My dearest Eliza,
I hope and trust that my letter finds you in exceedingly good health. I must beg your forgiveness for not beginning this letter by begging your forgiveness for such a want of communication of late. However such an apology would suggests that the lack of messages was on account of some lackadaisical fault of my own and this is far from the case. Fortunately I believe that what I am about to relate shall dissuade you of such a notion.
My dear Eliza, I feel it only just that I warn you that this tale is as fearfully improbable and phantasmal as that most frightful novel Udolpho ( I am full aware that you have perused that book at least thrice despite your Mama’s protestations). However I feel sure that I may entrust my confidences to you, not only because your mind is so fantastical that you shall not hesitate to believe what will follow despite its impossible nature, but also because you are so very reticent Eliza that, like as not, there is not a soul you could tell.
It began as these things often do, upon a Sunday morning. I had been at church with my aunt, enduring the torment of the Parson’s sermon. Upon this particular Sunday he had settled upon the matter of languorous idleness. I confess this oration only aided to redouble my resentful sentiments at having been forced from my bed at so early an hour to listen to such fulminations (Eleven O’clock is an hour greatly lacking in civility). Thus I am sure I need hardly tell you that the very moment that asinine clergyman had concluded his lesson my aunt and I fled his church as swiftly as though we were fleeing a band of bandits.
We had soon reached the shade of the yew tree it is one of the few places in the church yard whither one may conceal oneself from the reformatory zeal of the parson while decorously displaying the charms of one’s figure. However afore I could arrange myself in an attitude that would achieve these happy delights I was caught wholly off my guard and quite by surprise by the exceedingly, and not at all pleasingly, sudden appearance thither of a gentleman.
Astonished as she was by such an apparition my aunt cried out in a manner that I was fearful would draw the parson’s attentions, I was more than a little relieved, therefore, to see that he was still conversing with Miss Jennings a woman who is the very essence of inefficiency when it came to evading the clergy. Yet my aunt’s alarm appeared to alarm the gentleman for he gasped and retreated a little into the tenebrous gloom cast by the trees.
“Madam, pray, forgive me. I did not mean to alarm you thus. I entreat you do not cry out!” Spake he from his gloaming sanctuary.
My aunt, I shall hasten to reassure you, said nought in return. For we were both acutely aware that we had not formally, or indeed informally, been introduced. Thus we simply allowed him to continue.
“Lady West, I must ask you to forgive my want of ceremony and allow me to present myself, I am Sir John Moreland.” He bowed graciously and presently resumed his introduction. “I am a relation of Miss Cecilia Harcourt.” Upon speaking my name the fellow bowed again thereby failing to see the sentiments of bewilderment that were indubitably present upon my visage.
My aunt was plainly as perplexed as I, for she refuted his claims with the simplest of refutals;
“Lord Moreland, You must be quite mistaken, Cecilia has no relations by the name of Moreland, indeed she has no relations at all save myself. Perchance you are searching for another Cecilia. Good day.”
With the fellow thus dismissed we endeavoured to take our leave of both the yew branches and the peculiar gentleman. But he was not to be so very easily dissuaded from his purpose.
“I assure Madam, I am not mistaken. This is Cecilia Harcourt, daughter of Sir Thomas Harcourt and his lady Louisa Harcourt, formally Osbourne who perished aside of each other when they fell from the sea wall at lyme, thus orphaning their only child when she was but seven, is it not?”
Eliza, I was highly desirous to know how so very unfamiliar a person was quite so familiar with the particulars of my youth. However afore I could vociferate such enquiries Sir John stepped forth with an urgency which singularly belongs to those in considerable distress.
“I assure you Madam I am entirely correct in my estimations that this is the correct Cecilia. I must inform you that I have travelled a great distance under the most unhappy of circumstances to find my cousin and am all insistence that I be permitted to speak with her. It is a matter of some urgency.”
“Very well.” Conceded my aunt. “You may address my niece.”
Despite her permission being granted he did not direct his next speech to me, instead he continued to regard my aunt.
“Lady West, I must speak with miss Cecilia alone.” Said he in tones of such gravity that my alarm not only returned but was redoubled. Sir John appeared to note that my aunt would not be so very easily swayed from her duties thus with his following breath he said; “It is a matter of her inheritance.”
Eliza, you are well enough acquainted with my aunt to know that any whisper of fortune and she is all pleasantry and amenability and it was with a gracious curtsey better suited to the greeting of a duke, therefore, that she took her leave of us.
