So the R- House ball approaches, and I go spend the preceding night there with my darlings, for 'tis an entire prudent course of action, and also Josiah is in some concern that Eliza may go fret herself into sleeplessness unless a certain sovereign remedy for that condition is apply’d.
And we both make very attentive to the matter so that our best belov’d of wild girls will not be wore to a rag afore the ball even begins.
Once this matter is accomplisht I steal away to my fine reserv’d chamber, and address myself to refreshing slumber, tho’ I daresay Sophy still has instructions from Docket to make me lye down with slices of cowcumber upon my eyes afore I go be dresst the e’en.
The morn comes the expect’d chocolate party levée, at which Bess and Meg make protests that I never come visit any more, I am an entire stranger -
Alas, says I, I am so invit’d about since my return to Town, so that all may gaze upon me and scrutinize me extreme close thro’ their quizzing-glasses, and go speculate whether I am in health or whether 'tis that the fam’d Docket is exceeding cunning with rouge, that I have less time than I should like to do those things I would really desire to do.
They are a little mollify’d by this protestation.
I add that perchance some day shortly we might all ride out in the Park together?
O, prime! cries Meg. And, Bess, do you not think that 'twould be entire in order for Flora to come upon Mouse? (Flora goes bounce up and down.)
Bess looks considering, and says, indeed she comes on very well, but do we go ride in the Park I confide we should have Mouse upon a leading-rein. (Flora claps her hands.)
But what should you ride, Bess?
Bess sits up with a great smile and says, while Mama and Papa go consider upon a horse for me, His Lordship says I may ride Radegond.
Why, says I, that is very civil of him.
Meg says, 'twill very probably start up that old gossip again that a match is in prospect.
Bess snorts and says somewhat about idle tongues.
Comes Mrs L- to mind the children that just because the household is at sixes and sevens because of the ball, there is no reason not to apply themselves to their lessons. And looks doatingly at Flora, that clings to my arm with a mutinous expression, and says, she dares say 'twill do her no harm to stay a little longer with her aunty.
So my sweet jewel remains with me while I dress for the day, and makes very civil to Sophy, and is quite entire well-behav’d, and chatters constant as to what she is about, and offers repeat to me the nine-times table that she has just master’d. O, she is the delight of my heart.
In due course I go down to greet my darling Eliza in the family room, and she chases Flora off to the schoolroom, that goes very expeditious about the matter with no complaint, and we both look after her most extreme doating.
O, says I, she grows such a great girl!
'Tis the way of it, says Eliza with somewhat of a sigh. But we should not repine that they do not remain babies, for that would be somewhat tedious.
'Tis so, says I, I cannot regret this infant bluestocking.
A nice little breakfast is brought for me, and I am pleas’d to see that my darling does not show as distract’d as she was by the ball last year, I daresay use begins make it entire familiar.
Comes a footman from the west wing with a note for me from Milord, that would, do I have no other matter upon hand, desire a brief convockation in the library. I raise my eyebrows a little, but send back my entire agreement and say I will come as soon as I have finisht my coffee.
When the footman has gone I turn to Eliza and ask does she have any notion what might be ado? She shakes her head.
'Tis therefore with somewhat of apprehension that I go to the library, where I find Milord sitting at one of the tables with a jewel-chest before him.
How now, says I, surely you do not require my opinions upon what jewell’d pin or rings or so you should wear?
No, says Milord, these are the jewels that were my mother’s. I wonder’d, did it suit with what you intend wear, whether you might wear some of 'em.
Why, says I, would that not look a little particular?
Dearest C-, 'tis a poor enough thing compar’d to any contrivance you might devize: but you may have heard that a certain scurrilous tale went about in your absence that there was somewhat afoot 'twixt Eliza F- and myself, so do you go display as it might be the fam’d pink diamonds, 'twould demonstrate that you are still the preferr’d mistress.
Why, says I, while 'tis entirely pleasing to me to think that she comes about to be consider’d a fine woman of such qualities that Your Lordship might incline to her, 'tis an exceeding vulgar slander that there is aught 'twixt the two of you but very fine mutual respect. And 'twould give me a deal of pleasure to wear the pink diamonds.
