We Were Sailing…

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May 11th 1860, Blindingham Hall

I shall not discuss the carriage trip to Liverpool, nor indeed the mercifully short stay in that place. Travelling between home and one’s destination is a tiresome business – it is to be hoped that, in time, better minds than mine will discover speedier and less rickety forms of transportation.

Josiah and I had secured a private cabin aboard a packet ship they called The Shenandoah. For 20 guineas each, we were to be taken to Boston and then onwards by carriage to New York, with three meals a day and the promise of at least one evening in the company of the Captain! I was as giddy as a goat at the sight of my bed for the next five weeks – a doll-sized affair with a ladder, setting me up against the roof of the cabin, with Josiah on a truckle at the base. In truth, Josiah had not shared sleeping quarters with me for many nights of our married life. His frequent trips away, the small bed he has in his study, his capacity for sleeping through his own noisiness, and my wish to be undisturbed until ready, had led to us being sparing in our togetherness. I prefer to share my bed with Dauncey in any case, and would gladly have booked him as my travelling companion, but he is scared of water – poor thing – and would be almost as terrified as me in a new city!

Thus I was to spend my nights with Josiah again; this enforced closeness was unusual, but not altogether unwelcome, I suppose.

I wandered the deck before departure, waving at people gathered on the dockside to see the ship depart – none were there to see Josiah and I safely set sail, of course, but some waved to me nonetheless. There was much cheering and calling out of farewells – it mattered not that none were directly meant for me. I was on an adventure and I fancied myself quite the explorer!

Josiah is a sociable man, as I have recorded in entries past – he set to making himself known amongst our fellow passengers, ensuring that any women travelling alone would know to call on him if they became distressed. His chivalry was unrivalled at that time, and still may be. I do not know. But I must not leap ahead.

I loved my little bunk, with its heavy coverlet and wooden rail – if not for them I might have been tossed out during the dark hours of more than one stormy night, I am certain of it! I marvelled daily at the activities of ship’s crew – whistling to each other from the top of a set of ropes,  heaving heavy wooden objects back and forth, and  endlessly swabbing, clearing and patrolling the decks. I would watch them work for as long as the daylight would allow – stirred by their strength and good cheer.

Save for the sailors, our crossing was both eventful and desperately dull. Hours and hours of slow progress and nothing to see but the horizon – interrupted by  moments of great panic and upheaval. I soon came to realise that the three meals a day were vital, as no-one could be sure to digest any one of them for long.

Josiah did indeed become a place of sanctuary for lone and indisposed  travellers – he was to be found most days holding up some poor woman or other as she grasped the side of the ship in the grip of continual sickness. My stomach for the High Seas was stronger than anyone would have imagined – especially myself I was proud to discover. But my appetite for being with Josiah – for sharing with him the new things I saw and thought –  had certainly waned.

If I am to be honest in these pages (and if not here, then where?)  I was full of hope and anticipation for what I would find in America, but less pleased by what I was bringing with me.

The story of the next 5 years will take 5 minutes to tell. For next time!

Capital Venture

1df2f-journal_smMay 10th 1860, Blindingham Hall

I promised to recount my gains. At such backward looking I see they were not gains at all, but distractions. Nevertheless I shall set them down here. Oh, for a story to tell of happiness! That will be for another time, I hope.

Papa’s passing, shocking and painful though it was, resulted in my being gifted a sum of money which quite put me about. He had made sure to say, in his will and testament, that his bequest should be for me and only me. He declared Josiah to be of independent means and took care to say that he should not receive so much as a guinea from the estate. Bless Papa – he was so proud of Josiah’s nose for commerce, he would not wish to do him the disservice of gifting him unearned wealth.

So, at the age of 27 – childless and without much purpose I would be missed for – I fancied myself quite the traveller. I told Josiah I should like to see what America might offer me. Me! Whose only excursions to date had been down to the village for bread or across a London Square for tea!

Josiah would not countenance my traveling alone – his care for me was boundless, I must attest, and I was pleased he wanted to suspend his business interests in town to spend so much time with me. He promised to use his own money – owing respect to Papa – and told me he had heard of men in New York who would be keen to learn about what London menfolk did to prosper in business. He told me he was determined to become adept in protection – lucky, looked after wife that I was – and would come with me on my adventure. I was more excited than a new rabbit in spring!

We left Villiers to run Blindingham in our absence – his shock at Jennet’s death was a surprise to me but he is a man who feels deeply and I fancy he was glad of the extra responsibility. His concern for the new boy – the simple lad who had been present when Jennet met his end –  had been such that the boy had left his family in the village and moved to lodge in Villiers’ rooms. I will never stop admiring Villiers’ capacity for compassion. He and the boy would make good husbands of the Hall, I was sure.

