A Ghost Story for Christmas

A Ghost Story for Christmas

The Nanny – A Ghost Story For Christmas

It was November and the war had been over for more than a year when I took Rosamond Furnivall to live with her great aunt in Cumbria.

Like me, Rosamond was an orphan. On a clear summer’s day in 1944, a V2 fell silent, dropped out of the sky and obliterated her parents leaving her silent and brittle.

My parents died before the war. My father drove the car off the road and into a ravine. We lived in Kenya at the time. They were on the way home from a house party. He was drunk and they were probably arguing. They always argued. My mother didn’t stand a chance.

A few weeks after the funeral, I was packed off to a boarding school in Kent. I was eight. When school ended I found myself homeless so I joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the WAAFs. It was 1939.

I spent the next six years in Whitehall typing orders for the Allied High Command. Like Rosamond, I was burdened with grief but my sorrow was not for my parents it was for the people I had grown to love in London, the friends and lovers I would never see again. I was sad too for the countless, nameless people who had died following the orders I so carefully typed. You see, from an early age, I knew there was no gentle way to destroy a life.

Peace found me signing on at one of London’s most prestigious domestic service agencies. I wanted to get away from the city; put the past behind me. More than anything, I wanted to live in a place where I could breathe fresh air and feel the ground under my feet.

The woman at the agency was impressed saying staff of my calibre were hard to find. So, after a single interview with the owner of the agency I was engaged to escort Rosamond to Cumbria.

The Journey North

“Hester, where shall we sit?” Rosamond whispered nervously as we struggled down the platform with our suitcases. A porter saw us and picked up our cases. I showed him our tickets and caught a glimpse of a photograph I kept in my wallet. It was a photograph of my parents sitting on the veranda of our house in Kenya drinks in hand and smiling at the camera. The porter showed us to a first class compartment at the front of the train and we settled into our seats.

I thought for a moment about the photograph. The camera had caught my mother and father in a vignette of happiness; the lens had trapped a fiction but I was glad of it. I looked at little Rosamond and was sad that she had no photograph, no memento of happier times.

At precisely nine-thirty, the Glasgow train pulled out of the station. The journey through the bombed scared city was slow but gradually the dereliction of war was replaced by a frozen white landscape of winter fields.

Rosamond was a beautiful child. Her thick hair was the colour of burnished copper and her blue eyes were proud and defiant like the portrait of her namesake by Rossetti I had seen in the National Gallery before the war. When she grew up she would have the power to break many hearts. My own heart had been broken many times. My father was the first of course, and I had inherited my mother’s knack for picking the type of man guaranteed to disappoint.

I had never had much to do with children. During the long years of war I had never thought of having a family of my own but now, looking at Rosamond, or Rosy as I was starting to call her, I felt an overwhelming urge to care for her, to hold her and keep are safe. She stirred some deep primal instinct in me. I thought it was because I understood her vulnerability and her pain but I really didn’t care what it was, it was strong and I liked it.

We read stories and played cards to pass the time and arrived in Keswick after dark. Following the instructions I had been given we waited on the platform for Miss Furnivall’s chauffeur to take us to the Hall. The train pulled away. We watched anxiously as the alighting passengers pulled up their collars and headed for the ticket hall and their homes.

The platform cleared and a man in a heavy coat and flat cap approached us. After a brusque and perfunctory greeting, he led us to an old black Bentley parked outside and put our suitcases in the boot. We sat in the back and Mr. Lewis coaxed, the Bentley into life. The car lurched forward with a splutter and we were off, heading away from the town.

I suddenly felt nervous. I realised I knew nothing of Rosamond’s great aunt or where we were heading. The idea of living in a hall in Cumbria had seemed romantic and exciting in London but now sitting in the car travelling into the night I was not so sure.

A few miles outside the town, we turned off the main road into a steep lane. The engine began to labour. The moon was high bathing the frost covered hills and vales in its cold milky light. We passed through a pair of large stone gateposts with spiky statues of rampant stags on top. The drive was overhung with trees. There were no neat lawns or rhododendrons at Furnivall Hall. Jagged rocks pocked out of the ground catching the moonlight on their angry faces. Rosy slipped her hand into mine and I held it tightly.

Eventually, the drive flattened out and a large stone house came into view. Fashioned from dark Cumbrian stone it stood proudly silhouetted against the densely wooded hillside. The leafless branches dragged against the walls. Beyond the woods, the bare fell stretched up towards the starry sky. The car crunched onto the gravel of the oval drive and stopped in an eerie silence.

Every sound was amplified by the stillness. Our feet crunched loudly on the gravel. A pair of owls hooted in the distance. The paintwork was ancient and peeling and everywhere there was a strong smell of musty earth and decay. The house was dark. Rosamond turned her face to mine and I smiled to reassure her.

Furnival Hall

Our driver found a torch in the glove compartment and waved it at the door. “We live in the back in the winter.”
I took Rosy’s hand and we followed him through the vast, oak door. The beam of golden light revealed a large central hall. In the gloom I could see a magnificent bronze chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling; standing next to the west wall there was a handsome grand piano, and at the end of the room there was a great fireplace with a set of fire dogs but there was no welcoming fire burning tonight. A life-sized portrait of a woman dressed in a white high collared gown, the sort worn by debutantes, hung over the empty fireplace. The moonlight from the window above the front door made the woman’s face as ghostly as her frock. Her smile was almost a sneer. Her cold blue eyes looked as sharp as a pair of steel daggers. “Who’s that?” I asked pointing to the portrait.

“That’s Miss Maud, your aunt, Miss Rosamond,” replied Mr. Lewis immune to its hostility. In the kitchen, at the back of the house, we were introduced to his wife. Mrs. Lewis was the cook and housekeeper. She explained that Miss Maud and Miss Stark her companion, were in bed and that we would meet them in the morning.

There was no electricity in the house. It had never been connected, the house was too remote. Taking an oil lamp the Housekeeper led us to our rooms taking us up the hall’s Jacobean staircase past portraits of generations of Furnivalls. Rosamond’s bedroom was at the back of the house and mine at the front. Mrs. Lewis departed and left me alone with my charge. I put the lamp on the dressing table so that the light would be reflected and magnified by the mirror, a trick I had learned as a child in Kenya. e room was freezing.

I dressed Rosy in her pajamas and got her into bed.  to sleep Rosy,” I said kissing the back of her head, “you’ll soon be cosy and warm.”

“Goodnight Hester,” my little darling yawed back to me and it was then that I realised just how like her aunt Rosy was; she had inherited her aunt Furnivall’s piercing blue eyes.

The curtains in my room were open. I looked out across the frozen landscape. Beyond the drive, I could see a patch of shiny black water catching the moonlight. The scene was sublime but eerie. I undressed reluctantly and got into my cold damp bed. I decided to leave the curtains open so that I could look at the stars and listen to the silence which after so many years in London was totally alluring if a little unnerving.

