January 13, 17--

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Letter XXIII [Sent]

January 13, 17—

Dearest Hannah,

I have some urgent correspondence that I must put down that I cannot wait for your next letter, despite it being due any day now. You may very well feel alarmed by what I set out and so I preface all of this with the promise that I am well in spite of what follows. Indeed, it has led me to a most significant conclusion - but first, I will tell you of today. Starting with this morning.

Else and I were seated for pretend-tea, served on a brightly painted china plate to her six dolls and myself. The last one, we had brought from a dollmaker in P----- and Else had named as "Julienne". "That is a pretty name," I remarked, as my young Mademoiselle poured a measure of imaginary brew into my teacup and then cordially invited me to eat a small circlet of real, and very delicate, pastry.

Else turned her bright eyes to me, very earnest. "The first Julienne was not very pretty at all. Did you know, she would wear odd weedy little flowers in her bonnets and caps in Spring and, in Winter, furry articles as tippets, boas, and muffs, which stood up on end in rampant manner, and were not at all sleek? She was much given to the carrying about of small bags with snaps to them, that went off like little pistols when they were shut up; and when full-dressed, she wore round her neck the barrenest of lockets, representing a fishy old eye, with no approach to speculation in it." She relayed all of this in an animated flurry of emotion, an outpouring tale that had left her breathless.

"The first Julienne?" I asked.

"Yes, she was my governess before you. Not nearly so fun though, she was tedious – never played with me, nor let me go outside after dark."

"I do not let you go out outside after dark. She was your first governess? – when did she leave?"

Else remained quiet but her face scrunched up in an expression of intense vexation. As you know, I have been at the Chateau for several months but have found it impossible to glean much information on the history of those residents – Else seldom speaks of her past carers, the Master will not entertain a word on it and Madam L--- responds with a curt remark should she even think I am to broach the topic. Here, I thought, is my chance to glean some insight.

"Mademoiselle," I said, as sternly as I could, "you will answer me at once. I ought to have been told about this, for your schooling; so, when did she leave?"

She looked at me as if I was stupid. "She did not leave. She died."

"She died?" I repeated, "goodness, what happened?"

She picked up the doll, Julienne, and began to brush the golden hair. "She stopped breathing and turned all blue."

We were interrupted, most frustratingly, by Madam L--- who came in to tell Else that her father, who is taking a short trip with his new wife, was ready to bid her farewell. I attempted to relay the entire incident to the Madam but she only denied having knowledge of any Julienne and attributed all that I had said to a child's imagination.

"This was not a fib," I said, "and that way that she described it – was as if she were there."

"I'll hear no more of this, and you would do better not to entertain such tales."

I could not get one more word out of her, but I could see that she knew she had failed to convince me and I found some triumph in that. There was no time to ask the Master directly; when I came out to the courtyard, they were already waving goodbye.

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