The Compleat Diaries of Henrietta Fubsyface
"Evening at Almac's"
WHAT a revelry! Another endless evening at the Marriage Mart
underway when shortly before the doors were barred to latecomers, entered a
group -- no, surely crew is the word -- which those hallowed halls had ne'er
before seen the likes of.
I must confess this poor spinster's heart fluttered wildly
when first my eyes
gazed upon the leading gentleman -- a captain, no less! -- of the Royal Navy.
I had not the good fortune to maneuver an introduction but I managed to place
myself near enough to overhear a conversation of sartorial nature between
CaptainSir Edward Pellew (for indeed he proved to be no less a personage than
that great hero) and Mr. Brummell. Their discussion revolved around natty
dressing robes and starched cravats, and upon embarking on a heated debate
over the various aspects of certain hats, they were joined by a younger man,
somewhat gangly and graceless albeit handsome and with a bone structure that
can only be considered classic (his nose a trifle largish though), who,
having no decided partiality for any single form of head covering, thus
proceeded to expound at length upon the best means of padding one's calves.
Gentlemen are the most astonishing creatures, are they not?
Imagine my delight, Dearest Diary, at discovering this youth
to be none other
than the midshipman who suffered mal du mer at Spithead. It put me quite in
sympathy with the youngster for I vow I cannot but SEE a boat in order to
feel the most serious qualms. So in charity was I with young Hornblower (yes,
a perfectly ghastly appellation and one which I do wish he might in future
strive harder to overcome) that I must confess I forced a small tete-a-tete
upon him, and even condescended to step a reel with the lad. Dear me, the boy
has no sense of music at all it would seem. His facial expression was most
indicative of a man at the gratings, I promise you! Having been so honoured
by me, I've no doubt he felt there was little point in wasting time with the
simpering misses throwing languishing gazes after him, and he hied himself to
the card room for penny-a-point whist. Such an amiable young man, I hope he
may not have lost his fortune there. I would not have taken him for a
gambler, but indeed he seemed almost feverish in his haste to adjourn thus.
Diary, did I mention Sir Edward's queue? A little old-fashioned
so very long, and I'm sure, Diary, that we both understand the implication
without becoming vulgar! I heard him inform one of the patronesses (Lady
Jersey, I believe, but I must confess that my interest was so fixed on his
fine appearance that for several moments I quite forgot myself!) that he
would prefer a weevily sea biscuit and watery grog to the stale cake and
lemonade perpetrated by the patronesses on their unwitting visitors. Was he
rude? No, no, such a man could never be rude, but it was perhaps an impolitic
statement. I fear he shall never be allowed to return to Almac's, and I admit
I am sorry for it, because the loss is most surely mine.
Oh, but my dear confidante, there were other members in the
party, and so
delightful they were, although I understand a Mr. Oldroyd was refused
admittance on account of his not wearing the proper knee-breeches. And there
was a most unusual looking fellow, by name of Styles, who was taken in hand
by the Princess Lieven and she promised him a full makeover. I have never
cared for Her Highness, there is something so irritating about foreign
royalty, do not you think? I will state plainly that I prefer a man to look
like a man, and although Mr. Styles may give the appearance of having been
chewed upon by rodents, I am sure it is no such thing and that his visage is
ensplendoured by the valorous marks of battle.
Accompanying the party was one Mr. Matthews, a delightful man,
ogled the ladies shamelessly (as did Mr. Styles, now I think on't). 'Twas Mr.
Matthews who regaled me with such wild tales of battles and heroism and
derring-do and swash-buckling by Pellew and Hornblower that though I first
thought I must swoon, half in terror, half in ecstasy, but later I considered
he must have made up those stories out of whole cloth. "Fish for it," he said
-- hah! I do not believe a word of it. And yet...they are very fine looking
Such times, dear Friend, and I will tell you more of it another
now I must rest, as I understand Sir Edward and Mr. Hornblower are engaged to
ride in the park tomorrow with some of their friends. Mr. Hornblower had the
oddest expression on his face when pressed by Sir Edward to join the riders,
almost as though he were gagging on some of that stale cake. Whatever can
that have been about, do you suppose?
Post Scriptum: You will never guess! There is the strangest
story being put
about regarding Lord Edrington and his mama's parasol! Most intriguing!
"In the Park"
This day has simply been overwhelming to my sensibilities,
and I both fear
and delight in the evening yet to come. My anticipation is unbecoming in a
delicately bred female such as myself, I have no doubt, but oh! Dearest,
dearest Diary, I am positively aux anges for the first time this season.
This morning I rose early, and after a skimpy breakfast consisting
but eggs, ham, toast, kippers, sausage, strawberries and cream, and no more
than 7 or 8 rashers of bacon (for I fear that my maid has not been as careful
of my gowns as she ought and has shrunk them in the laundry, so tight they
have become), I set out for the park in the pleasant prospect of seeing my
dear Captain Pellew again, and quite possibly snaring an introduction, which
I am convinced is all that is necessary to gain his attentions. And indeed I
am a fortunate miss! For no sooner had I and my maid (Simpson is her name and
she can be the most spiteful wench...but that is neither here nor there)
trotted around the paths a score of times than I should find myself face to
face, as it were, with a group of horsemen consisting of Sir Edward (could
you but hear me say his name, 'twould be a sigh), Mr. Hornblower, young Lord
Edrington, and two other men: One young and very fresh-faced, with a sweet
smile and shy manners; the other an older man, stocky of build and his
hairline in such disagreement with his face that the two of them will not
Inspiration struck me and I threw myself under Pellew's horse,
or at least I
tried to do so, but Mr. Hornblower proved unable to control his mount, really
it was the most fearsome beast and if someone so skilled as he could not cope
I doubt not they will have to shoot the creature -- the horse, not
Hornblower. Well, the upshot of it all was that I was nearly killed. Lud! My
heart was in my throat and I am sure I shall have nightmares for weeks. Mr.
Hornblower was most gallant and immediately clambered down from the saddle to
assist me. Though I was nearly swooning, I had eyes for none but Edward (how
I long to address him so!) and I hope I may not be so immodest as to
speculate that the frown upon his face and the biting of his lip was due to
the hands of Mr. Hornblower attempting to assist me to my feet whilst I
tugged my petticoat down over my garters. Yes, I do suspect that he was most
displeased to see Another's hands upon that which might be his own. It can
only have been the iron control for which he is so famed (and which I greatly
desire to try) that prevented him from hurling himself to my side. Such
gentlemanly restraint! I believe it bodes well.
After re-assuring himself as to my well-being, Mr. Hornblower
introductions. I have some slight acquaintance with Edgrington's Aunt
Honoria, and the entire family is dreadfully high in the instep, but he
seemed quite civil for all that. Indeed I had heard he was a most solemn
individual but he smiled at me quite broadly and with SUCH a gleam in his
eye. One might mistake him for a cavalryman did one not know better! So kind
of him to hold the horse's head while Mr. Hornblower offered to assist me up,
but really! Ride that beast? I could not being myself to attempt it, wishful
as I might be to join their little group.
