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Dearest Lucy

It was the most delightful of pleasures to receive your letter and to hear that you had been safely delivered of a fine baby boy, that I daresay will be walking and talking by the time you receive this. What a very fine man Mr Lowndes sounds to be, I am most greatly sorry I never met him. It is immensely reassuring to me to think that you have the companionship of such an excellent lady with such wisdom in matters of maternity as Mrs Ferraby. I only hope that you do not go about to overdo, betwixt motherhood, your responsibilities towards your pupils, and your writing for Mr Lowndes’ paper.

But, indeed, I am not one to preach upon the matter, for I am quite constantly kept busy here: not only do I begin the Thornes’ dear children on the rudiments, but I continue to find a great desire for education among the convicts of our community, and a wish to have letters written by those that do not yet feel confident in writing them themselves, although there are now some few that have come on to be able to instruct their fellows. I also assist the Thornes with their observations.

And besides that, Abby Mrs Thorne and I find ourselves assisting Mr Carter in matters of nursing the sick. I do not recollect whether I wrote to you before about Mr Carter? – he came to this land in the capacity of surgeon to the scientific expedition, but has fallen so in love with the country that he has determined to stay, to collaborate with the Thornes in their scientific enterprizes, and also to run a dispensary for our people. But I daresay even I had not mentioned this to you, you would have heard somewhat of the matter from Lady Bexbury, for we have applied to her for the provision of surgical instruments, drugs, &C, that are very hard to come by here. There is not a deal of injury and disease, for we practice sound measures of hygiene, but there will always be some accidents and ailments.

Mr Carter is a most excellent man, a most adept surgeon – oh, Lucy, I try to write of him in a sober fashion, but I must tell you, that we find ourselves in a most happy condition of mutual admiration, and purpose to marry very shortly. He is the dearest of fellows, and it is no wonder that he is so greatly esteemed by Mr and Mrs Thorne. Sure I have found myself, to my astonishment and sometimes embarrassment, courted by several gentlemen in this place, from government officers to free settlers, some of whom grow exceeding wealthy on the backs of sheep: but I have found none that I could like as much as Mr Carter.

He is the finest of men, has a most humane spirit – there is very bad treatment goes on of the aboriginal peoples of the land, that he has a great admiration for, saying that when he was with the scientific expedition all were most prepossessed with their abilities in tracking and hunting and finding sustenance in what appeared a barren wilderness, where the products of civilization would have wandered in circles, or sat down and waited for death. He is writing up a memorandum on the subject, and wondered if, did we send it to you when completed, Mr Lowndes might publish it?

Indeed those years with the Duggetts seem like some nightmare from which I have now awakened. I am sure you would laugh and teaze me unmercifully did I tell you how wonderful I find the Thornes; they are quite the finest companions one could have.

But I mind that there was a thing I meant to ask you, about whether there was any in your circles that might pursue the matter. There has lately come about these parts two gentlemen – I say gentlemen because although they show the effect of hardships and are burnt very brown by the sun, they are clearly well-bred educated fellows does one speak to them – Mr Perry and Mr Derringe, that have some intention to set up a school for boys, for there is a considerable desire among the settlers &C to have their sons educated as gentlemen. While they go about to raise interest for this enterprize, they undertake some private tutoring. And one day came to us Mr Perry, half-carrying Mr Derringe that had some fever or other about him, seeking Mr Carter’s aid in this extremity.

We have a few beds attached to the dispensary, and he was laid in one of them, and examined by Mr Carter, who determined that ‘twas some fever very like unto the mala aria: most fortunate he keeps some fever bark about the dispensary, so quite immediate went about preparing a tincture. Meanwhile, he desired me to sponge the fellow to cool his fever.

So I went about this, and Mr Carter managed to convey him some of the tincture, and he seemed a little better, but then Mr Carter was called away, and said to me, dear Miss Netherne, would you greatly mind sitting by Mr Derringe and continuing to sponge him and keep him quiet, giving him a little of the tincture every few hours? Why, said I, I was about to ask was there anything I might do, so he left me with careful instructions.

I sat by Mr Derringe for some hours, and it seemed to me that he was troubled in his mind, and it did not seem entire delirium, and in due course he disclosed to me very halting and in between shivering fits, that he had on his conscience that he had allowed a young lady to whom he was affianced to suppose that he was dead of a fever in the South Seas, and it would have been a better and more honourable course to communicate to her that he had found that he was such a fellow as would not make her a good husband and thus set her at liberty with no obligation to mourn. She was, he said, a Miss Fenster, her father was the vicar of Upper Stobbing.

