for writers and readers….
Mrs Finnegan, the hardworking housekeeper at THE REGENCY TOWN HOUSE, was looking FORWARD to an uneventful year in leafy Brunswick Square until yesterday evening. A loud rat-a-tat on her door changed everything.
But first a letter from an anxious reader….
PLEASE HELP, dear Mrs Finnegan. I am struggling to master my fan. Twice I have poked myself in the eye and recently I nearly disabled the most attentive of young men. He claims his nose will never be the same again.
My mother is too interested in her own circle to pay me much attention and when I ask about the special langugae I must learn she just says Fiddlesticks! and stomps off.
Can you teach me the finer points?
Clumsy Cate from Cuckfield
I’m with your mother.
There is no secret code to learn, no FAN language that will REVEAL your intentions across a crowded ballroom. It’s all an ADVERTSING ploy to boost sales. Take a look at this list and ask yourself ONE important question.
What man would BOTHER to learn such a code? (What man would remember it?)
The REAL purpose of a fan (other than keep you cool in an overcrowded room) is to give you something to do with your hands. You are clearly doing TOO much.
All that is required is to FLUTTER your fan whenever someone looks in your general direction. This involves light, quick movements that go NOWHERE near anyone’s elses face. Study other young ladies and copy them.
While you’re at it, master fluttering your eyelashes AS WELL (they don’t have to synchronise with your fan). You will do less damage.
You are NO DOUBT aware that we are fast approaching The Eve of St Agnes on January 20th and WE all KNOW what you will do on that night.
‘Agnes sweet and Agnes fair,
Hither, hither, now repair;
Bonny Agnes, let me see
The lad who is to marry me.’
But be careful!
REGULAR readers may recall that I WROTE about Dumb Cake at Halloween (although a certain person STOPPED me from making one) and I have ABSOLUTELY nothing against this charming tradition. But having read this NEWSPAPER article with ALARM I must beg you beware what you PUT in THE CAKE.
These three tender girls stirred mistletoe juice into the mix, no doubt because of its ROMANTIC associations. They ate a portion of the cake and slid some under their pillow. Did they dream of their FUTURE husband?
Two of the girls WRITHED in the UTMOST extremes of agony but managed to cling onto life with medcial assistance. The third – alas! – expired, never to know TRUE love.
Remember this story and take NO RISKS with your own health.
I have embarked on a MOST COMPREHENSIVE spring cleaning campaign starting with the Mistress’ bedroom and working my way down the house. There is no sign of her diary ANYWHERE. I cannot think where she keeps it. Perhaps she no longer feels the need to write and is relishing the delights of a peaceful home life as I am.
Still, I would feel a little happier in my OWN mind if I knew what was in Mrs Hankey’s.
Have I ever mentioned the BENEFITS of the goose wing before? I think NOT yet they are without doubt the single MOST useful WEAPON in a housekeeper’s arsenal. Strong, flexible and able to reach into all MANNER of nooks and crannys, it is her flintlock pistol in the fight against spider’s webs, soot and dust.
Where can that diary be?
If it were no longer required surely I would have found it carelessly discarded under a pile of corsets or kicked under the bed. Mrs H. is a great kicker….
One bit of news I have for you comes via the LOCAL NEWSPAPER.
Mrs Pole – that great swindling she-monster of a cook – absconded from custody after her trial while on her way to a stinking HULK before being transported to Van Dieman’s Land.
Mrs Hankey was most put out as several inches of newsprint were DEVOTED to her dinner party where the woman was arrested. It gave our address as well as the menu. Mrs Pole is thought to be now in hiding SOMEWHERE on the South Downs.
The same article also mentioned IN PASSING my own small part in the proceedings. I was described as being a well known local character.
I have cut it out for my special scrap book, but I DON’T let things like that go to my head. Sissy was pleased as she WAS here on the day. Her reading is coming on and she is ALSO learning to sew.
Mrs Hankey can’t be secreting her diary about her PERSON, can she? Surely I would have DISCOVERED it by now…
There was a LOUD rat-a-tat-tat at my door last night, MUCH LATER than I like to see visitors. It was such an authoritative thump that if I didn’t know better I would have thought it was Mrs Hankey HERSELF. Sissy was running down the hall BEFORE I could stop her. I heard voices and she came back looking delighted, bewildered AND scared at the same time as if she had just encountered a fairy carrying a LOADED musket.
‘There’s a man and he says he’s…’ she stammered. ‘But I don’t know if that can be so. He says…’ Her EYES widened in alarm. My boots were beating a rhythm on the flagstones before she could FINISH the sentence.
Who had the GALL to call when all decent people were HANGING UP their chemises and saying their prayers?
If he was a nightbour I’d PRETEND not to recognise him.
If it was a tradesman he would be doing NO MORE trade here.
If he was lost I’d send him on his way with the WRONG directions and a thick ear.
I stood in the hall and peered into the gloom. At first I could see NOTHING.
I called out. I could hear nothing.
