August 13, 2007

27 January 1807, by Elizabeth Macarthur

The Wom-bat, a digging creature

Mr. King is taking a menagerie Home. When we partied on the Buffalo the other day I was as surprised at the quantum of animals as the variety - London will be agog.
We've had Mr. George Barrington staying at Parramatta these last years - Barrington the famous thief! He's an Irishman - well, he was an Irishman, he's passed on now of course. John had him to dinner once, rather mischievously with Mr. Hassal and Mr. Oakes, although to their credit all the men behave magnificently. You really would have thought Barrington was raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, so well did he take to it. I thought him the daintiest muffin eater I've ever witnessed, using his fork to carefully break the bread and eating with his pinkie extended. He told us, retold I imagine for the hundredth time, the story of Prince Orlov's snuff box, pilfered by Mr. Barrington from beneath the Prince's nose, while taking a pinch. The prince's box was famously worth 50,000 pounds, encrusted with jewels by a master jeweller in Moscow. The prince was also famous for rarely sharing a snufta from his box, and Mr. Barrington affirmed this made the Prince a most tempting prospect - if we are to believe Mr. Barrington, it was only a pinch of snuff he wanted, not the box. The Gentlemen had been to dinner, Barrington giving as good as he got round by round, and he'd fully shared the considerable dinner expenses until they were at the Theatre. Barrington had shared his snuff so much that his tin was empty, and at that point the Prince proffered his. Barrington bowed and turned to the ladies, offering the tin but each refused; he took a sniff and returned the box to the Prince, who immediately pocketed it. Barrington then feigned a tremendous sneeze as if the snuff were stale - the Prince's snuff being used so rarely, it was presumed to have staled in the box - and during the occasion of fixing himself, he exchanged snuff boxes, his for the Prince's, right in the Prince's pocket. Barrington's case was made to the same dimensions, but of tin, however when the Prince patted his pocket he felt the reassuring shape. Barrington was certain the parsimonious Prince wouldn't share his snuff again that night, and it was only when his servant was dressing him for bed that the theft, or substitution was discovered.
Barrington feigned innocence, and called the reputable Gentlemen to prove that the jewelled box had not been on the Prince that night, for certainly none of them had seen it, although several boxes were circulated for their mutual pleasure.
The box was already sold and on its way to Paris that night, war notwithstanding. Barrington pleaded habeus corpus and would have been scot-free, except this is how he finished his story. "It was a Great Lady, ma'am, who finally betrayed me", he told us in his lovely soft brogue - he had trained for the theatre himself, I understand. "She recalled that I'd offered the Prince's tin, the jewelled box, to the ladies at the theatre, proving the Prince had the box upon his person that night. It is to her, ma'am, that I owe my reform, for she was thinking to do right by me. I was sentenced to die, but she applied to her husband, the judge in the case, for my mercy. And so ma'am, here I am and I believe I have done more good for my country by leaving it, than ever I could have achieved had I stayed".

No comments: