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A Provincial Lady visits the Abbey

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A Provincial Lady visits the Abbey

Chapter 1

15th June Letter in morning post from acting County Secretary of WI with much underlining imploring me to come to aid of WI branches with my talk about amateur theatricals, or indeed any other topic on which I would like to speak. Sad bereavement of speaker already booked, schoolboy son tragically killed on motorcycle. As I will have seen in the papers. Normally Lady Marchwood would step up splendidly as she always does in moments of crisis, but she has been very busy and is staying at home with new baby. Dowager Lady Marchwood can put me up at the Hall, will arrange transport. County Secretary also unable to fill the gap owing to distressing complaint requiring immediate removal to nursing home in Dorset. Many apologises for such short notice, they will try to make my stay a pleasant one and hopes it may be a little holiday for me as a change proverbially as good as a rest. Meeting in Wycombe on Tuesday and in Whiteways on Thursday so plenty of time to visit Abbey. Lady Marchwood – not the current one of course but the Dowager Lady Marchwood would be delighted to put me up at the Hall and will be writing shortly with her kind invitation. With many, many apologies for such an imposition, and could I let them know as soon as possible if I can help them as otherwise they should give members plenty of notice about the sad cancellation of the meetings, mine sincerely, Katherine Climpson (Miss)

Feel briefly exhausted by this missive. Look in Times for tragic motorcycle death, although surely this would be in local papers only? See postmark was yesterday. Nothing. Check letter again – postmark yesterday, but letter dated the day before. Disturb Helen Wills from pile of newspapers. Cat stalks off clearly offended. Sobering small article on death of young Earl of Kentisbury. Mother a widow, survived by his sister, title passes to invalid cousin who has always lived retired from public life. Overcome with imagining how I should feel if this were Robin. Found thus in tears by Vicky and Mademoiselle. Vicky immediately hugs me tightly and wants to know why sitting on floor in tears. Query echoed by Mademoiselle but find myself incapable of doing more than return Vicky’s hug and gulp, whilst waving newspaper at Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle reads article aloud. Now all three of us in tears imagining “What If It was Robin?” I say, must do what I can to help and will write back at once to say of course I will do what I can to help and am called a heroic angel. Gladys announces Lady B who has come to issue invitation dinner party next week. Feel some satisfaction in telling her I have a previous engagement. Query: is excessive underlining contagious?

16th June Kind letter from Lady Marchwood’s secretary inviting me to stay at the Hall while giving talks, mentioning a few trains, please let her know which train to meet, very grateful for my help, do I have small children whom I am reluctant to leave? Would I like to bring my children and their nurse if this will make a difference to being able come and help them. The twins would be delighted to share their nursery for a few days. Mary Devine, Miss writes a very graceful, efficient letter but am now confused as to which Lady Marchwood has the services of this paragon of efficiency. She writes from the Hall, but surely dowager Lady would not have children of nursery age. Perhaps, mother and daughter-in-law share secretary. Realise I know nothing of such niceties nor age of twins and decide on the whole not to take Vicky and Mademoiselle.

17th June Ghastly Things have happened to plumbing. Vicar’s wife offers refuge for a fortnight. Vicky proposes camping on lawn. Point out that this will not help plumbing situation. Give Cook and Gladys a fortnight’s holiday and write another letter accepting with thanks kind offer of Lady Marchwood to house younger offspring and Mademoiselle as well as self.

18th June Take thermos flask and self to own house to put finishing touches to talk for WI for morning. Return in afternoon to pack for all. Vicar’s wife very kind and dear friend, but have come to appreciate silence more than I used to as an aid to concentration. Hope last year’s yellow linen suitable for giving talks to WI.


Chapter 2

22nd June Arrive at Wycombe after many changes. Met at station by young woman, perhaps 30, with red hair. Confusing conversation, turns out she is Lady Marchwood. Looks very chic and slim for woman who has recently given birth, but much too young to have daughter-in-law of child bearing age. Ushers Mademoiselle Vicky and self to car. Car driven by uniformed chauffeur. Lady Marchwood makes all proper enquiries, full of thanks for filling gap, says how delighted twins will be that Vicky has come too, must be much the same age. Says a few polite words to Mademoiselle in French and assures her that Maidlin who has just come back from France will be able to speak with her more fluently. Vicky completely unabashed and wants to know if twins are boys, girls or one of each. Nods in satisfaction on being told both girls and pronounces boys to be “a bit silly sometimes” except her brother who is “not too bad for a boy”.

