The Shriving of Miss Esme Stamp…

Written and serialized by Patrick George Callaghan

Episode 12…Exile

There were many excuses that Constance made to herself in the years of her life, none so, for her behaviour at that time and in the months that followed.  Soon after, Esme was packed smartly off to a small residential villa, west of Paris. There, she was to spend the summer months of 1925 as a companion to her elderly and overbearing widower-aunt – Madame Bourges, and in the words of her mother; ‘learn to become respectable!’

For Esme it was a most miserable time. She had lost him, and she was hurt and alone. Even now, in her bewilderment; English was no longer a common tongue to her.

Constance for her part sought rationalization through alcohol and at times would fairly burst with drunkenness. Throughout her life she never lived far from her medicine bottle and she told herself secretly that it gave her strength in a man-dominated world. Perhaps it did, and perfectly, and somehow, it was acceptable within the bounds of her employed social life. During her banishment Esme was never allowed home to England. She was given no money – for she might spend it on stamps or telephone calls to him and her aunt kept the house phone routinely locked away with writing paper and stamps in the sanctum of her upstairs bedroom. She was never allowed out; unless to take a daily hour or two of sunshine in the high wall garden with her aunt. Here, they would sit in almost silence, until a maid would announce the readiness of lunch or dinner to them. For all, she might well have lived in some restrictive convent and wrapped in some profound resentment.

The only letters received by Constance were those written by Madame Bourges, and simply, there weren’t many of those; and mostly outlining Esme’s unhelpfulness.

Even with the untimely death of Cousin Peter in Leeds – the poor man being trampled to death by a strange rampaging horse in the city centre and to which the family attended an over-subscribed funeral – no one had the visionary bout to mention her name!

Charles had been swept aside. He was forgotten – or at the very least it appeared so; wiped out – erased from everyone’s memory; or thought so. This was to be the garner of things, although the raking of minds could only be a seeming point. He had been written a letter from Constance. Refused at the door. The matter was ended.

When Constance met the Dover Steamer in the beginning days of November and Esme stepped once more onto her beloved soil; she found her daughter somewhat bleached and cadaverous – Madame Bourges had played her part well in her claming and damming way. As the taxi took them the distance to London Esme began to feel much better. The liberty to look again upon an English countryside, albeit early winter, lifted her spirit. At the house she was met by a tearful Emily and yet, the self-restraint of Constance never lost its sharpness. Esme was to face a very different, organized future.

You could have expected Esme to rush to him at the first presented opportunity…or that Charles would somehow get to know of Esme’s return. But it never happened like that. Each knew that they had weakened the other. It emerged some time later that Constance had in a presumptuous ploy transferred the remaining Deans money’ to Madame Bourges: ‘to pay for your upkeep!’ came back the hasty reply, ‘now find yourself a wealthy husband!’ Madame Bourges, it seemed, had not been neglected in matters of good financial housekeeping, although precious little of it had ever been spent for Esme’s consolation. Her mother further justified her action by saying ‘that God would never forgive her if she gave from her own pocket…and that one sinner’s reasonability should cancel another’s’ – and by that she must have been referring to the Reverend Deans. Constance was, for her part, unreligious, but such a Victorian view took away Esme’s self-determination for a while. The chance of an escape to the stage had also fizzled out, but perhaps it would never have suited her more sensitive ways.

About Patrick

a photographer, writer and blogger, a studio and press photographer since the mid 1960's, first published writings in 1974
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