A Chance Meeting With A Novelist
“Alice,” came a whispered voice from the open door of the drawing room of Kitteridge Manor.
Alice Kitteridge looked up from the book she had been reading to see the sparkling, dark brown eyes of Betty Riley, Alice’s lady’s maid, staring at her meaningfully.
Alice motioned her inside, her eyebrow raised, curious as to her maid’s strange behavior. Then, she saw that Betty was holding an envelope tightly, and well concealed, in her hand. Carefully, she closed the door as she entered the room. She glanced around the room, as if to ensure that the two women were alone. Then, she rushed over to Alice, the envelope extended toward her mistress.
“The butler gave me this earlier this morning,” she said, whispering, even though she knew now that there was no one else in there with them. “But your mother and father have been difficult to evade, until just moments ago. I brought it as soon as I deemed it safe to do so.”
Alice took the letter, hugging her maid tightly. She nodded, understanding well the need for all the secrecy. She had not yet glanced at the envelope, but she was well aware of what it contained.
Her parents would hardly have approved, and at best, would have had the letter tossed out with the rubbish, instead of ever letting it pass into her hands. They disapproved of her secret hobby, which was why Betty, aided by the butler, helped to deliver certain letters to their young mistress undetected. And they would make sure the replies were posted in secret too. It was one of these mysterious letters which Alice now held eagerly in her hand.
“Thank you, Betty,” Alice said. “You did very well. I hate to think how Mother and Father would treat you, should they catch you helping me in this way.”
The maid shrugged, giving her mistress a warm, confident grin.
“It would not be nearly as bad as the knowledge that I had failed you,” she said. “Especially with something as important as your rapidly thriving career.”
Alicia bit back her joy. Betty was exaggerating, of course, as Alice humbly knew. However, she hoped the letter in her hand might contain some proof that Betty’s confidence in her was not altogether misplaced. With great excitement, she took her maid’s hand and led her over to the long bench beneath the large windows in the drawing-room, retrieving the letter opener from the escritoire as she passed. The two women sat, and Alice carefully tore open the envelope, reading it as she did so:
Mr. Tristram Tattersall (Care of The Post Office, Kitteridge, Hertfordshire)
From Mr. J.J. Dickins, Printer and Book Distributor
The Strand, London
Dated 28th February 1820
With trembling hands, Alice opened the letter. She bit her lip, giggling as she read Mr. Tattersall’s name at the top of the envelope. Mr., indeed, she thought, laughing again. It was hard to believe the publisher truly thought a person with such a ridiculous name could exist, but she was grateful that he had clearly been taken in. She imagined the surprise on the publisher’s face if he ever discovered that Mr. was actually a lady, and she had to stifle another giggle.
With a deep breath to calm herself, Alice began to read the letter:
Dear Mr. Tattersall,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to inform you that your novel, entitled Charlie Beauchamp’s War, has now sold 15,573 copies throughout the British Isles. Moreover, the demand for your book continues to rise. Frankly, Mr. Tattersall, my company and I have never seen anything quite like the success of your book in our entire careers. Our sincere congratulations to you, good sir. And fear not; a larger print run of a further 10,000 copies of your book has been scheduled to take place shortly, so that we may meet the growing demand.
This brings me to my biggest piece of news. There has been great interest in your book from printers, book distributors, and booksellers, not only in London, but all throughout the Continent, and in America, as well.
These opportunities, if you are unaware, may hold very favorable financial opportunities for you, and I present them to you for your consideration.
I am currently awaiting the relevant correspondence, which I shall forward to you as soon as it arrives. In the meantime, please think about these opportunities. The choice is, of course, yours to make, but as your publisher, I strongly urge you to consider accepting.
Of course, we have not forgotten the matter of your payment for this novel. I have calculated the amount that you are to receive in royalties, and you will be happy to learn that the sum payable will be bigger than I originally projected when your book first went into publication.
I have the great pleasure of informing you that the royalties from the book sales to date total £463 guineas. These funds are now due to you, and they are available for disbursement by whatever method you favor at your earliest convenience.
You need only communicate your requirements in this regard in writing, and I will ensure that the requisite arrangements are made. I await your instructions at your pleasure, Mr. Tattersall.
