Lost in Transition

Blindingham Hall
September 5th 1853


I awoke with the startling realisation that I can no longer trust anyone to look after me. I have for far too long relied on the protection of my husband, the care of my closest friend and the paternal instinct still just present in Papa. I must grow up!

The Italian in the village has stirred up a good deal of rivalry amongst Blindingham folk and I, as Lady of the Hall, must show leadership. I must set the tone for the village’s dealings with this man and must, above all, ensure that my place in Blindingham society is reflected in the portrait he will paint of me.  I may ask him to paint me here, in the Chinese Room –  it is surely the most beautiful room in the Hall and will provide permanent evidence of the tasteful refurbishments Josiah and I have made. The light in the mornings is perfect for my skin tone, but I fear my hair may be too subtle against the darkness of the hair on the oriental women depicted in the silks.  I am once again plunged into despondency in the absence of Villiers. He would know exactly where I should sit and how I should dress. This is too much!

I breakfasted well enough but the staff are still becoming familiar with the new kitchens, so my kedgeree was almost cold. I had not the will to go down and complain. I shall allow the cook some time to get to grips with her domain and will observe the route the serving staff take to reach the dining hall – it may be possible to save some seconds that way to ensure the food arrives at a palatable temperature. I have arranged to see Jennet this afternoon to discuss the winter maintenance plans and will walk the grounds with him. I shall enjoy his company, I expect, since he will not ask too much of me except some agreement and general encouragement.

There is so much for me to consider now I am returned! How shall I direct the staff? Which rooms should be made ready for guests over the coming months? What linen has survived the fire? What shrubs are people planting now? Where will I sit for the Italian and would Josiah prefer me to be chaperoned, and by whom?

Oh, I am quite giddy with the responsibility! The resolve I had at breakfast to behave in a more adult manner is slipping away from me even before luncheon…

The Village of Garcia Fortuna

Blindingham
September 4th 1853

I am sitting with Dauncey on my lap, drinking morning coffee on my own terrace at last. I am glad no-one is with me to chatter and bewilder my mind still further  – last night’s supper with that woman was enough to send me mad. I shall have to tell Josiah what she said, of course, but for now I must order my thoughts and work out what it is that he must know and what I must keep to myself (and Boo).

As the boy drove me up the lane to Lydiatt House, the whole drab collection of Cornbenches idled out to meet me, like a herd of docile cattle. I alighted from the trap and was dragged pathetically into the house by the children – who showed as much spirit as could be expected, I suppose, from those borne into dreary dullness. Mrs Cornbench clasped my arm and said,

” Oh my dear, how pleased we are to see you back in your rightful place! Blindingham is empty without you. Do come and eat with us while we tell you everything that has happened here while you have been up in London. You might not think the City so exciting when you learn what goes on in the country!”

She babbled on in this tiresome manner throughout the whitebait and right up until the end of the soup. Eventually Mr Cornbench hushed her and we endured some greying beef in relative peace.

The Cornbenches are very modern people who believe their children should dine with company – I can only imagine how quiet they are when alone – so it was not until they had been sent to their beds that I began to understand the reason for all the faddle about village news.

“My dear Mrs Hatherwick, permit me to speak with freedom in the interests of your continued happiness, now you are returned home.” (Mr Cornbench addressed me as if I were at the Assizes; I became quite unsettled at his tone) “You will be pleased, I am convinced of it, that we have taken it upon ourselves to apprise you of recent events.”

He paused, waiting for what I don’t know. I adopted an expression of puzzled interest in the hope that he would carry on speaking without me having to bother to request it. He took my hint,

“Someone has arrived to take lodging in the Village. A very interesting character – he is from Italy by all accounts and is every bit as exotic as his provenance would suggest.”

Exotic? What on earth could he mean? And it would only take  two cloves in an orange for Mr Cornbench to declare a whole fruit basket exotic, so I was not expecting a great deal from this story.

” He is called Mr Fortuna. Mr Garcia Fortuna from Naples. Naples is in Italy.”

“I guessed as much,” I said. “And do you know why has this Mr Fortuna come to live in the village?”

“He is to paint our portraits – every one of us! He has a commission from a very honourable patron; we are all to become famous in the Galleries of Rome!” Mrs Cornbench squealed and bounced around in her seat, til I was forced to address her, too.

