Tabby Hall, Dovedale Derbyshire
I heard of the advertisement in your Chest about ten days ago, and as Cheltenham and Brighton are horribly desolée I thought the Tabby boarding house might be something new. My Brother’s steward is not very punctual in his remittance, and Lady Delacour’s last crowd gave me cold, therefore I came here to study health and economy. As your members desire to know more of Tabby Hall, take an account from an impartial novice.
Dove-dale, tho’ its name is not very appropriate to our sisterhood, is admirably suited to a monastery nature. Indeed, has already built one, for the rocks and precipices amongst which the River Dove meanders are all in the shape of Gothic spires, columns, and arcades. Our fortress stands on the sunny bank walled by two enormous cliffs whose pinnacles nod to each other like the Kings at Brentford — our garden — but nature does very little there; for as every member of the community claims a part, the whole is a kind of pic-nic of various tastes. In the midst sleeps Miss Murmur’s Pond, I beg pardon, her lake I should have said, with a snug island in the centre like the ragout in a French soup. On this isle to remind us of a haunted castle and banditti, are bastions and ramparts three feet high with a tier of miniature cannon to kill, I suppose, the ducks and carp which our good president Miss Nettletop has lodged in the pond. A magnificent bridge over a fosse fifty inches wide brings to a delightful avenue of yews clipped into the shape of tea urns by Miss Quickset, who abhors all modern walks and fashions. Then at the peril of our own necks and pelisses we climb thro’ sundry subterranean passages into the Temple of the Muses, erected by Sister Saccharissa, from which we see — Miss Nettletop’s kitchen-garden, which is a better prospect, perhaps, than many poets enjoy. Next we find a sarcophagus, two mummies, and a bust without nose or ears collected by the antiquarian taste of our new boarder Miss Botherham. A yard or two beyond these is a circle of willows waving gracefully over Miss Murmur’s urn to friendship — and Doctor Cardamom’s plantation of rhubarb. Farther on we are agreeably surprised by a tame fox and a wigwam, also belonging to Miss Botherham. Annabella Squib (my favorite) thinks they are placed here to invite the smoking and fox-hunting squires in this neighbourhood. Last of our garden’s ornaments is a hermitage, for which Miss Croaker wishes us to provide an inhabitant by offering a sufficient salary and a goat’s beard, but I have often a strange desire to lodge Mr Julip there; for the willows and the stone coffins might tempt him to hang himself, after which he would be an useful addition to Miss B’s mummies. These are our external delights.
Our domestic police is governed — as well as eight queens can govern — farther this deponent sayeth not. Luckily our palace is large, but secrets as unsafe in it as in the care of a man, whose Greek name you know. We have a music room, a council room, a library, and a work room — which I never enter. I have contrived to obtain a recess for my harp and tambourine; a balcony for my flowers, and a niche for my dear little Vestris, my marmoset, at a safe distance from Miss Nettletop’s stew pans and Miss Botherham’s electrical machine.
My valet Pirouette is not allowed the same privilege as his fellow-servant Vestris; but is compelled to lodge in an out-house. Yet here are uninhabited rooms enough to furnish a folio-romance and my maid Kitty’s head is full of nocturnal visitors. But the greatest treasure in our convent is the secret founder, whose name at her own request was not mentioned in Barnaby Scratch’s memoir. This charming spinster, tho’ a victim to ill-health and blindness, and in her forty-sixth year, would be my most powerful rival, if wished to charm here. Custom and the courtesy of her native Scotland have given her the title of Ladie Balvenie; but availing ourselves of monastic privileges, we name her more appropriately St Agnes. She is so meek and lovely in her sufferings, that if I could be as patient I should enjoy sickness. We call her our moving library, for she knows everything except her excellence. When she speaks or sings, her voice, her gestures, and her countenance are so sweet that (as some lover said of Anne Boleyn) there are those harmonies united. Tho’ I am blest (as certain persons say) with two bright black eyes, I can hardly finish a card-purse while her netting or knitting-needles clothe half the parish. Lady Balvenie is the invisible soul of our institution: she is our legislatress, mediator, and judge. Her character seems among ours like never-fading green fringe with gaudy yellow, broad crimson, and sickly blue.
The Chaplain is her almoner and our lecturer. I have heard finer preachers, but I never hear him without being ashamed of myself. He is a scholar, both in sermon and love-elegies, and has even been seen walking, with his arms folded, on the water-side. But I shall add no more, for letters may be interrupted. The physician is another of my amusements. He is a genuine cocoa, rough outside, but full of the milk of human kindness. Never had physician a face better formed to revive his patients. It is impossible to look upon his ample forehead and round rosy cheeks without feeling the ease and good humour they express. There are many eloquent ways of smiling: there is the arch, the languishing, and the scornful (in which by the by I am said to excel); but his is the smile that comes directly from the heart and goes to it. Yet the good man has his oddities which I shall take some pains to understand. He often plays the cynic and humanist, because, perhaps, his kind soul would melt too soon if it was not kept dry.
These are all the things worth mentioning at Tabby Hall; for I need not give a catalogue of Jeffrey Julip, Barnaby Scratch, and the other domestic animals. I should die of ennui if I did not see that Dr Cardamom has a secret which he is afraid to drop and the Rev. Willoughby Woodbine one which he longs to tell. Both shall be discovered soon, unless the spirit of Eve forsakes
P.S. I am most chagrined by the vulgar name of our mansion. It sounds so ominous, and looks so horridly ungenteel on a letter! Miss Murmur proposes to change it for “Dove-dale Priory” or “Belvedere Grove”. Quickset wishes to call our institution “Spinsters Forum” and Miss Squib thinks we may entitle it the “Catch Club”. I must drop my correspondents till I give a more fashionable address; but perhaps the Attic Society may suggest one.