As the need to sleep fastened its grip on me I was sure I could hear a strange tapping noise on the landing. I thought I  could hear the piano music coming up from the hall below. Mr. Lewis must have left a radio or a gramophone on somewhere. I turned over and went to sleep.

In the days that followed, Rosy and I found that most of the house was off bounds to us.The whole of the East wing was locked and the windows were shuttered from the inside. Miss Maud and her companion, Miss Stark occupied the west-wing.

The octogenarian Miss Maud was no longer the beauty in the portrait. Her once proud face was lined with deep heavy creases. Her cruel lips had all but disappeared but her eyes were still as sharp as two icy jewels. Maud’s hearing obliged her to use an extravagant ear trumpet to hear the snippets of conversation Miss Stark barked down it otherwise she was content to read a book or work at the tapestry. The two old ladies seemed pleased to have Rosy for company.by the fire.

Rosy and I spent many happy hours exploring the house.The nursery like the rest of the house was frozen in time, stuck in bygone days. There had been no babies at Furnivall Hall for at least two generations.

Over a cup of tea in the kitchen one morning I asked Mrs. Lewis about Rosy’s parents and why they had not lived at the Hall.

“Old Lord Furnivall, cut him off,” the housekeeper clucked. “Chucked him out of the family from what I’ve heard. He’d turned communist or some such thing and fell out with the old man. Rosy’s grandfather was the last Lord Furnivall’s only son. By rights, he should have inherited everything but he never got a bean. By all accounts, he went to London and made a name for himself in Law. I believe his son was a doctor and was on leave when he and his wife were killed.”

“Yes, that’s what I was told,” I concurred. Then I changed the subject to Miss Maud.

“You think Maud was beautiful, well you should see the portrait of her sister Aida. Now she was a real beauty,” roared Mrs. Lewis. “I can show you if you like but if I do you must never let on. Miss Maud has forbidden anyone to look at it.”

Intrigued I followed Mrs. Lewis up the stairs to a room Rosy and I had discovered was kept locked at the front of the house. Mrs. Lewis slipped the key into the lock and turned it. The door opened onto a dark and dusty room. The housekeeper drew the curtains and the grey winter light flooded in. Above the mantelpiece, there was a portrait of a woman similar to that of Miss Maud in the hall below. The woman in this picture was wearing the same type of high-collared gown. Miss Aida was a beauty indeed. In the picture, her thick red hair hung in a loose bun at the nape of the neck but unlike her sister’s shape angular features Aida’s features were soft. The woman looking at me had the same haughty look as her younger sister. Her eyes were as cold as crystal and emitted a look of total disdain.

“What happened to her Mrs. Lewis?” “

She died, my dear, went mad in the asylum. Now, Miss Maud can’t bear to look at her.”

“Oh, how awful for the family,” I said thinking of the photograph in my wallet. Although the image of my parents gave lie to their true relationship, I had always carried it with me. Somehow, I needed the comfort of the fantasy. I need to remember them in better days; it made me feel that I had once been happy and that I could be happy again. Miss Maud clearly did not feel the same about her sister.

Ghostly Music

That night I woke to the sound of tapping on the landing and piano music in the hall. This time it was louder and more discordant as if someone was playing out their anguish and distress. The wind whipped up outside and started to howl. The window frames began to rattle. I turned the wick of my lamp up and got out of bed. Outside it was snowing. The jagged landscape was disappearing under a smooth blanket of white.

I had to know where the music was coming from. I opened my bedroom door and peered over the gallery balustrade. I am not sure what I expected to see. There was no one at the piano but the sound seemed to be coming from it. Trembling, I forced myself down the stairs. When I was halfway Mrs. Lewis appeared from the kitchen. “Go back to bed Miss Hester. There is nothing to fear. It’s just Miss Aida playing her piano. She does no one any harm, let her be.”

Miss Aida! Miss Aida was dead. Mrs. Lewis, was she talking about a ghost? I turned around slowly taking in what the housekeeper had said. She was telling me that the Hall was haunted by the spirit of Miss Maud’s sister. Was that why Maud could not look at the portrait of Aida?

The next day was my free day so I asked to borrow the Bentley saying I  wanted to buy Christmas cards in the village. It was true I did need to buy cards but I also wanted to get out of the house. I needed to think. Miss Stark agreed to my request reluctantly. Her concern was not my driving but the icy weather.

I drove the old car out of the garage and made my way down the snow-covered lane into the village and parked ext to the pub. I chose my cards then retired to the pub where a large fire burned in the grate. I was relieved to be away from the Hall, glad to have a moment outside its gloomy and increasingly oppressive atmosphere. I was just wondering if I would be able to afford a cottage for Rosy and me when a man’s voice startled me back to the present.

“You must be from the Hall,” said the man.

I looked up to see a fair-haired man in his thirties dressed in tweed and a thick woollen jumper holding a pint of ale.

“Yes, I am,”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I recognised the car. I have a habit of put two and two together. My name’s Peter, Peter Wilson. I live in the village. Well, my parents do. I’m just visiting; between jobs as it were.”

“Hester McKinnon,” I said shaking his hand. “I’m Miss Furnivall’s niece’s Nanny.”

“It’s a pleasure Miss McKinnon, or may I can you Hester?” he said sitting beside me.

“Oh, Hester’s fine,” I said returning his smile, which was quite unlike me.

“How are you getting on up there? I can’t imagine old Miss Maud with a niece who needs a nanny.”

“You know the family then?”

“Everyone around here knows them and I can’t help wondering what a nice girl like you is doing working up there.”

I had to admit I was beginning to wonder myself, although I wasn’t sure I liked his tone, it was a long time since I was a nice girl. I was desperate to spill the beans about what was going on at the Hall but decided to say nothing. I didn’t want to look like a neurotic fool talking about ghosts and pianos that played tunes in the night and the way the family seemed to take Aida’s nightly musical ramblings it in their stride.

“Will you be here for Christmas?” he asked tentatively.

“Yes,” I replied feeling he was about to make me a proposal I did not want to reject.

“I have two tickets for the Christmas Eve barn dance in the Village Hall. Would you do me the honour of being my guest?”

I had quickstepped and jived in London but I hadn’t been country dancing since I was at school. I looked into his eyes and found myself agreeing. He said he would pick me up from the Hall at seven on Christmas Eve. When he had finished his pint he insisted on accompanying me to the post box before he waved me goodbye.

The Girl in the Snow

It started to snow again. I drove back to the Hall and went to look for Rosy. The daylight was fading. I lit a lamp and called for her but no child came running to see me. I checked all Rosy’s usual hidey-holes and favourite places but she was nowhere to be found. Finally, I went to the kitchen and asked Mrs. Lewis if she had seen the child. Mrs. Lewis shook her head. “No love, I haven’t. I thought she was in the drawing room with Miss Maud.”

