Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Diana talks to Major Thankful and Mistress Thomazine Russell (nee Babbitt)

It is really wonderful to sit down with you, Major Russell, and to meet you and the lovely Mistress Russell. (She’s prettier than you might expect, if you don’t mind an certain unmistakable family resemblance. And he looks considerably more ragged at the edges, too, for an urbane partially-retired intelligencer.)

I understand that a book about the early days of your marriage and the adventures that befell you, is out in September. Now the first we heard of you, you were a young lieutenant in the New Model Army, major, and your wife was, er -
Thomazine: Not quite two. That's right, yes.

So - I have to ask - Mistress Russell, how old were you when you realised you wanted to marry him?
T: I never didn’t want to marry him! He’s not really that enigmatic, you know. You just can’t always tell what he’s thinking.
Russell: (looking amused) Due to a certain inflexibility of expression, tibber?
T: Well - yes. I was trying not to put it so plain, my honey, but yes. Because of the scar.
R: Oh, bless you, sweet - as if after the better part of thirty years I might not yet be accustomed to my marred face.
T:  (crossly) It is not marred! I won’t hear it! You are lovely – you always were, even when - when I was very little I thought some of the more righteous sort of smitey angels must have looked like you – all fierce and straight and fiery. (She ducks her head and won’t look at him.) AndIthoughtyouwerebeautiful.
R: What?
T: (blushing horribly) I thought you were beautiful.
R: What, even when you were -?
T: Yes.
R: Good lord. So – er – when did you actually decide you intended to marry me?
T: When I worked out that you were someone who could be married, and not just an angel in a white nightie. I think I would have been about fifteen. Which is perfectly decent, dear. I waited till I was all of twenty to do anything about it, didn’t I?

Good lord. So London – what happened?
T: It was all very exciting, you know.
R: Well, I should not say exciting, my tibber, rather it was –dangerous and uncomfortable and several things happened that I would not consider at all a fit and proper subject for an improving work.
T: Of course, my honey. It was fun though, wasn’t it?
R: If you consider being suspected of treason, arson, and most of the murders in London – not to say having my wife abducted and all but killed from under my very nose - to be a matter of entertainment, madam, you want your head testing. Not to say having to engage with the Earl of Rochester and his infernal ape, and being eyed as a subject of scientific research by the Royal Society.
T: I enjoyed the ride in the carriage, though....
R: Thomazine!

He is changing the subject, isn't he?
T: Oh bless him yes, he's not yet accustomed to being the sort of man who has a romantic nature.
R: (definitely changing the subject, with an air of grim resolution) Well. I had not - as you know, I had not - I did not think anyone would ever choose to be harnessed to such as I, and so I had not really made provision for a wife. And then, you know, I met Thomazine -
T: Again. You met me again.
R: We met again, then, and I wanted to - it was in my mind for the first time that there was, there might be, that I -
T: (demurely) I made it clear that I was not averse to his courtship.
R: And then I had news that my sister had died, and that I had come into possession of the house at Four Ashes. What was left of it.

Ah. Your sister. You were never close to her, but did you ever have any tender feelings for her? What would she have thought of your lovely new wife?
R: Oh, I didn’t have any. For anyone, I think. My sister made very sure of that.
T: If you could not listen for a minute, my honey – (fiercely) your sister was a poisonous bitch and she deserved to burn. And I’m glad she did, or I might have had to see to it myself.
R: Oh no, Thomazine, don’t say that!
T: She abused you, Thankful! She should have taken care of you and loved you and instead she hurt you and told you what a bad, worthless, horrible little boy you were and that nobody would ever want to love you, ever –
R: But you do, and she was wrong. She would have hated you for that. Making her wrong, I mean.
T: She would have hated me anyway, dear, for not putting up with her sh-
R: Thomazine!
T: Chicanery, I was about to say. And I am sure she would not have approved at all of the fact that I happen to rather like you. You are a very satisfactory husband, for the most part.

Because you were brought up strictly Puritan, weren’t you – I believe your full name is actually Thankful-For-His-Deliverance. Did you never wish you'd been named something more ordinary?
R: Frequently. Though my sister was Fly-Fornication, so I consider myself to have escaped lightly.

Which clears that up. So you were saying about London?
T: Oh, it was wonderful.
R: Apart from the being suspected of being a spy, and not quite killed, parts.
T: It was very exciting, though.
R: (not sounding convinced) Mmm. It was intended to be a pleasant diversion - I had retired from my work for the Admiralty, I was looking forward to spending a peaceful and restful few weeks showing my wife the sights and sounds of London society.
T: - and instead you ended up having to go back to work.
R: Indeed.

