Sure, my dearest, says I, you should open a school for young ladies that go marry into the responsibilities of a large household, 'twould be quite as usefull as deportment and dancing and whatever matters are taught at fine schools for young ladies.
Perchance! says Eliza. And anyway, neither Lady O- nor Miss B- were sent to school: had governesses so I am told. And a lady of any intelligence could surely contrive to pick up the matter – look at Her Grace.
I wonder, says I, how much she undertakes in the matter: for His Grace will say, when Lord T- goes praise up the importance of having a fine politickal secretary, that some fellows will marry a lady that serves exceeding well in that capacity, tho’ so not to seem as if he boasts on his own wife, will speak of Susannah W-.
One must collect, says Eliza, that the M- establishments have been under the hand of Lady J- and have good practices; sure once there are good practices, does not take all day for a lady to keep her hand upon the household.
Quite so, says I, for here is my darling that becomes quite as necessary to the Grand Turk’s politickal career as she ever is to his ironworks, and has the R- House households running like clockwork that only need a little winding once a day.
My dearest love blushes and tells me that I am a flattering weasel C-.
So, says I, will you go instruct the young Marchioness?
Of a surety: a nice young creature, and the Marquess is like to become entire part of our coterie, so 'tis felicity maximiz’d all around I daresay.
Why, says I, I will go write her at once, and I have some other agreeable letters to be about: have had a fine bundle from Hampshire: Phoebe is exceeding delight’d to be there, Mr de C- goes paint little Deborah, Martha has extreme fine hens that lay a deal of double-yolkt eggs, and the V-s go visit as well in order to see the rare orchids &C in the flower line there.
Eliza smiles and says, a deal more agreeable than the orphanage ladies.
So I go to the small parlour and open my traveling desk, and commence about my correspondence with more chear than usual because the letters I write are such pleasing matter. 'Tis in particular agreeable that Mrs V- has expresst how romantick she finds this tale concerning the Marquess: sure she should have consider’d her own knowledge of his excellent character rather than the tongues of scandal.
As I am about this delightfull task, comes a footman with a parcel for me. I sigh, for I daresay 'tis yet more samples of china or some such. I desire him to place it upon one of the low tables, for I am in no haste to go inspect it and had rather finish my letters first.
At length I look up from this task, having sand’d and seal’d ‘em all ready to go be post’d.
The parcel still sits upon the table. I go pick it up and look at it to see is there any sign of the sender, but 'tis an entire blank. Feels somewhat curious in my hands, as if the weight of it shifts about: perchance ‘tis some piece of china that has broke and the pieces rattle around. 'Tis no encouraging sign of the purveyor’s quality, can he not ensure that the goods are packt securely.
I begin about untying the string and unwrapping the paper to find the box within. I start to open the lid, and comes pouring out a serpent.
I stagger back, and then hold extreme still, for I have heard that their eyesight is poor, and unless they see movement, may not strike.
It raises up its head – 'tis one of those hood’d kind –
And the door of the room begins to open.
Stay out! I cry, and see the snake’s head start to turn towards me.
But comes in at the door the mongoose, that seeing its traditional adversary, puffs up its tail, rises upon its hinder legs, and lets out a chittering cry that I daresay is a challenge.
And is follow’d by Josh.
I dart across to the door – the snake is already about turning its attention upon the mongoose – quite thrust Josh back past the door and push myself after him, slam the door shut and lean against it. And then mind that a snake may contrive to creep under it, so pull Josh away and move away myself.
A snake, says I, panting somewhat, I confide 'tis a venomous kind.
O! cries Josh, and the mongoose goes fight it, o, prime. He shows a disposition to go peer thro’ the keyhole to observe the match but I pull him back.
Josh F-! says I. 'Tis not always the mongoose that triumphs, and I had rather not have to be oblig'd go suck venom from the wound did the snake bite you.
Oh, says he. Should I go fetch someone?
Go tell your mother, says I, while looking about me for somewhat that I might use did the snake endeavour escape.
