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

Chaos

Sydney Walk
August 12th 1853

This is the first minute I have had to sit and consider my own thoughts since I came back from Blindingham. So much has happened I can hardly sort one event from another. Indeed, those theories Papa expounds concerning destiny and connections may not be the ravings of an ageing widower, after all. It is possible that when a butterfly flaps its wings in foreign parts, my entire household is turned on its head.

When I had finally escaped from the intolerable Cornbenches,  I journeyed back to Sydney Walk in the most uncomfortable carriage known to man. The driver stopped at every watering hole along the route, claiming that the horse was in constant need of sustenance – by contrast I had eaten and drunk not a morsel since breakfast. To be carried by a well-fed horse is desirable, I suppose, but in future I shall ensure that the creature is catered for prior to departure. 

My headache did not disperse and when I approached my front door in the late afternoon I was met by a man I had never set eyes on who declared himself to be our new Butler! He smiled down at me rather as a snake may welcome a toad. In my dazed and hungry state, I fancied he was not actually human but some sort of visitation. I asked where my husband was and was told he was at his club. This vexed me more than a little since I had sent word that I would be arriving that afternoon. It appears Josiah had not calculated the dietary needs of the horse any more than I had and had waited in for me but become anxious to meet an associate who was in town for a few days from Lacock.  Something to do with photographic imagery, as far as I could understand.  I knew Josiah had been interested in this field for some time but it now seems he has been introduced to a very influential chap who thinks we shall all be able to make lifelike picture records of the most mundane of activities any day of the week – though why on earth any of us should wish to is beyond me for the moment. This ‘butler’ – Garforth he said his name was – leered a little and I saw perspiration upon his forehead and neck. I can not bear the sight of a man perspiring – not indoors. Villiers is an excitable man but even he can remain sweatless when necessary. Garforth told me he would send a boy out to fetch Josiah and then he ordered the kitchen to prepare me some soup. I was too confused to do much except drink the broth he brought me and go to bed. Josiah arrived home much later apparently and, wishing not to disturb me, spent the night in his dressing room.

It was not until the next morning that I realised I had not seen any sign of Dauncey.

At breakfast Josiah sat quietly, waiting for me to ask him what had happened in my absence. He was obviously reluctant to offer any conversation of his own unless pressed by me. How tiresome men are when they have domestic information to impart.

After half an hour of interrogation I learned the news that I had been dreading. Villiers had indeed left us after he and Josiah  had the most terrible argument. From what I could understand of my husband’s contribution to the debate the damage is such that I fear it may never be repaired. What is more, Villiers took Dauncey with him!  He accused Josiah of neglect and cruelty, saying that he was not fit to look after his own family, leave alone a defenceless animal. I was utterly shocked at Villiers’ assertion that my husband does not protect me, although I confess I was glad that Dauncey had a safe – if temporary – home with someone who loves him. I know Villiers had been dreadfully upset by the news that Jennet was to marry, but I cannot think his distress to be so severe that it has robbed him of his reason. What did he mean? How can he think that Josiah is not a provider for his family?

Josiah engaged the services of this Mr Garforth without observing the proper processes. He was anxious, I am sure, to maintain the household in my absence but nevertheless I am cross that I was not consulted. A Lady should be secure in the knowledge that she is being served by someone fit for the job. Despite being with us for well over a fortnight now, Mr Garforth has not supplied us with any references and is quite vague about his previous employment – Josiah says he was recommended by one of the fellows at his club, so I shall have to be happy with that. It is a gentleman’s establishment and all those who join are professional types with no wish to cause harm to each other, I am sure of it. Still, I do not like him. He gives instructions to the staff as if they are army soldiers and he is their General – he shouts a lot and produces the vilest little bits of spit in the corners of his mouth. The cleaning is no longer being done thoroughly enough and the staff are becoming sloppy in other ways, too. My clothes are not laid out as I would wish, but have an air of desperation about them – as if the maid prepares them with her eyes shut. I found her coming out of Josiah’s dressing room yesterday morning in rather too much of a hurry for someone who is supposed to be organised and capable. What on earth is happening?

