Going Postal

Blindingham Hall
September 9th 1853

Josiah has sent word that he is to stay in London a while longer. I am almost unable to bear it! I cannot run Blindingham by myself. I have begged him to come home but he is adamant that his business needs him more than his wife does. Wife? I may as well be a widow!

I want to  invite Papa to stay with me in the hope that he is so enamoured of the Hall and the village that he changes his mind and decides to accept my offer of permanent residence here. I fancy that the woman who runs the Post Office may prove useful to me in that regard. She is pleasant, well dressed and not married, which is convenient.

When I called in yesterday she showed great interest in my affairs - as befits a woman who deals with communication, I suppose - and I discovered more about my neighbours than ever they would have told me. It seems that Mrs Cornbench is in regular contact with a gentleman in Eastbourne, unbeknownst to Mr Cornbench - this knowledge will enliven our next meeting considerably.

It is decided, then. I shall write to Papa this afternoon and speak well of him when I go to send the letter. I must ask one of the staff to remind me of the woman's name - she did introduce herself but I am unable to recollect what she said. I have a feeling she may be from Wales, but I don't think Papa will mind much about that.



In Plain Sight

Blindingham Hall
September 7th 1853


My diversion around the grounds with Jennet has left me in a state of apprehension. He seems saddened, more weary and dejected than when I last spent time with him on gardening matters - I did not feel it right to question him about his marriage to that ridiculous woman but I cannot help feeling that he has not been made happier for it. He was reticent when speaking about anything other than the grounds - which is right and proper, of course, but a little frustrating - and said nothing at all when I mentioned how heavy the loss of Villiers sat with me.

We have planned a beautiful shrubbery and lawns, though, so I must not mind his quietude too much. He did mention some talk in the village that they wish to view me now that I am back. I do have some letters which it would not kill me to take to the post office myself, I suppose. It may seem wrong for someone of my rank to line up with everyone else, but it will give me a chance to find out what the Italian plans to do and where he intends to set up his studio. Oh! How stupid of me! Of course I must allow him to work in the Orangery now it is restored - perfect light, plenty of room and naturally I will be able to help him choose his sitters and their poses. Josiah can not possibly object to my spending so much time with a true artist - especially in a room whose interior can be seen from all angles and at some considerable distance. I shall gather my correspondence and make my way to the village without delay.

Lost in Transition

Blindingham Hall
September 5th 1853


I awoke with the startling realisation that I can no longer trust anyone to look after me. I have for far too long relied on the protection of my husband, the care of my closest friend and the paternal instinct still just present in Papa. I must grow up!

The Italian in the village has stirred up a good deal of rivalry amongst Blindingham folk and I, as Lady of the Hall, must show leadership. I must set the tone for the village's dealings with this man and must, above all, ensure that my place in Blindingham society is reflected in the portrait he will paint of me.  I may ask him to paint me here, in the Chinese Room -  it is surely the most beautiful room in the Hall and will provide permanent evidence of the tasteful refurbishments Josiah and I have made. The light in the mornings is perfect for my skin tone, but I fear my hair may be too subtle against the darkness of the hair on the oriental women depicted in the silks.  I am once again plunged into despondency in the absence of Villiers. He would know exactly where I should sit and how I should dress. This is too much!

I breakfasted well enough but the staff are still becoming familiar with the new kitchens, so my kedgeree was almost cold. I had not the will to go down and complain. I shall allow the cook some time to get to grips with her domain and will observe the route the serving staff take to reach the dining hall - it may be possible to save some seconds that way to ensure the food arrives at a palatable temperature. I have arranged to see Jennet this afternoon to discuss the winter maintenance plans and will walk the grounds with him. I shall enjoy his company, I expect, since he will not ask too much of me except some agreement and general encouragement.

There is so much for me to consider now I am returned! How shall I direct the staff? Which rooms should be made ready for guests over the coming months? What linen has survived the fire? What shrubs are people planting now? Where will I sit for the Italian and would Josiah prefer me to be chaperoned, and by whom?

Oh, I am quite giddy with the responsibility! The resolve I had at breakfast to behave in a more adult manner is slipping away from me even before luncheon...

The Village of Garcia Fortuna

Blindingham
September 4th 1853

I am sitting with Dauncey on my lap, drinking morning coffee on my own terrace at last. I am glad no-one is with me to chatter and bewilder my mind still further  - last night's supper with that woman was enough to send me mad. I shall have to tell Josiah what she said, of course, but for now I must order my thoughts and work out what it is that he must know and what I must keep to myself (and Boo).

As the boy drove me up the lane to Lydiatt House, the whole drab collection of Cornbenches idled out to meet me, like a herd of docile cattle. I alighted from the trap and was dragged pathetically into the house by the children - who showed as much spirit as could be expected, I suppose, from those borne into dreary dullness. Mrs Cornbench clasped my arm and said,

" Oh my dear, how pleased we are to see you back in your rightful place! Blindingham is empty without you. Do come and eat with us while we tell you everything that has happened here while you have been up in London. You might not think the City so exciting when you learn what goes on in the country!"

She babbled on in this tiresome manner throughout the whitebait and right up until the end of the soup. Eventually Mr Cornbench hushed her and we endured some greying beef in relative peace.

The Cornbenches are very modern people who believe their children should dine with company - I can only imagine how quiet they are when alone - so it was not until they had been sent to their beds that I began to understand the reason for all the faddle about village news.

"My dear Mrs Hatherwick, permit me to speak with freedom in the interests of your continued happiness, now you are returned home." (Mr Cornbench addressed me as if I were at the Assizes; I became quite unsettled at his tone) "You will be pleased, I am convinced of it, that we have taken it upon ourselves to apprise you of recent events."

He paused, waiting for what I don't know. I adopted an expression of puzzled interest in the hope that he would carry on speaking without me having to bother to request it. He took my hint,

"Someone has arrived to take lodging in the Village. A very interesting character - he is from Italy by all accounts and is every bit as exotic as his provenance would suggest."

Exotic? What on earth could he mean? And it would only take  two cloves in an orange for Mr Cornbench to declare a whole fruit basket exotic, so I was not expecting a great deal from this story.

" He is called Mr Fortuna. Mr Garcia Fortuna from Naples. Naples is in Italy."

"I guessed as much," I said. "And do you know why has this Mr Fortuna come to live in the village?"

"He is to paint our portraits - every one of us! He has a commission from a very honourable patron; we are all to become famous in the Galleries of Rome!" Mrs Cornbench squealed and bounced around in her seat, til I was forced to address her, too.

"Paint our portraits? Who on earth should wish to see the residents of Blindingham preserved in oils?"

I was quite perplexed by the news and by the degree of excitement it warranted, until I heard the answer to my question.

" My dear! We are to hang in the halls of the Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef! Mr Fortuna is to spend a year observing us ordinary village folk (I bridled a little at being included in that group, but bit my tongue in the presence of Royalty...) and he is to send his works to Italy where the Emperor is regaining power from the Revolutionaries! Now, tell me that is not the most exciting news ever to have reached your pretty ears!"

Mrs Cornbench had quite forgotten herself as she reached for my ears to tweak them in her frenzy. I recoiled enough to save my dignity, but I was extremely exercised by the whole business.

I could not - and can still not - fathom why an Emperor of Austria should wish to furnish his Italian acquisitions with images of rural Surrey. But if Signor Garcia Fortuna is to paint portraits for the Royal Houses of Europe, I should like to ensure that one of them is of me.

My concern now is how much of this news to convey to Josiah. He is quite capable of living an entire six-month at Blindingham without knowing anything of local activity or gossip, but if I am to sit for a painting I shall have to spend some time with this Mr Fortuna. If he is an unmarried gentleman, Josiah will not hear of it, I am sure. I will write to Boo and ask her advice - she is quite shrewd where my husband is concerned and has often steered me to the best course of action in my dealings with him. Bless her, she must listen as closely as any friend could when I speak of him - she almost knows his thoughts as well as I do myself!

Gossip Girl

Blindingham
September 2nd 1853

Here I am - as Mistress of Blindingham once more! If the past two days of travel and travail are typical of my fortunes I swear I shall never leave this house again. It is beautiful and it is my own!

As usual the servants were lined up to see me in and some of the girls were obviously pleased to watch Dauncey as he investigated - he did look small when he stood on the doorstep for the first time, bless him.  I remembered fondly the days when Villiers and Cook were at the head of the line but I cannot wish history away - if things never changed at all I would still be happy, playing with my dolls and dreaming of my future, instead of being Josiah's wife. Which is the greatest happiness, of course.

Jennet was present, not in the welcome party but foraging somewhere close by and his new bride was smiling rather too brightly, I thought, as she watched me pass. She suits a highly coloured outfit far better than she does a laundry apron, I must confess. Still, I shall most probably never see her unless I venture into the washrooms - and I do not think my hair would survive too many forays there.

I fancied that Jennet watched me with some sadness, but I was so happy to be on my own doorstep I chose not to care much about him.

