for writers and readers….
Mrs Finnegan is not herself today. She is not sure she will EVER be herself again. Of course, she is still looking after The Regency Town House and its residents. She is still giving good advice to worried readers, but beneath that calm exterior beats an anquished HEART
A TERRIBLE ACCIDENT happened outside my house. It was mayhem! Horses, carriages, people were all over the road. I made a sketch of the scene to put into my diary for my own amusement. However the local constable has heard about it and I have been summoned to court to give evidence. I am terrified, what if I end up in prison!
(And some of the people in the picture may consider their likeness unflattering.)
Anxious Amelia from Angmering
You will not be punished for being a witness. Stand up, speak up and – EXCUSE my language – shut up. Answer each question briefly WITHOUT embroidery or exaggeration.
If you exercised your IMAGINATION in your artwork do not be afraid to say so.
As for COMPLAINTS, I think everyone looks very fetching and I DOUBT that you will have any. I particularly like your rendering of the dead horse.
You have a rare talent. A newspaper might wish to employ you. However, if you choose more pleaseant subjects – spring flowers, a babe in a mother’s arms, handsome older women of distinction – you should be able to avoid the law.
WHEN IT IS POLITE to suggest that it is perhas time for guests to leave?
I invited a dull spinster and her dreary niece for afternoon tea. I pride myself on my social discourse at such events BUT after SIX hours even I was struggling. When they showed no inclination to leave I tried such phrases:
“It was lovely of you to come.”
“Dearie me, you must have other appointments.”
“I mustn’t keep you both to myself.”
But all the shots in my getting-rid-of-guests arsenal missed the mark. Eventually I said it was my bedtime and they finally left.
Mistress Manners from Midhurst
Are you a woman or a tadpole? Getting rid of guests is a social skill that everyone over the age of 21 SHOULD master.
I am at a complete loss to understand what you did with them all THAT time. Did you make the mistake of feeding them again?
Tea means THIN slices of bread and butter (very light sandwiches if you must), fancy biscuits or cake and just the ONE cup of tea. Or, at the most, two.
And NO MORE.
The minimum attendance at afternoon tea is half an hour. I have heard of a dowager duchess who can SQUEEZE seven teas into an afternoon when she is in town. The maximum is two hours. It is perfectly appropriate to make please-leave noises after an hour
I suspect your downfall was that you remained seated when dropping hints. That will not do.
You MUST get up and move towards the door. If your guests do not immediately follow ring for your maid to fetch their coats.
If you feel that is a LITTLE too blunt, you can add that you have another engagement. It is not a lie. Your engagement is with your sofa and a GOOD book*.
Do I sound firm in my replies, resolute and decisive?
It is all pretence.
I am no longer Mrs Finnegan. I am a bewildered shipwreck of a woman.
Should we have French mustard with tonight’s supper or English? I do not know.
I – a woman with an opinion on EVERY topic – cannot make up my mind.
Am I a widow or a deserted wife?
Is the man who came to my door last week a charlatan, mountebank and tat-monger; a swindler, hoaxer and cheat? Is he a forger of emotion, a falsifier of history, a double-dealing merchant of second-hand memories?
Or my husband returned from the dead.
I shut the door on him. What else could I do? But I agreed he could return at a more reasonable hour so we discuss our future together. His words not mine. O Lordy!
I confided in Miss Martha and Susan. At times like this only women friends will do.
Susan was INCANDESCENT and declared all men devils. Whatever his identity we should bar the door to him she said, for at the very least he was guilty of the MOST dreadful deceit and wicked abandonment. Her own HISTORY may have something to do with her majestic anger.
Miss Martha was more circumspect. Indeed, if I didn’t know BETTER I would have said she found some amusement in my predicament, although I fail to see ANY. They both readily agreed to sit with me at his next visit. I did not think I could face him on my own.
“What do you want to happen?” Miss Martha asked while we waited. We had agreed 7 O’clock. He was late.
The question GAVE me pause for thought. “For the love of all that is Holy, it is not possible he is my dear departed husband.” I said. ” And it occurs to me the more he talks the more likely we will catch him out in a lie and he will REVEAL himself for the rogue he surely is.”
“Champion,” Miss Martha said, looking far TOO cheerful for the TASK ahead of us. “I enjoy a good conversation.”
