Mrs Simpson's Regency Journal
23rd May, 1831
May 24th 1831.
This day did I send Daft Molly’s sister around to Phoebe Hessel with a special possett which I makes in enough quantity that what isn’t used at bedtime can be heated between two dishes the next morning.
Of course I does it because she is old and tired and is painful and weary unto her bones – but also because I did admire her mother-in-law, Old Phoebe, more than I do almost any other woman. For Old Phoebe had a Past.
Now women isn’t supposed to have Pasts. That is left to the men - who wink and nudge each other and smirk broadly whenever the subject is raised. A woman’s past is spent under the watchful eye of her father; her present and future belong to her husband and sons.
But not Old Phoebe - or, mayhap, only in her own way.
For Old Phoebe, stout and wrinkled and with blackened teeth when I knew her, was once young and beautiful and gave up all for Love. As did I. (Though I didn’t go for a soldier, a’course.)
I doubt the gentry know how many women go to sea, or to the Army. Such women fight alongside the men, both give and receive sore wounds, and are flogged for breaches of discipline. They’re also food for the canons and the guns and, of course, the fishes.
Which gentry would deem impossible – so stupid and so useless and so delicate have they made their women, they think all females stupid and useless and delicate withal!
(Which - though I could never admit of it to a living soul – is a puzzle I am now happy to say I can share with Mrs. Godwin.)
It would seem to me (and to Mrs. Godwin, I don’t doubt. But I haven’t got that far yet as my reading time is limited) that what’s different between men and woman, is that men can believe two different and opposing things! They can make marble statues, and write poetry to woman. They give them delicate sensibilities. But they don’t find ‘em too sensitive to empty their piss-pots; nor too delicate to lug umpteen cans of water up flights of stairs; nor so poetical when they blacks their eyes!
Howsomever, our Phoebe was one of they female soldiers and sailed far away across the sea to fight in battle with her love, William.
Oh,the tales she could tell! Of how she took a bayonet wound which opened her leg from thigh to knee. (Pshaw! I doubt not Eliza would say one shouldn’t speak of ladies parts. But I hold not to such overly sensitised views.)Of how she made the acquaintance of Mr. Scourge: the whip. And of great generals who ruffled her hair, and made decisions which killed many a son and husband, between sips of their tay.
Why, she and her William even travelled to the lands where Master had his sugar plantation! She fought against the Frenchies! And, once in far-off seas, against bloodthirsty pirates! Or so she would say. Mind, the older she got, the more battling and scourging and pirate-ridden did she become. But sure, no-body begrudged that. Besides which – the older she got the fewer were those who could nay-say her accounts.
She’d a hard life Old Phoebe, and only one of her 9 babes reached adulthood. Then he went for a soldier and died young, after siring the babe who was Great Grandmother to this feeble Phoebe to whom I send possetts.
Neither she didn’t have time or opportunity to have the vapours, or to languish, or repine. She didn’t have the luxury of a strict mourning period on a couch with smelling salts when William died;for she would find herself in the Poorhouse if she spent months worrying about the colour of her clothes!
So she married again right smartly and she made another life for herself in Brighton. And when he died he left her some money so, nothing loath, she bought a lop-eared donkey!
Well, ’tis said the whole town laughed when she came back from Lewis Fair one Wednesday afternoon. For she was dragging a screeching donkey along the dusty road and into East Street, using language familiar to the 5th Regiment of Foot.
But she made enough money with that donkey to support herself with no help from the Parish – and there were other sidelines with The Gentlemen (hereabouts The Gentry are The Gentry and The Gentlemen are the ones out-foxing the Excise Men.)
And bless us all if, when the wretched animal expired, she didn’t set up selling gingerbread, and yarns, and oranges. And The Gentlemen, likewise, prospered.
Yet she was given a lifetime pension by a Regent, and dined with a King and caught a Highwayman!
So all about here do respect the name of Hessel and now that the time draws near for yet another Phoebe Hessel, I sends my possetts, and I tincture them with precious poppy juice, so her pathway be made smooth for her.