Well a Day!
July 5th 1831
I’ve had a right old time of it, this past week. For, on the morning after I had visited the Tuttle’s house and brought young Tom back with me, I found myself fearsome feverish.
Now, never in the seventeen years that I’ve been working for my mistress, have I ever succumbed to ill health. Oh, that’s not to say that I have not taken ill. But I have always physicked myself, hitched up my stockings, and got on with it.
However, when I woke up that Monday morning, with my hair pasted across my brow, and my shift sticking to my body, my first thought was ‘Oh lordy, what have I done?’ and waves of sickness washed me through when I considered that I – and I alone – could forever bear the guilt of having destroyed the whole town and every living soul within!
So there I lay, teeth chattering, limbs shaking, and wallowed in my misery until Mary-Ann came to check on me a good half hour after the time I am usually in my kitchen.
I dursn’t let anyone else in, nor get up and go amongst other folk, if I were truly in the grip of the Black Death. But Mary-Ann, I remembered, has lived through one outbreak of Plague when she’d travelled abroad, so I guessed she would fare well.
I spent the most of that day tossing and turning with a fever and, says Mary-Ann, a-muttering and a-moaning that I had killed a whole town. I refused anything but water too, because I felt that, if I had killed off the rest of the town, I didn’t deserve to eat a morsel nor drink aught but water which I was unable, in my delirium, to refuse.
Late that evening, when she had finished her work, Mary-Ann perched herself on the edge of my bed and demanded to know what it was I was troubling about. And I, in my weakened state, did burst into tears and tell her all. When she asked me where Tom Tuttle be, I burst into fresh tears, for I had sent him to sleep on Nelly’s floor – Nelly being the kitchen maid who had gone and got herself in an interesting condition – and now, of course, I had murdered both young Nelly, her aged grandmother and the new baby! Oh, how I wept!
The next day I was weary unto death and every bone in my body ached, but my fever had abated somewhat. I still refused to eat, or to drink small beer or tay, but by the time Mary Ann appeared that evening I was once more in my wits – or at least somewhat in my wits – and listened to her agog.
When she’d left me the night before, she had gone through to the stable-yard, roused Little Willy, and sent him post-haste to enquire at Nellie’s house whether all was well. It was, and Little Willy was in danger of getting his ears boxed by the old lady for having wakened them.
Early in the morning then, Mary Ann had had another idea and once again sent Little Willy off about the town with a letter for a certain gentleman who mysteriously appeared in the Servant’s Hall that afternoon, and was closeted with Mr. Fitz for half an hour. And that evening Mr. Fitz was ushered into the parlour to speak with my Mistress.
“So all is well!” declared Mary Ann “Whatever illness you have is not The Plague. Tommy Tuttle is secure and we have a new Coachman who pleases Mistress greatly. For he will be content with sober drives with the Mistress - and not yearn to careen up and down the street with a dashing four-in-hand.”
I must have looked blank still, for she took one look and my face and began to laugh. “Oh, have you not guessed yet? The mysterious gentleman is my Uncle Bert – him with the wooden leg – who has been away at sea these many years and longs to settle down.”
My face cleared for we all know Uncle Bert, but not of his dream to settle down.
“But what of Tommy Tuttle, then”? I asked.
“Why Uncle Bert explained to Mistress that he be bound by a promise to his dying sister to keep her young son close beside him. So that Mistress has decreed the youngster may sleep in the stables, and be fed in the kitchens and be a general hand to all!”
“But your Uncle Bert hath no sister.” I was puzzled still.
“Oh Mrs. Simpson. Fie upon you” replied Mary Ann in a pious tone “For are we not all brothers and sisters in Christ?” I looked up sharply to see a small smile playing round her mouth –
“Goose!” said she beginning to laugh. “Tis young Tom Tuttle who be his ‘nephew’. And who has work, and a home...and even a loving cousin!”
And the two of us began to roll from side to side, trying to contain our whoops of laughter.
And that be how young Tom Tuttle came to join us.