Surprises

Sydney Walk
December 3rd 1852

I have had the most distressing day. It is lucky that Josiah is out this evening with Mr Waterhouse – they are attending a performance by Miss Lind in Berkeley Square, apparently – for I do not feel able to arrange my thoughts in a straight line and he would doubtless press me for an explanation. I shall write down here all that occurred and see whether it makes more sense to me in the morning.

After I had finished breakfast and given Dauncey a thorough brushing, the doorbell rang. Villiers ran to answer it and gave such a shriek that I leapt to the landing as if the house were ablaze. I could hear Papa’s voice urging Villiers to put a stop to his wails and as I arrived at the foot of the stairs I could see what had caused him to become so agitated. Poor Papa was holding on to the doorway, with a river of blood pouring from his temple!

Villiers flapped around arranging towels and a bowl of water in the kitchen and we helped Papa to a seat. He seemed such a crumpled sight, not like my lion of a father at all.

“Papa! Whatever can have happened to you? Should Villiers send for the police?”

“No, Effie, I simply need a poultice and some tea. Do stop that servant of yours from screeching – I have sustained a slight accidental injury, not been set upon by pickpockets .”

I bathed Papa’s head and gave him a bowl of broth – the cook is always at the market in the mornings but I managed to warm the soup myself – and after some minutes he recovered enough to tell me something of what had befallen him.

“It was nothing, Effie. I was walking along Bartlett Street and I slipped on some vegetable matter that must have fallen from a grocer’s cart. Really, I should do better to contact the market association than the police – I think I could make a case against them for not securing their produce properly on those ridiculous barrows they push about.”

Papa seemed to become stronger with every spoonful of the broth – I must ask the cook what she puts in it – and as he regained his composure I noticed that Villiers had fallen silent and was soothing his forehead with a wet cloth. Really, he is a marvel at social occasions but as useless as a puppy if someone is in peril. I shall mention to Josiah that when we are in London we might need a butler with a more robust approach to everyday incidents. A man should be able to slip on a potato skin without causing physical distress to the servants, I am sure.

I satisfied myself that Papa’s injury was much less severe than it had seemed at first. Indeed after some more broth and a couple of stout biscuits he was quite himself again, and only an eagle could have spotted his wound.

“Shall I walk with you to your destination, Papa, to make sure your fall has not disturbed your balance?” I asked him. At which point I realised that he had not said why he was walking in our neighbourhood in the first place. I had not been expecting him to visit and as far as I am aware we do not live near any legal offices or other business interests of his. As I spoke, I fancied that the same thought had occurred to him.

“Well, I was…erm….I had planned….” he faltered a little, which is to be expected in someone who has just received a blow to the head, I suppose, and then he went on. “I was hoping to surprise you with a seasonal visit, my dear, ” he said, “I wondered whether you might like to take tea with me in Town.”

“What a charming plan!” I answered, “And how cunning of you to call without announcement and to come so far out of your way to treat me. If you still feel able, I should be delighted to accompany you.” I instructed Villiers to get our outdoor things together and then dashed upstairs to make sure that Dauncey was comfortable and unlikely to miss me. He was in a heavenly cat sleep that I could not bring myself to spoil with a goodbye kiss.

When we were out on Sydney Walk, I looked at Papa in cold daylight and saw how old he looked. I had never thought of him as anything other than my dashing Papa before, but this morning he seemed as if he had aged twenty years in the last ten. He has never truly recovered from losing Mama so cruelly, I suppose. We walked along in silence for a few minutes and then another awful thing happened. A harsh voice broke our thoughts,

“George! You old goat! You dusted yourself down quick enough, didn’t you? Where did you find this one?” I looked up and saw a woman I have often seen before – when I have been out walking in the late afternoons with Dauncey – staring quite brazenly at Papa.” Papa was staring back, aghast.

“Do you know her, Papa?,” I asked him.

“Oooh! ‘Do you know her Papa!’ she’s a pretty one, George!” said the woman, glancing at me. “I asked you where you found her.”

“She is my daughter,” said Papa, quietly.

“Daughter, indeed!” scorned the woman, “And I suppose I’m your mother, now, am I? You stay with those you know, George, else next time it won’t just be your head.” She threw her hair back, laughed and skittered off, leaving poor Papa looking confused. She must have seen him fall earlier and chosen not to help him, the witch.

“What nonsense she talks, Papa! Pay no attention.” I held his arm as he leaned towards me and I watched as he looked around us as if trying to assure himself that no-one else had seen this exchange.

I was horrified. I had introduced my dear, proud father to the sort of people I had become used to without noticing that they had no shame and less dignity. The poor man had simply wished to surprise his daughter with afternoon tea in a London hotel and I, by living in Sydney Walk, had subjected him to public derision and physical harm. We did have tea in Town but he hardly spoke to me – I can only assume he was angry that I could expose him to such degradation.

The mortification I feel is almost unbearable. I am glad Josiah is spending the evening in civilised company. I do not feel I derve to do so myself.

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