I must begin. I have already taken up my paper and pen so I must begin.
I am Madeline Milton. Perhaps it is a plain name, but as it is my own, these syllables hold a certain charm for me. Perchance I should tell you of my physical attributes. How am I to describe myself? When I peer into the looking glass, I only see me. Tall almost too tall. Blonde, but not truly platinum. My eyes are greenish brown and sometimes when I am not despondent, they sparkle. My lips are small and a medium red. I leave the decision of whether or not I am beautiful up to you, my reader. I will side with my vanity and say that I am pretty, but common sense tells me not to say "gorgeous".
In the winter of 1899, in which my tale begins, I lived in London. Now, my reader, you know a good deal about me, I am one of the hundreds of thousands of souls living in that great institution. I will describe London as I saw it then. London, in the winter of 1899, was just as you might expect it. London or rather its inhabitants were living a most refined and cultured life. Society was very pleased with itself. All the women were convinced that not one of their acquaintances had looked so fine in years. The gentlemen were thoroughly assured that the hunting they enjoyed over the summer never was better and they were completely miserable to leave their country estates. Nevertheless, at the same time, the gentlemen enjoyed the claret immensely, and the ladies were delighted with everyone worthy of jealous criticism.
I lived at Belvoir Place, then, number twenty-seven. My father's genteel looking house was furnished with my mother's lavish taste. That winter my mother and sister had as much of society as they could possibly wish for and my father and I had as much as we could stand. We enjoyed a small circle of cherished friends, but a bombardment of people was rather too much for us.
I did not mind living in London then, but I had long cherished the hope of moving back to our country home. Until I was ten years old, we lived at Fairmount, my father's country estate. I loved Fairmount for the tranquility that I experienced there. The grounds were lovely with many pleasant walks to take. It was also well suited for riding my pony. Fairmount, the crown jewel in this beautiful estate was something to gaze for hours upon. My father had a wonderful library and a large collection of family portraits. It was an elegant home with every possible comfort. My mother decided that a livelier atmosphere would suit both her and my sister much better and we left for London.
I am sorry for the way I trailed off like that, I often do so. I must really begin, so here I go...
December 14th was a cold and frosty day. I dressed quickly due to the extreme weather conditions. When I was seated at the breakfast table, I was reprimanded sharply for not taking enough pains with myself.
"My dear Madeline, you must take more care with yourself. It really is unkind to the people surrounding you to have to look at such a fright. Madeline, you could be almost pretty, if you tried, as it is now you are very, very, ugly. Look at your sister; see what a perfect example of beauty she is. Her hair curls tightly and is arranged elaborately. That mess you made is quite an eyesore. The trouble with you is you are lazy, you don't care that your betters might be offended by your slovenliness." Finishing this most sage speech, she put a large piece of kipper into her mouth and began chewing ferociously.
My dear father tried to put a word in for me but could not. "Minnie, my dear, do not be so cross this morning. I know the weather is frightful, but please don't be harsh upon Madeline."
"Alexander, my love, even you must acknowledge Pamela's superiority. Madeline is nothing but a monkey."
To avoid further discord so early in the morning, I slipped away from the table and sat in the drawing room. I had not sat there long when my sister came in to the room. Pamela, my sister was of a very grasping nature. She had a particular passion for breaking rich young gentlemen's hearts.
"Well, Madeline," she said in a condescending tone, "young Lord Amherst is coming to call this morning. If I were you, I would maybe get dressed. Mamma is perfectly correct, you know. Moreover, don't let your cold disdain shield you from these words, 'You are very, very ugly'. And I say, you made quite a show of yourself last night, I hope you are ashamed." Considering that she had bestowed too much kindness on me by speaking so much, she went up to her chamber.
I turned my face away from the window that I had been looking through. I saw in the mirror that there were small tears on my face. I can still remember the time that she was not how she is. She still is a proud, selfish creature. She could have been so much different had she not been spoiled. I can just remember once when I had sprained my ankle and I was crying. She was about nine and I was five. She let me hold her doll and sang a pretty song to me. However, she changed from too much praise and attention.
