I do no more than leave cards on my next several calls, for happyly the ladies are out: so I demonstrate civil to Lady T-, Mrs O- B-, Lady Z-, and Lady G- without having to do the polite over the teacups, ‘tis entire agreeable to me.
But as I was like to anticipate, matters are different at O- House, and I am shown into the drawing-room where Hester lyes upon a couch, Nan sits in an easy-chair with her feet up on a footstool, and Em is rising from, I confide, sprawling beside her mother’s couch.
O! cries Hester, sitting up and holding out her hands, is this not the most delightfull unexpect’d thing? Em said you were very lately return’d to Town, but we were not at all sure that you would be about making calls –
La, says I, sure I was never fallen into a consumption, merely a little pull’d down, and also had matters to do with my property near Naples, I see that gossip has made a deal more of the matter than I anticipat’d.
Why, says Nan, 'twas remarkt that you had depart’d very precipitate -
O, poo, says I, 'twas entirely to have the advantages of traveling with the Contessa –
Indeed, she says, Tony said he suppos’d it was somewhat of the sort.
But, says I, my dears, what’s ado with you? – that I cannot already deduce for myself? – with a nod to Nan, that visibly increases.
Hester tells Nan to ring for tea, has she entire forgot the social graces? and Nan does so.
Selina comes across the floor to scrutinize me closely and then demonstrates an inclination to be pickt up and strok’d, so I do so, and sit down in an easy chair so that she may curl up purring in my lap.
Hester says, as she pours us tea and Em goes convey the cups about, U- has thought it proper, and that 'twould look a deal less particular, did he go reside at N- House, so he maintains a bachelor establishment there with Eddy and Geoff, but they dine here very often. And indeed, now you are return’d, dearest C-, might you provide him with some notions about how N- House might be furbisht up? 'Tis a great imposition, I know.
'Twould be an entire pleasure, says I.
They tell me how matters go in their set – dear Agnes S- has marry’d and is on her wedding journey, Lord and Lady A- shortly go hold a ball at B- House, and Cissie has a deal of suitors. Frances C- has been receiving very markt attentions from Lord V- (why, thinks I, has he been smitten by Cupid’s arrow at last? For altho’ Miss C- is well-bred and well-connect’d, has very little dower to her name). Did I ever meet Rebecca G- and Julia P-? Her Grace takes them around a little in Society, they are the most ravishing creatures, create quite a stir -
And is Lady Rosamund still among your circle? I enquire.
They all pull faces and say, indeed she is. I am surpriz’d to see that Em, that was in such a doating state about her, wears a similar expression to her mother and sister.
O, says Em, that little reptile.
Her mother tuts at her a little.
Why, says Nan, 'tis hard not to express oneself somewhat vulgar about her. 'Tis not just that she made up to us entire so that we would promote her interest to U-, for she has no notion to marry beneath her own station, can she not advance it, but she was discover’d to be spreading the most malicious gossip about you, dear C-.
La, says I, comes as no surprize.
Well, says Em, she will be quite confound’d to see you in such fine looks, and certainly not increasing.
I laugh and say sure gossiping tongues will be about wild speculations. And then go say somewhat of the very fine time I had in Naples &C.
Before I go Hester desires me to call upon her one morn, can I spare the time, and I apprehend that she has somewhat to convey to me that she had rather not do afore her daughters.
I return to my own dear house, and as I am so very recent return’d do not yet have a deal of engagements for every e’en, so I desire Euphemia to prepare – or instruct Celeste to prepare – a nice little supper, and then I purpose spend a little time in my library, arranging my books and considering over the various writing I have been at.
So I am in my library, that I am quite falling in love with, deciding upon the best manner of arranging my books, and whether some of 'em ought to be rebound, when comes Hector to say Mr Johnson comes call, will I see him?
O, says I, indeed, and find out what he would like to drink and if he would care for some snack to sustain him in his work of finding out malefactors.