He goes, looking rather pale, and I pull at one of the standing candle-holders, that mayhap I might contrive to push over so that it fell upon the serpent, that would hinder it if not crush it entirely.
I am standing beside the door holding this weapon when comes up Eliza with two footmen holding fire-tongs.
Well, how now, here’s an ado! says she. 'Tis still in the room?
She puts her ear to the door, and says, she confides she hears the mongoose go chatter, then falls to her knees so she may look through the keyhole – sure she is braver by far than I.
Hah! says she. The mongoose goes dance about the room, I confide has won the fight and celebrates its victory. Very cautious she goes open the door and looks in. And, says she, there is a snake upon the floor that looks exceeding dead.
The footmen go in and one of them very cautious picks up the snake in his tongs. It hangs entire limp. The mongoose goes, one may suppose, jeer at it.
The footman turns to Mrs F- and says, should they dispose of it.
I lean against the wall with my legs a-tremble and say, no, 'tis a mystery where it came from that we need resolve, and the corpse may prove material.
Lady B-, says Eliza, you should sit down at once and put your head between your knees before you faint.
Indeed I do not protest.
She dispatches one of the footmen to be about fetching brandy, and tells the other to go over to the west wing to see if Mr MacD- be there, and if so, tell him 'tis a matter of urgency.
I go sit plump down and put my head between my knees until I feel that I shall not go swoon away, while Eliza goes examine the box.
Only one snake, at least, she says.
Comes the footman with brandy, follow’d by Josh that goes make much of the mongoose and feeds it treats. He sighs a little and says he wishes he might have watcht.
I see Eliza in some mind to rebuke him for this curiosity, and then consider that we owe a deal to the mongoose. But nonetheless she tells Josh to run off to the schoolroom.
I am sipping of brandy when comes Sandy in a state of considerable agitation. What is this about a snake? he asks. Did it come in from the garden?
'Tis not, says I, tho’ I have made no great study of the matter, any serpent native to this soil.
I wave at where the dead snake lyes and Sandy goes scrutinize it. Indeed, says he, I confide 'tis what they call a cobra, that is found in India. I cannot, he adds, suppose that there are a deal of these around Town. 'Tis not like parrots or mongooses or monkeys that sailors may bring in to sell as pets. I wonder, he continues, whether Major S- might know about it. Do you provide me with somewhat I may carry it in, I will go visit him and ask.
While Eliza goes about this, he stands staring down at the snake with an expression as of John Knox encountering the serpent of Eve’s temptation.
Sure, he says at length, 'tis an exceeding careless method of assassination compar’d to a stiletto. For altho’ 'twas, we must confide, aim’d at you, dear sibyl, the package might have been open’d by some servant; or after had attackt you, might have run loose about the house or got into the garden –
I take a rather larger mouthfull of brandy.
We must suppose, goes on Sandy, that there was an desire for action at a distance.
What, says I, are there no Italian assassins to be hir’d? Fellows that might shoot me in the street?
Why, does one hire an assassin, there is a fellow has knowledge of somewhat that the fellow who commission’d him would, one must dare say, rather have not known.
True, says I. One may also consider, that even is there no demand for continu’d reward for keeping silence, cannot come cheap to hire an assassin.
We look very thoughtfull at one another.
Sure, says I, may be that I am being entirely the author of horrid tales on most unlikely matters, but there is a certain nobleman, bears me considerable resentment – no, Mr MacD-, not for the reason that I have been wont to find fellows bearing resentment, as in the instance of the late Mr O’C- - and is also not’d for his extreme carefullness with his gold. But perchance I misjudge him.
Comes Eliza with a bag that she confides will keep the snake secure and hidden while being borne about the streets. We go convey the corpse into the bag with the tongs, and Sandy says he will be about convoking with Major S- about the matter.
After he goes Eliza comes sit upon the arm of my chair, puts her arm around me and rests her face against my hair. O my darling, she says, her voice shaking, 'twas a very bad thing.
Indeed, says I, 'twas unforgiveable. (For I think of the children and in particular my darling Flora.)