Again, my company has never seen such success from a single book, especially the first one from a brand-new novelist. Your success is astounding and, we firmly believe, well deserved. My company and I fully expect that the second book in your series will be equally successful, if not more so. I beg to remind you of our signed agreement: I refer to your undertaking to supply the completed manuscript for this second book by the last day of June 1820. As you have been utterly professional and prompt thus far, I trust there will be no difficulty with adhering to the terms of our agreement.
I am, as always, available, should you have any questions. I eagerly await your response to the queries I have made above. In the meantime, I wish you well, and the greatest success with the completion of the second manuscript.
Your most obedient servant,
Despite the length of the letter, Alice read it three times. Her heart was racing fiercely, and her hands trembled even more than they had before she had opened it.
At last, she looked up at Betty, who was wringing her hands and watching her mistress with an excitedly anxious expression. Alice opened her mouth, her own excitement preventing her from speaking.
“Well?” Betty asked, bouncing up and down as her joy began to overflow. “What does it say?”
Alice, still unable to speak, handed the letter to her maid. Betty read the letter for herself, having learned how to read when her father began to lose his eyesight when he needed her to read the news sheets to him.
Alice watched the maid’s face continue to light up, until she was as radiant as the sun. When she finished the letter, Betty threw her arms around Alice, squealing softly with delight as she firmly embraced her mistress.
“Oh, Lady Alice,” she said, sounding as overjoyed as Alice felt. “This is most wonderful news.”
Alice joined her maid in giddy laughter and subdued shrieks of happiness. The news was momentous, something Alice had dreamed of since she was a young girl. Not only had a book she had written been published, but it was doing far better than she could have ever expected in any of her grandest dreams.
And she would be getting paid very well for her work. That was something her father had told her would never come to pass. Writing, he had always assured her, would never be anything but a quiet hobby of hers. She wished she could share the wonderful news with her family, but she knew they would certainly disapprove. Indeed, her father would be scandalized. Instead, she would continue to share her joy with the one person she knew was truly happy for her and believed in her continued success.
“I can hardly wait to begin the second book,” Alice said, finally pulling away from her maid and finding her voice. “I have so many ideas.”
Betty’s eyes glittered. She took Alice’s hands and pulled her to the seat in front of the window.
“Oh, I am so excited,” she said. “I cannot wait to hear all about your ideas.”
Alice and Betty spent the rest of the afternoon talking about Alice’s plans for the second book in her series. She was exceedingly grateful for Betty’s steadfast support. It helped her to have someone to whom she could tell her ideas, and receive kind, but objective, opinions in return.
In many ways, she really felt as though she could not write at all, were it not for her maid. The two women only stopped talking when another of the servants entered the room and announced that Alice was required to join her family for dinner.
That night, Alice could not sleep. Instead, she sat at her grand writing desk, penning out the first few pages of her new novel. She was grateful for the deadline, which felt as though it was ages away and therefore easy to meet, especially with the speed she was already writing.
She felt sure she would be able to complete the novel well before the last day of June, but she was too excited to slow down and take her time. As she wrote, she thought about how wonderful her life now was. She was, indeed, well on her way to being financially independent. To her, that was vitally important, for it meant she would have no need for a husband, unlike the rest of the young women of the ton.
As the sun came up the following morning, Alice did not feel fatigued at all. She felt invigorated, and the ideas continued to flow. She had never been happier in her life, and she knew that she would only grow happier with every passing day.
Kitteridge House sat atop a slight promontory, panoramically overlooking the surrounding low, green hills and shallow valley through which flowed the Kitter River. At the back of the classical, five-storied Palladian mansion, constructed from pale stone and topped with a gray slate roof, sprawled the vast, formal gardens, and the outbuildings of the estate. Large gates protected the grand mansion, and a wide avenue lined with trees and parkland wound up to the big circular gravel drive which brought visitors to the manor.
Inside the beautiful mansion, Alice was humming to herself as Betty helped her dress to join her family for breakfast. The sun was already beginning to shine brightly through the large windows of her bedchambers, its first rays lighting the yellow velvet drapes adorning Alice’s four-poster bed past
The oak vanity table, Alice’s matching dressers, and her mahogany writing desk rested on plush Turkey carpeting. Her bedchambers truly were her sanctuary, and they made the perfect place for her writing.
