Mr Pepys’s inclination

By Chrissie Gittins

If ever there was a euphemism, I was it.
He spotted me at St Olave’s, mouthing
hymns to the booming organ.
Come back for wine and cake, he says,
his wife not cold, the sculptor
still chiselling her conversational mouth.

Seething Lane was steeped in learning.
He tried with me, took me to see
stocking weaving, the gilding of letters
used for print. But he soon
slid back to his friends.
I didn’t mind not being married –

I had my maid, my bank account.
I liked to go about with him,
my hand resting on his dripping sleeve.
Who cares what powdered heads might think?
That Michaelmas those three armed men
held up our coach was warm beyond belief.

They poked the barrel at our driver’s heart.
My moneybag pressed against my thigh,
I held my solid breath.
Sam gave up his silver rule, his gold pencil,
his magnifying glass. I sat tight,
willing my face to turn zinc white.

I didn’t breathe a sigh till we got home.
Now I wear my diamond mourning ring,
I have two full presses of my own,
I keep his portrait on my wall,
beside the one of me, called Mrs Pepys.
That’s me, in name, and history.

Mary Skinner was associated with Pepys for thirty-three years.

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