So, with my faithful Butler and my cat having left home; my husband is spending every waking hour on his big new idea and I have the task of making everything straight again. I shall visit Villiers later on today – he has gone to his sister, I believe, who runs a guest house in Camden. If I cannot persuade Villiers to come home with me, I may well take one of the rooms and stay there!

Morning After

Lydiatt House
July 12th 1853

I have woken up with the severest of headaches, brought on I should imagine by the dull prattle Mrs Cornbench employs to entertain her husband. I do not feel well enough to spend half a day in a carriage but I can not countenance another night in this house and must return to London to make sure Villiers is still a member of my staff.  I shall take a walk around the upper lawn before breakfast to shake my poor head.

The events of yesterday hang heavy on me this morning, I find. Jennet’s happiness was indeed a thing to behold. I confess to being envious of his joyful expectations and can only assume that I have become a little bored with my own life. I shall go and see Boo the moment I set foot down from my journey – she is the only person who will understand how I feel.

Greener grass


Lydiatt House
July 11th 1853

I feel such a great sense of responsibility and am quite cross with my husband. He is no doubt sitting happily at his club conducting some business or other whilst I was plotting the destruction of a poor man’s hopes.

I waited in the Cornbench’s parlour all morning, having sent word to Jennet and that booby that I wished to speak with them. Mrs Cornbench hovered in the hall downstairs like a ghostly presence, appearing from nowhere at the slightest sound of footsteps on the drive, but pretended she was leaving me to my thoughts. I had no-one for company but her wretched dog – why anyone should choose to nuzzle such a vile creature I shall never know; at least Dauncey is clean – because Mr Cornbench had taken his whispery children on a pheasant shoot in the grounds. I amused myself by wondering how many of them would return to the house alive. I shouldn’t be surprised if no-one noticed one of them missing.

It was not until nearly midday that I saw from the window the betrothed couple making their way to the house. Jennet was wearing his best clothes, I expect, and his bride-to-be had clearly made an effort to impress me. She had on a sprigged muslin dress – appropriate material for the time of year, if a little showy for daytime – and was wearing a feathered hat. They must have walked quite some distance because her face seemed quite flushed and she looked as if she would like nothing more than a brief rest.

I stood back a step or two so they could not see me watch them approach.

I am no expert in affairs of the heart – despite having made a wondrous match myself – but I fancy I can recognise young love, even at a distance. Jennet was holding his intended by the elbow, guiding her up to the front steps. She wavered a little as she looked up at the house, no doubt overwhelmed by the stately frontage, such that Jennet reached to steady her. He bent his head towards her, appearing to whisper a word or two of encouragement. She gazed back at him as if seeing him for the first time and reached out to touch his cheek. I felt a little lurch of envy at that, I do not mind confessing.

She paused just before they rang the bell and she appeared to reached inside her cloak, looking for something. After a few seconds she produced a small glass bottle and held it aloft. Jennet said something sharply to her, at which she jumped and hid the bottle again within the folds of her cloak. In her desire to impress me, she had brought a gift which Jennet was anxious for her to keep concealed until the moment presented itself for her to give it to me.

The maid showed them in to the parlour and I could hear Mrs Cornbench sweeping about making sure everything was in order. They stood before me, Jennet still holding his bride steady as she attempted a curtsey.

“I expect you will be wondering why I have come from London in such a hurry to see you before your nuptials,” I said. They looked a little blankly, but nodded their agreement that they were unsure of the reason for my visit.

“Ma’am,” ventured Jennet, “I hope your journey has been pleasant at any rate.”

“It has been unremarkable thus far,” I answered, “but thank you for your concern.”