So to reassure him I said that the Thornes and I had numerous connexions in England that might be able to go about to find the present condition of the lady, but was it not like that she had by now married another? Very like, he said, she was a quite excellent young woman. So, dear Lucy, I write to you to ask are there any in your circles might go about with discretion to discover the present whereabouts of this lady, for it is clear that the business continues to prey upon Mr Derringe’s mind even though he has recovered from his fever, and Mr Carter fears 'twill bring about some relapse.

Oh, my dear Lucy, the only spot upon my happiness is that you may not be present at my wedding, that Mr Thorne will perform, and that I cannot see you and little Andrew and your excellent husband. Please convey my very greatest respects to Mr and Mrs Ferraby and to Lady Bexbury, that great patroness of our enterprize here: oh what a foolish misguided narrow-minded creature I was to so misjudge her fine qualities.

With every affection, your loving sister, Ellie

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Yr humble amanuensis is most entire grateful for the comments on the recently concluded novella.

There are still a few snippets in hand and - possibly - one or two longer pieces.

Watch this space.

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Geoffrey’s confusion over the owner of the library brings to Sandy’s mind that there are still several trunks of his stored somewhere about the house, containing his own books and other matters, and does he intend staying here, he might unpack them and see is there some place he might keep them more convenient.

He mentions this to Clorinda. O, indeed, she cries, I daresay one might put up more shelves in the library, mayhap a few about your chamber – I wonder might we come about to make a study for you –

No, no, I am quite contented to be about philosophizing in the library –

Do I not disturb you am I in and out?

Not in the least, dearest Clorinda. And, my dear, do I continue to be part of this household, you have been treating me entirely as a guest in Liberty Hall, but I should wish to pay my way -

Clorinda looks as if she might object, and then says, with a lopsided smile, that sure he would not wish to be a kept man and 'twould be somewhat to reassure the dear children that he does not take advantage of a poor lonesome creature –

Exactly. I do not wish to acquire the reputation of a parasite.

O, poo. But let us go summon Hector about this matter of shelves: I doubt not he will say that do we have carpenters in there are other matters that would require their attention.

This is indeed so. Hector also shows some disposition towards bringing down the trunks from the attic in which they are stored for Sandy’s examination, but is finally prevailed upon to concede that this may take place in the attic, and only such matters as turn out to be required need be brought down.

So the next morn, he ascends to the attic and looks at the boxes that hold his past life, and tells himself that he must be philosophical about the business, for it is entirely foolish to leave all these things stowed away.

And is almost undone at the outset, flinging open a lid and finding, resting on top of everything, his worn volume of Burns’ poems. That had been with him so long and to so many places, and from which he had read at so many gatherings.

He picks it up as if it might bite. Closes his eyes and lets it fall open (entire superstition) and then opens his eyes to read

Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

Tears spring to his eyes, as he is overwhelmed by the memories of how indeed he and Gervase had loved so kindly, had enjoyed happiness for so many years in a world so very hostile to men like them. And he would not have given that up in spite of the grief he feels now. Gervase at his fencing practice. Gervase frowning thoughtfully at his mirrored reflection and adjusting his cravat. Gervase teaching him to dance. Gervase clinging to him in the aftermath of nightmare. Gervase’s face when he returned from Naples. Gervase laughing at some sally of Clorinda’s. Gervase practising a speech so that he might give it in the Lords without stammering. Gervase in that masquerade costume as a Jacobite out of Scott.

He lets the memories flood over him.

Some hours later, though he has not quite finished the task, for each box opened releases further clouds of memories, the antithesis of the evils that emerged from Pandora’s box, he goes downstairs to the parlour, clutching the volume of Burns in his hand.

Clorinda looks up. You have cobwebs in your hair, o bello scozzese. She stands up and comes over and reaches up to brush them away.

Listen! he says, and begins to read the lines to her, realising as he does so that his voice is softening out of the English intonation it has acquired over the years –

- and Clorinda bursts into heaving sobs quite unlike the affecting tearfulness she will sometimes manifest, and leaning on his chest, gasps out, O, Sandy, I miss them so much.

He puts his arms around her, reminded of the time she disclosed in similar fashion that she was with child. Dear Clorinda, he says.

At length her sobs diminish and she leans away from him, fumbling for her handkerchief, blowing her nose, and making apologies, saying, La, you are not obliged to endeavour go soothe a lady that succumbs to a fit of hysterics.

He hugs her to him again and says, Perchance it might ease your mind to talk sometimes of happy times with one that knows somewhat of the inwardness?

She gives a shaky laugh and says, Fie, Mr MacDonald, I confide you would be mightily shocked did I so.

Must be of considerable philosophical and scientific interest, he says.

They both fall into a fit of somewhat hysterical giggling.