My heart sank, neither Miss Maud nor Miss Stark had seen her. Sensing my distress Mrs. Lewis said.  I’ll send Mr. Lewis out to look for her. She won’t have gone far in this weather. The silly girl’s probably trying to make a snowman.”

I pulled on my coat and followed Mr. Lewis out of the house. I watched as the beam of his torch picked out a single line of tiny footprints being filled by the fast falling snow. Miss Furnivall was watching from the drawing-room window. She was in a fearful state. We followed the footprints through the thorny undergrowth, past the gnarled oak trees across the road and down the hill towards the lake.

Tears started to stream down my face and froze on my cheeks. I followed in Mr. Lewis’s footprints hoping and praying we would spot her soon. Then through the snow, we saw a shepherd coming towards us carrying my little Rosy in his arms. Fear ripped at my heart. Oh God, I thought. Is she dead?

In the kitchen, Mrs. Lewis and I stripped the child of her cold wet clothes and warmed her by the stove. I wrapped Rosy in a blanket and cradled her in my arms and  Mr. Lewis went to fetch the doctor on Miss Maud’s orders. As the child’s face turned from white to pink the terror in my mind subsided. An hour later, Mr. Lewis arrived with Peter Wilson in tow.

“The doctor’s out. His son’s here instead.”

“I am a doctor too,” assured Peter with a smile. He was always smiling. I think that’s what first attracted me to him. He examined Rosy then pronounced her fit enough to go to bed with a hot water bottle. Before he left he reminded me of my promise for Christmas Eve.

I decided to Rosy why she had gone out into the snow over breakfast the next day.

“It was the girl,” she said. “She called for me.”

“What girl Rosy?” I demanded.

“The little girl at the window. She said she needed me to go to her mother.”

“Don’t tell me lies Rosy,” I said angrily. “We followed your footprints Rosy. There was no little girl. Besides, where would this girl have come from. There are no houses around here?”

“I’m not lying Hester. I didn’t look at her feet. She held my hand tightly. Her hand was very cold Hester. She took me down the path towards the lake. Her mother was there. She was crying, Hester. She was very upset. She called me over and put me on her knee then she started to sing and I fell asleep. I’m telling you the truth. My mother in heaven knows I’m not lying.”

Rosy had never mentioned her mother before, this was a new development, and I was not sure it was good one. Why would she make up such a story and why would she bring her dead mother into it? I tried not to be angry but I was perplexed. I went to Miss Furnivall and shouted Rosy’s story down her ear trumpet. When I came to the part about the little girl out in the snow, coaxing and tempting Rosy outside and the woman by the lake the old woman threw her arms up and screamed, “Oh! Heaven, forgive! Heaven have mercy!”

Miss Stark stepped forward to comfort her mistress but to no avail. Miss Furnivall was hysterical. She shrieked, “Hester! Keep our Rosy from that child! It will lure her to her death! That child is evil like that woman! Tell Rosy the girl is a wicked and that she must have nothing more to do with her.”

Maud collapsed into the back of her chair sobbing and Mrs. Stark escorted me out of the drawing room. I did not understand what was happening. I stood in the hall wondering if the ghost of the child was linked to the ghost of the woman who played the piano. Had Aida had a child that no one ever talked about? Was it the loss of the child that drove her mad? As I was thinking these thoughts, I remembered that I did not believe in ghosts, at least I had not until I had come to Furnivall Hall. I had lived through the blitz. I thought I knew what death was but this business of ghosts and spirits was something I did not comprehend. Had I not heard Aida’s ghostly music in the dead of night? Had I not heard the strange tapping sound on the landing each night before I went to sleep as if someone were walking with a stick? A shiver ran down my spine but it was not because I was cold. I shook off the shuddered and decided to pull myself together. For goodness sake, I told myself, the music must have come from a radio or a gramophone, what other explanation could there be? Then I thought, but there is no electricity in the house!

I was uneasy and decided to keep Rosy close.When I put her to bed I stayed with her until she was asleep then locked the door. As we counted the days to Christmas Aida’s nocturnal piano playing became wilder and angrier. Everyone seemed fearful as if they were expecting something terrible to happen.

I tried to keep things as normal as possible for Rosy but inside I felt as if I were going crazy. I was sure that if I didn’t get away I would soon end up as mad as everyone else in the house.

I decided to tackle Mrs. Lewis again on the subject of the Furnivall’s again.  I needed to understand what was happening.

Mrs. Lewis, poured herself a cup of tea and explained that the last Lord Furnivall was a man eaten up with pride and his daughters, Aida and Maud, were much the same. Suitors came and went but no one it seemed was good enough for his girls.

“They say that the two sisters fell in love with the same man; their music master! The man was a handsome foreign gentleman, an Italian called Carboni,” she said, “and he was a cad. It seems that Miss Aida, being the older and more beautiful of the two sisters decided the scoundrel should be hers and stole him from under Maud’s nose. Aida said she was going to Switzerland for her health but in reality, she was in Venice in a love nest with the fellow. When Aida returned to England, she had a little girl with her. Her father would not have approved of her choice of husband; if they had ever married of course. I heard the child was farmed out to a couple in the village, in the house where Dr. Wilson and his family live today.”

“Oh,” I wonder if Peter knew the story when he asked me how I was getting on at the Hall,” I said thinking aloud.

“Everyone around here knows my love. It’s only Miss Maud that thinks it’s still a secret.”

“What happened to Aida?”

“Well, they say her husband, if he ever was, of course, abandoned her and that she was forced to keep the child secret especially from her sister. Maud had a very jealous nature when she was young. By all accounts, Aida was a good a mother as she could be in the circumstances. The little girl was left at the cottage and her mother rode over to see her once a week.” “Maud, however, had not given up the hope that the music master would return one day to marry her and Aida could not resist mocking her sister’s false hope. Knowing what she did Aida taunted her sister mercilessly saying that the man of her dreams would never come back and that Maud was too ugly and fat to be wanted by any man let alone a handsome man like Signor Carboni. In the meantime, their brother had become a communist or some other kind of discontent at Oxford and the old lord had disowned and disinherited him. “

“As the years went by the family grew further and further apart. Old Lord Furnivall suffered a stroke and was forced to walk with a cane. The stroke made him even more bad-tempered and angry. Aida, who loved her daughter dearly, was desperate to be with her child and with her father’s growing incapacity she became brave and moved the child into her rooms in the East wing saying she was a cottager’s child she had taken a fancy to.

