Somewhere, a cry reverberated, stealing Bridget’s spirit entirely. Her round eyes scanned the surroundings.
“What’s that sound? It seems like a cat’s cry coming from somewhere.”
Oddly enough, Mr. Dashwood, who had been having dinner first, clapped his hands to liven up the atmosphere, seemingly familiar with the intense conversation between the two.
“Come on now, my dear. Shouldn’t we introduce our new family member? Bridget, do you remember Jonah, the cat that Mr. Langford next door raises? The spotted one…”
“Mischief-maker Jonah? Of course! I can’t even tell you how much I’ve missed her during the vacation!”
Looking at Mrs. Dashwood who sighed with her arms folded, Bridget thought of the fluffy fur, the softness, and the sweet smell of the pink paw. She wrinkled her nose in delight.
“She had a litter not long ago.”
Bridget abruptly stood up from her seat. The chair made a loud noise as it was pushed back. She glanced at her parents and slowly sat down again.
“That’s impossible. Jonah is still a baby herself. How could she have kittens?”
“Well, you see, cats grow on a different time scale than we do. She might be much more mature than you think. Anyway, you liked her so much, didn’t you? That’s why we got you one.”
Bridget’s expression lit up with anticipation as Mr. Dashwood, who had retrieved the moving tray from under the table, responded.
“While I am away, and during your stay in Evansville, I thought it would be quiet. It may not be good company, but it could be a comforting friend.”
Tilting her head and looking closely, she noticed a small kitten shining its eyes in the darkness.
Bridget rose from her seat and approached him, wrapping her arms around his back. She could hear Mrs. Dashwood’s brief sigh, but she ignored it and said,
“Dad, thank you so much. I’ll take good care of him.”
“Yeah. You two can have a really good relationship.”
With a laugh, Mr. Dashwood replied as he enveloped Bridget’s hand. Bridget returned to her seat with the moving chest, opened the grill, and pulled out the cat, who was on high alert. It looked just like Jonah but with a cheese-colored pattern.
“Bridget! What on earth are you doing bringing a cat out from under the table? It’ll shed!”
Mrs. Dashwood yelled, but Bridget calmly laughed it off and changed the subject.
“Well, what should we name it? Any ideas?”
“It’s your cat, so you get to name it.”
“Let me see…”
Bridget lifted the cat abruptly. She locked eyes with its bright blue eyes and deliberated for a long moment, then she finally spoke with an excited voice.
“His eyes look as if they contain a beautiful sea. What do you think of ‘Mersea’? It’s a combination of the words ‘mer,’ meaning sea, and ‘sea’ itself.”
Mrs. Dashwood wrinkled her face with an unsatisfied tone. The name of the new Dashwood family member, the cat, didn’t seem to please her.
“Bridget, unless you explain it like that, other people will understand it as ‘mercy.’ Some people might laugh at the idea of a cat named for mercy, thinking it’s unusual.”
Bridget shrugged and hugged Mersea tightly.
“What difference does it make? Rumor has it that I’m already known as the eccentric of Loomwood Garden. Anyway, I’ve decided. I have no intention of changing it whatsoever. From now on, this child’s name is Mersea. Mersea, do you like it too?”
“I like it too.”
Mr. Dashwood echoed softly.
“Look, even Dad says he likes Mersea. From now on, this child is Mersea Dashwood.”
“…Sure, who would stop you.”
Why did I miss this pain in the neck? Mrs. Dashwood sighed and took a long gulp of water, wishing her spoiled only child would go back to school, wondering why she had missed her so much.
* * *
“By the way, Bridget, Lady Bass will be coming tomorrow. She wants to see you since it’s vacation.”
It was nearing the end of a moderately peaceful and moderately bustling mealtime. Mrs. Dashwood spoke to Bridget about something she couldn’t relay.
“Oh, right! Megan…”
“Bridget…! I told you to call her Lady Bass!”
Bridget playfully tapped her own lips and casually replied,
“But Megan said to call her casually. We’re friends, after all…”
“Still, a noble is a noble. No matter how close you are, you should maintain proper etiquette. If it becomes a habit, it can lead to mistakes even in important situations.”
