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Mrs Finnegan’s advice is SOUGHT on all manner of subjects, being both a celebrated authority on nearly everything AND housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE,
My wonderful fiancé Gerard, the second in command on a merchant ship, is missing presumed drowned.
I had a letter from the company expressing their condolences. Such awful news you would think, but now I have received information from a cousin saying that he saw Gerard in a Cairo bar drinking rum with several other fellows.
My cousin is sure he’s not mistaken. Gerard has a slight lisp that he heard distinctly.
What is the truth and what shall I do?
Puzzled and Pain-stricken of Portsmouth
My heart JUMPED when I read the opening line of your letter. I was going to say into my mouth but I dislike FIGURES of speech that leave an unpleasant visual image behind.
My first thought was WAR! our shipping attacked and the dear Lord Nelson dead and gone. (I do read newspapers but not EVERY WEEK so I am sometimes a trifle behind the times. In any case, I find The Brighton Gazette doesn’t always publish ALL that is newsworthy, an example being THESE Chronicles – offered, but declined.)
My second thought was PIRATES!
Then I MUSED on a storm at sea being POOR Gerard’s undoing.
But when I read the rest of YOUR LETTER …oh, dear, oh dear me… I have no way of illustrating Gerard lisping in a Cairo bar….
What is TRUTH, you ask – the time-old question that man has battled with since the DAWN of creation. What indeed? But in this instance, I think we have to narrow our gaze and ask how truthful A MAN is your cousin? I presume there is no way he could PROFIT from pretending your fiancé is alive and well.
THEREFORE you must also ask would your cousin lie OUT OF SPITE.
Have you done him wrong?
Has your family?
Is there an inheritance knocking about that he has MISSED out on?
Does he have a bizarre and TROUBLING sense of humour?
How’s his eyesight and his hearing? Did he know Gerard well?
If you have reason to suppose that he is an UPRIGHT man unlikely to be mistaken, you must accept that your beloved is having a high old time in exotic places having TRICKED you and His EMPLOYERS into believing he had become fish food.
What to do?
Go to Cairo and track him down? He could be sailing THE CHINA SEAS by now and I’m not convinced that anywhere south of Paris is a fit place for a lady traveller.
The truth my dear girl is Gerard is DEAD to you. He may still be living and breathing and swigging rum, but the MAN you fell in love with is NO MORE.
Dry your eyes. You are a fine young woman with a perfectly good future in front of you. Grab it, but AVOID sailors and docks. I expect to hear the announcement of a wedding within a year.
Do you have odd dreams, Mrs Finnegan? I’ve been having some very strange ones lately. Usually at night I lay my head down and next I know it’s morning, but now these mysterious adventures fill my sleep and I wake up very disorientated.
I have attempted to draw one of the recurring aspects of my dreams.
Please help because I think I may be going a little bit mad!
Mrs Wondering of Woodham Ferrers
Mad? NOT A bit of it!
I, myself, have the most interesting night time adventures. But I do insist on colour. If they come in black and white I won’t have any truck with them.
Yours with the WARMEST of sincere good WISHES
We went undercover of twilight, Miss Martha and I….
Tip toing across Brunswick Square to Master Peregrine’s abode. He was waiting for us at his window and hurried down the stairs to open the front door himself. One more strange occurrence on a strange night. He promised I was to be told something of IMMENSE IMPORTANCE in secret.
I haven’t seen dear Master Peregrine CLOSE UP since last autumn. He has confined himself to the house because of the contagion and in all that time we have BEEN restricted to waves and the exchange of notes. Throughout he has been an admirable friend and gentleman and REALLY is very little changed, although I see that he’s grown an EXTRA chin and his girth, which once resembled a racing yacht, is now perhaps more of a TEA clipper.
If you would like to know more about the history of this friendship and the goings-on in Brunswick Square click HERE
With a gesture, he urged us to FOLLOW HIM upstairs in silence. Once we entered the drawing room, he closed the door firmly. Passers-by in the street below must SURELY have heard the beating of my heart. I begged it to be STILL, but on it thumped as loud as if it was the pump house at Bath.
Master Peregrine stepped forward and TOOK my hands in his. “Madam, you have been done a grievous wrong.” There may have been a tear in his eye. I cannot be CERTAIN.
With A FLOURISH he stood aside to reveal quill and ink on the table behind him. Laying there too was a torn half-sheet of paper. Even by candle light I could see the beginning of yet ANOTHER poison pen letter written in the ALL TOO FAMILAR scrawl of a dark-heartened blackmailer.
Miss Martha scanned it quickly, “It’s all about you, Finnegan!”
Of course, it’s all about me. I’ve suffered by this hand before, I just hadn’t mentioned it to her. .
A whimper came from the corner and out from the shadows stepped a sad, bent figure with a sadder face.
Master Peregrine’s housekeeper.
A woman I always considered a kindly soul, if inept in the field of housekeeping. The last time I saw her she looked MORE like this.
Master Peregrine EXPLAINED. When he discovered what she was doing, she agreed to STOP FORTHWITH. She came forward at this point, a crumbling wreck of a woman, eaten up BY GUILT and mumbled a few moist words. The fury and pain that soared through my body TRICKLED away. I could no more be angry than a sea gull could leave an oblong of fried potato alone. It is done. It is over.
