for writers and readers….
Mrs Finnegan, housekeeper at The Regency Town House, is in a reflective mood. Change is in the air (along with almonds and boiled partridge). Read on, for she has a secret to share….
Not many have heard of my name as yet, but I am an artist who has sold a number of pictures in my time and have every expectation of selling more.
Unfortunately, I have to boost my present meagre income by teaching the ungrateful, unruly and downright rude young children of the local squire. However, something very strange has started happening.
Every day I start a new painting, but overnight it fades while I am asleep and I have to begin anew. This is not only puzzling, but means I never get to finish the damn thing.
In order to pay my rent have to spend more time teaching the frightful brats at the manor house.
Am I going mad or could I be the victim of sabotage?
August Grandiose-Pratt, Croydon
I’ve been known to dabble with a paintbrush myself and I find your ENQUIRY intriguing.
As you APPEAR reasonably sane, there seems to be three POSSIBLE explanations and I list them IN ORDER of probability.
Why in this order? Something in the tone of your letter (and the fact that you didn’t blame your wife) suggests you are a bachelor so SLOPPY housekeeping seems the MOST likely cause.
Or perhaps you have been forced to REDUCE your expenditure. As you hope to augment your income with YOUR art this seems a FOOLISH economy.
That leaves us with wanton (BUT restrained) destruction. Who COUD be responsible, my dear August, WHO?
The Squire’s children are clearly blameless as I DOUBT they would do ANYTHING that would increase your time with them.
A fellow ARTIST jealous of your talent?
No, I don’t think so.
Another THOUGHT has occurred to me.
You may LAUGH, but when the impossible IS ELIMINATED, then whatever remains, HOWEVER improbable, must be true…
Upset any witches, recently?
Every year at this time you can hear the same comment in the streets: ‘O The nights are drawing in’, as if it was a surprise, but I must admit it’s hard to accept the month is nearly over. This September has been more of a Sleeptember for me.
I’m weary with LISTENING to all the activity in the kitchen. I can imagine the BAKING I am not allowed to see and the boiling and the braising, not to mention the broiling.
I am sure a RAGOUT was simmering this morning – I could smell it through closed doors – but what is being made I have no idea. Mrs Pole, our temporary cook, smiles nice-as-nine-pence smiles, but offers no information and makes it VERY PLAIN that the kitchen is now her province.
This AFTERNOON I dozed off in my CHAIR and woke up CONVINCED that I had Rip-Van-Winkled my way to Christmas EVE! There was something in the air that was DECIDELY December-ish and the feeling stayed with me EVEN after I was properly awake.
A glance at Mrs Hankey’s diary explains all.
Mrs Pole has said she can do all I require but, since I do not wish her to make any mistakes whatsoever, she will have to present me with evidence that she can make everything to my satisfaction well before the event. We simply must have Soupe à-la-Reine to start the evening.
Queen’s soup! I’ve heard of it, but never tasted a mouthful. It’s a tricky thing to make.
Almond stock is involved and white meat from poultry. Lemon too, I think. That must be why I was dreaming of Christmas.
Oh, and the soup MUST have mushrooms! I wondered why a sack arrived this morning, freshly gathered from the fields of Portslade.
All that and you still need a good meat stock as the base before you start. No wonder there’s so much to do.
I could offer to help…my ability to stir has often been remarked upon…but I doubt it will be accepted. Turning the page of Mrs Hankey’s diary, I see the next course at the grand dinner is to be a Caveach of haddock, sole, trout and buttered crabs.
Caveach is posh pickling and holds no great mystique, but a good deal of patience. And possibly nutmeg.
I wonder if Mrs Pole is AWARE that there is talk of FAKE nutmeg circulating in Brighton at the moment. The tricksters carve bits of wood into a nutmeg shape and mix it with the genuine article. I’ve heard that a bushel of nutmeg can be half wood.
Should I go and warn Mrs Pole?
I know you’re thinking that sounds like an excuse to get into the kitchen and you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
An eye needs to be kept on Mrs Pole and I’m the one to do it.
The rest of the menu doesn’t appear to have been decided yet, but one important DECISION has been made.
I am aware that this is a very female household and that I have no butler. I think I will have to appoint one for the months of the season. I shall need to interview for the position and I shall need to ask Mrs Finnegan to assist.
A butler HERE! A butler going around the house butlering.
I go at once to my FAITHFUL GUIDE and dear companion The Complete Servant , a nearly new copy having been left by the previous housekeeper.
It is a PRINCE among books but it sets my mind a-reeling.
The butler is in charge of the wine and beer, with the wine cellar being under his control.
He assists in the setting of tables, supervising the under-butler and footmen in laying out dishes and utensils, …and it is his job to make sure there are sufficient candles in each room where needed.
Candles! He’ll be selling off all the candle-ends and what is a poor, hard-working housekeeper SUPPOSED to do then!
He also represents his master which means hiring and firing lower servants, keeping accounts and paying household bills apart from those which fell under the housekeeper’s purview, and generally keeping the household in order in addition to his wine and serving duties. He holds the keys to the wine cellar.
Things are ABOUT to change.
And I have a secret to share that I HAVE never disclosed to anyone.
Dear UNDERSTANDING Reader
I have never worked in a household that POSSESSED a butler.
There, I have said it.
You MAY have been given the impression that I have worked IN a number of grand houses. The truth is The Regency Town House is the grandest.
I wonder what will become of me…and the wine cellar…and the KEYS.
MRS FINNEGAN is a regular feature created and written by Bridget Whelan with Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook, working with a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House, readers and subscribers.
This week a special thank you to Jill Vigus and Catherine Page.
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