Building Blocks

Blindingham Hall, December 15th 1860

How tiresome it is to be popular! I have received an invitation to a meeting next Sunday evening down in the village, in the rooms next to the Church. I fear it will be as cold as the devil’s heart, though more full of welcome. Reverend Dibleigh has specifically asked that I be present to witness his account of improvements that might be made to the church buildings next year. I am flattered that he has chosen me to give him my opinion – my refurbishment of the Hall after the fire was a triumph and I am pleased to be able to pass on the fruits of my experience.

I shall accept the invitation, of course, but will ensure that Moss is waiting outside with the trap all the while and will make my excuses as soon as is polite. I can look at drawings and listen to excitable planning for perhaps a half hour but I must be able to get away. I wonder whether I may be called upon to oversee the work when the decision has been made. And I am interested to hear where the funds have been found to pay for it.

Alas, poor Martin!

Blindingham Hall, December 13th 1860

Villiers has started to decorate the Hall. He has a flair for such things and I am happy to let him have his way. I sit down with him every October as he lays his ideas before me and I pretend that I have an opinion about his chosen theme, but I do not. I indulge him by cooing over tiny pieces of fabric and dried fruit; I exude amazement at a new berry he has sourced from the hedgerow and though I am always careful to express caution lest Dauncey should swallow a berry by accident, I do in large part leave the arrangements to him.

But this year I may have to put my foot down. I was not aware of a current and entirely unwelcome penchant he has for displaying the stuffed skin of dead creatures. This is a most unpleasant turn of events. I was greeted on my way to breakfast this morning by a still, small animal with tiny, dark eyes and scrappy whiskers – sitting in pride of place on the mantel in the entrance hall. I confess I screamed and was half way back to my room before I understood that no-one was responding to my calls for someone to bring a spade and kill it.

I approached the creature again – only to find it quite dead, with its scaly claws attached to a piece of wood. And a brass plate which read ‘mustela fidelis’. I carried on into the breakfast room, but I must say my appetite had quite left me.

Papa always said one should eat upon waking, so I sat down, as usual. Whilst waiting for the winter marmalade to soften, I asked Villiers what in the name of all holy was a dead animal doing on the hall mantel.

“Ma’am, that’s Martin. I wanted him to spend the festive season indoors now that he no longer needs to be by the river.” He looked at me with an expression I have rarely seen on Villiers’s face – a mixture of compassion, guilt and excitement. Like an evening spent at a freak show.

I waited for him to continue.

“Martin lived mostly down by the boat-house. Jennet used to feed him most days, but in the last few years he has naturally had to fend for himself. I was not inclined to keep up the tradition – a decision I must say, Ma’am, that I deeply and honestly regret.”

Villers passed me a marmalade spoon and poured my second glass of tea.

“Martin passed a month ago – a blessing if I’m honest, he would not have enjoyed another winter – and I gave him to that man in the village. The one who wears a leather apron but never sharpens knives. He told me he could preserve Martin’s spirit from within, and would have him back to me by the end of the week. And so it was. Martin is here, and warm. Thank God.”

Villiers was close to tears now. I had not seen him quite so moved since the death of Jennet himself.

“I am sorry you have been so saddened by Martin’s passing, Villiers, but I am at a loss as to why he is so important to you and why I should be subjected to seeing him every morning in such an exalted position in my entrance hall.” I said. “He is neither functional nor festive and I wish to have nothing in my house that is not one of the two, or both.”

“Am I to understand you wish me to remove him Ma’am? Might I be permitted to place him somewhere else indoors, but not within your ladyship’s sight?”

I confess I was beginning to feel guilty myself, almost as if I was condemning this creature to a second passing. I decided to give myself the opportunity to relent, if only to stop Villiers from sniffling so close to my toast.

“If you can tell me why you care for it so much, and why you have named it Martin, I will give you my final decision as to where it can be placed.” I am a fair woman and do not wish my staff to think I do not have sympathy for their feelings.

