Lady Betty's Folly
IT is a sad Thing when a Lady of Quality, who has been a Toast in her Youth, and has seen the white-gloved Beaux, as Mr. Pope calls them, bowing to her from the Pit, and kissing the scented Tips of their Gloves to her in the Ring; who has flaunted at Vauxhall, and shone in a Side-Box of the Opera-House in Lincoln's Inn Fields; has run down Handel, and run after Bononcini; has had her gay Water-Parties to Jenny's Whim, attended by Violins and Hautboys; and has brought, not only her own Company, but her own Strawberries and Cherries to our Bun-house, as if our own were not good enough; it is mortifying, I say, when such a Lady of Quality falls into the fear and yellow Autumn of Life, and finds herself a disregarded Thing, with no resources but green Tea and Brag. And such is the Case with poor Lady Betty Spadille.
How well I remember her, on the Occasion I have somewhat maliciously alluded to, for it sticks in my Throat, arriving at our Bun-House in her peach-coloured Sacque, Mechlin Head, and red-heeled Shoes, the Foreparts richly embroidered with Silver; loudly talking and laughing, and turning her Head right and left, now to this Beau, now to t'other, who fluttered round her with their clouded Canes and perfumed Wigs; now bursting into what the French People call des grands Eclats de Rire, now flirting her Fan, or rapping it on the Shoulder of one of the Ladies who accompanied her. Having just set my Mark, a Sprig of Rosemary, in the midst of one of good Bishop Atterbury's Sermons, I thought within myself, "Is this a Creature that is formed for Eternity?" Meanwhile, two tall Lacqueys, with immense Shoulder-Knots, bore between them a great Hamper of French Wine; while a little black Page, in pale Blue, laced with Silver, tottered under the Fruit from Rogers's; and certainly it was very fine. I never saw such Strawberries and Cherries before nor since.
I did not think her a Belle of the first Order, setting her Rank and Style aside. Her Shape was fine; her Hand and Foot delicately formed; but she rolled her Eyes too much, and had too high a Colour. I don't believe she painted. Altogether, she seemed in the very Flush of Existence; as if she had never met with a Reverse, nor ever expected one. She seemed to think "Let us Eat and Drink," without adding, "To-morrow we die"
We had set our oval Walnut-wood Table under the umbrageous Shade of two large Elms, and had spread it with one of our best Tablecloths. This was superciliously removed by the two Footmen, who spread a Tablecloth and Napkins they had brought with them. Our China Service and water Caraffes they condescended to use. Meanwhile, the Boatmen brought up a second Hamper, containing Ham, Tongue, Chicken, Sallet, and other Matters: but the Footmen, I mould mention, brought the Plate, including not only silver Forks, but a silver Stew-Pan.
The gay Bevy having streamed hither and thither, making their humorous and contemptuous Remarks, which were continually interspersed with, "Oh, my Lord!" and, "Oh, Sir Charles!" at length settled down to their Repast. There were three Ladies and four Gentlemen. Also, there was a tall, slender Girl in Black, whom I concluded my Lady's own Woman, because she stood the whole Time, a little behind Lady Betty, holding her Handkerchief and Scent-Bottle, watching her Eye, and obeying her Commands, almost before spoken; notwithstanding which, my Lady's Lip was often put up, and such words as "Thou'rt strangely slow...... Canst not hear me, Creature?" were muttered by her rosy mouth.
And there was pale Mr. Fenwick, sitting at his open Casement over the Bun-Shop, Book in Hand, hearing, seeing, and silently noting all.
One of the Gentlemen was my Lord Earlstoke, (to whom the Town gave Lady Betty,) a weak-eyed, puny Peer; another, Sir Charles Sefton, all Fashion and Froth; a third, a handsome young Gentleman, whom they called Mr. Arbuthnot: the fourth, who had the Wit and Sprightliness of all the Rest, (for whereas they continually laughed, he continually gave them Something worth laughing at,) was a lank, ungraceful, undersized Personage, of olivander Complexion, with projecting Teeth, quick, black Eyes, and a not unagreeable Physiognomy, though his Figure was mean and almost Distorted. His Name was Caryl, which I learned not at first, they were so given to address him by his baptismal Name of Paul.
