April 1848-March 1849

The Collected Letters, Volume 23


JWC TO JEANNIE WELSH; 27 February 1849; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18490227-JWC-JW-01; CL 23: 242-245


[27 February 1849]

Dearest Babbie

I have so much to tell and so little time to tell it in that I don't know where to begin—besides I have forgotten in the, “hubbub wild and dire dismay1 of late days where I left off in my life—that is to say the history of my life—outwardly speaking—but certainly when I wrote last I was not gone nor meaning to go to Hedly—so I shall begin with that— Mr C surprisingly invited himself to Hedly (Capt S's country place) incited thereto by the charming description given of it by John Carlyle, who had gone down with Capt S for a couple of days—a beautiful country mansion, with “fresh air,” and horses to ride, and no woman in the house, or servant of any sort indoors, but one old Scotch Cook—taking care of the premises in the absence of Mrs Sterling and the children now settled at Knightsbridge—all that had charms for Mr C— And there being nobody in town just then that he cared to stay for—he proposed to go down with Anthony on his next weekly visit to the place—but Anthony had no notion of having him without me, and Mr C himself thought I should go, to “keep Anthony off him and let him enjoy the perfect silence”— (As if that man could enjoy or yet endure perfect silence for one week!)— I liked the idea of going; but would not agree till I had written to Mrs Sterling about it, and asked her to go too! It was all very well to tell me she was fast going mad again, and that it was determined she should never go back to Hedley, All that was no concern of mine no reason that I should cause her annoyance— So I wrote and she answered me in the friendliest manner—without mentioning the thing to her Husband—declining to go to Hedly “from the shades of which she was too happy to have just escaped” but “seeing no earthly reason why I should not go with Mr C and Capt Sg I was so glad after, that I had, as Mr C phrased it, “completely attended to the three thousand punctualities2 with her,” for if I had not; I could not have felt sure the irritation of our settling such a thing without her knowledge had not hastened the final explosion of the fit of mania hanging over her the last six weeks— It exploded before our visit took place—for a fortnight she was in a strait-waistcoat occasionally; but is now more quiet tho' still confined to a room with two mad-nurses. She has shewn no dislike of me this time—on the contrary seems to want to make me a party against her Husband—poor thing. But all this of her, is nothing new now— Her Husband takes it, as a matter of course—and tries to keep “never minding”— We went to Hedly on Tuesday gone a week, meaning to return on Friday—but the curious Gipsy life we led, on a basis of all the comforts and luxuries of civilization—answered so well that on Friday I came to town with Anthony (who had to go and speak with Mad-doctors) leaving Mr C. in perfect bliss—if solitude BE bliss—and having provided changes of linen &c returned next morning to remain till Monday— It was the most successful visit I have made for long—Anthony and I laid the table set wax candles &c &c the old woman cooked out of sight what victuals were not brought ready from London— and Mr C let himself be waited upon by us with an amiability. Then He had four riding horses which he might by turns gallop to death—and I had a pony which took me as fast as Anthony could walk at his head, over all the beautiful hills in the neighbourhood—and we sat and smoked in the carpenters shop Capt S has fitted up for himself—and I learned to turn and shoot with a bow—and shot—myself in the cheek!—as a green mark can testify to this hour: and indeed indeed—I felt very like little Macready on its late three days visit to myself3—with no end of wishes and whim and a childish surprise and felicity to find them all immediately gratified.

Monday came however—and we must return—the Ashburtons were to come to town that day, and we were to dine at Bath House Tuesday— We drove to our own door where Mr C and the luggage were to be deposited, I going on to Knightsbridge with Anthony to settle about a Governess for him— But Mr C knocked in vain for a good while and we were speculation about breaking in at a window, and storming at Helen for having gone out when she knew we were coming. when the door opened to a twentieth blow and an apparition presented itself which I shall remember as long as I live. There stood Helen—her mouth all over blood, her brow and cheeks white with chalk from the kitchen floor—like an excessively ill got up stage-ghost! her dark gown—ditto—her hair hanging in two wild streams down her neck—her crushed cap all awry—and on her face a hideous smile of idiotic self-complacency!— Nothing could be more drunk! We ordered her down stairs but she refused to be “used in that way” So Mr C had to drag her down—and leave her on the kitchen floor. I walked off, with the sublime calm which always comes to me in purely material trouble, followed by Anthony to Mrs White4 to tell her to come to the rescue—when we came in Mr C was on his knees lighting the parlour fire—Anthony then drove off coolly remarking—that “as I seemed to have affairs of my own to attend to he could not expect me to come and settle his”— Mr C retired to his study—there was no fire in the kitchen either— Mrs White lighted one and proceded to get dinner cooked while the little beast stormed at her for “daring to do her work.” I tidyed things up stairs— The whole house was beastly—she had been—drunk every day of our absence and having drinking parties in the house— That it escaped being either burnt or robbed is a miracle—about five in the afternoon—(we came at one)—she got her legs and rushed out into space for more drink—staggered home at ten and fell insensible on the kitchen floor—she had had half-a pint of rum, and a quart of ale—in addition to the half pint of gin she had taken in the morning— Mrs White got her into bed with difficulty, took away by my desire all combustibles and bolted her in (as she believed). I was to open the outer door to Mrs White at seven in the morning. and barred and chained it for the night as usual— When I came down at seven the bars and chain were all undone and there was a sound as of an animal rolling on the kitchen stairs— The little beast had been out! with a bonnet and shawl on the top of her nightclothes and had more drink—at night she got her senses again—and was told by Mrs White that she must get ready to leave the house next day—I would not see her at all— Providence under the form of Miss Bolte had sent a most promising looking servant here the very day we came home— Miss Bolte knew nothing of the exigency but this servant “had come in her way and she could not resist sending her to me, to see if the sight of her would not tempt me to put away that dirty little Helen”— Did you ever know such luck? I liked the girl—found her character satisfactory and engaged her to come as soon as I could get the little beast out of the House— She tried her old despair and tears upon me—but in vain this time—I had found her a shocking dirty stupid servant ever since she came and now I knew why—she had been all the time partially drunk— When I was not to be moved by tears she took to bed, and swore she would not go—I told her thro Mrs White—that I would take her at two on friday in Capt S's carriage to the house of her dearest friend—who lives at Cambden town and has a room to let, or I would put her on board a Kirkaldy steamer and pay her expences—whichever she liked—if she insisted on lying in bed I would send for a Police man and have her taken to the Station— She saw there was no irresolution more rose and dressed herself—and agreed to go to Cambden Town I spake hardly ten words to her all the way—explained the circumstances to the woman of the house—put two sovereigns into her hands, that she might pay herself the present shelter afforded her—and came away desiring never to see her Helen again in this world—she may go to the Devil her own way—I have bothered myself enough in trying to hold her back— The new servant came on Saturday—and bodes well to be an immense blessing to us.— And now tho' I have not told you half what I had to tell I must make an end for the present—and try to walk off the headach I got at a dinner at Thackerays last night where you were not5

love to them all / Your affectionate J Carlyle