Mrs. Simpson’s Journal №13 Pride before a fall.
20th September 1831
With all that is going on in the world, ’tis somewhat perplexing that I cannot forbear to speak of that daft Nelly — her who I branded with a poker last Yuletide*. But then to us, I sposes, the kitchen is our home; and those others within it be family. So it seems more real to us than the doings of Kings and Clerks, or Lords and Ladies.
Now this time the great boobie hath been with one of the other girls to the circulating library wherein they have discovered The World of Fashion. (“Fashion” indeed for the great, daft lumpkin!)
Howsomever, remembering the scarlet stockings of my own youth, I remained close-lipped when nothing would do but for her Best Boy to fashion a new pair of pattens for the young madam. Having sewn herself a modish gown for her going-out best, she was not wont to return with the hem coated in horse-droppings, nor lights and entrails from the butcher or the fishmonger. So..
“Fashion them high, Willy, do” says she. “Higher than all the other girls. For my new gown be more prodigious pretty than any of ’em ‘ave got.”
So fashion them high is what young Willy does — him being also simple of mind, and the whole of that defective organ being bent towards making Nellie happy.
When first I spied her clip-clopping away alongside the Level, I’d to stuff a handkerchief in my mouth to stifle my mirth — she looked for all the world like one of they Mummers — those that do walk on long poles like the fen people of Lincolnshire! Staggering and swaying, she passed me by unnoticed, so grimly did she cling to our Catherine’s arm as she towered above her, petticoats a-flapping in the sea breeze.
But woe to Daft Nelly when finally she returned to my kitchen that evening!
Her bonnet having slipped down over one eye, she had a rakish air to her that was belied by the strings of hair that had escaped and hung around her face like a hoyden. The deep frill of her pride and joy — her new yellow gown — was coated with manure and wound out behind her like a bedraggled serpents tail; all pulled adrift from her gown and showing her second best petticoat, to her eternal shame. Half-way up the skirt of her gown was a muddy patch with a hole that went deep through her petticoats and shift and revealed a red-raw patch of knee still leaking blood; and the heel was wrenched clean off one of her boots. For of course the lumpen loonie had fallen from her precarious pattens and come a right cropper!
Of the offending footwear there was no sign, but Catherine did whisper that Nelly had sat in the mud puddle where she had landed when toppled from them, and had hurled them away down towards the Stein as if she would throw them into the sea!
“Oh Mrs. Simpson” young Nelly did sob, as she sat by the fire with me, one leg propped upon my lap for the cold poultice I were applying to her ankle, which was all red and blue and swollen where it had twisted when her heel had broken.
“Oh Mrs. Simpson, I were that mortal ashamed!” she burst into another anguished wail that minded me of Tib the cat when upon his night-time business. “There was I, for all the world to see, and not a stitch of lace or a silken ribbon to my petticoat!!”
I slapped the poultice, cold from the depths of the well, around her swollen foot.” AAwww” she shrieked lustily, so we knew she had not harmed her voice-box, at any rate.
“And you all do know of my best petticoat, with its pretty blue flowers Mary-Ann hath sewn upon it, and the lace that cost me a whole sixpence!” She hid her face in her hands sounding heart-broken.
“Aye” I reminded her — “ and we all do know as how you wouldn’t wear it because Catherine [ who be the parlour maid, so ’tis not her business] had not brought down the goffering iron from Miss Martha’s dressing room. So you stamped your foot and sulked and looked daggers upon poor Catherine who would never hurt a fly!”
“Oh! Oh! I am a wicked girl indeed, Mrs. Simpson!”
At that I did worry, for it were not at all like Nellie to think shame upon herself, and I did wonder if her adventure had addled her wits good and proper this time!
But there! She is but a young girl, and never away from her Mam before, and unused to the excitements of a big city like Brighton. ’Twas more likely that which had addled her brains.
But she did look so woebegone as to break your heart!
So John Coachman, who had come in to see if the shrieks meant Deadly Murder, stoked up the fire and brought in more coal; and was gentleman enough not to look upon the naked, bleeding knee. And sweet Mary-Ann promised that she would mend the second-best petticoat and sew blue flowers upon it too, and Catherine, released from her duties upstairs, did take it upon herself to make up a pot of tay for all to sup. (For our Mistress be a generous soul and allows all the tea leaves that come back from Upstairs to be used in the kitchen.)
At length, as we sat sipping from our cups, a little snort escaped from Mary- Ann, to be hastily swallowed with her tay. Catherine caught her eye and a tiny smile began to play around her mouth before being hidden by her handkerchief.
But it were John Coachman who was our undoing, as he said ruminating:
“Ah well. Forby they do say that Brighton be good for whatever ails ye. They do flock here for to drink that nasty water up by St. Ann’s Well; and throw themselves into the waters of the sea for to take a cure. You mark my words” and he managed to puff away at his old briar and smile at the same time. “Come 3 o clock tomorrow, when all do promenade along the Steine, you’ll see all the young ladies from the Squares a-sitting down in all the mud-puddles as far as the eye can see. They will all be sure our Nelly hath stolen a march on ’em and each will be resting her bottom in the muddy waters telling all and sundry about the latest Cure!”
Ah! Many were the ambitions I had as a young girl myself, and many are the places I’ve gone and things I have seen. But to gather round the fire with a full belly, and a cup of tay to one’s elbow to chase away the wintery chill; to dry a young girls tears and to see them turn to laughter? These quiet contentments, methinks, can never be with money bought.