To be at Blindingham without Villiers - or any butler for that matter - will be a trial of sorts, but I shall press Josiah for a solution when he returns. I shall busy myself with teaching Dauncey where he is to sleep and which areas of the lawn he must not dig up. Watching him fall in love with this house will be a delight.

As I was being brought tea in the afternoon, the footman gave me a note from the intolerable Cornbenches, inviting me to dine with them tomorrow. Such tedium! She wrote that she has much to tell me about the goings on in the village this Summer - I can only hope they serve strong coffee after dinner, else I shall fall dead asleep on my plate with boredom.

Unplanned stoppage

Sommersbury Turnpike Inn
August 31st 1853

This day has been too much for me to bear! Not five hours into my solitary journey I was beset by trouble and had not the faintest notion of when a living soul would realise my plight.

When I say 'living' I should truly say that I mean 'conscious'. My driver, after a number of treacherous departures from the designated road we were on, suddenly slumped in a stupor across his driving plate! He remained there, quite still but making the sort of noise I imagine might come from a half-slaughtered sow, for an interminable age while Dauncey and I tried to wake him.

I eventually noticed that we had stopped within sight of a small coaching house, so I stepped down from the carriage and carried my companion with me to see if anyone sensible might be in attendance there.

It was only the services of the woman from the Inn and her runt of a servant boy that saved me from certain disaster. On seeing my driver, she indicated to the boy that he knew what to do - I had the strange impression that this kind of occurrence was not unfamiliar to her - and within two minutes he had climbed onto the carriage plate and emptied a bowl of water onto the driver's head. Miraculously, he was not dead or dying after all  - but his revival was not sufficient for him to restart our journey.

I am now sitting with Dauncey in a room which I would not use at home even to store sweeping brushes. The driver is asleep in a room above me and so Dauncey and I must wait until he is fit to resume his task of setting us safely down on the Blindingham approach. I cannot tell how many hours I may have to endure here - with the Inn keeper's wife revelling in my misfortune whenever she brings me some soup - but I can assure the owners of the South Eastern Express Coach Company that very soon they shall have to change either their workforce or their name. They cannot carry on with both.

Dog tracks

Sydney Walk
August 30th 1853

Josiah is sending me ahead to Blindingham without anyone to accompany me! I am to travel tomorrow with no knowledge of whether Villiers is to return to us. I am distraught at such a prospect - however shall I manage when I arrive? There will be staff there, of course - Josiah is not a cruel husband who would abandon me to dress my own hair - but no-one with Villiers' knowledge of how to run the House. I pleaded with him to let me wait a few more days to see if Papa would change his mind as well but he was firm in his resolve. He said he had urgent business which could not be ignored and that I was too much of a distraction from his duties. I suppose I should be pleased that my husband's attention can still be drawn by me after all these years but I am nevertheless not happy at his ruling. He is not the sort of man to leave things undone, though, and I must abide by his wishes.

So, I shall pack my clothes in my bags and put Dauncey in my coat sleeves for the journey - he will entertain me every bit as much as Villiers could, I am sure.

Umbrage


Sydney Walk
August 22nd 1853

Well! There is nothing more stubborn than an elderly man with theatrical pretensions! Papa will not countenance spending the winter with us in Blindingham. He says he will miss his London life too much. What 'London life'? Who will he miss more than his own flesh and blood?  Not his spiritualist friends, surely, nor the card players. he cannot mean his acting company, or the circle Mrs Doughty has invited him into. He cannot wish to fill his empty days with all these people, can he, instead of his own daughter and loving son-in-law?  I am insulted beyond endurance, truly.

Re-establishment


Sydney Walk
August 21st 1853


Josiah has had a letter from the parson at Blindingham confirming the marriage of Jennet to that stupid girl. I admit to a sliver of envy at the thought of their excitement in a new life together, although I could not have married a man more suited to me than my own husband. He is solicitous of the welfare of others in matters that other men might think beneath them - indeed as soon as he read the parson's words, Josiah sent a boy straight to the guest house where Villiers is staying.

He sent the boy with a note informing him of Jennet's recent nuptials and giving him an assurance that despite everything that has happened over the summer in London, Villiers is welcome to rejoin our household and resume his position as our trusted and trustworthy Butler. I saw the note myself, it read thus,

V


Gardener wed. Your atrocious behaviour forgotten -  return awaited.


JH

How many other husbands would try so hard to rehabilitate a disgraced servant? Josiah understands my unwillingness to take Garforth with us to the Hall and he understands Villiers' sadness at being away from us. Josiah is a man who wishes above all else that those around him are happy. No, however enviable the state of new matrimony may be, I would not be without my own dear husband.

Home for the Holidays


Sydney Walk
August 20th 1853

We are preparing to leave London for the winter! After months of restoration, Blindingham Hall is finally ready for us to resume residence. I am beside myself with anticipation and can hardly sleep for thinking about how we shall inhabit our new home. Of course, I know it is not entirely new but there is so much that has been added and refreshed - Josiah has worked day and night to make the Hall beautiful. I am the most fortunate wife in Christendom to have such a creative husband. I have already forgiven him the endless days and nights away from home - I am not such an ingrate that I can stay cross with him when I think of all there is to look forward to!

Of course, I must spend these next few days saying my goodbyes. I shall go to see Boo and her brood and must call in to the Press before I leave. I have had word from Mrs Doughty that she is seeking to expand the business. She is such a forceful woman, I am proud to be her associate.  She wishes to discuss her ideas with Boo and me at our earliest convenience so I have shown some initiative and already arranged to release funds from Papa to bring to the meeting with me. I am quite the businesswoman, am I not? I am to see Papa this afternoon and shall put to him a little plan I have been thinking about for a while - I shall ask him to accompany Josiah and me to Blindingham for the Winter.  How dutiful a daughter I am!

What the Butler Saw


Sydney Walk
August 16th 1853


I do not care for Garforth at all. Dauncey is scared of him and the servants will do nothing he tells them. I heard the pantrymaid answer him back yesterday with such effrontery I wonder that he did not call on Josiah to dismiss her. Villiers was so good with the staff - oh, I cannot be expected to endure this new arrangement a minute longer!  I have already spoken of my dissatisfaction in the matter to Josiah, but he seems happy enough with him. He is vague about Garforth's origins and simply will not give me a clear answer to the question of where he found him, and so soon after Villiers abandoned us. If he was indeed recommended by a member of Josiah's club I should wish to question the member concerned. Josiah's obvious and creditable commitment to his business is making him inattentive at home, I fear, but the fact is he has hastily employed an incompetent man that he has no intention of censuring for his inadequacies. It is as if Garforth has more power at Sydney walk than Josiah himself.

We are due to resume our lives at Blindingham next month - although it will be strange to spend Winter in the country and not here in London - and I absolutely will not take Garforth with me to preside over the staff at the Hall. He seems to know little of a Butler's duties and much of the ways of a dandy. He wears clothing more suited to a gentleman entertainer  -  perhaps he is merely acting the part of a servant in preparation for some theatrical presentation? I shall invite poor Papa to tea and see if he can sniff the stage on him!

Sound Minds

Sydney Walk
August 13th 1853


My Dearest Boo

I send my fondest regards to you and LB and baby Angelina - and to Mr Pitt as well, of course. I confess my household is in a state of disarray, such that I am not happy to invite you into it. This letter is to explain a little of what I have suffered recently and to ask for a pardon for my desultory show of hospitality over this summer in London.

The most terrible thing has happened, Boo. Villiers has left us! You told me he was turned upside down by the impending marriage of Jennet to that blockheaded girl. That wedding has now taken place in the village and it seems that Villiers is unable to bear being employed in the same family. So, the Hatherwicks have lost a butler and gained a stupid kitchenmaid. In my generosity I offered Jennet's bride a place amongst the Blindingham staff - hoping she has improved since she was last with us. We are not returning there for another month (Oh, Boo - you will adore the new rooms we have had built. We have Chinese silk in the first guest room - from China!) but Villiers could take no more of Josiah's teasing and whilst I was away they had the most awful falling out. He did not even work out his notice.

I went yesterday to the lodging house in Camden where he has taken refuge. His sister owns it, I believe, although she was not present when I called. It is a pleasant enough place, although quite drab on the outside, with flower baskets which were woefully unattended for the time of year. The sister  is landlady to a number of distressed young men, it seems, as the downstairs parlour was full of Villiers' co-habitants, all clucking and plucking over their lunch. One of them came to the door when I rang the bell and as I entered I was minded of a mother bird returning to the nest at feeding time - there was a silence as they all turned to me with expectant, open faces but  as Villiers emerged to greet me they returned to chooking and scraping at their soup bowls.

Villiers was adamant that he could not return, despite some pitiful pleading from me. He allowed me to reclaim Dauncey - which is the least I expected of him - but sent me on my way with a sad resolve not to accompany me. He seems convinced that I am not safe in Josiah's care and insisted on making prophecies and warnings which meant nothing to me at all. Remembering his shocking treatment of the Girl and her idiot child and his distress at the loss of the booby from Blindingham, I fancy he may be a little unhinged, Boo. There can be no other explanation for his hatred of Josiah and his concern for me - he is driven by guilt and unrequited love for that farm animal of a girl.

