tightrope.

Much as I hope to see you play performed, I look forward even more to the chance to meet you and Lord Worsely and Lady Isobel and Mr. Lydgate whose friendship means so much to my husband.

Yours with friendship and affection,
Mélanie Fraser

Lisbon
24 April 1813

Pen

My dear David,

Thank you. I knew I could rely upon you, but seeing the words in your familiar hand means more to me than I can say. I’ve always taken my loyalties seriously, and I assure you I take none more so than my duties as a husband and father (still strange to pen those words). Despite their formidable powers of persuasion, neither your father nor Lord Castlereagh will sway me from what I owe to Mélanie and the baby she is soon to give birth to. I know something of what it’s like to grow up with a father who takes the responsibilities of parenthood lightly (to put the most charitable construction on it). That’s not a fate I would wish on any child and certainly not on my own.

As to the East India charter debate, it occurs to me that there may well be a convenient connection between the money Lydgate says is at stake, the move to break the monopoly on trade, and the talk of “the diffusion of Christian knowledge” and “the benefits of an English education”. The honorable members aren’t as removed from trade as is maintained in some London drawing rooms. Half the directors of the East India Company sit in Parliament after all. I’m sure the difficulties occasioned by Bonaparte’s attempt to cut off trade with Continent and the disruption of the American war haven’t been lost on your esteemed colleagues in both chambers. The Indian markets are very tempting. But the Indians haven’t shown nearly as much interest in what we have to sell as we thought they would when we sent the East India Company there two hundred years ago. I suspect at least some of the interested parties have considered that an English education and an English God and English tastes may lead to an appetite for English goods.

I’ve written separately to Simon, but you should both know that “The Convenient Misalliance” had me convulsed in such laughter that Mélanie started reading over my shoulder (the first time I’ve read an entire manuscript with a woman curled against my arm—marriage, I am learning, entails all sorts of changes in one’s day to day life, many of them decidedly agreeable). Simon’s verbal darts may have shot past the Examiner of Plays, but they could not have better skewered pretension and hypocrisy. We both particularly liked the scene where Lady Hauton lists her requirements in a husband for Miranda and the suitors attempt to answer her. Not to mention the revelation that Miranda has contracted an alliance with a clerk. Mélanie adds that, despite her to date limited experience of the institution, she thinks Miranda and Ned Quicksilver’s relationship a brilliant sketch of a marriage. I agree. I trust Bel and Lydgate are pleased with the play. I couldn’t help but notice certain parallels, though Simon is much too talented a writer not to create characters who are wholly unique.

As always,
Charles

The Albany
11 April 1813

Pen

My dear Charles,

I trust it goes without saying that I would do anything for your wife and child. I also trust that you’re taking to heart the advice of your wife (who sounds a thoroughly sensible woman) and the always acute Geoffrey Blackwell

My father, I need hardly say, tells me next to nothing. But nearly thirty years have taught me to read between the lines where he is concerned. I know how highly he values your talents, I know just how extensive those talents are, and I know the lethal combination of ruthlessness and persuasion Father can employ to achieve the ends he thinks are right. He wouldn’t be successful in his intelligence work if he thought differently.

But duty and honor can take more than one form. Never having been one to be swayed by convention, I’m sure you have the wit to realize that the rather conventional interpretation put upon those words by men like my father and Lord Castlereagh does not mean that your duty requires you to run unnecessary risks in the name of crown and country and risk leaving your wife a widow and your child to grow up fatherless. I hope I need not add that Mélanie and your child are not the only ones who would keenly feel your absence.

I’ve enclosed a copy of “The Convenient Misalliance” and a copy of the review from the Morning Chronicle (Simon refuses to read reviews, but he can’t take exception to my passing along the good ones). The first night was a triumph (speaking of course as a strictly unbiased observer). Half the company at the Tavistock were convinced someone would object and the Examiner of Plays would force them to withdraw the production, but thus far the response has been nothing but favorable Rachel Ford says Simon has such accurate aim that he shoots his verbal darts right past the censor. She’s a remarkably capable woman—I have to say, she’s quite come into her own since her husband’s unfortunate death.

