Juliet says you’re sending a hand-writing fellow to look at Granny Pheen’s letters and decide if Mr. Oscar Wilde wrote them. I’ll bet he did, and even if he didn’t, I think you will admire Solange’s story. I did, Kit did, and I know Granny Pheen did. She would twirl, happy in her grave, to have so many others know about that nice man and his funny ideas.
Juliet told me if Mr. Wilde did write the letters, many teachers and schools and libraries would want to own them and would offer me sums of money for them. They would be sure and keep them in a safe, dry, properly cooled place.
I say no to that! They are safe and dry and chilly now. Granny kept them in her biscuit tin, and in her biscuit tin they’ll stay. Of course anyone who wants to come see them can visit me here, and I’ll let them have a look. Juliet said lots of scholars would probably come, which would be nice for me and Zenobia—as we like company.
If you’d like the letters for a book, you can have them, though I hope you will let me write what Juliet calls the preface. I’d like to tell about Granny Pheen, and I have a picture of her and Muffin by the pump. Juliet told me about royalties and then I could buy me a motorcycle with a sidecar—there is a red one, second-hand, down at Lenoux’s Garage.
From Juliet to Sidney
18th August, 1946
Sir William has come and gone. Isola invited me to be present for the inspection, and of course I jumped at the chance. Promptly at nine, Sir William appeared on the kitchen steps; I panicked at the sight of him in his sober black suit—what if Granny Pheen’s letters were merely the work of some fanciful farmer? What would Sir William do to us—and you—for wasting his time?
He settled grimly among Isola’s sheaves of hemlock and hyssop, dusted his fingers with a snowy handkerchief, fitted a little glass into one eye, and slowly removed the first letter from the biscuit tin.
A long silence followed. Isola and I looked at one another. Sir William took another letter from the biscuit tin. Isola and I held our breath. Sir William sighed. We twitched. “Hmmmm,” he murmured. We nodded at him encouragingly, but it was no good—there was another silence. This one stretched on for several weeks.
Then he looked at us and nodded.
“Yes?” I said, hardly daring to breathe.
“I’m pleased to confirm that you are in possession of eight letters written by Oscar Wilde, madam,” he said to Isola with a little bow.
“GLORY BE!” bellowed Isola, and she reached round the table and clutched Sir William into a hug. He looked somewhat startled at first, but then he smiled and patted her cautiously on the back.
He took one page back with him to get the corroboration of another Wilde scholar, but he told me that was purely for “show.” He was certain he was correct.
He may not tell you that Isola took him for a test drive in Mr. Lenoux’s motorcycle—Isola at the wheel, he in the sidecar, Zenobia on his shoulder. They got a citation for reckless driving, which Sir William assured Isola he would be “privileged to pay.” As Isola says, for a noted graphologist, he’s a good sport.
But he’s no substitute for you. When are you going to come see the letters—and, incidentally, me—for yourself? Kit will do a tap dance in your honor and I will stand on my head. I still can, you know.
Just to torment you, I won’t tell any news. You’ll have to come and find out for yourself.
Telegram from Billee Bee to Juliet
20th August, 1946
DEAR MR. STARK CALLED SUDDENLY TO ROME. ASKED ME TO COME AND COLLECT LETTERS THIS THURSDAY. PLEASE WIRE IF THIS SUITS; LONGING FOR PETITE VACANCE ON DARLING ISLAND. BILLEE BEE JONES
Telegram from Juliet to Billee Bee
I’D BE DELIGHTED. PLEASE LET ME KNOW ARRIVAL TIME, AND I’LL MEET YOU. JULIET.
From Juliet to Sophie
22nd August, 1946
Your brother is becoming altogether too august for my taste—he has sent an emissary to retrieve Oscar Wilde’s letters for him! Billee Bee arrived on the morning mail boat. It was a very rough voyage so she was shaky-legged and green-faced—but game! She couldn’t manage lunch, but she rallied for dinner and made a lively guest at tonight’s Literary Society meeting.
One awkward moment—Kit doesn’t seem to like her. She backed away and said, “I don’t kiss,” when Billee attempted one. What do you do when Dominic is rude—chastise him on the spot, which seems embarrassing for everyone, or wait until later for privacy? Billee Bee covered beautifully, but that shows her good manners, not Kit’s. I waited, but I’d like your opinion.
Ever since I learned that Elizabeth was dead and Kit an orphan, I have worried about her future—and about my own future without her. I think it would be unbearable. I’m going to make an appointment with Mr. Dilwyn when he and Mrs. Dilwyn return from their holiday. He is her legal guardian, and I want to discuss my possible guardianship/adoption/foster-parenting of Kit. Of course, I want outright adoption, but I’m not sure Mr. Dilwyn would consider a spinster lady of flexible income and no fixed abode a desirable parent.
I haven’t said a word about this to anyone here, or to Sidney. There is so much to dither over—What would Amelia say? Would Kit like the idea? Is she old enough to decide? Where would we live? Can I take her away from the place she loves for London? A restricted city life instead of going about in boats and playing tag in cemeteries? Kit would have you, me, and Sidney in England, but what about Dawsey and Amelia and all the family she has here? It would be impossible to replace or replicate them. Can you imagine a London nursery-school teacher with Isola’s flair? Of course not.
I argue myself all the way to one end of the question and back again several times a day. One thing I am sure of, though, is that I want to take care of Kit forever.
P.S. If Mr. Dilwyn says no, not possible—I might just grab Kit up and come hide out in your barn.
From Juliet to Sidney
23rd August, 1946
Called suddenly to Rome, were you? Have you been elected Pope? It had better be something at least that pressing, to excuse your sending Billee Bee to collect the letters in your stead. And I don’t know why copies won’t do; Billee says you insist on seeing the originals. Isola would not countenance such a request from any other person on earth, but for you, she’ll do it. Please do be awfully careful with them, Sidney—they are the pride of her heart. And see that you return them in person.
