The Height of Absurdity: Hilda’s Abbey 11.3
1 May, 2018 by katelaity
I would not say the place was the height of London luxury, but it would do well enough for the present. Do not think I praise it too lightly: it was a magnificent old place which kept up its appearance much like those impressive grand dames of the city do—with equal parts firm discipline and buckets of the old dosh. In a word, it was spanking. The Chalybeate Spa might have been a hundred but it frisked about like a young colt.
The staff were brisk and eager to please and in no time we had telegraphed Mither Wishart and obtained the finest in rooms for ourselves with a midday meal promised of such noble proportions that I could entirely relax and enjoy the steamy bath that was instantly prepared for me. Chambers got caught up in a discussion of the Scottish incursion into the town during the Civil War but I have no head for history. Ever the bon vivant! Or idle beggar as my father would say.
‘Don’t lounge too long, old chap,’ Tansy said with mock severity. Well he knew my bad habits of soaking the afternoon away.
‘If nothing else hunger will drive me from my tub soon enough. I can almost taste that roast beef.’ With relief I peeled off my road-dusty clothes and put on the pristine bathrobe the staff provided me with and strolled into the bathroom to find the servants busy.
But the smell!
‘What is that odour?’ I asked waving a hand before my affronted nose.
‘That’s the vitriol,’ the older fellow said with an air of condescension. ‘The chalybeate waters have a celebrated historic legend.’
‘Legend or myth?’ I demanded.
He was clearly nonplussed by my accusations. ‘The stars of the theatre and royalty, sir, have come to this inn for more than one hundred years to take the waters.’
‘Take the waters?’ I sniffed again with more than a trace of disbelief I assure you. ‘You don’t mean to say they drink this stuff? I’ve taken the waters at Bath—wretched stuff I can assure you. This smells much worse.’
The younger fellow hauled at the taps with obvious effort producing a sort of grinding metallic squeal that made us all wince.
‘That will do, Peters.’ The older fellow, who introduced himself as Dudley, set the youth to preparing the various items of toilette that I would need. It would be good to have a shave. The fair folk of the other lands were not much for keeping one well dressed—all legends to the contrary. I think it must be spells or what you call them…charms.
‘After you have bathed, sir,’ Dudley said with a persuasive air, ‘you may feel more inclined to sample the water.’
‘Not the bath water, I hope!’
Dudley seemed to cough behind his hand and I feared for a moment the man was choking but at last I realised it was laughter he meant to convey. ‘Droll, sir, very droll. No, you will see here a pitcher and glass ready for your delectation. Only the finest genuine antique Waterford flint glass for it, sir. A precious vessel for a precious fluid.’
‘Precious, eh?’ I muttered as I lowered myself into the pungent waters. Odd the smell might be but the heat was heavenly. I sighed with contentment.
‘Our waters cure the gout,’ Dudley offered in a low voice rather like a bee in my ear. Just as welcome as one would be, too.
‘Do I look like a gouty sort of fellow?’ I demanded, though the indolence of the bath was quickly stealing over me, inclining me to yawning instead.
‘Cures over-moist brain as well,’ he added.
I had no idea what to say to that.