Do you know of a physician who specialises in diseases of the mind, Boo? I should so love to restore Villiers' senses to him. I wish above all else for him to be happy and for Garforth to be on the watch for employment elsewhere.

Really, what with Cook and now this, I fear Josiah and I have been most unfortunate in our employment of the mentally fragile. I wonder whether I have been too tolerant and understanding in my treatment of them. Perhaps a few more harsh words from me would stop me having to save them from themselves when I am most in need of them!

I shall come to see you soon, Boo. I give you my word that you and yours will be the first guests to stay with us at Blindingham. I know that Josiah is keen to give my closest friend the best of our newly refurbished bedchambers,

Yrs

Eff x

Chaos


Sydney Walk
August 12th 1853

This is the first minute I have had to sit and consider my own thoughts since I came back from Blindingham. So much has happened I can hardly sort one event from another. Indeed, those theories Papa expounds concerning destiny and connections may not be the ravings of an ageing widower, after all. It is possible that when a butterfly flaps its wings in foreign parts, my entire household is turned on its head.

When I had finally escaped from the intolerable Cornbenches,  I journeyed back to Sydney Walk in the most uncomfortable carriage known to man. The driver stopped at every watering hole along the route, claiming that the horse was in constant need of sustenance - by contrast I had eaten and drunk not a morsel since breakfast. To be carried by a well-fed horse is desirable, I suppose, but in future I shall ensure that the creature is catered for prior to departure. 

My headache did not disperse and when I approached my front door in the late afternoon I was met by a man I had never set eyes on who declared himself to be our new Butler! He smiled down at me rather as a snake may welcome a toad. In my dazed and hungry state, I fancied he was not actually human but some sort of visitation. I asked where my husband was and was told he was at his club. This vexed me more than a little since I had sent word that I would be arriving that afternoon. It appears Josiah had not calculated the dietary needs of the horse any more than I had and had waited in for me but become anxious to meet an associate who was in town for a few days from Lacock.  Something to do with photographic imagery, as far as I could understand.  I knew Josiah had been interested in this field for some time but it now seems he has been introduced to a very influential chap who thinks we shall all be able to make lifelike picture records of the most mundane of activities any day of the week - though why on earth any of us should wish to is beyond me for the moment. This 'butler' - Garforth he said his name was - leered a little and I saw perspiration upon his forehead and neck. I can not bear the sight of a man perspiring - not indoors. Villiers is an excitable man but even he can remain sweatless when necessary. Garforth told me he would send a boy out to fetch Josiah and then he ordered the kitchen to prepare me some soup. I was too confused to do much except drink the broth he brought me and go to bed. Josiah arrived home much later apparently and, wishing not to disturb me, spent the night in his dressing room.

It was not until the next morning that I realised I had not seen any sign of Dauncey.

At breakfast Josiah sat quietly, waiting for me to ask him what had happened in my absence. He was obviously reluctant to offer any conversation of his own unless pressed by me. How tiresome men are when they have domestic information to impart.

After half an hour of interrogation I learned the news that I had been dreading. Villiers had indeed left us after he and Josiah  had the most terrible argument. From what I could understand of my husband's contribution to the debate the damage is such that I fear it may never be repaired. What is more, Villiers took Dauncey with him!  He accused Josiah of neglect and cruelty, saying that he was not fit to look after his own family, leave alone a defenceless animal. I was utterly shocked at Villiers' assertion that my husband does not protect me, although I confess I was glad that Dauncey had a safe - if temporary - home with someone who loves him. I know Villiers had been dreadfully upset by the news that Jennet was to marry, but I cannot think his distress to be so severe that it has robbed him of his reason. What did he mean? How can he think that Josiah is not a provider for his family?

Josiah engaged the services of this Mr Garforth without observing the proper processes. He was anxious, I am sure, to maintain the household in my absence but nevertheless I am cross that I was not consulted. A Lady should be secure in the knowledge that she is being served by someone fit for the job. Despite being with us for well over a fortnight now, Mr Garforth has not supplied us with any references and is quite vague about his previous employment - Josiah says he was recommended by one of the fellows at his club, so I shall have to be happy with that. It is a gentleman's establishment and all those who join are professional types with no wish to cause harm to each other, I am sure of it. Still, I do not like him. He gives instructions to the staff as if they are army soldiers and he is their General - he shouts a lot and produces the vilest little bits of spit in the corners of his mouth. The cleaning is no longer being done thoroughly enough and the staff are becoming sloppy in other ways, too. My clothes are not laid out as I would wish, but have an air of desperation about them - as if the maid prepares them with her eyes shut. I found her coming out of Josiah's dressing room yesterday morning in rather too much of a hurry for someone who is supposed to be organised and capable. What on earth is happening?

So, with my faithful Butler and my cat having left home; my husband is spending every waking hour on his big new idea and I have the task of making everything straight again. I shall visit Villiers later on today - he has gone to his sister, I believe, who runs a guest house in Camden. If I cannot persuade Villiers to come home with me, I may well take one of the rooms and stay there!

Morning After


Lydiatt House
July 12th 1853



I have woken up with the severest of headaches, brought on I should imagine by the dull prattle Mrs Cornbench employs to entertain her husband. I do not feel well enough to spend half a day in a carriage but I can not countenance another night in this house and must return to London to make sure Villiers is still a member of my staff.  I shall take a walk around the upper lawn before breakfast to shake my poor head.

The events of yesterday hang heavy on me this morning, I find. Jennet's happiness was indeed a thing to behold. I confess to being envious of his joyful expectations and can only assume that I have become a little bored with my own life. I shall go and see Boo the moment I set foot down from my journey - she is the only person who will understand how I feel.

Greener grass


Lydiatt House
July 11th 1853


I feel such a great sense of responsibility and am quite cross with my husband. He is no doubt sitting happily at his club conducting some business or other whilst I was plotting the destruction of a poor man's hopes.

I waited in the Cornbench's parlour all morning, having sent word to Jennet and that booby that I wished to speak with them. Mrs Cornbench hovered in the hall downstairs like a ghostly presence, appearing from nowhere at the slightest sound of footsteps on the drive, but pretended she was leaving me to my thoughts. I had no-one for company but her wretched dog - why anyone should choose to nuzzle such a vile creature I shall never know; at least Dauncey is clean - because Mr Cornbench had taken his whispery children on a pheasant shoot in the grounds. I amused myself by wondering how many of them would return to the house alive. I shouldn't be surprised if no-one noticed one of them missing.

It was not until nearly midday that I saw from the window the betrothed couple making their way to the house. Jennet was wearing his best clothes, I expect, and his bride-to-be had clearly made an effort to impress me. She had on a sprigged muslin dress - appropriate material for the time of year, if a little showy for daytime - and was wearing a feathered hat. They must have walked quite some distance because her face seemed quite flushed and she looked as if she would like nothing more than a brief rest.

I stood back a step or two so they could not see me watch them approach.

I am no expert in affairs of the heart - despite having made a wondrous match myself - but I fancy I can recognise young love, even at a distance. Jennet was holding his intended by the elbow, guiding her up to the front steps. She wavered a little as she looked up at the house, no doubt overwhelmed by the stately frontage, such that Jennet reached to steady her. He bent his head towards her, appearing to whisper a word or two of encouragement. She gazed back at him as if seeing him for the first time and reached out to touch his cheek. I felt a little lurch of envy at that, I do not mind confessing.

She paused just before they rang the bell and she appeared to reached inside her cloak, looking for something. After a few seconds she produced a small glass bottle and held it aloft. Jennet said something sharply to her, at which she jumped and hid the bottle again within the folds of her cloak. In her desire to impress me, she had brought a gift which Jennet was anxious for her to keep concealed until the moment presented itself for her to give it to me.

The maid showed them in to the parlour and I could hear Mrs Cornbench sweeping about making sure everything was in order. They stood before me, Jennet still holding his bride steady as she attempted a curtsey.

"I expect you will be wondering why I have come from London in such a hurry to see you before your nuptials," I said. They looked a little blankly, but nodded their agreement that they were unsure of the reason for my visit.

"Ma'am," ventured Jennet, "I hope your journey has been pleasant at any rate."

"It has been unremarkable thus far," I answered, "but thank you for your concern."

The girl tottered slightly as I spoke. Truly I believe she was so in awe of her surroundings she could hardly keep her attention in one place. Jennet gripped her arm more tightly and gave me a beseeching look. His discomfort was such that I decided I should dispense with any more pleasantries - I do not like to chit-chat with servants in any case.

"I have come to ascertain the reasons for your marriage." I told them. "The news has been received in London with alarm in some quarters and I wish to find out for myself what exactly has brought it on."

They both stared at me and then at each other. Bless them, they seemed so wrapped up in each other that I felt quite cruel. I wondered how Boo would have conducted herself in my position and concluded that she would have been businesslike and direct, so I said,

"Is this intended union absolutely necessary?"

