for writers and readers….
Mrs Finnegan is the Celebrated Authority on affairs of the HEART even when there is a dinner party and MUCH EXCITEMENT at The Regency Town House
The following letter arrived in EXCEPTIONAL circumstances. It was pressed into my hand by a charming young lady along with a SILVER half crown as she entered the HOUSE to attend the dinner party. I secreted my REPLY into her reticule between servings of Chicken Fricassee and Buttered crabs.
I cannot, of course, reveal her IDENTITY but she was very pretty in pink. Such a shame a little of the port gravy DRIBBLED down the bodice.
My parents have their eyes on a handsome, rich young man for me. Quel dilemma! He is exceedingly dim and I would so like a partner who has similar cultured tastes as myself. Many a young lady flutter their eyelashes at him but he seems bespotted with me. I am not rude but show no encouragement.
How can I make my parents change their mind about him as a future son in law? Qu’est ce que suggest?
Intelligence is over rated in husbands (with an INCOME of over £1000 a year). You want it in your friends and housekeepers and architects, but it gets in the way otherwise.
Marry this man and you will discover you are in the BEST of all positions: ADORED by the man who pays the bills, loved by grateful parents and ENVIED by your friends.
You will be able to set exacting terms. Here are a few ideas:
French FASHION in your wardrobe
FINE art on the walls
French chef in the KITCHEN
It would not be untoward to INSIST on regular EVENINGS at the opera or theatre (so much the better if he is bored and CHOOSES not to come) and annual EXTENDED visits to Paris (ditto about his attendance).
You will make him miserable but I am of the OPINION he could make you a VERY happy woman.
The dinner party! The DINNER PARTY!
I was not infected with the same JANGLING nerves as everyone else in the House from Mrs Hankey to the lowest scullery maid brought in for the occassion at 9 pennies per day (and she was well pleased to get it. She swore undying loyalty to me for choosing her, the dear little thing.) I had WORRIES of my own to contend with as the Mistress clearly SUSPECTS me of thievery.
Dear reader, on the evening of the party I was a HAIR’S breadth from losing my good name, my home, my job and EVEN my freedom.
The TABLE was a picture. I oversaw that but I was not ALLOWED to have anything more TO DO with the proceedings . I knew well enough that none of the Onion Pie or the Lemon Cheesecake would be making its way to my room. The cook and I were NOW bitter enemies LOCKED in a struggle to the…not death (I’m not one to exaggerate) but the ruination of our lives.
I watched fine carriages arrive and the finely DRESSED guests make their way up the steps. The butler-for-a-night Master Owen Merryweather Talbot (‘Merry’ to his particular friends) greeted them with stentorian eloquence. I wondered which guest Mrs Hankey hoped would become Miss Martha’s beau.
With nothing better to do I marked them for my own amusement. Perhaps Miss Martha and I would compare notes later (if I’m not FIRST thrown out of the house in DISGRACE.)
7/10 for rugged good looks (something about the eyes reminds me of the LATE Mister Finnegan)
3/10 of reliability (THOSE eyes)
10/10 for stop-the-horse-in-full-gallop good looks. (At least one of the maids was in DANGER of fainting when he leapt FROM the carriage)
0/10 for modesty Oh, he knows what he SEES in the mirror
10/10 Those eyes! THAT hair! If there’s not music in his SOUL I’ll eat my second best bonnet
0/10 for fiscal responsibility He would give away his last halfpenny
After all the guests arrived, I sat by the BASEMENT window in the housekeeper’s room contemplating the future when I saw a cart pull up outside. There have beeen many coming and going all day, bringing provisions and hired chairs (we didn’t have enough 24 matching for the dining room) so I was not UNDULY perturbed until I saw our OWN 10 very good dining chairs being taken out. I had stowed them safely away myself as they are VERY FINE examples of the woodworking art. (Not Chippendale himself, but PERHAPS his first cousin.)
Parcels leaking tableclothes and BED linen followed.
Out went the second and third best tea services.
Four whole salmon I saw brought INTO the house this morning
The washstand from Miss Martha’s ROOM and the desk from the parlour.
A sack of lobsters
Leather-bound books from Mister Hankey’s library.
A haunch of venison
The whole house was WALKING out.
The noise was drowned by laughter, music and conversation from the dining room.
Although no longer the MOST nimble of women on the stairs, I swear I ascended from basement to front door in LESS than a second. I demanded to know where these goods were being taken.
The carter, not a bit abashed, told me he had instructions to take everything he could to the wholesalers on Western Road and he had to be quiet about it on account of the Mistress being very sick. He had EVEN put sacks over the horses’ hooves to oblige.
