for writers and readers….
Mrs Finnegan, housekeeper of The Regency Town House, knows that there is a time to laugh and a time to cry and a TIME TO PACK FOR YOUR HOLIDAYS so only one letter answered today. (The bulging mail bag will have to wait another week).
An artist was commissioned to make a pleasing portrait of myself to give my husband for Christmas. Alphonso came highly recommended and I was told he had painted many of the lords and ladies in his home country.
But it’s nothing like me, not a bit. Believe me, I did not expect to be flattered, but I did hope to be recognised. (AndI still have most of my own teeth.)
I paid the man in advance and now he’s disappeared.
What shall I do? I can’t give it to my husband. He will die laughing (a sorry thought), but I have no time or, indeed, money to get him an alternative gift and I did so want him to have something special this year.
Mrs Down-in-the-Mouth from Dowton
MADAM, YOU HAVE BEEN TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF by an artist in trickery who knew full well that he couldn’t paint a portrait or – on this evidence – a book or a chair. And you will not see A PENNY of your money again.
However, if you are RIGHT in thinking that your husband will not rain insults on your head for WASTING MONEY; that he will not CALL YOU FOOLISH, or worse, for being the victim of a FAKING FRAUDSER; if he would indeed have treasured a painting of yourself that was HALF WAY competent, been glad to knock a nail in the wall so it could HANG where others could see it; if all these things are TRUE of your husband and all you FEAR is that he will find too much merriment in the situation Madam I HAVE NO SYMPATHY for you whatsoever.
For you DO NOT need it. You have already won the LOTTERY OF LIFE and have by your side A PRINCE among men.
Tell him the full story. Leave no out detail. Let your tears of laughter join together to water the cup of wine you will no doubt share over the Christmas dinner. I intend to drink a toast to you BOTH.
Yours with respect and the very warmest of warm seasonal greetings,
The day doesn’t wake up until half way through the morning and the sun doesn’t appear at all. Yet I step out feeling as light as a dandelion seed and as bright as a DANCING GLASS of a Pinot Gris from Piedmont. I smile at the grey clouds above my head. I smile at the puddles at my feet and the FROST-PAINTED weeds peeking between the paving slabs. I will poke them out by and by, but today is not THE DAY for their uprooting for I am busy. I am preparing for my journey.
My seat on the Christmas Eve Brighton to London coach is booked (on the inside – after careful reflection I decide to hang the expense and keep warm and dry). I will alight very near the CHARMING VILLAGE of Mitcham where my sister in law will meet me.
MIT- CHAM. Doesn’t it sound nice? A little like a DRUM beat? Da-dam! Or a heart BEAT quickening.
I know very little about the place except it is FAMOUS for its lavender fields and that I SHALL SLEEP well as I am staying in a MATTRESS SHOP.
But what shall I take for a two night stay? How cold will it be? How wet? What if it should snow? How many outer garments? How many chemise?
And what presents?
I have a bottle of port, it being surplus to the cellar’s requirements; a jar of cherries that have WALLOWED in Brandy since the summer, and a handmade purse (not made by this hand, but no matter). Is it enough?
No sooner have I thought that PARTICULAR thought than there is a knock at the door and Mr Peregrine Hilderbrace’s housekeeper hands me a smoked SUSSEX SADDLEBACK ham. She drops me a quick curtsy, says it comes with her master’s compliments and the hope that it will suffice for a light supper on my journey. The flick of her eyes SKYWARDS informs me that this is her employer’s joke as the joint is hefty and would feed a family of six FOR THREE GOOD DAYS.
Regular readers may remember that Mister Peregrine is the riding master (retired) at Number 61 Brunswick and a man of GREAT GENEROSITY and infinite (so very infinite) jest.
With such bounties to bestow on my hostess, I AM CONTENT and then a letter from Mrs Hankey arrives. Chilly fingers clutch at my heart and I forget how to breath.
At best, it will be a list of new instructions.
At worst, my holiday has been cancelled on a whim with a flick of a quill. But no, wait, it is something quite different…
I must address the problem of Martha for she has become tiresome. Since we have been here she has received three letters for which she will not account. I suspect that they are from a soi-disant dancing master because in an unguarded moment, she simpered about a Monsieur Grillon who is apparently teaching her the quadrille and blushed in a very unfetching way. I cannot remember giving her authority to take yet more dancing lessons. Would you please enquire about this Monsieur Grillon.
I am now facing a MORAL dilemma.
My bread and butter depends on Mrs Hankey. My cheese and claret, my beef and GRAVY…but my loyalty is to Miss Martha, an admirable young woman who has shown me nothing but respect and yes – a strange word to use, but NO OTHER will serve – friendship.
And YET in this matter alone I would side with her mother, for I am also worried.
What to do?
What, dear reader, WOULD YOU DO?
I shall ponder upon this while I am away. In the meantime I can placate Mrs H with as HONEST A REPLY as she deserves.
I have never heard of a Monsieur Grillion and Miss Martha did not attend any dancing classes during her recent residence in Brunswick Square. However, Madam, I shall make enquiries and report back.
Mrs Hankey’s HEARING is not as sharp as it was in her youth. THAT, coupled with a DEEP-SEEDED lack of interest in ANYTHING anyone else says, means she often mis-hears. I know that Monsieur Grillion is none other than Étienne D’Albert, the dancing master at Number 60 Brunswick Square and I may announce that knowledge at some point. Miss Martha never officially took lessons (although we did attend art classes with his truly awful “mother”). However, I fear he may well have been teaching a few NEW STEPS when I was out of the room…
I fear that Monsieur D’Albert has designs on Miss Martha. They do indeed correspond IN SECRET and he is not a suitable match for a young lady with a considerable dowry. More than that, I think he may be a bad match for I am not sure he is trustworthy…and his mother is a FRIGHT! (If she is his mother. I HAVE DOUBTS about the pair of them.)
But my thoughts must now fix on MITCHAM and Christmas. I may make a diary of my trip (rest assured that it will be MUCH MORE interesting than the one Mrs Hankey left behind.)
NOTE the word may. I do not promise unless I am ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN of delivery. So, no READER should RE-ARRANGE THEIR PLANS for Christmas day in order to have sufficient time and candles to read a missive from myself WHICH may not arrive.
Let us adapt to the holiday season and be FREE AND EASY about it. But LIVE IN HOPE, dear readers, live in HOPE