Within weeks of my decision I had secured passage for Josiah and myself, told Dauncey to behave for his  temporary masters, and filled a trunk with everything I thought I would need for my stay in America.

Learn this from me, if nothing more – preparing for a lengthy stay in another country is a strange and wearisome task.  You will fill your trunk with more, and less, than you need. Without any notion of what the weather or society expects of you, you arrive as a newborn does on its confinement bed, and look to others for help. Further,  you will return with most of what you brought with you, unworn and still folded.

That is of course if you do not depart hastily, as I was forced to do. In such circumstances as I faced, you will say goodbye to clothes and possessions you acquired but which mean little to you.

To return to my story. We embarked for our journey on A bright morning in June 1855. I am too ready for my bed to say more than this tonight. It is enough to say that, on that morning at least, I saw it as an adventure and thus a Gain. The loss came later.

 

Memento Mori

April 21st 1860, Blindingham Hall

Such flightiness in a grown woman, so unbecoming! No sooner do I take up my pen after 6 years of silence than I set it down again. I fear my first entry after so long was of sufficient darkness to make a person wonder what the intervening years have wrought upon me.

I can scarce bear to recall – but, if my musings to come are to make any sense at all I suppose I must.

In brief, then, prior to my resumption of this journal, these are the events which have brought me to my current state. I fear it is simply a tally of gains and losses, so I will start with the most painful of those.

Papa spent scarce twelve months with us here at Blindingham before contracting a lung condition which took him from us in the space of an afternoon. From the first cry of the Welshwoman to the last gasp in his frail body, I was frozen in fear – my Papa! Dying of a disease which took hold in an instant. He had been enjoying his time here, I fancy, what with his reading and his daily circuits of the grounds. The Welshwoman did indeed take an interest in him and would visit him with things she had baked. I never ate them myself – they seemed to me a love token, for his consumption only. The afternoon he died she had called up to the Hall with a basket of Welsh cakes – I have no notion of what was welsh about them, apart from her having made them – and with only his second or third bite he was overcome with A fit of coughing. I heard her call out for me and as I ran down the lawn to the stone seat he was perched on I saw her beat his back – I am no medic but I do not think that violence towards a man with a sudden onset of infection can be for the good. I asked her to stop hitting him as he was clearly struggling to breathe – poor Papa was red in the face, staring wildly up at her, and me, as I arrived behind her. He reached his hand to me, the one that was not clasped to his throat,  and asked for water. But there was no time – he fell forwards, onto the paving, and fought for breath. A tiny piece of welsh cake appeared on his lips as he passed to the next world (where his spiritual friends were no doubt pleased to see him) – the Welshwoman sobbed and fell to her knees asking for forgiveness, but I like to think his last act was to accept a gift of love and succumb to his infection with dignity. Poor Papa! The doctor from the village, summoned by me and upon hearing my account of events,  declared him dead of an unknown lung affliction. But  I can not to this day look at baked goods without a rising in my throat – such a kind man, snatched too soon.

 

And Jennet. Poor Jennet, who was never happily married to that stupid girl but was married to her all the same. He took delivery of a new machine designed to make cutting the grass less arduous. As Head Gardener he was always abreast of new methods in the gardening world. He was teaching his new boy – a booby whose only chance of work was outdoors amongst nature – how to handle this machine on a quiet afternoon on the top lawn when it malfunctioned in some fashion. According to Villiers, who was watching this lesson with great interest, the boy pulled a lever which set some mechanism in motion.  Jennet shouted ‘Not yet, Boy, not yet, take it slowly!’ Which made the boy laugh for some reason – the machine took flight, Jennet leaped to control it and it fell on him. He lay under it, I was told, for an hour or so waiting for the boy to fetch help. But some form of grinding mechanism was still activated and Jennet became embedded in its grip. He died in agony, I gather, but in the pursuit of his beloved profession. Poetic, but also bizarre.

There were other losses, but of no-one consequential. Villiers saw off that fool Garforth – not to his death, I must point out, but to a luckless household in Bideford.

I make mention of Villiers and what do I hear? He is even now warming the water for my bath. I shall speak of the gains another time, when I have fully grasped what they were.

 

 

Ringside Seat

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April 15th  1860

It has been an absolute age since I last committed my thoughts to paper! There is much to say and much that has been forgotten, but the call to set down my thoughts once more has been strong, of late.

I must confess that it was the sight of the newly widowed Mrs Cornbench – alone and seated shrunkenly at the service this past Sunday – that has brought me to a sensation  I feel I must lay down here, in private, where no one will censure my thoughts.

I envy her.

She sat without her husband, whose burial mound is still not sunken, and without her children. I do not know where they were – I trust being cared for by another until she is able to return to them – but as I watched her sit there, unburdened and untouched, I wished that she were me.