Clorinda sits down and dabs at her eyes and says, does she look calm enough that the household will not get into a fret does any observe her? For she confides that they could both do with some good strong coffee.

When she has tidied herself a little she rings the bell to request coffee.

As they sit drinking it, he looks across at his friend and says, Dearest Clorinda, I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange? Sure I do not know how I would have contrived without you. You have always been so kind to one that I fear can be a very tiresome fellow.

La, my dear, you have ever shown more than civil to a silly creature of no education, spoke to me as if I was a rational being, been the kindest of friends. Sure we have been through a deal of difficulties together: though none, she adds thoughtfully, as trying as this present one.

They both sigh and gaze mournfully into their cups. And then look up again and smile at one another.

The door opens and Josh comes in, dishevelled and weary-eyed. I have, he says, been attending upon the accouchement of Lady Raxdell’s wanton doggie. Do we know any that would like a puppy of extreme dubious ancestry?

Why, says, Clorinda, let us go think over those of our acquaintance that have children that would greatly desire a puppy, and would not go be nice over matters of breeding -

The two men look at her fondly and smile.

- I suppose one cannot yet tell are they like to be fine ratters, sure Sam will always be glad of ratters for the stables – but I could not offer take one myself, Motley and Fribble would object most vehement –

Through the half-open door Prue can be heard singing hymns about her work - I woke: the dungeon flamed with light.

And Sandy thinks that his own dungeon of loss does not flame yet with light: but there is the small steady candle of Clorinda’s love and concern driving away the worst of the shadows.

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Somehow, he is not sure how, he cannot feel that he has made some definite decision in the matter, it seems easier to do than not to, Sandy finds himself dining somewhat more frequently than once a week with Geoffrey Merrett. Occasionally he thinks that there is somewhat ironic about this arrangement: for is that not what he at first supposed there was with Gervase? A matter of convenience for two fellows of like desires to gratify them most discreet. It is only now that he apprehends what a difference there was.

He is sitting having a peaceful quiet evening with Clorinda, both of them reading, and he looks up and says, somewhat to his own surprize, that he cannot fathom how that trick of substituting one person for another in bed could work –

Well, my dear, I think we may suppose that Angelo had not had carnal knowledge of Mariana, nor Bertram of Helena, and that both encounters took place in the dark. And perchance there was a matter of sprinkling with some perfume – she gives a small private smile – that was that of one lady rather than another. But sure one would suppose that Count Almaviva would know his own wife! Indeed, 'tis like the convention that does one put on a domino, even one’s intimates will be deceived.

I am not persuaded, she goes on, that 'tis entire true that all cats are grey at night - for there are other distinctions in the matter, the size, the length of the hair, do they have an ear missing, the sound of the purring – by which one might distinguish one cat from another even in the dark. Should never confuse Motley with Fribble.

He smiles at her.

It begins to dawn upon him that Geoffrey is not taking the matter in the same prudential spirit as himself. Will mention gentlemen that have set up a joint household for the convenience and economy of the thing – says that he dares suppose they may see a deal of one another over the summer even is Society out of Town, for he hears that Sandy is invited to Dambert Chase? And he is sure that he can prevail upon his brother to extend an invitation to Monks Garrowby – sure there are opportunities they may make –

He does not know why this should cast him into such gloom, but it does so. Had been thinking of the invitation to Hampshire, where he might talk classics with Lady Jane, and the latest discoveries in science with Jacob Samuels, and whatever came into Martha Samuels' head. And watch Raoul de Clérault painting, and would all be soothing to his spirits. At Dambert Chase it was the prospect of good talk with Tony Offgrange, walks to the Rectory and fine conversation with the Lucases. Not spaniel devotion –

My dear, says Clorinda one morn as they are at the breakfast table, I should not be perturbed did I see the dour Calvinistical glare, but latterly you look most extreme miserable – not, she goes on, that I should expect you to look lightsome and cheerful, but you do appear out of the common distressed about somewhat. Was you not a freethinker I should suppose you had come to some consideration that you were eternally damned.

Dear sibyl, he says at length, I am in an entire muddle, but you have disentangled mayhap worse muddles of mine in former days. And proceeds to lay the matter before her.

Clorinda begins to laugh quite immoderate, and then forces herself into sobriety. My dear, I do not laugh at you and your predicament, but I daresay I should disclose that some years ago Mr Merrett asked for my hand in marriage –

What!

La, I had shown kind to him, and perchance – 'twas a time when Society was but slowly returning to Town, you and Milord had gone that jaunt to the Highlands, there was some matter to do with the ironworks detained my darlings from their return – I paid him a little more attention than I might otherwise have done. And listened most sympathetic to the account of his very particular difficulties, &C. And it came to him that marrying a lady that knew what's what and had seen life might answer, for these young women on the marriage market are very ignorant and one could not raise the matter before the wedding –

Indeed, Sandy finds himself surprized into laughter. Did he so? he gasps at length.

