the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

It has been put to me, by those that appreciate this account, that there are those that would desire these memoirs in a more compendious and portable form. With the inestimable services and skills of Mistress [personal profile] clanwilliam, Volumes the First to the Twelfth of these memoirs are now available as what are known among the cognoscenti as, ebooks.

These may be downloaded, by such as desire to read 'em, at Google Docs:

The Comfortable Courtesan: A Memoir by Madame C- C- (that has been a Lady of the Demi-Monde these several years)

Volume the First

Volume the Second

Volume the Third

Volume the Fourth

Volume the Fifth

Volume the Sixth

Volume the Seventh

Volume the Eighth

Volume the Ninth

Volume the Tenth

Volume the Eleventh

Volume the Twelfth

A key to the numerous characters may be found in this post, and [personal profile] threeringedmoon has created a GoogleDocs version that can be downloaded here.

Madame C- expresses herself highly indebt’d to those that find amusement, education, mayhap even edification, in these chronicles. Any particular appreciation may be expresst thru’ the good offices of PayPal.

She would also desire to remark that her devot'd amanuensis is about revizing this chronicle with a view to eradicating errours and making it more widely available to the cognoscenti. The amanuensis says, watch this space.

Madem C- also wishes to convey, to those that have expresst a desire to emulate her good friend that goes by the style of HotUtilitarian in writing what is call’d fanfic, that several works can now be found at AO3, and may indeed be added unto by those that so desire. Indeed, words can hardly convey her most exceeding gratification at being a Yuletide fandom.

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

Please do let yr humble amanuensis know if there are any omissions or queries.

Volume 1

Madame C- C-: Clorinda Cathcart, the memoirist

Her household: Hector (Wilson), her black manservant; Seraphine (Pyecroft), his mixed-race cousin, the cook; (Thomasina) Docket, a lady's maid; Phoebe, Hector's sister, the housemaid, later advanced to housekeeper; Tibby (Phillips), a housemaid who aspires to become a lady's maid; Euphemia (Bennett), kitchen-maid; Prue (Brown), under-housemaid; Titus (Marshall), Hector's nephew, odd-job boy

The Reverend Mr A-: The Reverend Mr Armitage, parson in the London parish where Clorinda resides

Miss A-: Amelia Addington, actress

Bellamy: Lady Wallace’s lady’s maid

Miss B-: the late Miss Billston, a distant cousin of Lady Jane Beaufoyle, and her lover, a talented amateur composer

Mrs (‘Aunty’) Black: a midwife

*Mr B-: Mr Boxtell, a banker

Mamzelle Bridgette, a supposedly French modiste, real name Biddy Smith, an old friend of Docket

Mr C-: Mr Carter, surgeon to the antipodean expedition

Miss D-: Miss Daniels, a gossip of the demimonde

Mr de C-: Raoul de Cleraut, painter of French émigré origin

Dorcas (Chapman): a cousin to several in Clorinda’s household, maid to Miss Addington

The dreadfull crocodile: Old Lady Wallace, mother to Sir Barton Wallace

M. Duval: Lord Raxdell’s chef de cuisine

The Earl of E-: The Earl of Erringe, an elderly and debauched nobleman

Mr E-: Mr Evenden, FRS, a chemist

*Mr F-: Josiah Ferraby, ironmaster and civic improver; married to Eliza Ferraby; children Harry, Elizabeth (Bess), Margaret (Meg), Josiah (Josh) and Quintus

Frederique: Lord Raxdell’s valet

Mr G-: Mr Gaffney, a second-rate tragedian

Miss G-: Abigail Gowing, a courtesan, dear friend of Clorinda and a noted gamester

Mr G- D-: Mr Gordon Duncan, a singer

*Mr H-: Mr Hacker, FRCS, surgeon, anatomist and man-midwife

*Sir V- H-: Sir Vernon Horrobin, of the Embassy at Washington,

Lady J-: Lady Jane Beaufoyle, sister to the Duke of Mulcaster

*Mr J-: Mr Harold (formerly Hywel) Jenkins, an actor-manager

Dr J-: Dr Jessop, a physician at Harrogate

*Admiral, formerly Captain, K-: Admiral Knighton, RN

The K-s: the Knowles family: Miss Viola Knowles (little V), her twin brother Sebastian, her father, a wealthy City businessman, her mother, her elder half-sister Miss (Martha) Knowles, engaged to Jacob Samuels

Miss L-: Miss Lewis, a professional pianist, devoted friend of Miss McKeown

Madame Lisette, born Bessie Wilcox, another supposedly French modiste

Mr MacD-: Alexander MacDonald, MA, Sandy, secretary to Lord R-

Miss McK-: Miss McKeown, a professional singer, devoted friend of Miss Lewis, kept by Mr Boxtell

Duke of M-: see Lord S-

Maggy: Miss Addington’s dresser

Miss M-: Miss Minton, an actress

The Reverend Mr M-: Mr Morrison, headmaster of a boys’ school attended by the elder Ferraby boys

Mr N-: Mr Nixon, of the Home Office

Mrs O’C-: Mrs O’Callaghan, an Irish supposed widow, neé Mary Theresa O’Grady; Mr O’C-: Mr O’Callaghan, her scoundrel husband

Mr O’D-: Mr O’Donnell, a gentleman about Town with aspirations to Miss Lewis’s favours, under treatment by Mr Hacker for an unmentionable disease

*Mr P-: Mr Pargiter, a dramatic critic who publishes under the style of Aristarchus

Lord P-: The Earl of Pockinford, famed connoisseur of cows

Mr Q-: Mr Quennell, an attorney

*Lord R-: Gervase Reveley, Viscount Raxdell; aka Milord, G

*Mr R-/Sir Z- R-: Mr Robinson, RA, a painter, subsequently Sir Zoffany Robinson

*Lord S-, subsequently Duke of M-: Beaufoyle Beaufoyle, Lord Sallington, heir to the Duke of Mulcaster, succeeds on his father’s sudden death: Biffle to his intimates

Mr S-: Mr (Jacob) Samuels, a Jewish geologist affianced to the elder Miss Knowles

Miss T-: Miss (Katherine) Thorne, a not so very young lady having a London Season, a friend of Susannah Wallace

The Reverend Mr T-: Mr (Thomas) Thorne, a clergyman with scientific and mathematical interests

Signor V-: Signor Vivanti, an Italian violinist and patron of Miss Lewis

*Sir B- W-: Sir Barton Wallace, MP, man about town and gamester, a quondam favourite of Clorinda but enjoying the favours of Miss Gowing prior to his marriage to Lady (Susannah) Wallace

*Major W-: Major (Arbuthnot) Wallace, a cousin of Sir Barton Wallace, lately serving at the Cape

Williams: the Duchess of Mulcaster's lady’s maid

*General Y-: General Yeomans, of the Honourable East India Company’s Madras forces, retired

An as yet unnamed journeyman printer (Alf)

A wombatt, initially in the possession of Mr Thorne, but given by him to Sir Zoffany Robinson before setting out on the antipodean expedition

Volume 2: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 3: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 4: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 5: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 6: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 7: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 8: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 9: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 10: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 11: Changes in station and new characters )

Volume 12: Changes in station and new characters )

*Gentlemen who have enjoyed, or supposedly enjoyed, Clorinda’s professional favours at some time or other

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

Sir Stockwell had indicated to Sandy that he would be extremely grateful for some private discourse at a time when fewer fellows were about the club, so early one afternoon Sandy made his way there, was admitted, and shown to a sanctum where Sir Stockwell was smoking a pipe over some papers.

MacDonald! he rose to shake hands. Good of you to come. He gathered together the papers on his desk, placed them in a drawer, and locked it. 'Tis a quieter place to study over complicated matters than the Admiralty, he said by way of explanation.

He offered Sandy sherry, but was entirely equable when he suggested a preference for coffee, that was brought hot and strong, if not quite as good as Euphemia’s.

Sandy said somewhat of what a fine club it was, excellent set of fellows, greatly gratified to be admitted to membership, as Sir Stockwell relit his pipe and seemed somewhat self-conscious.

'Tis given out, he said at length, that you have a particular talent for finding out hidden matters with extreme discretion.

Sure I think repute somewhat exaggerates my capacities, but I have a great fondness for delving into mysteries: there are those have said I am as curious as a mongoose.

Only, said Sir Stockwell, there is a certain private matter I should desire discover, but indeed it is a matter demanding very great discretion, and I minded that, could you not come at it, you might open it to the wisdom of Lady Bexbury, for 'tis a matter of women -

Sandy lifted his eyebrows and looked sympathetic.

- in short, 'tis my wife, that I am in some suspicion takes a lover. Have no firm evidence, does not give scandal, but should like to know what she is about, who the fellow is. For indeed, there are fellows will go make up to wives, when they wish to come at the husband and his affairs –

Sandy let out a suitable groan and confided that alas, 'twas so, keeping his face exceeding straight. For he was in no inclination to betray Geoffrey Merrett’s confidences without he at least consulted Clorinda as to the wisdom of doing so; and perchance he should let Geoff know what was afoot. It disposed him to think that the extortionist had been very much making a shot at venture: though presumably Lady Sarah was not apprized of her husband’s complaisance - ? but also to consider further the notion that it might have been one sally in a wider campaign to milk adulterous wives.

Why, he said, will go see what I may find in the matter. Does your wife have any confidantes?

Goes about with that harridan Lady Trembourne: but she is a fool does she disclose any secrets to her.

Sandy grimaced and agreed that secrets would not be safe, and like to be used to as much damage as possible, in that lady’s hands. But, he went on, the matter may be one that is in constant discourse over tea-tables, so I would purpose an initial sounding of whether Lady Bexbury has heard aught.

'Tis wise, and she is given out extreme discreet.

Entirely so.

Sandy rose to go, they shook hands once more, and he left, with the most urgent desire to communicate the entire imbroglio to Clorinda.

However, when he arrived back at her house, when Hector let him he sighed and said, we have company - family company –

Indeed Sandy could hear an agitated voice within the parlour, quite loud enough to be heard in the hall. He raised his eyebrows in query.

Lady Ollifaunt, said Hector, in a considerable taking.

Sandy sighed. He had left Clorinda in a happy anticipation of an afternoon scribbling at her new tale, being given out not at home, but there were ever those to whom that could not be said, and the Ferrabys were of that number.

He was in some inclination to go hide in the library until Bess might be gone, but perchance that was not the most manly course of action. He entered the parlour, and saw Clorinda’s glance of relief.

Bess Ollifaunt was storming up and down in a fury. But is it not entirely beyond everything, dear Aunty Clorinda, that Harry should go talk to some fellow at the Admiralty about the provision of iron and not tell me beforehand? Am I not entire partner in the ironworks? Was it some matter of engineering, mayhap somewhat to do with steam, I could understand it. But no, 'tis some question of iron, and very particular specifications, and he goes think he may deal entire by himself on the matter, does not need to inform me –

Dear Bess, said Clorinda, with the air of one who had been hearing the same complaint reiterated several times over, sit down and take some tea and try calm yourself. Sure I think 'twas a little ill-advized in Harry not to open the matter to you well beforehand, but I daresay the Admiralty are in somewhat of a habit of dealing with gentlemen rather than ladies. Calm yourself and tell me the story in a little better order, and also, show civil and greet Mr MacDonald.

Oh! cried Bess, I am indeed sorry, I did not see you come in, delighted to see you.

She sat down and accepted a cup of tea and Sandy did likewise.

Why, she said, Harry came to me the morn and said he had lately been asked to go see Sir Stockwell Channery – Sandy lifted his head and then looked down into his teacup – at the Admiralty, that is in charge, he supposes, of improving steamships &C, and he dares says that it is a matter of boilers and degrees of tolerance, for he was asking might we be able to provide iron to such and such specifications, and really, 'twas most out of the common, one would need go talk to Mr Dalgleish about the practicalities of the matter, and sure, 'twould do us no harm whatsoever to have an Admiralty contract, but I think Harry should have spoke to me first.

La, said Clorinda, but he did come tell you quite immediate afterwards.

Indeed not so, Bess said fretfully, waited until he might convoke with me face to face in private, would not put the matter in a letter. But, she conceded, did so quite as soon as he was able to contrive that. But it put me in a great fret that he might go commit us to something we might not be able to fulfil – or would mean putting back other orders, a thing I can never like – and I said he should show me the papers. And he said, that there were no papers, 'twas entire a verbal matter so far, so I hope the notes he made in his memorandum book most immediate afterwards are accurate.

Why, I think you may trust Harry for that – Bess gave a little reluctant nod – And I daresay what is ado is that the Admiralty go about to consult various fellows in the iron business, to find out can the thing be done, and what time it might take, and what 'twould cost, and ‘tis all very informal at present.

Do you think so?

Why, I think Lady Bexbury has the right of it, said Sandy. But I have some little acquaintance with Sir Stockwell and do I have any occasion to talk to him about his work at the Admiralty – though he is extreme close on the matter – will see can I sound the matter out. But I daresay 'tis indeed as ‘twere a matter of taking preliminary soundings.

At length Bess was soothed into a quieter state of mind, encouraged to say a little of how her husband and children did, and was in entire better mood by the time she left.

Clorinda leaned back in her chair and fanned herself. Dear Bess, she said. I wonder shall I have Harry coming about saying Bess is quite unreasonable – or mayhap Lou, saying, Harry is very upset, is not Bess being rather unreasonable? She sighed. But, my dear, I did not know you knew Sir Stockwell Channery.

Sandy got up to look out of the window and ascertain that Bess’s carriage had left. You do not anticipate any further company? She shook her head.

I feel I may therefore disclose to you, most extreme discreet –

Silence to the death!

- that Sir Stockwell is a leading figure in the club I lately joined.

Say you so!

And has, indeed, commissioned me to an enquiry concerning his lady.

That poor dispirited creature Lady Sarah, that is the Unfair Rosamund’s hanger-on?