Miss Stark, who was always more of a friend to Maud than a servant found out about Aida’s marriage and on Christmas Eve in 1910 she told the old Lord all about it. Well, you can imagine what happened can’t you Hester? There was a big bust up by all accounts and people say the old man hit his daughter with his stick then he turned her and her child out of the house with only the clothes they stood in. The next day some shepherds found Miss Aida sitting under tree nursing her child. The child was dead poor think. They said it had a terrible gash on its right shoulder. Aida has lost her mind and was taken to the asylum in Keswick. She died in the ‘flu’ in 1919.”

Mr. Lewis brought a Christmas tree up from the village and Rosy and I made paper chains to hang on it. Winter had the fells in its vice-like grip. The frost was bearing hard into the ground and a freezing wind was howling in the trees. I did my best to carry on as normal.  As the last of the daylight faded on Christmas Eve I heard the west drawing-room bell ring three times, it was Miss Maud’s call for me. I took Rosy by the hand and went to see the old woman. From the drawing room windows, I could see that it had started to snow again and I wondered if Peter would be able to get his car up the lane to collect me for the dance.

“Why did you bring Miss Rosamond with you?” demanded a disgruntled Miss Stark. “Because I was afraid of her being tempted out by the child in the snow, Miss Stark, “ I said knowing I had Miss Maud on my side. “I have decided Rosy must be with someone at all times. Mrs. Lewis will stay with her while I am away at the barn dance.”

“That is what we wanted to speak to you about. Surely, you are not going out on a night like this Miss McKinnon. Rosamond needs you here.”

I was about to argue my case when Miss Maud’s face drained to grey.  “’I hear voices! Oh no, it’s my father!”

“I can hear him too, Aunt Maud,” cried Rosy clinging to my dress. “Hester, he’s going to hurt the little girl. She wants me to help her.”

Fear gripped me. The warmth of the sitting room disappeared and the ghostly whispers spread through the air. Soon I could hear them myself.

Miss Furnivall walked as if in a trance into the hall. Miss Stark followed. My chest was so tight I could hardly breathe. I held Rosy close to me. The ghostly whispers were replaced by the sound of a woman screaming. Rosy tugged my arm, I picked up a lamp and we followed the old women into the hall.

The bronze chandelier hanging from the ceiling began to sway and the doors of the East wing that had been locked since the day we arrived snapped open. Rosy looked up at me. “’Hester! I must go,” she cried. “The little girl is here; she needs me.”

“No Rosy,” I said holding her tight to my body. If I had died at that moment, I swear my hands would not have released her. I would not let these phantoms have her.

There was a thunderous crash and the front door swung open. Snow began to blow into the great hall. I was still holding Rosy as a milky light began to fill the room. An image of a tall old man appeared. He was poking a beautiful woman with a child clinging to her skirts with his walking cane.

“Hester! Look!’ cried, Rosy. “It’s the lady! The little girl is with her.”

I held her tightly as we watched the phantom images replay their horrific scene. Miss Maud and Miss Stark stood under the swaying chandelier transfixed.The old man raised his stick and struck Aida and her child. The ghostly woman stood firm shielding her child from his blows. Then he caught her with a savage blow to the head. The ephemeral woman crumpled and the old man raised his stick to the child. Then Maud called out, “Oh, father! Father, spare the child!”

A new figure appeared in the ghostly scene. It was the figure of a woman in a diaphanous high-collared gown. She joined the old man. The look on her face was one of terrifying hate and triumphant malice.

The new apparition raised her head and laughed at the woman on the floor. Her cruel eyes rejoiced and her lips quivered in anticipation. I turned to Rosy. We both recognised the figure from the portrait in the hall. We watched as Maud took her father’s cane and smashed it into the child’s shoulder. Her sister screamed as the child fell beside her. Then Maud chased sister and her child out of the house and into the freezing December night.

When the drama was over, I scanned the room for old Miss Furnivall. I found her prostrate on the floor with Miss Stark by her side. She looked dead but her lips were moving. I leaned forward to hear her last words. “What is done in youth can never be undone in age! What is done in youth can never be undone in age!” the old woman muttered over and over again.

As Maud fell silent the yellow beam of car headlights flashed through the open front door. It was Peter. He had made it up the lane. He examined Miss Maud and pronounced her dead then he gave a sedative to Miss Stark. We retired to the drawing room, Mrs. Lewis made everyone hot sweet tea, then and put Rosy to bed. The atmosphere in the house had changed; the ghosts had disappeared and taken their venom with them.

“I wasn’t sure you’d make it because of the snow,” I said as Peter was about to leave. I was in no mood for a dance and I could not leave Rosy.

“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” he replied with a smile.
I smiled back and kissed him lightly on the cheek knowing that somehow he never would.

—–The end—–

About Julia Herdman

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A Room of One’s Own – A History of Letter Writing

A Room of One’s Own – A History of Letter Writing

The history of letter writing is part of women’s history. Writing letters to family and friends was one of the new pastimes enjoyed by 18th-century middle-class women. Although the Post Office had been open since 1660  it was not until the 18th century that the use of letters for private correspondence took off. It was only then that middle-class women began to enjoy what had been until then an aristocratic luxury.

Should letters be personal and private, public or works of art? These were the questions being debated in the parlours of the 18th-century chattering classes.

For the 18th century household, the distinction between what was public and what was private was seldom straightforward. Controlling relatives or husbands were frequently concerned by the potential secrecy between correspondents, especially female ones. This gave rise to a general unease about the propriety of women’s letter writing.

Samuel Richardson’s fictional heroines, Pamela and Clarissa are repeatedly praised for their talents in letter-writing by their hosts. but it was an insult to a host if a lady refused to read aloud the contents of her correspondence. The contents of women’s letters were viewed by many in society as public property.

Letter writing was a place where a woman might show off her literary prowess in the same way she might demonstrate her ability on the pianoforte. But, as Richardson wrote to one of his female correspondents, Sophia Westcomb, in 1746, letter-writing was not only a social talent.

The Pen is almost the only Means a very modest and diffident Lady (who in Company will not attempt to glare) has to shew herself, and that she has a Mind. … her Closet her Paradise … there she can distinguish Her Self: By this means she can assert and vindicate her Claim to Sense and Meaning.’ (Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson)

Richardson’s sentiment was echoed and expanded by Virginia Woolf two centuries later when she wrote; ” A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This is the central theme of her book ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ In it, Woolf asserts that unlike their male counterparts, women are routinely denied the time and the space to produce creative works. Instead, they are saddled with household duties and are financially and legally bound to their husbands. By being deprived of rooms of their own, there is little possibility for women to rectify the situation. Woolf’s assertion, even in the mid 20th century was deemed revolutionary.

An example of a woman who used her letter-writing to assert their intelligence and enter the public sphere is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Montagu’s Letters from Turkey, written between 1716 and 1718 and published in 1762, were influential both as models of epistolary style and as anthropological works.

