"A rumpus of baboons," Poppy said, laughing.
Kev smiled slightly, but he was still preoccupied. Poppy had always dreamed of a London season. For it to turn out this way must be a crushing disappointment. "Have you been invited to the right events?" he asked. "The dances… the dinner things…"
"Balls and soirees," Poppy supplied. "Yes, thanks to the patronage of Lord Westcliff and Lord St. Vincent, we've received invitations. But merely getting past the door doesn't make one desirable, Merripen. It only affords one the opportunity to prop up the wall while everyone else dances."
Kev frowned at Amelia and Rohan. "What are you going to do about this?"
"We're going to withdraw Poppy from the season," Amelia said, "and tell everyone that on second thought, she's still too young to be out in society."
"No one will believe that," Beatrix said. "After all, Poppy's almost nineteen"
"There's no need to make me sound like a warty old crone, Bea," Poppy said indignantly.
"-and in the meantime," Amelia continued with great patience, "we'll find a governess who will teach both Poppy and Beatrix how to behave."
"She had better be good," Beatrix said, pulling a grunting black-and-white guinea pig from her pocket and snuggling it under her chin. "We have a lot to overcome. Don't we, Mr. Nibbles?"
Later, Amelia took Kev aside. She reached into the pocket of her gown and extracted a small, white square. She gave it to him, her gaze searching his face. "Win wrote other letters to the family, and of course you shall read those as well. But this was addressed solely to you."
Unable to speak, Kev closed his fingers around the bit of parchment sealed with wax.
He went to his hotel room, which was separate from the rest of the family's at his request. Sitting at a small table, he broke the seal with scrupulous care.
There was Win's familiar writing, the pen strokes small and precise.
I hope this letter finds you in full health and vigor. I cannot imagine you in any other state, actually. Every morning I awaken in this place, which seems another world entirely, and I am surprised anew to find myself so far away from my family. And from you.
The journey across the channel was trying, the land route to the clinic even more so. As you know, I am not a good traveler, but Leo saw me safely here. He is now residing a short distance away as a paying guest at a small chateau, and so far he has come to visit every other day…
Win's letter went on to describe the clinic, which was quiet and austere. The patients suffered from a variety of ailments, but most especially those of the lung and pulmonary system.
Instead of dosing them with narcotic drugs and keeping them inside, as most doctors prescribed, Dr. Harrow put them all on a program of exercise, cold baths, health tonics, and a simple abstemious diet. Compelling the patients to exercise was a controversial treatment, but according to Dr. Harrow, motion was the prevailing instinct of all animal life.
The patients started every day with a morning walk outside, rain or shine, followed by an hour in the gymnasium for activities such as ladder-climbing or lifting dumbbells. So far Win could hardly manage any exercises without becoming severely out of breath, but she thought she could detect a small improvement in her abilities. Everyone at the clinic was required to practice breathing on a new device called a spirometer, an apparatus for measuring the volume of air inspired and expired by the lungs.
There was more about the clinic and the patients, which Kev skimmed over quickly. And then he reached the last paragraphs.
Since my illness I have had the strength to do very little except to love [Win had written], but that I have done, and I still do, in full measure. I am sorry for the way I shocked you the morning I left, but I do not regret the sentiments I expressed.
I am running after you, and life, in desperate pursuit. My dream is that someday you will both turn and let me catch you. That dream carries me through every night. I long to tell you so many things, but I am not free yet.
I hope to be well enough someday to shock you again, with far more pleasing results.
I have enclosed a hundred kisses in this letter. You must count them out carefully and not lose any.
Flattening the slip of paper on the table, Kev smoothed it and ran his fingertips along the delicate lines of script. He read it twice more.
He let his hand close over the parchment, crushing it tightly, and he hurled it into the hearth, where a small fire was burning.
And he watched the parchment light and smolder, until the whiteness had darkened into ash and every last word from Win had disappeared.
At long last, Win had come home.
The clipper from Calais was docked, the hold packed with luxury goods, and bags of letters and parcels to be delivered by the Royal Mail. It was a medium-sized ship with seven spacious staterooms for the passengers, each lined with Gothic arched panels and painted a glossy shade of Florence white.
Win stood on the deck and watched the crew employing the ground tackle to moor the ship. Only then would the passengers be allowed to disembark.
Once, the excitement that gripped her would have made it impossible to breathe. But Win was returning to London a different woman. She wondered how her family would react to the changes in her. And of course they had changed as well: Amelia and Cam had been married for two years now, and Poppy and Beatrix were now out in society.