Chapter  Two

                                                                              27 Bury Street, London

                                                                              Four o’clock, 5 March 1788

 

Dear Husband,

            Have you had news of the extraordinary performance near the Royalty Theatre today involving your dear friend Miss Cole? The tattlers and wags are consumed with it, and I feel compelled to put pen to paper while the delicious escapade is still fresh within my mind.

            It was noon and our morning rehearsals at the Royalty were not long finished, when Miss Cole was making her way down Knock Fergus, which was lively with beggars, gin-soaked trollops and washer-women occupied with more honest work. Your Miss Cole, who was born to the Rope Walk and its surrounds, looked uncharacteristically out of place there for she was wearing a green-and-white striped taffeta caraco and a dress of olive-green silk adorned with two rows of flounces at the hem. The dress was not enviably fashionable, but was adapted by a deft hand to seem so. There were stains upon the fabric that could not be removed, and the age of the garment was apparent upon close inspection. (Indeed, one might say the same for Miss Cole.) But the rogues on the street were well enough impressed with the effect and loudly admired her costume, failing to recognise that it had been worn by Miss Kate Hardcastle in our recent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. How amusing of Miss Cole to reverse the role and elevate herself to the semblance of a lady with a borrowed dress from the theatre.

            But let me not digress from my tale. As Miss Cole turned from Knock Fergus onto Cannon Street, she took note of a cocky young gentleman striding several paces behind her. He was an elegant fellow, handsomely suited with a pale-blue coat, neckcloth, striped waistcoat, neatly fitted breeches, and white silk stockings. He wore a black surtout that added bulk to his frame and buckled shoes with heels that greatly increased his height. His lightly powdered hair was frizzed at the sides and plaited at the back in a fashionable manner. What a fine manly specimen he was. And yet – the brim of his beaver round hat was tilted down low to obscure his features. This observation alone might have sent a shiver of unease through a more astute female, but alas, that was not the case with your friend. She seemed gratified by the gentleman's presumed interest and obligingly slowed her pace as she neared her shabby boarding house. It was only when he was at her side that she noticed the vicious blade clutched in his hand.

            The fiend flew at her, dagger held aloft. Once, twice! He slashed across her flank and back again. The knife slit through the green silk like a thorn tearing through flower petals, and the flesh underneath gave way like a peach. Her attacker was gripped with fascination as crimson stained the verdant fabric until his victim’s yelps of fear broke the spell, and the young man took to his heels as Miss Cole collapsed gracelessly to the road.

            What an extraordinary performance from the scoundrel! She was fortunate to escape with her life, if not her dignity. Her assailant's intentions must remain a mystery, but I confess to feeling gratified by his actions – indeed, one might say avenged ­­– for Miss Cole insulted me unpardonably when she directed her intentions towards you so keenly after the curtain fell on last night's performance. She compounded her insults this morning when she arrived for morning rehearsals very late and made a point of asking me, in front of all assembled, whether you were recovered. I was forced to explain your absence with an improvised account of the ill-advised meat pie that had confined you to bed since last night, the deleterious effects of which had completely incapacitated both your mind and body. (A masterly allusion I think we might both agree.) How your friend smirked, knowing full well that you had failed to spend the night at home, but Mr. Lewis seemed satisfied with my necessary fabrication and your position at the theatre is secure.

            Now let us see if the intrepid Miss Cole struggles to Goodman’s Fields with her damaged buttock for tonight’s performance, or if today’s trauma makes her sacrifice her one unforgettable line to her understudy, as she likes to call my dresser. If she does undertake the hazardous journey to the Royalty, no doubt she will tell you of the crazed monster who attacked her, and will show you her damaged wares as proof. In what shadowy corner will she manage this, I wonder? Women of virtue can only hope that the slashing of Miss Cole’s hindquarters will put that ambitious harlot back in her place.

            But enough of these matters – I hear our daughter crying, and Lord knows she sees more of Mrs. Bartlett than she does her own mother. After I attend to her, I shall make my way to the theatre and trust that you will be there, fully sober, with another fine tale to explain where you spent the long hours of last night.