It seems, says Sandy, that she has shown enough spirit to enter upon a liaison with – my dear Clorinda, sure I should have told you before, but I was not sure the secret was mine to disclose - but there are matters about it that I find I need open to your acuity.

She sat up and smacked him lightly with her fan. With who?

The Honble Geoffrey Merrett.

Clorinda laughed quite immoderately, and then said, sure I am somewhat surprized, but indeed, he is just the sort would find himself entangled with some poor neglected creature like her, would be entire moved to pity –

Sandy laughed and said, I think you hit it off very precise. But, dear sibyl, he was wont to enjoy her favours in the discreet chamber at Madame Francine’s establishment – Oho! – and she received a letter demanding recompense for silence. Geoff is sanguine that her concerns are now over, since that lady has been exposed, but I am like to wonder was Lady Sarah the only one subjected to such a demand. Have you heard aught of such a matter?

Not yet, but I will be about it. Mrs Nixon is but lately returned from Harrogate, and I will put her to the business.

And besides that, Sir Stockwell is now in some suspicion that his wife has a lover – is not jealous, I confide, but in some concern over the discretion in the matter and whether 'tis some sad rogue of a seducer. I know not what to say.

Indeed the matter is somewhat delicate! I will go consider over all this tangle. By the way, is Mr Merrett a member of this club?

It seems not. Sure there are fellows there that are married or have mistresses set up but my impression is that 'tis all entire masquerade. You would know better than I, but I think Geoff truly enjoys the other sex.

Oh yes, said Clorinda with a reminiscent smile. Indeed has no distaste at all for womanly parts, sure his tastes are exceeding catholic.

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Maurice, though by now clothed, and in his right mind, lay on the bed with an arm across his eyes. This really would not do.

Once was something that could happen. Twice was – cause for perturbation. It was no longer the gratification of a passing inclination.

Why had MacDonald kissed him before leaving? Lightly, affectionately, as if they were devoted lovers facing a brief parting? It made no sense at all.

He heard several fellows come up the stairs: one, from the tittering, was Chumbell, and one – oh dear, that was Basil’s great honking laugh – and that voice that had so recently been whispering in his ear, soft words that he dared say were Scots for he did not understand them, only that from the tone, they were endearments and not the filth that some fellows liked to talk at such times – saying, oh, sure they will show the things to English milords for a little recompense – what, you have never been so far as Naples –

Basil was saying something about his desire to go to Greece - though Maurice confided that Basil liked his comforts entirely too much to undertake such a journey – and MacDonald remarked upon the very notable Greek influences in the Two Sicilies.

Oh, he would become a prime favourite in the club at the rate he was going, damn his eyes.

- you have not seen the Bexbury Bequest at the Museum? Sure, 'tis not on open display, save for a chaste vase or so, but 'tis entire possible for those of the cognoscenti to go examine the late Marquess’ very fine collections.

Chumbell was quite squeaking with excitement.

And then they were standing by the large canvas on the corridor wall just outside the door, and Chumbell murmuring about accuracy and Basil making claims for the need to make a telling composition - would they never go so that he might escape?

At length he heard them – after a deal of expatiation on various paintings – go back down the stairs. He stood up, tidied himself, smoothed down his hair yet again, and peeped out of the door to ensure that there were no onlookers.

He descended the stairs and nearly ran into Sir Stockwell. Ah, Allard, he said – he always manifested the very good ton of addressing Maurice as quite his equal, and not a fellow that he had once been wont to have for a guinea a time, when they were both younger. Come and take port with me.

Maurice had been greatly looking forward to a glass of gin – port was just not the same – but did not protest.

They went into Sir Stockwell’s private office. There was port already on the table. He motioned Maurice into a chair.

Well, he said, I am most exceeding grateful that we have prevailed upon MacDonald to join our number –

Maurice sipped his port and raised his eyebrows.

- but I confide Sir Hartley was quite right that 'twould have been premature to invite him any earlier, 'twas the proper thing to respect his mourning for Lord Raxdell. I was a little concerned about how Saythingport might vote –

Not Colonel Adams?

Adams will think any fellow that can argue about Alexander’s Greeks that settled among the Afghans and discourse on Hindu religion is a fine fellow. But I brought Saythingport to see the prudence of having a fellow so noted for sounding out mysteries among us – for sometimes we have matters we should desire to investigate but can hardly employ some private inquiry agent. I was very careful to choose an occasion when Mysell-Monting could not join us.

Maurice smiled and said he was surprised that Sir Stockwell had not joined the Diplomatic rather than the Admiralty.

But indeed, went on Sir Stockwell, I had a most particular concern of my own. He cleared his throat. I daresay, he said, that my wife will be coming to be dressed by you again, following this scandal of the silly women that were beguiled by an imposter that was neither French nor even a real dressmaker –

I should naturally be delighted, said Maurice, though I confide that she will go wherever Lady Trembourne does, and she, alas, is no patron of mine.

Frightful woman, said Sir Stockwell, if she were my wife – but that fool Trembourne quite grovels at her feet – but does my wife come to your establishment –

(Surely Sir Stockwell was not leading up to being granted very favourable terms when the bills for dressing his lady were made up?)

- I am in some suspicion that she has taken a lover. While she is at least so discreet in the matter that I have no definite knowledge as yet, is it so I should very much like to know who he is. Should not like her beguiled by some seducing rogue or brought into scandal. For indeed one would very much dislike to have to come to a crim.con. action.

Does you entire credit, said Maurice. Even does she not come to me, I daresay there may be ladies in the secret that may be persuaded to a little gossip.

Excellent, my dear fellow. He clapped Maurice heartily on the shoulder. Fellows such as we are well-advized to keep beforehand of matters.

Next morn, Maurice called in Miss Coggin to ask had they ever dressed Lady Sarah Channery, for his memory failed him in the matter.

Miss Coggin gave a loud and vulgar snort, and said, I daresay you would hardly have noticed her, for she ever came with Lady Trembourne, and even though she is better-born, one would have supposed her some poor relation or hired companion. And she is somewhat of the same style of looks –

Ah yes, now I recollect. Never required use of the discreet chamber?

Indeed not. A pathetic creature.

Maurice went to look over the books to see what further information on her patronage he might glean, and was about the task when he heard somebody mounting the back stairway with the clunking of a cane.

He looked out of the doorway. Biddy! he cried, jumping up and going to extend his arm to aid her ascent. Kissing her upon the cheek when she was panting at the top, he said, but sure we did not expect a visit from you. Here, come sit down and I will send for tea.

Biddy sat wheezing for a little while, and then said, came up to lay flowers on dear Thomasina’s grave, and do a little shopping for such matters as Worthing cannot provide. And I went take tea yesterday with dear Tibby, and sure I had heard nothing down by the seaside of this trouble you had been having.

Fie, did not wish bother you with it, the imposture is discovered, we have a deal of business on hand as a result –

I see what it is, you were ever a good thoughtful boy, did not want me to worry, bore it all on your own shoulders -

Did not so, he protested, opened the matter to Lady Bexbury –

There’s my clever boy!

- that quite entirely came at the imposture. But indeed, he said, sitting down and handing her a cup of tea, know not how I might have contrived without her intervention.

Has ever been a good friend to us, said Biddy. And her kindness to dear Thomasina – why, 'twas not even, la, can you no longer work I will go find some almshouse where you may reside so that you need not go upon the parish, no, 'twas keep her in the household among familiar faces, able advize Sophy, the best of everything. She dabbed at her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. O, sure she had savings put by, but in her state of health –

She had a good friend in you, said Maurice. And now, are you here, I should desire open to you some of my thoughts for the gowns for the coming Season, and the ladies that are coming here.

Biddy protested that sure, she was quite out of Town and knowledge of the latest styles, but Maurice confided that even did she not read scandal, she read the pages in the papers on matters of fashion more religiously than her Bible.

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

Of course Sandy had heard of the certain club. There had been that matter of the comedic actor Elias Winch, Miss Richardson’s uncle, whose perilous proceedings at public places of resort had entirely ceased once he had joined. And when it seemed that Sir Hartley Zellen, a very useful man in the Commons, might join their reforming set, it had been ascertained that he was entire discreet in indulging the urges of his disposition as a member of that club.

But it had been Clorinda who had acquired intelligence of the place. There had been no approaches during the years with Gervase.

So while he returned a civil reply to Sir Hartley’s discreet overture, he was not sure what he might do about the matter.

Is it not, he asked Clorinda, a bordello?

Why, I apprehend that there are arrangements whereby fellows may gratify their urges, but 'tis also, I confide, a place where fellows of the disposition may gather and feel they may breathe a little more freely than they may do in general society. And I daresay there is some matter of being able to assist does one of their number encounter difficulties, for there are fellows that command considerable interest among 'em. And perchance there are fellows that are not in the happy situation that you had and may not live together openly, but find it a place where they need not disguise their affections.

Indeed we were most uncommon fortunate, he said in sombre tones. But, dearest sibyl, is it foolish and sentimental in me to ask, what would Gervase say?

Clorinda smiled at him. Not in the least, dear Sandy. But I think he would wish that you did not become an entire recluse, went about in Society; and I think he would consider that your presence would be of entire benefit to the club, that must indeed be a thought of theirs as well. You are known a clever and well-thought-of fellow such I am sure they would greatly desire among their number.

Would that I had a fan about me that I might smack you with it as an arrant flatterer!

But is it not entirely so? You are still greatly valued among our political set for the acuity of your judgements, indeed there have been mutterings from Sir Barton and Lords Abertylld and Vinwich that sure you should stand for Parliament yourself.

Sandy shuddered. I think I prefer to be an eminence gris.

Or eminence rouge! Sure that better suits you, I confide. She sighed. Whereas do you not think that Susannah Wallace would show extreme well as an MP?

Without a doubt, but that in the present state of society, I fear men would not listen to her, however sound her arguments.

They both sighed.

He felt curiously agitated about the prospect of attending: there was some matter of an initiation to be undergone, and then, a deal of fellows, no doubt, that, apart from Sir Hartley, he did not know.

Do you think I am dressed entirely suitable? he asked Clorinda.

She glanced up at him. Sure, she said in a distracted fashion, these working-parties to make clothes for the orphans might answer, if only the ladies that express themselves with great enthusiasm at the prospect would ever come to 'em and work. What, my dear? Oh, indeed, you look an entire well-dressed philosopher, and I would suppose they do not expect a gentleman of fashion.

Clorinda! Please to look at me properly and tell me is anything out of order.

La, o bello scozzese, you are in a taking over this business, my dear. They have already passed you for membership –

There is some ceremony -

Swearing tremendous oaths I daresay. Mayhap somewhat like unto the Freemasons, not that I know aught about 'em. Is not The Magic Flute give out to be about masons?

You seem in somewhat of a taking yourself, o silly creature, you seem considerable distracted.

Clorinda sighed and shook her head. I think Sir Vernon is going propose to me again. Sure I should not have supposed that an occasional agreeable romp was merely all he desired.

Sandy snorted. Why, I suppose he has been about a very diplomatic wooing, to lure you into concessions step by step –

Alas, I think you have the right of it. But, my dear, you look entire well. I have told Nick to bring the carriage round for you, and then bring it back to convey me to Sir Vernon’s dinner party.

So he went off in fine style to the extremely discreet doorway where one scrutinized him through the peephole before admitting him, and he was conducted at once to a small room where he was met by and introduced to Sir Stockwell Channery, Lord Saythingport, Terence Offerton, and Mr Chumbell. They read him over the conditions of membership and the horrid warnings as to the fate of any that breached discretion, but there was no ritual to the matter and while he was required to take an oath, no-one made him swear upon a Bible.

They then all heartily wrung his hand and desired him to enjoy the amenities of the establishment.

Chumbell, that was positively bouncing up and down, put his arm through Sandy’s and said, perchance they might go take a little sherry and discourse of classics?

Oh, come, Chumbell, said Offerton, taking Sandy’s other arm, there will be time enough for that, let the fellow find his feet a little first. Though he then went on to remark on the very fine billiard-table provided for members.

Indeed it was an excellent fine club – splendid comfortable public rooms, attentive footmen, a well-provided supper-table – and more familiar faces than he had anticipated. Tom Tressillian the actor; Colonel Adams, that had given such a fine lecture to the antiquarians on certain Hindu antiquities of Bengal; Sir Hartley, of course –

Is that music? he asked.

Why, must be Herr Hahn favours us upon his flute, cried Offerton.

Well: Franz Hahn; 'twas no surprise when he came to think of it.

And, in the room where Hahn was playing, standing under a painting of a faun, that was probably a Linsleigh, and undoubtedly one for which he had modelled, Maurice Allard, looking at him with a little lift of his chin and an air of having as much right as anyone to be there: surely the case. He was dressed entirely sober, but one did not spend two decades and more in the company of such a noted arbiter of style as Gervase, that had achieved the approbation of Brummell himself, without garnering some apprehension of what fine tailoring looked like. And how it might set off a fellow’s looks…

Franz Hahn put down his flute with great care, came up and shook Sandy by the hand, murmured that he heard Lady Bexbury was likely to resume her soirées? and gave a civil response to Sandy’s enquiries after his family. Did he know everybody? Perchance he had not met Allard?

Naturally, said Sandy, as Franz Hahn made the introduction, Lady Bexbury has spoken of him, declares she would be an entire dowd without him.

'Tis ever a pleasure, said Maurice, to have the dressing of Lady Bexbury.

At which moment came up Colonel Adams, with recollections of the very interesting questions Mr MacDonald had raised at his lecture, and wondering if he would some time care to come look at his little private collection of Hindu antiquities?

Sandy made some civil reply and was very glad of the glass of wine he found in his hand. He looked about the room and said, I confide that painting is a Linsleigh?

The most of the paintings are, said Offerton. He added, with a wink, there are some particular fine ones on the upper floor – is Basil here the e’en?