"Necessary, ma'am?" said Jennet. "I am sorry, I do not understand your question."

I looked at the girl, who was now quite faint. I have not seen many young women in a delicate condition but this was unmistakeable.

"Are you with child?" I asked her. She whimpered a little and seemed to slump against Jennet. He mopped her brow with his cap and turned back to me. She gathered her wits enough to smile a little, before whispering the words "Bill to become a father? How funny!" Jennet cleared his throat and stood forward a little.

"Ma'am, I have always worked hard for you and Mr Hatherwick, have I not? I pride myself on being a loyal and trustworthy servant. I hope that my service has never been questioned or needed to be. I have tended the grounds at the Hall for the last....." He sounded exactly like Villiers did during the outburst that prompted this whole exchange in the first place. I held my hand up to stem his flow.

"Calm yourself, Jennet, for all our sakes. I am not commenting on your abilities as a groundsman. I merely want to find out why you are marrying this girl." As I gestured towards her, she produced a sound which I can hardly describe outside the confines of a farmyard.

"I am marrying her because it is the right time for me to take a wife, Ma'am. There is not a man in the village who wishes to marry her as much as I do. Miss Everdown is the wife I must take."

'Must?', what did he mean, 'must'? "Miss Everdown's father has been kind enough to allow me to have her hand in marriage. He has known me all my life and understands me better than any man." She spluttered a little at hearing this and made to remove the bottle from her cloak to give to me, I fancied, but Jennet stopped her. "Her father is most insistent that I look after his precious daughter from now on."

I remembered Josiah and his protestations to Papa all those years ago, when I had been hiding on the stairs listening to the man I loved persuading my father why he should let me go. As I heard Jennet speak of his intentions I felt quite overcome with emotion. I could not stand in the way of such lovestruck determination, even though it might cost me the best manservant I had ever employed.

"Very well," I said to them, "That is all I wanted to hear. Mr Hatherwick and I give you our blessing. We shall of course pay for the wedding breakfast and will welcome you both into our household upon our return to Blindingham Hall."

I watched for their reaction. In truth I think my generosity must have stunned them a little for they spoke not a word, just stared at me. In the end I was compelled to break the silence,

"I must pass on to you some further congratulations. From Villiers, who wished to be remembered to you." As I said these words, Jennet's face took on a stricken look and his eyes became wet with tears. The girl showed more spirit than she had shown throughout as she turned to Jennet and said, with steel in her voice, "Villiers? What, still?" And they gave each other an intimate look of such deep understanding I was almost tearful myself. She turned from him, the intensity of feeling obviously too much for her as she covered her mouth with her cloak and made another of those wretched noises.

"Thank you, Ma'am," said Jennet as he led his intended away. I watched them walking away from the house, wondering whether Josiah and I had ever shown such feeling to each other in public. As they receded from view, I saw them begin to engage in that puppy-like playfighting that new lovers will. She pretended to berate him with clenched fists as he lovingly dodged her 'blows'. I felt quite lonely to see their happiness.

It would be impolite to leave Lydiatt House before the morning, so I have another tedious evening ahead of me, with the full complement of Cornbenches for company.

I have witnessed true and unashamed love this morning and am still without a butler!

Changing Rooms


Blindingham
July 10th 1853


Oh, how I have missed this place!

My beautiful home is very nearly ready for us to occupy again - my, how utterly transformed it is! The parts destroyed during that dreadful fire have been rebuilt and refurbished so that now the Queen herself would feel at home here. Truthfully, if she were ever to tire of travelling to the Isle of Wight for sanctuary I should be careful to expect a request to come here. Josiah's men have chosen such gorgeous wall coverings - silks and tapestries, each hand made with designs to reflect the theme of each room. I was delighted enough with the Japanese room, but was rendered speechless by the Byzantine decor in the restored banqueting rooms. I cannot wait to take up residence again - I shall have another ball and invite simply everyone to come and see how lucky I am to have such a tasteful and generous husband.

I know we have the Prudential to thank for all this - and Cook, I suppose, for without her crazed antics last year the fire would never have happened - but I admit I am overwhelmed by the amount of money Josiah has allowed for these refurbishments. I do not profess to understand every detail of the claim he made but we have ended up with a residence far more opulent than the one we had before. I shall not comment upon that to Josiah, of course, for I would not like him to think me ungrateful.

Despite my desperate wish to walk the landings as mistress of the Hall once more, I have actually had to fall upon the charity of the Cornbenches for this visit. Mrs Cornbench was more than welcoming when I wrote to her to say I was coming down for a few days. She would not hear of me staying at the Inn in the village and was kind enough to invite Josiah to come, too, but he has business to keep him in London. She is as thin and clinging as she ever was, but I can bear it in the interests of keeping my household together.

Tomorrow I am to meet Jennet and his stupid bride. I shall see at a glance whether this wedding is a necessary one and if it is not, I will do all I can to prevent it. I have no plan as yet, but I am sure that spending time at the Cornbenchs' dinner table this evening will lead me to devious plotting!

Resolve


Sydney Walk
July 6th 1853


I have spent the morning remonstrating with Josiah. He is still amused by Villiers' obvious heartbreak and has refused flatly to apologise to him - I did not think my husband could be so cruel towards anyone in such pain, even when that person is a servant.

As if that were not vexing enough, Josiah is treating my concern about Villiers' departure as a trifle. He seems almost excited at the prospect of employing a new servant and says it is time for us to have a housekeeper instead of a butler! No-one in London runs a household without a butler, I will become a laughing stock.

I must do what I can to stop Villiers leaving - I shall pack a small case and travel to Blindingham myself if necessary.

Dread Wedlock

Sydney Walk
July 5th 1853



Boo is such a wise and dear friend to me. I sat in her parlour for an hour this afternoon, with her doe eyed baby drooling into my skirts and LB giving orders to his toy soldiers in the corner. Boo looked so calm and happy even though I know she has the pressures of business at her shoulder all the time. I twiddled Angelina's fingers in my own as I poured out my woes to my friend.

I told her about Villiers' outburst and described the callous merriment with which Josiah greeted the news. I have been beside myself with fear at the thought of Villiers leaving and could not for one moment understand what Josiah found so amusing. I told Boo everything that had passed between us all. She - wise owl that she is - was silent throughout my story. When I had finished she said,

"Eff - has there been any news from the country?" At first I considered the possibility that she had not heard my tale and was simply offering a pleasantry. "What on earth does that have to do with it?" I asked her - a little curtly, I confess.

"Well, have you asked Villiers why he wishes to leave? Has he received distressing news from his family perhaps?" Bless Boo, I would never have thought of his own life outside my household. I felt almost ashamed.

I thought back to that morning's post and really could remember nothing arriving for Villiers' attention. In fact he had not been sent any personal communication for a long time, not since Cook stopped writing to him when they had to start strapping her to the bed in that hellhole in Horsham.

I told Boo,

"No, he had had no news. In fact the only letter we have had this whole nine days was that morning. It was a note to Josiah from Jennet back in Blindingham, asking us to allow him a day off in August so he can celebrate his wedding to that stupid child who used to work for us. You remember, Mrs Everdown's daughter - the one who could break a canteen of china just by looking at it. Josiah laughed and laughed at this thought. In fact now I think of it he made special efforts to find Villiers to tell him the news - not that he could speak for guffawing."

Boo took a little time to think about the picture I had painted for her. Then she said,

"Jennet is to marry a girl from the village? Why? Is she with child?"

"Boo! I have not the slightest knowledge or interest in her physical state. If she is to have a child I can only weep for its blighted future. Why are you bothering to ask about her, when it is Villiers and my imminent abandonment I have come to discuss?"

Boo wandered over to me, sweeping a few of LB's soldiers from their viewing station as she did so. He gave her a look of utter disdain and replaced his men to their positions. She took Angelina from me and rang for the wet nurse - I was grateful for this as the child's dribbling and squeaking had become quite tiresome. After the nurse had taken the baby, Boo sat next to me, took my hand and said calmly,

"My dearest Eff, you are such a booby sometimes. Surely you can see that Jennet's marriage is the cause of Villiers' distress?" I could see no such thing, I assured her. "Poor old Villiers was being made fun of by Josiah and couldn't bear it. If you wish him to stay in your employ your only hope is to beg your husband to atone for his behaviour."

I had another cup of tea and then came home, still a little confused as to why Jennet's nuptials should cause Villiers such pain.

And then of course I realised. My poor loyal servant must have been in love with that idiot all along!

That is why he encouraged us to give her mother a job and why he was angry when Josiah dismissed her for her incompetence. I can see it all now. Villiers loves that silly girl and cannot bear for Jennet to have her. I must see what I can do to prevent the wedding, if that will keep Villiers with us. Unless of course she is indeed in a predicament, in which case I must do all I can to force Josiah to act responsibly. As master of Blindingham he has a duty to care for the staff, past and present. I shall get straight to sorting the matter out to the satisfaction of all of us - I will not go on without Villiers and Josiah must see that I need reassurance that he will take the situation in hand.