“But why?” Miss Martha asked again when the housekeeper left.
“Jealousy I think,” Master Peregrine murmured sadly. “I subscribe to Mrs Finnegan’s weekly newsletter, of course. Anyone with an ounce of intellect would do the same. She found my copies and that’s where she also found her ammunition.”
“I see,” says Miss Martha. “And she was jealous of Mrs F running the Hankey household single handed, was she? More fool her. Mrs F has a mountain or work to deal with and a mountain of complaints from my mother.”
“No,” Master Peregrine looked away. “That’s not why she is jealous.”
We left Master Peregrine’s house as quickly as we came. No one must know where we have been. Master P asked my permission to keep his housekeeper on until the end of the year when she was due to retire to her sister’s boarding house in Margate. I agreed readily.
Such a week I have had! What with the worry beforehand and the relief (and not a little mind churning) afterwards I quite forgot to glance at Mrs Hankey’s diary until this morning. I found it beside the wash stand, just asking to be read.
This is all very strange. I was at a concert at St Andrew’s in aid of new vestments with golden thread for our dear Reverend Everard – he is an important man and without him we would have no church in which to worship. Of course I am all in favour of giving to the poor, but unless we maintain our standards in Brunswick Town, the poor will have no one to respect and no one to look up to.
Golden vestments to benefit the poor! Hah! I nearly didn’t bother to read on…
I had intended that Martha should come, but at the very last minute she felt unwell. However, when I returned, THERE SEEMED TO BE NO ONE HERE EXCEPT SUSAN. Mrs Finnegan came bustling in a few minutes later and seemed extremely flustered to see me. She reported that, of course, Martha had been here the whole time and must have been asleep when I knocked on her door. Suffice it to say that I had taken a very fleeting glance into her bedroom so I cannot be sure, but it felt empty. Something is not right here and I WILL get to the fundament of the matter.
Oh bother! I thought we got away with it. We would have too had not Miss Martha gone back to ask something of Master Peregrine. What I do not know, so there’s no use in asking.
Now that I am invited to dinner, I am determined to find the best dressmaker in town and for her to make me a truly glorious dress. Maybe in pink silk adorned with gold thread. I have always wanted to wear pink silk and gold, they are such a glorious combination. She could also furnish me with a golden shawl which will disguise my arms which I have to admit are not the most youthful. I will also need to have a handsome wig or have my hair adorned in such a fashion as to distract any lingering glances from the grey wisps.
Pink and gold, I don’t think so. Now, THIS dress would hide a lot. What a shame Mrs H isn’t in mourning.
This is quite nice. Has a bit of wool in it so it would keep Mrs H warm if she was sitting in a draughty dining room. And it’s gold coloured, isn’t it? Not quite so gad-about-and-glitzy as a PINK AND GOLD gown.
This is probably more what she had in mind, only with ADDED gold thread. Mrs Hankey should be WARNED that there aren’t many hiding places in this kind of dress, though all the fussy bits at the bottom should draw ATTENTION away from her thick ankles.
I feel quite light and free now that I know the blackmailer has been uncovered. And virtuous too as I accepted the apology so graciously. I feel exactly the SAME WAY when I’ve been to Church three times on a Sunday.
I want to talk dresses and shawls. And turbans! Mrs H should really consider a turban to hide the wispy grey bits. They’re quite in vogue and look, this one is PINK AND GOLD.
I admit that I am quite lonely. I would so like a true friend to advise me on my apparel. In the past, on grand occasions, I could not help but notice that sometimes my dress has been remarked on for being a little excessive. Who can I confide in?
Faithful PIOUS Mrs Finnegan who has not A STAIN upon her character. I can do that!
WHOLESOME warm-hearted Mrs Finnegan. I can TALK DRESSES.
It is important for me to make a good impression with the Frobishers. I wonder if I can ask Lady Frobisher herself. After all, I do know Lizzie quite well and I have already asked if I may visit before the dinner because I have something very important to discuss. This is, of course, about my finding a cook but there is no harm in trying to ascertain what kind of apparel she will expect. Oh, I am so excited and on reflection think this is an excellent progression.
Ah well, it’s probably for the best. Good-taste and no-taste were bound to collide. I turn the page of the diary and see this last sentence…
I must NOT FORGET Martha and Mrs Finnegan are up to something.
Oh, fiddlesticks and blunderbusses! There’s always a cockroach drowning in the soup. (I speak POETICALLY not literally.)
But nothing is going to sour my mood. I do believe I was singing when I bumped into Susan in the hallway. She was about to go out on her regular afternoon off and I was sorry I delayed her as I know these hours are precious to her. She has said so often ENOUGH. (And this REMARKABLE amount of free time has been decreed by Mrs Hankey. She is a MOST unreliable mistress. On occasion she can be enormously generous – I believe she does it to put us on EDGE.)
I HELPED Susan pick up her bag and waved her on her way. Only then did I notice what what was lying on the hallway floor: a coral teething ring.
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MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook and a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers. This week a big thank you to Jill Vigus and Catherine Page