Clorinda puts on a demure expression. He did so. So, I said that I apprehended that he would claim a certain liberty within those bonds, and sure, was I ever minded to remarry, should desire a similar liberty, would tie up my fortune, and moreover the profession have give it out that I am unlike to see increase but that might be of no moment to him –

To be just, she adds, I do not think he had any particular thought to my pleasing competence; but he then looked at me and I think went consider what 'twould mean to marry a woman with a mind and will of her own that has seen the things I have seen, and that we had had a most agreeable and amusing interlude but that marriage was a very different proposition.

You were not obliged to go about as you did with that fellow Croce in Naples?

Clorinda giggles and says, most fortunately, no. But, she goes on, putting on a serious expression, I think I must go speak to Mr Merrett, about taking advantage of a fellow that still grieves – for indeed, 'tis like unto widows, that may show pliant to suitors not because they are so used to having a man, as idle tongues will have it, but because they are in a daze.

What, I am a readily beguiled widow?

Dearest Sandy, you were together with Milord nigh upon thirty years. 'Twould reflect poorly upon the both of you did you not mourn. But 'tis the worse for you that you may not show it, dress in weeds, eschew society, &C –

You must know somewhat of that.

'Tis true, she says a little tearfully, but I had my good people about me, took care of me. But I will go write Mr Merrett a note desiring him to call upon me. Can be nothing exceptionable in summoning him: I daresay he will suppose I wish put some deserving case in his way. I might also go suggest to him that although his family quite accepts the pretty devotion of the Ladies of Attervale, might be somewhat of a different matter when 'tis gentlemen –

Do you go tell me that Lady Emily and Miss Fenster are of the Sapphic disposition?

La, my dear, had you not guessed?

Indeed I am a fool, dear sibyl, but - sure women are entire a mystery to me.

O, poo, Mr MacDonald, sure you have not been immured in some monastery, you have several good female friends, women cannot be so entire a mystery to you –

Oh, I see what 'tis – I do not think women of them, I think Hannah or Lady Jane or Susannah Wallace.

She smiles at him. Did you not, o, many years ago, write to me of those among your peripatetic philosophical set that talked of women as if they had never met one and as if they were some rare creature of which they had heard report? There are indeed certain aspects of women you have not encountered, but as a sex they are not strangers to you.

I will also concede, he says, that I have at times been out in my judgements of my own sex.

They smile at one another.

Sandy is greatly tempted to be out of the house when Geoffrey Merrett calls, but merely goes seclude himself in the library. Where he finds himself in a considerable curiosity as to what Clorinda is telling him, indeed is unable to settle to anything.

At length, Hector comes in to ask whether he is at home to Mr Merrett?

It would be cowardly, unmanly and a little cruel to shirk this interview.

Comes in Geoffrey most chastened and quite abject apologetic for the very poor ton he has manifested. Alas, the admiration he had so long borne towards Mr MacDonald led him into this unmannerly imposition.

This is so pretty and touching a sight that Sandy pulls Geoffrey into his arms, kisses him fondly and apologises that he himself, alas, is yet unable to love again.

Indeed, cries Geoffrey, how could it be otherwise?

(Sandy wonders, not for the first time, whether Gervase had succumbed to that melting adoration during that time the two of them were so horribly at outs and he had fled to Naples to beg Clorinda to return to her wonted haunts. Fencing lessons – instruction in driving – considerable opportunities. )

But, he continues, perchance, someday - ?

Sandy makes some non-committal reply. Adoration and admiration are all very well, but he cannot envision Geoffrey teazing him out of his gloomy moods, or having Gervase’s way of dealing with a dour Calvinistical glare.

Geoffrey steps back and looks about their surroundings. I see you have your library around you already.

'Tis Lady Bexbury's, he says.

Oh – an inheritance from her late husband?

(It pleases Sandy more than it should to apprehend that Mr Merrett may have shared Clorinda’s bed – in a far more conventional sense than he himself ever has – but has no notion that she is a lady keeps a fine library for use rather than ornament.)

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Sandy has already made the deduction that although Josh lacks those feelings of aversion towards carnal embraces with his own sex that are so dreadfully common, his inclinations are predominantly towards the fairer one. It is therefore with somewhat of a bitter amusement that he discovers himself feeling some resentment, not on his own behalf but on that of Hannah, when Josh begins to spend a deal of time in the company of the Dowager Duchess of Humpleforth, and he cannot suppose that their discourse is entirely concerned with the fauna of India and the habits of the mongoose.