The gentleman with the disagreeable hairline is one Mr. Bracegirdle.
he is not on close terms with Edward and his friends, for no one seemed to
know his Christian name. I suspect it is something as unpleasant as his
hairline or his girth. I did not care for him but it was obvious to one and
all that he was quite drawn to me as he persisted in keeping his mount
betwixt Edward and myself. Were I not a lady I could have wished the man to
The young man with the sweet smile is Mr. Archibald Kennedy.
I think Mr.
Kennedy is one of those gentlemen who, though he may not willingly grace a
ballroom, is nonetheless welcome whereever he goes. (That wench Simpson
whispered to me that there are rumours that he is quite mad. Did I not say
she is spiteful? I doubt not but it is only that he is Irish.) He cannot hope
to aspire to the highest ranks of society but I believe I am acquainted with
a Miss Sarah B., who may be just the lady to bring him up to scratch. He
expounded at some length on his love of the theatre and -- what do you think,
Diary! -- he asked that I might attend the perfomance at Drury Lane this
evening along with these same gentlemen. It is only "School for Scandal" and
that Cobham woman will be featured I make no doubt. She is a well-enough
actress, but everyone knows her for what she really is. All of the gentleman
just stared at Mr. Kennedy when he extended the invitation, mouths agape, at
his temerity in asking me in so forward a fashion. Or perhaps in stunned
delight at the prospect of my company for the evening! I could not refuse the
boy, so hopeful he was.
Oh, but an evening in the same box with Edward! Diary, I would
greater length of this most marvelous of all events, but it is tea time, and
I expect Cook will have some of those custard tarts today. And perhaps some
of those cream cakes and plum pudding.
"The Evening Goes Awry"
My dear Paper Confidante, most Trusted Keeper of Secrets,
I am disconsolate! Was it only three nights ago I set out for
the theatre in
great expectation of a wonderful evening in company with Darling Edward and
his friends? I doubt there is sufficient ink in the well to relate the whole
of that disastrous evening. I vow, I am worn to a nub. I am positively
emaciated so concerned I am for the welfare of Dearest Edward. Even now, I am
convinced he is not out of danger, but lies perilously near death, thanks to
that heap of inhumanity, Mr. Bracegirdle. (Oh, dear, that Yorkshire pudding
has left a nasty stain on the page! And it is not even a particularly good
pudding, either. Such a shame.)
The evening held so much promise: Simpson had assisted me into
becoming silk puce gown with the most delightful coquelicot ribbons. (She
insisted the colours do not go, but I believe her mind is addled.) Mr.
Kennedy arrived in a timely fashion, along with Edward (looking very fine in
buff and blue, gold buttons and epaulets, and his queue bound in an unusual
manner, almost a French braid), and Mr. Hornblower who was escorting the
frousiest and most hoydenish yaller-haired chit in all of the ton, Miss
Myrtle Groggins. What with her giggling and habit of rolling her eyes about
as though they had no connection to her head, she gives every appearance of
being totally witless. So all was well enough, and twas in no way Mr.
Kennedy's fault that no sooner had he begun to hand me up into the equipage,
my person firmly established on the riser, than the steps separated from the
carriage and gave way entirely.
I confess to a small scream escaping me, the smallest noise
I do assure you.
There was certainly no need for that Groggins creature to plug up her ears as
if I were going to loose a string of oaths! As I might have been justified in
doing, for no doubt I should have been badly bruised from the fall were it
not for the strong yeoman arms of Mr. Kennedy. That lad is a good deal
stronger than he looks. I cannot imagine he has ever been sick a day in his
life, so healthy a specimen he is. Even so, the suddenness of the event must
have caught him unawares and thus accounts for the groan that a
less-forgiving soul than myself would say was wrenched from him. My only
thought in those frightening seconds was for how I must appear to my Perfect
Edward at such an awkward moment and I noted that he wore the same disturbed
look, including biting his lip until it bled, as when earlier Mr. Hornblower
had laid hands upon me. I can only believe that the Treasure of my Heart is
an extremely possessive man. I do not think the less of him for it. Truly, it
is a trait most endearing in a gentleman and it gives me no small pleasure to
comtemplate the notion that I arouse such primal emotions in his breast. So
absorbed I was in attempting to convey to Edward, by the sheer weight of my
gaze, the constancy of my heart that I missed most of what young Kennedy was
saying. He was breathing heavily in my ear and saying something about
weighing anchor and manning the capstan, but who can understand this nautical
jargon? Even the handsome Mr. Hornblower wore a blank stare.
Well, and so we were off!
But, no, we were not!
It seemed we must make a detour to Mr. Bracegirdle's lodgings
in order that
he might join us. Yes, Diary, we were fully half a dozen wedged firmly into a
carriage built to hold only four persons. Surely it ranks as one of the
wonders of the world that we did not drop an axle en route. No, that occurred
immediately we halted in front of the theatre. I am sure that dreadful
yaller-haired chit greatly enjoyed jouncing upon Mr. Hornblower's knee (She
calls him Horatio! -- However does he abide it? I cannot fathom why he will
not insist she address him with his given name, it could hardly be worse than
Horatio!) but I was miserably crammed into far greater proximity to Mr.
Bracegirdle than any lightskirt has ever had to endure, I am convinced of
that! (Though I admit he does have a well-padded thigh and gave a much
smoother ride than the angular Mr. Hornblower could provide, no doubt.) I
have decided that Mr. Bracegirdle is older than his appearance -- and he is
certainly not the spring chicken that Mr. H refers to keeping company with
Mr.Styles -- otherwise I can think of no reason for the extreme limp he
displayed as we entered the theatre. He did not limp in the park earlier, I
am sure of it
Now, dear Diary, we come to that event most painful to impart,
during which I was sure Edward must be dead or dying. I fear it will take all
my strength to reveal my suffering, and therefore I require sustenenace. Some
cold roast beef and perhaps just a tad more of that Yorkshire pudding, one or
two stuffed pigeons, a small helping of the suckling pig, some cheese, a dish
of syllabub, and perhaps a bottle of Madeira -- that should do the trick.
Just a light nuncheon you know and perhaps I ought to send a basket of
delicacies to Edward? Yes, Simpson may take it over and relay any message or
-- dare I say it? -- billets doux back to me. Now where ever can that
creature have hid herself? I have broke the bellcord ringing for her. I vow,
since there has been no word of late from her uncle at sea, she is become
most strange in her behavior! But here is Mr. Styles come to call, carrying
-- it IS a chicken! I declare! Adieu, dear Diary, I will continue this later.
Post Scriptum: The story about Edrington is all over town.
The gentlemen all
think it is the greatest joke and have taken to sending him the loveliest
parasols of all fabrics and colours and folderols! Mr. Romeo Coates, that
nasty little toadeater, has taken to carrying a parasol at all times now,
even during the evening hours. He has not an original thought in that
lice-ridden noggin of his. I wonder if I might persuade his lordship to part
with one or two of his gifts. I understand Mr. Hornblower sent him the most
delightful confection in scarlet and gold. How absurd these men are!
"The Villain Bracegirdle"
I do confess that were it not for my Treasured Hero's infirmity
count this as the most enjoyable day of the Season. First however, I must
impart to you how it was that Edward came so near death. Lud, but it sets me
all ashiver only to think on't!
