Mrs Simpson's Regency Journal
15th June 1831
I did not think, in the beginning, that anything strange was afoot when Tessa Tuttle came a-visiting one Sunday evening, into my kitchen.
I were right pleased for, with my darling Eliza far away, I miss our Sunday chats and giggles and did welcome Tessa Tuttle with a batch of new-baked ginger cake and some tay.
Tessa Tuttle be known to me through my old Great Uncle in Rottingdean. And forbye I understood that Mr. Tuttle be one of the ‘Gentlemen’ – them as gives so much trouble to the Excise men – but did never ask, a’course; it be not right to ask of anyone.
They have only one son left, though poor Tessa Tuttle hath been through many a pregnancy and many a birth – both live births and still births – and many a sorrow when every living child except for little Tommy was buried in the cold black earth.
So I were not surprised then, to hear that another burden had been laid upon her: - her man be sick unto death and she be in need of making his passing as comfortable as can be.
So after we had finished our cake, and drained the big old brown teapot, I sent her on her way with some cordials and a small flask of precious poppy.
I had sent enough for the next three days, because, judging from her account that would be the time he had left to be of need of them.
So I were sore amazed, the very next evening, to find Tessa Tuttle in my kitchen yet again. It took me no time at all to see, from her face, that her man had died and, though I were surprised well, there’s no accounting for folk.
But next moment she clasped my two hands between hers, looked beseechingly into my eyes and begged me to go with her to examine him.
It seemed a bit daft for me to visit– the body was now beyond my skills. But so urgent did she beg, with her poor, sore eyes brimming ever and anon, and her voice ranging from a sad whisper to a loudly excited shriek, that finally I agreed.
Through the dark streets we hurried and I made a note that Tessa Tuttle did have a harsh cough for which I should persuade her to take some cordial as well. Indeed, by the time we had crossed The Steine she had started to suffer paroxysms of coughing and was forced to hold on to a fencepost or a tree to sustain her when in the midst of one of these.
I began to fret a little for, though Mistress do allow some little leniency of a Sunday evening, for me to stay out too long would never do.
Finally we arrived at her little cottage tucked into the side of a hill mid-way between Brighton and Rottingdean. By this time, what with the coughing and the panting and the rushing, Tessa Tuttle was unable to speak but gestured me impatiently into the croft.
Now I be used to the different ways folk live, but the smell which assailed me as I lifted the latch and went inside was insupportable without a handkerchief pressed firmly to my face.
The source of the smell was obviously the body of Mr. Tuttle – but it were not the smell of decay as yet. I recalled it from somewhere and knew I had encountered it before, but could not place it. For my eye was taken by a movement within the blankets which did put the heart across me – for ‘twas obvious the man were stone cold dead. So, handkerchief clutched in place, I strode to the bed and pulled back the covering!
And there, his eyes swollen with weeping, I found little Tom Tuttle – the only surviving son, with his head on his father’s breast and his arms locked tightly around him. Though to this day I know not how he could have borne the putrid stench which came from the newly dead corpse.
At that moment his mother, recovered from her paroxysms entered and drew me to one side. “’Tis young Tom I’m that worried about now.” She murmured, after pulling the coverlet up again.”I, you understand, have things to do”. She gestured to the body of her husband and I understood at once when she said: “I know not what to do.”
Now I knew why she had wanted me to see the body, and why there was such fear in her eyes.
“Never you mind, my dear” says I immediate. “You attend to your man and I shall see Tom aright for now.” I paused then, and said fiercely “But bury him deep Tessa Tuttle, bury him deep.”
For I had seen the buboes under his arm and the dark black ooze which had dried upon his skin.
But I took young Tom Tuttle away all the same.