A few moments later he shows in Matt Johnson and I go over clasp his hands in greeting, for indeed I am very pleas’d to see him. He smiles down upon me and says that I am looking entire well from my travels, and then looks about my library and smiles a little and says, there are those would be surpriz’d to see Lady B- in this setting.
La, says I, I am quite the secret bluestocking.
He laughs, and then comes Celeste with a mug of ale and a plate of bread and cheese.
When he has consum’d the latter and settl’d down with the ale, he looks at me and says, the matter is quite entire secure, Your Ladyship, you do not have any reason to worry.
Why, says I, I am pleas’d to hear it, for I had a very curious call just before my departure from one I apprehend to have been Mr O-'s superior in the matter.
Matt smiles somewhat grim and says, he was in some supposition that there were those above Mr R- O-. He also took a thought, when My Ladyship was out of Town last summer and Hector was in some concern that this place was being watcht, that the fellow doubtless had a number of hidey-holes about the place. So he set his young confederates to watch upon him – for does a fellow see an urchin or two go follow him, he will be mindfull of his purse and his watch but will not suppose they spy upon him.
Indeed so, says I. I hope you will permit me to convey 'em some gratitude.
So, Matt goes on, they manag’d find his lairs, and therefore, after the corpse had been dispatcht in the care of young Sam Jupp, he went about 'em to see had the fellow laid away any documents or other evidence that he kept, and in due course came across a little chest, that he has brought with him and put by just outside the door, might I give him leave to bring it in?
Please do, says I, and he goes fetch in a small wooden box, that is, I find when I attempt lift the lid, lockt.
Thought it better so, he says, but had been thro’ his pockets and found several keys about him, and one of 'em is the one for this chest. He takes it out of his own pocket and hands it to me.
Have not, he continues, delv’d very deep into this business, that I confide is entire outside my own commission, thought it best to hold it by until you might look thro’ it, for I daresay there are matters would mean more to you than me.
Perchance, says I, looking at the box and at the key in my hand and feeling entire like unto Pandora.
He then says, has business to be about the night, should be going, but is entire glad to see me well and in spirits. He stands up and I go over to take his hands and kiss him and says, sure there is a deal of gratitude, but I should not hold you from duty. He smiles down at me and says, he hopes he may call upon me again.
Indeed you may, says I, I hope you will.
After he has gone I stand looking at the box and walking around to view it from all angles and telling myself that to open it would not release a cloud of evils. I am also mind’d that 'twould not be prudent to thrust it into Hector’s hands and desire him to see that 'tis burnt, for 'twould be well-adviz’d to see what matters Mr R- O- had garner’d in his pryings.
I insert the key into the lock, turn it, and lift the lid.
There are a deal of papers inside, some of 'em in what I take to be cypher, but by no means all.
I go stir up the fire in the grate, for I confide that these are matters should be dispos’d of. I look most particular for any matters that bear upon members of our coterie: I find, indeed, some poems sign’d P.L. that I confide are those publisht by Mr W- Y- and suppos’d his. There are certain letters that entire demonstrate the prudent habit of Milord and Sandy not to correspond upon anything but such matters of business as lye 'twixt any lord and his secretary.
I also discover the hold he had upon the late Mr D- K-: 'twas a matter of a young woman that he had laid violent hands upon, that was the dear sister of a very villainous fellow, the chief of a gang of criminals, that swore revenge upon whoever had done the deed, and that Mr R- O- threaten’d disclose the matter to.
So I drop page after page into the fire and see the flames shoot up the chimney, and wonder should I keep by the ones in cypher and endeavour decypher 'em? Perchance I might put Sandy to the task? And yet, 'tis all matters that, the fewer know of 'em, the better. May even be such matters that Sandy might consider should be disclos’d, for already I have observ’d some hugger-mugger monetary dealings.
I toss 'em one by one into the fire, turn up and shake the box, feel around to see is there anything in the way of a false bottom, and think I shall go say must be choppt up for kindling.