Maurice shrugged. Have not seen him.

Offerton went on, you may go look at 'em – of course, do not enter any chamber that has the door closed, but is the door open you may look in.

Mayhap later, said Sandy, a little overwhelmed at the warmth of his reception – the icy gaze in those black eyes was quite salutory refreshing by comparison.

After supper, feeling in need of a few moment’s solitude, he said that he would go look at the paintings, no need to accompany him.

Some few of the doors were already closed, but there were paintings along the corridor, and he peeped inside the first open door he came to. The chamber was empty, though well-furnished, and he examined the painting, rather glad that he was alone, for he could still, he found, be brought to the blush.

There was a faint noise: he looked up, and saw Maurice Allard, in the act of closing the door.

He was about to say that he supposed that they could both maintain a reasonable cool civility to one another in public – for it looked as though that was the concern that Allard wished to disclose – and their eyes met, their gazes locked. And – oh, they had not exorcized that carnal urging, that furor, after all.

Some while later – sure these chambers were very well provided for their purpose – Maurice looked up and said, that was not what I intended.

I did not think it was. Will it be noted?

I am like to doubt it, providing we do not go downstairs together.

Well, I shall go down first, and say how very taken I was by the paintings, is that really the time, sure one might have supposed oneself frolicking with Dionysus in Ancient Greece – and then I shall go ask Chumbell about whether he considers them an accurate portrayal –

Do you do this sort of thing very often?

Seldom, said Sandy, but have long had the acquaintance of an entire mistress of the art of making people see what she wants them to see.

Maurice scowled at him. It was - endearing. Sandy kissed him and began to dress.

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Dear Hannah! I daresay you would know best, but you do not show at all, are you entire sure you are with child?

La, Maurice, I can assure you that women – most of 'em - know the matter’s afoot. At least once they have already been about the business a time or two. One does hear tales of young girls that did not realize their state, and women at a certain time of life that supposed ‘twas the climacteric come to ‘em.

He began to drape stuff around her and take measurements. If we gather it thus - you see? – makes a pleasing effect and none would suspect what lies beneath.

Mind you do not make it too fine – I shall not be about giving speeches the while, and going to as few meetings as I may. But one may not eschew all company, and there is the matter of village gossip.

He looked at her. It was entire pleasing to see such a happy young woman in his fitting-room. So many of the ladies who came to him had some matter that troubled them, or were discontent by nature, and even a little flattery, and dressing them very well, did not entirely soothe their spirits.

You manage matters 'twixt the pair of you very well: how is Miss Ferraby?

Entire well. We are indeed fortunate. But 'tis agreeable to come to Town and see family and friends. But indeed, I should ask is all well with you – Lady Bexbury said you had been having some little trouble?

Quite resolved, he said, greatly hoping that he was not the subject of conversation over that lady’s supper-table.

She said somewhat to the effect that 'twas indeed good of you to see me now you have so much business come upon hand now 'tis all remedied.

Sure, you are family.

Why, I am daresay there are those among our connexion would not wish make that acknowledgement, was all known.

Maurice looked at their reflections in the pier-glass. Provided, he says, one does not flaunt, maintains a due discretion, so that it does not have to be openly spoke and known about –

Hannah’s eyes met his in the glass. She did not need to voice her understanding.

Some moments later, while she was putting on her accustomed garments, she said, but really I do not understand why people make such a bother about it. So unnecessary. Sure society is very cruel to unwed mothers and their offspring, but one may see that there is some reason – may not be a good or charitable reason, but if 'tis not the fear of the fathers about bringing scandal upon them, ‘tis the more general worry that they may come upon the parish and cause expense and raising of the rates. She sighed. And at least one may talk of that, and say that that harshness causes unhappy women to destroy their infants, and make arguments for more humane treatment. But when something may not even be talked of –

He patted her shoulder.

After she had left, he scribbled down a few notes and sketches for the gowns he would have made for her, and then told Miss Coggin, the head of the sewing-room, that he would be going out. Did not have any ladies coming for fittings the afternoon; did any come in hopes – vulgar creatures, murmured Miss Coggin – she might go take their measurements and requirements and ask 'em to return once they had been given appointments.

She pursed her lips in the way he knew meant that she would bring any ladies that did so to a fine appreciation of the consequence of the establishment.

He set off on a journey he did not particularly want to take, but was to undertake a prudent matter to dispatch. He took a hansom cab to some distance from his final destination: for although the tavern he sought was not precisely within the notorious rookery of Seven Dials, it was on its border. He picked his way fastidiously along the streets, keeping his walking stick in his hand in a manner that suggested it might serve as a weapon as well as a fashionable accoutrement.

From long habit he looked about before entering the place. But it was very unlikely anyone who might recognize him would see him here.

Enquiring as to whether Nat Barron was on the premises, he was directed by a jerk of the thumb into a back room.

Nat was there among various members of his gang. One of whom – presumably a new recruit – said, 'ere, oo’s the pooff: earning himself a smack or two about the head from Nat. Show some respect, Maurie may look the gent but he’s an old friend.

Nat Barron and Maurice clasped one another’s shoulder, looked into one another’s faces, and then Nat motioned him to sit down, pouring him a glass of the gin he kept for himself.

Got somebody that needs warning off? he asked.

Maurice shook his head. I think word has got about after making a few examples.

For what had gained him the position he now enjoyed at the club was this connexion that enabled severe warning to be given to any that used knowledge gained there for the purposes of extortion. In return, Nat acquired the good feeling of fellows in high places that might well be useful to him did necessity arise. 'Twas entirely mutually beneficial.

Pity, said Nat, as you see there are one or two fellows here would be the better of some occupation to work off their feelings.

Maurice took a sip of gin, and disclosed to Nat the recent trouble he had had.

Oh, and you want us to show this spying fellow the error of his ways?

Why, it might gratify my feelings did you so – Nat smiled and shook his head and says, talks as good as a play – but I thought, a fellow that has a memory like that, might be of use to you.

Nat nodded slowly. A good thought. You always did have that long view.

Maurice shrugged. If a long view was considering that luring fellows into alleys so that Nat and his boys could rob them was an occupation with a rather short future and like to end badly for him, whereas obliging gentlemen in comfortable indoor surroundings was not only remunerative but provided him with considerable insight into gentlemanly habits and behaviour, yes, he took the long view: and the even longer view had been completing his articles of apprenticeship. But he also made sure to stay on Nat’s good side. Passed on any useful gossip he learned from ladies in the course of his day, and had constructed this very beneficial alliance 'twixt Nat and the club.

Sure he owed Nat a considerable debt for the protection that in younger days his friendship had afforded an undersized pretty boy disinclined to the usual boyish pursuits and happier to play with girls.

May not linger, he said, but thought you should know of the fellow as soon as might be, before goes completely to ground.

Maurice walked to where he might find a hansom cab and directed it to take him to his lodging. Once there, he washed himself very thoroughly with the very expensive soap, to get rid of any lingering stink of Seven Dials before he went to the club, where he was bidden to a committee meeting to consider upon new members.

Smoothing pomade into his hair, he had the unwanted memory of a larger hand stroking it in a fashion it was entirely foolish to suppose affectionate, rather than the pleasure one might take in stroking a fine purring cat.

But that was past and done.

At the club he was ushered into the committee room. It was ever gratifying to him, even if these marks of respect were founded upon those early connexions.

Sir Stockwell sat at the head of the table; Chumbell at the foot; Colonel Adams, late of Bengal and with the most fascinating stories of dancing boys; Sir Hartley Zellen, whose fine looks were becoming a little florid, and his hair thinning; Terence Offerton; Lord Saythingport, that had a wife, an established mistress, and had at one time offered Maurice an establishment.

Ah, good, Allard, said Sir Stockwell. Mysell-Monting cannot come, but we have a quorum, nonetheless. Now, the matter of fellows we may solicit to join our number –

Various names were put forward, of whom Maurice knew little but any public reputation they had. Some former comrade of Adams in the East; a scholar known to Chumbell – a Cambridge man, but nevertheless a sound fellow, very sound; a naval officer acquainted with Sir Stockwell; a couple of young fellows in Saythingport’s set –

Sir Hartley cleared his throat. Has not the time come to consider MacDonald? he said. Sure it would have been somewhat vulgar to approach him very shortly after Lord Raxdell’s dreadful demise, but ‘tis nigh two years ago that the accident happened. An excellent fellow.

Is he not, replied Saythingport, given out most exceeding radical in his views?

Why, said Sir Hartley, he is a philosopher and will throw out a deal of hypotheses, but our set have always found him sensible and practical.

Is he not, squeaked Chumbell in great excitement, considered something of a classical scholar?

I would know nothing of that, said Offerton, but has quite the cunningest hand at billiards, next after Jacob Samuels.

Why, said Sir Stockwell, as to his abilities in classical learning, I was late conversing with Admiral Knighton, that says that his lady wife, that is known for her most remarkable unwomanly capacities in that sphere, holds him in quite the highest esteem. Also considers him a very clever fellow himself, that has a particular knack for sounding out mysteries.

Maurice felt his face settle into a mask as of one considering these arguments. 'Twould be entire vulgar to blackball MacDonald, that had done him such great service in his own difficulty. But one might confide that Saythingport, and possibly Adams, would do so.

But, when the balls for each candidate were tallied, there were no black balls for MacDonald.

Maurice’s heart sank.

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Sandy found himself feeling curiously light-hearted. He had entirely expected to feel cast into the gloom and despondency that had ever followed his carnal engagements with Geoffrey Merrett, but somehow, yestere’en’s romp with Maurice Allard had quite disproved the Galenic maxim. There been, perchance, a lack of the constraint that afflicted him when 'twas a matter of fellows he had known since their youth, that had – he fancied – been wont to look up to him, considered him even in the light of a mentor: and it had rendered the undertaking somewhat shameless in its indulgence. He doubted not that 'twould be very hard to shock Maurice Allard in any matter of carnality, anymore than one could Clorinda. Well, he had done the deed, much to his astonishment, and it had been exceeding enjoyable, and he would never have to see Allard again, and there would certainly be no matter of languishing sad spaniel eyes gazing at him across a dinner-table anxious for a depth of affection he could not give.

Why, my dear, said Clorinda, pouring him coffee, you are very cheerful the morn.

Why, have we not succeeded in sounding out a mystery and bringing the matter to a most exceeding satisfactory conclusion?

'Tis so, and yet –

And yet - ?

La, I am a foolish fretful creature, but I wonder what that woman goes about now. Perchance one should go warn Miss Addington, lest she goes try her encroaching ways upon her.

Why, 'tis by no means like the time you were given out at Carlsbad when she behaved so shocking.

Indeed she is a soberer creature these days: and I confide she would go straight to Lady Jane and disclose the matter to her.

And ask whether she might send for the Admiral and his horsewhip, perchance!

Hector came in with a note upon a tray for Sandy, saying that the boy waited for a reply.

The sight of Geoffrey Merrett’s handwriting somewhat lowered his mood. He broke the seal. Why, he said, Geoff is back in Town and wonders am I free the e’en to dine at his club – I cannot recollect any other engagement and may as well get this over with –

He went to the desk, scribbled an acceptance, blotted, folded and sealed it and handed it to Hector, adding sixpence for the boy.

Why, my dear, you make a very hearty breakfast the morn, shall I ring for more muffins?

No, I have had an entire sufficiency, but might you oblige me with more coffee –

She did so, adding, and do you go out at all?

I had a purpose to work in the library if that is agreeable?

Entirely, if you do not mind me coming to and fro a little for books upon monasteries and monks and some general history.

You go write some tale on that topic?

Have some inclination to do so, 'tis very pleasing to feel a tale under my hands again. But Hannah will come look in at tea-time. Purposes stay at Raxdell House with her parents, that falls out well: might give her a little note for Seraphine, in case that minx – sure she is by now a deal too old to be named minx! – endeavours make trouble.

Indeed, 'twas being in that plot with Evenden brought about their ill-fated union, so that she might not turn evidence upon him, the wretch – but I cannot see it profiting her.

O, did she not ever quite feed upon spite and malice! But I daresay you will wish to see Hannah.

I am ever pleased to see Hannah.

Indeed, it was a very agreeable day: sitting in the library and Clorinda in and out and talking of monasteries: are there not, she asked, communities of monks now returned to English soil?

Indeed so: do you like, I might ask Father O’Donaghue of the matter when I go play chess with him, might take his mind off the state of Irish affairs.

'Twould be most exceeding kind.

And then having tea with dear Hannah, that was looking most exceeding well, but not yet visibly with child. Clorinda looked at her and said, La, these modern fashions, a lady may conceal a deal beneath 'em.

Hannah smiled. 'Tis sure a better thing than lacing very tightly to conceal one’s state. Tomorrow I go consult with cousin Maurice as to how to have my skirts cut so that they will disguise my condition until 'tis time for us to go into Shropshire.

Sandy reminded himself that he was entirely bound to hear occasional news of Allard from his relatives in and out of the household: had ever been the case and was no matter to be bothered about now.

He felt a curious shyness towards Hannah, that might be bearing his child, but as a result of the application of scientific ingenuity rather than the more usual means. But then she asked him about the works of Mr Dickens and the use of fiction to draw attention to social problems, and they were having one of their fine accustomed conversations.

All a deal more agreeable than the prospect of dining with Geoffrey Merrett. But he arrived punctual to the minute at Geoffrey’s club, and was shown to a discreet nook where Geoffrey was waiting, looking less agitated that Sandy had anticipated.

Dear fellow! Sit down. Have some of this excellent sherry.

You are in good spirits, remarked Sandy.

Why, I think that matters have come about so that the concern I had will have disappeared entirely.

Sandy sipped sherry and noticed that for all Geoffrey seemed so cheerful, his gaze was evasive and he did not meet Sandy’s eyes.

But he waited until they had been served dinner and the attendant had withdrawn before interrogating the matter further.