He mentions the matter to Clorinda. Who smiles and says, sure freedom in the heart’s affections may be claimed by men as a license to be amorous butterflies and commit seductions – one may recall that dreadful fellow Herr Paffenrath, that indeed, one still hears occasional intelligence of and thus can never be presumed dead so his poor wife might be released (Gretchen Paffenrath, he collects, was left very comfortably situated upon the demise of the late Mr Knowles) – but my dear, women may also follow that creed, sure I am no entire unique creature.

And, she goes on, Julia is a childless widow of considerable fortune that was married to a doating but somewhat tedious elderly husband, I do not suppose that mongeese take up all her heart. Can do her no harm to be seen as a patroness of a famed explorer and zoologist.

Do you think so, dearest Clorinda, I will defer to your fabled understanding of the human heart –

- O, poo, Mr MacDonald, you take advantage that I have no fan in hand to smite flatterers –

- provided that you are assured that Hannah will not be upset in the matter. (How easy it is, he realizes, to slip back into their old teazing converse.)

I confide not. 'Tis very pretty in you to be concerned for her.

She is an excellent young woman, he says.

You do not need convince me of her merits! and, by way of an association by pun, is’t not tonight you go dine with that beacon of the Bar, Mr Geoffrey Merrett?

Indeed it is: and, why, dear silly creature, should that make you smile thus?

I cannot imagine what you mean: how is’t that I smile? And why should I not smile do you go dine with a fellow that has ever had the greatest admiration for you?

But, somehow, the quite antient joke about the Honble Geoffrey’s very great, positively worshipful, admiration for him no longer seems as amusing as it used to be.

It is, perhaps, a little to wonder at that so eligible a bachelor as Mr Merrett has not yet married: brother of the Earl of Nuttenford, a most highly-spoke of barrister, exceeding well-looking, a good deal of address…

And not indifferent to the charms of womanhood, does gossip not lie –

But indeed, 'tis a topic Mr Merrett has no hesitation in raising himself when making entire unnecessary apologies for his bachelor establishment: indeed, marriage may be an excellent fine thing, but he takes the thought that one marries, and there are a deal of social obligations, and then one has to keep up a certain style of living, and the next thing one knows is that one is taking on cases because they will be well-remunerated, and not because of the justice of the thing –

(For indeed, Mr Merrett already has a reputation for taking on cases that will not be remunerative, but will defend the defenceless; it is entirely admirable in him.)

- and furthermore, he has been brought to an apprehension of the very inequitable nature of marriage, he cannot suppose that MacDonald has not read the very fine writings of the youngest Miss Ferraby and Miss Roberts upon the subject, gives men a deal of quite tyrannical power; but does one consider a free union, may have quite the most adverse effects for the woman and any offspring unless one goes live among Owenites or such –

The port – it is really most excellent port – has been back and forth several times. There are also excellent cigars.

- and then – the eloquence falters for a little while – there are also matters of the exclusiveness that goes with that institution, that may trouble one.

Oh? says Sandy, raising his eyebrows.

Not that I incline to the vulgar way that my father went on –

Why, responds Sandy, he was at least discreet in his pleasures, could have been a deal worse.

’Tis true, but one cannot like the way he went about the business. And surely 'tis possible to have affection for more than one –

(Sandy cannot see how this follows, but he listens on.)

And perchance there might be one that, in the present state of society, one may not offer those open manifestations of feeling approved by convention –

Because, suggests Sandy, those feelings are looked on with great severity by the law?

I see you apprehend me, says the Honble Geoffrey, pouring himself more port and pushing the decanter across the table. And yet one sees that although there are very degraded manifestations of such feelings – alas, have I not seen evidence of that in the courtroom? – they may also rise to quite the highest form of human affection.

My dear Merrett, says Sandy in his driest tones, you do not need to convince me. You are of sufficient acuity to have deduced how matters stood 'twixt myself and Lord Raxdell.

Indeed, 'twas an entirely admirable thing. Sure he is a great loss.

Sandy pours himself another glass of port to have somewhat to do, and then takes and lights a cigar. Immense, he says at length.

There must have been some other words between them? How is it – how many times did the port go to and fro? – that the Honble Geoffrey Merrett is kneeling before him and giving considerable proof that this is by no means the first time he has done the like. And Sandy finds parts of him entire relishing the procedure, he cannot claim any reluctant shrinking. 'Twould be the poorest of ton to call a halt to the matter –

And sure 'twould be in the poorest of ton not to provide some reciprocation –

And 'tis morning when he leaves, having – somehow – promised to dine again within the week, and yet feeling a cloud of gloomy despondency settling over him as he walks – 'tis light, the streets these days are a deal safer, he feels that he needs the exercise –

The cloud will not be outrun.