Villiers stared at me – visibly torn. Then he said “I called him Martin when I first saw Jennet with him by the boat-house Ma’am, because he brought to mind a man I used to see occasionally in the village. His name was also Martin and he was similarly wiry and whiskered, with a quickness to him which not many people possess. That Martin was an under-secretary in the office of the Member for East Hertfordshire. He was not important, but I recall him nonetheless.”

“I see. But why does the memory of a small man of little consequence move you in this way?”

“Ma’am forgive me” Villiers squeaked through a choked back sob, “I hardly understand it myself. I only ever met him outdoors, on an evening, usually after a public meeting of the village elders. Bringing this Martin inside gives me a sense of recompense I can barely express.”

So, because I am a woman with a heart, I will eat my breakfast every morning til January 6th under the gaze of a forgettable river dweller named Martin. And Villiers will be forever grateful to me.

But on January 7th, Weasel Martin will be in the woodshed.

For your Voices

Blindingham Hall

December 10th 1860

I fear my faith in Josiah’s innocence may have been misplaced.

Word has reached me that the man I married is engaged in activity more befitting a natural Cornishman. Were Blindingham next to the sea, and not an inland hamlet, he might indeed have spent his time ‘beachcombing’ at low tide instead of boring me with his opinions. I do not believe he steals from the sea, but I must now accept that he may recently have acquired funds by less than honest means.

I heard he has been seen of late keeping murky company; sidled into ale-house corners with mean-eyed men and their spineless adjuncts. Whispering long into the night, swearing allegiance to powerful men whose wealth has not come from hard work.

I had dismissed that talk as local rumour, designed by well-wishers to confirm for me that my discarding of him was the right decision. Not that any such affirmation is necessary. I did not believe the talk and had no need to hear more of what Josiah does with his time now that I am free of him.

But today I received news which may prove the rumours true.

Such is his regard for his own views, and his contempt for ordinary folk, that he has begun to squirm his way into a life of London politicks. I gather from the post-mistress – whose knowledge of such things is certainly current – that Josiah has given money to people dead set on a Whig parliament next time. He hopes, I am given to believe, that if he pays enough to the Whig men they will put him up to be voted upon by those empowered to do so. I do not aim to understand such things and think it indelicate to discuss them in the circles I enjoy. But I do know that a man like Josiah – cocksure, bribable and utterly without shame – is well suited to the world of electioneering and public office.

I have asked the post-mistress not to tell me any more about it as hearing of him causes me distress – which of course means the old witch will take every available chance to begin a tale and then withdraw it upon ‘remembering’ my wishes. This way I will stay abreast of his antics without asking for details directly.

Josiah – a politician! There was never a man more deluded and surrounded by cruel fools. God help the people who elect him if it comes to it.

Questions for Cash

October 9th 1860

Blindingham Hall

I can hardly hold my pen to write, such is my anger at what I have been forced to consider.

I do not pretend to claim that Josiah was above reproach. Indeed, as a husband he disappointed me on more occasions than I feel it reasonable to endure. He has a confidence about him that is not borne out by his achievements and his personal attention towards me was at best unwelcome and at worst unbearable.

But he is a man of honour.

I can not allow Josiah’s name to be besmirched in the manner adopted by our new vicar, and will do my utmost to stand up for him in the village. Reverend Dibleigh had the temerity to sit at my table and ask me whether the gossip he had heard was true.

‘Gossip, Reverend Dibleigh?’ I asked ‘Why does gossip play a part in your contribution to our community – have you no better way to spend God’s time than listening to prattle from villagers with more corn than sense?’

He had the grace to blush at my question, revealing as it did that his social interaction with the women of the village takes up an inordinate amount of his attention.

He asked me whether Josiah had indeed ‘swindled’ – a coarse term I only use in the reporting of what was actually said – the previous incumbent whilst taking charge of administering the weekly collection. Having laid such a blow, the Reverend then sat in silence. As if offering me a confession I had neither requested nor needed.

The effrontery of that man is enough to silence cockcrow, I declare..

It’s a mystery

Blindinham Hall

October 7th 1860

Last night was the queerest of evenings. It is probably far too soon for me to give a proper account of it, but since I have been thinking of nothing else since I waved the vicar off down the approach, I have decided to write down my thoughts as they tumble from me.