The brightness and warmth of the room made her feel much less as though she was hiding her secret career from her family. It seemed much more a private world that included only herself and Betty.
She glanced at Betty in the mirror as the maid began working on her hair. Betty’s own dark hair had begun to slip down into her face, and she idly blew it away with a small puff of her breath. It would be a little while yet before Betty finished readying her mistress for the day, and Alice was anxious to discuss something with the maid before she joined her family downstairs.
“I read Father’s copy of The London Times yesterday,” she said, excited but humble.
The maid nodded eagerly, much to Alice’s relief. Alice hated bragging about her accomplishments, as arrogant people did, but she could not help being proud. It felt wonderful to know her maid understood her and supported her efforts in the way she did.
“I caught a few peeks at the paper myself, my lady,” she said, grinning widely. “It would seem that a certain Mr. Tristram Tattersall has very quickly made a big impression on many of England’s readers. In fact, Londoners cannot cease their raving about Tattersall’s first book.”
Alice covered her mouth to stifle a giddy squeal. She turned to her maid, taking her hands in her own and giving them an enthusiastic squeeze.
“Can you believe it?” she asked, sighing dreamily. “I have dreamt of being a novelist for so long, and now I see my dream coming to fruition.”
Betty nodded knowingly.
“Of course, I can believe it, Lady Alice,” she said. “You are a very talented writer. I can think of no one who is as deserving of such recognition and fond praise as yourself.”
Alice beamed, sighing again. It was true the book London seemed to love so dearly bore a masculine name that was not her own, a nom de plume, as the French called it. For aristocratic ladies such as herself were not supposed to be novelists, successful or otherwise, and sometimes, she was saddened by the necessity for the subterfuge.
But she knew that if she simply continued working at her writing and captured the literary heart of London society’s peers, one day, she would be able to publish a work under her own name and receive the same kind of acclaim openly that the fictional Tristram Tattersall now received.
No one could deny her talent after having so highly praised her work. She knew that one day, everyone would accept her, just as they had Mr. Tattersall.
Alice sighed again, unable to keep still as Betty continued her work.
“Oh, and the sum of the royalties is quite incredible,” she said. “I had no idea that I could ever earn so much money, simply for doing something I love to do.”
Betty’s eyes widened. She paused, stepping to Alice’s side to look her directly in the eyes.
“What will you do about collecting those royalties?” she asked. “Mr. Dickens will no doubt be expecting a gentleman to come to his office to receive the payment. And you are far too lovely to pass off as a man.”
Alice giggled at the idea of her dressing as a man, and she blushed at her maid’s compliment. She tilted her head, thinking for a moment. She realized she had been so excited about the novel’s success, and the opportunities abroad her publisher mentioned, that she had not given proper thought as to how she would collect her royalties.
Money had never been a major concern for her when it came to her writing. She had only ever wanted to make enough to become financially independent, so that she would never have to rely on a husband for money. Therefore, she had not considered what she would do when it came time to receive the payments for any work she published.
“Perhaps I could write to him and ask that a courier deliver the money to me,” she mused.
Betty grew thoughtful, chewing on her lip.
“Forgive me, milady,” she said, “I do not wish to overstep myself, but I am not certain that any businessman would ever entrust such a large sum to a mere courier. That poses the risk that both you and the publishing company could lose it all, should the courier choose to defect with it.”
Alice smiled reassuringly at her maid. Betty knew she need never fear speaking out of turn or place with Alice, but she was still mindful enough to afford her mistress that respect. Then, she frowned. Betty was right. Having money transported in such a manner was indeed too risky, and she doubted that the publisher would ever agree to such an arrangement.
“You are quite right, Betty,” she said, biting her own lip. “If any such thing were feasible, Father would surely follow the practice himself.”
Betty nodded. Then, she smiled.
“Oh, but has he not sent your brother to fetch and make payments in his stead many times?” she asked. “When he returns from York, we could ask him if he would do the same for you.”
Alice shook her head slowly.
“George cannot know about my secret writing,” she said. “I am unsure of whether he would approve. And, even if he did, merely knowing about it would put him at risk of Father’s disapproval just as much as myself. I cannot place him in such a position, even if he should happen to agree to it.”