I knew what to do. I RAN.
We are VERY fortunate in Brunswick Town in having our OWN police force. It is five men strong, dressed most fetchingly in white trousers, black tail-coat with a red collar and a black top hat, not the best clothes for trailing a suspect PERHAPS, but most excellent for putting fear into the hearts of men and carters.
They are, of course, watchmen as well as POLICE and some FOLK are irritated by the way they call out the hours at night and the weather too sometimes. I have always got GREAT comfort from hearing that it is two in the morning and raining KNOWING I don’t have to go out in it and it is SAFE to go back to sleep.
I ran and ran to Brunsick Street West and as good luck had it my TWO favourite policemen were on duty at the station, George and Bert. When I had control of the kitchen they always knew they could be SURE of a decent cup of tea at Number 13. Not so much lately though.
We hatched a plan and they ARMED themselves with truncheons, staves and handcuffs. George was put out that he couldn’t bring his short sword, but I assured him it was most unlikely any SMUGGLERS were roaming Number 13. It was theives of another kind we were out to catch.
Back to Brunswick Square we crept, keeping to the shadows. The cart was still there, creaking under a heavy load. The carter was preparing to leave, but the police encouraged him to stay on pain of severve punishment if he didn’t.
And then we waited. Myself and George and Bert were obscured by the porch of number 10, the carter and its driver were in plain sight in front of the house.
We waited some more.
We could hear the chink of glasses and hearty guffaws from inside Number 13. My idea was that we should wait until all the guests had departed, but George and Bert were getting restless.
Then the front door opened and the candlight from within fell on the pavement like a FLOOD of golden SYRUP. Mrs Pole, the cook, was standing there, waving her fist in the air. ‘What! You still here? You should have been away an hour ago.’ Her fierce whisper was sharp enough to TRIM a sailor’s beard and the poor carter fell down in surprise. She came out to BERATE him some more and George and Bert pounced. I can’t be sure, but I think I saw the butler in the hallway. He disappeared inside the house at the first raised voice.
Of course, the guests poured out of the house to see what the din was ABOUT. They were joined by neighbours and soon a crowd formed. Mrs Hankey was at the back trying to persuade her guests inside. “There’s still La Crème au Nesselrode to eat.”
I don’t think she realised that her cook was being arrested and her entire serving staff were also on the pavement agog at the DRAMA playing out in front of us.
“Stop!” ordered the cook as she was about to be dragged off to a cell. “I am INNOCENT. But the GUILTY party is standing here, looking on…”
George and Bert grinned at each other and then at me, but their smile turned upside down when Mrs Pole said she could PROVE it. She pointed at the carter and demanded he produce the order he received. Snatching it from his hand, she held it in FRONT of her ample bosom. The butler emerged from the house and STOOD by the Mistress as if to protect her from the hullabaloo. By the light of a lantern, we could all see the name scrawled at the bottom, although some of us had to peer.
I may have swooned, slightly. Mrs Hankey certainly shrieked. “You! YOU! Y-O-U”
The crowd – as if one singular curious individual – turned to look at me. George and Bert inched away. At that MOMENT a small, scrawny figure emerged, ELBOWING her way to the front. It was the 9d a day scullery maid.
“It weren’t HER” she yelled. In other circumstances I would have told her off for pointing, but on this DAY I thought it best overlooked. “That isn’t her writing. This is!”
She held up her own piece of paper CAREFULLY folded and clearly much treasured. It was the letter I wrote to her mother saying she was a good girl and we would be pleased to have her for a few days.
Heads crowded around and compared the writing. They were CLEARLY dissimilar.
“Of course, it isn’t Mrs Finnegan,” said George. “She’s the one what SAVED the day.” A gratifying sentiment that I would have appreciated even more had it come five minutes earlier.
“Innocent!” cheered the scullery maid.
“Innocent!” boomed a rich baritone. I turned and saw Mr Owen Talbot urging the crowd on. “Innocent!”
Mrs Hankey was still standing beside him. ‘Oh, yes, quite so.”
Later Mr Talbot and I supervised the unloading of the cart together. Every BIT went back inside. It was a long night. He was about to take his leave when I asked the question that had been TROUBLING me. “Did you see the paper with my forged signature?” I asked.
“O yes. No doubt the cook is a deeply devious woman.”
“I noticed the name of the wholesalers in Western Road where the ill-gotten gains were to be taken. Merryweather Supplies.”
He smiled, made a low bow and bade me good night.
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 big thank you to JAN THOMSON
Have you GOT a problem Mrs Finnegan could answer?