                                    Your ever-devoted wife,

                                                                        Elizabeth

 

 

                                                           

                                                              27 Bury Street, London                                        

                                                              Eight o’clock, 6 March 1788

 

My dearest Wife,

            I cannot deny that the letter I discovered in my nightgown pocket this morning astonished me, but you looked so content in sleep – well deserved after your triumph on the stage last night – that I did not wish to wake you. I thought it better to leave this response upon my pillow to greet you when you rise as I have an appointment with Charles Dibden about his new opera at the Lyceum. This could present an improvement in circumstances for us, and I am certain you will not begrudge me leaving you before discussing the matters detailed in your missive.

            First, I must defend myself. You misunderstand me most completely! My friendship with Miss Cole is nothing more than that. Why do you presume that I would find another woman more appealing than you? The London masses applaud your capacity on the stage – your voice, your ability to make any role come to life. Why would your husband think less of you than your public? You continue to doubt me, but as Mr. Belleville said to Captain Belleville, “The man who wishes to become virtuous is already become so.” It is true that Miss Cole calls upon my experience at times. She has ambitions to make her name on the stage and believes I can assist her. I do, after all, know by rote the most performed plays and have been admired well enough for my voice. It is no great sacrifice to teach her a song or two, and there is nothing more to it than that.

            But I am curious to know how you learned of the assault on the lady – you transcribed it so accurately! Of course, as you are aware, Miss Cole did get herself to the theatre for last night’s performance for she greatly feared reprisals for borrowing the dress. She had stitched up the tear and removed the bloodstain from the fabric, but could not remove the stain of her ordeal from her heart. The scoundrel was at least six foot tall, with the frame of a navvy – “his dagger was fearsome” were her precise words, and she thought herself ruined when she saw his blade. It was only to clear up any misunderstanding about her meaning that she revealed the wound upon her flank. Her attacker had been ferocious! The cut is at least eight inches long, and Miss Cole was so inflamed that a judicious application of apothecary’s balm was insufficient as a calming agent. She is perpetually reminded of the fiend whenever she seeks repose.

            And when you arise from yours, I shall be home and we can discuss these matters more fully. I hope to have good news about our future.

                                    Your admiring husband,

                                                                        Henry

                                                                                         27 Bury Street, London

                                                                                         Eight o’clock, 6 March 1788

 

My dearest Wife,

            I cannot deny that the letter I discovered in my nightgown pocket this morning astonished me, but you looked so content in sleep – well deserved after your triumph on the stage last night – that I did not wish to wake you. I thought it better to leave this response upon my pillow to greet you when you rise as I have an appointment with Charles Dibden about his new opera at the Lyceum. This could present an improvement in circumstances for us, and I am certain you will not begrudge me leaving you before discussing the matters detailed in your missive.

            First, I must defend myself. You misunderstand me most completely! My friendship with Miss Cole is nothing more than that. Why do you presume that I would find another woman more appealing than you? The London masses applaud your capacity on the stage – your voice, your ability to make any role come to life. Why would your husband think less of you than your public? You continue to doubt me, but as Mr. Belleville said to Captain Belleville, “The man who wishes to become virtuous is already become so.” It is true that Miss Cole calls upon my experience at times. She has ambitions to make her name on the stage and believes I can assist her. I do, after all, know by rote the most performed plays and have been admired well enough for my voice. It is no great sacrifice to teach her a song or two, and there is nothing more to it than that.

            But I am curious to know how you learned of the assault on the lady – you transcribed it so accurately! Of course, as you are aware, Miss Cole did get herself to the theatre for last night’s performance for she greatly feared reprisals for borrowing the dress. She had stitched up the tear and removed the bloodstain from the fabric, but could not remove the stain of her ordeal from her heart. The scoundrel was at least six foot tall, with the frame of a navvy – “his dagger was fearsome” were her precise words, and she thought herself ruined when she saw his blade. It was only to clear up any misunderstanding about her meaning that she revealed the wound upon her flank. Her attacker had been ferocious! The cut is at least eight inches long, and Miss Cole was so inflamed that a judicious application of apothecary’s balm was insufficient as a calming agent. She is perpetually reminded of the fiend whenever she seeks repose.

            And when you arise from yours, I shall be home and we can discuss these matters more fully. I hope to have good news about our future.

                                    Your admiring husband,

                                                                        Henry

© 2016 by Karen Lee Street