Indeed, Sandy finds the few days in Surrey more agreeable than he anticipated. It is ever a delight to have converse with Hannah and Flora, good sharp minds that have not gone through the grinding mill driving them into the paths of conventional thought to which so many male minds are subject, but that have read and studied and thought for themselves.
But it is also pleasant to return to Clorinda’s comfortable pretty house and the companionship of his dearest friend. That he finds seated at the pretty desk in her parlour, that is showing a little sign of wear, but that she will never replace, because 'twas quite the thoughtfullest gift from Josiah Ferraby. Indeed there must be few men who would recognise that what their mistress would greatly desire is a fine writing desk with many compartments, some of them concealed. She is scribbling away in an absorbed fashion that he confides is naught to do with philanthropic business or social matters.
Mayhap 'tis a letter to New South Wales, where the Thornes continue to flourish, but he hopes she has took up her pen to a tale or two again.
She finishes the immediate sentence she was writing, lays down her pen, and turns around smiling. My dear, I hope you enjoyed yourself in Surrey?
'Twas surprisingly pleasant: and indeed Beatrice is a fine girl.
She is so, says Clorinda. But did Josh not return with you?
He did, but there was a message for him, some matter of the hippopotamus that he desired to be about at once.
Indeed, I collect Hector mentioned somewhat of the matter. I daresay the creature goes pine for Josh to scratch it behind its ears, for there is none knows the exact spot but him. She sighs. Sure one might hope that Josh would stay a little while among us, but already talks of South America, or so I apprehend from Tony Offgrange, that he spoke to on the matter.
She is silent for a moment and says, But, my dear, I daresay you have oft longed to travel, and indeed there must be much of interest in those parts, I would apprehend that Tony’s former comrades in the Cause are now well-placed and entire respectable and you would have the entrée to some very good sets.
Dearest sibyl! Do you purpose drive me away?
La, my dear, 'tis quite exceptional delightful to have your company, but you must not feel that a pet philosopher is entire like unto a lapdog, that must not roam for fear of some dog-stealing gang that will go take it up for ransom. And I apprehend that you and Josh find a most congenial companionship.
Her expression is quite entirely innocent, but he confides that she has some understanding that Josh knows the spots to scratch upon philosophers as well as hippopotami.
Perchance, he says, was I a somewhat younger man I might be tempted to such an expedition, but I do not find the prospect greatly enticing. (Mayhap 'tis indeed as he was accused in earlier days, that he has been entire softened through luxurious living?)
Dear Sandy, I confide my sweet wombatt child has been about telling you some tale that I go droop and secretly wear the willow and am entirely Dido in the ruins of Carthage but would not let it be known, and 'twould entire put minds at rest did you remain with me to ensure that I did not fall into some melancholic decline or set myself afire like a Hindoo widow or some such. Sure 'tis very pretty in 'em all to be so concerned over a silly creature -
My dearest Clorinda, he says, drawing up his chair closer to her and taking her hands, I am always given quite the greatest concern do you go calling yourself a silly creature, and indeed I have heard quite enough about fits of low spirits from those that care about you to be in considerable anxiety myself that you go about as Patience on a monument, smiling at grief, letting concealment, like a worm i’ the bud, feed on your damask cheek.
O, poo, says Clorinda, with rather less conviction than usual when voicing this exclamation. Would not impose such megrims of the spirit upon those about me.
He observes a little moistness about her eyes.
Sure, he said, did any of your friends say the like, you would urge them to – well, not in the words of the Scottish play, that I daresay you still have a superstitious feeling about –
Indeed I am the foolishest Clorinda in the matter –
But in words to very similar effect.
But, dearest Sandy, I would not burden you in your sorrow with my own griefs –
Why, did you not say yourself, that it comforted you to comfort me?
Why, indeed, 'tis entirely true. But, o bello scozzese, sure I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange? - that is, my darling precious child ever excepted. My dear, do not look so worried, 'tis quite entire a platonic affection. But has been, even though 'tis for such a sad reason, most agreeable to have your company, has indeed soothed my spirits -
He draws back a little and looks at her. I am in some suspicion, he says, that a certain queen of contrivers went about to put this tale around, to persuade me to stay for my own benefit.
La, my dear, 'tis a plot entire too intricate for me to devize! No, I will confess, have found myself in the dumps more than occasional now both my darlings are gone. Indeed I still have good friends about me, and my good people in the household, but –
He considers that doubtless it is said among her circles that sure it must have been hard for her to have lost such excellent good friends as the Ferrabys, and to have nursed Eliza Ferraby through that prolonged illness as she had so kindly done must have been a hard thing: but there are few indeed that know the inwardness of the matter.
Hector comes in with tea, saying that they were expecting Her Ladyship to ring for it, but doubtless she was too caught up in Mr MacDonald’s news of Miss Flora and Hannah and the children to think of ringing the bell.
Clorinda’s mouth twitches a little as she remarks that sure she is not mistress in her household.
When Hector has gone, she goes over to the table upon which he has set down the tray and pours them both tea. Well, my dear, indeed you might tell me how the dear girls do and how the children come on.
Why, he says, indeed it seems to answer very well for them, and I am minded of the old days of the Raxdell House nursery set. I suppose I am in some curiosity as to how the fathers are chosen, and how they feel about the business.
Clorinda looks down into her cup and says that she sometimes takes a little concern over the matter, for not all fellows, she confides, are like to take the matter in the fine generous spirit manifested by Milord or Josh. She dares say that Flora and Hannah are careful in who their choice rests upon, but she cannot help but recall that monster Evenden, that wanted naught to do with Julius until he had some use for him himself.
Does Julius - ?
She shrugs and shakes her head. I do not go interrogate Seraphine upon the matter. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof and we may hope that that scoundrel remains in Philadelphia.
Indeed we may. Is there ever any news of how he does, and whether the quondam Miss Minton, or perchance Mrs Gaffney? remained married to him?
Alas, I do not have lines of communication that reach that far. Though, indeed, do I not recall that Reynaldo di Serrante and that excellent Quaker wife of his go visit fellow-abolitionists there? Also Sir Vernon may still have connexions in Washington that might be able discover somewhat to the matter, and there may be those that Jacob Samuels has dealings with over fossils &C –
Sure, he says, I have correspondents myself that mayhap could –
They pause and look at one another. 'Tis quite like the old days.
Clorinda makes a little gulping sound, half laughter, half sob. I daresay this is what dear Belinda described when she was endeavouring convince me of the joys of hunting, when the hounds would go start a fox. She looks thoughtful and says, and these days a deal of actors will go try their luck for a while in those parts without they intend settle there. Though I confide had Miss Addington heard aught of Miss Minton she would have said somewhat to the matter…
Let us be about it, he says. I will go see has he lately published anything on his chemical researches.
Sure, says Clorinda, the posts are a deal faster these days – indeed matters all go a deal faster. I have sat quite at my ease in a railway train and gone think how I was so terrified of much lesser speed in Milord’s curricle, is’t not strange? – I will go write letters.