I think, he said, you had better tell me the all, nonetheless.

Geoffrey put down his soup-spoon, looked at Sandy, and sighed. You will think me the most wretched of fellows –

Sure I doubt that –

- but it came to pass that I entered upon a liaison with Lady Sarah Channery -

Why, you dog! (Sure it would have been entire improper and unkind to laugh.)

- which we conducted very discreet at her dressmaker’s – Madame Francine –

(Of course: Lady Sarah was a hanger-on of Lady Trembourne’s, would have been persuaded by her to patronize the latest sensation.)

- but then, the poor dear creature received a note demanding recompense in return for not communicating the matter to Sir Stockwell.

Sandy thought this over for a moment. Had it not been given out, when she married Sir Stockwell, that her portion was very small indeed, the Marquesses of Maldane having been pockets to let these several generations?

How might she pay – or was it supposed that you would cover the amount?

Geoffrey frowned. Why, one does not like to give in to extortion, so I advised her to write pointing out her position, and saying she needed time to go about selling jewels most exceeding discreet to raise the ready. And then hoped to lay the matter before your wisdom to see how we might proceed so as to scotch this snake.

But, Geoffrey went on, breaking into a beaming smile, one hears that Madame Francine has been shown up an entire imposter, and has closed up her establishment and disappeared. So we may suppose that she has entirely fled from the scene of her crimes.

I am like, mused Sandy, to wonder did she make it a common practice to exact this levy upon the ladies that made use of her discreet chamber? 'twould make it more understandable – for although Lady Sarah is not a wealthy lady, was she one among some several, I daresay 'twould all mount up into an agreeable sum.

Indeed she is not, poor soul. Has a decent allowance of pin-money, but bills go to her husband.

Sandy suppressed a snort of amusement at the thought – had it occurred to Geoffrey? – that dressmakers’ bills presumably included some disguised item for use of the discreet chamber.

Is Sir Stockwell a jealous husband? he asked, trying to recollect what he knew of the fellow. Held some post at the Admiralty, did he not?

Why, has not shown undue jealous in the past – indeed, somewhat neglectful I fancy, 'tis a great pity, entirely the sort of thing that disinclines one to matrimony, the sight of spouses that are entire indifferent to one another. But one may suppose that he would not desire to be given out a cuckold.

May be they have some understanding? But I confide that is she so worried about this attempt, cannot be so.

O, you mean like Lady Zellen?

Precisely so. I daresay Sir Hartley would not care for their matrimonial arrangements to be announced in the press, but has ever found it entirely to answer to have young fellows squire Lady Zellen around while he is about his other business. Why, did not your brother Eddy - ?

Oh, that was long since! Before he went rusticate in Herefordshire, marry Cissie, become the entire country squire.

Geoffrey began to recount various matters of family gossip, while Sandy determined that 'twould be reasonable to desire Clorinda to investigate whether any other ladies had been subjected to like demands, and who they were.

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Maurice looked up from his desk, stretched and smiled. A deal of little notes from ladies desiring appointments; also a deal of notes from various hands previously employed by Madame Francine, that now found themselves out of a place. Well, with this sudden flurry of work, he would need more hands –

Though, looking over the little notes, he was not going to welcome the notoriously difficult and demanding Lady Trembourne back into his fitting room. No: he would send civil regrets that with the amount of business Mamzelle Bridgette had upon hand, they found themselves unable &C&C.

If he was going to deal with these matters, he should go out and provide himself with a pie or so to sustain him during the evening.

He ran down the backstairs and through the backdoor, and observed, at the corner of the alley, MacDonald in close discourse with a very young boy, concluding by pressing a coin into the lad’s hand.

MacDonald proceeded upon his way to the doorway.

Fond of little boys, are you? murmured Maurice, between a gratification at observing some fault in MacDonald, and a – disappointment? – that he did have some low vicious taste.

MacDonald turned a scorching glower upon him. A useful informant, he said. Perchance we might step in so that I may disclose the business?

Would be only a matter of minutes, Maurice considered, and led him up to the office where he had been about dealing with his correspondence.

MacDonald lounged against the doorframe, not coming wholly into the room, that was indeed more of a nook than a room. We now know who has been misappropriating your – notions – and conveying them to the so-called Madame Francine. There is a fellow comes several days of a se’ennight delivering what I am told are haberdashery matters, has been followed to her establishment and reported closeted there for a deal longer than any delivery business might take.

My thought was, he went on, that we should inform his employer about what he has been doing – for I daresay that has been about these matters at times when he was he was supposed to be employed about his licit business. But is not any matter one might readily bring to the courts.

I would suppose not. And Madame Francine is quite exploded?

Her place is locked and bolted, nobody there, has levanted no doubt, now she is known no Parisienne but a failed actress embroiled in scandal.

Well, thought Maurice, this was all a great relief, the difficulty had been resolved, his own business was looking in much healthier state, and he would no longer be obliged to have to do with MacDonald. In the normal way of things their paths were unlikely to cross –

Why, Maurice drawled, lifting his chin, drooping his eyelashes, tilting his hips, and generally conveying an air of lascivious invitation, sure I am most inestimable grateful to you –

(This would surely have MacDonald leaving most expeditious, perchance casting a puritanical frown over his shoulder as he left.)

He found himself slammed against the wall, a hand gripping the back of his neck, a mouth coming down hard upon his, and another hand making a very direct approach to his cock. Which he had been trying to ignore, for it had developed a habit of showing immense interest in this –

- really most exasperatingly attractive fellow that was quite entirely not his kind. And was not only, as he had previously ascertained, by no means a flabby scholar, but also larger than he was.

I apprehend, murmured MacDonald in his ear, that there is a discreet chamber about the place?

Maurice nodded. This way, he said, picking up the lamp and pausing only to take up a pot of cold cream as he led him there.

Leave the lamp on, said MacDonald. And take your clothes off. If we’re going to do this, let’s not fumble around like a pair of schoolboys.

He paused, watching as Maurice disrobed. Oh, he remarked, you must have been the model for Linsleigh’s Faun.

That was some while ago, said Maurice, when I was younger, was in considerable demand as a model. And are you going to keep your clothes on?

Certainly not. MacDonald looked about the chamber, and then removed his spectacles, placing them in a niche where they were unlikely to get knocked off. It seems to me, he went on, that there is a certain, ah, urge on both sides, even do we also find a considerable antipathy between us.

Are you going to philosophize, or are you going to undress?

I can usually contrive to both, said MacDonald with his transforming grin, and suiting action to words, but I wished to assure you that I shall not trouble you again, now this problem of yours is resolved. Do we indulge this curious mutual inclination I daresay the consummation will cause it to dissipate rather than linger.

There was a certain sense to that – not leaving a haunting curiosity. Maurice lay down on the bed and rolled over into a provocative pose. Entire ready to consummate, he said.

How impatient you are. MacDonald came over to the bed and sat down beside Maurice, stroking a finger down his spine. Planting a lingering kiss upon his shoulder. It was not what he had expected. Hands and mouth thoughtfully exploring, registering what Maurice particularly liked. It was by no means as he has anticipated – something more urgent, clumsier – and then considered, as far as he was capable of rational consideration, that MacDonald had resided for many years with his aristocratic lover under conditions that must have made for –

- this thoughtful appreciation, no need for haste -

Damn you, are you ever going to fuck me?

MacDonald paused. If that’s to your taste?

Very much so, muttered Maurice between gritted teeth. You will perceive that I have placed the cold cream close at hand.

Very prudent, remarked MacDonald, making liberal application of the same. Inform me do you wish me to stop or slow down.

The late Lord Raxdell had been widely famed for the excellence of his ton: clearly this had also manifested in the bedroom.

Maurice let out a groan – No! that did not mean stop! – but soon could do nothing but make incoherent cries and sobs until, at last, the act was completed.

He had not intended, not even expected, to lie curled in a comfortable embrace with the prickly and annoying Mr MacDonald.

Why, asked the latter in idle tones, do you put that awful greasy preparation on your hair? – wiping his hand upon the sheet.

'Tis neater, he said.

Hmmmm: Maurice did not know how MacDonald managed it but his very hmmmms seemed to speak: this one was perchance considering that Basil Linsleigh and others had painted him as an Indian boy or a faun or an Italian urchin or in other exotic roles, but never as African.

I suppose, said Maurice waspishly, aware of his cock once more manifesting a lively interest in MacDonald’s undoubted charms, that you are one of these manly fellows that will not concede to take the womanish part, but I observe that you have a fine stand upon you that I should be happy to take down in whatever other fashion you desire.

MacDonald laughed – No, I do not laugh at you, ‘twas an entire association of ideas of my own; but I assure you, I am not so manly a fellow as not to relish a fine rogering of my own arse, does the opportunity arise.

'Tis a most exceeding fine one, said Maurice, that I should hope to do justice to.

If MacDonald’s response was a measure to go by, he did indeed achieve that aim. Most unexpected.

At length they got up and dressed. MacDonald restored his spectacles to his face. For a moment Maurice was greatly tempted to invite him to join him in dining at the local chop-house: but even did MacDonald agree, that really would not do. They had gratified this strange mutual urge and their paths were unlike to cross again.

MacDonald smoothed his disordered hair, and said, is there anything further to communicate concerning this matter, I confide I may do so by way of Lady Bexbury.

Indeed, will entire answer.

They looked at one another. There was nothing to say. MacDonald shrugged awkwardly, and turned to go.

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This note just came for you, said Hector as Sandy entered the house.

Sandy looked at it: Geoffrey Merrett’s unmistakeable hand. He broke the seal and discovered that Geoffrey was exceeding desolated to have to cry off from dinner the e’en, but had been called away very sudden about a case. Still had a matter he greatly desired to open to Sandy, so would solicit his company so soon as he had returned to Town.

Sandy felt relieved. He had not been particularly looking forward to dining with Geoffrey, even was it at his club rather than in his chambers. Geoffrey was surely all that was eligible: intelligent, discreet, well-bred, handsome, and remarkable apt at amorous sport, indeed one might make some lewd jest about the lawyerly agility of his tongue. And yet –

My dear! called Clorinda from the parlour, sure I have the most remarkable intelligence to convey to you.

He went in and saw Clorinda looking exceeding merry in her wonted chair by the fire.

Dearest sibyl, you look most exceeding cheerful, considering that, as I apprehend, you made your first visit to Madame Francine today.

Clorinda laughed quite immoderately, and said, Madame Francine! Who do you suppose she really is? – why, Fanny Minton, Gaffney, Evenden, a second-rate actress, alleged bigamous wife to a second-rate tragedian, and divorced wife of a chymical professor. Indeed any who knew aught of style might have seen already that she had not had her training in the art of dress in Paris, or even some more provincial spot in France, and really, one could readily observe that she had no notion of the business at all.

Sandy sat down vis-à-vis and accepted a cup of tea, raising his eyebrows.

One could not help noticing before even visiting her establishment that although the gowns created by Madame Francine’s workshop use the very fine notions devized by Maurice, she had no apprehension at all of how to use 'em –

She smiled across at Sandy. Oh, my dear, I know you consider dress a matter of entire frivolity and look forward to that time when we all go clad in garments of utilitarian simplicity, but as life in society is at present constituted, 'tis a matter of some import to ladies to be well-dressed. And that means, in such fashion that a lady is not give out a dowd, is garbed appropriate to the particular occasion, and in a style that is becoming to her. It quite entire maximizes felicity.

Why, I will concede to your understanding of the matter –

'Tis exceeding kind of you to listen to such a silly creature on such a trivial subject! But Maurice, as Biddy was wont, ever matches particular notions to particular ladies and the style that best suits 'em, 'tis not about applying some cut or trim wholesale but in a discriminating manner. 'Tis a precept in the philosophy of dress that the quondam Miss Minton has failed to grasp: I daresay she does not read Sheba’s fine thoughts upon the subject in The Intelligencer. Also I confide she does not have that understanding of the craft that would permit her to direct the hands she employs to the achievement of a better end: Docket would have expressed herself most severe about the finish of her gowns.

But did she not recognize you?

O, I daresay! But I confide that she imagined that she was entire disguised from any former acquaintance – sure one must suppose her entire misled by the conventions of the stage concerning masquerades – has put on a deal of flesh, though was ever of a plump figure, would not have shown well as Rosalind or Viola, her hair is grey and she goes wear a large and concealing cap and green spectacles. I confide there is also some little matter of paint &C; but really, she does not come about to fool me. But indeed, I managed to conceal any start of familiarity and do not think she suspects that I have found her out.

Why, this is excellent fine news, said Sandy. I still have my acquaintance in the scandalmonging press – for I do not think this is matter for the sober pages of the Intelligencer, do you, unless Tibby might have somewhat to say to it? – and something very telling might be done concerning a failed actress that is most exceeding unrespectable, cast out even from Yankee society that is known a deal less discriminating than our own, divorced for adultery, and has gone put on a very mediocre performance in the character of a Parisian modiste, that has yet deluded a considerable number that go chase after the latest fashion –

Dearest Sandy, you should write novels!

He glowered at her. One might also bring in the stealing? – though, indeed, I am inclined to continue pursue that matter to sound it out further, for it may be some rogue that even is this lady’s game up, will be about hawking stolen notions about other dressmakers, rather than throw it upon the table just yet.

Tis a good thought, can you come at it.

'Twas the business I wished convoke with Matt Johnson about.

Clorinda blushed a little. It so perchances that he comes take a little supper with me the e’en: I confide that you are out, but I am like to suppose that Matt will still be here at breakfast time, did you wish join us.

He smiled at her affectionately. Why, you are still entirely Venus’s votaress, I apprehend. And would it not embarrass either of you, Geoff has been obliged to cut our dinner so I am quite at your disposal.

Why, I will go at once to Euphemia and tell her that you go sup with us.

Well, thought Sandy, Miss Minton – Mrs Evenden? – how did one even style the lady, if lady she might be called.

