I must own myself embarrassed to renew our acquaintance after so long an absence. Were it possible for mere leather and paper to feel shame, I have no doubt that you would feel ashamed of my recent conduct. Indeed, I feel ashamed of myself. I am certain that the hearts of my worthy parents, may God rest them, would be broken to bits to see their only daughter so demeaned.
Having left finishing school far from finished on purpose to mourn my parents’ passing, I found matters at home more distressing than I had previously imagined. My father, as good a man as you know him to have been, was unfortunately not clear of the world at the time of his passing. Creditors came slithering to my door before the earth settled over my parents’ graves. They sent vile workmen to make off with our belongings by the wagonload! Truly, I was mortified. Even were I out of mourning, I am sure nobody decent would have thought it proper to visit with me.
In such straits as these, I had no choice but to seek counsel of my trustees, who advised me to auction off all in the hope of keeping some. This I did, the resulting balance catapulting me out of that sphere to which I had been raised and into an entirely different (and lower!) class altogether. I daily fraternize with merchants, artisans, tavern keepers, and even performers. Worse yet, with neither name nor dowry to attract a suitor, my very salvation lies in becoming one of their number!
Is this not shame enough? Would not my poor parents turn in their graves to see their only child so debased?
Alas! It is not all. Only to you, dear Diary, will I confess the whole. While I endeavor to set myself up in some sort of a shop (no mean feat for a woman alone!), I lack the guidance or companionship of any older, wiser female of virtue and repute. In order to make business contacts and friends in this new life, I am obliged to frequent shops, parks, theaters, and even pubs without the advantage of a chaperon. I have danced — waltzed, even — with tradesmen whom I can barely call gentlemen. I have clothed myself in attire barely fit to be seen by anyone, and yet attended public events! Worst of all, I even made a spectacle of myself by attending a Burlesque and dancing upon a stage! How is such a lifestyle to be borne? And yet, how is any life at all to be conducted if it be not continued?
Truly, Diary, the assistance of those “friends” I have made during the course of my shameful exploits have proven invaluable to the continuance of what little independence I have achieved for myself. To Mr. Kondor, one of my recent dance partners, I owe a debt of knowledge. A writer and a shopkeep himself, he has helped me to navigate some of the twists and turns of opening a bookstore. Without the assistance of Mr. Caligari, into whose establishment I first wandered, I would not know one person in the whole of Caledon. the Right Honorable Gov. Shang, Miss Ur, Sir Wormser, Mr. Wytchwood, Mr. Brentano, and many others in this new circle of mine have been invaluable resources. Due to their kindness, I now find myself set up in a respectable home that has the makings of a decent sort of shop. Even so, with the exceptions of Gov. Shang and Sir Wormser, it is hardly appropriate for me to claim an acquaintance with any of them!
Well, Diary, the wicked are always punished. Have I not always written to you that it is so? Today, Providence delivered my comeuppance. A foreign stranger wandered into my lawn quite unann0unced (there being no servants to announce him). I politely offered him a tour of the shop. In broken English, he asked for a drink, which impertinence should have been the first indication that he was not the sort of fellow with whom a decent girl ought to associate. After receiving a cup of coffee and continuing with the tour, he invited me to dinner. This, I declined, but I could not keep my manners and further decline his offer of a short walk, so I accepted. The man spoke little as I introduced him to the town. Then, in the market, he asked for a kiss! A kiss, can you believe it? I blush even to write of it! This foreign man, obviously no gentleman, accepted my refusal without complaint (thank Heaven!). I was able to safely leave him in a shop, but to think that a man of such shockingly libidinous character now knows the location of my shop is — is, well, the word “distressing” does not seem strong enough for the occasion. To further admit the fact that, as a keeper of a shop, I will be obliged to let all manner of foreign rakes and other hideous creatures into my shop and into my company is appalling! What gall! What disrespect! This, you see Diary, is what results when careless young women let loose their morals too much in mixed company. We become easy prey.
And so, Diary, I lay down my pen tonight without the hope of attaining a peaceful slumber. With no kind protector or protectress and hardly a bolt upon my door, let alone even a simple maid to attend me, I am left vulnerable to any wicked person who happens by. I hardly know what to do. Indeed, it seems that I hardly know myself. Certainly, the woman my parents bred to such education and distinction would never have permitted herself to fall so low. But if I be not she, who am I?
Until tomorrow, then, I remain —
Your Miserable and Distressed Friend,
Miss Palabra Puddlegum