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Mary Postgate
by [?]

(1915)

Of Miss Mary Postgate, Lady McCausland wrote that she was ‘thoroughly conscientious, tidy, companionable, and ladylike. I am very sorry to part with her, and shall always be interested in her welfare.’

Miss Fowler engaged her on this recommendation, and to her surprise, for she had had experience of companions, found that it was true. Miss Fowler was nearer sixty than fifty at the time, but though she needed care she did not exhaust her attendant’s vitality. On the contrary, she gave out, stimulatingly and with reminiscences. Her father had been a minor Court official in the days when the Great Exhibition of 1851 had just set its seal on Civilisation made perfect. Some of Miss Fowler’s tales, none the less, were not always for the young. Mary was not young, and though her speech was as colourless as her eyes or her hair, she was never shocked. She listened unflinchingly to every one; said at the end, ‘How interesting!’ or ‘How shocking!’ as the case might be, and never again referred to it, for she prided herself on a trained mind, which ‘did not dwell on these things.’ She was, too, a treasure at domestic accounts, for which the village tradesmen, with their weekly books, loved her not. Otherwise she had no enemies; provoked no jealousy even among the plainest; neither gossip nor slander had ever been traced to her; she supplied the odd place at the Rector’s or the Doctor’s table at half an hour’s notice; she was a sort of public aunt to very many small children of the village street, whose parents, while accepting everything, would have been swift to resent what they called ‘patronage’; she served on the Village Nursing Committee as Miss Fowler’s nominee when Miss Fowler was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and came out of six months’ fortnightly meetings equally respected by all the cliques.

And when Fate threw Miss Fowler’s nephew, an unlovely orphan of eleven, on Miss Fowler’s hands, Mary Postgate stood to her share of the business of education as practised in private and public schools. She checked printed clothes-lists, and unitemised bills of extras; wrote to Head and House masters, matrons, nurses and doctors, and grieved or rejoiced over half-term reports. Young Wyndham Fowler repaid her in his holidays by calling her ‘Gatepost,’ ‘Postey,’ or ‘Packthread,’ by thumping her between her narrow shoulders, or by chasing her bleating, round the garden, her large mouth open, her large nose high in air, at a stiff-necked shamble very like a camel’s. Later on he filled the house with clamour, argument, and harangues as to his personal needs, likes and dislikes, and the limitations of ‘you women,’ reducing Mary to tears of physical fatigue, or, when he chose to be humorous, of helpless laughter. At crises, which multiplied as he grew older, she was his ambassadress and his interpretress to Miss Fowler, who had no large sympathy with the young; a vote in his interest at the councils on his future; his sewing-woman, strictly accountable for mislaid boots and garments; always his butt and his slave.

And when he decided to become a solicitor, and had entered an office in London; when his greeting had changed from ‘Hullo, Postey, you old beast,’ to Mornin’, Packthread,’ there came a war which, unlike all wars that Mary could remember, did not stay decently outside England and in the newspapers, but intruded on the lives of people whom she knew. As she said to Miss Fowler, it was ‘most vexatious.’ It took the Rector’s son who was going into business with his elder brother; it took the Colonel’s nephew on the eve of fruit-farming in Canada; it took Mrs. Grant’s son who, his mother said, was devoted to the ministry; and, very early indeed, it took Wynn Fowler, who announced on a postcard that he had joined the Flying Corps and wanted a cardigan waistcoat.