We were seated in our box at the theater in this manner: In
the back of the
box sat Miss Groggins with Mr. Hornblower to her right and Mr. Kennedy to her
left. On might be forgiven for thinking that naturally I would be seated at
the front twixt Darling Edward and the ubiquitous Mr. Bracegirdle, but alas,
it was not so. Was I not already too aware, and unwillingly so, of Mr.
Bracegirdle's partiality for my company I should have suspected it then as he
so rudely -- I do not embellish it! -- placed himself squarely (or roundly in
his case) between Edward and me.
O! You cannot imagine my frustration, being forced to lean
forward, to such a
great extent that I had some qualms for my stays, in order that Edward might
address a chance remark to me or that we might exchange meaningful glances.
Indeed, I am ashamed to own how I longed to touch his hand ever so
fleetingly or flirt with him by rapping his hand gently with my fan (that fan
was the most beautiful object, sadly destroyed that night, but Mr. Styles has
brought me another, a truly delicate creation of gilded sticks and chicken
skin, with a finely detailed painting of Edward's ship, Indefatigable, on one
side. I cherish this fan as not only does it remind me of Edward but prompts
a longing in me to discover whether in fact the ship is named for one of my
Beloved's more appealing qualities.) but reaching across Gooseberry
Bracegirdle would have required a barge pole, so I contented myself with
leaning very far forward or tilting my seat back on its legs from time to
time in order to commune with Edward. I could not do so as often as I would
have preferred as Mr. Hornblower said the rocking motion was making him quite
seasick, and I was much afraid he might decide to cast up his accounts on the
back of my neck.
Edward is truly the finest gentlemen, so sensitive, so considerate!
would he look me directly in the eye, nor could I ever catch him out in
leaning out to smile at me -- such a care he has for my reputation! A man in
his position must of course be wary of creating gossip, but I could wish he
were not so wonderful in maintaining this rigid watch over any public display
of affection. But I must remember that he sacrifices himself on the altar of
conformity for my sake. It is almost incredible to me that a sailor, albeit a
captain, is capable of such tremendous self-restraint, but would I adore
Sweet P. so much were his behaviour as common as, say, Simpson's uncle (who I
believe is still a midshipman after considerable years at sea -- incompetence
indubitably being a family trait.)?
Intermission arrived and although I exerted much effort in
(that theatre has the narrowest of seats! I am sure only a veritable
spindleshanks like Mr. Hornblower could be comfortable in one.) so that
Edward might give me his arm to the refreshments (which I felt myself to be
sadly in need of, for what with those torturous chairs and Mr. Bracegirdle's
omnipresence the room seemed quite close), Mr. Bracegirdle moved amazingly
quickly for a man of his bulk, like a snake even, and placed himself bodily
between Edward and me. I could see -- barely -- past Bracegirdle that Edward,
too, had risen and the look on his face and the language of his eyes bade me
join him on the instant (and strange it is that a come-hither look should
appear so much like fear, but there you have it!). I made to squeeze past Mr.
doubt not the vain creature thought I was flinging myself into his arms. We
hove mightily for several moments; the imbecile trod upon my gown, ripping
the flounces and casting me off balance. I clutched at him to save myself,
tore the pockets entirely from his waistcoast (no doubt the seams were
already strained past praying for!) and I fell against him. He fell backwards
and I heard two hollow thumps as his head hit first a chair then the floor,
and then I heard screaming both from Miss Groggins (what a shrill-voiced
fishwife she is, to be sure) and from the pit below.
My reaction was to immediately disentangle myself from this
whose hands seemed to be everywhere on me. So heated his passions! "Please,
Miss Fubsyface," he cried, "please!" In public! I do not exaggerate his
libertine lusts in the slightest! I placed both hands flat upon his anatomy
-- no, dear Diary, not even you may know precisely where -- and heaved myself
unassisted to a standing position. The moaning and groaning emitting from him
was almost pitiable, but he writhed upon the floor in such a
reptilian fashion that it gave me quite a disgust of him. My beautiful fan
was crushed and it was wrong of me I know to fling the pieces of it at his
head. I daresay I might have forgot myself so much as to swear at him but
Miss Groggins' hysteria had reached fever pitch. I was forced to slap her,
and though it was not the roundhouse punch I should have preferred to
deliver, nonetheless I took no small degree of satisfaction in the act.
There being now only the three of us in the box, I demanded
of Miss Groggins
where the other gentlemen had got to. She sobbed almost as loudly as she had
screamed and pointed wordlessly over the rail and down into the pit.
Oh my soul! To see my poor Edward lying sprawled so lifeless
miles below, Mr.
Hornblower kneeling by his side and Mr. Kennedy calling madly for a
physician! I was sick at heart and full of anger, but I do deny deliberately
kicking that Bracegirdle animal as he still lay on the floor, looking like
nothing so much as a beached whale that I longed for a harpoon. Perhaps in my
heedlessness I may have stepped on him, but nothing so much as to incite the
wretch to such shrilly falsetto moaning and groaning again.
I would have run to Edward on the instant but as I turned to
the door Lord
Edrington entered the box, and bowing to me, said that he had seen the entire
incident from his seat across the way and that I must, under no
circumstances, go down into the pit for, as he put it, "Mr. Hornblower will
see to it that Sir Edward is attended to with all speed but such a place is
not for a lady." How could I argue with an Earl, especially since he insisted
upon escorting me home, though he excused himself briefly and I saw him
having a quiet word with Messieurs Styles, Matthews, and Oldroyd, who had
been in the pit.
What a fine coach his lordship has, very well-sprung. I believe
he has a
high-perch phaeton that I might induce him to take me driving in. And what a
source of support and gentle encouragement he was -- he distracted me so well
from my despair over Edward's condition that I was quite in charity with him.
Indeed, I even found the courage to ask after his parasols, particularly the
one given him by Mr. Hornblower. He described it as scarlet silk with a gold
braid all round the edge and the letters XCV printed in gold upon it, with a
handle carved like a rifle. I was disappointed that after all I had heard of
this same parasol, it really seemed quite common, but Lord Edrington's face
creased into the strangest smile as he murmured, "But, no, madam! I think it
is like to become an heirloom." I daresay he means not to give it to me after
all. Men are so insufferably selfish, are they not?
P.S. I will say more anon of the delightful pleasures I had
sorrowful tale of a man's abuse of a superior officer should stand with no
La! But the days would be merry indeed, could I but see my
dearest Edward and
persuade myself personally that he is recovering entirely. Mr. Hornblower
sent round a note this morning assuring me that although Edward's condition
is no longer life-threatening, he is by no means prepared to entertain
callers. Time would hang heavily upon my hands were it not that, even in his
weakened state, the Captain of my Heart has seen to it that I am not left
alone and disconsolate. It seems that in every instance where I have been
intending to set out to visit the dear man, with no intent of disturbing him
but only to bring him some comfits and perhaps the latest "on dits" (oh! my
dear Diary! Positively the most blood curdling tales are being whispered
about that Marquis de Moncoutant, that wretched Frog I met last Season at
Lady Jersey's dinner party, when he tried to abscond with the last of the
sherry trifle -- so ungentlemanly! Well, and what can one expect from French
nobility? Anything save nobility to my way of thinking. Such a look he gave
me when I insisted that as a lady, I must be served first. I daresay he would
have liked nothing so much as to see me in a tumbril on my way to the
guillotine. I had his measure, I assure you, and I am in no way surprised to
hear of such dark doings. ), Edward has forestalled me by sending his friends
to visit and console and distract me from my anxiousness.