Not that we don’t like Billee Bee. She’s a very enthusiastic guest—she’s outdoors sketching wildflowers this minute. I can see her little cap among the grasses. She thoroughly enjoyed her introduction to the Literary Society last night. She made a little speech at the end of the meeting and even asked Will Thisbee for the recipe of his delicious Apple Puff. This may have been carrying good manners too far—all we could see was a blob of dough that didn’t rise, covering a yellowish substance in the middle and all peppered through with seeds.
I am sorry you weren’t in attendance, for the evening’s speaker was Augustus Sarre, and he spoke on your favorite book, The Canterbury Tales. He chose to read “The Parson’s Tale” first because he knew what a Parson did for a living—not like those other fellows in the book: a Reeve, a Franklin, or a Summoner. “The Parson’s Tale” disgusted him so much he could read no more.
Fortunately for you, I made careful mental notes, so I can give you the gist of his remarks. To wit: Augustus would never let a child of his read Chaucer, it would turn him against Life in general and God in particular. To hear the Parson tell it, life was a cesspool (or as near as), where a man must wade through the muck as best he could; evil ever seeking him out, and evil ever finding him. (Don’t you think Augustus has a touch of the poet about him? I do.)
Poor old man must forever be doing penance or atoning or fasting or lashing himself with knotted ropes. All because he was Born in Sin—and there he’d stay until the last minute of his life, when he would receive God’s Mercy.
“Think of it, friends,” Augustus said, “a lifetime of misery with God not letting you draw one easy breath. Then in your last few minutes—POOF!—you’d get Mercy. Thanks for nothing, I say.
“That’s not all, Friends: man must never think well of himself—that is called the sin of Pride. Friends, show me a man who hates himself, and I’ll show you a man who hates his neighbors more! He’d have to—you’d not grant anyone else something you can’t have for yourself—no love, no kindness, no respect! So I say, Shame on the Parson! Shame on Chaucer!” Augustus sat down with a thump.
Two hours of lively discussion on Original Sin and Predestination followed. Finally, Remy stood to speak—she’d never done so before, and the room fell silent. She said softly, “If there is Predestination, then God is the devil.” No one could argue with that—what kind of God would intentionally design Ravensbrück?
Isola is having several of us to supper tonight, with Billee Bee as guest of honor. Isola said that though she doesn’t like rifling through a stranger’s hair, she will read Billee Bee’s bumps, as a favor to her dear friend Sidney.
Telegram from Susan Scott to Juliet
24th August, 1946
DEAR JULIET: AM APPALLED BILLEE BEE ON GUERNSEY TO COLLECT LETTERS. STOP! DO NOT—I REPEAT—DO NOT TRUST HER. DO NOT GIVE HER ANYTHING. IVOR, OUR NEW SUB-EDITOR, SAW BILLEE BEE AND GILLY GILBERT (HE OF THE LONDON HUE AND CRY AND LATE VICTIM OF YOUR TEAPOT THROWING) EXCHANGING LONG, LOOSE-LIPPED KISSES IN THE PARK. THE TWO OF THEM TOGETHER BODES ILL. SEND HER PACKING, WITHOUT THE WILDE LETTERS. LOVE, SUSAN
From Juliet to Susan
25th August, 1946
You are a heroine! Isola herewith grants you an honorary membership in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and Kit is making you a special present that involves sand and paste (you’ll want to open that parcel outdoors).
The telegram came in the nick of time. Isola and Kit had gone out early to collect herbs, and Billee Bee and I were alone in the house—I thought—when I read your telegram. I bolted up the stairs and into her room—she was gone, her suitcase was gone, her handbag was gone, and the letters were gone!
I was terrified. I ran downstairs and telephoned Dawsey to come quick and help hunt for her. He did, but first he called Booker and asked him to check the harbor. He was to stop Billee Bee from leaving Guernsey—at any cost!
Dawsey arrived quickly and we hurried down the road toward town.
I was half-trotting along behind him, looking in hedgerows and behind bushes. We had drawn even with Isola’s farm when Dawsey suddenly stopped short and began to laugh.
There, sitting on the ground in front of Isola’s smokehouse, were Kit and Isola. Kit was holding her new quilted ferret (a gift from Billee Bee) and a big brown envelope. Isola was sitting on Billee Bee’s suitcase—a Portrait of Innocence, the both of them—while an awful squawking was coming from inside the smokehouse.
I rushed to hug Kit and the envelope to me, while Dawsey undid the wooden peg from the smokehouse hasp. There, crouched in a corner, cursing and flailing, was Billee Bee—Isola’s parrot, Zenobia, flapping around her. She had already snatched off Billee Bee’s little cap, and pieces of angora wool were floating through the air.
Dawsey lifted her up and brought her outside—Billee Bee screaming all the while. She’d been set upon by a crazed witch. Assaulted by her Familiar, a child—clearly one of the Devil’s Own! We’d regret it! There’d be lawsuits, arrests, prison for the lot of us! We’d not see daylight again!
“It’s you who won’t see daylight, you sneak! Robber! Ingrate!” shouted Isola.
“You stole those letters,” I screamed. “You stole them from Isola’s biscuit tin and tried to sneak off with them! What were you and Gilly Gilbert going to do with them?”
Billee Bee shrieked, “None of your business! Wait till I tell him what you’ve done to me!”
“You do that little thing!” I snapped. “Tell the world about you and Gilly. I can see the headlines now—‘Gilly Gilbert Seduces Girl to Life of Crime!’ ‘From Love-Nest to Lock-up! See Page Three!’ ”
That shushed her for a moment and then, with the exquisite timing and presence of a great actor, Booker arrived, looking huge and vaguely official in an old army coat. Remy was with him, carrying a hoe! Booker viewed the scene and glared so fiercely at Billee Bee, I was almost sorry for her.
He took her arm and said, “Now, you’ll collect your rightful belongings and take your leave. I’ll not arrest you—not this time! I will escort you to the harbor and personally put you aboard the next boat to England.”
Billee Bee stumbled forward and gathered up her suitcase and handbag—then she made a lunge for Kit and yanked the quilted ferret out of her arms. “I’m sorry I ever gave it to you, you little brat.”
How I wanted to slap her! So I did—and I feel sure it jarred her back teeth loose. I don’t know but what island living is getting to me.
My eyes are falling shut on me, but I must tell you the reason for Kit and Isola’s early-morning herb collecting. Isola felt Billee Bee’s head bumps last night and didn’t like her reading at all. B.B.’s Duplicitous Bump was big as a goose egg. Then—Kit told her she’d seen Billee Bee in her kitchen, prowling through the shelves. That was enough for Isola, and they set their surveillance plan in motion. They would shadow Billee Bee today and see what they would see!
They rose early, skulked behind bushes, and saw Billee Bee tiptoeing out of my back door with a big envelope. They followed her a bit, until she passed by Isola’s farm. Isola pounced and manhandled her into the smokehouse. Kit gathered all of Billee Bee’s possessions from the dirt, and Isola went to get her claustrophobic parrot, Zenobia, and threw her into the smokehouse with Billee Bee.
But, Susan, what on earth were she and Gilly Gilbert going to do with the letters? Weren’t they worried about being arrested for thieving?
I am so grateful to you and Ivor. Please thank him for everything: his keen eyesight, his suspicious mind, and his good sense. Better yet, kiss him for me. He’s wonderful! Shouldn’t Sidney promote him from Sub-Editor to Editor-in-Chief?
From Susan to Juliet
26th August, 1946
Yes, Ivor is wonderful and I have told him so. I kissed him for you, and then again for myself! Sidney did promote him—not to Editor-in-Chief, but I imagine he’s well on his way.
What did Billee Bee and Gilly plan to do? You and I weren’t in London when the “teapot incident” broke into the headlines—we missed the uproar it caused. Every journalist and publisher who loathes Gilly Gilbert and The London Hue and Cry—and there are plenty—was delighted.
They thought it was hilarious and Sidney’s statement to the press didn’t do much to soothe matters—just whipped them into fresh fits of laughter. Well, neither Gilly nor the LH&C believes in forgiveness. Their motto is get even—be quiet, be patient, and wait for the day of vengeance to come, as it surely will!
Billee Bee, poor besotted booby and Gilly’s mistress, felt the shame even more keenly. Can’t you see Billee Bee and Gilly huddled together, plotting their revenge? Billee Bee was to insinuate herself into Stephens & Stark, and find anything, anything at all, that would hurt you and Sidney, or better yet, turn you into laughingstocks.
You know how rumors run like wildfire around the publishing world. Everyone knows you’re in Guernsey writing a book about the Occupation, and in the last two weeks, people have begun to whisper that you’ve discovered a new Oscar Wilde work there (Sir William may be distinguished, but he’s not discreet).
It was too good for Gilly to resist. Billee Bee was to steal the letters, The London Hue and Cry would publish them, and you and Sidney would be scooped. What fun they’d have! They’d worry about lawsuits later. And of course, never mind what it would do to Isola.
It makes me sick to my stomach to think how close they came to succeeding. Thank God for Ivor and Isola—and Billee Bee’s Duplicitous Bump.
Ivor will fly over to copy the letters on Tuesday. He has found a yellow velvet ferret, with emerald-green feral eyes and ivory fangs, for Kit. I think she’ll want to kiss him for it. You can too—but keep it short. I make no threats, Juliet—but Ivor is mine!
Telegram from Sidney to Juliet
26th August, 1946
I’LL NEVER LEAVE TOWN AGAIN. ISOLA AND KIT DESERVE A MEDAL, AND SO DO YOU. LOVE, SIDNEY
From Juliet to Sophie
29th August, 1946
Ivor has come and gone, and Oscar Wilde’s letters are back safe in Isola’s biscuit tin. I’ve settled down as much as I can until Sidney reads them—I’m wild to know what he thinks of them.
I was very calm on the day of our adventure. It was only later, after Kit was in bed, that I started to feel skittish and nervous—and began to pace.
Then there was a knock at the door. I was amazed—and a little flustered—to see Dawsey through the window. I threw the door open to greet him—and found him and Remy on my front step. They had come to see how I was. How kind. How flat.
I wonder if Remy shouldn’t be getting homesick for France by now? I have been reading an article by a woman named Giselle Pelletier, a political prisoner held at Ravensbrück for five years. She writes about how difficult it is for you to get on with your life as a camp survivor. No one in France—not friends, not family—wants to know anything about your life in the camps, and they think that the sooner you put it out of your mind—and out of their hearing—the happier you’ll be.
According to Miss Pelletier, it is not that you want to belabor anyone with details, but it did happen to you and you cannot pretend it didn’t. “Let’s put everything behind us” seems to be France’s cry. “Everything—the war, the Vichy, the Milice, Drancy, the Jews—it’s all over now. After all, everyone suffered, not just you.” In the face of this institutional amnesia, she writes, the only help is talking with fellow survivors. They know what life in the camps was. You speak, and they can speak back. They talk, they rail, they cry, they tell one story after another—some tragic, some absurd. Sometimes they can even laugh together. The relief is enormous, she says.
Perhaps communication with other survivors would be a better cure for Remy’s distress than bucolic island life. She is physically stronger now—she’s not so shockingly thin as she was—but she still seems haunted.
Mr. Dilwyn is back from his holiday, and I must make an appointment to talk to him about Kit soon. I keep putting it off—I’m so dreadfully afraid that he’ll refuse to consider it. I wish I looked more motherly—perhaps I should buy a fichu. If he requests character witnesses, will you be one? Does Dominic know his letters yet? If so, he can print out this:
Dear Mr. Dilwyn,
Juliet Dryhurst Ashton is a very nice lady—sober, clean, and responsible. You should let Kit McKenna have her for a mother.
James Dominic Strachan
I didn’t tell you, did I, about Mr. Dilwyn’s plans for Kit’s heritage on Guernsey? He has engaged Dawsey, and a crew Dawsey is to select, to restore the Big House: banisters replaced; graffiti removed from the walls and paintings; torn-out plumbing replaced with new; windows replaced; chimneys and flues cleaned; wiring checked and terrace paving stones repointed—or whatever it is you do to old stones. Mr. Dilwyn is not yet certain what can be done with the wooden paneling in the library—it had a beautiful carved frieze of fruit and ribbons, which the Germans used for target practice.
