Thursday, December 17, 2009
The Cuckold's Reel by Hallie Rubenhold
The only potential turncoat in Sir Richard's army of captive accomplices was Mary Sotheby. His wife's letter, imploring her servant to come to London had never been delivered to Mary's hands, but undoubtedly the maid was simmering with anxiety, anticipating a command from her mistress. Of all the servants under the Worsley's roof, no one would have been more distressed by the events of that morning than Mary Sotheby. Her concerns were not simply mercenary ones, that Seymour's absence would inevitably signal the termination of her position, but genuine worry for the welfare of her lady. It was her responsibility to follow her mistress, to forecast her needs, to soothe her bodily discomforts, to dress her, to bath her, and to coddle her emotionally should she require it. The complexities of woman's attire and the strictures of a genteel upbringing meant that a lady of privilege was virtually helpless without the assistance of her servant's hands. Their relationship was a complicated one; and association of dependency based on mutual trust, subordination, friendship , and sometimes unwavering fidelity and love. As it was Mary Sotheby's occupation to observe her mistress's person completely, she would have been privy to her most intimate secrets: the individuals with who she corresponded, her private conversations, even the state of her naked body and undergarments. The bond that was forged between a maid and her mistress was often intense. Acts of disloyalty and disobedience could be taken as devastating betrayals.
Mary would have known that Lady Worsley urgently required her presence. With no clothing but the functional brown riding habit in which she had absconded, without so much as a change of linen or stockings, without her jewels, her pomades or powders and without Mary's fingers to assist her, Seymour would be as vulnerable as a motherless child. She would be forced to rely on the housemaids wherever she resided, with their catty tongues and thieves pockets. Without her baby, bereft of clothing and parted from her lady's maid, both Mary and Sir Richard knew, Lady Worsley would grow increasingly desperate. So it was to Mary that he turned before his departure. He addressed her with sternness, impressing upon her the importance of her duties to him, the master, rather than to her wayward mistress. In was the husband, not the wife, who paid her wages. Then, into her care he placed 'Lady Worsley's cloaths and jewels... with a strict charge not to let her ladyship have any of these in his absence'. He knew that Mary Sotheby's heart would be burdened and her resolve slippery so Godfrey the butler was set to watch her closely.
As predicted, the first test of her will came shortly after Sir Richard's post-chaise had started for the capital. Out of the dust from his wheels came Joseph Connolly who had been lying in wait, anticipating that Worsley's departure would unfasten the loyalty of his household. Like Lady Worley's distress for her maid, Bissett would be feeling the absence of his valet; his first line of defense against an irritating world of shopkeepers and creditors who required payment, of affairs that needed arranging and items that demanded tending. Connolly felt the same devotion as Mary Sotheby. He had done as the captain had instructed him and hired a post-chaise which he now had ready to ferry him and Mary to London. As he had received no response to his message, he returned with trepidation to the Worsley's doorstep and asked for Mary Sotheby. 'It was Lady Worsley's orders that you should immediately pack up her Ladyship's cloaths as well as your own and prepare to follow on to London with me,' Connolly told her, and the explained 'that he had stayed behind to accompany her'. Godfrey stood over her, watching. Mary responded with emphatic regret that she could not perform 'her duty to her lady. As the butler looked on she told Connolly with firmness 'that she was sorry but she could not comply with her ladyship's order', and the Worsleys' door was shut.