Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters
A Family Record
Godmersham and Steventon
Some change after this shock must have been desirable; and at the end of the same month Mr. and Mrs. Austen, with Cassandra and Jane, started on a visit to the Edward Austens--no longer at Rowling but at Godmersham, which, by the generosity of Mrs. Knight, was now become their residence. Edward would naturally wish for a visit from his parents and sisters in his new and beautiful home. We know very little of Jane's doings there, except that she attended a ball at Ashford; but, on her parting from Cassandra (who was left behind) and returning to Steventon with her father and mother, we find ourselves fortunately in the company of the letters once more. Mrs. Austen was at this time in poor health, and Jane evidently felt the responsibility of taking charge of her in Cassandra's absence.
'Bull and George,' Dartford: Wednesday [October 24, 1798].
MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--You have already heard from Daniel, I conclude, in what excellent time we reached and quitted Sittingbourne, and how very well my mother bore her journey thither. I am now able to send you a continuation of the same good account of her. She was very little fatigued on her arrival at this place, has been refreshed by a comfortable dinner, and now seems quite stout. It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious, and really drove as fast as Cax.
Our next stage was not quite so expeditiously performed; the load was heavy and our horses very indifferent. However, we were in such good time, and my mother bore her journey so well, that expedition was of little importance to us; and as it was, we were very little more than two hours and a half coming hither, and it was scarcely past four when we stopped at the inn.
* * * * *
I should have begun my letter soon after our arrival but for a little adventure which prevented me. After we had been here a quarter of an hour it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies. No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing box was all my worldly wealth, £7, and my dear Harry's deputation. Mr. Nottley immediately despatched a man and horse after the chaise, and in half an hour's time I had the pleasure of being as rich as ever; they were got about two or three miles off.
My day's journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy. Your watchfulness with regard to the weather on our accounts was very kind and very effectual. We had one heavy shower on leaving Sittingbourne, but afterwards the clouds cleared away, and we had a very bright chrystal afternoon.
My father is now reading the Midnight Bell which he has got from the library, and mother sitting by the fire. Our route to-morrow is not determined. We have none of us much inclination for London, and if Mr. Nottley will give us leave, I think we shall go to Staines through Croydon and Kingston, which will be much pleasanter than any other way; but he is decidedly for Clapham and Battersea. God bless you all!
I flatter myself that itty Dordy will not forget me at least under a week. Kiss him for me.
Steventon: Saturday [October 27, 1798].
We arrived here yesterday between four and five, but I cannot send you quite so triumphant an account of our last day's journey as of the first and second. Soon after I had finished my letter from Staines, my mother began to suffer from the exercise or fatigue of travelling, and she was a good deal indisposed.
* * * * *
James called on us just as we were going to tea, and my mother was well enough to talk very cheerfully to him before she went to bed. . . . They [James and Mary] were to have dined here to-day, but the weather is too bad. I have had the pleasure of hearing that Martha is with them. James fetched her from Ibthorp on Thursday, and she will stay with them till she removes to Kintbury.
I am very grand indeed; I had the dignity of dropping out my mother's laudanum last night. I carry about the keys of the wine and closet, and twice since I began this letter have had orders to give in the kitchen. Our dinner was very good yesterday and the chicken boiled perfectly tender; therefore I shall not be obliged to dismiss Nanny on that account.
* * * * *
Your letter was chaperoned here by one from Mrs. Cooke, in which she says that Battleridge is not to come out before January, and she is so little satisfied with Cawthorn's dilatoriness that she never means to employ him again.
Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.
There has been a great deal of rain here for this last fortnight, much more than in Kent, and indeed we found the roads all the way from Staines most disgracefully dirty. Steventon Lane has its full share of it, and I don't know when I shall be able to get to Deane.
* * * * *
My dear itty Dordy's remembrance of me is very pleasing to me--foolishly pleasing, because I know it will be over so soon. My attachment to him will be more durable. I shall think with tenderness and delight on his beautiful and smiling countenance and interesting manner until a few years have turned him into an ungovernable ungracious fellow.
The books from Winton are all unpacked and put away; the binding has compressed them most conveniently, and there is now very good room in the bookcase for all that we wish to have there. I believe the servants were all very glad to see us. Nanny was, I am sure. She confesses that it was very dull, and yet she had her child with her till last Sunday. I understand that there are some grapes left, but I believe not many; they must be gathered as soon as possible, or this rain will entirely rot them.
Saturday [November 17, 1798].