“Paint our portraits? Who on earth should wish to see the residents of Blindingham preserved in oils?”

I was quite perplexed by the news and by the degree of excitement it warranted, until I heard the answer to my question.

” My dear! We are to hang in the halls of the Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef! Mr Fortuna is to spend a year observing us ordinary village folk (I bridled a little at being included in that group, but bit my tongue in the presence of Royalty…) and he is to send his works to Italy where the Emperor is regaining power from the Revolutionaries! Now, tell me that is not the most exciting news ever to have reached your pretty ears!”

Mrs Cornbench had quite forgotten herself as she reached for my ears to tweak them in her frenzy. I recoiled enough to save my dignity, but I was extremely exercised by the whole business.

I could not – and can still not – fathom why an Emperor of Austria should wish to furnish his Italian acquisitions with images of rural Surrey. But if Signor Garcia Fortuna is to paint portraits for the Royal Houses of Europe, I should like to ensure that one of them is of me.

My concern now is how much of this news to convey to Josiah. He is quite capable of living an entire six-month at Blindingham without knowing anything of local activity or gossip, but if I am to sit for a painting I shall have to spend some time with this Mr Fortuna. If he is an unmarried gentleman, Josiah will not hear of it, I am sure. I will write to Boo and ask her advice – she is quite shrewd where my husband is concerned and has often steered me to the best course of action in my dealings with him. Bless her, she must listen as closely as any friend could when I speak of him – she almost knows his thoughts as well as I do myself!

Gossip Girl

Blindingham
September 2nd 1853

Here I am – as Mistress of Blindingham once more! If the past two days of travel and travail are typical of my fortunes I swear I shall never leave this house again. It is beautiful and it is my own!

As usual the servants were lined up to see me in and some of the girls were obviously pleased to watch Dauncey as he investigated – he did look small when he stood on the doorstep for the first time, bless him.  I remembered fondly the days when Villiers and Cook were at the head of the line but I cannot wish history away – if things never changed at all I would still be happy, playing with my dolls and dreaming of my future, instead of being Josiah’s wife. Which is the greatest happiness, of course.

Jennet was present, not in the welcome party but foraging somewhere close by and his new bride was smiling rather too brightly, I thought, as she watched me pass. She suits a highly coloured outfit far better than she does a laundry apron, I must confess. Still, I shall most probably never see her unless I venture into the washrooms – and I do not think my hair would survive too many forays there.

I fancied that Jennet watched me with some sadness, but I was so happy to be on my own doorstep I chose not to care much about him.

To be at Blindingham without Villiers – or any butler for that matter – will be a trial of sorts, but I shall press Josiah for a solution when he returns. I shall busy myself with teaching Dauncey where he is to sleep and which areas of the lawn he must not dig up. Watching him fall in love with this house will be a delight.

As I was being brought tea in the afternoon, the footman gave me a note from the intolerable Cornbenches, inviting me to dine with them tomorrow. Such tedium! She wrote that she has much to tell me about the goings on in the village this Summer – I can only hope they serve strong coffee after dinner, else I shall fall dead asleep on my plate with boredom.

Unplanned stoppage

Sommersbury Turnpike Inn
August 31st 1853

This day has been too much for me to bear! Not five hours into my solitary journey I was beset by trouble and had not the faintest notion of when a living soul would realise my plight.

When I say ‘living’ I should truly say that I mean ‘conscious’. My driver, after a number of treacherous departures from the designated road we were on, suddenly slumped in a stupor across his driving plate! He remained there, quite still but making the sort of noise I imagine might come from a half-slaughtered sow, for an interminable age while Dauncey and I tried to wake him.

I eventually noticed that we had stopped within sight of a small coaching house, so I stepped down from the carriage and carried my companion with me to see if anyone sensible might be in attendance there.

It was only the services of the woman from the Inn and her runt of a servant boy that saved me from certain disaster. On seeing my driver, she indicated to the boy that he knew what to do – I had the strange impression that this kind of occurrence was not unfamiliar to her – and within two minutes he had climbed onto the carriage plate and emptied a bowl of water onto the driver’s head. Miraculously, he was not dead or dying after all  – but his revival was not sufficient for him to restart our journey.