Betty’s head rose and fell with understanding. The two women were silent for a moment, deep in thought. Betty quickly finished helping Alice get ready, then she sat down beside her. Alice was perplexed, as the collection of the royalties presented a problem she had not considered properly previously. But she was far from distressed. She knew that, between herself and her maid, they would come up with a viable solution to the problem.
After another long pause, she turned back to Betty.
“Do you think that I could get away with dressing as a man to collect the money?” she asked, rather more seriously than she had at the first suggestion she might do such a daring thing.
Betty chuckled, shaking her head.
“No, your ladyship,” she said. “Even if I could successfully dress you to appear convincing as a man, how would we ever slip you out of the house dressed in such a fashion?”
Alice winced, cursing herself for having not considered that. Her parents would certainly notice her stealing through the house if she were dressed like a gentleman. And there would be no possible way to explain herself.
Even if it were only one of the servants who saw her, she could not be sure they would not report the incident to her parents, especially if they started inquiring as to her whereabouts. It was too risky, she knew, so she dismissed the idea once and for all. Until that was, a moment later, when another idea occurred to her.
“Very well,” she said, excitement filling her once more. “Then what if I pretend to be someone else, like myself, for instance?”
Betty looked at her in confusion.
“Someone else?” she asked. “Your ladyship, I do not understand. How could you pretend to be yourself when you are yourself?”
Alice giggled at how silly her idea sounded coming from her maid’s lips. She nodded firmly, determination filling her.
“I will explain,” she said, patting her maid’s hand. “The publisher believes that Tristram Tattersall is a real person. But he knows nothing of anyone Mr. Tattersall might have in his life. So, I could write Mr. Dickens a letter, from Mr. Tattersall, as always, and notify him that I am sending one of my employees to collect my payment. And that employee’s name would just happen to be Alice Kitteridge.”
Betty’s eyes lit up with understanding. She giggled, as Alice had, at how nonsensical the plan had at first sounded. She thought for a moment, and then nodded.
“I believe that would work,” she said. “And you, of course, would have all the necessary information about Mr. Tattersall, should Mr. Dickens ask any questions.”
Alice nodded, glad she seemed to have at last found a viable plan.
“And I could take the letter about the second novel and the payment as proof that I am, indeed, acting personally for Mr. Tattersall,” she said.
The two women dissolved into giggles at referring to Alice as both herself and the fictional author. To Alice, the plan sounded as if it belonged in the plot of one of the novels she consumed, like those she herself hoped to write one day.
Perhaps she would put a similar theme in one of her own stories one day? Ideas flashed through her mind as to what sorts of conflicts could arise in such a story. And, with her own experiences of her writing career to draw upon, she thought she would be able to narrate such conflicts adeptly.
As the possibilities floated through Alice’s mind, a new conflict occurred to her. She gasped, so loudly and suddenly that Betty jumped beside her.
“What is it?” she asked, putting a hand on her mistress’s shoulder.
Alice looked at her maid with disappointment in her eyes.
“There is still one problem to do with me going to collect the money as Mr. Tattersall’s agent,” she said. “I will have to go to London.”
At first, Betty looked confused, as though she did not see what Alice meant. Then, all at once, it dawned on her, and her face fell a little, too.
“Oh, dear,” she said with a sigh. “Your mother would surely wish to go with you, even with me as your escort.”
Alice nodded sadly.
“Oh, if only I could tell my family about my writing and my success,” she said. “Then none of this would be a problem.”
Betty nodded, looking at Alice with serious eyes.
“Perhaps it is time that you tell them,” she said.
Alice shook her head.
“I feel terrible guilt about keeping such a big secret from Mother and George,” she admitted. “But in their hands, no such secret would ever be safe from Father. And he will never support the idea of me being a lady novelist. Not even if I should promise to always use a male nom de plume.”
Betty frowned sympathetically.
“Of course, I do not wish to see such conflict within your family,” she said, “but I do hate seeing you so distressed by the trouble all this secrecy causes. Perhaps you could at least speak about it with your mother privately? You need not tell her everything but sound her out, discover how much you might safely tell her. Perhaps then, she would help you enough to cease your worrying about things like collecting your royalties.”