At that moment came a knock at my door and in strode “Mister Finnegan” who sat down without a word of greeting or taking off his hat.
Miss Martha looked at him and then up at the silhouette I have displayed on the mantlepiece.
She caught my eye and raised an eyebrow.
“Do tell us what you have been doing since you deserted our esteemed housekeeper.”
“This and that.”
“Exactly what kind of this? What kind of that?”
He shrugged and I had a vision of the DARK, shadowy world he inhabited.
“Let us see if we do better touching on the far distant past. What were you doing when you first met the delightful Mrs Finnegan?”
“Back then I called myself Monsignor Finnegan on account of being a butler to a Frenchy who fled the Revolution. Not that I ever had knowledge of that tongue then or now.”
“What’s your favourite soup?” I asked eagerly. I had been quiet for too long.
“You know what I don’t know about onion soup is not worth knowing.” I turned away. I did not want him to see the disappointment etched on my face. How could he know that? I wondered.
“I regret tricking you into believing me deceased.” He smiled. It was not a pleasant sight. “And I intend to make it up to you. I was young and foolish back then. Owing money. I expect my creditors came knocking on your door.” I nodded.
“I’m sorry for that. I was too wild to be tied by the bonds of matrimony.” He took off his hat. “But I am a changed man.”
“Oh yes,” said Susan, speaking for the first time. “You have no doubt made your fortune and want to sweep her away from all this. Or perhaps you have bought a lovely house in town and intend to establish her in polite society. No? Well, you must be a businessman with a full order book or a shopkeeper with extensive stock? No? Why then have you come back? Why now?” Her blood was up. You could see it in her face and her wide, expansive gestures (at one point Miss Martha had to duck).
Three sets of eyes burrowed into this man’s inscrutable countenance.
Three women as taunt as thin wire leaned forward to catch every nuance of his reply.
“I happen to be between positions at the moment,’ he coughed. ‘I come to right the wrong what I done. I come offering husbandly affection and to end HER years of loneliness.” He stood up. “But it is a shock I can see that. I am a patient man and will return to resume our talk.” He looked down at me. “Make no mistake though, we were man and wife once and will be so again. I am patient, but I will not be denied.”
I wish I was the kind of woman who could faint at will for that was a FAINTING moment.
“Well,” said Miss Martha after we heard the basement door close behind him. “Can we call the magistrate? Was your husband ever a butler to a French émigré ?”
“Yes,” I nodded miserably.
“And his favourite soup?”
“But at least we can confirm he’s nothing like your husband, she pointed at the framed silhouette.
“Ah,” said I. “I bought that a year after my husband died. It cost 1/6d from a shop in Cheapside. I had nothing to remember him by and I wanted to have something to show. There was no harm in it. I just wanted to be able to point at it and say that was him. And everytime I looked at it I did think of him…”
“Oh dear,” said Miss Martha.
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.
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He’s officially dead because there was a funeral. Legally he does not exist as the husband of Mrs Finnegan, widow. In order to resume marital relations in the eyes of the church, he must re-marry his widow, if I recall correctly. The marriage was anulled by death, and I would strongly advise Mrs Finnegan to talk to her clergyman about the matter. Especially if she is loath to recognise him. His abandonment is a plain dereliction of duty. Certainly the church would be willing, I am sure, to grant a more official anullment on such grounds, Legally the ability of either party ro remarry is then very sticky; it would not be permitted with any normal anullment, without the expense of a divorce, beyond any but the richest, but as he is dead… the legal situation is decidedly sticky.
I would advise Mrs. Finnegan to send him on his way, since a leopard cannot change its spots, as the Good Book tells us, and all he wants is somewhere to stay whilst between positions, in my opinion.
I shall pass this information on. I think it will be a relief to her….
And at a seaport, if all else fails, a word to a young lieutenant outfitting a ship may enable the press to take him up….
I would advise her to bar the door to him forever.
A maid called away from scrubbing the area steps might well leave the soap behind in her hurry, on which a man might slip. Especially with a light black line tied across at ankle height, which could later be easily removed.
I’m shocked. You are either a master criminal in disguise or a crime novelist…all the same the stairs may need scrubbing.
[sniggers evilly] – only the latter, I’m afraid…but just remember, a man who is officially dead can’t be killed….