Why, 'twas the very morning after he took that dreadful fall
that he sent Mr.
Styles to me with the notion that I should perhaps enjoy a picnic. Edward
does indeed know my heart, for I enjoy a picnic above all things (save
perhaps a really well-done buffet ), and Mr. Styles proved to be a charming
host. I delighted in teasing him about the many young misses who must be
dropping their handkerchieves for him. I do not say he blushed, but the
strange scars on his face stood out in great relief. I was proud to be
accompanied by Mr. Styles in his famous checked shirt, which has become all
the crack with the dandies and quite puts Mr. Brummell's arrogant nose out of
joint. Well, well, a little competition will do the Beau some good,
especially if it induces him to relent upon that starchy attitude he wears
like a particularly painful blister on his backside. Simpson passed on to me
a bit of servants' gossip which hints that though Brummel may draw the line
at a checked shirt, he has been heard at Tattersall's asking about the best
place to buy chickens. Mr. Styles is truly the eccentric when it comes to
chickens, he is positively blue, my dear. Only fancy, the entire picnic
luncheon was, yes, chicken! We had a savoury chicken soup, some fried
chicken, chicken salad, chicken pot pie, chicken and noodles, chicken and
dumplings, chicken cacciatore, chicken a la roi, and a kind of boneless fried
chicken he called chicken fingers. I did not contradict him, as he was my
host and I was loth to have to instruct him on the realities of poultry
On the following morning, Simpson aided me into a walking dress
I had had
made with Edward in mind. Of a military style, it is blue (for the Royal
Navy, of course) with fountains of gold for epaulets, gold buttons the size
of guineas and lots of them, and enormous gold frogs to fasten across the
front, with swooping white ribbons a foot wide at the back trailing from my
waist. The frogs were just the tiniest bit difficult to fasten. Simpson was
forced several times to stop and catch her breath. I suggested she take more
exercise to improve her health. The impertinence of the wench! Said right out
that she thought hers would improve if only mine would. I do not take her
meaning. I consider myself to be of a robust nature. While I was putting on
my hat, a chaming frippery made after the manner of one I saw Mr. Hornblower
wearing (though perhaps it is not quite right. I have noted that he has not
worn the same one again), who should come calling but a full trio of Pellew's
mates: Mssrs. Oldroyd, Mathews, and Finch. I had not met Mr. Finch before. He
is very like his name, tiny and birdlike, and with only the odd tooth
showing, but strong for his size and quite willing to put his shoulder into a
task, as when he assisted me into the hackney coach. These lovely gentlemen
were virtually bubbling over with good humour, almost as if they had indulged
in spiritous liquor, though I saw no sign of any.
Together they insisted that we must go shopping and I own I
speechless. I have oft noted that a gentleman will spend many hours -- days
and weeks even-- in the selection of a waistcoat or a horse or a snuffbox,
but let a woman request his arm so far as the nearest mantua-maker, and he is
certain to cry off with some vague mumblings of a prior engagement. Mr. Finch
happily volunteered that not only had they all been paid for their most
recent voyage, but Lord Edrington had seen fit to employ them in some private
duties that paid, as Finch said, " Wery well! Wery well indeed!" Finch is the
most ingratiating soul, and did I mention he sports a gold hoop in one ear? I
daresay it will become as much the rage as Mr. Styles' checked shirt.
I remember we all spent a good deal of time in the shops buying
beads, ribbons, embroidery silks (for Mr. Styles' little sister), a stickpin
for Edward, and of course the men bought a parasol for Edrington. There is no
point in describing it, I doubt he shall let me have that one either.
My memory becomes somewhat remiss during the time at the milliner's
clerk had fetched us tea, and Mr. Oldroyd was amusing us all by his trying on
and describing in a fanciful way as many of the hats as the milliner could
not keep from his attention. Mr. Matthews produced a flask containing a tonic
he called Blue Ruin. I inquired at to its nature and he assured me that the
beneficial effects were universally profound. Naturally I insisted upon
trying it myself. I consider I am a most reliable judge of the efficacy of
medicines. And I do not deny that the elixir, when added to the tea,
instilled in me a warmth, amiability, and a general feeling of well-being.
Mr. Matthews explained that the more one consumed, the greater and
longer-lasting the effects, and as all three men carried it with them and
were willing to share, we continued consuming the potion, finally omitting
the tea altogether. I shall recommend this Blue Ruin to my friends in Bath,
for I've no doubt it will be a great blessing to those who must take the
waters but find them as distasteful as I do.
We moved on next to Mme. LaFarge, the modiste, with Finch instructing
along the way as to tying various sailors' knots and using my shawl to
demonstrate, and here my memory begins to fail me utterly. I have the vaguest
recollection of Finch and Oldroyd in chemise and petticoats while Mr. Mathews
pulled on a fetching pair of old-fashioned stockings clocked with
hummingbirds. This must have been a dream rather than a memory, I cannot
otherwise fathom it. (This naval jargon is beginning to take with me, I
At any rate, from Mme. LaFarge's shop I have no recollection
of events at
all, not even as to how I arrived home and was put to bed. I only know I
awakened with the headache, which I am not prone to, and was not able to
countenance my breakfast at all, no, not even so much as a cup of chocolate.
I had to order Simpson to remove all the trays instantly, so revolting was
the smell of the food. I only hope I have not caught one of those horrifying
tropical diseases Mr. Styles spoke of. And above all of this, my hip ached
most dreadfully and was so sore I could scarcely stand unassisted. I could
not remember falling (not since my contretemps with Mr. Bracegirdle) but I
felt so bruised I dragged myself to the mirror to inspect the damage. I did
NOT lose consciousness, I promise you, but I will go so far as to admit my
vision blurred and nearly, nearly I swooned. For there, on my -- hip -- was a
kind of a painting. Well, certainly it was the size of a small painting, and
highly detailed, too. There was the most lecherous and lumpy-looking cherub
-- Cupid, I suppose -- firing an arrow into an enormous heart. Across the
heart waved two flags, one the Union Jack complete with its motto, "Don't
Tread On Me," and the other flag saying simply "Edward." Pray God it washes
off. Simpson tells me my bath is prepared. Perhaps afterward I shall feel
I have had quite enough of revelries and kickshaws. I refuse
to be distracted
from My Beloved Edward any longer. I simply must see him and assure him that
though he may be a broken man (And who can say whether he is or not? These
notes from Mr. Hornblower are frustratingly brief.), he can rest comfortably
in the knowledge that I will always be close by. I have not time to detail
the many occasions provided by Edward's friends that have kept me entertained
and occupied, but I think these men simply cannot comprehend the depths of my
devotion. I place Edward first in all things. (Just let me finish this pork
pie and I will continue.)