So, Boo has proved her superiority in domestic affairs once more. She is a marvel and I am blessed in her friendship. I wish her life were mine in many ways, but I love her too dearly to wish my life were hers.

Agony Aunt

Sydney Walk
July 4th 1853


My Dearest Boo

It seems so long since I last saw you! I understand that domestic bliss is a perfectly acceptable reason for social inactivity - please do not think I blame you for our distance. But it is true that domestic upheaval can have a similar effect and I so need to ask your advice!

Villiers has given notice to leave us and Josiah is refusing to ask him to stay. I am at my wits' end with the stubbornness of the males in my household. I simply cannot countenance life without Villiers. Please let me call upon you at your earliest convenience so that you can tell me what on earth I must do - you are so clever at knowing how to handle my husband.

Love to LB and A,

Yrs

E

High Dudgeon


Sydney Walk
July 3rd 1853

The most dreadful thing has happened. I was sitting at my desk before lunch, preparing to write my household menu instructions for the week, when Villiers came barging in without knocking or coughing. I confess I have become a little lax in not insisting that he should wait to be admitted to the room, but still I was taken aback by the manner he chose to attract my attention.

He stood in the middle of my rug, waving his hands around his head and making mewing noises a little like those Dauncey makes when he has not been allowed outside for a while. I asked Villiers whatever the matter was and it was a good minute before he could compose himself to answer.

"I'm sorry Ma'am, but I cannot stay silent any longer!", he screeched. "It is more than a man should be asked to bear!" I reminded him gently that he was not addressing me as a man, but as my servant and told him to calm down and tell me what was causing such distress. As I watched him try to observe the correct protocol in his dealings with me, I thought of the scene I had witnessed in which he cast the Girl adrift with only her bags and her child for warmth. I have often remarked to Josiah that Villiers is something of a conundrum and this performance only served to convince me I am right.

"Ma'am" he started, a little less shrilly than before, "I have served you well for a good number of years, have I not?"

"You have, indeed, Villiers. Mr Hatherwick and I are most satisfied with your work."

"Thank you. Might I be allowed to assume that I should command some respect as a valued servant?"

He began to whimper again slightly, so I stood up from my chair and moved towards him. His hands flapped and he leapt back as if I had brandished a sword in his face.

"Ma'am! Please do not be angry with me! (I had shown not the slightest emotion at this point, believing that Villiers was conveying emotion enough for both of us) I am a loyal servant to you - more loyal than you know if Our Lord ever gives his account - but this is too much. Too much!"

"What is too much, Villiers? I have no idea what is distressing you so," I answered. "Please, contain yourself and give me some idea of what is going on."

When I said that, he snorted and smirked like a dog on a short leash.

"If ma'am had even the smallest notion of What is Going On, we should all be undone!" he cried. I remained outwardly calm but in truth was growing increasingly alarmed by this behaviour. Usually, Villiers' nervous excesses cannot be sustained for long, but he seemed set fair for a full attack. I motioned to him that he might wish to take a seat, noting to myself at the same time that I had never seen him seated in my presence. He was sensible enough, even in his heightened state, not to accept my offer.

"I think it best if I give notice to you now, Ma'am, of my intention to leave your employ at the earliest opportunity," he said eventually. "I hold you in high regard and have enjoyed serving you - not that my personal pleasure should be a matter for your concern."

Really, he was speaking in the most inappropriate manner. I did not think for a moment that he was serious but he carried on,

"I shall stay here until the end of this month to allow you sufficient time to seek a replacement for me. But if you have found none such by that time, I am afraid you shall have to carry on without your most loyal and hardworking manservant."

Before I had a chance to speak, he swept from my room, without closing the door. He has taken to leaving rooms without being dismissed but that was such a minor insubordination that I had never asked Josiah to reprimand him for it. I regretted that, as I watched him turn and rush away from me before I could find out what had caused the outburst.

I find myself quite distraught at the prospect of Villiers leaving us. Quite apart from my love and respect for Josiah, I have come to regard Villiers as the most reliable and stable presence in the Hatherwick household. I must demand that Josiah does not allow him to leave. Throughout the upheaval of the fire at Blindingham, the violence shown to Papa, the loss of my precious jewellery and the incompetence - or madness - of our other servants, Villiers has always given me good advice and constant, dutiful care. Despite his twittery and high drama, I have come to regard him as my rock.

Truth and Lies


June 29th 1853
Sydney Walk

I am still shaking - though whether it is with emotion at hearing from Mama or anger at Josiah's attitude I cannot be sure. I have not sent word to Papa yet and, despite my resolve to say nothing of recent events to Josiah, I have been such a worry-piece that he could not help but notice. My attempts at dismissing his questions failed and I was forced to tell him exactly why I have been so distracted. I love my husband dearly and do not wish to be a cause of concern to him - it is my job to rid him of thoughts that may aggrieve him, after all. So when he demanded that I tell him what my 'obvious secret' was, I could not deny him.

Needless to say, he was not as excited by my news as I had hoped. After listening to me for a good few minutes he began to rage and storm about the room - I became quite concerned that Villiers would knock to see what was afoot. Josiah shouted about charlatans and crooks in such an agitated manner that I had to promise I would never go to Highgate again, not on any premise. He has forbidden me to discuss that evening with anyone - especially Papa - and was unnecessarily cruel in his assertion that I had been taken for an idiot by the lady I saw.

I suppose it is possible that I may have been the victim of a terrible hoax. Josiah seems surprisingly knowledgeable on the subject of extortion and fraud and I am lucky that he wishes to protect me - but I cannot think the woman to have been so devious. After all, she spoke to Mama - I heard her do so. No, I am sure my husband is mistaken. I shall visit this lady again - but I will wait until Josiah is back supping with the Cornbenches at Blindingham before I do.

To Highgate and Beyond


Sydney Walk
June 26th 1853

I have heard from her! I have heard from my beautiful dear Mama!

Josiah returned from Blindingham this afternoon in a black mood - something to do with cement, I think he said - and instead of sitting at his knee all night listening to stories about the Hall, I went to a spiritualist meeting. He was incensed but could not stop me in my excitement. He said it was a lot of ungodly nonsense but I did not obey his wish that I should stay in. What a terrible wife I am! I begged Villiers to hurry with arranging the carriage so that my whirlwind of cloaks, shoes and kissing Dauncey goodbye was too much for Josiah's weary soul to overcome.

And I am glad that I defied my husband's expressed wishes, for this evening I have received messages from my own darling mother. She whose corporeal presence left this world fifteen years ago!

I had received a note from Mrs Hayden's representatives in England saying that she had returned to America almost immediately after the night Papa and I saw her. She had allowed for a heightened interest in her subject, though, and had authorised a number of persons here in London to carry out her work. I marvel at the capacity of so many people to speak to the dead - and how lucky we are that they should unearth such a talent just at the time so many of us should clamour for their services.

I was invited to a private meeting - 'reading' they called it, but there was no printed material on display (or else I should have spied an opportunity for the Press girls, I am certain). This 'reading' was held in an otherwise quite unremarkable house in Highgate, some way out of London. When I arrived I was shown into a curtained booth with a beautiful lamp on the table. The lamp gave off a darkened reddish glow and I sat for quite some time in solitude. I set to thinking, naturally, about whether Mama could see me and am such a silly that I even smoothed my hair in case she thought me unkempt from the journey.

After my wait, a lady entered the booth and came to sit opposite me. Heavens, but she was strange looking! She had a pale face, quite smooth for a woman who seemed to be as old as Mrs Doughty, but with dark eyes and cruelly thin lips. Her dress looked very much like the curtains she had just come through and put me in mind of something I might like to see at Blindingham but before I could think any further she grabbed my hand and addressed me,

"My child, you have suffered a loss, have you not?" she spoke in a faint voice, but one which I could clearly hear. I stayed silent.

"Have you, my dear, have you lost a loved one? I am sure that you have. I have someone here who wishes to speak to you."

I looked around me but could see no-one else.

"Who are you wishing to contact, child? Tell me."

I felt a little foolish but I answered her anyway,

"I should love to speak to Mama if I can," I whispered.

"Your Mama, you say?"

"Yes."

She closed her eyes and lifted her face to the ceiling, breathing in noisily as she did so. Then she said,

"Your Mama is here, child. She asks me to tell you she loves you,"

Oh! I set to sobbing almost straight away! Mama, to whom I had not spoken since childhood, was in the booth with me - I could not see her but I knew she was there! Oh, mama!

"Collect yourself, my dear, the spirits will not speak in the presence of such distress," she handed me a linen kerchief and I dried my eyes as best I could. The lady waited for me to become calm and then she said,

"You have much to say to your Mama, my dear, but I cannot keep her here for long. Tell me, what is it you would like your mother to help you understand?"

I had not thought of a question, so just said the first thing that came into my mind.