It is with relief that he comes at last to Clorinda’s door.

Hector looks not in the least discomposed by his arrival, and says that Her Ladyship is breakfasting in the parlour, does he care to join her.

He can hear that Clorinda is not alone, but supposes that her companion must be Josh.

But going in, sees that across the table from her, eating a mutton-chop, is Matt Johnson.

Clorinda looks around. Do sit down, Sandy, I confide Hector has gone bustle Euphemia into bringing more food and fresh coffee.

Matt Johnson grins and says, Hector is an even braver fellow than he supposed does he dare bustle Euphemia. A fine formidable woman.

Sandy sits down and says, is there some trouble?

La, says Clorinda, must it ever be some matter of trouble brings Mr Johnson to our door? Was simply passing by and called see how we did.

Matt looks somewhat relieved at this account, and then Euphemia comes in with devilled kidneys and more eggs and a pot of fresh coffee.

As he eats and drinks coffee he finds himself looking from one to the other of them and wondering. Could it really be - ? Clorinda in her wrapper, Matt very much at his ease, and indeed, there has been a certain sympathy betwixt the two of them ever since their first meeting.

In due course Matt takes his leave.

Just passing by? asks Sandy.

Clorinda sighs. I hope, o bello scozzese, you are not going to turn upon me a frown quite worthy of John Knox and chide me for my wanton behaviour –

Sure I should be quite the greatest hypocrite did I so, but –

La, is not rank but the guinea’s stamp, and are not my own origins humble indeed? But, my dear, is’t so?

He sighs. Indeed it is.

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Sandy cannot truthfully say that he looks forward to anything these days, but he confides that a small dinner party at Mulcaster House is unlikely to prove an entire ordeal; there will be a good deal of tacit understanding of the situation, he will be among kind friends.

Did you not, he says to Josh, have a great admiration for the Duchess in your youth?

That was Harry, says Josh. He sighs somewhat.

You must look upon these occasions, says Clorinda, as scratching Society in the places it finds agreeable, do you wish gain patronage for the various causes you are about.

Josh sighs again and says, indeed he understands the necessity, and he apprehends His Grace has already done a considerable amount to advance the cause of more humane treatment of animals.

Also, Clorinda goes on, Jacob and Martha Samuels will be there, and dear Martha writes a deal in the agricultural press, her thoughts upon poultry are most highly esteemed, and might do somewhat there.

The carriage draws up at Mulcaster House and they are shown into the drawing-room.

Josh pauses upon the threshold, with his my-very-own-infant-wombatt? expression.

O, cries Clorinda with delight, 'tis dear Julia. One was in great fears she would decide remain at Bombay – the Dowager Duchess of Humpleforth, she adds, turning to Josh.

I collect, he says. She came visit the mongoose one day. I did not know she had been widowed.

O, some considerable while, says Clorinda, her husband was much older – 'twas a second marriage.

They go make civil to the rest of the party.

Admiral Knighton and Lady Jane are of the party: the Admiral comes wring Josh by the hand, remark that he looks very well for his travels, sure Africa may be a very unhealthful place. Josh smiles and says, sure Africa is exceeding large, and he went nowhere near the Bight of Benin of such ill-fame. The Admiral recounts his own experiences in that unhappy spot.

He then bows over Clorinda’s hand, murmuring, still the finest woman in Town. Clorinda taps him lightly with her fan, but looks gratified.

Josh says, looking about, that he wonders whether he might persuade Mrs Samuels to come draw some of his beasts? Has never become truly adept with pencil and brush.

Sandy cannot suppose that Martha Samuels would be anything but delighted, and indeed, when Josh goes address her on the matter, shows in some disposition to cut dinner and go at once to the warehouse. He himself takes opportunity to make some preliminary soundings as to whether Jacob Samuels knows aught of the scientific set in Philadelphia.

Clorinda has gone talk to the Dowager Duchess, that is saying somewhat to the effect that Bombay is not what it was in her childhood, to which Her Grace of Mulcaster remarks that have not poets writ of the enchanted haze that recollection casts over childhood scenes?

(He cannot recall any enchanted scenes from his own childhood.)

He is to take Lady Jane into dinner: a very agreeable prospect. Clorinda is being approached by Lord Sallington, that does not at all have the air of one dutifully doing the civil to a friend of his parents, but of one that will doubtless go boast to his friends of having been at table with the fascinating Lady Bexbury. He is given out to be something of a connoisseur of art, and while there is a fine tradition of collecting in the ducal family, it may be supposed that he gets some of his eye from his late mother, His Grace’s first duchess.

At dinner, he can hear that Her Grace of Mulcaster quizzing Josh about the languages of Africa; he mentions running across certain missionaries that are about compiling dictionaries of the various tongues.