Bridget shrugged in response. Then, with a mischievous smile, she scooped up a spoonful of steaming lamb stew and put it in her mouth.
Mrs. Dashwood sighed deeply and complained,
“Where do I even begin with what I should or shouldn’t tell, you…! Darling, please say something. I’m getting anxious that she’ll make a slip of the tongue even in front of Lady Bass!”
Mr. Dashwood, who was quietly having his meal, made a choking sound as if something went down the wrong way.
He wiped his mouth with a napkin and gestured towards Bridget. It was a kind of plea for help, but Bridget, who was not in a position to assist Mr. Dashwood, subtly avoided eye contact.
Mrs. Dashwood was looking at him with an expression that would trigger a tantrum if he didn’t say anything.
“Hm hm, our Bridget isn’t the kind of child to make such mistakes, is she? Don’t worry, she’ll handle it well. Right, Bridget?”
Of course! Bridget raised her eyebrows and nodded exaggeratedly.
“Anyway, Megan… “
Mrs. Dashwood’s gaze became sharper. Bridget hastily added,
“…The lady must have been very upset. The landlady in Evansville was quite a demanding lady. She hated the exchange of private letters. I couldn’t even send or receive letters.”
Bridget continued, occasionally taking bites of her stew, looking down at her empty plate.
“While I’m at it, I should go and write a letter to the lady.”
For her, who wanted to stop hearing nagging, it was a fortunate turn of events. Of course, she was genuinely concerned about Bridget too.
How distressed she must have been when the contact was cut off abruptly! Bridget stood up, took the moving tray, and went upstairs, thinking about the last letter she sent to Megan.
* * *
⟨October 24, 1890, to my long-time friend Megan.⟩
How’s the weather there? Even though quite a long time has passed since the beginning of autumn, it still seems a bit warmer here than Loomwood Garden.
It has already been a month since the semester started, but I’m still getting used to it. Not only the students but also the professors are hostile towards me, the only female student. But I’m fortunate to have at least one person who’s friendly with me. (It’s Hugo Ellington, a sophomore, but I’ll tell you about that later.)
Actually, I still can’t believe I’ve become a university student when I lie still. Megan, do you believe it? I’ve come to Widdleton University! The university that everyone, except you, teased me saying that a common girl like me couldn’t attend! It’s always enjoyable to break people’s bias. I want to quickly see their faces and flatten their noses.
Anyway, every time I see the vast expanse of grass on campus and walk among the students who radiate academic enthusiasm, it reminds me that I’ve become a university student.
The scenery of the campus gradually turning colorful with autumn leaves is truly beautiful. I wanted to share this scenery with you so badly. I can’t express how excited I was. I’ll send you some photos. Although they don’t capture the vibrant colors of the autumn leaves, please imagine it to your heart’s content.
And today, I feel like I need to convey some sad news. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve agonized over how to tell you this news. But Megan, I started writing with the belief that you will understand.
Hmm… I don’t think I’ll be able to write letters for a while. The owner of the terrace house where I’m staying, Mrs. Cherny, is quite difficult. It seems that she really dislike the exchange of personal letters.
That’s not all. This place is truly the worst. There are bugs in the room, and the bed is so hard that it hurts my back. It’s sad that I have to stay in a place like this for two semesters.
Why on earth did I sign up to stay for two semesters? Maybe at that time, I was too caught up in the joy of being accepted and didn’t pay attention to anything else.
Anyway, I’ll spend the third semester in an amazing place. I plan to explore everywhere during the leasing season.
And there’s one more sad news. I don’t think I can go back to Loomwood during the winter vacation. It’s only a short period, just two weeks. I’ll have to prepare for exams and get ready for the second semester during that time. But the summer vacation is long, so as I expected, maybe I can exchange letters again then. (It’s fortunate that I’m in my first year. At least I won’t be buried in assignments.)
There’s so much I want to say to you, but I’ll save it for that day. You’ll have to be patient, too.
From a warm, breezy campus in Evansville, Yours, Bridget Dashwood.
P.S.: I hope that by then, my thoughts about the students here will have changed a little. It’s unlikely, but… I hope you stay healthy until we exchange letters again.