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Friday, July 11

Mrs. Elton Sez: Sister & Spouse Spoil Elegant Soirees

Dear Mrs. Elton,

I am a married lady of some distinction who likes to entertain in style and serve a fine meal to my guests. I go to great lengths to instruct my French chef in all the particulars of my menu, and order only the finest wines from the best merchants. My guests are all people of rank and distinction, and I dare say you know that on one occasion this season, we were honoured with the Prince Regent himself at our table. My younger sister who is also in town for the season wants me to include her in all our soirĂ©es. She is also married to a gentleman of considerable wealth, but low birth, and absolutely no manners. As sometimes happens in marriage, after a certain number of years together, one adopts the manners and personality of their spouse, and I am quite often as shocked and appalled by my sister’s new behavior as her husband's. In fact, quite recently it is hard to distinguish whose behavior is more abhorrent.

Today, I received a note delivered by her servant, who looked quite overwrought I might add, beseeching me to include them in my next party. Impossible! How did she know of my plans? She must have a spy in my household, since I have only discussed the event with my maid and the invitations have not been dispatched. Whatever shall I do? I do not know what is worse. My unpropritious sister and brother-in-law, or the weasely spy in my midst who they have bribed to keep them informed of my plans.

Your Most Obdient Servant &C

The Right Honorable Lady Venetia Murray

Mrs. Elton's Reply:

Oh, your dear Ladyship!

How shocking that you should be beset by such troubles. If the aristocracy is subject to such atrocious, such barbarous impositions, there is no security anywhere. Let me offer my service, that is, not in a way of being a servant, you will understand, but as one lady to another. My experience may prove valuable to you, and my advice, I am very inclined to give. The sad situation you describe reminds me exceedingly of some circumstances concerning my dear sister Selina. Selina - Mrs. Suckling, that is, of Maple Grove - is married to a gentleman in a very fine way, one of the leading figures of his part of the country; he owns two carriages and from this you would be quite correct to infer that they are very well off indeed. Consequently Selina finds herself too often the object of envy, and is forced at times to associate with people who do not possess quite the same standard of breeding as herself. She would not wish to show disdain, for she is a lady through and through, dispensing comfort and condescension to all stations. You will understand that as a rule she associates only with the highest ranks, the upper circles; she moves in a sphere that is inclined to be highly exclusive. Yet on the occasion of which I speak, she was imposed upon, in much the manner which you describe. Exactly so. A dreadful spy! It was discovered to be the nurse who attended her while she was lying-in, and who went on to her next lady, and told all manner of details of which she ought not to have spoke. Where Selina bought her stockings, and what tips she gave the servants at Christmas-tide, and I don't know what else. Fortunately, one of Nurse Peacock's - clients I suppose they must be called, was Selina's dear friend Mrs. Bragge, who was confined only a fortnight after my sister; and most fortunately she told her what a gossipping creature that Peacock was. We traced her familiar to the chambermaid, and you may be sure that Selina sacked her at once and turned her out without a reference. "To be sure, I do not wish her to starve in the street," said Selina, "but we could not have some one so untrustworthy in the house. No doubt, she can find employment doing needlework, or working in a mill among the lower classes, so she will find her level, and all will be well." Selina always had the tenderest heart!

Surely, it will not be a difficult matter, my dearest Lady Venetia, to ferret out your own Spy. If you like, I can come to visit you, for any number of weeks you like to name - whether in London in season, or when you are installed in Murray Castle during the quiet months. I am sure I should be able to identify this malevolent Viper at once, and make my certain accusation in very short order, to your complete satisfaction. Only let me know when it will be convenient for you to receive me. My caro sposo could not take time from his parish duties to accompany me, but I would come with only one maidservant, my coachman, and my six pugs, so as to be the least possible inconvenience to your Ladyship.

As for your sister, once the Spy is eliminated from your household, she will know nothing more of the society in which you are mixing; and as she will receive no farther invitations, you may be secure in the peace and prosperity of your happy home never being disturbed again.

Your extremely obliged and humble servant,

Mrs. Elton

Mrs. Elton Sez is written/channeled by Austen-esque author Diana Birchall. Please join her on Tuesdays and Fridays for her sage and sometimes sardonic voice, as she graciously condescends to advise on a variety of subjects.

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