It has occurred to Sandy that there are editors in expectation of certain critical writings by Deacon Brodie, and although he does not feel in the least inclined to the task, mayhap he too should go be dutiful.
In the library a few hours later he looks down at what he has written and considers that it contains a deal more vitriol than he is wont to employ – a drop here or there is entirely characteristic of his style, but this shows so venomous that it might be suspected the work of the late Aristarchus. He sighs, and picks up his pen again, and begins to see where he might moderate his words somewhat. Has he really delivered himself of strictures upon the literature of the present day, quite entirely in Pargiter’s style? Is this the effect of age and bitterness?
Perchance did he go discuss the works in question with Clorinda – but she must still be about making calls and demonstrating to the present Lady Raxdell that the ladies of Town Society are not watching her like hawks, waiting for some misstep. He wonder who she has selected for this object lesson. Viola Mulcaster he thinks is at present out of Town, but there will be Lady Offgrange, the Countess of Nuttenford, the Countess of Pockinford – or will these seem too entirely daunting?
The door opens and Josh enters. They look at one another and both seem equally dumbstruck at the encounter.
Josh goes and rings for tea, which arrives with the customary expedition. Still in silence, he pours them each a cup and hands one to Sandy, before sitting down in one of the easy chairs. Sandy cannot help but be reminded of Josh introducing a new animal to the household, treating it with quietness and reserve, waiting for an approach, not imposing himself upon it.
At length he begins, Perhaps – as Josh says, Perchance we –
They look at one another, and Sandy says, I confide that we should talk? While it seemed we understood one another well enough last night, one can find oneself in considerable misapprehension in such matters.
Josh raises his eyebrows, suddenly looking very like his father, and says, I daresay. He clasps and unclasps his hands and says, 'twas entirely unanticipated –
Indeed so, replies Sandy. I never supposed –
Josh shrugs. I like women well enough, he says, but have never felt that horror that fellows are supposed to feel over embraces with their own sex. There have been – occasions – indeed knocking about the world as I have done gives one to consider the provincial nature of local beliefs as to who may enjoy carnality with whom.
Does Clorinda - ?
Knows somewhat of the matter, says Josh, but I confide that she was not in any anticipation that I would be about your seduction.
Sandy feels the dour Calvinistickal glower settle upon his face as he says, perhaps we should define our terms more rigorously. I would not have considered that a seduction -
Advantage taken, mayhap?
But who of whom?
Indeed, thinking back, it is almost impossible to recollect who first did what during that frenzied grappling, what was an initiatory move and what a reciprocation. He makes a little groaning noise. (And yet, somewhere at the back of his mind, is the knowledge that Gervase would never have grudged him consolation – indeed, he can still remember the dawning smile and the irrepressible mirth when he confessed that matter at Naples – would not have demanded fidelity beyond the grave.)
Josh looks concerned.
Why, says Sandy, do I search my conscience on the matter, I cannot bring myself to regret the occasion. I could even, he goes on, desire a repetition (for it would be bodily comfort, and a brief oblivion, and 'tis not like opium or Indian hemp), but –
You would? asks Josh, with the expression of the small boy being presented with an infant wombatt.
They look at one another and Sandy feels something that is almost a smile at the corner of his mouth. Possibly with somewhat less urgency, he adds.
Some hours later, washed and dressed and looking entirely proper, they go down to dine with Clorinda. She looks from one to the other, lifts her fan in front of her face, and says, la, you both seem in excellent spirits the e’en. Josh begins upon a tale about the young giraffe, that is better recovered from the voyage than he had hoped, had been in some concern about it.
But, says Sandy, how did matters go with Lady Raxdell?
O, becomes quite enamoured of Dora Pockinford, that has every intention of putting her to work upon her philanthropic enterprizes, was even moved to a little laughter by Rebecca Nuttenford’s sallies, we get on. Can Viola not be able undertake her presentation at court, I confide either of 'em would be glad to do it.
What, you do not go present her yourself?
Clorinda sighs and says, she fears that these days, her sponsorship would do the lady no favours in court circles. And goes on, my dear, should you greatly object did I go give a quiet little dinner party to introduce them around a little?
I can hardly, he says, dictate to you what you do in your own house.
Clorinda laughs a little immoderate and says, sure 'tis proverbial that she is not mistress in her own household; and goes on, but should not like you to feel uncomfortable. And, she turns to Josh, Lord Raxdell has read of your exploits and would greatly desire meet you. I doubt not you had rather face a charging rhinoceros, but 'twould be very kind could you bring yourself to attend.
Josh grins and says, has once or twice dined in situations where was in some concern that he might be served up as the next course, he can deal with a Society dinner-party.
Say you so! Hmm, do not think I shall invite Lord and Lady Pockinford, he would be about asking you about benighted pagans and their practices and missions &C; the Vinwiches, the Abertyllds, Sebastian and Meg, Em and Lalage, and I think Mr Geoffrey Merrett is lately returned from his endeavours upon the Northern Circuit.
She takes out her little memorandum book and makes notes. They both smile at the sight. She looks up. Why, my dears, I still have a deal upon hand, and am a sad feather-wit that is like to forget matters do I not write 'em down.
Is there anyone left in Town, asks Josh, that considers Lady Bexbury a feather-wit?
La, says Clorinda, I hope there may be.