Then, for the Ladies, there was Lady Mary, my Lord's Aunt, and the Duenna of the Party; and Lady Grace, a sweet pretty Creature, but empty and self-sufficient.
It might have been thought, that two able-bodied Men and a Foot-page were Servitors enow for a Party of seven; but on the contrary, they kept my younger Sister Prudence, who was then very pretty, continually afoot, tripping to and from the House on one impertinent errand or another, while I attended to the general Customers. At length, coming up to me with a painful Blush on her Cheek, "Patty" says she, "do oblige me by changing Places, will you? I can't abide the ways of these Quality, and give no satisfaction, and only get scoffed at."
"Perhaps I may please them no better, Prue" said I, "however, I'll try." And as I proceeded to take her Place, I heard Mr. Paul (that's to say, Mr. Caryl,) observe to Sir Charles, "Humph! we've lost Rachel and got Leah"
This was not over-civil; but I took no notice.
"Now then," cries Lady Betty, in high Good-Humour, "I'll make you what we have called a Petersham Chicken, ever since Lady Caroline's Frolick. Here are seven of us, and here are seven Chickens, which must, in the first Place, be finely minced; so let each take one." And while every one was laughing and mincing their Chicken, she pulls off ever so many diamond Rings from her white Fingers, and gives them to her Woman to hold.
"Don't trouble yourself, my Lord" says she, carelessly, as she stoops to pick up one she had let fall on the Grass, "Gatty will find it. Here, Child, take them all; and," (aside with a Frown), "be sure you don't lose them. Now, Pompey! the spirit Lamp; three pats of Butter, and a Flaggon of spring Water. The only variation I make in Lady Caroline's cookery is to stew my Chicken in a silver Stew-Pan, instead of in a China Dish, which might crack over the Lamp. Prithee, Pompey, don't let the Grass grow under your Feet!"
Methought, is her Ladyship had been obliged to cook her own Supper, she would have considered herself demeaned by it very much: however, there is nothing that Quality will not do for a Freak. By and by, she gets tired of stewing her Chicken over the Lamp, and bids the young Person she calls Gatty to carry it in-doors and dress it over the Fire. "And be sure, Child, not to let it burn." As I did not seem wanted, I shewed Mrs. Gatty the way to the Kitchen, and stood by while she stirred the Stew-Pan over the Fire. "I'm ready to drop!" says she, at length. "No wonder," said I, taking the silver Spoon from her, and using it myself, "you have never once sat down since you left the Boat, and 'tis the Dog-Days. Rest awhile, and I'll mind the Chicken." "Thank you heartily," says she, dropping into a Seat, and turning from Red to White, and then Red again. "May I take a draught of this cold Water?" "Aye, and welcome," said I, "so that you're not afraid of drinking it while you're so hot." "Oh, I'm not afraid," says she, drinking plentifully of it, and setting down the Mug with a Sigh of relief. "I'm better now, but there was such a glare upon the River." "Are you her Ladyship's Woman?" said I. With that, she fetches a deep Sigh; and, says she, "I'm no better, now, and a hard Life to me it is. I am the Daughter of a poor Country Curate, who died and left a large Family penniless: but my Mother, who married him for love, had high Connections; so Lady Betty takes me for her Woman, partly, as she says, out of Charity, and partly because she prefers being served by a decayed Person of Condition. I have twenty Pounds by the Year, and indeed 'tis hardly earned." "That I can well believe," said I. "But what can I do?" says she. "My Lady has engaged to give me enough cast-off Apparel, to keep me in Clothing; so that I shall be able to send the twenty Pounds to my Mother." "There'll be some comfort to you in doing that," said I. "The greatest of comforts," says she; "and 'tis that which keeps me up, in spite of hard Work, late