So absorbed was I in this happy train of thought that I did not at once notice the letter lying next to my place at the table. The handwriting was unknown to me, and I did not often receive letters except from the ladies of our social set. Such letters were not frequent, as Atticus and I had become less popular after the scandal of his father’s murder and Richard’s death had become known. Neither of us found this a cause for mourning, since our true friends had stood by us, but it made the appearance of this letter all the more curious.
The seal was the single initial B. I slid a knife under the seal and unfolded the letter, which was written in a masculine scrawl on paper rather thinner than I was accustomed to from those in my husband’s circle.
My dear niece, it began.
Shocked, I glanced to the end to seek the signature. Horace Burleigh, Thurnley Hall.
I must have made some sound, for Atticus looked up from his work. “Is something wrong, my love?”
“I—no. No, not at all. Don’t let me disturb your reading.”
When he returned to his documents, I took up the letter again. My mother’s name before her marriage had been Burleigh, that much I knew. But never had I dreamed I would hear from any of that branch of the family again. Had she not been turned out of her home, disowned by her family because of her marriage to my father? I knew the story well from my childhood. Indeed, she had grown bitter with resentment against her kinfolk for refusing to help us when my father’s death had left us alone and unprovided for. Had they taken us in, my mother would not have worked herself to a thread for all those years and might not then have succumbed to the illness that killed her.
My thoughts were a tumult of anger and grief as I began to read the letter.
How overjoyed I was to learn of your existence! During a recent visit to London I caught sight of you and your illustrious husband, and I noticed at once your remarkable resemblance to my late, beloved sister, Miriam. When I made inquiries, I learned of your identity. Imagine my delight to discover that my sister had been blessed with a daughter. And not just any daughter, but a baroness! You have made me very proud by doing so well for yourself. I understand that the properties linked to the Telford estate are extensive and endow the title with a rich income, and you must be enjoying your new wealth and status among your new peers after the years of obscurity and privation. It is to your credit that you were able to weigh the advantages of a match with the present baron against his deformity.
Doubtless you are curious about the family you were never permitted to know, and you are surely as eager as I to re-forge the sacred bonds of kinship. You must have sorely felt the lack of family when you married and upon the tragic death of your father-in-law. Grieve no more, my dear, for now you have a paternal figure to help you through the strange new world in which you find yourself.
I entreat you and the baron to do me the honor of paying a visit to Thurnley Hall at your earliest convenience so that we may begin to make up for lost time.
Your devoted uncle,
Horace Burleigh, Esq.