I am now sitting with Dauncey in a room which I would not use at home even to store sweeping brushes. The driver is asleep in a room above me and so Dauncey and I must wait until he is fit to resume his task of setting us safely down on the Blindingham approach. I cannot tell how many hours I may have to endure here – with the Inn keeper’s wife revelling in my misfortune whenever she brings me some soup – but I can assure the owners of the South Eastern Express Coach Company that very soon they shall have to change either their workforce or their name. They cannot carry on with both.

Dog tracks

Sydney Walk
August 30th 1853

Josiah is sending me ahead to Blindingham without anyone to accompany me! I am to travel tomorrow with no knowledge of whether Villiers is to return to us. I am distraught at such a prospect – however shall I manage when I arrive? There will be staff there, of course – Josiah is not a cruel husband who would abandon me to dress my own hair – but no-one with Villiers’ knowledge of how to run the House. I pleaded with him to let me wait a few more days to see if Papa would change his mind as well but he was firm in his resolve. He said he had urgent business which could not be ignored and that I was too much of a distraction from his duties. I suppose I should be pleased that my husband’s attention can still be drawn by me after all these years but I am nevertheless not happy at his ruling. He is not the sort of man to leave things undone, though, and I must abide by his wishes.

So, I shall pack my clothes in my bags and put Dauncey in my coat sleeves for the journey – he will entertain me every bit as much as Villiers could, I am sure.

Umbrage

Sydney Walk
August 22nd 1853

Well! There is nothing more stubborn than an elderly man with theatrical pretensions! Papa will not countenance spending the winter with us in Blindingham. He says he will miss his London life too much. What ‘London life’? Who will he miss more than his own flesh and blood?  Not his spiritualist friends, surely, nor the card players. he cannot mean his acting company, or the circle Mrs Doughty has invited him into. He cannot wish to fill his empty days with all these people, can he, instead of his own daughter and loving son-in-law?  I am insulted beyond endurance, truly.

Re-establishment

Sydney Walk
August 21st 1853

Josiah has had a letter from the parson at Blindingham confirming the marriage of Jennet to that stupid girl. I admit to a sliver of envy at the thought of their excitement in a new life together, although I could not have married a man more suited to me than my own husband. He is solicitous of the welfare of others in matters that other men might think beneath them – indeed as soon as he read the parson’s words, Josiah sent a boy straight to the guest house where Villiers is staying.

He sent the boy with a note informing him of Jennet’s recent nuptials and giving him an assurance that despite everything that has happened over the summer in London, Villiers is welcome to rejoin our household and resume his position as our trusted and trustworthy Butler. I saw the note myself, it read thus,

V


Gardener wed. Your atrocious behaviour forgotten –  return awaited.


JH

How many other husbands would try so hard to rehabilitate a disgraced servant? Josiah understands my unwillingness to take Garforth with us to the Hall and he understands Villiers’ sadness at being away from us. Josiah is a man who wishes above all else that those around him are happy. No, however enviable the state of new matrimony may be, I would not be without my own dear husband.

Home for the Holidays

Sydney Walk
August 20th 1853

We are preparing to leave London for the winter! After months of restoration, Blindingham Hall is finally ready for us to resume residence. I am beside myself with anticipation and can hardly sleep for thinking about how we shall inhabit our new home. Of course, I know it is not entirely new but there is so much that has been added and refreshed – Josiah has worked day and night to make the Hall beautiful. I am the most fortunate wife in Christendom to have such a creative husband. I have already forgiven him the endless days and nights away from home – I am not such an ingrate that I can stay cross with him when I think of all there is to look forward to!

Of course, I must spend these next few days saying my goodbyes. I shall go to see Boo and her brood and must call in to the Press before I leave. I have had word from Mrs Doughty that she is seeking to expand the business. She is such a forceful woman, I am proud to be her associate.  She wishes to discuss her ideas with Boo and me at our earliest convenience so I have shown some initiative and already arranged to release funds from Papa to bring to the meeting with me. I am quite the businesswoman, am I not? I am to see Papa this afternoon and shall put to him a little plan I have been thinking about for a while – I shall ask him to accompany Josiah and me to Blindingham for the Winter.  How dutiful a daughter I am!

