Neighbourhood Watch

B’ham Hall September 16th 1852

I had occasion to visit our nearest neighbours yesterday. Mr Cornbench and his tiny wife have lived at Lydiatt House for a good few years now and have become established in the village almost as soundly as Josiah and I. They are a nice enough couple and she, despite being no bigger than a sparrow, has produced two strapping boys and a brace of girls. I do not warm to them, though, for reasons I can not fully express. However, being the next family after ours in importance, I felt I should apprise them of our plans to spend the Winter in Town, leaving a lunatic living in the Hall. I hesitated, of course, to refer to Cook in such terms directly, but I cannot pretend in this my journal that she is anything other. If she runs finally mad and burns the hall to its foundations, I feel it my duty to have warned the Cornbenches in case they wonder what the distant fires might be…

Jennet drove me over to Lydiatt – it is too far to walk even though it can be clearly seen from the belltower here – and I found the whole family at dinner together. Mr Cornbench was carving a fine bird and the children were singing some nursery song or rhyme to their mother. They do not stand on ceremony overmuch so the maid had shown me straight into the dining room with no announcement at all, like a physician in an emergency. The children broke off singing as I removed my cloak.

“My dear Mrs Hatherwick!” cried Mrs Cornbench as she swept towards me “How lovely to see you in our home. Please excuse our being at table.” She motioned one of the boys aside and I was welcomed to sit between him and his mother as if I had lived with them all my life. “Would you care for some guinea fowl, my dear?” said Mr Cornbench as he drew his knives together, “We have been saddened to hear of your situation, lately and have been wondering how we could be of assistance.”

I flushed as red as the cranberry sauce on the table. Villiers, or somebody, must have spoken freely about poor Cook and now we were the talk of the village!

“We are happy that our ‘situation’, as you put it, is proving to be of some helpfulness to those less fortunate than ourselves.” I answered. ‘How refreshing that you view it in that way!” said he, passing me a plate laden with the best cut of the bird.

Remembering the reason for my visit, I told them in the least alarming terms I could muster that they were now neighbours to a Hall peopled entirely by servants and half-wits (I include the Everdown girl in this, of course). Mrs Cornbench was not at all perturbed at the news and even offered to send her staff over daily to check that all is in order. She held my arm and assured me that Josiah and I must not give Blindingham a second thought while we are away. Her husband and sons all nodded their commitment to keeping a wary eye on my home.

I should be feeling happier to leave for London, I suppose, but I cannot help wondering why they seemed so keen to come to our aid. I do not want their servants wandering in the Hall every day. I shall tell Josiah of their offer and see if he thinks it a generous one. I do hope they are not simply in awe of us and planning to pretend to own the Hall in our absence.

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