The girl tottered slightly as I spoke. Truly I believe she was so in awe of her surroundings she could hardly keep her attention in one place. Jennet gripped her arm more tightly and gave me a beseeching look. His discomfort was such that I decided I should dispense with any more pleasantries – I do not like to chit-chat with servants in any case.

“I have come to ascertain the reasons for your marriage.” I told them. “The news has been received in London with alarm in some quarters and I wish to find out for myself what exactly has brought it on.”

They both stared at me and then at each other. Bless them, they seemed so wrapped up in each other that I felt quite cruel. I wondered how Boo would have conducted herself in my position and concluded that she would have been businesslike and direct, so I said,

“Is this intended union absolutely necessary?”

“Necessary, ma’am?” said Jennet. “I am sorry, I do not understand your question.”

I looked at the girl, who was now quite faint. I have not seen many young women in a delicate condition but this was unmistakeable.

“Are you with child?” I asked her. She whimpered a little and seemed to slump against Jennet. He mopped her brow with his cap and turned back to me. She gathered her wits enough to smile a little, before whispering the words “Bill to become a father? How funny!” Jennet cleared his throat and stood forward a little.

“Ma’am, I have always worked hard for you and Mr Hatherwick, have I not? I pride myself on being a loyal and trustworthy servant. I hope that my service has never been questioned or needed to be. I have tended the grounds at the Hall for the last…..” He sounded exactly like Villiers did during the outburst that prompted this whole exchange in the first place. I held my hand up to stem his flow.

“Calm yourself, Jennet, for all our sakes. I am not commenting on your abilities as a groundsman. I merely want to find out why you are marrying this girl.” As I gestured towards her, she produced a sound which I can hardly describe outside the confines of a farmyard.

“I am marrying her because it is the right time for me to take a wife, Ma’am. There is not a man in the village who wishes to marry her as much as I do. Miss Everdown is the wife I must take.”

‘Must?’, what did he mean, ‘must’? “Miss Everdown’s father has been kind enough to allow me to have her hand in marriage. He has known me all my life and understands me better than any man.” She spluttered a little at hearing this and made to remove the bottle from her cloak to give to me, I fancied, but Jennet stopped her. “Her father is most insistent that I look after his precious daughter from now on.”

I remembered Josiah and his protestations to Papa all those years ago, when I had been hiding on the stairs listening to the man I loved persuading my father why he should let me go. As I heard Jennet speak of his intentions I felt quite overcome with emotion. I could not stand in the way of such lovestruck determination, even though it might cost me the best manservant I had ever employed.

“Very well,” I said to them, “That is all I wanted to hear. Mr Hatherwick and I give you our blessing. We shall of course pay for the wedding breakfast and will welcome you both into our household upon our return to Blindingham Hall.”

I watched for their reaction. In truth I think my generosity must have stunned them a little for they spoke not a word, just stared at me. In the end I was compelled to break the silence,

“I must pass on to you some further congratulations. From Villiers, who wished to be remembered to you.” As I said these words, Jennet’s face took on a stricken look and his eyes became wet with tears. The girl showed more spirit than she had shown throughout as she turned to Jennet and said, with steel in her voice, “Villiers? What, still?” And they gave each other an intimate look of such deep understanding I was almost tearful myself. She turned from him, the intensity of feeling obviously too much for her as she covered her mouth with her cloak and made another of those wretched noises.

“Thank you, Ma’am,” said Jennet as he led his intended away. I watched them walking away from the house, wondering whether Josiah and I had ever shown such feeling to each other in public. As they receded from view, I saw them begin to engage in that puppy-like playfighting that new lovers will. She pretended to berate him with clenched fists as he lovingly dodged her ‘blows’. I felt quite lonely to see their happiness.

It would be impolite to leave Lydiatt House before the morning, so I have another tedious evening ahead of me, with the full complement of Cornbenches for company.

I have witnessed true and unashamed love this morning and am still without a butler!