Other women followed where Montagu had led. Mary Masters’ ‘Familiar Letters’ (1755) discussed women’s education and domestic abuse. Hester Chapone published her ‘Letters on the Improvement of the Mind’ in 1773. These letters and Elizabeth Carter’s to Catherine Talbot were published in 1809, were referred to by Elizabeth Gaskell in ‘Cranford.’

After being estranged from her husband, Lady Sarah Pennington wrote ‘An Unfortunate Mothers Advice to Her Absent Daughters’. This was a book in a series of letters instructing women on religion, prayer, dress, needlework, the theatre, marriage, dancing, and other “feminine” pursuits. it was published in 1761.

Pennington wrote that a good marriage is rare. “So great is the hazard, so disproportioned the chances, that I could almost wish the dangerous die was never to be thrown for any of you.”

Lady Sarah also discusses the need for a certain “cheerful compliance” when it comes to men and their disagreeable habits. The book enjoyed much popularity and ran to three print runs, the last was in 1803. ((See Vivien Jones, “Mary Wollstonecraft and the literature of advice and instruction,” in Claudia Johnson, ed., Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (2002), 119-40, at 124).

In one of life’s ironies, it was men not women who would excel when it came to transposing the letter into literature and commercialising it. Perhaps this was because writing for a living was considered morally suspect for women. In an ideal world, women had no reason to seek financial independence through their writing. Nevertheless several of the major female novelists of the period began with the epistolary form.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Fanny Burney abandoned the epistolary form after her first novel Evelina and, most famously, Jane Austen dabbled with the form in her short story ‘Lady Susan’ subsequently finding a more satisfying form in the omniscient authorial narrative.

In its private capacity, the letter allowed a woman confined to the home to communicate outside the home with both men and women. While in the form of published letters it was a valuable platform from which publicly to assert women’s intellectual capabilities. Of course, the eighteenth century did not wholeheartedly embrace the potential of such a development. Both kinds of letters aroused contemporary criticism, but it was the suspicion aroused by private, domestic letters that inspired many of the novels of the period, exploiting as they do the potential scandals and secrets and it was female novelists such as Jane Austen who created the modern novel.

This article is based on an original article by Mona: https://blue-stocking.org.uk/2011/03/01/public-and-private-real-and-fictional-the-rise-of-womens-letter-writing-in-the-eighteenth-century/

@juliaherdmanbooks

 

Princess Dorothea von Lieven and Metternich – The Prince and the Swan

Princess Dorothea von Lieven and Metternich – The Prince and the Swan

Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857) was the lover of Klemens von Metternich. She was the wife of Prince Khristofor Andreyevich Lieven, Russian ambassador to London from 1812 to 1834.

Considered cold and snobbish by London Society Dorothea was not an instant success when she arrived fresh from the Russian court. Her destiny was however to become the lover of one of greatest men in European history.

Her long elegant neck earned her the nickname, “the swan” by those who loved. She was called“the giraffe” by those who did not. Reputation did not bother her. Dorothea was not after friendship she was after power and she used all her intelligence, charisma, and social skills to get it. Her aim was to influence others to support the Tsar and the Holy Alliance. She was passionate about defeating Napoleon and reestablishment of absolutist monarchy in Europe. Not only did she become the Austrian Chancellor, Prince Metternich’s lover she was also reputed to have had affairs or at least very close friendships with Lord Palmerston, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Grey while she was in London.

Her hard work paid off and soon invitations to Dorothea’s home became the most sought after in capital. She was the first foreigner to be elected a patroness of Almack’s where she is said to have introduced the waltz in 1814. The waltz was a dance considered riotous and indecent. It was first danced when Tsar Alexander came to town in 1814. This was when Dorothea first met Metternich. It seems they took an instant dislike to one another. She thought he was cold and intimidating and far too self- important. He dismissed her as just a pretty woman travelling in the Tsar’s wake and treated her with complete indifference.

Some four years later, the pair met again at the Dutch Ambassador’s party at Aix-La-Chappelle. Sitting next to each other they found they had much in common – they both hated Napoleon. Their notorious liaison began a few days later when Dorothea entered the Prince’s apartment incognito.

Metternich

Prince of Metternich-Winneburg-Beilstein; (1773 – 1859)

In Metternich, Dorothea had found her equal. The Prince was a man who could satisfy her physically, emotionally and intellectually. She wrote, “Good God! My love, I know how to rejoice in so few things, do you understand what makes me feel true happiness, it is you, only you! My Clement, if you cease to love me what will become of me? … My dear friend promise to love me as much as I love you; our lives are pledged in this promise.”

In Dorothea, Metternich had met the woman of his dreams; she could match his intellect and his passion. He wrote, “My happiness today is you. Your soul is full of common sense your heart is full of warmth … You are as a woman what I am as a man.”

Their heated, clandestine affair soon succumbed to the requirements state. They met occasionally but corresponded frequently. Like many illicit lovers, they were tortured by their separation and the knowledge they could never be together.

Dorothea was well aware of Metternich’s reputation as a libertine seducer. She knew he had a string of women following him and in his bed. She continued the relationship for eight years. Finally, she heard that he had thrown her over for a younger woman. Desolate, she broke off their relationship in 1826. By the end, references to Metternich in her letters were cold and spiteful. Time did not heal her broken heart. She had nothing good to say about him or his third wife when she saw him in Brighton in 1849. she describes him as “slow and tedious” and his wife as “stout and well-mannered.”

She ended her days in Paris as the ‘wife’ of the French politician Guizot. It was said that although she was a widow she refused to marry Guizot because it would mean giving up her title ‘Serene Highness’. This was something the proud and regal woman was never going to do. Like her former lover, she was ancient regime through and through.

Dorothea died peacefully at her home in Paris, aged 71, in January 1857. She is a recurring minor figure in many historical novels, notably those of Georgette Heyer. Heyer portrays her as a haughty, formidable, and unapproachable leader of society. In The Grand Sophy she is described as “clever and amusing”, and there is a passing reference in that book to her role in political intrigues. Metternich died in Vienna two years later aged 86. He was the last guardian of the ancient regime, which had long since passed into history.

Dorothea

Princess Dorothea von Lieven (1785 – 1857)

Sources:
Dorothea Lieven: A Russian Princess in London and Paris, 1785-1857 By Judith Lissauer Cromwell
The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics After Napoleon By Brian E. Vick
1815: The Roads to Waterloo By Gregor Dallas
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klemens_von_Metternich
http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2015-01-28-sluga-en.html

The Duchess of Hamilton

The Duchess of Hamilton

The Duchess of Hamilton was born in Ireland, Elizabeth Gunning. She was a celebrity beauty who caused a sensation when she and her sister were introduced into high society. Though the sisters had neither dowries nor rank, their physical attractiveness secured them excellent marriages. Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton on St Valentine’s Day in 1752, only weeks after meeting him at a masquerade. This is a graceful portrait by the neo-classical painter, Gavin Hamilton, who was a distant relative of the Duke. Hamilton also produced an elegantly-draped full-length portrait of Elizabeth.