I stood very still and on the other side of the door came HEAVY breathing. Laboured. Wheezy. I called again, ‘What is your business here?’
Still no answer. I opened the door and held up my candle.
‘Yes?’ says I, pulling myself up to my full five feet.
‘Do you not recognise me, Mrs Finnegan?’
I held my candlestick higher. ‘I do NOT.’ Although I sounded firm, I admit that perhaps there was something familiar about the set of his shoulders and the way he held himself, but even so I could not put a name to the man who stood in front of me.
The man nodded sadly as if he expected as much. ‘I suppose I am much changed since…’
‘The morning you and I walked to the church to get wed.’
I stepped back. ‘What do you mean? Mr Finnegan was drowned. Mr Finnegan was burried. I can assure you Mr Finnengan is VERY MUCH dead.’
‘Did you see the body?’
‘He fell into a well head first and it was some days before he was found. Not a pleasant sight, his friends said.’ I took a deep breath. ‘I saw the coffin though and wept over it.’
‘Thank you. That was perhaps more than I deserved.’ He took the candlestick from my shaking hand and held it up to illuminate his face. ‘Here I am returned to you. Your lawfully wedded husband.’
Is MRS FINNEGAN a widow no more?
Could the man at the door be a ghost?
Will she find Mrs Hankey’s diary?
The Chronicles of Mrs Finnegan are a regular feature written by Bridget Whelan working with a host of volunteers at The Regency Town House. This week a special thank you to Jill Vigus and Paul Couchman.
Click HERE for the next THRILLING episode!
And if you click HERE Mrs Finnegan will send you a note every TUESDAY to let you know when the ink is dry and her chronicle is ready to be read. That’s one less thing to worry about…
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Why, what an extraordinary thing to happen! One can only wonder at the remarkable unsteadiness of character of a man to be *dead* for so long. It argues for a certain inconstancy of nature, for surely any man of steady and upright mien would declare himself not dead before the expense and pain of his funeral. If the fellow is not an imposter, one should remember that a dead man cannot be held to have been done away with.
However, perhaps it would be as well to hear the explanation for such an extraordinary and unprecedented sojourn in Death’s dark chambers [for surely so temporary a residence in a state of eternal slumber cannot have acheived the choir eternal] such as being taken up by the Press, and some Unknown being taken from the well in mistaken belief of this unfortunate being the former late Mr. Finnigan.
Inconstancy of nature is perhaps the least of Mister Finnegan’s sins if he has, indeed, landed on the doorstep of Number 13
Re Dumb-cake: I have always understood it should contain nothing but flour, salt and water, so one wonders where those girls got the recipe and whether anyone wished them ill… and if Mrs Finnegan does not mind, I’ve a mind to use it as a plot for a murder mystery, as a means of getting rid of an inconvenient witness
I believe there are regional variations (and wouldn’t you want to add a little something to flour & water if you could?) but these poor girls prove that experimentation can be a dangerous thing….
it is rather bland fare! poor girls, a very harsh life lesson to learn for those who survived to learn it. Mrs Finnegan must be fanning herself with relief that it was not girls under her care; a housekeeper has the same responsibility to the maids under her that a preceptress does over her charges, and needs to nip such foolish superstition in the bud before it can do any lasting harm.
Mrs Finnegan DOES not agree Madam. Far from nipping such superstitions in the bud, she treasures these traditions and the enjoyment they bring to the servants hall. She even ventures to say that it WOULD appear you have forgotten what it is like to be young Mrs W.
Mrs Finnegan believes that in this particular case the dumb cake was made in secret unsupervised by a senior member of staff. And see the result!! Girls will do these things whether you like it or not. Better out in the open.
I beg Mrs Finnegan’s pardon, I did not express myself clearly and have not said what I meant. I see no reason not to keep the traditions alive, but in the spirit of fun, nipping in the bud only any tendency to take them too seriously or to believe too deeply and to be doomed to disappointment; I well remember that casting the apple peel insisted that my husband’s name would begin with C, but how unhappy I would have been had I failed to accept the courtship of my dear husband of many years, whose name does not begin thus!. I believe it is needful to supervise such jollity to make sure it does not end in tears, even if the supervision is LIGHT and COVERT, so that their fun is not curtailed save when it moves into dangerous areas. I am thinking of another divinational game for Halloween or Hogmanay, wherein one leaps over twelve candles, to see whether luck remains, the flame not going out, in each month of the coming year. The danger to girls in flimsy muslins, as they will wear for best, is horrifying, for cotton catches fire so readily. Of course, if there are no MEN present, it is less risk if skirts are held up high, but even so, one should be on hand with a heavy rug in which to wrap any unfortunate girl who goes aflame! such games were devised when women wore woollen skirts, which of course only smoulder!
Ah, you and Mrs Finnegan are in harmony!
I recall a silly girl, whom I shall call Miss J, who caught a glimpse of her brother’s friend in the mirror she was using for divination. Her horoscope later said that romance would prosper if she would only be more friendly with her true love. Hence, a teenage pregnancy…