The new vicar of Blindingham is a strange fish. If I discover nothing else about him, I have discovered that. He hasn’t yet been in post for a full year, yet he seems to know everything about the village and all its foibles – such that he had felt confident enough to warn me not to expect success at the Harvest judging, and indeed to show humility in the face of defeat, whether I felt it or not.

How dare he presume to dictate my behaviour in this, or any other matter?

He arrived, as invited, at 7pm. He may be well versed in matters of the church and ecclesiastical protocols, but he clearly has not moved in the same social circles as I have. I had expected him to arrive at 7.30 – as any other guest would have known to do – so when Villiers leapt upstairs to tell me he was waiting in the breakfast room I was not yet fully dressed, and had to rush my hair. I do so hate meeting new people without properly dressed hair, it implies a lack of self-respect. So I was already slightly off guard when he greeted me and I could not stop myself from exclaiming on the softness of his hands.

“Oh Goodness!” I said, like a ninny, ” I expected your hands to have seen more of life than this!” What did I mean by this? I am not sure I know – just that whatever work a vicar does in his week it clearly does not involve anything heavy or outdoors.

“Mrs Hatherwick, may I extend my deepest gratitude for this invitation. I confess I am giddy with anticipation of a repast prepared by the famous Blindingham Cook!”

I gathered from this fulsome first sentence that the vicar has not been apprised of the story of our previous Cook, whose notoriety was not confined to the quality of her suppers.

I immediately regretted not inviting someone else to join us, to dilute the atmosphere a little. The Reverend Dibleigh, new to the combined parishes of Blindingham and All Stokes, took to gazing a little too intently at me for my comfort.

We were part way through the fish course when the Reverend’s intentions became apparent. “My dear Lady,” he said, with a sliver of salmon just sidling onto his lower lip, “I have heard a great deal about your family, what a wonderful man your father was, may he rest among us, and how you have triumphed over the frailties of marriage and subsequent rebirth as a single woman”

I was annoyed at the way he seemed to have summed me up in one sentence, but I said nothing. I looked at him, noticing yet more softness in his features than I would have expected.

“I wish not to appear over intimate” – it was too late for that, but no matter – “but I feel I must discuss a delicate subject with you. Experience tells me that honesty and openness are twin bedfellows, both adept at drawing out the essence of an issue. Would you not agree?”

‘Intimate’? ‘bedfellows’? ‘Essence’? What on earth could the man be about to discuss? I was on the point of reaching for the bell to summon Villiers for protection, such was my alarm at this approach.

“Reverend Dibleigh, I pride myself on my ability to speak plainly and truthfully – it is a matter of great importance to me that people deal directly with one another and not dress up a situation to be something it is not.”

“I knew it!” he shouted. “I knew you to be a woman of integrity and compassion!”

His excitement in the wake of what I considered to be a basic stepping stone of conversation was quite overwhelming. I found myself unable to respond in a like manner, so remained quiet, at considerable personal cost.

“My dear, please allow me to abuse my position as a member of the clergy to broach a subject about which many dare not speak. My role – as a conduit between our community and Our Lord – affords me the confidence to ask you a question outright. One which many in the village wish to ask, but their station prevents them.”

What question? Does he know something I do not – I find that hard to believe. What possible question could this man have for me that is shared with everyone else in the village, people who have known me since Papa was an Alderman, generations of whom have served us at the Hall?

What is it?

Dr Hatherwick, I presume?

October 6th 1860

Blindingham Hall

I have laughed more today than in the whole of the year thus far – I can hardly hold my pen to record the cause of my amusement, so this entry may be brief. But record it I must – posterity will thank me!

Josiah has announced his wish to become a learned man. He wrote to me from London to inform me that he wishes to study with the Greatest Minds in the Country. Quite why he thinks I care, I do not know.

He says in his letter, amongst other ramblings,

“Eff, I find myself more free, now that I am without the constant bind of having to consider your happiness, to nurture my intellect. Your abandonment was a cruel and selfish act. The act of a woman who has lost her wits and I will never forgive you for it.