In late 1740 or early 1741, the Gunning family returned to John Gunning’s ancestral home in Ireland, where they divided their time between their home in Roscommon and a rented house in Dublin. According to some sources, when Maria and her sister Elizabeth came of age, their mother urged them to take up acting in order to earn a living, due to the family’s relative poverty. The sources further state that the Gunning sisters worked for some time in the Dublin theatres, befriending actors like Margaret Woffington, even though acting was not considered a respectable profession as many actresses of that time doubled as courtesans to wealthy benefactors. However, other sources[who?] differ and point out that Margaret Woffington did not arrive in Dublin until May 1751, by which time Maria and her sister Elizabeth were in England.

In October 1748, a ball was held at Dublin Castle by the Viscountess Petersham. The two sisters did not have any dresses for the gathering until Tom Sheridan, the manager of one of the local theatres, supplied them with two costumes from the green room, those of Lady Macbeth and Juliet. Wearing the costumes, they were presented to the Earl of Harrington, the then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Harrington must have been pleased by the meeting as, by 1750, Bridget Gunning had persuaded him to grant her a pension, which she then used to transport herself, Maria, and Elizabeth, back to their original home in Huntingdon, England. With their attendance at local balls and parties, the beauty of two girls was much remarked upon. They became well-known celebrities, their fame reaching all the way to London, with themselves following soon afterward. On 2 December 1750, they were presented at the court of St James. By this time, they were sufficiently famous that the presentation was noted in the London newspapers. Elizabeth was also immortalised in portraits by Gavin Hamilton a distant relation of the Duke.

 

How to Write a Good Love Letter

How to Write a Good Love Letter

How to Write a Good Love Letter

Benjamin Franklin wrote a good love letter. In 1779, Benjamin Franklin fell in love with Anne Catherine Helvétius, the widow of the Swiss-French philosopher, Claude-Adrien Helvétius. He was serving as the U.S. envoy to France at the time.

Nicknamed “Minette”, Anne maintained a renowned salon in Paris using her dead husband’s accumulated wealth. Among its habitués were France’s leading politicians, philosophers, writers, and artists.

Courting her attention, Franklin sent her many letters expressing his love, admiration, and passion. In one, he claimed that he had dreamed that their dead spouses had married in heaven and that they should avenge their union by doing the same on earth!

He wrote In another passionate plea: “If that Lady likes to pass her Days with him, he, in turn, would like to pass his Nights with her; and as he has already given her many of his days…she appears ungrateful never to have given him a single one of her nights.”

Boris Pasternak gives his character Dr. Zhivago so pretty racy lines in his letters to his lover Lara.

Don’t be upset. Don’t listen to me. I only meant that I am jealous of a dark, unconscious element, something irrational, unfathomable. I am jealous of your toilet articles, of the drops of sweat on your skin, of the germs in the air you breathe which could get into your blood and poison you. And I am jealous of Komarovsky, as if he were an infectious disease. Someday he will take you away, just as certainly as death will someday separate us. I know this must seem obscure and confused, but I can’t say it more clearly. I love you madly, irrationally, infinitely.

I think you’ll agree that’s powerful stuff but how would you feel if you got a letter like that? Would it please you or make you run a mile? I think I’d make a run for it. So what should you write to your love? Well if want to woo your love successfully science has some tips for you.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory of love, suggests that the ideal love letter should include the following components—intimacy, passion, and commitment. To test this hypothesis Donelson Forsyth and Kelli Taylor constructed a number of letters and asked people what they thought of them.

They discovered that, when it comes to love letters, commitment conquered all. The letter that proclaimed, “I know we will be happy together for the rest of our lives” and “I couldn’t imagine a world without you in it,” was rated much higher, in terms of expressing love, than one that made no mention of commitment.

Adding language that spoke of closeness and caring increased the letter’s good impression with readers, but it was a commitment that left readers feeling loved and in love.

As to expressing passion in a letter; frisky letters, which went on for too long about the sender’s sexual passions, were viewed generally negatively by both genders; perhaps because they were more about lust than love.

They also discovered that a message of commitment need not be delivered in a traditional love letter or a card; a simple email will do which is lucky as so many of us have lost the art of putting pen to paper. However, research shows that people think that letters are more trustworthy, and a handwritten letter shows effort and care too.

Therefore, if you want your love letter to get results you need to write it yourself, show your commitment to the relationship and put it in an envelope. Call me old-fashioned but a bunch of flowers wouldn’t go amiss either.

 

For more see:
The Science of Love Letters
Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

 

Sinclair Extras – Onboard the Sherwell

Sinclair Extras – Onboard the Sherwell

Sinclair Extracts -This scene was almost entirely edited out of the final version of the book. I enjoyed writing it as I was developing the characters of Sinclair and Greenwood. In these scenes, the men emerged as they appear in the final novel. The scene is based very loosely on the events surrounding the sinking of the East Indiaman, Halsewell in 1786 which was one of Britain’s greatest maritime disasters. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Once again he made his excuses early and retired to his cabin and as he lay on his bed thinking about the other passengers his attention was suddenly aroused by voices coming from below. He strained to hear what was going on. He was sure something was not right. He put on his greatcoat and his hat and set out to find out what was happening. With his lantern in hand he climbed the narrow flight of steps to the Saloon and opened the door but there was no sign of the Captain or the ship’s officers so he went on to the upper deck. The light from the Saloon skylights illuminated the ship’s deck. All was quiet on deck as he knocked on the Captain’s door. He waited then knocked again but still, there was no reply. A passing midshipman came to his aid. “I’m looking for Captain Richards,” he said holding the lantern up to see the man’s face.

“He’s down below, Sir,” replied the seaman. “We’re taking on too much water, see. There’s five feet of water in the ‘old.  T’aint good if you ask me, sir, t’aint good. Refitted, she’s supposed to be an’ as good as new; t’aint good,” he muttered blowing out clouds of white breath into the freezing night air.

“Thank you,” said Sinclair hesitating not knowing the man’s name.

“Franklin, sir; my name’s Franklin,” the man said removing his hat and bowing. “The captain will have everything ship shape when ‘es got the pumps going. No need to worry sir, no need to worry.”

“Aye, well, thank you, Franklin, thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome, sir,” replied the man as he disappeared into the shadows.

Unsure what to do next Sinclair returned to his cabin to find the commotion below replaced by the rhythmic thud of pumps and the unwelcome smell of stinking bilge water in the air. Above him, he could hear the muffled sounds of the women’s conversation as they prepared to settle down for the night. He lay in his cot thinking about what had happened and what Franklin had said and wondered if the ship was in danger. Then he heard the ship’s officers making their way to their beds. They made no mention of the commotion or the water in the hold so he told himself that everything was alright. He took out his pocket watch to check the hour; it was past 10 o’clock and time to be turning in for the night himself. As he lay in his cold and uncomfortable cot his thoughts began to wander as he recalled Franklin’s words. Taking on too much water was a serious thing, should he go back to the Captain and demand an explanation or should he leave things alone now that everything seemed to be under control? He held the thought in his mind for a moment then he decided on the latter course of action and pulled his coat over him to get warm. The lack of sleep from the previous night, the fresh sea air and the excitement of everything was taking its toll on him, he was exhausted. He closed his eyes and soon he was fast asleep.

He woke cold and to the sound of pumping in the hold. He washed and dressed quickly without shaving wondering if he should grow a beard then pulling his coat over his shoulders he made his way to the Saloon where his fellow passengers were already up and warming themselves on a barely adequate brass charcoal brazier. When he had taken tea and a bowl of porridge he made his way onto the deck again. The sunshine of the day before had been replaced with a blanket of thick grey cloud and a fine drizzle of snow was filling the crevices in the deck planking as he walked the length of the ship. Above him, the great sails were hanging stiff and motionless covered in a thick coat of ice and salt and the ship was motionless, becalmed in a flat grey sea that seamlessly merged with the sky in whatever direction he looked.

As the morning progressed the snow became heavier and Captain Richards was forced to order his men to clear the decks with brooms. In the Saloon, the women chatted and sewed while Sinclair read his book. The room was warm and steamy, the skylights, obscured by a lace of dense condensation that dripped intermittently onto the dining table provide a feeble grey light. As the snow fell on the outside it silently slid down the panes forming icy drifts at the bottom.  The day’s light faded and the wind began to fill the sails again. This time it was coming from the south and much to everyone’s delight the ship began to move again.

At supper, Sinclair fell into conversation with the handsome Captain Greenwood a young man like himself intent on forging a successful career in the East. He was a retired British Army officer who like so many others had been let go after the defeat in America. Greenwood, much to Sinclair’s chagrin, was admired by both the men and the women on board. His good looks and easy temperament seemed to smooth all his social interactions. He was gracious, charming and good company. He spoke eloquently of his experience in the American War telling Sinclair that he had had a mainly diplomatic role and had not seen much in the way of fighting. His main role had been  in organising the evacuation of New York in 1783; he told Sinclair that he had sailed from Nova Scotia up the mighty Hudson River with his commanding officer Sir Guy Carleton the last British Army and Royal Navy commander in British North America to a conference with General Washington at Orangetown to discuss how what was left of the British Army and the thousands of ordinary people who had remained loyal to the Crown were to be removed from the new and Independent country of America.

Greenwood recalled the animated discussion between Washington and his commander of the subject of Negroes, a subject he understood well as his family owned a good many of them on what he called their small Jamaican plantation, and how Carleton had refused to return those men of colour he considered to be free saying that they could go anywhere they wanted which had incensed Washington and the Americans much to Carlton’s delight but that it was something his father would have been furious about too because slaves were a man’s property and jolly expensive too. Then he told him how he and a group of fellow officers had removed the cleats and greased the flagpole of the fort in New York so that the victorious Americans could not remove the Union Jack without chopping the flagpole down as their parting gift to the victors. How they had howled with laughter he said. They drank a bottle of claret and played a game of chess after supper and Sinclair found himself feeling quite jealous of this man of easy conversation and conscience. Greenwood it seemed had no moral qualms about slavery and seemed to accept the world as he found it. For him what was moral was what most people accepted as normal, he was comfortable in the world and saw no reason to change it. After their game, they made their way to their cabins and said good night both feeling happy and relaxed for the first time.

The next morning Sinclair was woken abruptly by the sound of his books falling on the floor. The ship’s rafters were creaking and the wind was whistling through the leaky wooden hatch covering his porthole. The ship was listing at a good 20 degrees making it difficult to get about and impossible to shave so he dressed quickly and headed to the Saloon for breakfast. This was the first time he had really needed his sea legs. The ship was being buffeted by the wind and ploughing at speed through wall after wall of white-topped waves. He made his usual sortie onto the deck and met Mr. Hodge doing the same.

“Bracing isn’t it?” said Hodge holding onto his hat.

“Aye, you could say that,” replied Sinclair. “It’s a wee bit rough for my liking,” he said looking out at the rows of white horses prancing on top of the ocean.

“Ah, this is nothing laddie, wait till we get to the Cape. You’ll know what a rough sea is when you’ve been through that.”

“I look forward to it,” he shouted against the wind. His teeth were already chattering and he was holding onto his hat. “I don’t think I’ll be out here long.”

“Come on then laddie, once round the deck then back inside,” Hodge shouted back and headed off towards the bow. Sinclair followed but when Hodge suggested that they do it again he declined and went below to lash his furniture to the floor and walls with a strong rope given to him by Franklin. He did the same for Greenwood but found that the ship’s officers had already done their own. By lunchtime, the wind was gusting into a gale and the ship was pitching and crashing through a battery of ten-foot waves.

Like the other passengers, he felt sick; he craved distraction from the fear that was welling up in his belly. The usually chatty women and girls were quiet. In one corner of the room Miss Morris was trying to sew, in the other, the Richards girls were trying to read, and perched on the lockers he could see Mrs. Evans and her daughters who were trying to distract themselves by knitting but they were physically shuddering at every creak and crack in the ship’s wooden hull as it lumbered through the barrage of waves. Sinclair was unable to read so he spent the afternoon playing whist with his fellow Scot, Mrs. Campbell. From his position at the table, he noticed that the wind now contained squalls of snow. With each gust, the skylights were covered with a thick layer of it which then slid down the panes forming little drifts that were washed away each time a wave broke over the gunwales. Mrs. Campbell looked over the top of her half-moon spectacles and tapped the table. “I can’t go. It’s your turn, Dr. Sinclair.” He looked at his cards, his hand was all hearts, he was going to win without much effort but he knew that he would not enjoy his victory.

In the hold, Captain Greenwood was with his men. They were all young and inexperienced, boys from farms and small towns unaccustomed to the confines of a ship. The lack of air in the hold coupled with the motion of the ship and the stink from the bilge was making them fatigued, disoriented and now as the ship pitched up and down they were vomiting freely across the deck and in their hammocks. Anything not tied down slewed across the stinking planks rattling backward and forwards through the pools of vomit and piss. For Greenwood and his men, the ship’s hold was beginning to feel like a condemned cell, a prison from which the only escape route was death.