I, however, as you will indubitably have noted from your character studies, have a particular propensity towards suspicion and was all dubious doubtfulness at his promise of familial reunification. I knew I had no such kin, as an orphan I had on above one occasion applied myself to the finding of such a one all to no avail. My unease was also on account of his attire, though his exceedingly well tailored great coat and breeches spake of an elegance far superior to that of his address, they did not speak of one who had travelled at all, indeed quite the opposite was true. Indeed it was as though he had simply stepped forth from his dressing room in freshly sewn cloth. And no gentleman travels so very far only to purchase a great coat at the close of his journey, such an idea is wholly nonsensical. Thus when he proposed that we take a turn about the churchyard I did not permit him to complete above one and twenty steps afore I full rounded upon him and declared in passionate tones; “Sir John, you are a charlatan. You are no cousin of mine. Your artful falsehoods may have deceived my aunt but am not so easily trifled with. Pray, Sir, what are you about?”
As his gaze fell upon my visage, the features of which, had been composed with no small effort on my part in a fashion which was by every brow conveyed the consequential nature of my sentiments, he became all hesitant hesitancy in his hesitation.
“Miss Cecilia, you have found me out with not inconsiderable haste for one so fair.” Said he plainly concluding that veracity was the most prudent course. “I am not your kinsfolk, but I have travelled a long way to find you. For a long while now we have sought you and, at long last we have found you.”
“Sought me? Who sought me?” Enquired I a manner so ineloquent and direct that it savoured strongly of impropriety.
“The Brethren, my true kin. We are the keepers of the mysterium. It is we who sought you.”
The perplexed confusion I was cast into rendered me powerless to any any response save repetition.
“The Guardians of the Mysterium?”
“The Brethren are an order so very clandestine in their nature that even some among their own fellows are unaware of its existence.”
Confess that upon hearing such an utterance my disquietude grew and altered until I ceased to believe the man before me was simply a charlatan but believed him instead to have succumbed to lunacy.
“Sir John …” Began I, quite determined to cause the cessation of such folly. However my disputations were not permitted to venture any further for he spake with renewed resolve.
“Nay Miss Cecilia, you must permit me to speak sans interruption for what I must tell you is of the upmost importance.” Said he afore embarking upon explications which, in truth did very little save present me with more questions. “The order is as old as England herself and have always striven to guard the world from great evil. I do not speak of the evils the parson has indubitably lectured you upon, the sins and wickedness of man; but rather of those of the phantasmal and supernatural, those demons that haunt your dreams and fill legend. Such devilry as you are too fearful to imagine. However we do not do so unaided. It was long ago foretold that the Brethren would guard and in return be guarded by an appointed one. A young lady chosen by the fates and possessed of particular and natural accomplishments, the sort not gained by numerous hours at the piano forte, and strength which would perhaps be better suited to a peasant farmer when he is all determination to till his land after a haw frost. This favoured and preferred one, foreordained to defend this realm against the deuce and his forces … ”
But hither he paused in his soliloquy in a fashion which was so perfectly calculated to fill the listener with trepidatious fear that I felt quite certain that he had rehearsed it above once.
“Is, you Miss Cecilia, you are the appointed one.”
I confess that I believed myself to have tolerated his foibles for a duration of time which was everything polite when forced to converse with a madman. However this declaration proved too preposterous to be borne and I surrendered myself to that most favoured of outbursts, laughter.
“Sir, this is all nought but folly” Said I in tones of great mirth as I turned away.
Yet as I endeavoured to depart Sir John once again displayed a positive propensity for the stopping of my departure and a pleasing lightness of foot as he stepped before me.
“Miss Cecilia, you seem disinclined to believe me.”
“Indeed Sir” Returned I. “I am entirely disinclined to believe that you are speaking anything but fantastical fantasy. It would appear that your sole purpose in coming hither was to frighten me, but allow me to tell you Sir, that I am not afeared of your nonsensical tales.”
“Tales? These are no tales, what I tell you is not some trifling story found betwixt the pages of a three volume novel. It is nought but veracity. This world is occupied by wickedness worse than any ill bred churl. it is roamed by creatures with souls as black as night and hearts filled with crespucular devilry, Miss Cecilia are you so very unyielding in your belief?” Enquired he in earnest.
I did not reply, thus he continued;
“Before you denounce me as a madman, pray answer me this, upon how many occasions have you heard the tread of feet from behind you, heard a whisper from the tenebrous shadow or seen a figure quickstep aside of your gaze only to turn and find there is nought there? These are not the mere whims of our minds, this is the true darkness.”
Though I was all desirous of crying out for all the church yard to hear that the rapscallion had been quite robbed of his senses, there was something in his manner that kept me in quietude. As I stood by silent Sir John drew from his pocket a parchment scroll which bore a seal so large and elaborate that I felt quite sure it must belong to a tradesman who has cast himself into the pretence that he is a baronet.
” Cecilia, you are the appointed one, and you must take your rightful place.” His speech thus concluded he gave me the parchment and evanesced from the churchyard with a swiftness to rival his entrance and in but a moment he was quite gone.