But I wish to thank you for releasing me to be able to concentrate on myself, for once. You have my eternal gratitude for the time and independence I now enjoy. Ha! You didn’t expect that, did you? You did not want for me to find happiness in your departure, quite the contrary. Well you are to be disappointed! Ha!”

He blathers on for a while in this vein, I confess my eyes glazed over for much of it, but he ends his letter with this:

“So, before long, I shall be the cleverest of men. I have embraced a world of which you know nothing – I revel in the company of educated men whose boots you are unfit to polish. I shall soon be awarded the highest academic title and the greatest academic respect. My subject is, as you may expect, Business and the Swift Acquisition of Wealth.”

He suggests that I may be so enraptured by his success that I will beg him to return – “A vain hope, Eff, I will tell you this minute. Do not wait for me to come back to you”. At the very least he seems confident that I will approach him for money when he is rich – “I accepted your help when we first married because I knew the giving of it made you happy. I did not and do not need financial help from you and will never offer any in reparation.”

Villiers knocked on my door to ask what I could possibly find so amusing, since I was alone in the room. I chose not to share the reason for my laughter, indeed I could barely speak because of it.

This evening I have invited the vicar to supper. His attitude towards me since Harvest has cooled and I wish to know why. I care little for his actual opinion of me, of course, but his good word stands for much in the village and beyond. I wish not to be dismissed by those who have respect for him. Cook is preparing a stuffed duck, I believe. Duck is far too dry for my preference, but I agree with her that it shows restraint.

Sore Loser

Blindingham Hall

October 4th 1860

The Harvest celebrations were a marvel! Villiers surpassed even his own expectations concerning the refreshments and the entertainment – indeed he was so pleased with his success in arranging the music, the decorations and the dancing that I fear I may lose him to the travelling circus.

For my first appearance in the village as an unwed woman, I chose the brightest of dresses and the sturdiest of shoes. I intended to walk as often and as far as I wished and dance whenever I fancied, instead of the customary few steps to my top table to sit slightly behind Josiah. If anyone wondered where he was they did not show it and I felt no need to apprise them of the reason for his absence. I hardly noticed it myself.

I was displeased not to be awarded the jugged fruit prize, if truth be known. My apricots are the talk of the County, but the annual rosette ceremony always leaves me on the outer edge of the crowd. I am led to understand – after a gentle word from the vicar, who seems to know what everyone is thinking whether they tell him or otherwise – that the villagers would see a prize for me as an act of dastardly corruption by the parish elders. How ridiculous! If I were to solicit preferential treatment in return for my considerable contribution to Blindingham’s economy and quality of life, it would not take the form of a pat on the back for my preserves.

Still, I was welcomed warmly and royally distracted by the whole event. A triumphant start to my new life, despite the stiffness in my knees and the pain on the soles of my feet. Robust shoes can only mitigate so far when one is determined to make the most of an outing.


September 18th 1860 Blindingham Hall

I have been remiss of late, I apologise!

I recently gave reason for a reader – should there ever be any – to expect a detailed treatise on the demise of my marriage – I teased and made reference to events and conversations which would later be fully documented here. I intended to explain why I am in such haste to extricate myself from this desperately unhappy union now that I have legal recourse.

I have since made no attempt to explain myself, or justify my actions. I wake up with Dauncey every day and feel no compunction to consult anyone on my choice of breakfast, where I might walk, to whom I might speak and which events of the world I should know or care about. I have so much more time now I do not need to tend to Josiah, or wait for word of him. Or consider what his opinion might be of how I spend my day.

The joy in this freedom has been such a revelation to me that I no longer wish to revisit my previous prison, to describe its confinement or recount my escape!

So there it is – I will not go back there in person or in thought and thus you will never know what happened. I will not sit at this desk – with Dauncey twitching to be taken out, and Villiers pacing the landings waiting for my instruction – and waste my time on such a fruitless pursuit.

In order for me to make space for my new life to begin, you will remain knowledgeless about the way in which my marriage eroded and crumbled like a cliffside.

I am of the opinion that Josiah shares that ignorance with you. He seems to think I have simply run mad – no woman in her right mind would wish to be rid of him. I am sure he believes that.