"Will Josiah be prosperous, Mama? And will I ever know the love of my own child, as you knew mine for you?" I held the kerchief tight in my hands.

"I am listening...yes....she is indeed a beauty.....very well, that is what I shall tell her." The lady was speaking but not to me - she was speaking to Mama. Soon, she lowered her face and looked at me,

"My child, your Mama is proud of you - she says you are as beautiful as she knew you would be. As for your husband , he will be all that you expect of him."

I was immediately comforted to hear that.

"And a child?" I asked.

"Yes.....what is that you say?.....as you wish." The lady looked directly into my watery eyes and said,

"Your Mama knows you will love any child that comes to you."

This was not quite the promise I had hoped for but I was so happy to be in Mama's presence that I did not feel it right to insist on any certainties.

Apparently, Mama faded quite soon after that exchange as the lady slumped alarmingly in her chair, declaring Mama had left her. No matter, I had heard from her and I was happy!

As I left the booth a maid held out a silver plate, into which I placed some coins in payment for the reading. I asked if I might be able to come back and speak again with Mama, and was assured that I could make an appointment whenever I wished. The next thing I knew, I was out in the Highgate air and climbing back into my carriage. I felt drained and fulfilled in equal measure - truly, it has been the most remarkable experience!

Josiah had retired by the time I got home, so I have not yet told him what transpired. Indeed, I may not go into detail with him until he shows himself to be a little more broad-minded on the matter. I will most definitely tell Papa, though, as soon as I can!

Loyalty card

Sydney Walk
June 19th 1853

Oh Boo!

This is the shortest of notes, I want to ask when it would be convenient for me to come and visit. I am starved of your company - and of cuddles from LB and Angelina - but, really, I have a plan which requires your sober attention before I begin to put it into action!

I am free at any time. Josiah is still at the Hall making sure the workmen are not spending all day in the Inn, drinking the money we pay them. He is a hard task master, as you know, and without him I do believe not a brick would be laid from dawn to dusk.

Anyway, I absolutely must come to see you as soon as you will let me. Will you let me?

Effie x

Contact arrangements


Sydney Walk
June 19th 1853

I wonder sometimes whether widowhood might not be preferable to abandonment. Josiah has written from Blindingham to say he is still required to oversee the building work. I have not seen him for three weeks and am going stupid with loneliness! I did send word back dutifully saying that of course he must do as he sees fit and that I am sure his presence is vital to the success of the refurbishment plans, but in truth I cannot see what benefit he is to those workmen at the moment. He is a planner and a thinker whose skill lies in enterprise, not labour.

But I must not appear shrewish in my letters to him. The darling man is making our future more secure, bless him. I only worry about his comfort - he needs good food and a warm bed at night, as any man does. I do not think Mrs Cornbench a substitute for a loving wife, although I am sure she is enough for Mr Cornbench.

I shall no longer fill this journal with lamentable pining for my husband! He will be home before I know it and besides I have a new activity to occupy myself. From now on I shall devote myself to nurturing Papa's relationship with Mrs Doughty. I have a mind to write Mrs Hayden, if she is still in the country, to see whether she might be willing to meet me in private. If she is open to the idea, I shall ask her to concentrate her powers on me and my departed - I should dearly love to know Mama's thoughts and will do all I can to carry out her ethereal wishes.

So when Josiah does return from the Hall, and from Mrs Cornbench's pinched ministrations, he shall find in me a much more spiritual and understanding woman. It will do me no harm to remind him what a wife he has in me!

Gooseberry Fool

Sydney Walk
June 17th 1853

I fear my confidence regarding Papa's happiness may be misplaced. He has developed a small obsession with Mrs Doughty which it has become my duty to manage. Ever since that astonishing evening in the Octagon Rooms he has insisted that I procure a meeting with Mrs Doughty at her earliest convenience. He talks of little else but her ability to satisfy his needs - quite what those needs might be I am not sure but he is adamant they must be met. I tried to tell him that she is not a woman who takes a man's needs much into consideration, but he gave me a pitying look and told me she was better equipped for such a task than I thought. Quite what he meant by that I could not deduce. He has mentioned in the past that his dealings with her have been most satisfying so she clearly holds some fascination for him.

I had been wondering why he should be so keen to transact his business with Mrs Doughty - he is most definitely unaware of her antipathy towards the male sex - and after some careful thought, the answer came to me. It is Mama, speaking to him through Mrs Hayden! Mama wants him to marry Mrs Doughty, thus providing him with a redoubtable wife and me with a mother as well as a friend. God Bless Mama and Mrs Hayden!

I am as excited as a new lamb and have invited Mrs Doughty to tea with us. I have tried to give her some prior notice of his intentions, such as I understand them. I feel unqualified to chaperone either of them but cannot bear the thought of her spurning his affection and causing him heart pain. I could not stand to see Papa rejected by such a fine person - and I know Mama will be watching us all with whatever anticipation is manifest in the disembodied. Oh, I could almost wish I had never challenged him to find us some new entertainment - and more so than that, I wish Josiah were here to tell me what I should do!

Four warnings


Sydney Walk
June 17th 1853


My Dear Mrs Doughty

I trust this letter finds you in good spirits. My reason for sending this note is to enquire whether you might like to join my Papa and me for afternoon day one day next week? I am normally 'at home' on Wednesdays, as you know, but I have recently been spending a good deal of time with Papa and he has expressed a particular wish to see you. He is a man of propriety, which is why the invitation is reaches you from my hand, not his, but I do wish to stress that he is most keen to further your acquaintance. I rather think he may be hatching an entrepreneurial proposition about which he would welcome your advice.

I know that you have met with Papa privately on previous occasions and that you and he are of a mind on many of the important issues of the day. Please do not be alarmed, therefore, if he begins to discuss a new avenue of thought with you. He has become somewhat enamoured of the fashion for communication with those who have gone before. He and I were present when Mrs Maria Hayden spoke recently in Chelsea. Really, she is a quite remarkable woman. She spoke normally for a good few minutes - just as I would speak to you - and then she became overwhelmed by voices from those we have lost. I could not possibly convey the feelings she aroused in me in this note, Mrs Doughty, nor will I try to. But it is enough for now to say that Papa was quite taken with the notion that the dead can alert us to our fate.

I write this simply to prepare you, Mrs Doughty, for what may seem at first to be the frailty of a decent man. I do hope you will not dismiss Papa if he grows vague whilst you talk to him - he has begun to fancy that he can hear my long past Mama and that she is tending to him in death as she did in life. I should be sorry if a woman of your compassion could not find it in herself to tolerate a good man's foibles. Tuesday would be best for us, if you are free - do send word as soon as you can.

Yours

Euphemia Hatherwick

Mentalism


Sydney Walk
June 10th 1853

Josiah is still in Blindingham and I must confess I am becoming weary of my own company. I fill my mornings well enough, what with dressing and entertaining Dauncey, but I find the late afternoons to be a time of dull reflection. Without Josiah to fuss over and plan meals for I find myself alarmingly unoccupied. I have resolved never to complain of being overworked by wifehood again!

I am to send funds down to Josiah so that he may entreat the builders to start work immediately. It seems they do not carry a stock of building materials, but must purchase them anew with each commission. I wonder that a man without his own tools may call himself a builder at all, but shall say nothing and send the money straight away - I am nearer to the completion of my own domestic plans and must concentrate on them.

Papa has done as I asked and found a fascinating new entertainment for us to enjoy. It is not something I have any notion of as yet so I am very excited to see what the evening will hold. Papa is sending a carriage for me and we are to go to the Octagon Rooms in Chelsea to witness a lady called Mrs Maria Hayden, who is presenting a talk on her experiences of communing with the dead. I simply cannot comprehend how this is possible, but it seems she is able to hear voices from beyond the grave. I pride myself on my open minded approach to new experiences and shall accompany Papa with great anticipation. Indeed, whether Mrs Hayden is a fraud or an occultist will be of the utmost fascination for me - and we may even find out how Mama is faring up in Heaven!

Alone again, naturally.


Sydney Walk
June 4th 1853


Josiah has been called back to Blindingham. There is some building work he is anxious to oversee - my opinion of the external elevation of the Hall is apparently not required. I have been instructed to stay in London and keep planning the interior decor, but shall take the opportunity of being set temporarily free of my wifely duties to concentrate on my business enterprise. I am sure Mrs Cornbench will provide ample substitution for a few days.

I will take the poetry books to the Press for Papa and will remind him that I am waiting to hear where he will take me for the evening. Dauncey and I have spent the afternoon eating snacks, so we are both a little fuller than we should be this close to suppertime. I have allowed the cook to go off for the evening, since my stomach is not so needy as Josiah's is after a day's work.

Before I retire tonight I will give my initial drawings and ideas book to Villiers to see whether he can suggest any soft furnishings I have not yet considered. I am very excited and often cannot sleep when Josiah is away. Mrs Doughty - who has slept alone since the day she was born by her account - assures me that a camomile preparation should help. I wonder if the cook has already gone out?