Mistress Russell - may I call you Thomazine? - thinking of the wedding favour you embroidered for Thankful, do you actually like embroidery or is it something that a woman like you has to do?
T: Oh, please do call me Thomazine. I like it – I like pretty things – but, um, I’m not actually that good at it. I’m fierce at setting things in order, but I’ve not the patience for embroidery. I’m more of a tidier-upper. My garden is perfectly lovely, mind. To think what it looked like at Four Ashes when I first saw it –
R: It looked like a house that had been burned to the ground, love, and was in the process of being rebuilt.
T: It proper gave me the shivers at first – knowing it had burned with her in it. But it’s all right, isn’t it? We’ve sort of made it our own. (She looks at him,  trying not to laugh) When your husband is a man of business who trades as far as the Indies, you acquire some very odd trinkets....
R: (smugly) Singular, my tibber
T: He is making up for lost time, I think. I was brought up plain – not strict, but plain – mam is a very sensible goodwife, so hard work doesn’t bother me at all. Hard work, clean linen, and good feeding. This one – (she pats him affectionately) – is like a magpie. He’d stuff the house with the most impractical gauds if I let him.

Major, did you ever get that ribbon back?
R: To my sorrow, I did not. My wife suggested that it might be indiscreet to pursue its restoration to its rightful owner, given the circumstances of its, ah, loss and recovery.

You give the impression that this love is a miracle to you, is this so and Thomazine, how do you feel about that?
T: Before he says anything at all, I will say – for an intelligent man, really, he can be slow at times. My husband is an articulate, loving, handsome man: he has all his own hair and rather good teeth. He has a little tiny mark on his face that I hardly even notice any more and he thinks it gives people a disgust of him. (She spreads her hands in a gesture intended to take in the stupidity of men in general) He probably could have married any woman he chose to, before me, if he was only minded to ask!
R:  That is kind, Zee, but, ah, as your estimable father would put it – cobblers. It is still a miracle to me. God grant it will always be so. I never thought I would be any more to you than an old and trusted family friend.
T: No, my honey, neither did I at times. I thought you would never notice.

Now a slightly risqué one! Major, Thomazine startled you by complimenting you on your fine bottom. What do you think of her nether regions?
R: Ah, that is a tender subject presently. I am, as they say, damned if I do and equally damned if I don’t. It, ah, I –
T: I have increased, somewhat, of late. It puts him in an awkward position, you see.
R: I will say only that I admire and respect my wife’s mind above all, and any alteration of her outward seeming is of no account.
T: Liar.
R: Mm. Or a professional diplomat who chooses not to sleep in the outbuildings.

Thomazine, are you reconciled to the fact that the Dutch are not actually monsters or do you still fear they may have two heads or eat babies?
T: Having seen those appalling blue painted jars his friends in the Low Countries gave us on the occasion of our marriage – horrible things they are, of no conceivable purpose, about the height of a small dog and appearing to have been painted by a blind man with rheumatic fingers – yes they are, darling, they’re awful, you say so yourself: you’ve been trying to break one for months – I do not consider my husband’s friends to be monsters, but their taste in furnishings is lamentable. And they encourage him.

Two for both of you here. How did being society outcasts affect you both?
T: I think we were more sad for each other....if you see what I mean? I don’t think I like society – not society-society, not, you know, silks and pearls society – and so I didn’t expect to go back there so I didn’t care but I was buggered if those horrible people were going to run my darling off his patch – as a matter of principle.
R: Although I never liked society much anyway. It has a habit of staring at me.
T: What of it?
R: I hate being stared at, tibber.
T: (shrugs) I know, love. But since you’re not a murderer, and the worst your friends in the Low Countries can be accused of is appalling taste in porcelain, it offended me that you should be blamed for something you hadn’t done. So the more people whispered, the more annoyed I got. They could at least have said things to your face.

Now, Wilmot won’t read this I promise, so - what did you really think of the monkey?
T: Horrible. It was quite sweet, but, um, kind of strange – altogether too much like a hairy baby. I liked it, but it unsettled me.
R: You’re sure you don’t want one, then?
T: (looks at him for a minute) – oh. You mean to be funny. No, it had hands like a tiny little man, and it was altogether too knowing to be quite comfortable. I think I prefer real babies.
R: Which is a crowning mercy, all things considered.