I am off now to check on the preparations for the Blindingham Harvest Celebrations which will happen in the village in a week or so. I have pledged my usual selection of jams and jugged apricots and am thinking this year of suggesting we bring musicians in from Horsham to play for us. It has been too long since I danced.

Letter Opener

Screenshot 2020-06-27 11.47.36

July 12th 1860

This journal entry will, I fear, be unreadable. My hands shake such that I wonder who is master of them – it is certainly not me!

I saw the envelope on the salver in the entrance. Boo had at last written to me. I ran down the staircase – wondering as I went why Villiers had not brought the letter direct to my rooms. As I thought that, it was clear to me that Villiers had not, for that matter, undertaken any of his daily duties by the time my breakfast was cleared. Where could he be?

No matter. I was sure he would appear soon. I seized Boo’s missive and ran back to my desk. Papa had given me a sharp implement meant for dealing with correspondence which seemed to me quite dangerous. But it was effective, and I sliced through Boo’s seal as easily as if it had already been opened.

When I saw what she had sent me. I fell into a fit of weeping and dismay. My plea to my oldest and closest friend  had resulted in the most egregious response.

She had enclosed, with no note of explanation,  a likeness of  her children – Little Bradstone and Angelina –  both looking sullen, as if the person taking the picture had frightened them into unnatural stillness.

But why did she do that? Had she not comprehended my request for evidence of Josiah’s betrayal? Boo knows that I have always hoped to be a mother myself. Why would she be so cruel as to reply with the very image of my inability to achieve my wish.

I am shocked at Boo’s cruelty.  Shocked and saddened. I had thought her my friend, one who would help me in my quest to rid myself of Josiah’s stifling presence. Instead she torments me with my own failings.


I shall have to look elsewhere for the evidence I seek.

Villiers is on Fire

July 4th 1860, Blindingham Hall


Villiers is such a thoughtful servant! How lucky I am that Papa brought him back to the Hall. He has, of late, become a little slower and more pensive – I notice this in myself, too, of course. I suppose I must acknowledge that increasing age brings with it more experiences, not all of which are welcome, so perhaps Villiers and I are feeling our losses more keenly than we would wish. I wonder also whether the duties involved in running the Hall and grounds are weighing heavy on him – I do often hear him say aloud that he wishes Jennet were still here, and he has that stupid boy at his heels much of the day. I must ask him whether he feels the burden is too much. I have no notion, however, what I could do if my guess is correct.

I digress. What brought me to write this entry was a thought he came to me with today which was like the Villiers of old – it was such a joy to see him bright-eyed and full of fun again. He opened my curtains this morning with these words:

‘Ma’am! I have had the best of good ideas! Today it is eighty-four years since the day  your new adopted friends across the sea cut themselves adrift from our ancestors. We simply must mark the occasion. I have hatched a plan which I should like to discuss with you after breakfast!’  He ran from my rooms on light feet and with a laugh in his throat, I swear if he could have danced down the stairs he would have.

I was not so enamoured of my time in America to want to share their delight at being free of people like me, and I am not aware that eighty-four is a significant number, being at neither end nor the middle of a decade. But I was intrigued to hear his plans.

As my breakfast was cleared and before I could get up from the table, Villiers skipped into the dining room and shouted ‘Gunpowder, Ma’am! We must use gunpowder!’ He paused, clearly expecting me to know of which he spoke, but I did not. I waited.

‘Tonight, the groundsmen and I would like to entertain you with a display of firepower and colour, to mark your time abroad and your welcome return’. I asked whether he had put this idea to Mr Hatherwick – he should at least be made to feel he has some influence over what happens here (I did not say those words to Villiers, naturally). Villers gave me one of his looks and said ‘I asked the master for his opinion, but he gave none save for telling me he has an appointment in the village this evening and that we are free to do as we wish in this regard’.

So it seems that this evening, at dusk, Josiah will be in the village – in some commercial pursuit, I expect – and I will be seated on the terrace while Villiers and the grounds staff set fire to things in front of me. I will set my face to be pleased, for Villiers’ sake. I may even actually enjoy it!