As they sit in momentary silence, Hector enters with a note upon a tray for Sandy.
He opens it and gazes at it in some confusion.
Well, my dear? asks Clorinda.
He sighs and says, 'tis very kind: Lord Abertyldd goes hold one of their music parties and invites me –
Indeed 'tis civil, but why so dubious?
There will doubtless be one sings some lament, that will move me entirely to weeping, so I had rather avoid the occasion: yet 'twould be entire uncivil to refuse –
She leans over and twitches the note from his hand so that she may read it. Why, she says, 'tis indeed civil, but alas, you have already been solicited to what promises to be a most fascinating account of Anglo-Saxon antiquities –
I had a letter and cards for the Society’s meeting from Mr Lucas yesterday, but was distracted by those family matters from conveying the invitation to you. I daresay you will find that more congenial.
Indeed, he cannot suppose that an account of Anglo-Saxon antiquities is like to move him to tears.
So he lets himself be dressed for company, and given various messages for Mr Lucas and others that may be finding pleasure in the contemplation of the antiquities of the Anglo-Saxons, and despatched by carriage, although he declares he can perfectly well walk –
La, my dear, I shall not be requiring the carriage, why do you not take it?
It is the easiest course to comply rather than argue. So he goes and listens to the matter, or rather, does not particularly listen but sits with his own thoughts, and manages to make civil to those who come up and remark upon what a loss was the late Lord Raxdell and see whether he has aught to say concerning the new one.
And muses upon the revelation about Beatrice, and his own great fondness for Hannah, and by some process comes at the antient joke betwixt Clorinda and himself these many years about scientifick demonstration of the intercourse of man with woman –
Which brings him to a slight start – all will suppose he had fell into a doze and has now waked, he confides – for indeed, did Clorinda instruct him in the business, so that he had some notion of going about it –
Would be no harm in opening the matter to her –
And he wonders, and condemns himself for not thinking of it before, that no doubt there is some current favourite, mayhap more than one, preferred to her embraces, and here is he, living in her house, taking up her time. Perchance 'twas why she was glad to get him out of the house for a while?
It is a thought that returns when he re-enters the house and hears Clorinda laughing in the hearty unaffected style that is reserved for intimates. Perchance he should not go into the parlour, but go linger in the library.
Is that you, Sandy? she calls out. Come and see who is here!
He frowns for a moment, and then enters the parlour.
At first he thinks that the bearded fellow sitting vis-à-vis to Clorinda is a complete stranger, and then realises that it is Josh, Josh that must be returned from Africa – was it Africa? – after perilous adventures.
Josh stands with a delighted smile – even after all these years it is a shock to see him as it were unfurl into this tall lanky creature, that he suddenly shot up into when he was fifteen or so, overtopping Harry and his father and completely bewildered about what to do with his arms and legs and a head a deal higher than he was used to.
Josh then looks sober and says, 'twas quite the saddest news about His Lordship.
Clorinda says, and he left you that fine antient bestiary that was in his library that you loved so much.
That was very kind, says Josh, might you keep it for me? 'Tis not somewhat I would wish to take upon my travels.
You do not linger a little? asks Clorinda a little wistfully (after Flora, Josh was always her favourite).
Why, says Josh, I shall stay a while – have various fine beasts to distribute to zoologist acquaintances with instructions for their care – must go cry up my findings at scientific meetings and write up reports for journals – visit the family – but I am not yet ready to go settle somewhere with my personal menagerie around me.
You know that there is a chamber kept for you here? says Clorinda.
Why, I should not wish to presume upon your hospitality as I did that time I ran away to London –
O, poo! cries Clorinda, you are ever the welcomest of guests. I daresay you have left your dunnage at your club, do you let me send Ben to go fetch it, and tell Dorcas to have the bed made up and all put in readiness.
Why, says Josh, sitting down again and stretching out his legs, I confide 'twould be a deal more comfortable here will you have me.
Clorinda looks at him with great affection and desires him to give her and the household the pleasure of cossetting him after the arduous expedition he has been about.
Over the kind of nice little supper that Euphemia has ever been able to produce in any circumstance, Josh tells them a little of his adventures, and a great deal more about the animals he was able to observe and how although 'tis entire desirable and in his commission to bring living specimens back for observation, there is nothing like unto watching them in their accustomed native habitation –
As I collect you used to do with hedgehogs, says Clorinda.
- and he cannot see that 'tis such great sport to hunt and kill magnificent creatures so that they may be displayed on a trophy-room wall.
Clorinda looks a little conscious, and Sandy wonders whether Josh knows about the tigerskin and the bearskin, gifts from admirers, that used to, mayhap still do, adorn her boudoir.
I am sure, though, Josh goes on hastily, that when General Yeomans hunted tigers 'twas because they were attacking the herds and flocks of local villages – even, perchance, become man-eaters.
Clorinda looks at Josh with a little smile. He was the dearest of old fellows, she says.