23rd February 1826
More tiresome argumentation!
Papa came back home in the evening, having plainly been indulging v. heavily in drink. Mama asked him where he had been.
‘I have been, my dear, contemplating the many and various advantages of the patent ventilated hat.’
‘You are quite drunk, sir,’ she exclaimed.
‘To the contrary, my dear,’ he said, lolling slightly to the left, ‘I am intoxicated by your presence.’
Mama scowled and withdrew to the sanctuary of the bedroom; and Papa retreated, with an occasional stumble, to the drawing-room. I thought things had blown over but then it all came to a head at dinner. Papa asked Mama to pass the potatoes. She said to Letty, sitting opposite, ‘Letty, my dear, I believe your father may have spoken – I am sure I could not say …’
‘He said he would like the potatoes, Mama,’ said Letty.
‘Is that what he said?’ replied Mama, coldly. ‘Then I suppose you must oblige your father.’
Papa responded that he ‘did not consider a humble request for a tuberiferous vegetable, the plainest of the fruits of the earth, should be subject to this endless domestic negotiation.’
Mama simply sniffed, and attacked her lamb cutlet with a vicious intensity, the likes of which is rarely seen beyond the confines of a butcher’s block. Not a word was exchanged between the pair of them throughout the remainder of the meal. Papa, however, having finished his food, went directly over to her, bent down and whispered pleading words into her ear. The only phrases which I could make out were ‘I swear, Betsy, upon my life!’ and ‘my heart’s delight!’ and ‘think of the children!’ She affected to ignore him and swept out of the room with a great flourish of skirts.
10 o’clock p.m.
There has now been a proper row. Papa slammed several doors and left the house but then he came back.
I do wish my family were not quite so VEXING!
11 o’clock p.m.
Went to bed, only to be woken by sound of raised voices, next door in Mama and Papa’s bedroom. There followed a loud exclamation and then a resounding thud on the street below. Then came rapid footsteps on the stairs, followed by an anguished moan. I immediately recognised that cry, from long familiarity with our domestic disappointments, as belonging to my father.
I crept down to the drawing-room, quietly pulled back the shutters and pressed my face against the sash window. He was illuminated beneath the street lamp, bent over a soiled carpet-bag. This had, plainly, recently landed in the dirt of the street, scattering its contents – a bombshell of shirts, breeches and undergarments, strewn in all directions. Pa looked upwards, caught a glimpse of me, and essayed a smile as he hastily gathered up his clothing. His face, however, conveyed all the merriment of a fellow about to be delivered over to the public hangman, with no prospect of a reprieve from the Home Secretary.
‘A trivial embarrassment, my boy,’ he said in a stage whisper, ‘a minor matrimonial misunderstanding. Do go back to bed! Good night!’
Then he picked up the bag, and shuffled off along the street, as if these were all quite regular proceedings of a Thursday evening.
I went and knocked on Fanny’s door. I found her awake and tearful. She told me the whole story:-
In short, Mama recently heard a rumour from Mrs Jericho, via The Skillet, that Pa and Mrs Fitzharris had been seen drinking in each other’s company at the Stray Cat – and, worse still, at Royal College Street! Mama, roused to a FRENZY OF DISTRUST AND JEALOUSY, dug out an old letter from Mrs Fitzharris from her boxes of keepsakes. She then compared the handwriting with that on the mysterious valentine received by Pa – which she had retained – and had found it to be identical!
This is a truly awful business. I am half-way to becoming an orphan.