Twins meet us, both looking older than Vicky but speaking like younger children, rather strangely bobbed red hair. Dressed Identically. Margaret very loud. Wondered if this was due to hearing problems. Twins demand to know what the names of the new aunties are. Inform us that they have a new auntie, Auntie Abbey but she burnt her hand rescuing Elizabeth from a shed that was on fire. Twins then argue with each other over whether new Auntie is Abby or Gail. I surmise that she is called Abigail. Mademoiselle looks anxious and immediate starts admonishing Vicky in French about the unwisdom of entering sheds.

Dark-haired young woman arrives at front door, reassures Mademoiselle that the fire was only in the shed because the twins had lit it there and have promised not to do so again. Elizabeth remarks that there is no chance of them setting it on fire again, because it is already Burnt Down completely. Margaret adds that it was not in their garden anyway, but next door, in the Manor. Dark-haired young woman asks Twins to take Vicky and Mademoiselle upstairs to the their Nurse, who appears to be called Nell Bell, however unlike it may seem. Twins depart with Vicky and Mademoiselle trailing behind to loud remarks from Margaret about how helpful she was being. Tea then served in wood panelled hall of the Hall. We are joined by 6th form looking girl with hand in bandages. Surmise that this is Auntie Gail, or maybe Auntie Abby. Am informed by Lady Marchwood that of course I will wish to look around the Abbey and that this being Monday there will hardly any visitors and so Maidlin will show me herself. Agree hastily that of course seeing Abbey is just what I long for. Everyone looks please at this. Lady Marchwood announces that she must change into her uniform. Desperately want to take another look at letter from secretary which is in my hand bag to sort out which Lady Marchwood I am in fact speaking to and wonder what uniform is for. Perhaps this is the dowager and this was a second marriage? Perhaps a Sir Something Marchwood will appear in due course? Still no appearance of Miss Devine. Perhaps she has the afternoon off? “Unless you had rather watch the Rangers meeting with Gail?” Maidlin says, which explains the uniform at least.

Abbey, Cistercian, very nice and quite a lot of it left. Caretaker of Abbey is Mrs Watson, also Maidlin’s Aunt Ann. This is all quite confusing. Unwisely say so and get an explanation, which mostly consist of how wonderful Joy is. If a copy of Debrett’s was handy this would sort out the Lady Marchwood question, no doubt. Red-headed hostess is Lady Marchwood and also Joy. No baby in evidence, but Joy Lady M not old enough to have a son who is a father surely? Realise I have agreed to a tour of all Lady Joy’s Good Works in the village tomorrow morning. Eventually return to Hall to discover Vicky had banged head attempting to slide down stairs on tin tea tray while Mademoiselle was summoned to answer telephone because there was Someone French on the other end. Apologise profusely for disorder caused. Feel less apologetic on discovering that Idea came from Elizabeth and that Margaret had been going to do it but got scared. Doctor rung on Maidlin’s insistence. All 3 girls sent to bed. Doctor advises send all to bed, as Margaret Highly Strung and still not properly over incident with shed. Advises rousing Vicky to check if She Is Herself at hourly intervals for next 12 hours. Mademoiselle immediately says that nothing it too much for notre chere Vicky. She will go without sleep entirely. Agreement reached that I will check Vicky until midnight. Mademoiselle will take from midnight to 4 and Maidlin will take from 4 to 7 am. Maidlin suggests rings for Mary to come back from Yorkshire holiday. Idea vetoed by Lady Marchwood on her return from Rangers. Manage to read letter again. Am definitely staying with the dowager. Can only presume current Lady Marchwood married to a younger brother, or perhaps cousin. Whereabouts of the efficient Miss Devine clarified at least.

Maidlin escorts me to my room to change, commenting that isn’t looking forward to telling Joy about this fresh disaster as she is always fearful of something happening to the twins since Sir Andrew was killed in Africa before they were born and how it nearly killed her. Thought, first as she mentioned this of how the disaster had happened to my Vicky and not her girls at all. Then remembered the story in the papers, and how sad it must be to lose husband whilst on honeymoon and felt ashamed. Said most definitely “not quite all she has. Lady Marchwood is very lucky in her friends.” This made Maidlin blush but seemed to please her and is in any case Quite True. Music after dinner, with intervals of running up to check on Vicky. Lady Marchwood plays the piano very well, but Maidlin has a stunningly good contralto voice, quite amazing to hear in after dinner. Writing diary now to keep at awake until the midnight check on Vicky. Vicky rather grumpy at being woken and asked questions. Two truckle beds set up, shall take her from the one in my room to the one in Mademoiselle’s room after midnight check. This efficient idea originated with Maidlin. Suspect Maidlin has rather more common sense than Lady Marchwood.