After coming out of this reverie, I thought that I might as well pick up my needlework. I did so and had not gotten three stitches before Lord Amherst was announced. As he was shown into the drawing room, I smiled to myself at my mother and sister taking such pains to present a good image and not being present when the young gentleman arrived.
"Won't you sit down, Lord Amherst?" I asked, in such a way that I thought even my mother couldn't have found fault with me then.
"I-I thank you. I don't-I do not be-believe we had-have introduced, Miss," said the rather stupid looking young man. He had clearly learnt his conversation out of a book of manners. He was constantly tripping over his words. I liked him better than some of the other gentlemen that had been dragged here, because he was so simple.
This was a painful situation. I must introduce him and also myself. "Miss Madeline Milton is very pleased to make your acquaintance, Lord Amherst. My sister Miss Milton will be down presently."
I observed the young gentleman as he looked for an answer. He must have at least ten thousand pounds a year and a house in town into the bargain for my sister to throw herself at him! I rather pitied him for his foolishness.
"Del-Charmed I'm-I am cer-sure. Please re-accept Mr.-Lord Amherst as your humble sla-servant."
This poor young man had such a feeble intellect; I knew he couldn't hold out against my sister's flattery. I resolved to speak to her and ask her to let him go. If she married him, I knew that he would be miserable.
My sister was down presently. I watched her flatter that man until his head swam about in the air. She was beautiful. And perfectly correct in manners, but it was all a sham. She pretended to be far removed from the creature I had last seen.
Seeing that my presence was a hindrance and also wishing to be far away I went to call on Mrs. Nebberson, our neighbor. The walk was only a few steps so I declined Lord Amherst's offer to accompany me.
"My dear little Madeline, I am so happy to see you, but just think how unlucky you are! There has just been a lovely funeral. I am so sorry that you missed seeing it," she said ruefully. Apart from the morbid desire to see funeral processions, Mrs. Nebberson was really a kind old lady.
"Mrs. Nebberson I am so glad to find you at home. I'm sorry that I missed it, I'm sure it was wonderful."
"Shall I pour you some tea, my dear?"
"Thank you, yes."
"I really do wish you could have seen it. Just think of it, eight white horses. It was all so lovely that I went down to ask who was dead. I thought for certain it was my lord the Prime Minister. However, it was only some country gentleman by the name of Benett. Milk and sugar?"
"Thank you, no, only milk. This gentleman was he perchance, Mr. James Benett?"
"Why yes, I believe that was the name. Here is your tea."
"Thank you," I said almost scalding myself on my first sip. The man who had died was our neighbor, who lived at Claythorne.
"Let me think, there was a stiff-looking middle-aged lady that seemed as though she would make a rock jump to attention and salute her. Then there was a handsome young man with an air of boredom and conceit. There was also a strange man that was carrying a flower and talking to it. I remember quite distinctly the man who looked as if he had swallowed an apple whole, and was quite anxious that no one should see. There were several others but the face I liked the best was; the dashing young man who looked as if he would have wept if it was manful."
This was undoubtedly Philip. I had known Philip Benett for as long as I was alive. Philip was my childhood companion and lived at Claythorne, the estate next to ours. I spent many pleasant hours at Claythorne with him.
In the winter of 1899, I had not seen him since my mother uprooted our family to London. Therefore, the only recollection I will be able to furnish you with is a rather old one.
When he was a child, he had sandy brown hair, which seemed to get darker as he grew older. His face was pleasing and always ready to smile. He had dark grey eyes that were constantly changing from wistful to jovial. He was tall, but not lanky. He had remarkably deft hands. He always had a passion for helping people.
I always shared his love of knowledge. He loved to analyze people. He would often ask me, "What makes their brain work?" I would reply that I knew no more than he did. However, he had a drive for finding out. One of the great differences between us was I was content with knowing someone's character and acting accordingly; he would not only do this, but also classified people according to their behavior. I never fully understood why he did this, but I found it fascinating.
