Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Clouds of Witnesses cont

Then I should send it straight off to the analytical gentleman in London, and he'd look through his microscope, and tell me right off that it was rabbit's blood, maybe, and how many days it had been there, and that would be the end of that,” finished Mr. Bunter triumphantly, replacing his nail-scissors and thoughtlessly pocketing the pill-box with its contents.

“Well, he'd be wrong, then,” said Ellen, with an engaging toss of the head, “because it's bird's blood, and not rabbit's at all, because her ladyship told me so; and wouldn't it be quicker just to go and ask the person than get fiddling round with your silly old microscope and things?”

“Well, I only mentioned rabbits for an example,” said Mr. Bunter. “Funny she should have got a stain down there. Must have regularly knelt in it.”

“Yes. Bled a lot, hasn't it, poor thing? Somebody must 'a' been shootin' careless-like. 'Twasn't his grace, nor yet the Captain, poor man. Perhaps it was Mr. Arbuthnot. He shoots a bit wild sometimes. It's a nasty mess, anyway, and it's so hard to clean off, being left so long. I'm sure I wasn't thinking about cleaning nothing the day the poor Captain was killed; and then the Coroner's inquest—'orrid, it was—and his grace being took off like that! Well, there, it upset me. I suppose I'm a bit sensitive. Anyhow, we was all at sixes and sevens for a day or two, and then her ladyship shuts herself up in her room and won't let me go near the wardrobe.
To be "at sixes and sevens" is an English phrase and idiom used to describe a state of confusion or disarray.

Common in the United Kingdom, it likely derives from a complicated dice game called "hazard".[ It is thought that the expression was originally "to set on cinq and six" (from the French numerals for five and six). These are the riskiest numbers to shoot for (to "set on"), and anyone who tried for them was considered careless or confused.

The similar phrase "to set the world on six and seven", used by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Troilus and Criseyde, dates about the mid 1380's and seems from its context to mean "to hazard the world" or "to risk one's life".

It is possible an ancient dispute between the Merchant Taylors' and Skinners' Livery Companies may have helped to popularise it. The two, which were founded in the same year, argued over sixth place in the order of precedence. After more than a century, in 1484 the then Lord Mayor of London Sir Robert Billesden decided that at the feast of Corpus Christi, the companies would swap between sixth and seventh and feast in each others' halls. Nowadays they alternate in precedence on an annual basis.[1]

Compare this with the Chinese phrase qi shang ba xia (七上八下), with similar meaning, but instead uses the numbers seven and eight.

'Ow!' she says, 'do leave that wardrobe door alone. Don't you know it squeaks, and my head's so bad and my nerves so bad I can't stand it,' she says. 'I was only going to brush your skirts, my lady,' I says.

'Bother my skirts,' says her ladyship, 'and do go away, Ellen. I shall scream if I see you fidgeting about there. You get on my nerves,' she says. Well, I didn't see why I should go on, not after being spoken to like that. It's very nice to be a ladyship, and all your tempers coddled and called nervous prostration. I know I was dreadfully cut up about poor Bert, my young man what was killed in the war—nearly cried my eyes out, I did; but, law! Mr. Bunter, I'd be ashamed to go on so. Besides, between you and I and the gate-post, Lady Mary wasn't that fond of the Captain.
Posts, of whatever sort, have long been used to epitomise deadness and unresponsiveness; for example, Richard Braithwaite's Solemne and Joviall Disputation, 1617, compares characters as 'like Posts can neither speake nor goe'. We retain the allusion in the idiomatic phrase 'as deaf as a post'. In the 17th century posts were also called stupid. Horace Walpole made clear the widespread use of that, in his letters in 1753:

'As stupid as a POST,' is a phrase perpetually made use of.

'Between you, me and the bed-post' has several variants - 'between you, me and the post' is a commonly found early example, but any kind of post would do. Later versions have it as 'between you, me and the gate-post', 'between you. me and the fence-post' etc, etc. The imagery of the phrase is clearly that 'this is between us two; the only other to be allowed into the confidence is deaf, blind and mute'.

The earliest version used might be expected to be the unadorned 'between you, me and the post' and that elaborations on that would come later. That may well be the case but the earliest citation I have found is an example of the 'bed-post' version, in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel Eugene Aram, 1832:

"Between you and me and the bed-post - young master's quarrelled with old master."

Never appreciated him, that's what I said to cook at the time, and she agreed with me. He had a way with him, the Captain had. Always quite the gentleman, of course, and never said anything as wasn't his place—I don't mean that—but I mean as it was a pleasure to do anythink for him. Such a handsome man as he was, too, Mr. Bunter.”
“Anythink” is not a typo, but a spelling to show the accent the maid uses.

“Ah!” said Mr. Bunter. “So on the whole her ladyship was a bit more upset than you expected her to be?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, Mr. Bunter, I think it's just temper. She wanted to get married and away from home.
In the 1920s, and all the way up until the 1960s, the only way a woman could leave home was to get married, as most women weren't paid living wages to work. Men were always paid more because, "after all, they had a family to support. And a woman will just work until she gets married, anyway".

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