As the afternoon went on Greenwood found himself having to assert his authority in disputes between his frightened men. On the one hand, he found himself quietening down spats between the more aggressive men and on the other reassuring those who were whimpering for their mothers in their hammocks.  He was doing his best to maintain morale and keep his men under control but he was as seasick and as frightened as they were.

The afternoon drifted into the evening and the atmosphere in the ship was as tight as a drum skin. The ship lurched to starboard with a mighty crack. In the Saloon Sinclair found himself being flung to the floor. The table stayed in place but the chairs slewed across the floor crashing into the women passengers as they piled into the wall lockers on the starboard side and the plates and glassware crashed and smashed around inside them. He looked up and saw the hot coals from the upturned brazier searing the wooden lockers at the far end of the room. He pulled himself up and staggered towards the brazier and kicked the hot coals back into the pan.

The women slowly steadied themselves; their faces dazed and white with fright. They looked at each other and at the room; the chandelier was hanging at forty-five degrees and above them, they could hear the waves smashing into the deck. As they silently wondered what would happen next the ship suddenly righted itself sending them and all furniture hurtling back to the other side of the room. It was dark, the candles had gone out but the women picked themselves up again and started to search for the lights.

Mrs. Evans was the first to light one of the fallen candles using the hot coals in the brazier. In the gloom, Sinclair could see the young girls rubbing their bruised limbs and holding each other while Mrs. Campbell was scrabbling around of the floor looking for her spectacles and Miss Morris was searching for her shoes. The Richards girls who were crying and Mrs. Evans was reassuring her daughters. Sinclair pulled himself up from the floor and finished scraping up the scattered coals with the dustpan and the sole of his boot. Then a strange calm came over him. He mentally moved from passenger to doctor and found himself attending to each little group of women asking them about their injuries, checking their bumps and bruises and assuring them that they were no longer in danger. Much to his surprise, the women seemed to accept his reassurances and once he was sure that they were calm enough to be left he went to find out what had happened.

He climbed the narrow steps up to the door that led onto the deck and forced it open. Immediately he was blinded by a blast of snow-laden wind that stung his eyes and face. He put his hand up to protect his eyes and was able to make out a party of men struggling to tie down what was left of the mizzen mast at the back of the ship, this was the short mast that helped with steering and it had snapped in two and that he thought accounted for the awful crack they had heard in the Saloon. He stepped forward to ask what was happening but was immediately told to get back inside by Mr. Allsop. Reluctantly Sinclair obeyed and returned to the Saloon where he told the women that a small mast had snapped and that everything was now under control. He did not mention that without this small mast steering the ship would be more difficult as there was absolutely no point in alarming them further.

He sat down and took out his pocket watch, he rolled it in his hand and flipped the case open to check the hour, it was six o’clock and the wind was still screaming like a demonic choir outside. He felt isolated and alone as the exhausted women huddled together to comfort each other. Mrs. Campbell pulled a small prayer book from her bag and began to pray, “Thou O Lord, who stillest the raging of the sea, hear us, and save us, that we perish not. O blessed Saviour, who didst save thy disciples ready to perish in a storm, hear us, and save us, we beseech thee. Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us. O Lord, hear us. O Christ, hear us.”

As he watched the group of praying women his thoughts turned to Voltaire again. He could see that in the face of overwhelming fear a belief if a supernatural father who would rescue them was an undeniable comfort, indeed as Voltaire himself had written, “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” in other words “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” But for him, the act of prayer was one of self-delusion. How could the words of man alter the course of nature? His knowledge of science told him that it needed much more than words to do that. And then he thought about his own father and how he had spent his life attending to the needs of this tyrannical God trying to placate him with his prayers whilst ignoring or ridiculing his own child’s needs and fears and treating them as weaknesses that were to be beaten out of him. How could he believe in a god that would have such followers?

Just as he and the women passengers were beginning to get used to regular thumps of the vicious waves again, the ship rolled on its side again sending them and all the furniture flying like gaming counters against the cabin walls once more. The shock was just as great as the first time it had happened and they were all stunned into silence and fear seized their hearts and their tongues. They were in the dark again. He fumbled around in the pile of furniture and frocks searching for a candle. He found one and took a tinderbox from his pocket and lit it. When the ship had stopped moving Sinclair looked up to see the women sprawled across the lockers once again with their petticoats and stockings on full display and the saloon chairs jammed hard against them. They lay there waiting for the ship to right itself like it did before but this time there was no correcting movement, the ship simply sat in the water being battered by the waves listing at a horrifying 45 degrees.

He scrambled to his knees again steadying himself on the storage lockers while the women re-arranged their dresses and huddled together for comfort. A feeling of overwhelming loneliness flooded over him and he was unsure what to do. Fear was pulsing through his veins but he did not want to join the women in their prayers. He knew that if he was going to survive it would be due to Captain Richards’ seamanship or his own wits or a combination of both.

His suppressed panic was broken by the sound of an ear-splitting crack followed by a thunderous crash. His heart leaped and he let out a low groan, surely this was it, he was going to die! His mind was racing, the ship was breaking up and in moments he would be on his way to a cold watery grave. He felt the whole ship shudder from bow to stern then in one swift motion it righted itself again throwing him and the women around the Saloon.  When the ship was the right way up again he scrambled to his feet. He was still holding the candle and found that by some miracle it was still alight. The Evans girls were screaming on the saloon floor refusing to stand up but before he could get to them the Captain’s daughters Eliza and Mary-Ann got to them and took them in their arms and started to comfort them. Their mother was helping Mrs. Campbell up to her feet and searching around on the floor for her spectacles again and Miss Morris was like Sinclair already on her feet and assessing the situation.

“What’s happening, Mr. Sinclair?” cried Mrs. Evans.

Sinclair looked to Miss Morris unsure what to say.

“I think the Captain has cut down the mast,” she replied for him.

“What!” exclaimed Mrs. Campbell smoothing down her clothes to regain some composure and putting her spectacles back on again.

“My uncle is trying to save the ship,” asserted the ashen-faced Miss Morris rubbing away the pain in her sprained wrist. “Now could you help me get these coals back in the brazier before we are on fire to boot?”

Sinclair was in the process of scooping up the coals with Miss Morris when Lieutenant Merrick opened the door to the saloon. “Good evening ladies, I know that you have had a dreadful fright but please be assured everything is under control now. The Captain will be along to see you shortly but as you can imagine he is somewhat occupied at the moment. Dr. Sinclair, would you please come with me, Mr. Hodge needs you.”

Sinclair looked around the room, “Is anyone injured?” he asked. The women shook their heads signalling that apart from more bumps and bruises they were well. “In that case, I will gladly come, Mr. Merrick,” he said and he followed the officer out of the room leaving the women to comfort each other.