What the Butler Saw

Sydney Walk
August 16th 1853

I do not care for Garforth at all. Dauncey is scared of him and the servants will do nothing he tells them. I heard the pantrymaid answer him back yesterday with such effrontery I wonder that he did not call on Josiah to dismiss her. Villiers was so good with the staff – oh, I cannot be expected to endure this new arrangement a minute longer!  I have already spoken of my dissatisfaction in the matter to Josiah, but he seems happy enough with him. He is vague about Garforth’s origins and simply will not give me a clear answer to the question of where he found him, and so soon after Villiers abandoned us. If he was indeed recommended by a member of Josiah’s club I should wish to question the member concerned. Josiah’s obvious and creditable commitment to his business is making him inattentive at home, I fear, but the fact is he has hastily employed an incompetent man that he has no intention of censuring for his inadequacies. It is as if Garforth has more power at Sydney walk than Josiah himself.

We are due to resume our lives at Blindingham next month – although it will be strange to spend Winter in the country and not here in London – and I absolutely will not take Garforth with me to preside over the staff at the Hall. He seems to know little of a Butler’s duties and much of the ways of a dandy. He wears clothing more suited to a gentleman entertainer  –  perhaps he is merely acting the part of a servant in preparation for some theatrical presentation? I shall invite poor Papa to tea and see if he can sniff the stage on him!

Sound Minds

Sydney Walk
August 13th 1853

My Dearest Boo

I send my fondest regards to you and LB and baby Angelina – and to Mr Pitt as well, of course. I confess my household is in a state of disarray, such that I am not happy to invite you into it. This letter is to explain a little of what I have suffered recently and to ask for a pardon for my desultory show of hospitality over this summer in London.

The most terrible thing has happened, Boo. Villiers has left us! You told me he was turned upside down by the impending marriage of Jennet to that blockheaded girl. That wedding has now taken place in the village and it seems that Villiers is unable to bear being employed in the same family. So, the Hatherwicks have lost a butler and gained a stupid kitchenmaid. In my generosity I offered Jennet’s bride a place amongst the Blindingham staff – hoping she has improved since she was last with us. We are not returning there for another month (Oh, Boo – you will adore the new rooms we have had built. We have Chinese silk in the first guest room – from China!) but Villiers could take no more of Josiah’s teasing and whilst I was away they had the most awful falling out. He did not even work out his notice.

I went yesterday to the lodging house in Camden where he has taken refuge. His sister owns it, I believe, although she was not present when I called. It is a pleasant enough place, although quite drab on the outside, with flower baskets which were woefully unattended for the time of year. The sister  is landlady to a number of distressed young men, it seems, as the downstairs parlour was full of Villiers’ co-habitants, all clucking and plucking over their lunch. One of them came to the door when I rang the bell and as I entered I was minded of a mother bird returning to the nest at feeding time – there was a silence as they all turned to me with expectant, open faces but  as Villiers emerged to greet me they returned to chooking and scraping at their soup bowls.

Villiers was adamant that he could not return, despite some pitiful pleading from me. He allowed me to reclaim Dauncey – which is the least I expected of him – but sent me on my way with a sad resolve not to accompany me. He seems convinced that I am not safe in Josiah’s care and insisted on making prophecies and warnings which meant nothing to me at all. Remembering his shocking treatment of the Girl and her idiot child and his distress at the loss of the booby from Blindingham, I fancy he may be a little unhinged, Boo. There can be no other explanation for his hatred of Josiah and his concern for me – he is driven by guilt and unrequited love for that farm animal of a girl.

Do you know of a physician who specialises in diseases of the mind, Boo? I should so love to restore Villiers’ senses to him. I wish above all else for him to be happy and for Garforth to be on the watch for employment elsewhere.

Really, what with Cook and now this, I fear Josiah and I have been most unfortunate in our employment of the mentally fragile. I wonder whether I have been too tolerant and understanding in my treatment of them. Perhaps a few more harsh words from me would stop me having to save them from themselves when I am most in need of them!

I shall come to see you soon, Boo. I give you my word that you and yours will be the first guests to stay with us at Blindingham. I know that Josiah is keen to give my closest friend the best of our newly refurbished bedchambers,

Yrs

Eff x