Since no one will want to go on holiday to Europe itself for the next few years, Mr. Dilwyn is hoping the Channel Islands might become a tourist haven again—and Kit’s house could make a wonderful holiday house for families to rent.
But on to stranger events: the Benoit sisters asked me and Kit for tea this afternoon. I had never met them, and it was quite an odd invitation; they asked if Kit had “a steady eye and good aim? Does she like rituals?”
Bewildered, I asked Eben if he knew of the Benoit sisters. Were they sane? Was it safe to take Kit there? Eben roared with laughter and said yes, the sisters were safe and sane. He said Jane and Elizabeth had visited them every summer for five years; the girls always wore starched pinafores, polished court shoes, and little lace gloves. We would have a fine time, he said, and he was glad to see the old traditions were coming back. We would have a lavish tea, with entertainment afterwards, and we should go.
None of which told me what to expect. They are identical twins, in their eighties. So very prim and ladylike, dressed in ankle-length gowns of black georgette, larded with jet beads at bosom and hem, their white hair piled like swirls of whipped cream atop their heads. So charming, Sophie. We did have a sinful tea, and I’d barely put my cup down when Yvonne (older by ten minutes) said, “Sister, I do believe Elizabeth’s child is too small yet.” Yvette said, “I believe you’re right, Sister. Perhaps Miss Ashton would favor us?”
I think it was very brave of me to say, “I’d be delighted,” when I had no idea what they were proposing.
“So kind if you would, Miss Ashton. We denied ourselves during the war—so disloyal to the Crown, somehow. Our arthritis has grown very much worse: we cannot even join you in the rites. It will be our pleasure to watch!”
Yvette went to a drawer in the sideboard, while Yvonne slid out one side of the pocket doors between their drawing room and dining room. Taped to the previously hidden panel was a full-page, full-length newspaper rotogravure portrait in sepia of the Duchess of Windsor, Mrs. Wallis Simpson as was. Cut out, I gather, from the society pages of the Baltimore Sun in the late ’30s.
Yvette handed me four silver-tipped, finely balanced, evil-looking darts.
“Go for the eyes, dear,” she said. So I did.
“Splendid! Three-for-four, Sister. Almost as good as dear Jane! Elizabeth always fumbled at the last moment! Shall you want to try again next year?”
It’s a simple story, but sad. Yvette and Yvonne adored the Prince of Wales. “So darling in his little plus fours.” “How the man could waltz!” “How debonair in evening dress!” So fine, so royal—until that hussy got hold of him. “Snatched him from the throne! His crown—gone!” It broke their hearts. Kit was enthralled with it all—as well she might be. I am going to practice my aim—four-for-four being my new goal in life.
Don’t you wish we had known the Benoit sisters while we were growing up?
Love and XXX,
From Juliet to Sidney
2nd September, 1946
Something happened this afternoon; while it ended well, it was disturbing, and I am having trouble going to sleep. I am writing to you, instead of Sophie, because she’s pregnant and you’re not. You don’t have a delicate condition to be upset in, and Sophie does—I am losing my grip on grammar.
Kit was with Isola, making gingerbread men. Remy and I needed some ink and Dawsey needed some kind of putty for the Big House, so we all walked together into St. Peter Port.
We took the cliff walk by Fermain Bay. It’s a beautiful walk, with a rugged path that wanders up and around the headlands. I was a little ahead of Remy and Dawsey because the path had narrowed.
A tall red-headed woman walked around the large boulder at the path’s turning and came toward us. She had a dog with her, an Alsatian, and a big one. He was not on a leash and he was overjoyed to see me. I was laughing at his antics and the woman called out, “Don’t worry. He never bites.” His paws came up on my shoulders, attempting a big, slobbering kiss.
Then, behind me, I heard a noise—an awful gulping gasp: a deep gagging that went on and on. I can’t describe it. I turned and saw that it was Remy; she was bent over almost double and vomiting. Dawsey had caught her and was holding her as she kept on vomiting, deep spasms of it, over both of them. It was terrible to see and hear.
Dawsey yelled, “Get that dog away, Juliet! Now!”
I frantically pushed the dog away. The woman was crying and apologizing, almost hysterical herself. I held on to the dog’s collar and kept saying, “It’s all right! It’s all right! It’s not your fault. Please go. Go!” She finally did, hauling her poor, confused pet along by his collar.
Remy was quiet then, only gasping for breath. Dawsey looked over her head and said, “Let’s get her to your house, Juliet. It’s closest.” He picked her up and carried her—me trailing behind, helpless and scared.
Remy was cold and shaking, so I drew a bath for her, and after she was warm again, put her into bed. She was already half-asleep, so I gathered her clothes into a bundle, and went downstairs. Dawsey was standing by the window, looking out.
Without turning, he said, “She told me once that those guards used big dogs. Riled them up and loosed them deliberately on the lines of women standing for roll call—just to watch the fun. Christ! I’ve been ignorant, Juliet. I thought being here with us could help her forget.
“Good will isn’t enough, is it, Juliet? Not nearly enough.”
“No,” I said, “it isn’t.” He didn’t say anything more; he just nodded to me and left. I telephoned Amelia to tell her where Remy was and why and started the laundry. Isola returned Kit; we had supper and played Snap till bedtime.
But I can’t sleep.
I am so ashamed of myself. Had I actually thought Remy well enough to return home—or did I just want her to go? Did I think it was past time for her to go back to France—to just get on with IT, whatever IT might be? I did—and it’s sickening.
P.S. As long as I’m confessing, I might as well tell you something else. Bad as it was to stand there holding Remy’s awful clothes and smelling Dawsey’s ruined ones, all I could think of was, he said “good will … good will isn’t enough, is it?” Does that mean that is all he feels toward her? I’ve chewed over that errant thought all evening.