Alice chewed her lip, considering her maid’s words. It would be the perfect solution—if only she could trust her mother. But she knew well that her mother would without fail tell her father. All the earl would have to do was to ask his wife the right questions, and she would tell him whatever he wanted to know.
“Lying and deception do not come naturally to me, Betty, as you well know,” she said. “And this situation is, indeed, quite a strain on me. Especially keeping things from my mother. But I must continue in secret, at least until I have well established myself as a successful novelist. Father is not above disowning me, I am sure. It is not safe to speak a word to any of them just now. Oh, if only he would see reason.”
Betty nodded again, understanding her mistress’s plight.
“Well, for now, do not forget that you are well on your way to the success you seek,” she said, her smile beginning to return. “That letter from your publisher was very promising, and you shall soon have a second book to increase your popularity.”
Alice, too, began to grin, covering her mouth with her hand.
“You mean the success of one Mr. Tattersall,” she said.
The two women giggled again.
A few moments later, Betty escorted Alice downstairs to join her family for breakfast. By the time Alice had bid her maid farewell, leaving Betty to join the servants in the kitchen, her spirits were high once more. She put aside solving the riddle of how to obtain her money until later, as well as the thought of how much easier life would be if she could tell her family about her secret writing career without any adverse repercussions.
But, as Betty had pointed out, she had already made great progress in gaining the success necessary before abandoning the secrecy. For the time being, she could be satisfied with that.
Jonathan Menzies stared in bitter wonder at the early morning streaks of sunlight painted across a pale-blue, cloudless sky. He could hardly believe the breeze from the ocean could be so crisp, or the atmosphere so calm and beautiful. It seemed unfair to him that such conditions could exist when his mind and heart more resembled a tumultuous sea on a gloomy winter’s day.
Just weeks before, he had been sailing the world, going where he pleased, simply living for days just like this one. Even his trip to Jamaica, which had been in service of his father, had been more pleasure than business.
At first, he had happily agreed to tend to his father’s business dealings there for him. The old man had written to Jonathan and requested that he make the trip on his behalf, as he himself was feeling rather under the weather. Now, however, all Jonathan could do was brood as the packet ship Lady Bianca slowly finished docking back in England.
As it had turned out, it ended up being far more than a single trip to Jamaica for his father. The current Duke of Kent had called for a physician, due to the poor health which he had earlier believed to be only temporary.
However, only a fortnight after Jonathan had arrived in Jamaica, he had received a letter from his mother, saying that his father was far more gravely ill than had first been suspected.
The physician was checking on him almost daily, trying to determine once and for all what was ailing the duke. But as yet, there was no clear diagnosis, and the duke was only growing weaker.
As such, the duchess had pleaded with her son to return home as soon as he could conclude the business in Jamaica.
A twinge of guilt blended with the resentment he felt at having to return home early. He enjoyed traveling for business but more so for the sake of traveling itself and the chance of seeing beautiful, faraway places distant from his London home. However, being overseas as much as possible during the last few years had also served another purpose: it had helped him to avoid much of the pressure he found himself almost constantly under at home to find himself a wife.
However, now that his parents, who had loved and cared for him well throughout his entire life, needed him, he knew he should be happy to return home and help them, to set aside his selfish desires. If only his return did not mean he would likely be forced to wed, he might have felt more content to return home.
As he prepared to disembark from the ship, the captain approached him, smiling brightly at Jonathan.
“Was your journey a pleasant one, your lordship?” Captain Starre asked, breaking through his gloomy thoughts.
Jonathan gave the captain a firm handshake, but his smile was sad and regretful.
“The only problem with the journey is that it has ended far too soon,” he said.
The captain frowned, releasing Jonathan’s hand to put his own on the nobleman’s shoulder.
“Is there trouble at home, my lord?” he asked.
Jonathan sighed. Even though he knew Captain Starre well and trusted him a great deal, he did not wish to discuss his fears for the future.
“My father is gravely ill,” he said after a brief hesitation. “We are all concerned for his wellbeing.” His words were true, of course. He cared for his father, and he wanted him to get well. However, God forbid the old man should die, for there was far more at stake for Jonathan than merely losing his father,
The captain’s face fell, and his eyes grew sympathetic.
“I am terribly sorry to hear that, my lord,” he said. “Your father is a good man. I do hope he will recover.”