Alas, it was painful parting from my dearest friend. The last I saw of him was through the carriage window, I was looking back and I saw him in his library window waving a tiny white handkerchief.
He promised to write.
He wrote me for two years. Then his letters stopped. I imagined that he did not have any spare time away from his studies, but I always wondered.
I began these reflections as soon as I heard his description. Then my mind was in a tumult of indecision. As Mrs. Nebberson chatted on, I could pay very little attention. I wished to renew my acquaintance, but I was not sure how to do so in the most polite manner. I was grieved at his father's death, perhaps a letter of sympathy would do. Was this correct? I did not know. I wish a hundred times more than ever that I was living at Fairmount.
I mentioned the subject at dinner. My mother asked why it was of importance. My sister made a show of proud indifference. My father admonished them gently and expressed his deep sympathy.
I loved my father so much then. I might have died of grief if he was not there to encourage me. His gentle kindness was more necessary than air to me. My disposition is loving. I am weak, and hatred still cuts me deeply, even though I have experienced so much love in my insignificant life.
I loved my mother even though she did not like me. My confidence was not very high then and every critical comment she made inflicted deep, deep pathos. I had an innate desire to please, and when I failed, so many times my suffering was acute. I would not change my values for her, but inadequacy in every respect was devastating.
After dinner, I sat for my portrait. The painter was a very little old French man with a personality that fascinated me. He was eccentric, but sometimes had a good deal of sense. His spectacles made his round face look even more circular than it was.
"I love to paint Mademoiselle's face, it is quite the picture of traditional beauty but at the same time there is an air of the, the," he groped for a word, "piquant!" he said triumphantly with a flourish of his brush.
"Most English ladies are straw- haired dolls," he glanced at my sister, "if you will excuse me for saying so, Monsieur. However, Mademoiselle's face has the character of a French lady. I can see it in her eye."
I retired soon after tea that evening and began to read. I did not continue this pursuit for very long however. The intelligence of the morning was upon my mind. I seated myself at my desk and tried to begin.
How should I address him? A plain Mr. Benett would do. I tried almost every sentence and finally got a half decent sounding letter. Here it is:
27 Belvoir Place
I wished to express my sorrow for your loss. I am deeply grieved. I was not aware of your Father's decease earlier today, as I should have seen you to give message to you sooner.
Are you in London long? I am sure that my father would like to renew the acquaintance. It has been so long since we have seen you.
Hoping to see you again,
I was not satisfied with this but as it was the best I could do, I resolved to send it. I was very anxious the next morning and probably deserved the reprimand I received about fidgeting. Once my morning was my own, again I perused some of the letters I had received from him as a child. Here was one of my favorites:
16 April 1890
I just received your last letter and I hope I am not late with mine. That is not a very good opening salutation, my schoolmaster would be horrified. Let him be shocked and I hope that you won't be.
Now I must make the usual inquiries after you and your family. How are you?
Next to make the normal correspondence complete, I will state the state (Ha, my friend, that was a very good joke) of affairs at my present abode. My father is in excellent health. Mrs. Monlake goes about her housekeeping duties with much vigor, as you might guess. I can safely say that every piece of silver is polished daily, since you left. In addition to these great accomplishments, every domestic within her jurisdiction and eyesight works efficiently.
Old Lampert is even more peculiar than he always was. I say, Madeline, the fellow gets queerer every day. Naming all of the flowers and trees that he has care of is one thing, but when he goes calling on his neighbors with "Blue Jay" and "Sparrow"... Then again, his father was a hatter. Allowances must be made.
The rest of my household is just the same as they always were with only one exception. My school master, Mr. Dictionare is in an exalting state of mind, as his second cousin, two or three times removed, has been made an M.P.(Member of Parliament)! We are hardly able to bear up under this great honor! Somehow, we must manage.
Goodbye Madeline, I am being summoned.
No letter came the next day. There was no letter for a week. He had either not received the letter or thought it was childish and did not respond.
