August 1857-June 1858

The Collected Letters, Volume 33


JWC TO MARY RUSSELL ; 16 May 1858; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18580516-JWC-MR-01; CL 33: 222-224


5 Cheyne Row / Chelsea [ca. 16 May 1858]

Dearest Mary

I wish I were beside you for an hour, to tell you by word of mouth my history since I last wrote! by word of mouth, I could make as amusing a story of it, as my Aunt Anne's1 story of the little bad dog. But writing takes time, and “a certain” regard to grammar and penmanship and punctuation, in the midst of all which the spirit of the thing evaporates!

Oh my Dear! Miss Cameron! my Lieutenants Daughter!2 I was prepared for the chance of that speculation breaking down absurdly, under the difficulty of a Ladys maid transforming herself, like the Columbine of a Pantomime, into a maid-of-all-work; but I was not prepared for its breaking down shockingly, dangerously, and my Scotch Lieutenant's Daughter turning out an—Irish Impostor!

See where one may be led by conceit in one's own power of reading faces! and by a whim for having a servant of sensibility! that whim might easily have cost me all my plate and valuables; and that I escaped with a trifling loss is due only to that Providence who is proverbially “kind to Women and fools and drunk people."

It would be too long, to go into all the details of the “Miss Cameron” adventure in a letter. I may make you laugh with them some future day when we meet. Enough for the present that “Miss Cameron” lasted just a fortnight and three days; that under my lessons, and the lessons of a professed Cook (daily lessons paid half a crown each!) she was making miraculous progress in housemaiding and cooking, (not so miraculous when one came to know that her ignorance had been all feigned!) that she spoke sentiment, to more than my hearts content; that strange things were constantly happening that might have opened my eyes if I had not kept them resolutely shut; that, quite accidentally, at last, I convicted her of lying and stealing, and, in the excitement of the moment, speaking indubitable Irish!—and that while lying on the sofa sick at heart and stomach, with the disappointment and disgust; considering, (like the Piper's cow),3 I was cut out of all hesitations by Miss Cameron taking the initiative and running away! It was between ten and eleven at night that I suddenly found myself without a servant! “An excellent riddance I think!” said Mr C. But I thought of the fire-lighting in the morning! Mrs Newnham (the cook) who came to announce to me Miss Camerons flight could not stay the night on account of a sick child, knew “a little girl” whom she could safely recommend to fill a gap— “Bring her” I said in desperation, and a little girl4 was presently lodged in bed here, with no other instructions but to light the fires in the morning

Of course she “slept in”; little girls always do! I who had slept none at all, naturally, had to get up and awake her; but once on foot she surprised me by her activity and sharpness. After a days trial of her I said to myself better go on with this child, till I could find some really suitable servant, than, by impatience, get into a second mess— After three days trial I said “better keep this little girl till Mr C leaves town and the new servant can be installed without bother to him.” After a weeks trial I said “I’ll be hanged if this little girl is not as good a servant as most grown women! better engage her in permanence”! So here I have gone and done another romantic thing! taken for servant a girl of sixteen!! She has now been with me a month and I have not repented my choice

Of course I need to get in the cook two or three times a week—and to take a deal more charge of things myself than has been my habit. But morally I am much more comfortable than I was with Anne. It is such a kindly, human, open little girl! besides being the wonderfullest little worker, for activity, and order, and intelligence. So this topic may rest in peace for the present!

We went to Addiscombe (one of Lord A's places) for a week—and I was much freshened up by the change of air and the daily carriage-exercise—

Lord Ashburtons kindness and womanly-attentions were quite touching— he used to be just like one of the visitors in his wife's time.

All this bother of all-work and my weeks absence must excuse my long silence. Thank you most sincerely for the sketch5—it was such a surprise!— I knew it at a glance. Tell the artist it will be framed and hung up in my little dressing room where all my precious pictures hang. And dont fret about the sweet briar. It will be ready by Autumn— Meanwhile I have a slip from the Auchtertool bush6 which was a slip from the Templand7 one— Walter sent it some six weeks ago and it is growing beautifully. Of course a slip direct from Templad would be better8

My cousins Maggie and Mary are again in London on their way from Ventnor9— They seem to have enjoyed themselves, and Mary looks much stronger They are not staying here—but they spent today with me— They are with an old friend, a Miss Agnes Baird.10

I was thankful they arranged to go there, for it would not have suited me at all to have two such—what shall I say?—incompatible visitors in the house just now!

The uproar they caused in the beginning of winter was the origin of Ann's explosion and of my illness—or I should rather say was the match that fired the train; for Ann only waited an occasion to explode, and I an occasion to fall ill.

What a fright you must have had with your Husband!—after his long dangerous illness before— My kindest regards to him.

God bless you Dear