Letter dated 17 June 1831

Mrs Martha Hankey

Dearest Elinor,
It has been many weeks since I wrote, but this does not mean that you have not always been in my heart.  All is better now, but for some weeks I was taken up with a most horrible pain in my toe which the doctor called gout. Formally, I associated this complaint with men in clubs who drank excessively, indeed I had always thought Thompson far more likely to suffer from it than me, but Dr Pinchurch intimated that my relatively recently acquired wealth had led to dietary habits that were too rich.  Daily we benefit from Mrs Simpson’s wonderful cooking so that we regularly have a cornucopia of pies, roasts or fresh fish set before us, however now I am trying to eat less but I own that I find this so difficult.  The pain in my toe has subsided, but the craving in my stomach is almost constant.
Whilst I was unable to walk far, and despite the discomfort, I found another pastime which I hope will remain with me for a very long time to come.  This is called sketching and is quite the thing.  Jane Pope, whom I told you about when I first mentioned the pleasure of taking tea, has a young girl staying with her who is very enthusiastic and the three of us have started to try to draw together.  We set a bowl of fruit on a table with a cloth and a flower behind it, and try and put down on paper what we see before us but it is surprisingly difficult to catch the roundness of an apple or a pear and the crinkles of material.  We are so perplexed sometimes that we talk of hiring a sketching master to help us, for without one sketching can take hours and achieve very little.  Indeed, in the same vein, sometimes our results are so funny that we laugh and laugh.  Not long ago, Thompson was passing and heard us laugh and came in to enquire what had occasioned this, but when he saw how boring we were he quickly left. 
I am so excited that you really might come and live here that I am quite transported with plans. I do not suppose that you will be entertaining excessively, so will not have need of many rooms.  If you come and stay, which would be such a pleasure for me, we could look together but we must have our wits about us because I have heard that there are many landlords here who are unscrupulous and would not hesitate to take advantage of a single gentlewoman.  Indeed, I think it would be prudent to enlist the services of a gentleman and my dear friend Colonel Featherstone, who helped me with negotiations over this house, might be persuaded to come to our aid.  I cannot remember if you have met him, but he was my late brother’s Colonel in France and has been invaluable.  I think Thompson may even be a little jealous, but sadly he has no need to be, since the good Mrs Featherstone is quite fierce.
I know that I talked of taking tea with Lady Ponsonby, however it was cancelled.  She sent a note across the square barely two hours before I was expected, to apologize and to say that she was not at all well.  Although at the time I would have had to have limped across the square, I was determined to do so and, in the event, I was most annoyed since it was to have been the first airing of my beautiful new dress with its puffed sleeves, and I was convinced that she had found a more amusing thing to do but to tell the truth, I have not seen her at all since.  I do hope she is not seriously ill when we were just getting to know one another and I am so curious about her house.  I own that this is another reason I have not written until now for I have been constantly expecting another invitation.
Unfortunately Martha has taken to walking by the sea quite regularly with Eliza Prescott.  Her mother Lucinda has very inconveniently decided to stay for the summer and although neither you nor I think at all highly of the family, I cannot think of anything to say because Martha is too old to be told.  I am afraid that she has taken so much responsibility onto her own shoulders that in some ways she has become the mother in our relationship and I do not see that I could suddenly presume to know better, although of course I do.  So far nothing bad has happened at all, of that I am sure, but now that the days are warmer and young women are wearing less, I am afraid.  Those young officers who make camp on the Downs, who joust and roust and dance so well, love to flirt and my Martha is so innocent.  I do not fear for her safety exactly for I know her to be sensible, but I fear that she is inexperienced and may not understand what might be being suggested, whereas Eliza seems to have been born knowing everything.  Do you have any advice about how I might broach the subject delicately, or even what exact subject to broach?
Now that summer is on the way, are you going to visit Harriet in Devonshire?  From your letter it sounds as though your grandchildren could do with some practical guidance.
You will have noticed that I have only talked about Thompson in passing this time.  This is only because our ennui has become entirely mutual.
My dear Elinor, I long for news of you,
Your loving friend, Martha