Night letter from Sidney to Juliet
4th September, 1946
Dear Juliet, All that errant thought means is that you’re in love with Dawsey yourself. Surprised? I’m not. Don’t know what took you so long to fall to it—sea air is supposed to clear your head. I want to come and see you and Oscar’s letters for myself, but I can’t get away till the 13th. All right? Love, Sidney
Telegram from Juliet to Sidney
5th September, 1946
DEAR SIDNEY—YOU’RE INSUFFERABLE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE RIGHT. LOVELY TO SEE YOU ANYHOW ON THE 13TH. LOVE, JULIET
From Isola to Sidney
6th September, 1946
Juliet says you’re going to come look at Granny Pheen’s letters with your own eyes, and I say it’s about time. Not that I minded Ivor; he was a nice fellow, though he should leave off wearing those little hairbow ties. I told him they didn’t do much for him, but he was more interested to hear about my suspicions of Billee Bee Jones, how I shadowed her and locked her up in the smokehouse. He said it was a fine piece of detective work and Miss Marple couldn’t have done better herself!
Miss Marple is not a friend of his, she is a lady detective in fiction books, who uses all she knows about HUMAN NATURE to figure out mysteries and solve crimes that the police can’t.
He set me to thinking about how fine it would be to solve mysteries myself. If only I knew of any.
Ivor said skullduggery is everywhere, and with my fine instincts, I could train myself to become another Miss Marple. “You clearly have excellent observation skills. All you need now is practice. Note everything and write it down.”
I went to Amelia’s and borrowed a few books with Miss Marple in them. She’s a caution, isn’t she? Just sitting there quietly, knitting away; seeing things everybody else misses. I could keep my ears open for what doesn’t listen right, see things from the sides of my eyes. Mind you, we don’t have any unsolved mysteries on Guernsey, but that’s not to say we won’t one day—and when we do, I’ll be ready.
I still savor the head bump book you sent me and I hope your feelings are not hurt that I want to turn to another calling. I still trust the truth of lumps; it’s just that I’ve read the head bumps of everyone I care for, except yours, and it can get tedious.
Juliet says you’ll come next Friday. I can meet your plane and ride you to Juliet’s. Eben is having a beach party the next night, and he says you are most welcome. Eben hardly ever gives parties, but he said this one is to make a happy announcement to us all. A celebration! But of What? Does he mean to announce nuptials? But whose? I hope he is not getting married hisself; wives don’t generally let husbands out by themselves of an evening and I would miss Eben’s company.
From Juliet to Sophie
7th September, 1946
Finally, I mustered my courage and told Amelia that I wanted to adopt Kit. Her opinion means a great deal to me—she loved Elizabeth so dearly; she knows Kit so well—and me, almost well enough. I was anxious to have her approval—and terrified that I wouldn’t get it. I choked on my tea but in the end managed to get the words out. Her relief was so visible, I was shocked. I hadn’t realized how worried she’d been about Kit’s future.
She started to say, “If I could have one—” then stopped and started again, “I think it would be a wonderful thing for both of you. It would be the best possible thing—” Then she broke off and pulled out her handkerchief. And then, of course, I pulled out my handkerchief.
After we were finished crying, we plotted. Amelia will go with me to see Mr. Dilwyn. “I have known him since he was in short pants,” she said. “He won’t dare refuse me.” Having Amelia on your side is like having the Third Army at your back.
But something wonderful—even more wonderful than having Amelia’s approval—has happened. My last doubt has shrunk to less than pinpoint size.
Do you remember my telling you about the little box Kit often carried with her, all tied up in string? The one I thought might hold a dead ferret? She came into my room this morning, and patted my face until I woke up. She was carrying her box.
Without a word, she began undoing the string and took the lid off—parted the tissue paper and gave the box to me. Sophie—she stood back and watched my face as I turned the things in the box over, and then lifted them all out on the coverlet. The articles were: a tiny, eyelet-covered baby pillow; a small snapshot of Elizabeth, digging in her garden and laughing up at Dawsey; a woman’s linen handkerchief, smelling faintly of jasmine; a man’s signet ring; and a small leather book of Rilke’s poetry with the inscription, For Elizabeth—who turns darkness into light, Christian.
Tucked into the book was a much-folded scrap of paper. Kit nodded, so I carefully opened it and read, “Amelia—Kiss her for me when she wakes up. I’ll be back by six. Elizabeth. P.S. Doesn’t she have the most beautiful feet?”
Underneath this was Kit’s grandfather’s WWI medal, the magic badge Elizabeth had pinned on Eli when he was being evacuated to England. Bless Eli’s heart—he must have given it to her.
She was showing me her treasures, Sophie—her eyes did not leave my face once. We were both so solemn, and I, for once, didn’t start crying; I just held out my arms. She climbed right into them, and under the covers with me—and went sound asleep. Not me! I couldn’t. I was too happy planning the rest of our lives.
I don’t care about living in London—I love Guernsey and want to stay here, even after finishing Elizabeth’s book. I can’t imagine Kit living in London, having to wear shoes all the time, having to walk instead of run, having no pigs to visit. No fishing with Eben and Eli, no visits with Amelia, no potion-mixing with Isola, and most of all, no walks, no days, no visits, with Dawsey.
I think, if I become Kit’s guardian, we can continue to live in Elizabeth’s cottage and save the Big House as a holiday home for the idle rich. I could take my vast profits from Izzy and buy a flat for Kit and me to stay in when we visit London.
Her home is here, and mine can be. Writers can write on Guernsey—look at Victor Hugo. The only thing I’d truly miss about London are Sidney and Susan, the nearness to Scotland, new plays, and Harrods Food Hall.
Pray for Mr. Dilwyn’s good sense. I know he has it, I know he likes me, I know he knows Kit is happy living with me, and that I am solvent enough for two at the moment—and who can say better than that in these decadent times? Amelia thinks that if he does say no adoption without a husband, he will still gladly grant her guardianship to me.