My mother desires me to tell you that I am a very good housekeeper, which I have no reluctance in doing, because I really think it my peculiar excellence, and for this reason--I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping. I have had some ragout veal, and I mean to have some haricot mutton to-morrow. We are to kill a pig soon.
There is to be a ball at Basingstoke next Thursday. Our assemblies have very kindly declined ever since we laid down the carriage, so that dis-convenience and dis-inclination to go have kept pace together.
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Sunday.--I have just received a note from James to say that Mary was brought to bed last night, at eleven o'clock, of a fine little boy, and that everything is going on very well. My mother had desired to know nothing of it before it should be all over, and we were clever enough to prevent her having any suspicion of it, though Jenny, who had been left here by her mistress, was sent for home.
Steventon: Sunday [November 25, 1798].
MY DEAR SISTER,--I expected to have heard from you this morning, but no letter is come. I shall not take the trouble of announcing to you any more of Mary's children, if, instead of thanking me for the intelligence, you always sit down and write to James. I am sure nobody can desire your letters so much as I do, and I don't think anybody deserves them so well.
Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence, I will proceed to tell you that Mary continues quite well, and my mother tolerably so. I saw the former on Friday, and though I had seen her comparatively hearty the Tuesday before, I was really amazed at the improvement which three days had made in her. She looked well, her spirits were perfectly good, and she spoke much more vigorously than Elizabeth did when we left Godmersham. I had only a glimpse at the child, who was asleep; but Miss Debary told me that his eyes were large, dark, and handsome. She looks much as she used to do, is netting herself a gown in worsteds, and wears what Mrs. Birch would call a pot hat. A short and compendious history of Miss Debary!
* * * * *
We have got Fitz-Albini; my father has bought it against my private wishes, for it does not quite satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton's works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume. My father is disappointed--I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton's. There is very little story, and what there is is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineate. We have not been able to recognise any of them hitherto, except Dr. and Mrs. Hey and Mr. Oxenden, who is not very tenderly treated. . . .
We have got Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, and are to have his Life of Johnson; and as some money will yet remain in Burdon's hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper's works. This would please Mr. Clarke, could he know it.
Steventon: [December 1, 1798].
MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--I am so good as to write you again thus speedily, to let you know that I have just heard from Frank. He was at Cadiz, alive and well, on October 19, and had then very lately received a letter from you, written as long ago as when the London was at St. Helen's. But his raly latest intelligence of us was in one from me of September 1st, which I sent soon after we got to Godmersham. He had written a packet full for his dearest friends in England, early in October, to go by the Excellent; but the Excellent was not sailed, nor likely to sail, when he despatched this to me. It comprehended letters for both of us, for Lord Spencer, Mr. Daysh, and the East India Directors. Lord St. Vincent had left the fleet when he wrote, and was gone to Gibraltar, it was said to superintend the fitting out of a private expedition from thence against some of the enemies' ports; Minorca or Malta were conjectured to be the objects.
Frank writes in good spirits, but says that our correspondence cannot be so easily carried on in future as it has been, as the communication between Cadiz and Lisbon is less frequent than formerly. You and my mother, therefore, must not alarm yourselves at the long intervals that may divide his letters. I address this advice to you two as being the most tender-hearted of the family.
My mother made her entrée into the dressing-room through crowds of admiring spectators yesterday afternoon, and we all drank tea together for the first time these five weeks. She has had a tolerable night, and bids fair for a continuance in the same brilliant course of action to-day. . . .
Mr. Lyford was here yesterday; he came while we were at dinner, and partook of our elegant entertainment. I was not ashamed at asking him to sit down to table, for we had some pease-soup, a sparerib, and a pudding. He wants my mother to look yellow and to throw out a rash, but she will do neither.
We live entirely in the dressing-room now, which I like very much; I always feel so much more elegant in it than in the parlour.
I have made myself two or three caps to wear of evenings since I came home, and they save me a world of torment as to hair-dressing, which at present gives me no trouble beyond washing and brushing, for my long hair is always plaited up out of sight, and my short hair curls well enough to want no papering.
Sunday.--My father is glad to hear so good an account of Edward's pigs, and desires he may be told, as encouragement to his taste for them, that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises.
This and the following letter contain allusions to Jane's wearing caps. Those intended for use at balls, &c. would be smart head-dresses, worn at that period by younger as well as older women. In later life, the Miss Austens seem to have been rather indifferent to fashion and beauty in their clothing, although always very neat.
Steventon: Tuesday [December 18, 1798].