He went to change, and upon returning to the parlour, found Matt Johnson already seated beside the fire gossiping with Clorinda. They shook hands.

After some general exchange of news, and after Euphemia had brought in a very fine supper, Sandy asked Matt whether he still had any band of juvenile Runners, such as he had been used to employ to follow suspicious persons, themselves quite unsuspected: or rather, suspected to have a mind towards their preys’ purses or watches, rather than where they went and who they spoke to.

Why, you know that these days I conduct a business in private enquiries - I daresay all these new ideas of policing and detection are very fine, but I am too old a dog by now to learn their new tricks –

O poo, murmured Clorinda, do I not hear of fellows from among the peelers that come lay their difficulties before your wisdom and experience in running down malefactors?

Oh, there are one or two young fellows that were of my juvenile Runners once, like to make the old fellow feel of use. But sure I still find certain young creatures of the greatest utility in tracking and spying.

Sandy opened to him the matter of the various persons that were to and fro to Mamzelle Bridgette’s to deliver or collect, and whether any of them might be taking stolen notions to Madame Francine. There were some two or three that were quite regular callers, he had come to discover from Tibby, that would be the first to look closely at –

Shall be about it directly.

'Tis exceeding good of you, said Clorinda.

The conversation turned to other matters.

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How now, Allard! cried Terence Offerton as Maurice entered the club. Linsleigh’s paintings at last grace the walls of the supper-room, very fine stuff, though sure I know nothing of art. Or indeed of the Ancient Greeks. But they look exceeding well, though a deal chaster than the ones that hang upstairs.

Why, 'tis about time, has been labouring over 'em these months.

Indeed so. Was wondering whether I might get him to come paint some of my fine creatures, but indeed he takes a deal of a time over his business.

Maurice, who had, over the years, posed some several times for Basil Linsleigh, sighed and concurred. Basil was a handsome fellow and, to Maurice’s somewhat untutored eye, a fine artist, but he was in no requirement to make a living at the matter. So was able to spend months if not years labouring over large canvases of mythological and historical subjects, representations of scenes from literature (Maurice had first posed for Titania’s Indian boy, many years since) and suchlike. Occasionally he sold one.

He asked Offerton how he was doing this racing season. Offerton sighed and said, sure you cannot have any more trouble with fashionable ladies and their whims than I do with my cattle. Showing very poorly at present: one greatly misses Penkarding’s advice in such matters.

A great loss, Maurice agreed.

Though the grey mare was reckoned to have the greater wisdom of the two of 'em. There was a fine woman. He sighed, clapped Maurice upon the back, and said he would not detain him longer from the sight of the paintings.

Maurice therefore felt obliged to go to the supper-room (where supper was just being laid out) and discovered there Basil Linsleigh, gazing upon his paintings with a ferocious scrutiny, doubtless endeavouring to determine whether they were hung as well as might be.

Maurice! cried Basil, flinging an arm about his shoulders, tell me, do you think this is in entirely the best light?

There were two exceeding large canvases placed vis-à-vis upon the walls of the room. One displayed fellows that were presumably Ancient Greeks entire decorously draped and reclining about a supper-table; the other displayed what might perchance be the same fellows, hardly draped at all and about wrestling in the open air.

Why, Linsleigh, said Chumbell, a short stoutish fellow with spectacles that was given out a very learned don at Oxford, indeed you have hit off that combination of philosophical symposium and physical prowess that was the ideal of the Athenians. 'Tis an excellent conceit. And yet, what I should like to see is those philosophers that engaged in discourse in the agora while the fine manly exercizes were going on.

'Tis indeed a notion, said Linsleigh.

Maurice dragged his mind away from uninvited thoughts of the philosophical Mr MacDonald wrestling in a state of nature, as Basil was saying something to him while Chumbell went up to the fellow that was serving, perchance to find out what was for supper, and perchance with some other purpose. Indeed the club livery showed off manly charms very effective.

I’m sorry, said Maurice, was quite absorbed in studying the picture, did not hear you.

Basil expatiated upon certain effects he had achieved, and then said, but, my dear, I should be very pleased might we dine privately – had a matter I wished to open to you.

Maurice’s heart sank a little. Surely Basil was not going to open to him yet again the prospect of living together? But he could think of no civil and agreeable way of refusing, and perhaps 'twas some other business.

So they went to one of the small side rooms apt to the purpose, and Basil ordered wine, and dishes were laid upon the table and they were left in discreet solitude.

After a polite exchange of civilities, during which Maurice felt himself obliged to evade any mention of how very troubled he was at present, Basil laid down his fork, took a drink of wine, and said, 'tis exceeding gratifying, I find myself with some very agreeable commissions on hand, but I come to the realization that I am a sad careless fellow. There are so many matters of business that must be dealt with, most tiresome. Alas that I may not marry myself to such an excellent fine useful wife as Raoul de Clérault has – quite entirely takes all that side of the matter from him, leaves him free to paint - is she not some relative of yours?

We are cousins.

But it occurred to me that – sure I quite saw the force of your objections to coming live with me in the capacity of a model, though you were, indeed you still are, a very fine one – but did you come in the relation of a man of business, that would handle my commissions, go deal with canvas-stretchers and frame-makers and colour-men, keep the accounts &C, could be no objection at all.

Maurice put down his own glass. Dear Basil, he said, I am entire flattered by your notions of my capacity but I have a business to run myself, cannot leave it.

Why, said Basil with a frown, should have thought you would be glad to leave such a position – must be entirely ennuyant dealing with the whims of fashionable ladies, managing a crowd of seamstresses, &C, quite a miasma of feminine vapours.

Maurice put down the knife and fork he had just taken up, lest the shaking of his hands be noticed. It was clear that Basil had no notion that he might enjoy what he did, even without the loyalty he owed to Biddy. He also had no apprehension that what Maurice did might in its own way be an art. Or that, although he would not disclose confidences, he picked up a deal of very useful gossip.

But, thought Maurice, it would be exceeding imprudent to make a blunt refusal. If this matter of Madame Francine and the loss of his business was not resolved –

Why, he said mildly, I will think upon it. Mayhap speak to cousin Phoebe. But 'tis not a time when I might just walk out from my present place, with the Season so soon upon us.

The sentiment does you entire credit. 'Tis entirely that sound prudent attitude of yours that I should require: you know what a sad feckless fellow I am.

Maurice smiled politely, for it would hardly be in good ton to say that Basil had never been obliged to be otherwise, with his wealthy family that thought it gave them considerable consequence to have a dilettante artist among their number. He was not obliged to live by his art. An entirely different position to that of Raoul de Clérault, whose family had stood upon their ancient French aristocratic lineage, considered being an artist barely better than being in trade, and cut him off quite entirely for marrying Phoebe.

His heart sank as he observed Basil looking somewhat languishing at him across the table. Over the years there had been many mutually pleasant passages between them, but this particular evening he was by no means inclined to amorous activity.

My dear, alas, I cannot linger the e’en: just looked in for an hour or so – was that almost a pout upon Basil’s handsome features? – but 'twas most agreeable to see you and that your paintings are now hung.

He had, in fact, intended to spend the evening at the club. But he would rather spend a lonely night in his lodgings than have to continue to pretend to Basil that all was well with him.

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Sandy returned to Clorinda’s house from an afternoon of agreeable exercize upon Lord Abertyldd’s tennis court – a fine contrivance for those seasons of the year when the weather was such as to preclude a round or two of golf, and only the hardiest would dare swim - to discover that had been a day for her to receive callers, that were, fortunately, upon departing.

Hector was just assisting Susannah Wallace into her outer garments.

Mr MacDonald! You must come take tea some day very soon, there are a deal of matters going forward in Parliament I should desire your thoughts upon.

That would be entire delightful, Lady Wallace.

And might I beg you to use your influence to persuade dear Clorinda to resume her soirées? I cannot believe that she judges the matter justly when she claims that they would be stale old matter, that the younger set might attend as if they viewed a cabinet of antiquities.

Why, have I not encountered several of the younger set talking of her famed soirées with great interest, regretting that there is nothing quite of the same kind these days?

Of course, she went on, there would be those very greatly missed from our former number, but she has such a talent for the thing –

Well, I will do what I can to persuade her.

Indeed he wondered if Clorinda could bring herself to resume holding the soirées that had begun, well before her elevation, with a view to promoting Josiah Ferraby’s interests in Town.

He looked at Hector.

Lady Wallace was the last to leave, he said.

So Sandy entered the parlour in confidence that he was not intruding upon a ladies’ tea-party and gossip-exchange, and found Clorinda seated by the fire, reading a letter.

My dear, there is a note for you came while you were out, upon my desk.

He picked up, saw the handwriting, and sighed. 'Tis Geoff Merrett’s hand am I not mistaken, he said, breaking the seal. Invites me to dine – oh, at his club -

La, my dear, you may take it he has no designs upon your manly virtue, then –

Sandy glowered at her briefly and looked back at the note. Has a delicate matter wishes open to me.

I wonder what that might be, murmured Clorinda. Some family matter perchance? – surely cannot be that he at last goes wed. But, my dear, I have not told you the news that comes in this letter from that excellent woman that married Reynaldo di Serrante, the fair Quakeress Priscilla.

He sat down vis-à-vis and said, tell on. I hope Reynaldo has not been getting himself into trouble as a fiery abolitionist agitator.

Mayhap and perchance! For she writes that he goes a-traveling into those benighted regions of the country, without her, and meanwhile she goes visit family connexions in Philadelphia –

Ah! And do her connexions have aught to do with the university?

Most assuredly they do, excellent learned people I apprehend and entire devoted to abolition. And not at all give to gossip, but somehow she has been brought to an understanding that there is a considerable degree of scandal attaches to Professor Evenden. Sure he is agreed a very clever learned chymist, and his discoveries and the patents he has upon 'em assure him a fine independence; but quite shockingly, he is known to have divorced his wife, that was rumoured to have been on the stage afore their marriage, for adultery and desertion. Are we, my dear, in the least surprized that the quondam Miss Minton, or mayhap Mrs Gaffney, levanted?

Why, only to be anticipated, for sure.

As a result, is said to have become almost a recluse but for the discharge of the duties of his post. Clorinda sighed. Is he so, most like he has happily no intention to return to these shores.

We may hope so.

But I wonder what became of her: went become a strolling player in those parts, perchance. I did mention the matter to dear Miss Addington a little while ago, that has heard nothing of her from any that have tried their fortunes over there: but added that mayhap she had changed her name yet again, and most of those that have lately been there are not of an age to remember her and recognize her did they see her.

Found some other fellow might be beguiled into wedlock, mayhap.

They looked at one another. Well, said Clorinda, I think we find ourselves at stand in that investigation at present. But I remain in some concern, for Julius begins make a considerable name for himself, is a son any man might like to own now 'tis entire clear what credit 'twould do him.

Yes: Evenden is a fellow would take the credit for himself, rather than put it down to capacities inherited from Seraphine, and the fine training he received from Roberts, that has ever been most entire fatherly to him.

Clorinda gave a wicked smile. That minds me, do we converse of fatherhood, that Hannah comes to Town shortly –

Is’t not imprudent of her to travel at this time? asked Sandy, finding himself curiously agitated in the matter.

O, poo, 'tis still early on, has not yet quickened, feels herself entire well. But indeed, my dear, your concern does you credit.

Well, 'tis a thing I never anticipated would come to me.

Clorinda smiled at him. Let me distract your mind, she said, by talking a little of how I get on in our other investigation. Have disclosed to Madame Francine my intention to go be dressed by her, and had a note back, very high and mighty, I see she purposes display her consequence, declaring she has a deal of business upon hand and can only just find time to fit me in within this se’ennight. 'Twould not, I confide, have been so was Docket still alive, 'twould have been entirely at your convenience, Lady Bexbury. She pulled a face. Sure I lose consequence.

Perchance, said Sandy, this modiste is ill-acquainted with the leaders of fashion.

Dear Sandy, 'tis kind of you to say so, but while I ever had the most useful advice on style from Milord, that was one of those interests of his you did not share, and I must confess that I would not entirely trust your judgement in such matters.

Dearest sibyl, you are entire right that I know little of the matter, but I have every confidence that you are still one of the most fashionable ladies in Town.

O, poo. But, my dear, surely 'tis time you went dress for the theatre?

Sandy groaned. I have the lowest possible hopes of this play.

'Tis the harsh lot of the critic. Euphemia has put you up a little light supper, so that hunger does not render you too ferocious critical.

He laughed, and went to change and to eat the very excellent little supper Euphemia had put ready for him, and went to the theatre, and tried to keep his mind upon the play, but indeed it was sorry stuff, even had he not had other thoughts upon his mind.

Later, lying in bed, sleepless, he found his mind turning to ways in which he might pursue the present investigation while encountering Maurice Allard as little as possible. And yet –

If he did not mince and prance, neither did he screech. Sure his voice was pitched somewhat high, but entirely mellifluous: and he spoke well.

Sandy could not keep denying to himself those sudden urges to push the fellow up against the wall, kiss those full lips, and make himself a good deal better acquainted with that slender body. And if Allard was not the kind of man he had ever supposed to his own taste, that was not wonted behaviour of his own either.

He wondered what Clorinda would say did he open the matter to her: la, my dear, you have lived quite like unto a monk since you gave Geoffrey Merrett his congé; and then either consider upon their acquaintance to see were there any fellows of the disposition to whom he might incline, or go about to find out about the entrée to that certain club.

It was really very tempting to resume the liaison with Geoffrey. However, Universal Law would suggest to the contrary. He could not bring the mutual devotion he apprehended Geoffrey would desire.

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Maurice looked out through the fine large windows of the receiving-room of the establishment, empty at present. He had just given up the extremely depressing task of undertaking the monthly accounts, and had no notion how he might present them to Biddy in such fashion that she would not get into a pother. It made some difference, but not enough, that Mrs Lucas had indeed paid up on the nail for her gowns; would that more ladies did so.

