for writers and readers….
NO doubt the MORE perceptive of my loyal readers are aware that you were due a report last week. It was FOOLISH of me to think that I could fit a wedding INTO my normal routine (AND Christmas AND household management AND the vagaries of men). It is only now that I am able to write. You have waited so long I feel obligated to reveal the
Brace yourself. A hot toddy might be in order (for medical reasons). Where to start? Ah yes…
You may remember the mistress PROMISED the loan of one of her dresses. I know her wardrobe well and even tried a few items on during the Contagion when I ruled The Regency Town House alone. No ARCHED eyebrows please, such an unattractive look. It is an ENTIRELY appropriate method of inspecting for moth damage. (Want to re-live those strange days which SEEM so long ago and at the same time only a shadow’s width away? Click HERE and HERE. This ONE is rather good too.)
I recalled with great fondness this vision of loveliness, but I searched for it in vain. Miss Martha thought her mother had sent it out to the dressmakers to have the waist ADJUSTED. Again. And new material added to the skirt and the lower arms (the upper being adequately commodious.)
I was a little down-hearted until I spotted this delightful creation. So much warmer for a December wedding and there was a matching bonnet!
Mrs Hankey wanted to know if I had LOST leave of senses.
It was the VERY latest style. How could she wear it about town after it had been SEEN on the back of a housekeeper?
Mrs Hankey said I would have something new instead which was a surprise.
Something that I could keep.
Something I could wear FOR BEST when I was serving her guests.
And then she spoiled it by using the DREAD word serviceable which has shrunk the heart of maidens everywhere since Eve first made a skirt out of leaves.
This was to be my wedding dress.
Do not think me ungrateful. It had only two things wrong with it.
It was very brown
it was very, VERY itchy.
(Especially in that part of the costume that it is indelicate to mention and impossible to scratch when not ALONE. Lest your imaginations gallop away in even more indelicate directions, I should add it is that nameless place where the bodice and the upper under arm meet. Perhaps it does have a name and I am ignorant of it. Do not trouble to enlighten me).
Mid evening – that is to say after supper and before bed – I heard an awful racket outside. Master Peregrine was singing. He had even found a poor fiddler with more GUMPTION than talent to accompany him.
I was charmed.
I was moved.
I wanted to throw a saucepan at his head
But I said nothing about the THIRTY THREE thousand things I had to do on Christmas Eve, and blew a kiss from the basement window. I remember thinking it’s through making SUCH small sacrifices that lasting unions are built. I was quite pleased with myself until it became clear Master P wanted to TALK as well as sing.
There was a twitch in his left eyelid I’d never noticed before. He took off his top hat and moved it from one hand to the other.
He had intended to to REMAIN silent until after our nuptials he told me, but felt compelled to SPEAK now.
I lost the ability to breathe, but not to THINK.
He was a wife-killer of that I was certain.
Or a sheep-stealer, a fraudster, a grave-robbing card sharp with swindles reaching from here to Canada.
Or the father of 20, with three living wives and only the one home.
He was…Master Peregrine. How could it be so awful?
Dear Reader, it was.
Difficulties with investments and bad advice given (and acted upon) meant that PRICES were rising while his dividends were disappearing AS IF they had fallen down the back of a sofa which was losing so much stuffing it now resembled a blancmange at a midsummer picnic. (Master Peregrine’s words, not mine. His figures of speech TEND towards the culinary.)
In short, he was NOT in the materially comfortable position I had probably expected.
To be even shorter, he was cucumberish, paddling in the River Tick and living under the hatch.
His top hat was now spinning in his hands.
It took a few more questions to reveal the full HORROR. My husband-to-be had been living on hopes and moonbeams for months, the well-stocked tea caddy in his parlour was a front to hide the crumbling edifice of his BANK account. His only VIRTUE was avoiding debt until forced to pay for a special marriage licence.
I wanted to know what was I to him. A cherished wife-to-be or a housekeeper that came FREE of charge?
Oh no, he assured me, he already had one of those in his last housekeeper and let her go because he LONGED to share his life with me.
Had I known the poor deluded lady worked for nothing I would not have complained about the standard of her pickles.
And what were his TRUE FEELINGS about the NEW arrangements at the Hankey residence? I realised NOW it was not my arguments about gravy that persuaded him to agree to having that UNHEARD of thing – a working wife.
He lowered his head. “I was drowning,” he murmured.
“And you saved me.” A pause. He raised his eyes to mine. “Is our love a gentle, generous passion? Can two fond hearts in one unite?”
Oh, Lordy, he began to sing again as the hands of the long-faced clock raced towards our wedding day.
I promised to disclose everything and I intended to write more, but my heart is too FULL and my quill trembles in my hand. Next week I promise you SHALL know all – even more than Master Peregrine – for there is a SECRET yet to be revealed
All I will say is that night I stayed awake until dawn.
I wonder how you would you have spent those dark, lonely hours. What decision would you have made?
Let me know. I gather STREGNTH from our friendship and the guidance offered. Only, if you cannot be kind, I pray you be WISE for I am in sore need of wisdom.
