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Of what we are compos'd and made

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27 July 1935

Dear Peter,

I’m swooning. You know it is every woman’s desire to hear her beloved say, “I wish you could have seen the Map of Hell with me.” 

No, really, Peter, I’m almost viridescent with envy. You’re having so much fun in Rome without me! I must ingratiate myself with the higher powers in our government if these are the perks. 

But I also know you’re slogging through the swamp of Foreign Office nonsense with ever so much patience and goodwill, and I know I wouldn’t be half as polite as you about having to endure all of the pointless social gatherings and diplomatic commotions. I don’t mean to make light of your work, and I’m so glad there have been moments of levity in the general tedium. Meeting the Pope, for example! I can hardly believe it, but you told the story so vividly I felt I was there with the both of you, sneaking around the Vatican library after hours.  

I wish I’d encountered someone equally exciting to tell you about. I did spy Salcombe Hardy coming out of Covent Garden station yesterday, but I hastily made my retreat down James Street to avoid crossing his path. I know we haven’t discussed at all who we are telling about our engagement and who we are not - but I made the quick calculations that if Hardy found out, all of London would be reading about us in the papers this morning, and so I dashed into a shoemaker’s and pretended to be very interested in the latest in mid-heel Oxfords until I felt it was safe to re-emerge.

I could have talked to Hardy, of course, and betrayed nothing. Perhaps I could have rambled on about my book and stirred up some advance publicity. But the man is a journalist and you know they have a way of telling when something is afoot, and I’m afraid I’m rather obviously happy these days, and not at all in the mood to dissemble. Eiluned has said I have an “annoying buoyancy” about me now, even when the skies are overcast and threaten to pour. So there. I can’t pretend I’m not in love, I must continue to avoid journalists with whom we both have a complicated past, and therefore I do not have any exciting London gossip to convey.

And I’m just about to leave the city, so any further news bulletins will have to wait. I promise I’m not running away – from you or from our engagement. I mentioned in another letter that I’d been planning to meet with an old Shrewsbury friend to talk about mills. I’ve since gone for lunch with her - formerly Frances Ryan, now Mrs. James Simmons, but we all knew her as Frankie - I digress - she has invited me to Redbourn to tour a famous watermill there. She’s something of an expert on the subject and claims the Redbournbury Watermill is the one mill most worth my seeing. Supposedly it’s the only mill in England owned by a lady miller - you see, my sex is making great strides in all professions - but the mill has also survived several historic fires and was formerly owned by none other than Henry VIII, so I really must see it. And these manifold attractions aside, I do need to run away. Not from you, as I said, but from finishing my book. 

I’m sensing I’ve put a foot wrong somewhere in the resolution but I can’t figure out yet where it was, and I’m tired of looking at my own writing. With the convincing (read: rather weak) excuse of “authorly research” I told my editor, Andrew, that I’d be taking a fortnight to go see the mill and tour the surrounding countryside. I phoned him so as to avoid having to explain in person, but I could hear the amused disapproval in his voice, anyway. He knows I’m delaying. But I’m still well before our agreed deadline, and most of the book is written. I know you won’t judge me for taking some time to shake the plot out of my head before I try to make sense of it again.

And all that being said, I do want out of London for a while. It feels lonely without you in it, and I’ve noticed I’m beginning to scowl at happy couples loitering in St George’s Gardens when I go out for an evening walk. I find resentment and loneliness where I never often felt them before; meanwhile I am still inexplicably happy, but the explanation to both these emotional scenarios is you, and you being absent from me. I’ve realized, Peter, that love overwhelms the self and changes all sense perceptions and does everything else discomfiting the poets may describe, but it also comes and dredges up all other kinds of previously unexperienced, currently undesirable emotions in the heart, most unlike the felicitous experience of love itself. There’s a very unpoetic, circular conclusion for you. Why am I all at once moved, annoyed, envious, and grateful, upon seeing a gentleman opening an umbrella for his lady companion on the steps of the Embassy Theatre, where we saw together that horrible production of The Duchess of Malfi ?

Now I’m coming out of my somewhat melancholy mood – I’ve remembered the dreadful handling of all the deaths in the last scene and am laughing to myself. But I thought I sensed a hint of melancholy in your letter, too, or maybe just weariness. Two months have flown by for me and yet still feel impossibly long and tedious – and I can only imagine how the time has been for you with the future of Europe weighing heavily upon your shoulders. 

Please don’t waste away, Peter. I know you feel a sense of responsibility in helping the Foreign Office with this Italian interlude, but I’ve grown very attached to you, you see, and I would have you return to me whole and unburdened, content to stroll in parks and poke fun at bad theatre, free from worrying about the fate of Europe. 

With all my love, and a great deal of impatience for every diplomat who has thrown a spanner in the works in your tireless quest for peace,

Harriet

P.S. I always forget to answer your questions until after I’ve finished writing, of course. I agree we should talk about a honeymoon when you come back; too prolonged a debate to have over writing. 

P.P.S. And I do still have the pawn. He proudly guards the box on the mantel where I keep your letters.