I was at breakfast when it came. I quickly excused myself and rushed to read the letter. It was satisfactory. However, he was not in London.
The letter told me something of himself and it was amusing. He was back at Claythorne, and studying to become a doctor. The family fortune had almost run out. His father had made some bad investments; consequently, Philip had to do something to keep the estate. He rented most of it and kept Claythorne Manor. However, the last part of it was most satisfactory.
"Miss Milton, I am sure that you will admonish me as you ought when I make this request. Will either you or your father correspond with me? It is so dull at Claythorne with only the eccentric servants left here. I long for conversation with a sane person."
The next morning my father announced that, he would be checking up on his Jamaican estates. I would have nothing to do for the months my father was gone. I wrote Philip back and said that I would be happy to oblige him.
I passed the months pleasantly and was rarely in low spirits. Nevertheless, as you might expect me to do, I fell in love with him. Even though I had not seen him since he was eleven years of age.
I soon learned that he loved me too. When he asked me to marry him, I said I would. It was all settled, my way seemed easy.
I wrote my father of these events and asked him if I might stay at Fairmount for a few weeks. I said nothing to my mother of this. Her disapprobation would be too much to bear.
My father gave me his blessing. He also gave me his permission to stay at my old home. I was off at once, having no desire to stay in London any longer than I had to.
The journey to Fairmount was uneventful and therefore not worth mentioning. I was fatigued when I arrived at my old home however, it welcomed me as if I had never left.
The next morning, I was eager to call at Claythorne. I cared not much for my appearance that morning, and as soon as it was proper, I hastened to Claythorne. I longed to see him as much as I thought he longed to see me.
I was about to knock on the door when I paused a moment to recall my treasured memories as a child. Then, I saw him in the garden.
I almost ran to the garden, but I wanted to surprise Philip, so I gingerly scurried over. He was sleeping under the tree. Even though it had been ten years since I had last seen him, I knew it was Philip. The little boy I had played with as a child, had grown into a handsome man. I didn't want to disturb his peaceful appearance, but I accidentally bumped his foot slightly and he woke up abruptly.
"Confound you baggage", he said.
I had never expected such a greeting.
"Oh, I thought you were someone else. Who are you?" he said.
"Why Philip, you have my photograph. Don't you recognize me or is this some jest on your part?", I replied. "I'm Madeline."
"Oh yes, I recognize you now that the sun is out of my eyes. What are you here for?", he said.
I was dismayed at his reception. I tried to explain myself, but failed. He continued to treat me rather coolly. I attempted to find the Philip of my childhood as well as the Philip in my recent correspondence, but I found myself being frustrated, so I departed for home earlier than I had planned.
The next morning, I received a most encouraging invitation for tea that afternoon. I found his reception dramatically different from that of the previous day. The old Philip was here again. Although I was puzzled at the change, I disregarded the odd behavior.
I was visiting for several weeks and found Philip's behavior to be quite inconsistent. One day he would be quite charming and the next he could be quite brutal.
I began to question my engagement to such an erratically unpredictable man. I did not think I would be able to spend the rest of my life not knowing which Philip I would be living with.
I refused to admit to myself that I could have been so blind but, one evening he pushed me too far. I will never forget the way he treated me. He was so cruel to me and all those around, that I could no longer justify my engagement to such a heartless man. I ran home without waiting for my carriage. Before I rushed up to my room I gave explicit instructions to the domestics that I was not be disturbed by anyone, especially, Mr. Bennet. I slammed my bedroom door and collapsed on the bed.
I tried to think clearly on the matter. When I had come home I had resolved to break my engagement, but I hesitated pondering on whether life at home with my mother and sister would be worse than this. I had been a fool and I knew it, but must the whole world know? My mother would never ever miss an opportunity to remind me of my imprudence. I was a stupid girl, but I still had enough sense in me to wait for a calmer mind. In the morning, I resolved that if he would apologize, I would commit myself to my fate. Oh how I wished I did not find myself in this predicament.
