Chapter 3

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How can I possibly put into words the pleasure I found in the following few months? The Aunts, as both Aunt Letty and Miss Pryce soon had implored me to call them, were simply perfect. I had had some trepidation, wondering if I would ever have time to myself; years alone had inured in me the habit of devouring books at my leisure, and I was not sure I would be able to give that up without a pang. To my relief, my mornings were to be my own, and I quickly fell into the routine of keeping to my airy and well lit rooms during that time, writing letters to my beloved brother James and reading the books from a most delightful subscription library the aunts had directed me to. I could also go out for walks, exploring Bath and exchanging greetings with the aunts' extensive social circle.

On occasion I would join them in the morning visits, but given that most of these were with other, equally elderly women of their acquaintance, they had both assured me that after the initial proper introductions had been made, my presence was neither required nor needed. I rather imagine that they preferred to do their light-hearted gossiping without having 'young' ears around. The other companions were all at least a decade my senior; I truly was the merest youth here.

In the afternoons, I would engage myself in writing out whatever letters that either lady desired of me. Aunt Letty had developed that crippling disease of the elderly, and her hands were no longer capable of handling a quill for long periods of time. Aunt Bessie, the name Miss Pryce insisted I used, was still capable of using her hands for writing and other fine work, but her eyes had deteriorated a great deal over the years and she could no longer read handwritten missives. I would read for them, not only the mountains of letters they both received, but from the newest novels and scandal sheets, with either one of them commenting as a particular bon mot caught their fancy.

I found to my surprise that I took a great deal of pleasure in being useful to these wonderful ladies. I had never been needed before, and I found it immensely satisfying now.

If there were no letters to be written or read, and most days there were only a few, we would go out. I would accompany them on their visits to the Pump Room so that they might partake of the healthful waters offered there, and would smile serenely at the other youngish people who also attended in the wake of the elderly. I was somewhat uncomfortable at first, and I'm afraid my foolish shyness kept others at a distance, but I was still so dazed at my new-found good fortune that it was just as well. I would have surely floundered and embarrassed myself.

To be in a city, however small or unpopular, was a deeply thrilling thing for me. It was also overwhelming. I was used to the scent of flowers and grass in the breeze, of hearing only the sounds of one household bustling against the call of birds outside the windows. How different was the city! I could hear, albeit quite dimly, the sounds of others moving on the other side of the wall here; when I awoke in the morning, it was often to the sound carriages being drawn along the streets, of pedestrians calling out greetings to each other. Every day but Sunday, I would hear the murmur and laughter of feminine voices carried up the stairs as the Aunts and their friends discussed fashions and old acquaintances long since passed away. The maids here too were always chatting away; I think had there been a man in the house, he would have found this most annoying, but I found it enchanting. It was perhaps not strictly speaking a very proper house, for the servants in any city household I had visited with Father had been far more reserved. Whatever the case, it was a very happy household, and I was entirely grateful to the Aunts for welcoming me into it.

Though as I mentioned before, I was quite shy at first and taken to be very reserved by those few of my own age, there were some ladies who were beginning to recognize and accept me into their circles. I suppose that they were mostly paid companions, daughters of impoverished gentry and the like, but then I was not in very different straits myself. When gently queried, I told them that Aunt Letty was in fact my father's aunt, and that it was very kind of her to take me into her home. Said in just the right way, no one needed to ask me anything else; we were kindred in our situations, though I imagine mine was far superior to most.

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