I took the liberty a few days ago of asking your black velvet bonnet to lend me its cawl, which it very readily did, and by which I have been enabled to give a considerable improvement of dignity to my cap, which was before too nidgetty to please me. I shall wear it on Thursday, but I hope you will not be offended with me for following your advice as to its ornaments only in part. I still venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one as being smarter, and besides, coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter. After the ball I shall probably make it entirely black.
I am sorry that our dear Charles begins to feel the dignity of ill-usage. My father will write to Admiral Gambier. He must have already received so much satisfaction from his acquaintance and patronage of Frank, that he will be delighted, I dare say, to have another of the family introduced to him.
* * * * *
I am very much obliged to my dear little George for his message--for his love at least; his duty, I suppose, was only in consequence of some hint of my favourable intentions towards him from his father or mother. I am sincerely rejoiced, however, that I ever was born, since it has been the means of procuring him a dish of tea. Give my best love to him.
I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin, requesting my name as a subscriber to her library, which opens January 14, and my name, or rather yours, is accordingly given. My mother finds the money. Mary subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. As an inducement to subscribe, Mrs. Martin tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, &c. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers and not ashamed of being so; but it was necessary, I suppose, to the self-consequence of half her subscribers.
* * * * *
I enjoyed the hard black frosts of last week very much, and one day while they lasted walked to Deane by myself. I do not know that I ever did such a thing in my life before.
* * * * *
We dine now at half-past three, and have done dinner, I suppose, before you begin. We drink tea at half-past six. I am afraid you will despise us. My father reads Cowper to us in the morning, to which I listen when I can. How do you spend your evenings? I guess that Elizabeth works, that you read to her, and that Edward goes to sleep.
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Wednesday.--I have changed my mind, and changed the trimmings of my cap this morning; they are now such as you suggested. I felt as if I should not prosper if I strayed from your directions, and I think it makes me look more like Lady Conyngham now than it did before, which is all that one lives for now. I believe I shall make my new gown like my robe, but the back of the latter is all in a piece with the tail, and will seven yards enable me to copy it in that respect?
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People get so horribly poor and economical in this part of the world that I have no patience with them. Kent is the only place for happiness; everybody is rich there. I must do similar justice, however, to the Windsor neighbourhood.
Steventon: Monday night [December 24, 1798].
MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--I have got some pleasant news for you which I am eager to communicate, and therefore begin my letter sooner, though I shall not send it sooner than usual.
Admiral Gambier, in reply to my father's application, writes as follows:--'As it is usual to keep young officers in small vessels, it being most proper on account of their inexperience, and it being also a situation where they are more in the way of learning their duty, your son has been continued in the Scorpion; but I have mentioned to the Board of Admiralty his wish to be in a frigate, and when a proper opportunity offers and it is judged that he has taken his turn in a small ship, I hope he will be removed. With regard to your son now in the London I am glad I can give you the assurance that his promotion is likely to take place very soon, as Lord Spencer has been so good as to say he would include him in an arrangement that he proposes making in a short time relative to some promotions in that quarter.'
There! I may now finish my letter and go and hang myself, for I am sure I can neither write nor do anything which will not appear insipid to you after this. Now, I really think he will soon be made, and only wish we could communicate our foreknowledge of the event to him whom it principally concerns. My father has written to Daysh to desire that he will inform us, if he can, when the commission is sent. Your chief wish is now ready to be accomplished; and could Lord Spencer give happiness to Martha at the same time, what a joyful heart he would make of yours!
I have sent the same extract of the sweets of Gambier to Charles, who, poor fellow, though he sinks into nothing but an humble attendant on the hero of the piece, will, I hope, be contented with the prospect held out to him. By what the Admiral says, it appears as if he had been designedly kept in the Scorpion. But I will not torment myself with conjectures and suppositions; facts shall satisfy me.
Frank had not heard from any of us for ten weeks when he wrote me on November 12 in consequence of Lord St. Vincent being removed to Gibraltar. When his commission is sent, however, it will not be so long on its road as our letters, because all the Government despatches are forwarded by land to his lordship from Lisbon with great regularity.
* * * * *
I spent my time [at Manydown] very quietly and very pleasantly with Catherine. Miss Blachford is agreeable enough. I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
Our ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant. There were thirty-one people, and only eleven ladies out of the number, and but five single women in the room. Of the gentlemen present you may have some idea from the list of my partners--Mr. Wood, G. Lefroy, Rice, a Mr. Butcher (belonging to the Temples, a sailor and not of the 11th Light Dragoons), Mr. Temple (not the horrid one of all), Mr. Wm. Orde (cousin to the Kingsclere man), Mr. John Harwood, and Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his hand, and stood every now and then behind Catherine and me to be talked to and abused for not dancing. We teased him, however, into it at last. I was very glad to see him again after so long a separation, and he was altogether rather the genius and flirt of the evening. He enquired after you.