Jonathan nodded, smiling gratefully at the sea captain.
“As do I,” he said. Surely, no one hopes for it more than I, he added silently.
Reluctantly, Jonathan bid the sea captain farewell and set foot on the London docks. A thousand more thoughts overwhelmed him as he did so, and he struggled with all his might to keep from turning around, reboarding the ship, and begging Captain Starre to sail him as far from England as possible.
He was ill prepared to handle all the responsibilities which lay before him, but he knew he must learn to handle them, nonetheless.
The docks were nowhere near as crowded as he had expected, so he had no trouble spotting the carriage waiting to take him to Appledore Manor, his family’s seat in Kent. The footman spotted him at once and waved to him, so he was left with no choice but to go straight to the waiting coach.
He forced a cheerful greeting for the driver and the footman as he entered the carriage, nodding in gratitude to the footman as he closed the door behind Jonathan. A moment later, the coach began moving, and Jonathan sighed heavily.
It was not merely stepping in for his father while the reigning duke was ill which seemed so daunting, or even simply that his mother wanted so desperately for him to marry. His father’s illness reminded Jonathan that he would one day become the Duke of Kent in his father’s stead.
It was his birthright, and it was something for which his father had tried to prepare him throughout his entire life. Yet now, even as he hoped the illness which had stricken his father would gradually pass, he was acutely aware that the day when he inherited the dukedom could be much closer than he had ever anticipated.
He wanted to remain optimistic, but with every turn of the carriage wheels, as the vehicle carried him away from the sea and toward home, he could feel his last chance to sail the world slipping away.
To distract himself, Jonathan pulled his journal from his pocket. He carried the book with him everywhere because he found himself often inspired while at sea.
Not merely for the sake of writing idle notes, or for keeping track of business dealings. The pages were more than halfway filled with a novel; a follow-up to his successful, illustrated travel book entitled A Voyage Across the Indies.
As he looked at his notes, however, he was not filled with the usual joy and pleasure. Rather, he felt incredible sadness. Now he would be taking over his father’s business affairs in earnest, and would almost certainly be forced by his mother to attend the London Season and find a wife, how would he ever find the time to continue working on the novel?
His family, of course, had no idea he was a published author. That fact must remain forever a secret, as it would be seen by his relatives as a vocation which brought both shame and disgrace to the noble family name of Menzies.
Therefore, he had published under a pseudonym, so that his family would not learn of his secret chosen career, at least not until he had become successful enough to be admired rather than shamed for his work.
Now, he wondered if not telling them would end up costing him his writing career. He was, after all, a man, and he could do as he pleased.
His mother could not force him to attend the season nor find a wife. It was not her place to do so. He loved and respected his mother, though, which left him even more conflicted.
“Whatever will I do?” he murmured aloud, despite the coach being empty apart from himself.
Returning the journal to the pocket of his jacket, Jonathan rested his head against the window of the carriage. Once more, he thought about how unfair it was that the world outside the window should be so bright and cheery when, in comparison, his mood was so conflicted and anxious.
He did not want to feel any resentment toward his family, especially not for needing his help at such a critical time. But he could not escape the longing he felt for the freedom of the open sea or for his writing. No matter how hard he tried to view the current circumstances, he could find no way to be optimistic rather than gloomy.
Suddenly, an image of Abigail came to Jonathan’s mind. Despite himself, he found himself smiling immediately. His little sister had always been very dear to him, and, to his relief, that bond had not weakened as they had grown. True, their interests had begun to take them down different life paths, as was always the case with young men and young women, but they remained close.
Like most young ladies of high society, Abigail had been raised to understand that her duty was to grow into a refined, sophisticated young woman and attract a suitable husband. And like most of the ton’s young women, she was thrilled about fulfilling her duty.
Jonathan could not understand the appeal of marriage for young ladies, but he was happy that his sister was excited about her future and looked forward to doing what was expected of her.
Briefly, he was envious of his sister. If only he could possess that same sense of joy in fulfilling a life duty, then he might have found contentment with his situation. For the moment, however, the best he could do was to look forward to seeing his sister. He had missed her, and seeing her again would, indeed, be wonderful.
He wondered if, in the company of his sister, he might find the contentment he sought once he returned home. If only I could find the time to write, as well.
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