Error, idiocy and folly were the words that met my eyes when I woke up. Did I still love him? No, well that is, yes, but I loved a man that was gone.
If I could put feeling aside, I would be happy enough. Yes, love would be locked up forever. I would expect no better treatment and would take pleasure from other things. I could treasure the memory of those few happy hours. As I weighed my options, I determined an empty marriage would be better than a life of ridicule from my mother.
No apology came, but I did not need one. I spent the morning preparing myself for a new life. I would be mistress of Claythorne but probably nothing else.
I went to see him. He was in the library. I stepped noiselessly over to his chair. He did not see me.
He was reading a book of old family nursery rhymes!
I couldn't help but laugh. As I enjoyed myself, he jumped, slammed the book shut and abruptly asked why I was there.
"Tea," was the answer I gave.
"Why aren't you in the drawing room then?"
"Mrs. Monlake told me you were here."
"Is my presence as necessary as the sugar bowl?" He said this with a sarcastic air that I did not much like. He put the book in a cabinet and locked the doors. I wondered very much, why he was so ashamed of the book.
The next day when I came for tea, something very similar happened. But, I was able to gain a view of the page he was observing.
"What are you doing on that page? We gave up looking for that treasure ages ago!"
"I don't see how that is any concern of yours", he replied as he moodily exited the room.
I recalled when we were children, one summer Philip's cousin, Leicester Norris came to visit. On the very page Philip was pondering over, Leicester had found a formula for some treasure.
Commencer à l'arbre dont le fruit tu rôti avait une veille froid par le feu. Cinq pour Gibraltar. Deux autres pour les colonnes d'Hercule. Douze à l'Orient. Et cinq sur le bord du monde. High noon regarder ton deuxième auto. Mettre en lumière ce qui est dans ta tête.
Translated from the French it meant;
Begin at the tree whose fruit
thou roast'd on a cold eve by the fire.
Five for Gibraltar.
Another two for the Columns of Hercules.
Twelve to the Orient.
And five to the edge of the world.
High noon watch thy second self.
Bring to light what is under thy head.
All summer long, we worked with Leicester on the riddle. We couldn't figure out the first message. But, the next instruction was easy, 'five for Gibraltar' meant to go south. As Gibraltar used to be called The Pillars of Hercules , the third instruction meant to go two more steps south. Next, twelve to the Orient meant to go east. The end of the world was still a mystery when Leicester left. "Second self" was a shadow. We had deciphered all but two of the clues.
Philip and I worked all year on the puzzle. Eventually we learned, "The end of the world" was the west. Before Columbus sailed to the Americas, no one knew what was on the other side of the Atlantic. Some believed it was the end of the world.
One winter night we had chestnuts by the fire. Philip was so quick of mind, he deduced, the tree in the riddle was a chestnut. When the weather turned warmer, we started at the large chestnut tree Philip's grandfather planted. We ran all the steps we found. However, when we "quarried under our heads", we found nothing. Repeatedly we tried, but nothing.
Why was Philip looking at this again? He was just as sick of it as I was when we gave it up. Why was he so secretive? Maybe he found something new in the code. I resolved to follow him when next he went 'riding' alone. I soon had an opportunity to do so. But he followed the riddle just the same as we always did. Why did he do this again and again?
Perhaps I could have one more go at the treasure, if it was a treasure. We were misinterpreting some piece of information, that was obvious. But which one? The chestnut tree was the one that was most vague. Maybe it was an apple tree. I tried all the trees in the orchard and they didn't work, neither did walnuts. Another translation? I was mystified by the whole thing.
Then, one afternoon as I sat alone on the drawing room sofa I languidly looked up at the picture above the mantelpiece. It was a landscape of Claythorne. Everything was still in its place except the chestnut tree!
I rang for Mrs. Monlake. It was her personal business to know every detail about Claythorne and everyone who ever graced to halls.
I asked why the chestnut tree was placed differently in the landscape. She replied that it was struck down by lighting one hundred years earlier. Our chestnut tree had been planted to replace it. I quietly dismissed her.
