May the Heavens save me from interfering women! I have received a letter from Mrs Cornbench and am now all put about. If I tell Josiah what it contains he will send me back to Blindingham for sure. I must keep it secret from him whilst determining what to do. Oh, the bother of it all!
This morning Villiers skipped into the drawing room carrying an envelope on the salver that is kept on the stand in the hall. He swept up to me and presented it under my nose as if he were the finest magician in the land.
“Madam has been sent a letter!” he squealed. “It was posted in the village back at Blindingham!”
He danced about my chair like a will o’the wisp and finally produced a silver letter opener he must have concealed in his sleeve.
“Is it from Jennet, Madam? Does it contain information I should be made aware of about the Hall?”
“There is no mud or pig feed smeared on this letter, Villiers,” I said to him. “I think it must have been written by someone who spends the better part of their day indoors, don’t you?”
He pinched his mouth up til he quite put me in mind of Dauncey’s rear end and then left the room. He did not offer me tea, so I know he must have been cross with me.
I was preparing myself for news that Cook had come to harm, or that the Hall had been destroyed or some such drama, and walked to the window so that I could pace as I read it. But this is what the letter said,
My Dear Mrs Hatherwick,
I do hope your stay in London is continuing to be enjoyable and am quite envious of your proximity to life lived in the full. It is quiet here at Lydiatt House, but we are all well and that is enough to wish for, I am sure.
The purpose of this letter is to tell you that I visited Blindingham Hall yesterday, having given you my neighbourly promise that I would, and wish to tell you of my findings. When I arrived, Mrs Everdown showed me in and was kind enough to offer me a glass of cordial, which I accepted. I must say that she appeared in a state of some dishevelment and the glass she served my drink in was not as clean as you or I would have liked. I enquired after Cook’s welfare and was assured that she is in excellent health, but that I could not see her because she was resting. I offered to wait until she had risen for the afternoon, but Mrs Everdown was quietly insistent that Cook would not be downstairs for the rest of the day.
I asked whether there was anything your staff needed that I might be able to help with in your absence, such as guidance over closing down some of the rooms for the Winter since I could not help noticing that there were no covers on the furniture that is left in the dining room. Mrs Everdown told me that she was in no need of help, despite clearly being worn out, poor lady.
As I took my leave, without having assured myself that the upstairs rooms were in good order, I took the liberty of asking Jennet how he was faring. He told me that his days were filled with household chores well enough but that he wished he did not have to be called upon so often to help Cook into her bed. When I enquired what he meant, he said that most evenings Mrs Everdown calls upon him to help her carry Cook to her room, after her sleeping draught has taken effect. As I was talking to him, Mrs Everdown rushed down the steps and gave him a job to do so he scuttled off before I could know more of the evening habits of your household.
I am sorry to say that I was left with the distinct feeling that the Hall is not being run as you would wish it. Everything was in place, the gardens are beautifully kept even in this season and there was no sign of anything untoward that I could detect. It was just a feeling that I felt I should share with you.
I realise that there is nothing you can do from such a distance but worry and I am only sorry to be the bearer of troubling news upon which you are powerless to act. I know that your being three days’ travel away, and likely to be so for a good few months yet, means that the situation at the Hall will not change, unless to deteriorate still further. I do hope that my bringing this to your attention does not mar the rest of your time away from your responsibilities here.
I trust you and Mr Hatherwick will have a prosperous festive season. Please be assured that I shall continue to keep a watchful eye over your home until you return,
Yours in neighbourliness
The interfering harridan! I dare not tell Josiah she is in and out of the Hall as she pleases. What exactly is she trying to say in that letter – that our glasscloths are unwashed and that Cook is heavy? What does that matter and why is it any concern of hers? I should never have accepted her offer to look in on the Hall. I would not be surprised to find her and the whole of her joined-together family living there by the time we return! She is taking far too much interest in my affairs and clearly wishes the Hall to be run as she sees fit. The liberty of the woman! I am mistress of Blindingham, not she, and I have entrusted its care to the redoubtable Mrs Everdown, whose only failing as far as I am aware was not teaching her stupid daughter how to use a mangle.
I do not know what on earth I am to do about this except to toss and turn all night with imagined conversations in which I chide her for her nosiness and point out that she would do well to concentrate her efforts on her own family, who all seem to be incapable of individual thought or action.
I am so angry I could scream, but I know that if I did Villiers would faint clean away with fright. Oh how bothersome other people are!