She held her hands in her lap, her wedding band clearly loose on her finger. Loose, worn-down and dull as a mid-March morning. As I stared, I felt my own band pinching the skin on my left hand, causing my finger to swell slightly and wish me to be rid of it.

Oh, how wicked this thought is!

I feel the constraints of my wedding ring as keenly as I do my marriage. God strike me, I wish Josiah were as liable to imminent loss as Mrs Cornbench’s ring. To slide noiselessy from sight and touch, its absence more likely to be noted by observers, than by her or me.

 

 

 

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

 Blindingham Hall

October 3rd 1854

5604d-villiersrest  I am beside myself with joy! My most fervent fantasies could not have foretold the unutterable rapture of the past few days – my man, my rock, my most dependable friend and guide has been returned to me by the Gods of forgiveness and servitude.

Villiers is once again at Blindingham!

Papa had made no mention of who his new manservant was to be – I am as yet unable to determine whether guile or senility is responsible for his silence on the matter, he is so frail of late. But that is of no concern just now. 

I had agreed that Papa was to be met at the station, so I despatched Jennet with clear instructions to speak plainly to him and to repeat himself if necessary. He does not have the sort of face one might remember, so I was worried that Papa may be disconcerted by his approach. I told Jennet that there would be a new man in attendance – bless him, he seemed quite cheered by the thought that Papa was being cared for – and that he must bring them directly to the Hall with no stoppages at the Inn or the market (I was particularly keen that the Welsh woman was not to meet Papa before I had had chance to smooth his hair and trim his nose).

The Cook and I waved Jennet off and then set about preparing the sort of lunch which would make Papa feel welcome but not weary – I chose asparagus soup with fennel, followed by curds and spiced apple. Whilst up in Town I had heard that a man’s diet says much about his character and as I have always believed Papa to be of clean habits and a sharp mind, I chose a lunch to reflect that . I hope his weakness is temporary, but if it proves not to be I shall stem its progress with Cook’s help, I am sure.

 

At the appointed time – calculated on trusting Jennet to drive slowly for comfort but speedily enough for Papa not to feel inconvenienced until he reached his own quarters – I positioned myself at the entrance to the approach. As I saw the carriage breasting the hill I began to wave – quietly at first but with increasing enthusiasm as they drew nearer. Then I saw Jennet’s stricken face as he drove the horse into the gate. He was ashen, as if his cargo were spirits of the departed – what on earth was the reason for his tears? My heart jumped about under my bodice – had something dreadful happened to Papa on the way here?

The cart halted, Jennet leapt down from the seat and began to unstrap the baggage he and his party carried with them. Papa’s gloved hand emerged gingerly from the window and as I moved to help him step down I almost fainted at what I heard.

‘Sir, please stay seated until I am in a position to receive you. I must be ready for you as you reach for the exit’

I knew that voice! I would recognise it anywhere! I have dreamed more nights than I care to mention of hearing that voice again. As the carriage door flung open I lurched forward and pulled at it as if to fling it from its hinges,

‘Papa! It is me, Effie!’ I shouted, ‘Who is with you?’

‘What did you say?’ called Papa, sounding vague.

‘Papa! Who is your servant?’

‘What a question! What does it matter who I have brought with me? Give me your arm, my dear, I wish to see my rooms as soon as I can!’

Before I could reach forward to take Papa’s hand, my gaze was met by the happiest of sights. Villiers alighted from the carriage as a pony steps on coals, carrying my Papa in his silk-sleeved arms. I nearly died of happiness at the sight of my father and my favoured servant, together and approaching my home.

Villiers smiled at me and said,

‘Madam, I am delighted beyond measure to be once again in your company and your father’s employ. I look forward to giving you my best attention and assure you that I shall look after my master  – your father – with my life.’  

Then he walked Papa into the house, handing Jennet a note as he did so. Jennet read the note, nodded to Villiers and  immediately remounted the driver’s seat.  He swept away, in the direction of the village, wiping his eyes as he went. I was pleased to see him so moved by my good fortune and trusted that the note he was holding in his teeth would survive until it reached the village shop – it must have been a list of urgent supplies for Papa.

We have spent two glorious days settling in together and determining our new way of managing the Hall. Garforth is a little in awe of Villiers, I am sure of it. That pleases me very much indeed.

I am truly the luckiest woman alive to have two men so precious to me in my home at last – only Josiah’s presence could make my happiness greater.

 

 

 

Papa has a brand new Footman

 

 

7ed8b-papaBlindingham Hall

October 29th 1853

 

Papa has sent word that he will spend the rest of the Winter here at the Hall with me – I am so relieved. Josiah came home three days ago (I have been too busy being wifely to keep up with this journal until tonight) and handed me a note from him. It was the briefest of written communications, as is Papa’s way, but gave sufficient information for me to be able to prepare his rooms.