I have picnicked, shopped, danced, dined, witnessed a balloon
learnt a dozen sailors' knots as well as how to read a compass, been tattooed
(to my everlasting shame! How this is to be explained to Edward I do not
know, but I cannot hope to keep it from him for long, so furious are our
mutual passions!), strolled Kensington Gardens, and have managed to play so
heavily upon Lord Edrington's sympathy that he has gifted me with no less
than two parasols (but not the one he received from Mr. Hornblower) as well
as taken me driving in his high-perch phaeton, a disastrous experience I vow,
as that phaeton is by no means as well put-together as is his barouche. The
phaeton lists shockingly to one side, and either Edrington should forfeit his
membership in the Four Horse Club or purchase a new vehicle, which he did
indicate somewhat testily he believed he would be forced to do. My natural
diplomacy restrained me from urging him to purchase new cattle as well, as
those bays of his were sadly blown after the only the briefest appearance at
the fashionable hour in Hyde Park. Why, we cannot have made the circuit more
than seven or eight times!
Ne'ertheless, though all these friends, now mine as well as
believe, have the kindest of intentions, I have allowed them to keep me from
my duty. My duty and my inclinations, I should say. So although I am engaged
to attend Emily Cowper's musicale this day (she tells me she has entreated a
Mr. Bunting to sing acapello, with a chorus accompaniment), this night I will
see my Sweet P., and not Edrington nor the entire ship's company of the
Indefatigable shall prevent me.
I cannot endure that even the Fates should so conspire as to
prevent me from
being a comfort and a prop to my Sweetest Invalid. This night was to have
been the night that saw Edward and me reunited at last. I vow, I am
positively heartsick at this further delay. My nerves are quite overset, not
only for this insufferable separation from Ned (yes, I am become quite bold
in the use of his name), but for another reason I shall shortly relate. For
this moment I must ring for Simpson and have her prepare a tisane for my
nerves. A lady more frail than myself, such as that yaller-haired Groggins
chit, would take to her bed for weeks I daresay, did she experience but one
tenth of the fear I experienced tonight. (That insolent wretch! I must seek
a replacement for Simpson, she overreaches herself. Imagine asking me if I
didn't want a tray of Cook's gooseberry tarts to soothe my nerves. As if I
could eat, so distraught I am!)
The situation was thus: After enduring Emily Cowper's idea
of a musicale
(where can she have found that Bunting fellow? His caterwauling was akin to
that of a starving mongrel or a gutshot Frenchman. Only Mr. Hornblower made
any pretence of finding the man's vocal pyrotechnics enjoyable, but I am
convinced Mr. Hornblower is incapable of noting the difference between a
squeaking door and a bosun's pipe. I hear he is quite the notable equestrian
though.), I returned home and waited until the household had fallen asleep,
which they do with amazing rapidity! One might think they had expended all
their energies in serving me, did one not know the truth of the matter, which
-- but do not let me speak of the servants, for they have no bearing on the
events of this night.
I planned to walk the short distance to Edward's house, but
knowing London as
I do, I felt that first I must protect my identity, for it would not do to
run upon an acquaintance who, recognising me, would have both my name and
Edward's as gossip-food for every tittle-tattler in town. Therefore I wrapped
myself in a black velvet domino (it was shockingly expensive but has such a
slimming effect upon my appearance that I am quite taken with it) and donned
a mask to disguise myself. At the last moment I decided to carry one of
Edrington's parasols with me, the peculiar one of lavender and lime, with a
ghastly four inch fringe of brassy yellow around the edge. It is really quite
unattractive. I do not understand why his lordship was so reluctant to cede
it to me. Ne'ertheless, the handle is of brass and quite heavy, and therefore
I might use it for defending my person, should anyone make so bold as to
attempt to ravish me.
What foresight! For as I carefully made my way to Edward's
house and arms,
keeping carefully to the shadows, pausing occasionally to catch my breath
(Simpson had laced my stays too tight again; insensitive as she is, she can
never get them right.), I felt a premonitory thrill of disaster hurtle up my
spine. I heard heavy footsteps behind me! I walked faster, but the unseen
person kept pace easily. I walked yet faster, but still he kept up and I
thought I heard his breath at my ear. My heart was nearly palpitating, so
afraid I was! "A footpad!" I surmised, my fear mounting, and without a
backward glance I began to run, feeling the fleeting touch of grasping
fingers at my shoulder. Running as hard and as fast as ever I did when a
child, I had no real thought of outdistancing my pursuer, but with my mind
racing far faster than my limbs, I rounded the corner into Edward's street
(Oh! I know that could Edward only have known of my predicament he would have
instantly risen from his Bed of Pain and soundly thrashed this villain for
me!) and, reversing my direction, waited for the footpad to meet me, my heart
still pounding and the sound of my own panting filling my ears. He came
around the corner abruptly, with no warning at all, and yet in a flash I had
thrust the point of my parasol into his midsection, doubling the dastardly
blackguard over, and then flipping over the parasol, I clipped him quite
neatly on the chin before bashing him solidly over the head. The latter blow
brought my attacker to the ground and I proceeded to administer as much
punishment as could be brought to bear. That is to say, I beat the cur
mercilessly, right up until the parasol was entirely demolished.
When I considered the criminal to be quite incapable of rising
to harm me, I
studied him more closely. His face was nicely bruised and swollen, and no
better for him. 'Twas plain his nose was broken and what with the swelling
from various contusions and the vast quantity of blood from the head wound, I
could not make out his features clearly, but I think he may have had some
slight resemblance to Edrington. Or perhaps resemblance is too strong a
word. In truth I cannot say more than that he had the same colouring as his
lordship. Doubtless it would be stretching the resemblance too much to say
that he might have been a by-blow of the old earl.
Desperately as I wanted to rush immediately to the comfort
of Edward's strong
arms, I could not do so while covered in blood. This, added to the fear that
if Edward to were to discover my attacker still in the street (for there can
be no doubt that he would seek to kill the villain) he might be brought up on
charges of murder. So 'tis for the very love I bear him that I retreated to
my own home, and began to make more careful plans to bring about that happy
occasion for which Edward and I both are desirous of consummating.
Post Scriptum: I wonder whether, if I made some shortened and
explanation of the circumstances to Lord Edrington, he might not be willing
to replace the parasol?
"Fall from Grace"
Best of friends, these pages stare accusatorially at me, daring
me to touch
quill to paper and reveal the whole of events that have led me to the
greatest degree of shame I have ever known. I am quite covered in
mortification. Oh, no!!! That's the last of the sweetmeats! Too bad, for they
were quite delicious. Dearest Diary, there is no living soul to whom I may
impart my affliction, and it is to be hoped that I have not entirely sunk
myself beneath reproach in Edward's estimation. But my Beloved has such a
compassionate and forgiving heart that I do not think he will chastise me
over-harshly (though that could get interesting).
Last night, only 24 hours following the narrowest of escapes
villainous footpad, I again swathed myself in domino and mask, and stole
elusively from my house in the dead of night like the lowest of thieves. I
cannot like this behaviour -- Edward simply must agree to making public our
mutual affections. I cannot go on forever skulking about as though I had no
more breeding than Simpson.
I could not again risk walking to Edward's residence for it
was brought home
to me in the most unpleasant fashion that this City abounds with cut-throats
and Mohocks. I had earlier arranged for a hackney coach to be waiting for me
at one of the clock precisely, engaging the driver to both transport me and
await me nearby, for I needed to be back in my own bed before the servants
arose, no matter how earnestly and pitifully my Sweet P might plead me to
continue with him until the morning. This portion of my plan went, as Mr.