That was the answer! We had always been searching by the wrong chestnut tree. The chestnut tree in the painting was probably the one mentioned. Tomorrow I would look again, hopefully with a better result.
My theory was correct.
My hand trembled as I opened the box. Then I saw them. There they sat on their velvet couch; they smiled at me, those jewels. They were not ordinary gems either. Immediately, an emerald caught my eye. It was a beautiful cold green. Next, I saw a ruby glittering like a sunset. I moved my eye slightly and a long string of pearls ensnared my vision. An exquisite sapphire held me for a moment. I last looked upon a diamond. It was king of them all, confusingly luminous, yet calm, and quiet just the same.
It gave me a strange and cold power to have them in my hand. However, at the same time I was powerless, unable to move my eyes from their beauty. I could never tell how long I sat on the grass, transfixed.
A noise startled me. Was someone coming? Yes, it was old Lampert, the gardener. How could I explain my attempt at gardening in the middle of the grounds? I seized the box and ran away to the manor in a mad frenzy.
I gained control of my wits, when I saw him in the doorway. Somehow he looked different.
Reader, the next chains of events I am not wholly certain of myself, but as my narrative would be incomplete without them, I will endeavor to explain what happened.
He walked into the garden towards me. He seemed confused. He removed a locket he was wearing and opened it up.
"But of course! How stupid I am!" With this, he quickened his gait to almost a run.
"Madeline!" He was close enough so I could observe him. His whole face seemed different. Was this because he was smiling?
"Why are you here? What stroke of luck brought you to me?"
"But you see me nearly every day, what is different about today?"
He looked at the locket. "True," he said. I was much puzzled by this change in him. I wished that he wouldn't act like this, it was bound to stop some time and I would eventually suffer more pain.
"Madeline, I must tell you so many things. Come seat yourself here."
I did as he bade me. He sat down beside me. He took the box of jewels out of my hands and placed it on the grass, telling me that whatever it was could wait.
"Did you receive my letter, Madeline?"
"The one telling why I couldn't write to you for these weeks."
"What! Why would you need to write to me? I was here."
"I was not. I was called away and I had an opportunity to do some much needed medical research."
"But you were here the whole time I was. I met you in this very garden!"
"Madeline you must be mistaken, I was not here! Stop teasing me. You always were one to pull pranks.
"I was not here! I went away a few weeks ago, I studied a while in France. Then I got a letter from my Uncle Norris. He said that my cousin, Leicester had fallen into some bad company. Leicester went away with these fellows to London. My uncle was very worried about him since he heard nothing from him for several weeks.
"I went to London in search of my cousin. All that I found out was that he had incurred some large gambling debts and left London hastily. I assumed that he probably left the country. I returned here just a few hours ago."
I was perplexed in the highest degree. He must be joking or lying. However, his gray eyes were so solemn; I did not see the slightest hint of comedic pleasure. And yet, they were so earnest, no one could accuse him of a lie.
He grasped both my hands fiercely, and said, "You must believe me."
"I wish to believe what you say. I want to think the past few weeks here were but a dream. But how can I when my mind tells me different?"
"Are you suggesting that I have been here?"
A figure moved toward us from a grove to our right. But it was Philip! Was I exposed to the sun too long? There could not be two of him, but there were.
The Philip opposite me gasped and said in a whisper, "Leicester!"
The whole thing shot through my mind. What an idiot I was! Leicester needed money to pay his debts. He came to Claythorne to see if his cousin would lend to him. Finding no Philip there and every one believing him to be master of the house, he assumed the title. He tried to find the gems as a last resort to pay his debts.
Reader, I do not myself know what transpired then. All I know is that when it was over Leicester was departed and with him my jewels. They are lost, gone forever.
The rest of my story you may guess for yourself. I have been happily married to my dear Philip for seven years. I take a great pleasure in being a physician's wife and the mother of his three beautiful children. However, before I end my narrative, which you must find intolerable, I will add one last thought.
I have been richly blessed beyond human imagination.
LPH Writing Class stories 2013-2014