Lady Jane says to Sandy with a small smile that she will not venture beyond Latin and Greek: hears that there are given out to be excellent fine works in Sanskrit and Persian, but confides that she is perchance too old to start putting her mind to the study of new tongues. Never had dear Viola’s facility. Does he find time for any study in the classics lately?

They fall to an agreeable discussion, until the course is removed and they must turn to their other sides. He turns to Martha, that has been having a lively convocation with the Admiral about better ways of keeping chickens on shipboard. She looks at him commiserating and says, sure must be a great change - by which he hopes she intends, from being a confidential secretary to an extremely busy member of the House of Lords, to being a gentleman of leisure and tame philosopher – but indeed, she confides that it must answer a deal better where he is than having the trouble of setting up in his own household, even if 'tis but a bachelor establishment. She sighs a little and says, sure housekeeping is an entire burden, but they have a most excellent housekeeper, a connexion of dear Phoebe de Clérault, at the Hampshire property, makes a most immense difference.

She then looks across the table to where Clorinda and the Duke are talking with the amiability of very old friends and says, does he not think that Lady Bexbury begins come round? 'Twas a very fine thing she did, taking poor Lady Ferraby into her own house, providing nurses around the clock &C – for one must consider, her own children were just at that time of their lives when they had small children of their own, were about inheriting businesses and property or setting up in their profession, 'twould have fallen very hard upon any of 'em: and of course they were very old and dear friends. But sure it took its toll upon her.

He confides that Martha does not apprehend the extent of the friendship between Clorinda and Eliza Ferraby, even does she have the very finest understanding of the depth of their affection for one another. Indeed, he is not sure that he himself would ever have sounded it out without having been inadvertent confronted with the evidence of their feelings.

Indeed, he says, though His Lordship’s demise came as a blow to her.

Sure it must have done, Martha agrees. He manages to divert the conversation onto her children.

He observes that Josh is gazing in quite besotted fashion at Her Grace of Humpleforth as they discourse of mongooses and other fauna of India.

After the ladies have withdrawn, and the port goes around, there is some good serious talk about how one might come about improving the treatment of animals. Legislation can only go so far, remarks the Duke. He adds with a sigh that sure there are fellows in the Lords that take one for an entire Evangelical killjoy does one endeavour to move against their favoured pursuits.

Jacob Samuels remarks that there are neighbours of his will declare that the fox enjoys being hunted. The Admiral says that he has resorted to the excuse about sailors on horseback when asked why he does not ride to hounds; though indeed his lady wife finds some relish in it, but more for the fine riding it affords, is entire happy does the fox escape.

Josh says, with a little frown, that he sometimes takes a concern that 'tis very hard upon animals to be took from their homes and brought to this land, but yet, there is a deal of scientific interest, and 'twould be exceeding hard to contrive to study 'em in their native places.

Sandy finds himself making some contribution to the discussion, but not so much as he was formerly wont.

They look about one another and the Duke suggests that they go to join the ladies. This proposal is received with enthusiasm: indeed Lord Sallington has been looking somewhat restless.

In the drawing-room, Josh goes with remarkable expedition to talk mongeese with the Dowager Duchess, and Lord Sallington shows some tendency to monopolize Clorinda, until she is besought to delight the company with a little reading from Shakspeare: she smiles and complies.

Sandy is in some fret that he may be asked to read Burns, but the Duchess goes to the piano.

In the carriage returning Josh observes that Sallington seemed entire smitten with Clorinda.

La, she says, 'tis an entire family tradition: and then puts her hand to her mouth. In earlier days, she says, before his first marriage, His Grace and I were on excellent terms.

When they reach her house, Josh says he must be up betimes to go over to the warehouse to see how the animals do, he hopes they may now be in fit condition to be moved.

Clorinda and Sandy go into the parlour. Clorinda raises her hands to her face. Sure I should not have had a second glass of ratafia, I grow careless.

Surely the young Ferrabys have some apprehension of your life afore your elevation.

O, most like! But, 'twas not just that I was His Grace’s mistress aforetimes, there were some passages with his father the Old Duke. She sighs.

Why, says Sandy, I confide that Josh is the one you have the least to worry about in the matter, does he even think on it.

Belike! Indeed Harry in particular grows somewhat censorious, I daresay 'tis the weight of the responsibilities he did not anticipate to take up just yet. But, my dear, unless you have any matter that was opened over the port to convey to me – sure there was nothing of any urgency conveyed over ratafia and teacups – I should go to bed myself, and not keep Sophy up.

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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.

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As Sandy finds in himself a considerable curiosity concerning Beatrice, and 'twould be agreeable to get out of Town a little, he accompanies Josh to the Surrey property, Yeomans: had been named Seringapatam Lodge by old General Yeomans, but was so widely known in the locality under his name that it has been assumed.