Matthews would say, with nary a hitch, and shortly after the hour struck I
found myself slipping 'round the side of Edward's house, seeking an access
that would allow me entrance without disturbing any of the household.
My soul resonated with the prospect before me and it was as
though I could
actually hear Edward summoning me in a most ardently insistent manner, the
passion in his voice evident: "Come, my dear! Come! Now!" So vivid was my
fantasy I almost thought his voice carried to me, not from my heart's
imaginings, but from an open window too far above to reach. I even paused a
moment but heard only the heavy soughing of the wind, causing the branches of
the nearby trees to creak and groan in exactly the same rhythm as an ageing
Moving on, I cautiously tested the French doors at the side
of the house.
Locked! Gliding soundlessly on I somehow managed to snag my domino on a bush
made up entirely of thorns. Wrestle and tug and tear though I might, I could
not free it but was finally forced to abandon the beautiful garment, a velvet
sacrifice to my adored captain.
After much fumbling and prying at various windows and even
the coal cellar
(filthy it was, and my hands were terribly begrimed), I at last discovered a
small window left carelessly unlatched at the back of the house. I did not
realise the window was directly above the kitchen garden until I turned my
ankle on a head of cabbage that had not the good sense to stay out of my
path. Stifling a moan, I wasted only a few moments lamenting the heel that
had broke from my shoe (50 guineas they cost me, too! because of the tiny
frigates painted on the toes), then carefully opened the window full wide.
Hearing no sound from within, I began pulling myself up level
with the sill,
and this task engaged all my strength and ingenuity for some several minutes,
with my fingers wrapped over the sill in a death grip whilst my dangling feet
scrabbled wildly for purchase against the rough bricks. It was quite the
most Herculean task of my life, and I cannot see how thieves do it on a
regular basis -- well, a running jump does improve the odds, though one must
judiciously adjust one's speed. I very nearly knocked myself out before
getting the hang of it, not to mention the dozen or so bricks that came loose
from the mortar.
Finally I was able to begin pulling myself through the opening,
but I confess
I had not initially judged the window to be quite so narrow as it proved to
be. I do not mean to quarrel with Edward, heaven forfend! but I shall most
certainly ask him why he bothers having a window at all if it is to be no
larger than the eye of a needle. What purpose can it possibly serve? At any
rate I was frustratingly lodged -- wedged -- in that wretched excuse for a
window for an abominable length of time. Naturally it must begin to rain,
and rain as if Noah had just closed the door to the ark! My lower
extremities were quickly soaked through. Let me say only this, I have never
been so fast as to dampen my muslin skirts before and I now know that I never
shall, for a more uncomfortable style has not been created (save for
corsets), than to have wet skirts clinging to one in the most obscene way.
One is forever tugging creeping yardage from body crevices.
Alternately pushing with my hands against the inside of the
wriggling my hips and legs, at long last I heard an ominous tearing sound and
I popped through the opening like a cork from a champagne bottle, and fell
all of a heap to the floor, lying there bruised, breathless, and jubilant.
Yes, and a trifle peckish, too, but I had had the great good fortune to have
blundered into the kitchen. I could not have planned it better, and set
about to sample Pellew's well-stocked pantry. There was a good bit of green
goose left from dinner, some fricasseed rabbit, cold tongue, some spinach and
turnips, and perhaps half an apple pie, all washed down with a pint of ale.
I was much refreshed, comfortable in the knowledge that Edward would never
begrudge me a bite or two of his vittles.
Resuming my quest, I lit a small candle and began to go through
seeking the stairway to Paradise, moving so quietly as I was able given that
the rooms were almost entirely pitch dark and my candle surrendered only
enough light to frighten me when I unexpectedly stood before a mirror. I
strayed into any number of unidentifiable objects, once bringing down some
sadly dusty draperies on my head. I had a few bad moments there when I was
sure I would not be able to suppress a sneeze before I could disentangle
myself from the curtains. I do not doubt my face must have gone deep purple
from the strain. Fearful I might have awakened a servant, I stood quietly,
limbs atremble, but my luck held. Finding the main stairs I began to haul
myself up, so slowly and so quietly as any mouse might creep.
I cannot begin to fathom how my darling Edward could let a
house fall into
such disrepair that every step gives a great cracking noise, as though being
splintered, or else wheezes and whinges like an irritatingly persistent
beggar for alms. No matter how carefully I placed my feet, how slowly and
cautiously I proceeded, each plank seemed to shriek in agony.
I am certain I was no more than two steps down from the landing
than I caught
the sound of light breathing, which lightly stirred the curls at the top of
my head. "Edward, my love," I whispered throatily, for a bit of the goose
had escaped its hiding place between molars and found its way down my
windpipe just as I spoke.
"Edward?" I questioned more insistently, praying
he would cry out my name,
catch me up into his sinewy arms and carry me to hedonistic abandonment.
"Now see here, Edward," I began, but was silenced
by a low, threatening
growl, so angry, so full of menace as to raise the very hair on the back of
my neck. Carefully I held up my tiny candle, seeking that one beloved face
(he is only ever-so-slightly rabbit-toothed, charmingly so, to my mind) when
I beheld an apparition, a demon most vile and malevolent, all huge pointed
teeth and snapping, slavering jaws. In short, a mastiff.
There was no containing my terror! I screamed loud enough to
Groggins clear over in Albemarle Street. And screamed again. Felt my feet
rising and falling, but taking my torso nowhere, a grotesque parody of a
Highland reel. Far too briefly I saw Edward's shocked, pale face (fearing
for my very life, I make no doubt) as he emerged from his chamber, hastily
wrapping his splendidly naked form in the tattiest dressing gown imaginable.
Damn the dog! (The mastiff, not Edward.) The snarling beast lunged for my
throat. Screaming again, I pulled sharply away, to find no support behind me.
Off balance, I teetered precariously on the step, hampered by my wet skirts
and broken shoe. The creature lunged again and I was lost!
Top over tail I tumbled down the steps, garters snapping, stays
flounces and bows coming apart wholesale, rolling over and over in a
nightmare receiving line in which I made the intimate acquaintance of every
single step on my journey to the bottom. A woman less graceful than myself
would surely have broken her neck, so I count myself fortunate indeed to have
been able to drag myself up from the floor of the foyer, for the impetus of
my fall had carried me all the way from the bottom of the steps to the front
door. Even as I frantically unbolted and threw open the door, the demon was
at me, sinking his fangs into my - er, my hip. Sobbing, my breast heaving,
my embarrassment complete, my fear overriding all thought ----- I fled
To my everlasting shame, I spared not one thought as to whether
brute might turn upon Edward and rend him savagely. I am appalled at my own
cowardice, for there is no kinder word one may apply to my flight. I have no
real doubt that Edward will forever treasure me and be forgiving of my weak
nature, but my guilt is writ large upon my --- tattoo, I fear. 'Pon rep, I
shall feel the bite of consequences for many a day.
But here are friends coming to call, so I am not entirely cast
down or even
outcast! Messrs. Styles and Finch have most opportunely arrived. Oh dear,
what to offer them for refreshments?
