Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tuesday Tales: The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse

      Sincere apologies for the late post:  This week's is more of a Thursday Tale.   It's been busy 'round here (which is the reason why this series began, as Debi has had a lot on her plate, so I'm filling-in where I can).  Things should return to normal (whatever that is) shortly, and Debi will be back with new sewing projects.

     This week's tale comes from the creative mind of Susanna Clarke, author of two of my favourite books dealing with the Faerie Realm.  I particularly enjoyed her book of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which includes some wonderful illustrations by Charles Vess.  It's been several years since her last publication, so I hope Ms. Clarke will be releasing another tome soon.

     This particular story is set in the world created by Neil Gaiman (another favourite) and Charles Vess in Stardust; taking place in the fictional English village of Wall, named for the stone boundary that divides the village from the land of Faerie.    As I encourage you to read Susanna Clarke's book, I am intentionally leaving out much of this story, to get to the part relevant to this blog.

Illustration:  Charles Vess, from Clarke, S. 2006.  The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.  London:  Bloomsbury Pub. Plc.

     In the Autumn of 1819, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, having recently defeated the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte not once but twice, was perhaps the proudest man in all of England.  Alas, he found himself staying the night in the rural village of Wall, whose inhabitants held conceit and pomposity in contempt.   Whilst staying at The Seventh Magpie Inn, this clash of personalities set in motion a rather peculiar series of events.
     Mrs. Pumphrey, who was minding the inn, had left her embroidery scissors upstairs in the parlour, where the Duke was enjoying his dinner.   She asked her husband to fetch them but the Duke sent him away, as he did not like to be disturbed whilst eating.  Mrs. Pumphrey was so incensed that she set the roast pork down very roughly when she brought it to the Duke's table.   With that, the Duke decided to hide her scissors in his trouser pocket for the night, intending to teach her a lesson in deference, and then return the scissors to the parlour in the morning.

     However, when the Pumphreys realised that the scissors were missing, they began to search for a method of getting back at the haughty Duke; which of course, soon presented itself, as so often is the case when one is cross.  
     That night, a poor clergyman arrived at the inn in need of a room.  As there was no room for his horse in the stable, the Pumphrey's decided to put the Duke's belovéd chestnut stallion, Copenhagen, out to pasture and give the clergyman's gray mare its place.  The stable boy was instructed to lead Copenhagen across the road and let him graze in the meadow for the night.
     The Duke awoke the next morning to see his favourite horse grazing in the meadow beyond the glass, and went out to give him a piece of bread.  He stepped through the entrance to the meadow, and entered Faerie, just as Copenhagen disappeared behind two trees.

     The Duke followed his horse, catching glimpses of him just before he seemed to fade into the woods or tall grass, reappearing a good distance away each time.   
     After about a mile's walk through woods overgrown with honeysuckle and ivy, he spied a stone house surrounded by a dark moat.   The bridge over the moat was so covered in moss, it seemed more velvet than stone.  He walked along the wall of the house, looking into the windows but each room was empty, until he came to the last window. 
     In this room, he clearly saw a young woman, clothed in a gown of deep garnet-red, sitting and sewing a beautiful piece of embroidery that seemed to spill out onto the floor at her feet.  The fabric was richly embellished, the colours seeming to shine on the walls of the room, as if they were made of liquified panes of illuminated stained glass.
     Peeking his head into the open window, the Duke addressed the young woman.   "Good morning.   Would you have happened to see my charger by any chance?"
     "No, I have not."  She replied.
     "Ah," he said.   "It's a shame - he was with me at Waterloo and I should be sorry to lose him."   His brow wrinkled a bit and he truly hoped for the animal's safe return, all the while admiring the graceful curve of the young woman's neck.  
     He then asked the young woman's leave to speak with her for a while.
     "As you wish,' she said, "so long as you don't disturb my work."
      "And for whom are you doing such a monstrous quantity of embroidery, my dear?"
     "Why, for you, of course!"   She replied.
     The Duke was taken aback, as he felt certain he'd not met this attractive young woman before (and was equally certain he'd have remembered her if he had), and peered over her shoulder to have a closer look at the glowing silk embroidery.   To his amazement, the panels reflected the morning's journey through the wall, and over the hills in search of his chestnut stallion, and the newest panel showed him in this very room, peering over the beautiful young woman's shoulder!   But how could this be?  
     The next pane showed an armoured knight crossing the mossy bridge to the house, and the Duke looked outside the window to see the glint of an armoured figure on horseback approaching over the moat.   He looked back at the tapestry to see the knight shown plunging his sword into the Duke!  
     The Duke of Wellington appealed to the young woman to sew him a sword or some weapon to defend himself with but she refused.  She finished her embroidery with a tight knot, rose, and saying nothing more, left the room.   The Duke looked out the window to see that the knight had crossed the bridge and was steadily easing closer to the house.   
     "Well, this isn't fair," thought the Duke, "I must have form of escape or way of defending myself!"   He thrust his hands into his pockets, and felt the cold steel of Mrs. Pumphrey's embroidery scissors, and an idea struck him.   He quickly snipped at the threads in the panels depicting the knight, his arrival over the bridge, and the Duke's own death.   When he looked up at the window, the knight was nowhere to be seen.   
     "Ah, that's better," the Duke thought, and he quickly took up the needle and with a great deal of pin-pricked blood, perspiration, and some very choice foul language (for he had never attempted needlework before), he set to work creating the final three panels, showing his reunion with Copenhagen, their safe return over the hills, and re-entry into the fair village.  As the Duke was more a soldier than a seamstress, the images were more like stick figures than the detailed and accurate images the young woman had sewn.   But just as he finished, Copenhagen's nose was pressed against the window, and they had a happy reunion before setting off for the inn, where they soon arrived and made plans to leave the town the next day.
     In later years, the Duke of Wellington became a Diplomat, a Statesman, and eventually Prime Minister.   But he came to realise after a while that all his efforts seemed in vain.   He confided to his close friend, Mrs. Arbuhnot that being a politician and making so many sacrifices and compromises sometimes made him "feel like little more than a stick figure."
     Mrs. Arbuthnot would later remember that the Duke's expression suddenly changed, and that he grew very pale indeed.

Main Source:  Clarke, S. 2006.  The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.  London:  Bloomsbury Pub. Plc.


  1. Love this one!! Thanks sweetie

  2. Hahahahaha! Great story!!!

  3. Wow! What an ending!
    I'll have to add these books to my reading list.
    Thanks again for a lovely read!

  4. Wow! Great story! and what an ending!

  5. Hahahaha such a perfect ending!

  6. It is, isn't it? I love the way she ends her stories.

  7. Thanks, Deb. I'm glad you liked it. Susanna Clarke has a true talent for storytelling - some of the short stories' endings were very surprising.

  8. Thanks for once again for taking time to comment. I'm very humbled by all the great support I've had for this series.

    "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" is a fun read, and it's not necessary to read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" prior to it, although I recommend that book as well. This one is easy to find - most libraries have it, and it can be found on Ebay for under £3/$5.

  9. Thanks, GInger. The book has some great stories in it but this ending was perfect.

  10. Thanks. Glad to be of service. ;)

  11. Great story -- semi-creepy, moralistic without being preachy, lots of lovely period details. Thanks, David!

  12. Ooh. I would love to have an anthology of these. Maybe I'll print them out and bind them.


I read each and every comment--thank you so much!

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