Sidney is coming to Guernsey again next week. I wish you were coming too—I miss you.
From Juliet to Sidney
8th September, 1946
Kit and I took a picnic out to the meadow to watch Dawsey start to rebuild Elizabeth’s fallen-down stone wall. It was a wonderful excuse to spy on Dawsey and his way of going at things. He studied each rock, felt the heft of it, brooded, and placed it on the wall. Smiled if it accorded with the picture in his head. Took it off if it didn’t and searched out a different stone. He is very calming to the spirit.
He grew so accustomed to our admiring gazes that he issued an unprecedented invitation to supper. Kit had a prior engagement—with Amelia—but I accepted with unbecoming haste and then fell into an absurd twitter about being alone with him. We were both a bit awkward when I arrived, but he, at least, had the cooking to occupy him and retired to the kitchen, refusing help. I took the opportunity to snoop through his books. He hasn’t very many, but his taste is superior—Dickens, Mark Twain, Balzac, Boswell, and dear old Leigh Hunt. The Sir Roger de Coverley Papers, Anne Brontë’s novels (I wonder why he had those) and my biography of her. I didn’t know he owned that; he never said a word—maybe he loathed it.
Over supper, we discussed Jonathan Swift, pigs, and the trials in Nuremberg. Doesn’t that reveal a breathtaking range of interests? I think it does. We talked easily enough, but neither of us ate much—even though he made a delicious sorrel soup (much better than I could). After coffee, we strolled down to his barn for a pig viewing. Grown pigs don’t improve upon acquaintance, but piglets are a different matter—Dawsey’s are spotted and frisky and sly. Each day they dig a new hole under his fence, ostensibly to escape, but really just for the amusement of watching Dawsey fill in the gap. You should have seen them grin as he approached the fence.
Dawsey’s barn is exceedingly clean. He also stacks his hay beautifully.
I believe I am becoming pathetic.
I’ll go further. I believe that I am in love with a flower-growing, wood-carving quarry-man/carpenter/pig farmer. In fact, I know I am. Maybe tomorrow I will become entirely miserable at the thought that he doesn’t love me back—may, even, care for Remy—but right this very moment, I am succumbing to euphoria. My head and stomach feel quite odd.
See you on Friday—you may go ahead and give yourself airs for discovering I love Dawsey. You may even preen in my presence—this one time, but never again.
Love and XXXX
Telegram from Juliet to Sidney
11th September, 1946
AM ENTIRELY MISERABLE. SAW DAWSEY IN ST. PETER PORT THIS AFTERNOON, BUYING SUITCASE WITH REMY ON HIS ARM, BOTH WREATHED IN SMILES. IS IT FOR THEIR HONEYMOON? WHAT A FOOL I AM. I BLAME YOU. WRETCHEDLY, JULIET
DETECTION NOTES OF MISS ISOLA PRIBBY PRIVATE: NOT TO BE READ, EVEN AFTER DEATH!
This book with lines in it is from my friend Sidney Stark. It came to me in the mail yesterday. It had PENSÉES written in gold on the cover, but I scratched it off, because that’s French for Thoughts and I am only going to write down FACTS. Facts gleaned from keen eyes and ears. I don’t expect too much of myself at first—I must learn to be more observant.
Here are some of the observations I made today. Kit loves to be in Juliet’s company—she looks peaceful when Juliet comes in the room and she doesn’t make faces behind people’s backs anymore. Also she can wiggle her ears now—which she couldn’t before Juliet came.
My friend Sidney is coming to read Oscar’s letters. He will stay with Juliet this time, because she’s cleaned out Elizabeth’s storage room and put a bed in it for him.
Saw Daphne Post digging a big hole under Mr. Ferre’s elm tree. She always does it by the dark of the moon. I think we should all go together and buy her a silver teapot so she can quit and stay home nights.
Mrs. Taylor has a rash on her arms. What, or who, from? Tomatoes or her husband? Look into further.
Nothing noteworthy today.
Remy came to see me today—she gives me the stamps from her French letters—they are more colorful than English ones, so I paste them up. She had a letter in a brown envelope with a little open window in it, from the FRENCH GOVERNMENT. This is the fourth one she’s gotten—what do they want of her? Find out.
I did start to observe something today—behind Mr. Salles’s market stall, but they stopped when they saw me. Never mind, Eben is having his beach picnic on Saturday—so I am sure to have something to observe there.
I have been looking at a book about artists and how they size up a picture they want to paint. Say they want to concentrate on an orange—do they study the shape direct? No, they don’t. They fool their eyes and stare at the banana beside it, or look at it upside down, between their legs. They see the orange in a brand-new way. It’s called getting perspective. So, I am going to try a new way of looking—not upside down between my legs, but by not staring at anything direct or straight ahead. I can move my eyes slyly if I keep my lids lowered a bit. Practice this!!!
It works—not staring head-long works. I went with Dawsey, Juliet, Remy, and Kit in Dawsey’s cart to the airfield to meet dear Sidney.
Here is what I observed: Juliet hugged him to her, and he swung her around like a brother would. He was pleased to meet Remy, and I could tell he was watching her sideways, like I was doing. Dawsey shook Sidney’s hand, but he did not come in for apple cake when we got to Juliet’s house. It was a little sunk in the middle, but tasted fine.
I had to put drops in my eyeballs before bed—it is a strain, always having to skitter them sideways. My lids ache from having to keep them half-way down too.
Remy, Kit, and Juliet came with me down to the beach to gather firewood for this evening’s picnic. Amelia was out in the sun too. She looks more rested and I am happy to see her so. Dawsey, Sidney, and Eli carried Eben’s big iron cauldron down between themselves. Dawsey is always nice and polite to Sidney, and Sidney is pleasant as can be to Dawsey, but he seems to stare at him in a wondering sort of way. Why is that?
Remy left the firewood and went over to talk to Eben, and he patted her on the shoulder. Why? Eben was never one to pat much. Then they talked awhile—but sadly out of my earshot.