Mr. Styles and Mr. Finch have just gone, but they brought me
a good deal of
cheer, having related to me all the latest news, "on dits," gossip, crim.con.
stories, tittle-tattle, prattle, and scandal broth. There is so much to
exclaim over and speculate upon that my spirits are enormously lifted, in
addition to which, the generous Mr. Finch brought me a supply of Blue Ruin
tonic to improve my health.
It seems the able seamen of HMS Indefatigable are beginning
to settle down to
life ashore. Mr. Finch has hit upon the notion of becoming a professional
lifeguard. He claims to be quite good at life-saving, and Mr. Styles says
the entire crew has endorsed the notion, particularly Mr. Hornblower. And of
course I can personally attest to Finch's strength.
These are joyous days indeed for Mr. Styles, for he has become
rich as a
nabob off his gambling. I had believed his game of choice to be faro but he
mentioned that the majority of his winnings stemmed from a game called
rat-catcher. I am sure I never heard of it, but then I am not one to play
for high stakes save at love. The timing of his new-found wealth could not
be better for I have had to recommend to him an excellent, though expensive,
physician to treat that frightful case of boils he has developed. Lud! I
have never seen so extreme a case, not even on Simpson. Dear Styles, is it
not too, too predictable of him that once he is healed he intends to set
himself up as a poultry farmer? I have promised to become a regular customer
once he is established.
So shocking, but Mr. Oldroyd has become quite the radical and
has even joined
with the Luddites. Styles says it is because the boy is too lazy to think for
himself and is thus easily led astray. I am very much afeared that Oldroyd
may end on the gallows unless Styles can persuade him to an activity less
irritating to the authorities. He did mention some interest in opening a
branch of the Berlitz Language Academy, and I do think it will be the very
thing - the dear boy has quite a lingual gift!
Wonderful news! Mr. Hornblower has opened a riding academy.
I vow I shall
be his first pupil, for I long to spend spring afternoons cantering along
Rotten Row with Edward.
The caterwauling Mr. Bunting has gone to Italy to study voice
What an infernal piece of bad luck for the good Signor Ciarelli.
It is too tragic, this sad news regarding Lord Edrington. He
suddenly and seriously ill no more than a day or two ago. Only his mama and
grandmama have been permitted to visit else you know I would be there to
comfort so dear a friend. I greatly fear, though the family has said nought,
that his death may be eminent, for Styles tells me his lordship has sent a
letter to his senior officer resigning his commission, citing some fustian
about personal failure. He must be deep in delirium for he has also had his
famous parasol collection entirely destroyed, giving some utterance about no
man ever again being made to suffer from them. It is too bad of him.
The sweetly shy Mr. Kennedy is like to become the next Keane
can he but tear
himself from that Cobham creature's side long enough to memorise lines.
There have been whispers, too many to simply wink at, that he also bids fair
to become a notorious gigolo. Well, it is still a form of acting, is it not?
And why shouldn't older women be made so happy as the young?
Mr. Matthews has begun eking out a living as an auctioneer,
declares he is no good at it whatsoever and means to take Matthews on as a
Styles and Finch also spoke of friends with whom they served
on the Indy,
friends that Matthews had spoken of to me at length, though I have not the
pleasure of their acquaintanceship. There is Mr. Bowles, who has become a
soldier of fortune; Mr. Hunter is now a nurse; Mr. Clayton is the apothecary
who concocted my Blue Ruin tonic (I must make every effort to meet him!); and
'twas a Mr. Simpson (no relation, I fancy, to my former maid) who designed my
tattoo (I devoutly hope I shall not encounter him....again).
I would vastly prefer not to allow the image of Mr. Bracegirdle
to enter my
thoughts, but apparently he has gained a great degree of affluence as a
corset and stocking manufacturer. Gad, but if my new chef Tapling continues
to lavish the most wonderful dishes upon my palate, I shall no doubt become
Bracegirdle's biggest customer. (La, I see I have made a joke. It was quite
unintentional I assure you.)
I am -- and always shall be --- greatly indebted to Mr. Finch
for this last
and most splendid piece of news: Edward is well! So well in fact that Finch
says the good captain intends to entertain his friends and celebrate the
return of his customary good health this very evening at Vauxhall Gardens! I
declare it has been simply an age since I attended the marvellous
illuminations and the fireworks for which Vauxhall is justly famed. Can I
but tease Edward into escorting me along one of the many darkened walkways
that are so concealing for lovers I daresay we shall have our own private
fireworks display! Oh, and I had forgotten how wonderful is the ham served
at the dinners there, wafer-thin and mouth-watering enough to make one weep.
Ah, here are the tea trays. Immediately after this I must have
a nap to
conserve my strength for tonight's festivities. I have a conundrum to puzzle
over while I have my tea and cakes (black currant jelly! My favourite! I must
give Tapling a raise.) and it is this: From the drawing room window I
observed Styles and Finch as they strolled from my house to their carriage,
and Styles did the most bizarre thing. He gave Finch such a fierce slap on
the back of the head that he lost both his hat and earring. Finch is so
amiable that I cannot imagine he did anything to warrant the blow. What
maggot can have got into Styles' head to so abuse the little fellow?
It is but a few short weeks since that joyous, passion-filled
Vauxhall Gardens but so busy I have been preparing for my nuptials -- or
rather, our nuptials for I could not hope for such a happy occurrence without
a corresponding degree of affection and commitment from my Beloved Fiancé as
I myself hold -- that it is only now, on the very eve of my wedding, that I
have found sufficient time and privacy to scrawl these few lines. As quickly
as I might, without neglecting any of the remarkable events of that most
astonishing evening, let me relate how I came to be engaged to be married to
the most marvellous naval officer in the realm.
That was the night Captain Pellew was to rejoin Society by
way of celebrating
a return of his customary good health. I discovered his plans too late to
hire my own box for dinner in the gardens so I was reduced to repeatedly
wandering to and fro before the two semi-circles of booths for what seemed an
eternity without seeing a sign of Pellew or his friends. I vow, the soles of
my slippers were nearly worn through and the hem of my dress (a demure
jonquil yellow -- I fancy I resembled a sunflower and had even dressed my
hair with some of those same blossoms, once again proving the keenness of my
foresight for I had become quite sharp-set after the first two hours and
briefly stole behind one of the booths to nibble on the seeds in my
headdress.) had become sadly dirty. (This is what I get for being so
soft-hearted as to take Simpson back into my employ. She refuses to sew a
Upon yet another endless trek alongside the booths, I finally
and his companions, and I know I need not expound on how divinely handsome
all the gentlemen appeared in their evening attire. Mr. Hornblower wore a
particularly fine paisley waistcoat but he cannot tie his cravat half so well
as Mr. Kennedy or even fill out his stockings so completely as Mr.