High Performance

Sydney Walk
June 2nd 1853


I have had such fun at poor Papa's expense! As I sat with him drinking tea and making a good effort to eat some of the biscuits Constance had presented, I could not help but tease him with vague references to the secret Boo had shared with me. I was much relieved by her reassurance and could barely conceal my amusement - I do not think he quite knew how to respond to me.


"Papa!" I said, happily, "How glad I am to see you looking so well. After what happened yesterday, I was......"

"Let us not speak of yesterday, Euphemia! " He put up his hand and reddenend slightly, "Much as it pains me to say it, I wish to hear news of Josiah, or Cook, or anyone you have had dealings with of late. What of your cat, is he quite grown up now?"

Papa never asks about Josiah, so I knew he was anxious to change the subject. I was in no mind to let him off so lightly, though.

"I will tell you everything that has happened since we last spoke, Papa, of course I will. You must act as though you are interested, though. I know my life is too silly for you to concentrate on but I insist you at least make a show of listening to me."

"Effie, my own dearest child - how can you think me disinterested in your doings? Who else should I care to listen to if not my own flesh and blood?" Papa looked most affronted by my words, but I pressed on.

"Papa you are very convincing - I almost believe you," I smiled at him, "But you have an intelligent mind - far more so than mine will ever be - and I cannot think you anything other than bored by my prattling. However, I must commend you on your artifice. You should be on the stage!"

I laughed so much at my joke that some biscuit crumbs became lodged in my throat and I succumbed to a violent fit of coughing. I have not seen Papa so alarmed in a long time - not since Josiah came to Wentworth that first time if I am to be quite truthful - and I was unsure whether his distress was caused by my inability to breathe or his fear of being found out. Whichever it was , I composed myself and went on to tell him all my news. Bless him, he did try to feign interest - he is indeed a better actor than I would have thought.

I spent a happy hour or two with him and then took my leave. As he showed me to the landing and thence to Constance's open front door I could not resist one last tease.

"We must go out into Town soon, Papa," I said, " I should so like to spend an evening in your company."

"That is a very attractive prospect my dear," he answered, "Do you have a destination or particular activity in mind?"

"I should enjoy a trip to Drury Lane and to see a play at the theatre, Papa," I offered, then paused ever so slightly before carrying on, "But I know how much you dislike pretence and showmanship. I know that a man with your intellectual depth will never enjoy an evening in the presence of a lot of silly actors." I began to laugh again and he rushed forward to prevent another respiratory attack, "No I will wait for you to choose something more edifying for us to do. Goodbye, Papa!"

And I swept out! I must tell Boo - I am sure she will be cross with me for playing my game but I do not care. I am so happy that he is not in need of nursing, as I feared, that she could not quell my spirit for long.

I did promise Papa that I would pass on his good wishes to Mrs Doughty - he seems to hold her in good esteem - and he even gave me a donation to pass on directly to the girls at the Press. He is convinced they do not have enough to occupy them in their leisure hours - not that they have many of those - so he entreated me to provide them with some reading material. I said I thought they had enough reading to do all day what with the publications they produce but he said that was different and he wished them to become acquainted with the works of poets such as Shelley and Keats. I shall indulge his wish, bless him; it is not much to ask.

Ways of Seeing

Sydney Walk
May 31st 1853


May the Lord bless and save Boo - she is such a good friend to me. After my letter yesterday in which I spilt all my fears about Papa's state of mind she found the time in the midst of her maternal whirl to send me words of comfort. I had been pacing the hall downstairs, as she knew I would, with Dauncey skipping about fit to trip me over. A boy arrived not four hours after I had written to her, with a note which has set my heart at rest.

She wrote,

Oh, Eff you ninny! Do not worry so. Your Papa is made of stronger stuff than you imagine. I can quite see why your experience at his house today has put you in mind of some mental weakness to which he may fall prey. But Eff, with all the faith you have in my judgement, please trust that he will not. George is a most unusual man and one whose character and opinion I have always held in the highest regard. He simply would not allow his mind to reel in the manner you so fear.

As for the unprepared state you found him in when you called - what, do you think he must sit at his desk waiting for you to visit, wearing his day clothes and fully coiffured? You yourself have said that you have not seen him or spoken to him for a good two months. Is he to sit in aspic until you do? No, he can and should indulge himself in any way he sees fit to pass the time.

I know something about your Papa that you do not, Effie, and now is the time for me to tell you. Your own thoughts cast about so wildly for explanations that I cannot allow you to suffer another minute in this misapprehension that George has run mad. Not at all. What he does to fill his days, and which he is, in truth, a little shy to disclose to you is this - he has become fond of theatricals, the kind performed by enthusiasts for their own entertainment, and that of others I'll grant. What you stumbled upon this morning was him in full flight, rehearsing a scene for a play!

I know this because he has in the past conferred with Bradstone about such matters as what drives a man to action and how his innermost feelings may be conveyed convincingly to a watching crowd. Eff, your Papa is an actor.

You must not ever tell him I have said this to you. He is biding his time until he is fit to give a performance of which you could be proud and will most likely present you with a Chelsea Players' playbill before long. When he does, you must feign surprise or else his plan will be thwarted. I have only told you this to set your mind at ease, Eff. Your imagination is remarkable, my dear, but bound to cause you heartache on occasion so I am here to help temper its excesses.

Say nothing of this note and under no circumstances ask Josiah to invite your Papa to live with you - that is where the madness lies, if anywhere! We need George in good health, with his faculties intact and still the master of his own resources - that is how we know and love him, is it not?

Bx

Oh, I am so relieved! I shall be able to go to tea tomorrow with a lightened heart. Heavens I may even be able to tease him a little. How blessed I am to have Boo.

Single Occupancy

Sydney Walk
May 30th 1853


Darling Boo

I do not wish to impose on your precious time with the new one, sweet kitten that she is, but my mind is sore with sadness about Papa. I know you love him almost as much as I do and it is for that reason I shall lay out in this letter details of my visit to him this morning. You may be able to make more sense of the exchange than I have yet managed.

I went to his house without first sending word that I was coming. I usually send a boy to announce my arrival, as you know, but I have been terribly ill recently and was not thinking with my customary foresight. As I rang the street door bell I felt a little nervous about what reception awaited me - since the fire I have hardly spoken twenty words with him. I have been much occupied with finding Cook and making plans for the rebuilding of the Hall and had quite forgot my duty to him as a daughter. I would have forgiven him if he had no wish to welcome me in unnanounced.

But as the maid began to show me up to his study, I heard him calling out. I could not decipher the words but he was most definitely in some degree of distress. I was alarmed, naturally, and even more so when the maid stopped on the stair ahead of me, turned abruptly and said,

"I'm ever so sorry Madam, I shouldn't have shown you up without knocking on his door. I'm under strict instructions never to open a door without him knowing. Please don't tell him what a silly mistake I have made!" As she said this she made as if to bustle me back down to the hall, all the while with Papa shouting from the other side of his study door!

"Do not push me downstairs, you silly child!" I said, crossly. In truth it is becoming impossible to find servants with the sense of a newborn babe of late. Quite where Papa found this one, I dare not guess. "My father obviously needs assistance and if you won't go to him, I shall!"

She stood aside to let me carry on up the stairs. Her face was a picture of terror and she tried to protest again but I paid her no heed. I ran to Papa's door and turned the handle but he must have locked himself in, the goose. He need protect himself from no-one in his own home in broad daylight, even in this ungodly city. His cries had died down by now, so I called out to him,

"Papa! It is me, Effie - can you let me in? Are you able to get to the door, or have you fallen? What has happened to make you cry out so?"

There was no answer from him, save for some sounds I could not quite understand - I heard a chair being moved, I think, and he must have been lying on his daybed because I heard the springs creak. I was frantic with worry that he was not able to speak or move.

"Papa! Please - are you alright? Shall I send for someone to help you up?"

The door flew open and there was Papa, with his necktie undone and his hair not brushed. This was not usual for him, he is always dressed for the day by dawn and now it was nearly 12 o'clock.

"Effie!" he shouted "I hear no word from you for nearly two months and now you are hammering my study door down - what on earth do you want?" He was quite crazy, Boo, I have never seen him so flushed and breathless.

"I am sorry, Papa - it is precisely because of my inexcusable absence that I am here now in such a rush to see you. I know I have not been a good daughter to you of late. You see, there was the most dreadful fire at the Hall and no-one knew where Cook was, so Josiah and I..."

"Please, Effie, not now. I am engaged in important business and am in no mood to be disturbed. Why did you not send a note to say you were coming?"

"I forgot, Papa - I have had the most dreadful.."

"No matter! I cannot hear your tales now. I will have tea with you tomorrow, if you still wish to tell me your news. For the moment, though, you must let Constance see you out." And then he just shut the door!

So although I have learned that his maid is called Constance - which is a name ill-befitting one who showed such indecision in her dealings with me - I know nothing about his welfare and am not likely to until tomorrow.