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Wow, the dress! Wow the man! Wow the mess! What other surprise is yet to come?!
Mrs Finnegan replies: oh my dear, you cannot imagine…
… I thought there’d be a catch, but I hoped I was wrong. I extend my deepest sympathy towards my favourite housekeeper.
Mrs Finnegan is grateful for your tribute and may quote it in future literary adventures. Can she describe you as a world renown expert in modern household management and confidante of dear Queen Adelaide? (Or perhaps her mother-in-law? )
On the question of knowing there would be “a catch”, Mrs F is worried that the tone could be open to misinterpretation. She doesn’t mind for herself, but thinks your readers might not be so generous. Perhaps a slight tweaking would be in order?
I would note the song Master Peregrine elected to sing. Though the penultimate line ends worryingly in a minor key, it triumphantly returns to the major at the end. Clearly, Master P anticipates a happy (re)solution to all his troubles. The question is, does a wise woman wish to tie herself to an incurable optimist?
Mrs Finnegan is overawed by your musical prowess & readily admits that when she things of major and minor keys it is always in relation to wine cellars and spice drawers.
The NEW light you have shone on Master Peregrine’s character warrants consideration.
Surely it is better that he is an incurable optimist than an incurable pessimist? The latter would make life with him unbearable. And there will be your own indefatigable realism and general good sense to bring him down to earth, enabling avoidance of most of the pitfalls.
Mrs Finnegan: wisdom I asked for wisdom I got. Madam MacGregor I shall ponder your words carefully.
Postpone the wedding. Blame the dress. Find out how long his finances have been in such a state and if they predate the proposal…call it off. He’s after b&b and gravy, not you. Hold your head up and say he made you an off under False Pretences. Which is true..
You’ll loose your independence, your dignity, your freedom to please yourself. For what? To support a man who has lied to you.
Dear Mrs F, don’t do it.
Ah, more wisdom! This time from an opposing point of view. I would rather lose my dignity than my independence, but would rather like to hang onto both.
Dear Mrs. Finnegan,
Once, I was out walking in the hills and a thick fog descended, and I couldn’t see a thing. If I had started to walk to try to find my way out of it, I risked coming to grief in a fall, or wandering further into the thick of it. I decided to sit on the ground and stay where I until the fog lifted, which it did after not too long. I see your situation similarly – don’t make any rash decisions. Take your time sleep on it and sleep some more, and hopefully your answer about what to do will become clear as day. Could it be that your story will end, “Reader – I married him…”? Sincere good wishes, from Anne
Mrs Finnegan: very well put, Anne. I do feel as though I am wandering a fog. I’m not in danger from tree roots and uneven ground but the uncertain temperament of a man I thought I knew. I am going to sit down and think. And then think some more.
No, when married you legally take on his financial responsibilities as well, and not sure there won’t be debts that can end up causing terrible troubles sooner or later. Please at least postpone until you see all financial affairs are solidly in order. If your work becomes insufferable then begin to look out for another better position. Aren’t the fine ladies always saying it’s hard to find good help?
Fine ladies say they have a hard job finding good help but leave the rest of sentence unsaid BECAUSE they want it at as low a price as possible. And housekeepers – along with the lower ranks – are very vulnerable to poor references. I wonder how Mrs H would react if I left her service just as she was establishing herself in a new and much bigger house…
But I take to heart the rest of the points you make, Lucy. The more I have found out about Master Peregrine’s financial affairs the more I realise he is a donkey when it comes to domestic economy.
And do I want to marry a donkey?
I am shocked and appalled. And no, I wouldn’t have married him. If he felt the need to finally come fairly clean on the eve of the wedding, what things is he hoping the occasion will hide. And do remember, the Married Women’s Property Act is in the future and at the present time all you own will become his property once you have said “I do.” So really, don’t.
I am glad to have your opinions (although they are perhaps a little undermined by the suggestion that you can see into the future.)
All I own is alas not very much: a little in savings; three pieces of a five piece silver condiment set (no salt or mustard); five pairs of stockings, two with darns, one waiting to be darned; three dresses (none as good quality as the brown); three shifts; two pairs of shoes; two fichus; four caps; three shawls; two bonnets, an indeterminate number of aprons…I could go down to the precise number of pins I can call my own but I think that’s enough to give an idea of the inequality in our situations.
However, having said that, it is my little pot of savings that I worry about. It’s probably best if they remain a secret. Forget I mentioned it.
And the dress is very brown. Too brown. The combination of itchiness and brownness is too much, and does not bode well for the future of a marriage. Imagine being stuck in a dull brown and itchy partnership.
Ah, Mistress Close-Hainsworth we can agree on the dress. It is far too brown.
An itchy marriage doesn’t bear thinking of.
How I agree with Miss Close-Hainsworth. EXACTLY what I was going to comment upon, My Dear Mrs Finnegan. Brown! A very bad omen, if you will pardon me. Brown! Goodness. And itchy. I was speaking last evening with P C, the Gentleman known to both of us, and he laughed – out loud – when I mentioned The Dress. Aparently he has seen it. Please be warned, Dear Lady before it is TOO LATE.
Your, dear friend & etc…