Bracegirdle. Besides these gentlemen, I also recognised one Captain Foster
of His Majesty's Navy. I cannot say I approve of Edward's toleration of such
an encroaching mushroom. I find Captain Foster a loud, brash sort of fellow,
very full of himself, and of such a confrontational disposition that no
hostess of any refinement would welcome him into her drawing room. Why, he
and I have clashed on more than one occasion over a dish of sirloin tips or a
platter of rump roast. It is a difficult notion to swallow that such an
unappetising personality could in any way be a kindred spirit to the fine
officers of the Indefatigable, so naturally I could only conclude that the
jackanapes had by some low contrivance or other forced his way into their
Seeing that detestable creature in proximity to Edward only
fuelled a greater
determination within my breast to, as my chef Tapling would say, cut Captain
Pellew from the herd. A score or more times I sauntered past their booth,
striving vainly to catch Edward's eye whilst yet avoiding the hot glare of
Mr. Bracegirdle, until the breeze set up by my fluttering fan and eyelashes
nearly took the hair from my head. Indeed, flower petals and seed husks
littered my shoulders as a result. Could I have foreseen the events about to
unfold I should no doubt have comported myself in a vastly different fashion,
and yet I confess that I could not be happier with the results. I wanted
only to meet with Edward face to face after the desert of our separation. I
had no notion of returning home that evening an engaged woman! But my
adored and adoring husband-to-be tells me I am a rashly impetuous woman. To
be sure, he tells me so only when scolding me, which is almost all the time
we are together, save when our passions override this method of his for
achieving the necessary distance that must, for the sake of respectability,
yet be maintained between even an affianced pair.
At last, at long last, after my heels were worn to blisters,
I began to
understand Edward's behaviour. He was still insisting upon keeping our
relationship so secret as possible, and he proved to be the wiser of us in
the end. However, I fully intended to persuade him otherwise but I was not
prepared to make any attempt to force his hand before his friends, as a man
is never so obstinate as when he is in the company of other men. A man is far
more biddable can one but get him alone. Silently, I conceded the point to
Edward, and smiling farewells all around, fan still aflutter, I strolled in
the general direction of the gates.
So soon as I felt myself to be free of any possible observation
booth, I made my way circuitously back through the gardens. Vauxhall is
really quite wonderfully romantic at night, what with gaily coloured lanterns
dotting the trees, but the aroma of the ham, that tantalisingly wafer-thin
pink food of the gods for which Vauxhall is justly famed, was beginning to
test my fortitude. No, really, I took only the smallest bite from a plate in
a booth left unattended (and far removed from Pellew's gathering). No doubt
my benefactors had stepped over to the rotunda for the dancing, in which case
they had no real desire for food while I was well-nigh perishing for want of
the same. I promise you, I took away only a few rolls and a head of cheese
before moving on and losing myself in the darkened walkways. It is certain
that Edward and I were not the only couple contemplating a clandestine
embrace along these hospitably shadowed paths, for the sounds coming from the
shrubbery might be disregarded but in the dark I actually tripped over one
couple who lay directly upon the path locked in an obscene clinch. Or at
least it seemed obscene at the time (and certainly the man's language when my
foot connected with his head merits that adjective), but then little did I
know how far below the animals I could sink myself when heart calls to heart,
and passion to passion -- but I am getting ahead of my story.
Finding an unoccupied bench more by feel than by sight, I sat
down to assuage
the pains of both my fatigue and my hunger. Not four or five dozen bites had
I taken when my heart positively jumped into my throat (almost choking me in
the process as there was already a morsel of cheese there), for I distinctly
heard Edward's voice. Oh, he was coming to me! I swiftly moved all traces
of crumbs from my gown and chin, bolting down the last few moouthfuls, while
I heard his voice again, that amazing voice that is as mellow as fine brandy,
coming nearer to me. I stood as quickly as my aching feet would permit
without a groan escaping me, and I waited, taut and poised, to make my move.
The joy, the anticipation that swelled in me was nearly overwhelming, and
more than once I wiped damp palms on my skirts. At last I could distinguish
footsteps approaching and I timed my leap perfectly!
For the first time he was in my arms, and catching his head
I kissed him over
and over with all the dam-bursting emotions so long bottled up in me. He,
too, was weakened by his desires, and we collapsed all aheap to the ground.
So very demanding he was, his hands everywhere pushing and pulling, almost at
first seeming to resist these fires of lust that raged out of control. To
spare my own blushes, I will not describe the scene further, other than to
say that slowly, slowly, his iron control giving way to natural impulse, his
arms crept 'round me, or almost 'round me anyway, and he manfully took the
embrace from me and gave it back in so sensuous and tender a way that, to be
quite honest, I had not imagined Edward capable of.
And so he was not! For there you have the matter in a nutshell,
you see. A
voice, most unmistakably that of Captain Pellew, exclaimed in the harshest of
accents (and could no doubt have been heard from the quarter-deck clear down
to the bilge without the aid of a speaking trumpet), "Mr. Bracegirdle!
Control yourself, sir!"
I could hardly contain my shock at having lost all sense of
morals, of location -- and in the arms of none other than Lt. Bracegirdle!
And -- I bite my lip to say it -- it was HEAVEN! I simply could not speak,
could only gape at this once-abhorred miracle of a man who now stirred my
senses and stole the very breath from my body (he did get off me so soon as
he could stand without embarrassment) in a way that I suddenly realised poor,
pitiful Pellew never could. I am deeply ashamed to have treated Edward so
shabbily, but who could know that beneath the Lieutenant's florid complexion
awaited every possible sensation and satisfaction to tempt a woman? The
scales had indeed fallen from my eyes and Mr. Bracegirdle filled my vision.
I was now as impervious to any feelings for Edward as previously I had been
to this heroic figure who now stood beside me, occupying the sole place in my
But there stood Pellew, as dumbfounded as I was, alongside
Captain Foster. I
am convinced it was the first time in his life that Foster bellowed something
to benefit a person other than himself. "Mr. Bracegirdle, sir, may we assume
your intentions are honourable?" Well, no doubt Bracegirdle was still too
breathless from passion, too embarrassed by the eminent scandal, to find the
right words. Edward made a valiant attempt to retain his claim on me when he
uttered in low, slow warning tones, "Mr. Bracegirdle, I do NOT think it
necessary --. "
Foster interrupted him (there is some good buried deep in that
all). "By Gad! It IS necessary, sir! As a gentleman, Mr. Bracegirdle, you
have a clear duty here."
Well, after a few moments of deafening silence, Bracegirdle
wholeheartedly, though still so out of countenance from the smouldering
residue of his recent passions, that one might have been forgiven for
thinking the words sounded as if they were being dragged from him by a coach
And as a result, on the morrow, I shall no longer be Miss Henrietta
but shall exchange that drab name for the glorious appellation of Mrs. Basil
Bracegirdle. And is not Edward the dearest, most generous man in the world?
So far from holding me up as a model of infidelity, he has shown himself to be a truly noble man
and asked if he might be so honoured as to give me away. The
sweetest smile he gave me when he offered to do so. He is bearing up
wonderfully under the burden of his crushed affections.
Dear Diary, you have been a true, faithful, and most silent
confidante. But tomorrow Basil makes me his bride, and he must
supplant you. My secrets, my thoughts, everything held closest to my
heart will belong to him and to him alone. And so this is adieu.
This is my final entry, written with every expectation of a blissful
future. (Did I mention Basil likes the same plum duff as I do? Some
days I think he is marrying me only to acquire Tapling as his chef!)
A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER
The publisher would like to thank the Bracegirdle heirs for their
assistance in bringing this project to fruition. We also thank the
members of the HH board for their kind forbearance. Readers may be
interested in knowing that Miss Fubsyface was true to her word, and
for so long as her husband lived, she never kept another diary.