Boo, what does this behaviour signify? Why was he shouting, and why so dishevelled in the middle of the day? Why, having seen me come to visit, did he shoo me away like a dog?

I dare not commit my fears to paper, but am concerned that his living alone since Mama passed has driven him witless. And my neglect of him has left his mind free to unravel. I am such a dreadful woman - I have allowed my own problems to obscure the obvious need my father has for his daughter's attention.

I shall wait for your answer, Boo - you know Papa, please tell me what you think of the events of today. I must be forewarned before seeing him tomorrow. And I must think about asking Josiah if Papa can come to live with us. Must I not?

Ex

A musing


Sydney Walk
May 25th 1853


At last, I have set eyes on Boo's new baby. She looks exactly like a walnut to me, but Boo assures me she is beautiful and so she must be. As soon as I saw her I was brought to tears, wondering if I shall ever have such a bundle of my own. As I gazed down at her on Boo's lap I thought of Josiah and yearned for a tiny, living image of him to dandle and fuddle with.

I wonder if my fever has not entirely left me.

Villiers seems to be concerned for my well-being. Every time I turn around I find him watching me as one might regard a tottering child near a pond. I have not spoken to him about the Girl or the child, though I am sure he expects me to at any moment. I am saddened by my discovery of his cruelty, but he is far too good a butler for me to lose him over a servant girl. I had not thought him capable of such brutish sentiment, not when he is so meticulous in domestic matters. I wish my eyes had not been opened to his maleness.

Still, I must not let such petty disappointments spoil my plans. I want to take more of a role in the Press now that Boo has a use for both her hands, so I shall call upon Mrs Doughty before the week is over. And I must dine with Papa, for I have been woefully inattentive of him since the fire. If I am not to have a child, or a butler with more than half a heart, I can still be a dutiful wife and daughter. Those qualities are as yet still within my power.

Plea

Sydney Walk
May 20th 1853

Darling Boo

I have been most dreadfully ill. After your card arrived with the joyous news of your safe delivery I had intended to visit you and your baby at the earliest possible moment, but that very afternoon I was struck with a terrible fever and have only just left my bed to come and write to you. Please forgive me, I know you will!

How is your beautiful baby girl, Angelina? Is she just like you, I am sure she is and cannot wait a moment longer to see her. I will ensure that I am fully recovered, though, before I come to gaze at her.

Josiah has been very attentive during my illness. He is a sweet lamb and I am very lucky. He came to my room on the first morning and told me he would oversee the running of the house until I was able to resume my position, the darling. I did not see Villiers or the maid once throughout my recovery, because Josiah undertook to give them all their instructions. I told Josiah that I did not wish him to contract the same fever so he did as I requested and left me alone. I have had several days of peace in which to get myself well again - there are many wives who would not have been given such luxury, I know.

I have knitted some mittens for your baby, Boo, just as I did for her brother, who must seem like a proper man to you now. Please tell me when I can come to visit - I cannot bear to think of her snuggling and cooing without her Aunt Effie to kiss her. I read your card but was unsure whether the arrangements included your closest friend,

E x

Overlooked

Sydney Walk
May 13th 1853

Boo sent us the birth announcement card this morning. It read,

Mr and Mrs Bradstone Pitt of Chelsea, London are proud to announce the safe and welcome arrival of their newest baby daughter. She is to be called Angelina Vivienne and will become the perfect younger sister to her brother Bradstone.

Together with some tedious information about when well-wishers can go to visit them, the details of which I cannot recall just at this moment.

I am most hurt and can only believe that Boo was in some form of post-puerperal stupor which rendered her incapable of choosing the names herself. Mr Pitt must have undertaken the task.

Why else would the baby be named Angelina - not Euphemia?

Epiphany


Sydney Walk
May 11th 1853

May the Lord preserve me from such troublesome times!

Yesterday, I witnessed a scene of such distress and violence that I hardly think those involved were human. I saw Villiers leave from the servants' outside door and go striding down the street as though he were being chased by bears - I followed, but could hardly keep up with his route, since I had left the house in a degree of haste and had not had time to have my boots laced. I was wearing my house shoes, which could never be described as robust even by the man who made them.

I hobbled along in Villiers' wake, not caring to notice where we were going, until we arrived at a corner I recognised. My heart turned as I saw that we were in the vicinity of Brunswick Square, our winter residence last year, and at the very spot where I had seen the Girl and her child from my window!

I rested a while, easing my poor feet, while Villiers marched out of sight. I wanted nothing more than to go home and spend a quiet morning with Dauncey but I felt compelled to see what it was that Josiah had told him to do - what task had so angered him - so after a few minutes I continued my steps.

As I reached the turn I had seen him take, I beheld a sight I could never have conjured up in the most frenzied ravings of the hottest fever. Villiers was standing at the top of a flight of steps, with his arms akimbo across the front door of a drab-looking but respectable house. At the foot of those steps was a heap of rags and baggage - and the prone figure of the Girl.

I walked a little further towards this scene, but was too afraid to make my presence known. I had not the faintest notion of what was happening, save for the obvious. Villiers was preventing the Girl from entering the house. But why?

"Mr Villiers, I am begging you - please do not do this to us. What am I to do - where will we go?" She was crying, and scraping the ground to collect her belongings together. "All I asked for was what is due to Jojo and me. Please, Mr Villiers, you know my situation - surely you can take pity on me and the boy?" I could now make out that part of what I had thought was just rags was actually a small child. The child was silent, staring intently at the Girl but otherwise showing nothing of what he felt.

Villiers began to lock the door and descend the steps. He had not spoken at all whilst I had been watching but now, quietly, he addressed the Girl.

"I have no choice, none at all," he said "You must make your way to the gentleman you are to marry and trust that he will give you shelter. I shall call for a carriage to take you to wherever he is - that is more than I need to do, but I am sorry for you." He put the house keys into his pocket and glanced around for someone he could send to find transport. That is when he saw me.

As our eyes met I could hide my presence no longer so I approached - as I did so, the Girl followed Villiers' gaze and as she saw me she screamed,

"You! You have come here to watch me in my destitution! Mrs Hatherwick, I have served you well, I do not deserve for you to gloat over my misfortune." She looked at Villiers as if to accuse him of double duplicity - evicting her from her home and inviting me to be the witness of her downfall.

I was about to dispute the notion that she had been a good servant - she had in truth been sullen and tearful throughout her time in service with us. But seeing her evident distress and shame, I felt it would be wrong to take her to task for her delusion. I said nothing, but I walked forward and gestured that I would help her stand if she would give me her hand. It is always better to be magnanimous towards subordinates, I have found - it costs little and cuts their whining short.

"Madam," Villiers addressed me with a strength not usually to be found in him, "I do not know why you are here. I can hardly think this scene is one you will enjoy - it is best you return to Sydney Walk forthwith."

"Thank you for your concern, Villiers, but I am perfectly capable of deciding my own actions. I wish to know why you are preventing them from enetering their home." The Girl began to cry again at this, and started raving at us both.

"It is not my home any more, you have seen to that! I have no home! Go away both of you, we do not need you or your charity - I only want what I am owed!"

"But what of the gentleman who lived here with you?," I asked her, "The friend of my husband for whom you were working - is he dead?" Perhaps my instinct had been right after all.

The moment I asked that question, the Girl shouted a great scornful sneer, while Villiers ran to her with his hands outstretched, as if to stifle her mouth.

"Ha! Dead? He is as good as dead, Ma'am," she scoffed, "At least he is dead to me and this poor boy!" She picked up the child, who clung to her but still made no sound.

"Madam, please turn and go back at once. There is really no cause for you to remain here," said Villiers. He turned back to the girl and passed some money into her pockets. "Take what I am giving you here and go to your intended - go now." He seemed not a little affected by the scene and was clearly fighting to control himself - he did not squeak, or flap, or perform any of his usual dances when agitated. It occurred to me that I had never seen him so controlled.

The Girl counted the money Villiers had given her, then collected her belongings and set off away from us, carrying that silent boy on her hip.

Villiers' face was a picture of torment as he moved towards me with a sweeping gesture, as if to wipe the previous fifteen minutes from memory. I walked ahead of him, not wishing for his company.

I had for some years come to hold Villiers in high regard but this morning had begun to shed light on some of his behaviour that had been of concern to me. As I walked back to our rooms, I began to make sense of it.

The conclusion I arrived at was shocking to me.

He is often out of the house at night - all night - something which none of the other servants were wont to do. After the Girl first left our employ, he would smirk and giggle whenever she was mentioned as if he knew something about her that I did not. His lack of concern for LB when he was charged with protecting him.

Villiers had got the Girl with child back at Blindingham. He had caused her to be dismissed and set her up in an apartment in London - where he had been living with her as man and wife! And now she has betrayed him with another man - a man she is free to marry - so Villiers has cast her out in a fit of jealousy.

His argument with Josiah can only have been because Josiah wished Villiers to take the Girl the money she had asked from him and Villiers thought she was not deserving of it.

How could I not have seen this before? How could all this have gone on under my roof and left me in all ignorance?

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