When it was time to go home for lunch, Eli went off beach-combing. Juliet and Sidney each took ahold of one of Kit’s hands, and they walked her up the cliff path, playing that game of “One Step. Two Step. Three Steps—LIFT UP!”
Dawsey watched them go up the path, but he did not follow. No, he walked down to the shore and just stood there, looking out over the water. It suddenly struck me that Dawsey is a lonesome person. I think it may be that he has always been lonely, but he didn’t mind before, and now he minds. Why now?
I did see something at the picnic, something important—and like dear Miss Marple, I must act upon it. It was a brisk night and the sky looked moody. But that was fine—all of us bundled up in sweaters and jackets, eating lobster, and laughing at Booker. He stood on a rock and gave an oration, pretending to be that Roman he’s so crazy about. I worry about Booker, he needs to read a new book. I think I will lend him Jane Austen.
I was sitting, senses alert, by the bonfire with Sidney, Kit, Juliet, and Amelia. We were poking sticks in the fire, when Dawsey and Remy walked together toward Eben and the lobster pot. Remy whispered to Eben, he smiled, and picked up his big spoon and banged on the pot.
“Attention All,” Eben yelled, “I have something to tell you.”
All were silent, except for Juliet, who drew in her breath so hard I heard her. She didn’t let it out again, and went all over rigid—even her jaw. What could be the matter? I was so worried for her, having once been toppled by appendix myself, that I missed Eben’s first few words.
“… and so tonight is a farewell party for Remy. She is leaving us next Tuesday for her new home in Paris. She will share rooms with friends and is apprenticed to the famous confectioner Raoul Guillemaux, in Paris. She has promised that she will come back to Guernsey and that her second home will be with me and Eli, so we may all rejoice in her good fortune.”
What an outpouring of cheers from the rest of us! Everyone ran to gather around Remy and congratulate her. Everyone except Juliet—she let out her breath in a whoosh and flopped backward onto the sand, like a gaffed fish!
I peered around, thinking I should observe Dawsey. He wasn’t hovering over Remy at all—but how sad he looked. All of a sudden, IT CAME TO ME! I HAD IT! Dawsey didn’t want Remy to go, he feared she’d never come back. He was in love with Remy, and too shy in his nature to tell her so.
Well, I’m not. I could tell her of his affections, and then she, being French, would know what to do. She would let him know she’d find favor in his suit. Then they could marry, and she would not need to go off to Paris and live. What a blessing that I have no imagination and am able to see things clearly.
Sidney came up to Juliet and prodded her with his foot. “Feel better?” he asked, and Juliet said yes, so I quit worrying about her. Then he walked her over to make her manners to Remy. Kit was asleep in my lap, so I stayed where I was by the fire and thought carefully.
Remy, like most Frenchwomen, is practical. She would want evidence of Dawsey’s feelings for her, before she changed her plans willy-nilly. I would have to find the proof she’d need.
A bit later, when wine was opened and drunk in toasts, I walked up to Dawsey and said, “Daws, I noticed your kitchen floor is dirty. I want to come and scrub it for you. Will Monday suit?”
He looked a little surprised, but he said yes. “It’s an early Christmas present,” I said. “So you mustn’t think of paying me. Leave the door open for me.”
And so it was settled, and I said good-night to all.
I laid my plans for tomorrow. I am nervous.
I will sweep and scrub Dawsey’s house, keeping a watch out for evidence that he cares for Remy. Maybe a poem “Ode to Remy,” all scrunched up and in his wastepaper basket? Or doodles of her name, scribbled all over his grocery list? Proof that Dawsey cares for Remy must (or almost must) be in plain sight. Miss Marple never really snooped so I won’t either—I will not force locks.
But once I give proof of his devotion to Remy, she’ll not get on the aeroplane to Paris on Tuesday morning. She will know what to do, and then Dawsey will be happy.
ALL DAY MONDAY:
A SERIOUS ERROR, A JOYOUS NIGHT
I woke up too early and had to fiddle around with my hens till the hour I knew Dawsey had left for work up at the Big House. Then, I cut along to his farm, checking every tree trunk for carved hearts. None.
With Dawsey gone, I went in his back door with my mop, bucket, and rags. For two hours I swept, scrubbed, dusted, and waxed—and found nothing. I was beginning to despair, when I thought of books—the books on his shelves. I began to clap dust out of them, but no loose papers fell to the floor. I was fair along when suddenly I saw his little red book on Charles Lamb’s life. What was it doing here? I had seen him put it in the wooden treasure box Eli carved for his birthday present. But if the red book was here on the shelf, what was in his treasure box? And where was it? I tapped the walls. No hollow sounds anywhere. I thrust my arm down his flour bin—nothing but flour. Would he keep it in the barn? For rats to chew on? Never. What was left? His bed, under his bed!
I ran to his bedroom, fished under the bed, and pulled the treasure box out. I lifted the lid and glanced inside. Nothing met my eye, so I was forced to dump everything out on the bed—still nothing: not a note from Remy, not a photograph of her, no cinema ticket stubs for Gone With the Wind, though I knew he’d taken her to see it. What had he done with them? No handkerchief with the initial R in the corner. There was one, but it was one of Juliet’s scented ones and had a J embroidered on it. He must have forgotten to return it to her. Other things were in there, but nothing of Remy’s.
I put everything back in the box and straightened up the bed. My mission had failed! Remy would get on that aeroplane tomorrow, and Dawsey would stay lonely. I was heart-sore. I gathered up my mops and bucket.
I was trudging home when I saw Amelia and Kit—they were going bird-watching. They asked me to come along, but I knew that not even bird-song could cheer me up.
But I thought Juliet could cheer me—she usually does. I’d not stay long and bother her writing, but maybe she would ask me in for a cup of coffee. Sidney had left this morning, so maybe she’d be feeling bereft too. I hurried down the road to her house.
I found Juliet at home, papers awhirl on her desk, but she wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there, staring out the window.
“Isola!” she said. “Just when I’ve been wanting company!” She started to get up when she saw my mops and pails. “Have you come to clean my house? Forget that and come have some coffee with me.”
