Dear Mrs. Elton
I put pen to paper to you today under much duress kind lady, and entreat you urgently for your assistance. I currently reside in London with my dear husband Robert Birchall, who is by trade a dealer in musical instruments and music publisher of some repute on New Bond Street. We have been happily married these forty years and blessed with many children and grandchildren. It is with great alacrity that I write to you concerning my grandson James, a young and aspiring musician who is currently residing with us while he studies at the Conservatory.
Last month he had his first salon recital on pianoforte at the home of his distinguished patroness (who shall remain nameless) meeting with great success. Since that eventful night, his world has changed so considerably that I do not know where or how to reveal all the particulars without exciting a fit of my nerves. One of the attendees was Lady Blessington, whose intimate friend Mrs. Penelope Paget a woman of a respectable middle age, has taken an intense interest to my young, handsome and talented grandson. After their introduction, she has forced her friendship upon him and followed him about town. She appears at the most inopportune moments startling and embarrassing him greatly in front of his family, friends and professional connections. This has continued unabated every day since his premiere, taking a tremendous toll on his health and happiness.
My dear husband Mr. Birchall has attempted polite intervention, but to no avail. We are so taxed and distressed by her continued unwelcomed advances; yet do not want to offend anyone who might be in the position to advance his career. Yesterday, a most alarming discovery has pushed us into despair then it was revealed that she has taken up the townhouse across our street and staked out surveillance from the front balcony with a spyglass.
Dear Mrs. Elton. We known not how to resolve this dilemma without offending the lady or her important friends, and entreat your honoured advice urgently. We await your reply most anxiously.
Your most humble and obedient servant,
Mrs. Robert Birchall
My dear Mrs. Birchall,
That is an excessively interesting letter, for a number of reasons: almost too interesting. First, I never heard it said that Lady Blessington was musical, more literary I would have thought; and then who is this Mrs. Penelope Paget, exactly? Who was she before her marriage? Who is her husband? for it is he who ought to intercede with her, surely, and an appeal direct to Mr. Paget would seem to be in order. You do not name him, however, and the style in which her name is given seems to indicate that she has been divorced. If so, then how is it that she is admitted into society? There is more than meets the eye here, that much is plain.
Mrs. Birchall, I do not pretend to move among the aristocracy myself. The Hawkins were a very old family in Bristol - I know we have lived there since my grandfather's time at least - and yet we are not of the metropolis, and do not affect to move in Court circles, only in the well-bred, but unpretending ones that are the most elegant of all. Therefore you cannot expect me to be au fait with all the modes and manners in aristocratic London. That kind of society in which divorces, and mistresses, and all kinds of unsavory doings prevail, is not the milieu in which you will find a respectable clergyman's wife, of good family.
Even so, I have seen a good deal of the world; and in my quiet way, have observed people of all stations, with uncommon acuteness, which no one, I think, will deny. And it is on this authority that I may say that there are only three possibilities in the present case: Mrs. Paget is mad; or she is passionately in love with your grandson and has forgotten herself; or she and he are lovers and his reluctance to reveal this state of affairs to you, causes him to prevaricate. If the first conjecture is correct, and this is a case of madness, your course is clear: in simple charity to the poor lady, you must find out who are her people, who is responsible for her. If they will not place her in the country with a stout woman to check her movements, then you must call upon the local constabulary and have her bound hand and foot. I am sure her relations would prefer the former course to out-and-out disgrace; and if you are in need of a reputable woman to act as guard and companion, I am sure that, with my resources, I can find one for you in a twinkling.
In the second instance, if Mrs. Paget is sane, but acting out of an excess of stirred passions, perhaps stemming from her unfortunate time of life, then as before, compassion is called for. She may be considered as temporarily insane, and she must therefore be told in the strongest terms that if she does not control herself, you will use legal means to have her placed in a situation of confinement where she cannot disturb your grandson's peace.
However, on mature thought, in this instance I believe myself to be writing about situations which have no reality. My strongest suspicion is that the last example I gave for Mrs. Paget's behavior, is the true one. I reluctantly conclude that it is by far most likely that this lady, whose morals must be suspect (as she is in all probability a divorced person, and by your own statement a frequenter of Lady Blessington's raffish set), this woman then, is regrettably, the mistress of your grandson. This being the case, it is not the place of a grandmother to remonstrate with the young man as to his morals; even if you could do such a thing without mortification, the time for his moral instruction is past. Indeed, he is not acting entirely without compunction, in throwing up a skreen to hide the real truth from you, thus showing that he is not entirely dead to decency; but this is a case for the gentlemen to resolve. Your husband, or the young man's father, must interview him, and find out what are the extent of his debts (for it is impossible he can be supporting a mistress on nothing-a-year), and if he has been injured by the malaise and other ailments that are too often the sad, life-long result of such immoral behavior, then he must take a course of treatment at once. Even my own resources do not stretch to a knowledge of the best doctors to consult in such a delicate case as this, but I can take advice of my husband, who in his work as a clergyman, has at times had to deal with some very low and sordid matters, though of course he does not tell me exactly what they are.
May I say that I am particularly sorry to hear this sad story, as the lady with whom I am closely associated, Mrs. Peter Birchall (though to be sure we are bosom friends, and call each other by our first names, "Augusta" and "Diana"), is distantly descended from your husband, Mr. Robert Birchall, by marriage. She will be very concerned indeed to hear of her husband's great, great, great, great, grandfather's immorality, but I conclude that I must tell her, as is my duty.
Mrs. Elton Sez is written/channeled by Austen-esque author Diana Birchall, whose latest book, Mrs. Elton In America, is now available. Please join her once a week for her sage and sometimes sardonic voice, as she graciously condescends to advise on a variety of subjects. Laurel Ann and Vic admit to channeling their Regency doppelgängers as they take turns writing the letters. They are usually surprised by Mrs. Elton's responses, whose mind is as unpredictable and lively as her tongue.
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