His idle gaze upon the passersby suddenly struck upon a fellow scrutinizing the building through a spyglass. He ran down the stairs and out into the street to see could he catch the fellow; discovering when he did so that it was MacDonald, a hat concealing the hair that was still, though fading in parts, a quite remarkable and distinctive red.

Oh: you.

MacDonald put down the spyglass. I had a thought, he said, that there were fine large skylights above the workroom –

- 'Tis entire necessary to have it well lit –

- and I wondered whether might be possible for one to get onto the roof, and peer through: but I cannot ascertain it at this distance, even with a telescope. Is’t possible to come at the roof at all from within?

Maurice conceded that there was a trapdoor onto the roof, and a ladder to it, and Mr MacDonald was entire welcome to make the essay.

So they went upstairs and MacDonald went up the ladder like a sailor up rigging – and a very fine view it was – and looked back down at Maurice, who realized that he was expected to make this excursion as well. He did not desire to display weakness before MacDonald, so he climbed up and stepped very tentative out onto the roof: it would probably be all right did he stay away from the edge, but his heart hammered and he felt slightly sick.

MacDonald was looking about the roof like a terrier after a rat. Maurice moved slowly towards the chimney-stack and set his back against it, as MacDonald remarked that he confided that had anyone been up upon the roof, would have left some marks of his passing, scuffing a line in the encrusted grime underfoot with the toe of his shoe.

He looked out and said, why, I daresay one might lay a plank, or swing by a rope, to cross from the next roof, yet that would require being able to come at the next building. He then went right to edge and crouched to look over the very low balustrade. Maurice closed his eyes.

I daresay, said MacDonald, that there are those might contrive to climb up, but 'twould be a risky business, though I apprehend there are burglars pride themselves on their skill in the matter. But, he went on, rising and dusting his hands together, I am like to think that there would have been signs, had any done so. Marks where they had passed; mayhap a spike or so hammered in to hold a rope. 'Twas merely a thought: considered it best to close that avenue of enquiry before proceeding to another –

- Mr Allard! Are you well?

Don’t – like high places, Maurice muttered between teeth clenched to keep them from chattering.

Why, you should have said, need not have come up. But we may go down now.

Maurice found himself entirely paralyzed, his legs weak under him.

Here, said MacDonald, take my arm, I will conduct you to the trap.

Maurice took the proferred arm, much against his will. It was a more muscular arm than he had anticipated – knowing MacDonald to be a scholar, had anticipated that 'twould either be scrawny or flabby, but had a pleasing firmness.

They came to the trap. Shall I, suggested MacDonald, go first down the ladder?

This was entirely sensible, even if annoying. He acquitted MacDonald of any interest in surveying his own still pretty arse in the process, and, closing his eyes, began the descent. At the foot, he felt his feet reach the floor, dropped his painfully tight grip, and found that his still shaking knees caused him to fall up against MacDonald.

Indeed in much finer physical condition than he would have supposed; and, oh, beautifully clean but with a faint scent of fine tobacco and – surely he did not employ perfume? – mayhap some good soap, or his linen stored with sachets of herbs?

Are you all right? enquired MacDonald. Here, you should sit down. He conducted Maurice over to a chair and looked about. Do you keep any brandy about the place, perchance?

Maurice waved towards the drawer in which he kept a small bottle of gin, and fumbled in his pocket for the key.

'Tis, he said, as MacDonald took it out and frowned at it, considered entire sovereign for certain female troubles, but should serve here.

MacDonald raised his eyebrows, found the glass, poured a generous tot, and handed it to Maurice. Indeed, he said, there is no shame in having no head for heights, 'tis a not uncommon affliction. 'Tis not a matter one may address entirely by the determined action of the will, any more than by wishing I might render my spectacles unnecessary. I am like to suppose 'tis some matter of the constitution, of innate nature.

He looked for a moment startled, as if overhearing himself, and frowned.

Maurice took a drink, and felt more like himself. Perhaps too much, because he found himself asking, Did no-one remark upon you peering about through a spying-glass?

MacDonald gave a small smile and said, Had any accosted me upon the matter, I would have represented myself as a devoted ornithologist and declared that I had heard report of an exceedingly rare bird nesting upon your roof. I confide I should have been most convincing. But, he continued, as I said, that line of enquiry goes nowhere, and I must pursue another.

You have another?

Indeed so, quite apart from Lady Bexbury going spy upon Madame Francine. But I had rather say nothing on the matter as yet.

Maurice, mindful that it was very good of MacDonald to be about this matter, that must seem to him much like a lady fretting that her lapdog had been took by dog-thieves did it not return home when it should, said that did he wish it, he might help himself to some gin – entire wholesome stuff, true Hollands geneva.

Why, I will take a little, thank you. He poured himself a small tot and perched up against the windowsill, looking about.

Surely no-one could take it for a den of depravity? Entirely clean and tidy, all in order.

Have you, asked MacDonald, ever met Madame Francine?

Maurice shook his head. Never to my knowledge.

Only I took a consideration that mayhap she had worked here herself at some time, and perchance there might be some matter of personal spite in the business.

Why, I cannot think of any that we let go with any bad feeling: there will ever be those go marry, or have some better place offered elsewhere. But I do not recollect any great resentments.

MacDonald sighed. Sometimes there are those that will go brood upon what they suppose slights. When I first came to know Lady Bexbury, she was being given a deal of bother by some fellow that had become vengeful because she had, he claimed, spurned his suit, that she herself did not even recollect: 'twas in those days when one may imagine she had so many suitors that one among 'em was readily forgot. But, he said, putting down his glass, I must be on my way. May take some little while until I come at more information.

He took up his hat, frowned, turned to look at Maurice and said, I trust you are over your disturbance of the nerves?

Entirely so, said Maurice, adding snappishly, do I find myself at all overcome there is a smelling-bottle kept in the drawer against attacks of the vapours.

MacDonald twitched his shoulders, said nothing, and departed.

Indeed it would be a great relief when MacDonald sounded out this tangle, if only that then Maurice would no longer have to encounter him.

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Tibby said to Sandy that sure she would have brung him passes for Titus’s next recital, but 'twas a benefit he gave for Mr Gordon Duncan, that was such a fine mentor to him in days gone by. Not at all in health, poor fellow – but sure he must be a considerable age – and impoverished through that pack of offspring he brought into the world. Though indeed, are not undutiful, but go scrape their livings in such fashion as have very little to spare.

'Tis very good of him, Sandy remarked, and would indeed take a ticket for himself.

Tibby smiled and said, sure Her Ladyship has already took up places for a party. But, this dreadful matter of one that goes steal Maurice’s notions – sure if any can fathom it 'tis you and Her Ladyship.

Sandy gave a small smile and said she gave them too much credit, 'twas an entire maze at present, could not yet see a way through. But he confided that she had managed to have conversation with the needlewomen &C of the establishment?

Indeed yes, said Tibby, settling herself in the chair. Sure Euphemia’s cakes and a cup or so of the good tea will loosen their tongues! But either they are such good actresses that they should be on the stage, for 'tis scarce more precarious a living than seamstress, or 'tis none of 'em that is about the matter.

At least, she added thoughtfully, not with any deliberate intention. But sure there are errand-boys come to and fro, and footmen to fetch ladies’ gowns, and I daresay there are flirtations go on, and they might let somewhat drop, particular if the fellow went about with questions.

Why, said Sandy, that is a thought. Or was there some fellow that has that unusual gift of memory that some have, might be able to carry away impressions and sketch 'em down at leisure.

Say you so! O, perchance like unto those fellows that need only hear a piece of music once and can play it over entire accurate.

Much of the same thing.

Sandy was ever struck by the intelligence and abilities of the extensive family connexion of Hector and Euphemia, an entire riposte to any claims for the inferiority of those with black skin. There was Titus Marshall, not merely in possession of a most exceeding fine voice but a talented composer, and Tibby, that from attaining to be lady’s maid to a duchess had turned her hand to writing newspaper columns upon fashion for those ladies that could not aspire to be dressed by Mayfair modistes. And sure 'twas no matter of any admixture of European blood that conveyed them their talents, for Titus and Tibby were quite entirely African in their looks, quite ebony. He had not yet, however, come at some way he might compose a pamphlet upon the subject without the individuals upon whom he based his arguments being recognized. (Perchance he should ask Clorinda?)

And do your children take to music? he asked.

Tibby laughed. Oh, although young Gordon had a fine boyish treble, 'tis none so remarkable after its change, but most fortunate, his great desire is to be a newspaperman: I purpose see might I prefer him to Mr Lowndes to learn somewhat of the business.

May be a somewhat rackety life, remarked Sandy.

Tibby sighed and said, indeed. But now, little Clo – not so little now, a fine bouncing girl – shows a fine musical talent. The others are yet young.

She then said, but, has she conveyed all the matter she can think of concerning Maurice’s establishment, she promised have a word with Sophy about going to lay flowers upon dear Docket’s grave, and then take tea with Euphemia.

Indeed, I would not detain you, 'tis most greatly obliging of you.

Why, Maurice is family, anything we might do to help.

She rose, shook out her skirts, and left the library.

Sandy sighed. He would have to go back to that temple of the vanities and that mincing molly of a modiste –

Though, to be fair, he thought to himself, in spite of his effeminate airs Maurice Allard did not mince or prance, but was merely somewhat unmasculine graceful in his deportment. Sandy frowned. Had not Gervase been the epitome of – entirely manly – gracefulness? Wherein lay that difference?

He shrugged. He dared say that Clorinda would be having tea in her parlour, and he might as well join her.

When he went in, he found that she was not alone, but in amiable converse with Admiral Knighton. Looking from one to the other, he was in the greatest suspicion that they had very lately been enjoying amorous intimacies. And indeed, why not? 'Twas a most longstanding affection 'twixt the two of them, entirely understood by Lady Jane, whose own exceeding affection for that talented actress-manager Miss Addington was quite entirely accepted by the Admiral.

Clorinda had writ some exceeding fine tales, but surely her masterpiece was the tale, still sighed over in Society as so romantic, about the poor young naval lieutenant with his career to make and the country at war, in no position to offer suit to a Duke’s daughter, that had finally come into property and able to ask for her hand. And she remaining unmarried herself, all those years –

Whereas there had been the most happy conjunction of the Admiral’s need for someone to oversee his property while he was at sea, the necessity to counteract spiteful scandal about Lady Jane, and their mutual desire for offspring, along with fine friendship.

He and the Admiral nodded to one another, and the Admiral said that he was just telling Lady Bexbury that he had had a fine letter from Horatio, mentioning running into Josh Ferraby somewhere in South America, and nearly being beguiled into taking a pet sloth on his voyage.

Why, sure a sloth would be more convenable as a shipmate than a llama -

And talking of the Ferrabys, happened to be visiting old comrades at the Admiralty t’other day, ran into young Sir Harry – surely he cannot have a son old enough yet to be seeking a midshipman’s berth? Should be entire delighted to use any interest I still have, if so.

Indeed, young Hal is only just out of dresses and into the schoolroom. I daresay 'twas some matter to do with steam navigation, Harry is most well-reputed in matters of steam.

So he is, now I collect the matter. Does he not have the finest look of his late father?

He does so. Clorinda blinked a little and then said, but how does Janey? Do you find the school to answer for her?

The Admiral had most exceeding praise for the school – had even been at the trouble to find a mathematics tutor for Janey, that had gone beyond what they could teach. But went on to say he dared say Lady Bexbury would like to learn more of how Josh was doing, and withdrew the letter from an inner pocket so that she might read the passages in question.

After he had gone, pleading a dinner-party at Mulcaster House, Sandy looked at Clorinda and grinned, saying, still Venus’ votaress?

O, poo, Mr MacDonald, you cannot be shocked that I still enjoy a romp or two with old favourites.

Of whom there are quite some several! But I mind that I would be extreme glad of a word or two with Matt Johnson, is he like to come about the house.

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Lady Bexbury! Enchanted! Maurice showed her in to his workroom, dusted off a chair so that she might sit, and went to the door to call for tea.

Once this had been served, and he was perched upon the stool by his bench, she asked how he found Mr MacDonald.

Why, 'tis clear that he is a fellow of considerable apprehension: but, is he not some kind of severe Evangelickal?

Lady Bexbury spluttered tea. Indeed not, she said with a mirthful expression, is quite entirely a freethinker and a utilitarian philosopher. But indeed he can manifest a certain severity of manner, especially with those he knows not well, 'tis a form of shyness. But he already comes at ways we might pursue this little matter of yours, indeed that is most particular why I came to see you today.

Not to start preparing your wardrobe for the Season?

Alas, Maurice, I hope you will not cast me out of doors for telling you, but I purpose go to Madame Francine about the business –

Maurice stared, and then said with a laugh, La, Lady Bexbury, you go as a spy?

So I do, and I should be glad could you give me some notions as to how to behave as a very exacting lady that will never be satisfied and will say, 'tis still not right, and, might the trim not be in a different shade? and keep coming back but never finding the thing entire to her liking?

Maurice laughed. Why, I may make some suggestions, but do you think on Lady Trembourne, I am persuaded you would have a fine example. I was never happier than when she decided we did not come up to her standards.

Ha, the Unfair Rosamund, indeed she is quite the pattern I would look for, never, ever, contented in anything. But, dear Maurice, though I shall not be coming for fittings, you have my mannequin, do you not, and may make up my gowns? I would not have you be a loser by this stratagem. 'Twould not seem at all particular did Sophy come call upon you from time to time to see how they did.

Might well be supposed that Sophy would come out of family feeling to commiserate upon my losing your custom, and mayhap gossip upon the matter, and to convoke as to how you might be brought about to be persuaded back, 'tis a good thought. Or even perchance that it must be coming around the time young Thomasina should be prenticed and she looks about for a good place.