Then, she got a good look at my face and said, “Whatever is the matter? Are you ill? Come sit down.”
The kindness was too much for my broken spirits, and I—I admit it—I started to bawl. I said, “No, no, I’m not sick. I have failed—failed in my mission. And now Dawsey will stay unhappy.”
Juliet took me over to her sofa. She patted my hand. I always get the hiccups when I cry, so she ran and got me a glass of water for her fail-safe cure—you pinch your nose shut with your two thumbs, and plug up both ears with your fingers, while a friend pours a glass of water down your throat without let. You stomp your foot when you are close to drowning, and your friend takes the glass away. It works every time—a miracle—no more hiccups.
“Now tell me, what was your mission? And why do you think you failed?”
So I told her all about it—my idea that Dawsey was in love with Remy, and how I’d cleaned his house, looking for proof. If I’d have found any I’d have told Remy he loved her, and then she’d want to stay—maybe even confess her love for him first, to soothe the way.
“He is so shy, Juliet. He always has been—I don’t think anybody’s ever been in love with him, or him with anybody before, so he’d not know the right thing to do about it. It’d be just like him to hide away mementos and never say a word. I despair for him, I do.”
Juliet said, “A lot of men don’t keep mementos, Isola. Don’t want keepsakes. That doesn’t necessarily mean a thing. What on earth were you looking for?”
“Evidence, like Miss Marple does. But no, not even a picture of her. There’s lots of pictures of you and Kit, and several of you by yourself. One of you wrapped up in that lace curtain, being a Dead Bride. He’s kept all your letters, tied up in that blue hair ribbon—the one you thought you’d lost. I know he wrote Remy at the hospice, and she must have written him back—but no, nary a letter from Remy. Not even her handkerchief—oh, he found one of yours. You might want it back, it’s a pretty thing.”
She got up and went over to her desk. She stood there awhile, then she picked up that crystal thing with Latin, Carpe Diem, or some such, etched on the top. She studied it.
“ ‘Seize the Day,’ ” she said. “That’s an inspiring thought, isn’t it, Isola?”
“I suppose so,” I said, “if you like being goaded by a bit of rock.”
Juliet did surprise me then—she turned around to me and gave me that grin she has, the one that made me first like her so much. “Where is Dawsey? Up at the Big House, isn’t he?”
At my nodding, she bounded out the door, and raced up the drive to the Big House.
Oh wonderful Juliet! She was going to give Dawsey a piece of her mind for shirking his feelings for Remy.
Miss Marple never runs anywhere, she follows after slowly, like the old lady she is. So I did too. Juliet was inside the house by the time I got there.
I went on tippy-toes to the terrace and pressed myself into the wall by the library. The French windows were open.
I heard Juliet open the door to the library. “Good morning, gentlemen,” she said. I could hear Teddy Heckwith (he’s a plasterer) and Chester (he’s a joiner) say, “Good morning, Miss Ashton.”
Dawsey said, “Hello, Juliet.” He was on top of the big stepladder. I found that out later when he made so much noise coming down it.
Juliet said she would like a word with Dawsey, if the gentlemen could give her a minute.
They said certainly, and left the room. Dawsey said, “Is something wrong, Juliet? Is Kit all right?”
“Kit’s fine. It’s me—I want to ask you something.”
Oh, I thought, she’s going to tell him not to be a sissy. Tell him he must stir himself up and go propose to Remy at once.
But she didn’t. What she said was, “Would you like to marry me?”
I liked to die where I stood.
There was quiet—complete quiet. Nothing! And on and on it went, not a word, not a sound.
But, Juliet went on undisturbed. Her voice steady—and me, I could not get so much as a breath of air into my chest.
“I’m in love with you, so I thought I’d ask.”
And then, Dawsey, dear Dawsey, swore. He took the Lord’s name in vain. “My God, yes,” he cried, and clattered down that stepladder, only his heels hit the rungs, which is how he sprained his ankle.
I kept to my scruples and did not look inside the room, tempted though I was. I waited. It was quiet in there, so I came on home to think.
What good was training my eyes if I could not see things rightly? I had got everything wrong. Everything. It came out Happy, so happy, in the end, but no thanks to me. I don’t have Miss Marple’s insight into the cavities of the human mind. That is sad, but best to admit it now.
Sir William told me there were Motorcycle Races in England—silver cups given for speed, rough riding, and not falling off. Perhaps I should train for that—I already have my bike. All I’d need would be a helmet—maybe goggles.
For now, I will ask Kit over for supper and to spend the night with me so that Juliet and Dawsey can have the freedom of the shrubbery—just like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.
From Juliet to Sidney
17th September, 1946
Terribly sorry to make you turn around and come right back across the Channel, but I require your presence—at my wedding. I have seized the day, and the night too. Can you come and give me away in Amelia’s back garden on Saturday? Eben to be Best Man, Isola to be Maid of Honor (she is manufacturing a gown for the occasion), Kit to throw rose petals.
Dawsey to be Groom.
Are you surprised? Probably not—but I am. I am in a constant state of surprise these days. Actually, now that I calculate, I’ve been betrothed only one full day, but it seems like my whole life has come into being in the last twenty-four hours. Think of it! We could have gone on longing for one another and pretending not to notice forever. This obsession with dignity can ruin your life if you let it.
Is it unseemly to get married so quickly? I don’t want to wait—I want to begin at once. All my life I thought that the story was over when the hero and heroine were safely engaged—after all, what’s good enough for Jane Austen ought to be good enough for anyone. But it’s a lie. The story is about to begin, and every day will be a new piece of the plot. Perhaps my next book will be about a fascinating married couple and all the things they learn about one another over time. Are you impressed by the beneficial effect of engagement on my writing?
Dawsey has just come down from the Big House and is demanding my immediate attention. His much-vaunted shyness has evaporated completely—I think it was a ploy to arouse my sympathies.
P.S. I ran into Adelaide Addison in St. Peter Port today. By way of congratulation, she said “I hear you and that pig-farmer are going to regularize your connection. Praise the Lord!”