May 12, 1789
My Dear Horatio—
I hope this letter finds you in good health. I was happy to hear from a friend about your successful endeavors in the business sector of Devonshire, although I would have been overjoyed to hear it straight from your own hand. No matter! Only just graduated, and already a manager? I always knew you were a shrewd chap; well done, my friend!
I am recalling the start of our friendship all those years ago at Exeter, and it has made me recall my true purpose in writing. Dear fellow, I would like to invite you out to my family’s estate for the Midsummer Festival. As I recall, you have yet to experience such a momentous occasion here in the Queen’s Country. I assure you it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not some stuffy garden processional!
Shortly thereafter, we will be welcoming my cousin Esmirelda to stay the remainder of the season. If you do not mind reading mention of it, I am sure the two of you will get along splendidly. I do not introduce her lightly, Horatio, for she is dear to our family, and a rare and delicate beauty. We give her the nickname Butterfly, for she is as lively and graceful as one. There will be an intimate family dinner following the Midsummer celebration, and you are cordially invited to attend and stay as long as you wish. Thank you, dear friend, and bon voyage!
Horatio Whistlestop stood before the small, moldering mirror in the cramped Devonshire inn where he had spent the night during Midsummer Days. His fingers fumbled at the elusive Windsor knot that he was attempting to anchor below his chin, where the edges of his collar met. He glanced again at the letter wherein his friend Ignatz mentioned Cousin Esmirelda. He mentioned her again in a later letter—a full description this time—but by then Horatio had already confirmed the impending visit.
For the twentieth time, the knot slipped. Horatio swore and stared down at his hands. What was wrong with him today? He’d been tying his ties every day since the Academy and then the University at Exeter. As an “exchange student” from America on a specialized scholarship, his family didn’t have the funds or the time to come with him. He’d had no mother to tie his tie for him. And now apparently he had lost the ability. Frustrated, he cast his tie over the bed and adjusted his collar. Maybe, as an American, he could get by without a tie… Horatio moved to focus on the rest of his appearance. His slacks and his shoes were in order, his hair was straight—He practiced a debonair smirk as he imagined meeting the inimitable Butterfly. Copper-colored hair, ‘Nat had said; morning-glory eyes and elfin features poised upon a full, coral-colored mouth. “When she has been in the sun,” his friend raved, “there is the merest smattering of freckles like Nature’s kisses across her cheeks.”
“Good afternoon, Miss Esmirelda,” Horatio practiced, taking care not to stare too much, nor appear disinterested or embarrassed by such a ravishing beauty. He decided that decorum would allow him to refer to her by her Christian name, and give her the option and opportunity to request the nickname Nat recommended.
Horatio glanced at the penitent tie draped over the end of the bed. He sighed, and once more drew it around his neck. This time, the Fortunes smiled upon him, and the Windsor appeared of its own accord. Satisfied, Horatio adjusted it snug beneath his Adam’s apple and smiled. At last, he was ready.
The carriage soon pulled up to the gated entrance to the Ratzkewaski Estate. Horatio paid him and accepted his luggage. Sighing deeply and adjusting his composure, he carried the bags down the small footpath that led alongside the main lane to the house.
A stately butler answered the door when he rang.
“Your name, sir?” the stodgy, lean man inquired.
“Horatio Whistlestop,” Horatio announced. “I’m expected.”
“Indeed you are!” cried a voice, and with a clatter that echoed through the front hall, Ignatz Ratzkewaski descended to greet his friend with a wide grin. “Welcome, welcome, ‘Rate! So glad you could make it! How was the journey?” Nat clasped his friend’s hand and clapped him on the back. His unruly black curls bounced merrily.
Horatio was sent years back in time at the sound of his old nickname. He chuckled and involuntarily smoothed his sleek brown hair. “Oh, comfortable enough—for a public coach,” he answered.
“Oh-ho! Well, if it’s quiet you’re wanting, we have a room prepared for you. You may want to rest up and get settled before supper. Would you like that?”
Horatio—or Rate, as they knew him—nodded his head at his friend’s offer. “I think I’ll get settled and moved in.”
Nat nodded. “Wonderful! When you are quite finished—there is someone you are no doubt most anxious to meet.”
Esmirelda, thought Horatio. Though he might not term his feelings as “most anxious,” he was indeed curious, and told Nat so.
Nat chuckled and winked, “Well then, collect yourself as well as you can, and come out to the garden. She will be there.”
Horatio followed the butler who carried his bags up the long flight of stairs to the guest suite prepared for his arrival. The clothes he had worn for traveling were stained and rumpled—hardly fit for the present company. Horatio chose a fresh outfit for dinner and surveyed his surroundings for a moment.
The room where he would spend the next few days was hardly less than kingly, after the drab inn he’d slept in for the last week. The rich but tastefully moderate furnishings, the wide floors—Horatio indulged in a few poses before a mirror in which he could survey his entire self, from his shoes to his head. He crossed over to the tall windows from which he had a clear view of the gardens behind the house.
Mrs. Ratzkewatski sat at a small table with her daughter Paulina, enjoying the fine summer day from underneath a canopy. Randolph and Ludwig—Nat’s brothers—ran about the lawn, batting a ball between them with long wooden mallets. Nat himself, Horatio soon located near a tall chestnut tree with a woman Horatio did not recognize. His heart twisted in his chest; could this be the inimitable Esmirelda? She certainly fit the description in Nat’s letter—slight build, but graceful and stately, truly fitting for a family such as the Ratzkewatskis. Horatio watched her movements and mannerisms as she interacted with Ignatz. He was as animated as ever, but she considerably more muted and docile. Perhaps she came from the more subdued Ratzkewatski side; Horatio smiled at the thought. Indeed, he could well warrant an introduction to this fair maiden.
“Hullo!” Horatio said as he approached the pair.
Nat looked up with a smile. “Ah! Horatio! You have deigned to join us!” He left the woman’s side and reached out to greet his friend. “Well, my friend, as promised—“ he gestured with an extended arm back toward the tree and the woman that stood under it. “Allow me to present Miss Esmirelda Huffingtree.”
Horatio quite forgave her the shockingly stuffy surname when he saw that Nat’s praises did not lie (though the hair was more bronze than copper). He reached forward and took her hand.
“A pleasure, madam,” he said with a bow.
A bright blush covered her cheeks. Behind him, Ignatz snorted.
“Um, Rate,” he stammered. “That is not Esmirelda; it is her governess, Bethany Parrish.”
Horatio released Miss Parrish’s hand and whirled on his friend, who was still pointing at the tree—though up among its branches, he now saw.
“That,” said Ignatz Ratzkewatski with a wide grin, “is Butterfly Huffingtree, daughter of Gertrude and Fredrick Huffingtree, my mother’s sister and her husband.”
Horatio transferred his gaze to the green canopy above him, and saw near the top a wide swath of brilliant orange that was certainly hair, though at first it hid in the foliage. He watched as the pale child underneath braced her bare feet upon the branches and threw her arms wide, basking in the sunlight. Opening her “impish, coral mouth”, she bellowed with all the force of her Uncle Bartolomeus,
“GUID EEEEVENIN’, LUNDINSHIRRRE!!!”