The debate over the renewal of the East India Company’s charter is going to be very interesting. The Company may continue to rule, but a number of interests want to break their monopoly on trade. Lydgate says there’s too much money at stake for the fight not to turn ugly. In addition, there are, I fear, all too many petitions for tying up the charter’s renewal with “the diffusion of Christian knowledge in India”. And a great deal of talk about bringing the benefits of an English education. Granville Leveson-Gower mentioned at a dinner recently that he has a friend who’s studying oriental languages at Fort William College in Calcutta, prompting Sir Philip Addison to suggested that the Hindus might be better employed in learning English. Your cousin Cedric (hard sometimes to believe he’s Lady Frances’s son) chimed in that the future of the inhabitants of the sub-continent rested on a decent English education. At which Simon murmured (quite loud enough to be heard round the table) that with all respect English education left much to be desired and had any of them actually read the “Bhagavad Gita”? I barely managed not to choke on my port.

As ever,
David

Lisbon
2 April 1813

Pen

My dear David,

I trust Aunt Frances has reassured you as to the prosaically robust state of my health. What has London society come to that they have nothing better to talk about than a bit of bungling in the Spanish mountains? (Not that there isn’t a great deal that occurs on the Peninsula that warrants discussion in London drawing rooms, but my sad misadventures of last month certainly have no place on the list.)

To own the truth (which I do only to you, on the understanding that this remains as confidential as any confidence between us since we were at Harrow), it was a bit of a near run thing. Owing to my sad failure to duck quickly enough (where is cricketing coordination when one needs it?). I awoke to find myself looking at my wife’s remarkable smile (have I mentioned that her smile is remarkable?). It was some time before I could make sense of where I was (not entirely because of the effect of Mélanie’s smile). I think I muttered that she shouldn’t have come and I could take of myself, which of course is patently ridiculous. I think she told me not to be a fool (quite redundant). Looking at her smile and feeling the touch of her hand was a forcible reminder of just how much I have to lose. Geoffrey Blackwell said as much when he was removing my stitches. He remarked, in that acerbic way of his, that I don’t just have myself to think about anymore. Mélanie made the same point by pressing my hand against her stomach as the baby kicked.

Which brings me to what really needs to be said. I am resolved to be on my most scrupulously careful behavior, but we have daily proof of the wanton carnage that can result from this hell. Though I am at far less risk than Edgar or any other soldier, it would be folly not to consider possible consequences. I’ve made financial provision for Mélanie and the baby should anything happen to me. Edgar and Geoffrey have promised to see them safely conveyed to England. Mélanie would want for little financially and she is a resourceful woman, but it isn’t easy to be an exile in a strange country. Should she find herself in those straits, I know I can count on you, David, to stand a friend to her and the child, as you always have to me.

Enough of being morbid. Tell me if you think there’s really a chance the East India Company’s charter won’t be renewed? And convey my profound regrets to Simon for missing the premiere of “The Convenient Misalliance”. I’d give a great deal for a copy of the script.

As always,
Charles

South Audley Street
March 1813

Pen

My dear Mélanie,

I cannot thank you enough for your letter or commend you enough for your kindness and good sense in sending it. I have indeed heard rumors of feats of daring (something about an intercepted shipment of French gold?) together with the intelligence that Charles had either died a hero’s death or was on the point of expiring in his lovely bride’s arms (Lavinia Tilbury gets regular bulletins from her younger son and both are inclined to exaggerate in terms lamentably reminiscent of the worst sort of lending library novel.) Despite knowing this, I confess I would have been in something of a panic without your letter. Thank you for looking after my provoking nephew. I hope you are also managing to look after yourself. I don’t hold with treating pregnant women as though they are made of spun glass-one isn’t ill, for heaven’s sake—but you are certainly entitled to some cosseting. I hope Charles is managing to provide it. One could hardly call him effusive—and I know many consider him cold—but he’s always had a certain sensitivity which gives me hope for him as a husband.

I have assured Gisèle of her brother’s health. She was really quite remarkably sensible about the whole thing—at times, she surprises me for the better.

London is rather quiet at the moment. The Byron & Carol Lamb business is descending to the sordid, I fear, as love affairs so inevitably do (though in my day—not that I consider myself in any way retired from the game—we at least had the wit not to take these affairs so seriously). Byron has entangled himself with Lady Oxford and apparently has also made advances to her daughter., Lad Charlotte, who is still in the schoolroom (a predicament for Lady Oxford which I am glad to say I have never found myself in). Caro actually went so far as to forge Byron handwriting in order to get his publisher to send her a portrait of her erstwhile lover. I can’t help but rather admire her initiative—ever since she was a child I’ve thought she had a great deal of talent if only she could find a way to put it to use.