There were twenty dances, and I danced them all, and without any fatigue. I was glad to find myself capable of dancing so much, and with so much satisfaction as I did; from my slender enjoyment of the Ashford balls (as assemblies for dancing) I had not thought myself equal to it, but in cold weather and with few couples I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for half an hour. My black cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy, and secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room.
* * * * *
Tuesday.--I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible. I am full of joy at much of your information; that you should have been to a ball, and have danced at it, and supped with the Prince, and that you should meditate the purchase of a new muslin gown, are delightful circumstances.
* * * * *
Poor Edward! It is very hard that he, who has everything else in the world that he can wish for, should not have good health too.
I know no one more deserving of happiness without alloy than Edward is.
* * * * *
Of my charities to the poor since I came home you shall have a faithful account. I have given a pair of worsted stockings to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew, Mary Steevens, and Dame Staples; a shift to Hannah Staples, and a shawl to Betty Dawkins; amounting in all to about half a guinea. But I have no reason to suppose that the Battys would accept of anything, because I have not made them the offer.
* * * * *
The Lords of the Admiralty will have enough of our applications at present, for I hear from Charles that he has written to Lord Spencer himself to be removed. I am afraid his Serene Highness will be in a passion, and order some of our heads to be cut off.
Steventon: Friday [December 28, 1798].
MY DEAR CASSANDRA,--Frank is made. He was yesterday raised to the rank of Commander, and appointed to the Peterel sloop, now at Gibraltar. A letter from Daysh has just announced this, and as it is confirmed by a very friendly one from Mr. Mathew to the same effect, transcribing one from Admiral Gambier to the General, we have no reason to suspect the truth of it.
As soon as you have cried a little for joy, you may go on, and learn farther that the India House have taken Captain Austen's petition into consideration--this comes from Daysh--and likewise that Lieutenant Charles John Austen is removed to the Tamar frigate--this comes from the Admiral. We cannot find out where the Tamar is, but I hope we shall now see Charles here at all events.
This letter is to be dedicated entirely to good news. If you will send my father an account of your washing and letter expenses, &c., he will send you a draft for the amount of it, as well as for your next quarter, and for Edward's rent. If you don't buy a muslin gown now on the strength of this money and Frank's promotion, I shall never forgive you.
Mrs. Lefroy has just sent me word that Lady Dorchester meant to invite me to her ball on January 8, which, though an humble blessing compared with what the last page records, I do not consider as any calamity.
I cannot write any more now, but I have written enough to make you very happy, and therefore may safely conclude.
Steventon: Tuesday [January 8, 1799].
I am tolerably glad to hear that Edward's income is a good one--as glad as I can be at anybody's being rich except you and me--and I am thoroughly rejoiced to hear of his present to you.
* * * * *
I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you do, but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it.
* * * * *
[Wednesday.]--You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ashe Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert's servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not, and shall only say that I did not return home that night or the next, as Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut-up one in the new nursery. Nurse and the child slept upon the floor, and there we all were in some confusion and great comfort. The bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o'clock, and to sleep in the rest of the night. I love Martha better than ever, and I mean to go and see her, if I can, when she gets home. We all dined at the Harwoods' on Thursday, and the party broke up the next morning.
My sweet little George! I am delighted to hear that he has such an inventive genius as to face-making. I admired his yellow wafer very much, and hope he will choose the wafer for your next letter. I wore my green shoes last night, and took my white fan with me; I am very glad he never threw it into the river.
Mrs. Knight giving up the Godmersham estate to Edward was no such prodigious act of generosity after all, it seems, for she has reserved herself an income out of it still; this ought to be known, that her conduct may not be overrated. I rather think Edward shows the most magnanimity of the two, in accepting her resignation with such incumbrances.
The more I write, the better my eye gets, so I shall at least keep on till it is quite well, before I give up my pen to my mother.
* * * * *
I do not think I was very much in request [at the Kempshot ball]. People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it; one's consequence, you know, varies so much at times without any particular reason. There was one gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good-looking young man, who, I was told, wanted very much to be introduced to me; but as he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, we never could bring it about.
I danced with Mr. John Wood again, twice with a Mr. South, a lad from Winchester, who, I suppose, is as far from being related to the bishop of that diocese as it is possible to be, with G. Lefroy, and J. Harwood, who I think takes to me rather more than he used to do. One of my gayest actions was sitting down two dances in preference to having Lord Bolton's eldest son for my partner, who danced too ill to be endured. The Miss Charterises were there, and played the parts of the Miss Edens with great spirit. Charles never came. Naughty Charles! I suppose he could not get superseded in time.