Lady Bexbury sighed and rose from the chair. Seems like yesterday that she came and placed Thomasina in dear Docket’s arms and begged her to stand godmother, and Docket wept.

'Twas a most uncommon occurrence!

But I should leave you now, and you must go grumble upon me and the fickle ways of ladies.

Sure, Lady Bexbury, you should go write plays!

But he went into the workroom, and acted the necessary comedy, and one or two of the newer hands showed some disposition to giggle until kicked by their next neighbours, that had grown quite entire accustomed to Mr Maurice’s ways.

Then next day came his dear coz Tibby, that had done so well for herself, and handed him passes for Titus’ next recital, and said that she purposed go stand treat in the workroom, showing him the packages of fine pastries she had brought with her – a practice of hers these several years, whereby she could pick up notions for her writings on fashion in The Intelligencer, 'twould not seem at all particular did she so – and would see what gossip she might glean.

He looked at her and said, he confided 'twas not the first time she had done the like.

Tibby laughed and said, sure, began when she was still with Lady Bexbury, one hears things, may be most useful.

Did you ever come across this fellow MacDonald?

Tibby gave a girlish giggle most unsuited to her present age and standing and said, Was one Christmastide when Euphemia and I were still careless giddy girls, and there had been a matter of a wassail-bowl that was stronger liquor than we were used to, and we waylaid him under the kissing bunch. For he was quite the prettiest fellow – indeed, is still very well-looking, do you not think so? – but o, the scold we got from Hector! We were most exceeding mortified. But he took the matter most civil. Has been an intimate of Her Ladyship’s household these many years, indeed, since before her elevation.

Also, she went on, 'twas he that uncovered that Prue needed spectacles, made quite an immense difference. Sure 'twixt 'em, he and Her Ladyship can see further through a brick wall than most. Can any come at what is afoot here, must be the two of 'em.

Sure you give him an excellent character!

Why, has ever been quite the finest of friends to Her Ladyship. But I will go gossip – making sure that all have put their work aside afore they begin upon these fine cakes that Euphemia put up for me.

Do you bring Euphemia’s cakes I could quite envy 'em!

Tibby left the room and Maurice went back to sketching out designs. But though one could conceal designs, lock them away in hidden drawers, once the work was in hand, 'twas no longer entire secret –

At length he sighed, pushed them into the secret compartment hidden beneath the locked drawer, and stood up. He would go to the club tonight. Entirely not with any particular design to find an agreeable fellow to have a little amusement with, merely to be among fellows of his own kind that did not frown upon him.

Sure 'twas an occasion when one particularly missed Elias Winch, that was so very entertaining. But it was ever exceeding gratifying to enter the club by its front door, even was that a very discreet entrance that did not advertize itself, and see the fine appointments of the place, the spacious hall and public rooms, the marble floors and staircase, the elegant carpets and furniture, and know it a place where he was accepted.

He went into the parlour and one of the footmen brought him a glass of gin – good Hollands geneva, none of your nasty poisonous blue ruin. Maurice eyed him up and down – 'twas an understood thing that the footmen were for hire, were they agreeable. But somehow the fellow did not appeal, his attentiveness was somewhat encroaching.

Sir Hartley Zellen entered the room and came to sit in the adjacent chair. Allard! Delighted! Sir Stockwell was saying, are some proposals for membership the committee should go deliberate upon – sure there is no urgency in the matter, but we should be about it.

He then cleared his throat and lowered his voice and said that he apprehended that his lady wife was taking advantage of Maurice’s discreet chamber again? He did not wish to pry into her affairs so long as she was happy, but hoped that she was not about any indiscretion in her choice.

Maurice concealed a smile. There was a taste Sir Hartley and his wife had in common, that he doubted they knew of: young men – not very young, not schoolboys, but usually under twenty-five years. Their sons’ younger contemporaries, these days. 'Twas Barty Wallace was her current favourite, a young fellow that combined his father’s quondam taste for pleasures with his mother’s ever level head. No cause at all for concern, he said. All very prudent.

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Sandy sighed as he walked along. He had really lingered far too long about that prancing molly’s den of vanity and vain adornment, would have to go quite directly to the meeting of the antiquarians. But there was a pieman with his tray, and while Euphemia would probably poison him did she ever hear he had bought food in the streets, or mayhap knock him down with the frying pan, necessity was upon him: he had no wish to sit in learned company with a belly rumbling from hunger.

He had consumed the pie and wiped away any evidence of its consumption by the time he attained the antiquarians’ society, brightly lit up and with quite a throng present. For this e’en there was to be a most interesting preliminary report of the excavation of the monastery ruins at Monks Garrowby. The Earl of Nuttenford, that had not only given his permission but had contributed to the expenses of the matter, was likely to be present along with other members of his family and their circle.

And indeed, there were the Earl and Countess, his sister Lady Emily and her constant companion Lalage Fenster, his other sister the Marchioness of Offgrange and her husband, and – Sandy’s heart sank a little – his brother Geoffrey, whose face lit up upon catching sight of him.

Sandy sighed inwardly. Perchance it had not been so very prudent to suggest that his disinclination to continue an otherwise agreeable carnal acquaintance with Mr Merrett was simply due to the very recent nature of his bereavement, that he was not yet ready to love again, rather than the somewhat overwhelming nature of Geoffrey’s devotion. It was now well over a year since Gervase’s dreadful sudden death, and it was not unlike that Geoffrey retained hopes.

A fan tapped him sharply upon the arm. La, Mr MacDonald, you are come most exceeding late upon the hour.

He looked down at his dearest friend, Clorinda, Lady Bexbury. Why, he said, 'tis an intriguing problem you have set me, though sure 'tis a very unwonted setting to find myself in. But 'tis not the place to talk of it, I confide.

Indeed not, let us go take our seats.

'Twas considerable late by the time they were in her carriage returning home. Sandy was about to open the business to Clorinda, but she held up her hand and took a small memorandum book and a pencil out of her reticule. I am a sad forgetful creature and I wish get down that very fine information about monasteries afore memory fades.

He smiled and said, I confide has given you a notion for a tale.

Mayhap and perchance! she said, scribbling busily. He would be happy indeed did she take up her pen once more to write horrid tales or plays, for it had lain unused for that task since Eliza Ferraby’s death – or, it came to him, before, she had writ nothing but necessary letters and charity pamphlets during Eliza’s long illness. There had been a tale or two after Josiah Ferraby’s sudden demise, but naught since then.

At length they came to her pretty house and went to the parlour where Hector brought them madeira and port, as was by now an entire habit with them.

Clorinda put her memorandum book upon her writing desk and went to sit by the fire. Indeed, gave me several notions that might work up into fine tales. But, my dear, I await your own news most anxious.

Why, he said, indeed I wish to open the matter entirely to your wisdom –

O poo, you flattering wretch. I could make nothing of it myself, I was quite entire at stand and therefore wished to have your mind upon it.

You did not tell me, he says, that Mamzelle Bridgette is in fact a monsieur -

La, I am a fool, I supposed you knew but there is no reason you should. 'Tis entire a name of business, devised aforetimes by dear Docket’s old friend Biddy Smith, they saw no reason to change it when she moved to Worthing for her health.

- though such an effeminate fellow as I daresay makes little difference. But sure I should not let myself be hindered in any investigation by my dislike to the molly-set among those that are of the disposition.

O dear, murmured Clorinda, I hope you did not entire paralyze him with a dour Calvinistical glare.

Anyway, I have come about to think of ways one might proceed, and I should like to speak to Tibby –

- oh, that is an excellent thought! –

- and I think 'twould also be of great service could one find out more about Madame Francine’s establishment. Do any of your circle go be dressed by her?

Indeed not! If they do not go to Maurice, they go to Madame Lisette. But, my dear, would it not answer did I go to her, saying that I find that Maurice’s inspiration grows tired?

My dear Clorinda! 'Twould answer most exceedingly, but I hesitate to advance a course of action that will no doubt lead to you having to purchase gowns you have no intention to wear, or else show, I doubt not, an entire dowd, that will have Docket’s shade come howl and gibber in your dressing-room.

Clorinda giggled and said, perchance I might give 'em to some deserving cause: but I do not intend to come at actually buying from her. I shall be one of those difficult ladies that keeps changing her requirements, and disliking matters she had already desired when she sees them upon her, and I confide that Madame Francine will be very desirous of keeping Lady Bexbury’s custom, so will not complain or dismiss me from her establishment, and 'twill give me great occasion to be to and fro there.

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Mrs Lucas twirled sedately around and smiled. Entire stylish yet will not look particular do we go dine at the Bishop’s Palace, she said. 'Tis very good of you to make this time for me, for I confide 'tis coming up your busy time o’ year.

Maurice smiled back. How different was this confident lady from the shy lumpish young woman he had first dressed so many years ago. Why, he said, one always likes to see old patrons; most particularly the ones that pay up their bills as promptly as you do.

Why, since we are in the happy position we are, not in the least the proverbial church mice, 'tis only right to pay on the nail. She twirled again. And yet will not be out of place when we go dine with the Marquess.

She sighed a little and said, well, must take this off and have it sent with the other gowns. 'Twill not be appreciated by the antiquarians at this e’en’s gathering.

Indeed, it was rather late of the day by the time she left, the light already fading. Maurice went to the bench by the window where he had laid out samples of various stuffs he had been sent. It was just about light enough for his purposes, and touch was quite as important as sight in determining whether the fabric was of the first quality or not. He was reluctant to light the gas just yet: given the present state of affairs, any little economy seemed prudent.

There was a rapping on the door. Mayhap Mrs Lucas had left something behind? He could not recollect that he was in anticipation of a delivery of anything.

Come in.

Whatever he had expected, it was not that. A man that looked like a preacher from the Vice Society about to hold forth in a brothel, glaring about the room as if 'twas a den of iniquity rather than a modiste’s establishment. The light through the window was still just enough to reveal that he was very good-looking, even in those spectacles.

Mamzelle Bridgette? he asked.

Yes? (Ten to one this was about a bill that had come to the fellow’s attention. He did not, however, have the air of a married man. A younger sister? A ward?)

You’re Mamzelle Bridgette?

I’m her partner – Maurice Allard. (These days Biddy spent most of the time at Worthing. Which was just as well, because he did not want her bothered about the present trouble could it be helped.) What is your business?

Lady Bexbury sent me.

Lady Bexbury sent you?

His visitor fumbled in a pocket and produced a card. She said you had been having a problem.

It was indeed her card, with a note scribbled upon the reverse: To introduce Mr Alexander MacDonald. He may be able to help you.

Maurice looked up from the card, suppressing a whistle. Alexander MacDonald, that had been the confidential secretary and political advisor to Lord Raxdell until the latter’s untimely death: and, among those of the brotherhood, suspected to have been a good deal more.

And what, he thought, was Mr MacDonald seeing as he scowled across the room? Even in the rapidly dimming light the manifestations of Maurice’s African blood must have been apparent in spite of the relative paleness of his complexion: by this time of day curls were beginning to rebel against the earlier application of pomatum. Effeminacy would be presumed, given his profession, but indeed a deliberate air of effeminacy was a wise choice for a man-modiste, found most exceeding reassuring.

Just because a fellow was of the brotherhood, did not in the least mean that one quite immediate took a notion to him. Maurice had long eschewed those low places of resort where fellows of his kind might have furtive encounters, out of self-preservation as well as more general fastidiousness. He might have sold his services to gentlemen in his younger days, but they were gentlemen and it was at that certain club where all was done discreet and in very good style. And now he was not just a member of the club in good standing, but on the committee, entire respected as a sound useful fellow; and safe.

Alexander MacDonald was by no means the kind of fellow he inclined to. Might have acquired some polish through association with such a model as Lord Raxdell, but given out a Scot of humble origins, though all conceded most immense clever. Well-dressed, but with the air of one that had acquired the habit of going to a good tailor without ever thinking much about what he wore.

After this lengthy pause as they looked at one another like dogs deciding whether to fight or merely give admonitory barks and pass on, MacDonald said, Lady Bexbury told me that you were having some little trouble, that you did not think was anything you might take to the law –

And why did she tell you of it? (The troubles of modistes could only be despised by such a fellow.)

MacDonald shrugged. I have some little aptitude for sounding out puzzles and mysteries. Clo – Lady Bexbury applies her own ingenuity to thinking about the matter, but desired that I would also go look into it. Mayhap you might lay it out for me?

Maurice would not wish to offend Lady Bexbury, even did offending her not also portend repercussions among his family connexions. So he waved MacDonald to one of the other stools, and sat down again himself.

He sighed. He could not suppose that this fellow would take the matter as anything but a frivolous fret, yet 'twas of quite material significance to the continuing good name of the business.

Somebody, he said, is stealing my notions.

Notions? said MacDonald.

Notions, repeated Maurice. My ideas in matters to do with style and fashion. Lately there is another modiste brings out gowns that use various notions that I had – and, he added bitterly – doing them less well than we would. 'Tis extreme deleterious to our business. For ladies come to us for styles that will be original and out of the common way, not somewhat that they have already seen on someone else.

And you do not know who might be conveying these – notions – to her?

He sighed again. Sure I thought we might trust our cutters and seamstresses – well-paid, good conditions – but mayhap one or another has been tempted, 'tis a precarious matter to live by one’s needle – but who else would have the chance to see the designs? And 'twould cause ill-feeling to open the matter among 'em.

And this other modiste?

Madame Francine, she calls herself. But lately set up in Town – says she is from Paris, but is she French, I’m Prince Albert. Most assuredly sees herself as a rival to us.

He raised his eyes from his twisting hands and – o, he thought, that is a difference, looking at a face transfigured, alight with interest and curiosity, a hound upon the trail.

Could you, said MacDonald, just walk me around your premises a little? And say who are likely to come call upon you – I suppose, he added, that it could not be one of your customers?

Patrons, said Maurice, but I confide not, there is no lady would be able to see so much of what we do, only what was in train for her or mayhap a friend or so do they come in company together.