He hands them to me and I run them thro’ my fingers, looking at how they catch the light.
I wish I might give 'em to you outright, he says, but 'tis entire prudent to keep 'em as if for a future bride and then a daughter. He sighs. But, he goes on, has ever seem’d to me a wrong thing to marry some lady entirely as breeding stock, tho’ sure 'tis a common enough practice. One saw how aglay matters us’d to be 'twixt Sir H- Z- and his lady until a certain silly creature took 'em in hand. Tho’ offspring would have been most agreeable.
I take his hand and squeeze it, and say, to lighten his mood, that alas, he misst his chance with the terrifying virago, cut out by the Admiral’s navigational skills.
He laughs a little and says, altho’ she is an admirable lady of excellent fine qualities, and would entirely apprehend the situation, I greatly prefer to admire her qualities at some distance rather than as the wife of my bosom.
I smile and say 'tis entire understandable. But, I go on, I will take these fine things for Sophy to contemplate upon as to whether will suit with the gown we have brung, or whether will need send for another.
So I go to my chamber, where Sophy is in the dressing-room about a little sewing, and show her the pink diamonds at which she gasps mightyly and shows extreme impresst – for she comes about to have a very nice taste in jewels – and says, o, Your Ladyship, these will suit even better with that blue satin than your own diamonds.
I go contemplate upon this, and indeed, she is right.
And oh, she goes on, there is a tiara. Shall need to consider upon how Your Ladyship’s hair should be dresst to show it off.
We therefore spend a little while before the glass at this agreeable occupation.
I then take my traveling desk and go sit in the family room in case my darling is getting into the frets but she looks exceeding compos’d and about household books.
She looks up at me with a smile and says, sure she considers she should go set up in business advizing young ladies on the management of an aristocratick household, for has lately been besought to convey a little instruction to Lady Emily and her cousin, that intend go live at N- House and make it more comfortable. Lalage F- - is she not an excellent young lady? I am sure she could make a very good match is she no longer sequester’d in some rural parsonage – has some experience in domestick matters but not in any household of such magnitude. So I go look out some of my books to show 'em.
(I confide that my darling has not yet fathom’d Lalage F-'s nature.)
And talking of instruction, she continues, I have been in correspondence with Mrs D- concerning the matter of sending Meg to school for a little while, and she has some very fine suggestions – there is a lady, was a teacher in the same school as herself, goes set up her own establishment with her sisters, that between 'em have a deal of learning of different kinds, and would greatly wish aid their enterprize. 'Tis somewhere in the vicinity of Hitchin - the pretty countryside about the Chilterns – so 'tis not so far from Town that Meg might not come home at least occasional of a weekend.
Would go, says I, I confide as a parlour-boarder? And would she be able to continue her piano-practice?
'Tis an entire consideration, but one of the sisters is an accomplisht pianist herself, tho’ may have to bring in some visiting teacher as well.
Why, says I, seems as if 'twould answer. Have you open’d the matter to Meg at all?
Not yet: have spoke of it to Mrs L-, that agrees it an excellent plan. 'Tis not as tho’ 'twould be a matter of her occupation gone, indeed, she runs quite a dame-school now for the nursery-set, even if Bess will soon be off her hands.
She sighs a little and looks down at her hands says, two great girls come to womanhood, and cannot be long afore Bess makes her debut -
O my darling, says I, you are still an exceeding fine woman, that is give out one that is approv’d by the most exacting taste -
O! cries Eliza with a little colour rising in her cheeks, you heard of that? Sure Josiah was growling and muttering of punching noses and wondering whether he is suppos’d a wittol or mayhap even a pander of his own wife.
La, says I, you will go chide me for keeping secrets, but my darlings did not open this matter to me. Well, Milord and I have a contrivance, and you and I must go show that we are not rivalrous ladies but the dearest of friends.
Eliza’s lips twitch and she says, she hopes she may act that part convincing.