* * * * *
I do not wonder at your wanting to read First Impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, and that so long ago.
I shall be able to send this to the post to-day, which exalts me to the utmost pinnacle of human felicity, and makes me bask in the sunshine of prosperity, or gives me any other sensation of pleasure in studied language which you may prefer. Do not be angry with me for not filling my sheet, and believe me yours affectionately,
Steventon: Monday [January 21, 1799].
Charles leaves us to-night. The Tamar is in the Downs, and Mr. Daysh advises him to join her there directly, as there is no chance of her going to the westward. Charles does not approve of this at all, and will not be much grieved if he should be too late for her before she sails, as he may then hope to get into a better station. He attempted to go to town last night, and got as far on his road thither as Deane Gate, but both the coaches were full, and we had the pleasure of seeing him back again.
* * * * *
Martha writes me word that Charles was very much admired at Kintbury, and Mrs. Lefroy never saw anyone so much improved in her life, and thinks him handsomer than Henry. He appears to far more advantage here than he did at Godmersham, not surrounded by strangers and neither oppressed by a pain in his face or powder in his hair.
* * * * *
Yesterday came a letter to my mother from Edward Cooper to announce, not the birth of a child, but of a living; for Mrs. Leigh has begged his acceptance of the Rectory of Hamstall-Ridware in Staffordshire, vacant by Mr. Johnson's death. We collect from his letter that he means to reside there, in which he shows his wisdom. Staffordshire is a good way off; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls. The living is valued at £140 a year, but perhaps it may be improvable. How will they be able to convey the furniture of the dressing-room so far in safety?
* * * * *
* * * * *
[Tuesday.]--Our own particular brother got a place in the coach last night, and is now, I suppose, in town. I have no objection at all to your buying our gowns there, as your imagination has pictured to you exactly such a one as is necessary to make me happy. You quite abash me by your progress in notting, for I am still without silk. You must get me some in town or in Canterbury; it should be finer than yours.
I thought Edward would not approve of Charles being a crop, and rather wished you to conceal it from him at present, lest it might fall on his spirits and retard his recovery.
* * * * *
Wednesday.--I have just heard from Charles, who is by this time at Deal. He is to be Second Lieutenant, which pleases him very well. The Endymion is come into the Downs, which pleases him likewise. He expects to be ordered to Sheerness shortly, as the Tamar has never been refitted.
My father and mother made the same match for you last night, and are very much pleased with it. He is a beauty of my mother's.
 Harry was one of the Digweeds--Edward Austen's tenants at Steventon--who shared with the Rectory party the deputed right of shooting over the Manor (Persuasion, ch. iii.). The New English Dictionary (s.v.) says 'The deputation was necessary to constitute a gamekeeper; but it was also frequently used as a means of giving to friends the privilege of shooting game over an estate.' The term of endearment has of course no particular significance.
 The Midnight Bell, a German story (London, 1798), is ascribed in the Dictionary of National Biography to Francis Lathom. This book is mentioned in chapter vi. of Northanger Abbey.
 Afterwards, as George Knight, a well-known Kent cricketer, and one of the principal agents in the introduction of round-arm bowling.
 Battleridge, an historical tale founded on facts. By a lady of quality [? Mrs. Cooke], London, 1799.
 The first part of this letter is inserted in Chapter VI.
 James Edward Austen (Leigh), the author of the Memoir; in his youth always (after his uncle and cousin had become 'Edward Knight') known as 'Edward Austen.'
 Arthur Fitz-Albini, a novel [by Sir Egerton Brydges]. London, 1798.
 First Lord of the Admiralty, 1794-1801.
 George Daysh, clerk in the Ticket Office, Navy Office.
 The Basingstoke doctor.
 Anne Elliot, in Persuasion, thought that a cap would be a very suitable present for her sister Mary, who was a young woman, and who certainly wished to remain so.
 One of the Lords of the Admiralty: afterwards Lord Gambier.
 On his Aunt Jane's birthday.
 General Mathew, father of James Austen's first wife.
 The Miss Austens seem to have had a dress allowance of £20 a year. Cf. Brabourne, vol. i. p. 189.
 Brighton had possibly been suggested to her brother Edward as an alternative for Bath.
 This is of course an amusing mis-statement of the writer's real opinion. See p. 83.
 The Hon. Mary Leigh, of Stoneleigh.
 Eliza de Feuillide.
 Lady Williams.
 I.e. without powder or pigtail.