From Mistress Emily Foxley - this is my new letter

Most obliging reader, greetings

I am hoping that you may assist me, as a friend, for I am in need of your sound advice.

I fear I have got myself in such a tangle, my heart-strings tied in so many knots, that I know not which way to turn. You see, I am in love. But the man upon whom I would pin my devotion is not my husband.

There. I have said the worst.

I know everyone thinks Seb is the finest of men and, aye, there’s no denying he is a respectable, upright citizen and a gentle soul. But he is so dull, dull, dull. Worse than ditchwater. And he cares more for his work than he does for me; feels greater concern for his customers’ hopes than he does for mine. Is it any wonder I take pleasure in knowing another man loves me?

Gabriel Widdowson. Just writing his name sends tingles down my spine.

He is our journeyman so we needs be careful or Seb might find out. Our love consists of a brush of fingertips here, a smile there and, rarely, a stolen kiss. How I wish it could be more –so much more. But I am a married woman, wed to a husband who excites me less than washing linen. What can I do? My heart cannot be shackled and chained when it would fly – fly into the manly, welcoming embrace of my lover. If only he was my lover. I can wish it, can’t I? Surely, wishing is no sin. It’s not as if we have lain together, is it? No chance of that.

I simply want your advice, my friend: how can I spare my poor heart the misery of knowing Gabriel lies beneath the same roof as I do every night, yet we may not touch? How can I live with the man I married who disappoints me so and not pine for a real man’s kisses? I have not betrayed my husband but, in truth, I wonder if he would even notice, if I did so. Probably not, being so much wrapped up in his work, he never knows whether I am here or elsewhere. He loves me no longer so what harm would it cause if Gabriel and I...

Best not write more. I pray you, keep my secret. Say naught to anyone for rumour travels faster than fire through this city. Destroy this letter when you have read it but send me word, if you can advise me, to Dame Ellen’s house in Cheapside and she will keep it safe until I visit her next. God bless you for harkening to my plea.

Written this perplexing and anguished day in my kitchen at Paternoster Row.

From Mistress Emily Foxley - this is my second letter

Most worthy reader, greetings to you

Such a busy week has passed I had barely time to draw breath betwixt one task and the next. My housewifely duties are onerous enough. In a household such as ours, keeping the linen fresh laundered, dried, aired, folded and pressed takes all week and the weather being so bad meant it all had to be dried in the kitchen. What a to-do it is, trying to prepare and cook meals with towels, sheets, shirts and nether garments draped everywhere, over stools and benches and hung from rods around the kitchen. And then my clean shifts smell of onions and cabbages. I pray springtime will hasten and make my tasks easier.

Then the pig escaped. I told my husband the wall of her sty was in poor repair, but did he listen? Of course not. A new psalter book for the church was far more important, wasn’t it? Talking of St Michael’s, our parish church, it was our turn to provide the pax bread this Sunday. As you know, every household takes turns to provide the parish with little loaves each week, to be blessed and shared out at the end of High Mass, since we only receive the Eucharist bread once a year at Easter. That’s two weeks in a row that I’ve done the bread-making because last time it was my father’s turn and, as a man living alone, he cannot be expected to do it, can he? So my fellow parishioners have been spoilt of late. Twice they have shared my special dough receipt made with egg, milk, honey and poppy seeds. Delicious it is too. I hope they appreciate it.

Now, what was I telling you? Oh, aye, about the pig. Well, those forceful winds we suffered the other day brought down the ancient elder tree beside the pig’s byre and it broke a gap in the stones of the wall. The pig was startled and set up such a squealing that, fortunately, caught my notice. In the blink of an eye, the creature was through the broken wall and charging down the alley, into Paternoster Row as if King Edward’s army was at her heels. I called to everyone to give chase – Gabriel, Nessie, Tom and Jack all came running. Of course my husband was elsewhere when most needed. That pig led us a merry dance, I can tell you. Up Ivy Lane she ran, left along Newgate Market, left down Old Dean’s Lane, then crossing Paternoster Row again, she bolted past the Bishop’s Palace, turned left along Bowyer Row and ended up at Ludgate. There, God be praised for his mercy, the gate-keeper trapped her in St Martin’s porch close by. Gabriel managed to get a tether upon her and we all came home. We had to shut the pig in the privy overnight. Every one of us was exhausted, mud-spattered and dishevelled. Upon his belated return, did my husband even notice? I’m sure, worthy reader, you know the answer to that.

Written, as always, in haste, this February day in my kitchen at Paternoster Row.

From Mistress Emily Foxley, née Appleyard, wife of Sebastian Foxley - this is my first letter

Most worthy reader, greetings.

Fear not, I have my husband’s agreement that I may write to you. He even offered to pen it for me at my dictation, if it would cause me great labour otherwise. As if I cannot do it for myself. Besides, what I write is not for his eyes, though I would not tell him so. I wished to explain my side of the matter to you. No doubt he has told you how he is the best of husbands, attentive, appreciative and loving? But I would have you know the truth of it. Sebastian is, indeed, all those things when a fine manuscript is set before him. Only last week, he was enraptured by a painted butterfly in a margin and the well-executed initials on the pages of a book. The gleam in his eye as he gazed upon a splodge of pigment and a few lines of ink is rarely there when he looks at me these days.

Oh, he is gentle, industrious, charitable and godly, I grant, but his heart lies in his work, not with me. And his thoughts are ever elsewhere. I think he believes that wholesome food and drink appear upon the table by magick alone; that clothing is laundered and repaired by some miraculous means. He arrives late for every meal, hardly appreciating the dishes I have prepared at great effort. He treats his finely stitched shirts that I sewed myself as if they are but old rags, forever getting ink and pigment stains upon them and ruining them.

The few occasions when he does notice me and has a loving look in his eye are always spoiled. Either some matter of work will intervene, or more likely that detestable brother of his. Is it any wonder that in my lovelorn state, I have found consolation elsewhere? Oh no, I would never go so far but there is a man who makes my heart beat faster.

Gabriel, our journeyman, cannot be accounted handsome by any means, what with his mismatched eyes and lopsided mouth but there is something about him. The other day, the yard was icy and I slipped whilst carrying logs for the fire. Gabriel was coming by and caught me up, such that I did not fall. Even through my clothes, I felt his hands hot upon me. His touch set the blood tingling in my veins and sent shivers down my spine that had naught to do with the cold. I did not want him to let go and I am sure he felt the same for he was slow indeed to loosen his hold. And there was no mistaking the way he looked at me. If only Seb looked at me so but do not tell him what I write. Promise upon your oath?

But there, I ramble on when I have food to prepare for dinner, linen to soak, pots to wash and endless other chores awaiting. Farewell for the present, worthy reader.

Written in haste this February day in my kitchen at Paternoster Row.