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Tuesday, July 22

Mrs. Elton Sez: Scatterbrained Scheme Solicits Blackmail

Dear Mrs. Elton,

Modesty and shame prevent me from revealing my real name in seeking your advice, though I will tell you that I am seventeen years old and have been out for nearly twelve months.

I have participated in a deed that, if I were to be discovered, will brand me a fallen woman and shame my family for all eternity. Two nights ago, and several hours before the break of dawn, I eloped with my beloved Crispin. My Papa detests him, calling him a coxcomb and a ne’er-do-well fortune hunter, but I think my Crispin is the handsomest man in all of England. Like a hero of old, he helped me down the oak tree near my window and into his new curricle. We made great speed until the wheels became hopelessly mired in mud. Dark clouds had masked the full moon, which we had counted on to guide us. Crispin, alas, made a wrong turn off the main road. We had not even gone as far as eight miles! Thus, we had no choice but to turn back on one of the horses, for we were much too close to home. Oh, how deliciously wicked I felt sitting bareback behind Crispin and clinging to his manly waist as he guided his horse, but that is neither her nor there, for I am straying from my tale of woe. We arrived at my front door just as day was breaking. Crispin and I were ever so careful not to be seen and I believed that I had slipped into my bedroom unnoticed, for the servants were just rising.

Alas and alack I was wrong. A footman had witnessed my stealthy entry. Unless I pay him £500 he threatens to expose us to my parents! Oh, Mrs. Elton, has any girl ever been more unfortunate than I? I could sell my pearls, I suppose, but would such a sacrifice silence that awful man? What would prevent this blackmailer from asking for more money? If my Papa were to find out, he will ban me from ever seeing Crispin again, Indeed, Papa’s temper is legendary and I fear he will place me in some horrid Irish Catholic convent! Oh, Mrs. Elton, I have no time to lose. Please be speedy with your advice and tell me what to do. Sell my pearls, or do nothing and risk losing the love of my life?

Most desperately and sincerely yours,

Caught and fearful of the consequences

Mrs. Elton's Reply

Dear Nameless Sinner,

You wicked, wicked girl. Imagine one with the face, the effrontery, the abominable lack of shame, to address such a letter as that to a respectable lady, and a vicar's wife, what is more! Heaven above! I never thought I should see such an object as your letter. It is positively polluting the pure and wholesome atmosphere of my caro sposo's vicarage - you may be very sure I shall burn the thing at once, lest any one see it, and associate my name with such scandalous doings.

A girl who would sell her pearls! I never heard of such a proceeding. Young lady, do you not know that girls of family and reputation, do not - sell - their jewels, particularly not pearls that have doubtless been given them by their dearest father and mother? If you sell your pearls, you will put yourself outside the pale, quite apart from society, and no decent person can ever admit you into polite company again. You will have to go live in a cottage with an attendant and no wax candles, and who is to support you, when you are in such a situation, I cannot think.

Quite plainly, you are a very sad, sad girl. Only a sad, scatterbrained creature would conceive of such a foolish scheme. From this I can infer that you was not very well educated. I pass over the episode with Mr. Crispin, because I am very sure it is all a story; your phrase, "Dark clouds masked the full moon," gives it all away. Young lady, I have seen your sort before. Girls of seventeen who are given to scribbling fiction (and your reluctance to give your real name is also a clue), are doing very great harm to themselves. My advice to you I will certainly give: Hereafter, read more, and write less. A course of improving books is what you need. Allow me to recommend Samuel Johnson in particular. That is not so dull as reading sermons or homilies, but much, very much, ought you to learn from that great and good man. But pray put up your pen, that runs away with you! Such fancies are dangerous. You can see for yourself the courses into which they tend to lead your imagination - the idea, the very idea of selling your pearls! For how can you ever hope to make a show in the world as a married woman (if ever you are fortunate enough to receive a good offer, from a more substantial sort of gentleman than your fictionary Crispin - what a name - do you honestly expect me to believe in his existence?), without a decent set of family pearls?

On the very slight chance (I do not seriously consider it, and will dismiss it from my mind instantly, and I hope you will follow my example) that there is any grain of truth to the story, immediately go to your father and mother and tell them that this footman has made advances to you, and must be dismissed at once without a character. If he rants and storms about Crispin, calmly point out that such a fairy tale is not likely, as you were sitting at home on the night in question reading Samuel Johnson.

Your sincere friend and well wisher,

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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