It’s always difficult to get to the truth at times. This can be especially true when people ‘fall out’, or feel they have been insulted, or that people have taken advantage of them. Thus it was some time before I discovered the real nature of the exile of Mistress Jena.
Mistress Jena was an attractive young woman. Not a beauty, but blessed with good bones, a cheerful nature and an active disposition. All of which conspired together to produce a lady who was tall, slender, and quite pretty.
Her father died when she was in her early twenties, and not long after that her mother returned to Prae Ducis to act as nurse and housekeeper for her ailing brother. Jena was left in Port Naain and thanks to her mother’s decision; Jena could at least aspire to genteel poverty.
She was lucky in that Madame Weldonnan approved of her, which ensured Mistress Jena was included in polite society. I met her at a number of events and enjoyed her company. She is intelligent, well read and has a open and honest disposition. It is perhaps the last of her three fine qualities that got her into the most trouble.
Her first major social blunder came when she attended a poetry reading at Lady Elette’s. Jena had arrived at the house slightly (but not fashionably) late, and by chance met up with three other ladies who were also late. As they handed over their coats in the entry hall, one of the ladies commented on Jena’s new dress. Jena admitted that she’d made it herself, having seen a quantity of material going remarkably cheaply in the Revenue Cutter Square market. Of course they all had to feel the material, admire its weight and compliment the general cut of the garment.
The group of ladies then made their way to join the rest of the guests in the grand dining room. They arrived to discover that Lady Elette was not merely wearing a dress composed of a material identical to that worn by Mistress Jena, but Lady Elette was explaining how she had had to send to Seramis for the fabric, at great expense, given how rare it was.
Now it is entirely possible that both ladies were telling the truth, but gossip circulating later suggested that Jena was the more likely candidate. Needless to say she was never invited to any of Lady Elette’s affairs again.
Then there was the incident with Bromar Heel. There are two opinions about Bromar Heel. A fair number of ladies consider him to be charming, personable, and excellent company. A lesser number of ladies and virtually all men regard him as a cad and dastard. Indeed I have known men with no female relatives whatsoever instinctively reach for their horsewhip in his presence.
It appears that Bromar made certain suggestions to Mistress Jena. On the first occasion she appears to have brushed them off as a jest in slightly bad taste. When they were repeated she was firmer in her rebuff. On the third occasion when the suggestions were made Bromar ended up with contusions, lacerations, a broken nose when he inadvertently head-butted the table no less than three times, and he also walked with a limp for several days.
Jena discovered that her actions had rather split polite society, and whilst her supporters rallied round her, her detractors were more numerous amongst those who issued invitations to various events, and her social life dwindled yet again.
The final straw came at the reception for the newly wed Madam Billard. The Billard’s had spared no expense when it came to the marriage of their daughter. They invited absolutely everybody, and put word round that they rather hoped that people would dress up for the occasion. They even hired a number of the better poets, of whom I was perhaps the leading light.
Now for a gentleman, dress presents no fears. One merely brushes one’s best jacket, and wears with it a clean shirt, britches in the same colour and the cravat one keeps for festive occasions. In my case this was my only jacket, my only clean shirt and a cravat I borrowed.
For the ladies it presented a greater challenge. Indeed a number of ladies went to the extent of plying with strong liquor the seamstress who had made the bride’s dress. Thus it was widely known that the desired ambience was ‘ornate’. Unfortunately Mistress Jena was no longer in the circles which shared such valuable intelligence. Thus to honour the bride she looked at her own wardrobe and took one of her older dresses and extensively reworked it.
At the wedding, it has to be admitted that the bride might well have been mistaken for a meringue. Most of the other ladies were gloriously over-ornate. Lancet Foredeck commented to me, sotto voice, that it was like being surrounded by a fleet of great merchant ships all under full sail.
And into this spectacular celebration of bad taste, walked Jena dressed in a long simple dress, a sleek frigate amongst the overloaded merchantmen.
This was obviously unforgivable. Mistress Jena disappeared and her name was never mentioned again in polite society.
I was saddened. I’d rather liked her, and her conversation was worth seeking out. Eventually I plucked up my courage and bearded Madame Weldonnan in her lair.
Now Madame Weldonnan was a great lady; a doyenne of society. Yet for those who knew, there was a past. Tiffy Cust was a dancer, a chorus girl, before Mortimar Weldonnan laid siege to the stage door. Scandalously he married her and she bore him twelve children. The sons were burly, strong featured men taking after their father, and their daughters every bit as pretty and sharp as their mother.
Thus when I sought a private audience with Madame, and raised the issue of Mistress Jena, I was not surprised to note that there was the intimation of a smile round the older lady’s lips.
She shook her head with a hint faux sorrow. “Alas Tallis, she was so mortified she fled into exile.”
“Without being unkind Madame, but I didn’t think Mistress Jena could afford exile.”
Madame patted me on the arm. “You’re a nice boy to think of such things. But don’t worry. I’ve arranged for her to have a small cottage on our country estate. She will get adequate recompense for assisting my oldest son by doing his accounts for him.”
I knew the oldest son, as yet unmarried. He was given to shunning society, preferring to remain at home and manage the estate. I raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Indeed.”
“Yes, indeed. Frankly if the pair of them haven’t the wit to see that they’d be the perfect match for each other, I for one will be very surprised.”
“This has fallen out very fortunately for you Madame.”
Believe it or not, she tousled my hair! “Tallis my boy, I brought new blood into this family and gave it vigour. Jena will give us a touch of class. With her in charge, I have no fears for my grandchildren.”
Now it’s entirely possible that you might not of heard that the latest story in the Port Naain Examiner collection has been published.
Yes, You too can own a copy of ‘Keeping Body and Soul together.’
I cannot guarantee that it will prevent you being exiled from society, but at least you’ll have something good to read during your exile.