Lady Bexbury informs me, went on MacDonald as they ascended the stairs to the fine large light – when it was daytime – attic workroom, that there is a chamber about this place that ladies may employ for discreet assignations?

Maurice paused and said, ladies in such case usually have their minds on other things than some particular new fashion of cut or trimming; and there is a discreet door, they would not come through anywhere where any work was in hand.

If you could show me the various entrances - for I daresay there is a tradesman’s entrance quite distinct from where your cus - patrons - come in?

So they made a very extensive survey of the premises until MacDonald looked at his watch and said, sure the time had rushed on, he must be away, but would go consider over the matter and look into it, and would Mr Allard have any objection did he open the matter to Mrs Marshall, that he apprehended was a cousin of his?

That was a very apt thought, to consult Tibby, that he had not even thought of himself; but sure Tibby must know a deal of the gossip about fashion and modistes.

Can be no objection whatsoever, he said.

I suppose, MacDonald went on, 'twould look particular did I come about during the working day.

Maurice looked at him and was unable to think of any reason he could give but the real one for MacDonald’s presence. He nodded his head.

I will go think on’t, then, talk to Clo – Lady Bexbury, may come at some contrivance.

They walked down the stairs to the tradesman’s entrance. Pausing on the threshold, Maurice began, awkwardly, Of course, do you find out the matter, I should wish to show grateful –

The hellfire-preacher look came back as if Maurice had made an improper suggestion (and mayhap that had not been so far from his mind, a good deal less far than it should have been). Does it perchance that we may come at what and who lies behind this business, mayhap you could make some contribution to one of Lady Bexbury’s good causes.

Maurice, twitching his shoulders, watched him striding off down the alley, feeling that he would be vastly obliged did he never have to see MacDonald again, but also that if anyone could fathom out the mystery, it was like to be MacDonald. He greatly disliked to be the recipient of favours: he preferred to keep any balance in the matter firmly on his own side. And this did not seem like a matter in which he could readily pay off that debt. He could quite imagine MacDonald’s expression did he offer a coin some fellows found quite irresistible (sure he was no longer a very young fellow but were those still considered he had charms).

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As I make my chelonian, even glacial, progress towards more formal publication, I have two thoughts to lay before my dear readers, which are more in the area of that thing about 'You can't just publish, you have to PROMOTE':

Might it be a good idea to have a website? I was thinking I could put up clarification of various allusions there (Welsh seclusion, eloping with Mercury, &C) (because footnoting would be exceeding ennuyant) as well as more general info.

Would it be quite the vulgarest of ton to solicit kind testimonials from among those of my readers already well-reputed in the literary sphere?


Also, I appear to have another novella-length thing that I will be posting in installments shortly, for which I think the content warning is: a very well-worn trope?

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Dear Mrs Samuels

It is truly kind of you to offer me the hospitality of your home, especially when Mr Samuels has already been of such inestimable service over the alas sad necessity to sell our collections and ensuring that I received a fair price for my dear husband’s life’s work.

Indeed I have been in a deal of worry as to what I might do or where I might go – a middle-aged widow that is obliged to employ an ear-trumpet is not the most eligible candidate for a governess’s post, whatever her knowledge of botany and more general learning. But, dear Mrs Samuels, an entire miracle has come to me.

While I had quite the kindest letter of condolence from Lady Bexbury upon my husband’s death, she has, as you know, been traveling on the Continent with her god-daughter, the youngest Ferraby girl, but is now returned and has written – o, such a wonderful letter. Apologises that she did not know the straits I was in, and wonders if I might consider the suggestion she makes, though dares say I have other plans already.

Miss Ferraby takes a purpose to go set up an independent establishment with her friend Miss Roberts as a companion, where they may devote themselves to study and work for the benefit of our sex – Sir Josiah, I understand, believes that 'tis wisest to give his daughters an independence once they are of age, just as he would with sons, confiding that 'tis a preventative against those rash matches girls will rush into in the belief that they will grant them independence rather than a different servitude (for how few women, my dear, find husbands that will be such true companions and partners as in our blesst case). So Miss Ferraby has money settled upon her, and I apprehend that there is some like arrangement with Miss Roberts, for besides her parents having a very fine place with Lord Raxdell, they have interest in a business making preserves and pickles that is, I hear, very remunerative.

It turns out that Lady Bexbury has a pretty little property in Surrey – indeed, I daresay you know of it, for 'twas let for many years to the Ulrichs, that I apprehend are some connexion of Mr Samuels? – that at present stands empty, and would serve exceeding well for the secular convent - is one not reminded of the novel Millenium Hall? – the young ladies intend – all modern conveniences, close to a town with all the amenities one might wish in the vicinity, no great distance from Town.

But, writes Lady Bexbury, though they are good sensible prudent young women, they are yet young and it might be considered somewhat particular did they set up housekeeping with no older person about the household. Such country places, she confides, are quite hotbeds of gossip is there anything out of the common way comes among them.

So she goes quite to beg me to join their establishment: for 'tis most material, she declares, that it should be a lady of learning and understanding and one that has some appreciation of the way they go about. Adds as an inducement that there is a very fine garden and a little parkland, also hothouses.

Does this not sound entire paradisal? Sure I was in fears I should have to find some place as a companion, spend my days winding wool and sorting embroidery silks and taking the lapdog for its walks, reading out the marriages &C from the papers. It also comes to me that 'tis no great distance from Hampshire and we might visit to and fro?

Dear Mrs Samuels, I collect that 'twas through your good offices that we were first introduced into Lady Bexbury's set: how more than infinite is my gratitude, now that I feel that I have reached port after stormy seas.

Believe me, ever your affectionate friend

Mildred Veriker

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[Loose sheets, written in cypher, discovered tucked under the end paper of the back cover during conservation work on the final volume of the AMacD commonplace books.]

[Content notes: philosophy of the boudoir, philosopher in the boudoir, ingenuity may provide what nature does not] )

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Dear Mr Derringe

Your direction has been conveyed to me by way of Lady Bexbury, whose offices in the matter had been requested by Mrs Lowndes, sister of Miss Netherne – though I doubt not she is now Mrs Carter? – that so very kindly conveyed news of you.

I am entirely glad to learn that you and Mr Perry did not die of a fever in the South Seas, nor were eaten by cannibals, as some have rumoured, though I mind that you told me that the stories of man-eating were an entire figment, or at least exceeding exaggeration. I hope that you are entire recovered from the fever that brought you under Mr Carter’s care, and that your plans for a school prosper.

Dear Mr Derringe, pray do not distress yourself concerning our marriage that never came to pass: I confide that I too am by no means suited for the matrimonial state. But I assure you, I am now in quite the happiest way of life. Your very fine remarks about David and Jonathan brought to my mind that other remarkable tale of devotion in the Old Testament, that of Ruth and Naomi.

You will recall that my cousin Hester is Countess of Nuttenford – now Dowager Countess of Nuttenford, the late Earl having been fatally savaged by a bear whilst on a botanical expedition in Virginia. I became companion-chaperone to her middle daughter, Lady Emily Merrett, a very fine young woman with no inclination to marriage, while she was keeping house for her brothers, the Countess having been an invalid these many years and gone to reside with her eldest daughter, that had but lately married the Marquess of Offgrange.

The present Earl is now married to a very fine young woman, and has given over to our use one of his smaller estates, Attervale, an exceeding pretty little place if somewhat quaintly old-fashioned. There is a dovecote of considerable antiquity and I have taken to the keeping of these birds. Meanwhile, dear Em Lady Emily takes to the keeping of hawks, for there is a mews that we suppose originally intended to that purpose - as she also practices archery we might almost be took for some household of the Middle Ages.

There is a very fine orchard and we brew our own cider: dear Lady Emily’s stepfather, Sir Charles Fairleigh, was most helpful in instructing us in the matter, his own apples and their brewing being highly renowned.

Are you now acquainted with the Thornes and the Carters I confide that you are in a very good antipodean set. The Thornes’ fine humane endeavours for the unhappy convicts are very widely admired in our circles and Lady Bexbury, as I daresay they will have told you, is their benevolent patroness raising interest for them. Their scientific observations are ever attended with the greatest eagerness by savants. I like to think that you will have the opportunity of many fine games of chess with them: I ever regretted that I was by no means up to your mark in the matter.

Is there any service I may do you, I hope that you will always consider me your friend. Please convey my kindest regards to Mr Perry.

In great regard and esteem

Lalage Fenster

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Dearest Lucy

It was the most delightful of pleasures to receive your letter and to hear that you had been safely delivered of a fine baby boy, that I daresay will be walking and talking by the time you receive this. What a very fine man Mr Lowndes sounds to be, I am most greatly sorry I never met him. It is immensely reassuring to me to think that you have the companionship of such an excellent lady with such wisdom in matters of maternity as Mrs Ferraby. I only hope that you do not go about to overdo, betwixt motherhood, your responsibilities towards your pupils, and your writing for Mr Lowndes’ paper.

But, indeed, I am not one to preach upon the matter, for I am quite constantly kept busy here: not only do I begin the Thornes’ dear children on the rudiments, but I continue to find a great desire for education among the convicts of our community, and a wish to have letters written by those that do not yet feel confident in writing them themselves, although there are now some few that have come on to be able to instruct their fellows. I also assist the Thornes with their observations.

And besides that, Abby Mrs Thorne and I find ourselves assisting Mr Carter in matters of nursing the sick. I do not recollect whether I wrote to you before about Mr Carter? – he came to this land in the capacity of surgeon to the scientific expedition, but has fallen so in love with the country that he has determined to stay, to collaborate with the Thornes in their scientific enterprizes, and also to run a dispensary for our people. But I daresay even I had not mentioned this to you, you would have heard somewhat of the matter from Lady Bexbury, for we have applied to her for the provision of surgical instruments, drugs, &C, that are very hard to come by here. There is not a deal of injury and disease, for we practice sound measures of hygiene, but there will always be some accidents and ailments.

Mr Carter is a most excellent man, a most adept surgeon – oh, Lucy, I try to write of him in a sober fashion, but I must tell you, that we find ourselves in a most happy condition of mutual admiration, and purpose to marry very shortly. He is the dearest of fellows, and it is no wonder that he is so greatly esteemed by Mr and Mrs Thorne. Sure I have found myself, to my astonishment and sometimes embarrassment, courted by several gentlemen in this place, from government officers to free settlers, some of whom grow exceeding wealthy on the backs of sheep: but I have found none that I could like as much as Mr Carter.

He is the finest of men, has a most humane spirit – there is very bad treatment goes on of the aboriginal peoples of the land, that he has a great admiration for, saying that when he was with the scientific expedition all were most prepossessed with their abilities in tracking and hunting and finding sustenance in what appeared a barren wilderness, where the products of civilization would have wandered in circles, or sat down and waited for death. He is writing up a memorandum on the subject, and wondered if, did we send it to you when completed, Mr Lowndes might publish it?

Indeed those years with the Duggetts seem like some nightmare from which I have now awakened. I am sure you would laugh and teaze me unmercifully did I tell you how wonderful I find the Thornes; they are quite the finest companions one could have.

But I mind that there was a thing I meant to ask you, about whether there was any in your circles that might pursue the matter. There has lately come about these parts two gentlemen – I say gentlemen because although they show the effect of hardships and are burnt very brown by the sun, they are clearly well-bred educated fellows does one speak to them – Mr Perry and Mr Derringe, that have some intention to set up a school for boys, for there is a considerable desire among the settlers &C to have their sons educated as gentlemen. While they go about to raise interest for this enterprize, they undertake some private tutoring. And one day came to us Mr Perry, half-carrying Mr Derringe that had some fever or other about him, seeking Mr Carter’s aid in this extremity.

We have a few beds attached to the dispensary, and he was laid in one of them, and examined by Mr Carter, who determined that ‘twas some fever very like unto the mala aria: most fortunate he keeps some fever bark about the dispensary, so quite immediate went about preparing a tincture. Meanwhile, he desired me to sponge the fellow to cool his fever.

So I went about this, and Mr Carter managed to convey him some of the tincture, and he seemed a little better, but then Mr Carter was called away, and said to me, dear Miss Netherne, would you greatly mind sitting by Mr Derringe and continuing to sponge him and keep him quiet, giving him a little of the tincture every few hours? Why, said I, I was about to ask was there anything I might do, so he left me with careful instructions.

I sat by Mr Derringe for some hours, and it seemed to me that he was troubled in his mind, and it did not seem entire delirium, and in due course he disclosed to me very halting and in between shivering fits, that he had on his conscience that he had allowed a young lady to whom he was affianced to suppose that he was dead of a fever in the South Seas, and it would have been a better and more honourable course to communicate to her that he had found that he was such a fellow as would not make her a good husband and thus set her at liberty with no obligation to mourn. She was, he said, a Miss Fenster, her father was the vicar of Upper Stobbing.

So to reassure him I said that the Thornes and I had numerous connexions in England that might be able to go about to find the present condition of the lady, but was it not like that she had by now married another? Very like, he said, she was a quite excellent young woman. So, dear Lucy, I write to you to ask are there any in your circles might go about with discretion to discover the present whereabouts of this lady, for it is clear that the business continues to prey upon Mr Derringe’s mind even though he has recovered from his fever, and Mr Carter fears 'twill bring about some relapse.

Oh, my dear Lucy, the only spot upon my happiness is that you may not be present at my wedding, that Mr Thorne will perform, and that I cannot see you and little Andrew and your excellent husband. Please convey my very greatest respects to Mr and Mrs Ferraby and to Lady Bexbury, that great patroness of our enterprize here: oh what a foolish misguided narrow-minded creature I was to so misjudge her fine qualities.

With every affection, your loving sister, Ellie

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

Yr humble amanuensis is most entire grateful for the comments on the recently concluded novella.

There are still a few snippets in hand and - possibly - one or two longer pieces.

Watch this space.

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