What is your favourite tipple, Zee? And Thankful?
R: Well, I do rather like coffee –
T: Eeeww, Russell, how can you? It’s horrible!
R: It’s nicer than tea, my tibber – at least it tastes of something!
T: Yes, it tastes like printers’ ink! I much prefer a nice home-brewed ale. There is nothing so good as warm buttered ale on a cold night. You don’t want to be drinking that horrible bitter stuff. Curdle your belly, it will. It’s not good for you, you mark my words. And it keeps you wakeful.

Thomazine, what did you think of Prince Rupert? (You may answer honestly as I can guarantee that this missive will never reach his eyes.)
T: Much overrated! I am told that some ladies consider him quite the fancy man. Does nothing for me at all. I mean, he’s really old – not to say having almost no hair at all, for some bizarre reason – what is that thing with the wigs? I am absolutely not surprised that he hasn’t got a wife. Thankful, what are you laughing at, please?
R: An excess of actresses, my tibber. That’s another reason why he hasn’t got a wife. Bless you.
T: What? Oh! How wicked!

A question for you both now, on the matter of wigs. Like them or loathe them?
T: Full of fleas, and they look ridiculous. I don’t care what his opinion is – I don’t, dear, you’re not having one. I like your hair as it is. Don’t you dare cut it all off again. (She looks at me and shakes her head) He used to do that, you know, before we were married. Cut all his hair off, and grow horrible scabby beards – to make himself look plain.
R: Plainer.
 T: Whichever. It didn’t work, and you are beautiful. Shut up arguing about it.
R: (smiling very slightly) I consider myself told....

Thomazine. Aphra Behn. Do you like her or does she shock you?
T: I did like her a good deal – no, no she doesn’t shock me. Well, she did shock me, when we were in Bruges, but that wasn’t – that’s another story, I think, and for another time. That was something else she did. The thing with Affie, she has a habit of making things up.
R: She does it for a living, sweet, she has a lot of practice.
T: Surely. It doesn’t make her any more bearable. She teases me beyond endurance, you know. There’s romance, and then there’s Romance. And hers are just bloody stupid.
R: Well, she has to sell her plays –
T: It’s all the same one, just with different names in it!

Something squawks upstairs. Thomazine claps a hand to the front of her dress in a sort of horrified reflex and flees.
R: Ah. Nathaniel. A delightful infant, but an impressive trencherman, for a child not six weeks old.
I think that’s normal, at six weeks old. Somehow, I can’t imagine you two settling peaceably at home to play with fat fair-haired babies for the rest of your lives together.
R: (wistfully) It would be delightful, though. To have a home at last, and my own people about me, and time to enjoy it...without being shot at, threatened, or burned. I cannot conceive of a happier fate.
How do you think Thomazine would feel about that?
R: Oh, I imagine she’d love it. My wife would have made a far more efficient supply officer than I ever did – as she says, she is a most ferocious tidier-upper. Sadly, I suspect that given my previous employment, adventure is not yet finished with us.

One last question – I can see you’re keen to go and spend time with your family.  What is a tibber?

R: Oh, that! ‘Tes a Chiltern word, my duck. (It is really weird hearing him with an accent, however briefly  – a roight praper Buckinghamshoire ahccent at that) It’s a kitten, hereabouts. I’d fallen into the habit of calling her so when she was little. Sort of stuck.

It has been really lovely talking to both of you. I wish you much joy and peace in your marriage and hope that I can continue to read your adventures written by the exceptional talent of M. J. Logue. Buy it here ...

'Some strange woman walking down a tarmacked street in Germany, pretending to be Thomazine Russell ...'

About M.J. Logue:

Writer, mad cake lady, re-enactor, historian.
Been slightly potty about the clankier side of Ironside for around 20 years, and lists amongst my heroes in this unworthy world Sir Thomas Fairfax, Elizabeth Cromwell and John Webster (for his sense of humour.)

When not purveying historically-accurate cake to various re-enactment groups across the country, M.J. Logue can usually be discovered practising in her garden with a cavalry backsword.

Often to be found loitering, in an ill-tempered manner, at A Sweet Disorder  - do come along and pass unhelpful remark. M.J. Logue is joint first of my all time favourite authors. Her other books can be found here 

© Diana Milne July 2017 © M. J. Logue August 2017

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