Your affectionate,
Aunt Frances

Lisbon
March, 1813

Pen

Dear Lady Frances,

I fear I am not a very good wife, for in writing this I am going against my husband’s wishes. Yet I am convinced you would wish to know, more than ever now that I am expecting a child myself. Moreover, given the tendency of the junior mess to exaggerate in their letters home, I am afraid you will hear in any case and think the situation worse than it is.

Charles was wounded last week. Do not be alarmed-he is making an admirable recovery. He had some ill luck during one of his “fetching and carrying errands”. I prevailed upon Geoffrey Blackwell-who is a most sensible man-to take me with him to the farmhouse where Charles was recovering. I have done some nursing, so I was able to render Dr. Blackwell assistance instead of just getting in the way.

I was there to see Charles recover consciousness, which comforted me, and I think perhaps Charles as well. Geoffrey (we are on given name terms after our recent adventure) assures me that there is no sign of infection and that Charles is making a remarkable recovery. (Charles’s constitution being as stubborn as Charles is himself, he adds). We are back in Lisbon now, where my greatest difficulty is persuading Charles that riding a horse or walking a mile or more or even standing on his feet for long stretches might just be beyond even him at present. And that even if he can do without my company, I really cannot bear to part with him for long stretches of time at present. Your nephew has a way or working his way into one’s affections, ma’am.

I promise faithfully to write again soon. I am sure you will use your discretion on how much of this to reveal to Gisèle-fourteen is such a mercurial age, so grown up at some moments, such a child at others. My love to her and to the rest of your family.

Yours with warmest affection,
Mélanie

6 Responses to “Fraser Correspondence – Prior Letters”

  1. JMM Says:

    Heh-heh! I loved the part where Honoria was so upset over the news of Charles’ marriage.

    Can you tell I really don’t like her? I do enjoy plotlines where the hero/heroine doesn’t marry the girl/boy he/she was intended for since birth.

  2. Tracy Grant Says:

    So glad you liked the bit about about Honoria! I love it when people comment on the Fraser Correspondence, it’s so fun to talk about the letters. I so enjoy writign the letters and having the chance to dip into the characters lives and show bits that haven’t been in the books (at least not so far).

    I like the hero/heroine doesn’t marry the girl/boy he/she was intended for since birth plotline too. It’s a great way to explore the expectations of birth, family, fortune, social position, and the difference between the life a character was “supposed” to lead and the life they actually end up living.

  3. Jenna Says:

    I love reading the letters that span both books. They offer so much insight into Charles and Melanie’s true feelings that don’t always show in the book.

    I also love the nod to Jane Austen and the image of Charles being similar to Mr. Darcy…an English gentleman to the core.

    Can’t wait to read more!

  4. Tracy Grant Says:

    I’m so glad you enjoy the letters, Jenna. I love writing them. It does allow a window into Charles and Mélanie’s inner life in a way that isn’t always possible in the books. They are both very guarded with their emotions and not necessarily inclined to long periods of introspection==especially when in the midst of adventures🙂.

    I loved doing the whole exchange of letters on Austen. It started when I remembered Pride & Prejudice was originally published in 1813. It seemed natural to have the characters read it and discuss it. And the comparison of both Charles and David to Darcy seemed like something Mélanie and Simon would both notice.

  5. Jenna Says:

    I’m very focused on Charles and Melanie, but the letters also allow a glimpse into other characters. I’m looking forward to figuring out how much Aunt Frances and Raoul are intertwined and also, in the story line, who turns out to be Gisele’s father. So much good fodder there!

    Hope you get Mask published soon. I can’t wait to read the whole thing and not just the snippets!

  6. Tracy Grant Says:

    Glad you liked the connection between Lady Frances and Raoul, Jenna! I had fun putting that in. I was hoping someone would notice it’s a bit of new revelation. You learn a little more about the link between them in “The Mask of Night.” And yes, who Gisèle’s father is is definitely a mystery yet to be revealed (there’s quite a bit of story fodder about Gisèle!). One of the things I love about the letters is dipping into the perspectives of different characters (including some like Oliver and Isobel who don’t appear until Mask) and getting their take on events. It definitely enriches my understanding of the characters, as well as being fun🙂.

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