BRIDGET WHELAN writer

for writers and readers….

Where is the Man I Married? Brighton’s Regency Housekeeper listens to a young wife’s pleas

Mrs Finnegan – purveyor of wisdom and SAGE of the serving classes – is housekeeper at The Regency Town House in Brunswick Square, Brighton.

People warned me against marrying my husband. They said he was mean and bad tempered, but I saw a different side during our courting days. He was so attentive Mrs Finnegan, so thoughtful! And quite the romantic. I could not help but fall in love.
We’ve been married two years and there are moments when I wish I had listened to my friends. That’s a dreadful thing to say, I know, but every day I must account for everything I’ve done and every farthing spent. I would do it gladly if only he would smile and converse like we used.
Where is the husband I thought I was marrying?

Wistful Weary Wife of West Wittering

Mrs Finnegan replies…

Many a man has been CHANGED from a frog to a prince by the love of a good woman. Sadly they often change back again .

I often think that the wrong person seeks my advice and your letter is a fine example. What can I say to you except that you must make the best of it? What miserable advice that is! It gives me no pleasure to trundle it out (not for the first time).
In fact, I do not want to write to you at all
No! I want to write to your husband and all the husbands out there who make an effort to win a girl’s heart and when they have it secure treat it like a handkerchief. Essential oh yes; pretty even, but not something to treasure or trouble about.
I want to write in bold capital letters that they should trouble about their wife’s feelings. They should think of ways of making her happy.
And here’s the interesting thing that will appeal to all husbands who like a well-balanced ledger…

Smiles cost nothing.
Being kind costs nothing.
And it will give you more comfort than a barrelful of coal on a bitter winter night.

Deborah – an erstwhile under parlour maid and something of a protégé – has written again.
See last week’s column (Do please keep up!)

Thank you Mrs Finnegan for your CONDESCENDING inclusion of my humble letter in your CHRONICLE, and in especial your mention of the ATTENTION paid to me by  the Poet Laureate on my sibilance. I have only you to thank for pointing out to me that some words have more syblils than others…. 

She goes on…

I long to hear what scandalage you may be able to discover about your new governess. She sounds a fruitful sauce of entertainment in your establishment. You are very good to her but I know, were our rolls reversed, you would caution me on the CONTAGION of IMPRIMPRIETY…. 

and on….

….On the question of contagion, all here in London are rejoicing that the recent plague is in abstinence. Everyone has thrown caution to the wind and is PROMENAMBULATING in our glorious new PARKS, greeting and I may say flirting as though the possibility of inflection were no more…

And on…

….They have also thrown away their masks. Which brings me to a delectacious question: how am I to impersonate my indispenced mistress at a forthcoming literacy salon? 

As one of your most successful pupils as well as your obedient humble, I feel I may rely on your swift and saxifragious advice

Mrs Finnegan replies…

Is that the time already?

I have no idea.
This correspondence is now closed.

YOURS WITH ALL DUE RESPECT
MRS FINNEGAN

PS

There is now three in this household.

The mistress Mrs Hankey who never ever walks. She struts, commanding attention and obedience. She even knows how to strut in a chair. I intend to observe her closely. It is a talent that would be useful to acquire.

The “governess” Susan. More of her later.

Myself serving the above two, running up and down stairs with hot water and meals. When I say running it is more of a graceful amble, but maids use the word hobble when they think I can’t hear. The point being I miss those lax-tongued maids because they should be here doing the running while I manage, oversee and preside.

As soon I introduced Miss Susan to the mistress the pair withdrew into the drawing room at which point the coal cart arrived and I could not hear one word that passed between them.

All I do know is that:
Miss Susan left the meeting with eyes cast down and I have not seen her smile since.
Miss Susan is now keeping to her room on the second floor.
Miss Susan has taken to heavy sighs
I have yet to be chastised for engaging her (at £70 per year!) to teach children we do not have.

And – big news this! Astounding news – Mrs Hankey asked me to take tea with her yesterday and it was not a prelude to instant dismissal as I feared, although what it was for I am not entirely certain.

Her diary found its way into my my hands while I was tidying HER bedroom this morning. And it fell open – as diaries often do – at a most interesting page.

Oh, what a relief! How immensely reassuring to be back with my familiar things. Mrs Finnegan is a treasure — I confess I am in need of her as support, although of course I will never let her know this. She certainly gave me the impression that she was very pleased and somewhat relieved to see me, and fussed around, made me sit down and gave me tea and cake.  

What do you think? Pokerwork or embroidery?
Mrs Finnegan is a treasure
No, I have it! Inscribed on a parchment scroll in an ormolu frame.
She is wrong, of course. Mrs Finnegan never fusses. I do not know how to

I was putting the diary back when another page fell open. Oh dear, what a surprise, never mind.

Yesterday I asked her to join me over tea since I think we must become friends. (However, I need to make sure she understands that she is still employed by me and is therefore a servant – but how the times have changed: I cannot imagine writing this even five years ago.)  

Friends?

I can hardly believe it.
Does it do any good for a housekeeper to be friends with the lady of the House? I think perhaps I would rather stick with being a treasure.

There’s more about daughter Martha.

I have resolved to inquire discreetly as to her whereabouts. Firstly, I will write to her friends in a casual fashion and I may go down to her favourite dressmaker in Brighton and ask whether Martha has anything on order. If I make no advance in either direction, I may have to resort to putting something in a newspaper, but how to be enquiring and yet discreet is something of a conundrum.

And then finally something about Miss Susan.

Now, I am annoyed. 
What has Mrs Finnegan done? She has allowed this West Indies girl to live here, whilst Martha has disappeared. 
I shall be at GREAT pains to re-establish myself as the mistress of this house, but first I must investigate this girl.  

Well, that friendship lasted for less than two paragraphs. Perhaps I’ll cancel the scroll and the ormolu frame.

I wonder.

Should I also be looking for a new position?

Mrs Finnegan is the creation of Bridget Whelan  and Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook 

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2021 by in Uncategorized.
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