Hours, and contumely; for no one has a better and dearer Mother than I have." "Well, the Chicken is done now," said I. "Shall I carry it out for you?" "Oh no, I dare not remain behind," says Gatty; "but do you come along with me, for you will make me feel less lonely." So I went with her according to her wish; and when we came up to the Table, we found Lady Betty talking about her foreign Travels; for, it seemed she had been abroad with my Lord her Father, on some public Mission or Ambassade, to this and the other distant Land, that had formerly been the Seat of War. And, to my Fancy, she discoursed agreeably enough of Belgrade, Peterwaradin, and Prince Eugene, though my Lord did not seem to think so; for, once, he covered his Mouth with his Hand to conceal a Yawn, not so adroitly but that my Lady perceived it; and thereupon she immediately diverted her Conversation to Sir Charles, and never spoke to his Lordship another Word. The Petersham Chicken was too Gross, as 'twas like to be, with that monstrous quantity of Butter: my Lady Betty was annoyed, and said Mrs. Gatty had oiled it over the Fire, darting at her a side-look of Reproach. It was sent away, and the Fruit set upon Table; and the Black Boy, producing a Theorbo, sang foreign Airs while they finished their Repast. A brisk encounter of Wits then ensuing between Mr. Caryl, Mr. Arbuthnot, and Sir Charles, my Lady presently sound herself cut out; notwithstanding she made one or two ineffectual efforts to recover the lead; and extremely mortified that she should, even for a few Minutes, be Second, she threw herself back in her Chair, called for Essences, and bade Mrs. Gatty support her to the House; protesting she had the Vapours to that degree, that nothing but Seclusion and Repose could restore her sufficiently to enable her to take Boat. The other two Ladies, constrained to follow her, made wry Faces to one another behind her Back, but accompanied her in-doors, leaving the Gentlemen to saunter about, or sit over their Wine. Having entered our little Parlour and made a prodigious fuss, till we were all in waiting on her, "How horridly vapourish I feel!" cries she; "But what! Is that some real Dragon China on the Mantel-Shelf? How did you come by it, Mrs. Patty?"
I coldly replied, "My Father bought it, Madam"
"And, those Josses and Mandarins," pursues she, "have positively the appearance of being, nay, they are genuine! "What lovely Chelsea China! These Shepherdess fondling Lambs and Kids are nearly equal to mine. Sure, can a Person of your Father's Condition, Mrs. Patty, afford to be a Virtuoso?"
"Had my Husband not been a Virtuoso, "Madam," says my Mother, quietly looking up from making an Hippocrates' sleeve for our Jelly, "these Girls had never needed to keep a Bun-House." Which indeed, was true enough, for my Father, who had been apprenticed to the first Jeweller in London, might have commanded a flourishing Business, and accumulated a Fortune, but for his unhappy Taste for Articles of Virtu, which led him into connection with unprincipled Men of Quality, who ran in his Debt, and would have run him through if he had dunned 'em; and that again led to his drowning Trouble in Intemperance. So that, had not a Legacy, opportunely left to my dear Mother for her sole and separate use, enabled her to purchase our present House and Business, for Prudence and me, 'twould have fared ill with her and with us, and with my poor Father too. And hitherto, we had gone on so steadily and respectably, that we had given general Satisfaction, and notwithstanding our unprotected State (for my poor Father was almost worse than no Protection,) had kept good Names, and met with no Let nor Hindrance.
Lady Betty, without vouchsafing more than a Stare at the Speaker of the Words just addressed to her, turns her Head slowly round towards me, and with more Haughtiness than I can describe, "Prithee, Mrs. Patty," says she, "is that good Woman your Mother?"
