Sunday, 10 January 2010



Letter from Lady Horatia Melton to her sister Lady Bathurst on January 15th 1816.

My dearest Antoine

Thank you for your letter. I am delighted at your news and understand perfectly that you would wish to have your mama to stay with you at this time. She was all of a dither when she had your letter and begged me to tell her what she ought to do. She fears to upset me but I shall not mind in the least. There are various engagements she needs to keep for we are in town until next month. Melton feels the country is melancholy at this time of year, though he used to enjoy his own company. Of late he has been to his club a great deal but I also have been busy so I do not mind that he is seldom at home, except when we have guests of course.

I dare say I may have mentioned that we dined with the Regent? It was a pleasant occasion and Melton enjoyed the cards. I did not play but found the musical entertainment excellent and I enjoyed some amusing conversation with Major Rossiter. He was with Robert in France, you know. As one of Wellington’s aides, he has been dangling his heels – as he says – at court in Paris, but he was eventually allowed to return home at Christmas. Now that Bonaparte is finally dealt with, the major intends to resign his commission and take up some kind of a career at home. He is not as wealthy as Bathurst or Melton, but he intends to work from choice rather than necessity and I believe he is looking to politics. His estate is not large and well managed by his agent.

You may wonder what I found interesting about such a conversation, dearest sister. Well, I shall tell you. It was not just his charming manner or his undeniable air of authority, but his compassion. He is intending to set up a charity for young children. There are too many living rough on the streets and being forced to steal (or do despicable things) for a living. Rossiter says they end up in prison, where their characters take a turn for the worse and head eventually to the gallows. I cannot bear to think of any child being imprisoned or beaten and starved. Since Major Rossiter is looking for people to assist with his charity I shall volunteer my time. I can at least help with fund raising and I intend to hold a charity ball. Melton does not object, providing I do not expect more than a token appearance from him – and that is all I require. He is pleased to see me busy and, as I mentioned, spends so much time at his club that he will scarcely notice.

I shall stop now for I am going out shortly. Mama sends her love and says she will be with you early next month. As you know, her health is not always perfect but I am certain she will be as comfortable with you in the country, as she is here. I am sure we shall return in a few weeks and then I shall call to see you both.

Your loving sister, Horatia.

PS. If there is anything you would like me to purchase for you in town I should be happy to accommodate you.

From Lady Horatia to her brother Captain Robert Jenson, January 16th, 1816

Dear Robert

I know that I wrote to you two days ago but you will forgive me for troubling you again so soon. I told you of my meeting with Major Rossiter and that I had decided to assist him with his charity. It has resulted in my visiting areas of the city that I should never have seen otherwise. Yesterday Paul – as he insists I call him in private – took me to visit one of the slum areas that concern him. Oh, those poor children. I saw young lads of no more than nine or ten with sores on their faces, arms and legs. Some were so weak in the legs that they had crutches and one poor lad was forced to crawl on his knees to beg for a crust. The sight of him broke my heart, Robert, as you may imagine, for he was scarcely a year or so older than my darling would have been.

Paul saw how distressed I was and insisted on taking me to an inn where the landlord kindly made me some tea and I was able to recover my composure. Paul was concerned that he had upset me and said he would understand if I wished to discontinue my interest, but you may imagine what I said to that, dearest. It has only made me more determined to raise all the money I can for those poor children. However, this is not the reason I write to you in haste, for I am sure that you will have been aware of these things. Mama and Papa always tried to keep their daughters ignorant but you are a man of the world.

Now, you must not be angry, dearest. What I am going to tell you will make you wish to return home at once for my sake, but it is not necessary. In truth I think I have known it for a while, but I should not have been certain had Paul not taken me to that inn. I was sitting in a corner opposite the stairs and I saw them come down together. She was very young and exceptionally pretty, though not of course a lady, but a lady would scarcely have gone upstairs with a man who was not her husband or a relative. Melton looked at her as if he cared for her and he was laughing, much like he used to be at home before we lost our little darling. He looked happy. I think that shocked me more than the discovery that he had been with – I suppose the word is prostitute, though I do not like to use it for she was so young. I am more distressed for her sake than my own. She was little more than a child and it is surely not right that she has to…I shall not go on.

Melton has clearly found comfort in her company. His tale of going to his club was wearing a little thin for I was told that his friends had not seen him in an age by someone I trust. It seems he has not yet set her up in a house of her own, which is a little mean of him I think, because she is clearly good for him. He was so very low.

You are wondering if I am suppressing my grief? I think my pride is a little bruised for I would have hoped that Melton might find comfort in my bed. I have not refused him. Indeed, I would have welcomed him more in the hope of providing an heir and the lack of interest has been on his side. Now I have been terribly indiscreet and I beg you to forgive my lack of delicacy, but if I cannot open my heart to you, whom can I tell?

Since Paul had his back to the stairs I am fairly sure that he did not see Melton. I believe I gave no sign of my shock; at least, he did ask if I was feeling unwell but I think he imagined it was because of our visit to the slums earlier. So, there is my problem, dearest one.

Perhaps I should feel outrage but at the moment I am numb and a little sad. It is not unusual for gentlemen in Melton’s position to find a mistress – but a girl out of his class and so young? No more than seventeen at most, and I am being generous. I do not know what I ought to think. Mama would be too upset and Antoine is wrapped up in her happy event; besides, neither of them would understand. I dare say I should be expected to turn a blind eye. Mama would say I must pretend not to know but I am not certain I can – yet you shall guide me, dearest.

I know you will give me good advice, but please do not say I told you so, though you did. I remember you warning me before I accepted him. I should have listened but…you know the rest. However, I do not see that I have a great deal of choice but to go on as we are. It would be far too shocking to demand my freedom. I am not sure that I can continue with all my wifely duties and last night I locked the door from Melton’s room to mine. He made no attempt to open it but he may and then…I shall not fall into a decline. Indeed, after losing George I sometimes think nothing else can touch my heart, except you, dearest Robert.

Forgive your sister for always laying her troubles on your shoulders.
Your loving Horatia.

PS. Mama is going to stay with Antoine, which will make things easier if relations become strained with Melton.

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