He is bringing a manservant with him, it seems, as he has become increasingly frail – which in truth I had determined already from his handwriting. Josiah knows nothing of Papa’s affairs, save that he is coming here, so I shall have to wait until I see him to hear his news. I hope he is not too feeble in body to raise interest in the Welsh woman, I should very much like to see him made happy again. So, Jennet will collect them from the Huntsman’s Arms on High London Hill a week from this very day! I am sad to say that that same journey will see Josiah returning to London, but at least I shall have the company I have been craving since I arrived here.

I shall put Papa in the Chinese room and give his servant a low bed in the dressing room so he can be close by at all times. For his breaks, I shall allow the servant to sit downstairs – he may even be of use to Garforth at times when Papa does not need him. Garforth is certainly in want of guidance and whoever this person is, he cannot be worse.

I profess myself quite excited!

Fresh Meat

4c8e8-dauncey

Blindingham

October 7th 1853

I fear Dauncey has become depressed. He mopes around more than he did in London and seems to show no interest in exploring the Hall any further. I think he may be lonely, not unlike his mistress. I cannot bear to think of him sad and joyless, with no light in his eyes.

So I have had the brilliant idea of finding a companion for him! As he is my comfort, so shall he have one. On my next visit to the village I shall ask the Post Office woman, from whom no-one has secrets, whether she knows of a Queen approaching her confinement. And if she does, I shall  stake a claim for the first kitten of the litter! Or even two!

How Dauncey will love a new friend or two to skitter up and down the gallery with and to nuzzle at night. Another beating heart to hear in the dark. I am quite envious of him already.

Dog Breath

Blindingham Hall
October 3rd 1853

Great news! Papa has expressed interest in coming to the Hall for a visit, on condition that I do not invite any of the neighbours to dinner during his stay. That is no trial for me at all, indeed it is a blessed relief in truth, but since I am keen to introduce him to the the Welshwoman at the Post Office I shall have to find reason to present ourselves on her doorstep. I will ask him to accompany me to the Inn on some pretext and shall design a chance meeting – how clever of me!

No word this week from Josiah – he is such a hard working husband and I am very proud of him, but I find his absence from home very wearing. I am becoming quite the Mistress in matters of the staff now, so it is his company I miss, not his mastery.

Dauncey has a cough, which worries me a little. His tiny ribs do strain so, it is an alarming sight – I have taken to warming the water in his bucket so he is not forced to draw breath without warning. There are a hundred decisions to make in a day here – I am a grown woman but would so enjoy the help of another. Perhaps Papa will take pity on me – Garforth is no use to me and I need a man for some things, after all.

Going Postal

Blindingham Hall

September 9th 1853

Josiah has sent word that he is to stay in London a while longer. I am almost unable to bear it! I cannot run Blindingham by myself. I have begged him to come home but he is adamant that his business needs him more than his wife does. Wife? I may as well be a widow!
I want to  invite Papa to stay with me in the hope that he is so enamoured of the Hall and the village that he changes his mind and decides to accept my offer of permanent residence here. I fancy that the woman who runs the Post Office may prove useful to me in that regard. She is pleasant, well dressed and not married, which is convenient.
When I called in yesterday she showed great interest in my affairs – as befits a woman who deals with communication, I suppose – and I discovered more about my neighbours than ever they would have told me. It seems that Mrs Cornbench is in regular contact with a gentleman in Eastbourne, unbeknownst to Mr Cornbench – this knowledge will enliven our next meeting considerably.
It is decided, then. I shall write to Papa this afternoon and speak well of him when I go to send the letter. I must ask one of the staff to remind me of the woman’s name – she did introduce herself but I am unable to recollect what she said. I have a feeling she may be from Wales, but I don’t think Papa will mind much about that.

In Plain Sight

Blindingham Hall
September 7th 1853


My diversion around the grounds with Jennet has left me in a state of apprehension. He seems saddened, more weary and dejected than when I last spent time with him on gardening matters – I did not feel it right to question him about his marriage to that ridiculous woman but I cannot help feeling that he has not been made happier for it. He was reticent when speaking about anything other than the grounds – which is right and proper, of course, but a little frustrating – and said nothing at all when I mentioned how heavy the loss of Villiers sat with me.

We have planned a beautiful shrubbery and lawns, though, so I must not mind his quietude too much. He did mention some talk in the village that they wish to view me now that I am back. I do have some letters which it would not kill me to take to the post office myself, I suppose. It may seem wrong for someone of my rank to line up with everyone else, but it will give me a chance to find out what the Italian plans to do and where he intends to set up his studio. Oh! How stupid of me! Of course I must allow him to work in the Orangery now it is restored – perfect light, plenty of room and naturally I will be able to help him choose his sitters and their poses. Josiah can not possibly object to my spending so much time with a true artist – especially in a room whose interior can be seen from all angles and at some considerable distance. I shall gather my correspondence and make my way to the village without delay.