Now certainly, to be a good Woman is the chief Merit of our Sex; and to have it acknowledged that one whom we dearly love and reverence is such, ought to be taken as a compliment, rather than the other way: but yet I knew full well that Lady Betty had not used this term respectfully and kindly, but quite the reverse; wherefore I replied, "Yes, Madam," very bluntly.
"How are the Men amusing themselves?" says she to Lady Grace, who was looking out of the Window.
"Mr. Caryl seems reading them a copy of Verses which diverts them hugely," said Lady Grace.
"Odious Creature!" cried Lady Betty, forgetting all her Languor, and fanning herself vehemently, "A Man of Letters is the very worst possible Ingredient in a Party of Pleasure; he thinks of Nothing but shewing himself off. I'll never invite another to a Folly. Sure 'tis Time for us now to think of returning."
"Were we not to wait for the Moon?" says Lady Grace.
"Is you particularly wish it, we will do so," says Lady Betty, "but I really believe the evening Air on the Water will kill me."
"Oh, then the Moon will be too expensive a luxury," says Lady Grace, "let us return at once by all means."
And the Black Boy was instantly sent to prepare the Gentlemen for the re-embarkation.
"Give me my Cardinal, Child," says Lady Betty to Gatty. "Why, what on Earth is the matter with your Hands? They are covered with a Rash. Your Face, too, is as red as this Velvet. Huh! don't come near me! Stay, let me rush into the open Air. You are sickening with some infectious Complaint."
Poor Gatty stood transfixed and aghast; Lady Grace gave a little Shriek, and ran to the door after Lady Betty; while the elder Lady, less absurdly timorous, stood at pause, looking at the poor Girl, who did, indeed, appear very much heated.
"You are really ill, I believe, young Woman," said she stiffly. "What is to be done? You cannot go back with us in the Boat."
And following Lady Betty, she held a Dialogue with her in the open Air.
"She can't come near me; she shan't come near me," cries Lady Betty vehemently; and then the three Ladies talked under their Breath. At length Lady Mary returned.
"Young Woman," says she; "Dear me, Mrs. Patty, you are very incautious to hold her Hand that Way, with her Head resting on your Neck; there's no knowing what she may communicate."
"I'm not afraid of her communicating any Harm, Madam," said I.
"I have come to ask you," resumes Lady Mary, "whether you know of any decent Lodging, where this young Person may be placed till her Illness declares itself one Way or another. I suppose there must be plenty of People that would readily take her in."
"Indeed, Madam," said my Mother, again taking up the Word, "if the Disorder be, as you seem to suppose, infectious, I do not see how we can ask any of our Neighbours to incur the Hazard of it; but, for myself, I am so little fearful of the Consequences, that I will undertake the Care of Mrs. Gatty, if Lady Betty wishes it, till, as your Ladyship says, her Illness declares itself one Way or another."
"An excellent Plan! extremely well thought of," says Lady Mary. "of course, Lady Betty will remunerate you handsomely for your Trouble."
"And Risk," put in my Mother.
"And Risk," repeated Lady Mary; "though, I protest, I think there is none; but that the young Woman has merely been overheated, and taken a Chill upon it."
Though Lady Mary spoke not sincerely, yet her expressed Opinion was so much like my Mother's real one, that the Arrangement was speedily concluded. And then, after as much Fuss in departing as they had made in arriving, these heartless Denizens of the Great World quitted us; full of themselves, caring very little for each other, and least of all for the poor Dependent left sick upon our Hands.
"Thank Goodness they're gone!" exclaimed Prudence, as the last Rustle of Silk, and the last empty Laugh was heard.
"And now, where to bestow our young Charge?" said my Mother.
"Oh, how kind you are to me!" said Gatty; Tears rolling down her Cheeks. Any Place will do."
"I think Prudence must sleep in the little Closet beyond my Chamber," said my Mother, "and then, Patty, you can share your Bed with Mrs. Gatty. You are not afraid, Child, are you?"
"Afraid, Mother? No!"