Josh finds a discreet moment to inform him that he is accustomed, when he visits there, to pass the nights with Hannah.

Why, Sandy says, after a short pause during which he does not find any jealous passion raging in his bosom, indeed she has the older claim – the mother of your child, &C.

Not, says Josh, that we have any purpose to beget another, just yet, but 'tis an antient affection.

Indeed, when he comes to consider over the matter, he minds that there are memories attached to the place, that indeed he has not visited, except for brief calls upon matters of business, since Clorinda was in exile there waiting to lie-in with Flora.

He finds, when they arrive, that he has even been assigned the bedchamber that has most particular memorable associations for him. He sits down upon the bed as the recollections flood upon him. Had been the scene of a most particular significant encounter.

'Twas after he had nigh made a great fool of himself with Clorinda, but instead had had her unravel matters to him like disentangling knotted embroidery silks, in quite the finest office of friendship. His heart had been mightily eased and she had also, with her offer to demonstrate matters 'twixt woman and man as a matter of scientific interest, given him a notion even did he not take her up on it.

There was a thing he had wanted to do for Gervase, that was like to suppose he would find most agreeable, but would by no means demand; and would not, Sandy supposed, concede to it did he have any suspicion that it was being offered merely as a kindness, against his own inclination. But, did he present it as a thing that he undertook out of scientific curiosity, to obtain understanding -

The stratagem had proved entire successful: it also revealed to him things about himself that he had not in the least suspected, that had nothing to do with science or philosophy.

He closes his eyes and bites his lip. He will never again find some excuse to pass by the Raxdell House gallery while Gervase is engaged in fencing practice; and there will never again be that feeling of being possessed by him.

He looks out of the window. The fountain still plays. Flora is walking with her arm tucked into Josh’s: they look entirely brother and sister. Indeed, he thinks, while Flora has her colouring from Clorinda, her features recall Josiah, and her mannerisms are all Eliza. He wonders whether seeing their copies in the younger Ferrabys is something that pleases Clorinda or is distressful to her. He then considers that this reflection mayhap has some bearing on his own reluctance to go down and greet Hannah and the child she plays with upon the lawn.

When he goes down to the garden, and greets Hannah, Beatrice at first shows shy and hides behind her mother. Gradually she comes to peep around a little, and at length is brought to come shake hands with her mother’s great friend Mr MacDonald.

At first glance she is a deal more like Hannah than Gervase, though somewhat lighter-skinned and with her hair going to waves rather than tight curls. But then she finally looks at him, and she has Gervase’s eyes, that could look brown or green or even sometimes gold, and much of the same shape, under brows that show promise of growing in the same winged fashion. But she is not a copy: she is her own particular self.

What a fine girl she is, he says to Hannah, who smiles and says, sure she thinks so, but ‘tis the known habit of mothers to suppose their infants the finest that ever were.

’Tis not the painful thing he expected: there is indeed some gladness that some little part of Gervase survives.

And in spite of the memories, it is agreeable to get out of Town for a little.

One day he is sitting on the grass, listening to Josh tell the children the tales of the very particular haughty hedgehogs that reside in the Park, and the adventures of the ivory elephants, when Flora comes up and says would wish a word or two with him.

He is entire willing to concede to her, stands up, offers her his arm, and they walk towards the little wilderness beyond the formal gardens.

I hope, Mr MacDonald, says Flora, that you do not purpose leave Clorinda just yet.

She entirely has the forthright blunt manner of Eliza Ferraby. Sure Clorinda herself would have gone a deal more roundabout in the matter.

You do not object? he says.

Flora snorts. We have been worried this while about her: will ever go about to conceal her low spirits, will assure us that she is entire happy, but –

First Hector and now Flora: has everybody but himself noticed this? But he considers that did Clorinda truly feel herself Dido in the ruins of Carthage, she would not voice that complaint.

Has ever been observed among us, she goes on, how beneficial was your company to her: would show her old self in your presence. So had you no other plans, we should be most infinite grateful if you would stay with her.

You do not fear scandal?

O, may be those try get up malicious gossip, but she has such friends that command such influence, I think all will quite accept that you stay with her for the convenience of writing some philosophical treatise without domestic distractions.

And you, by which I apprehend your brothers and sisters, are in agreement over this?

Are not all entire conscious of what we owe her? But indeed, ‘tis not a matter of debt: 'tis a matter of love.

He is distressed to consider that he had failed to notice that his dearest friend was in low spirits, and must have been so even before he could plead a like distress of his own for not noticing. What a wretched creature he is to be sure.

But, continues Flora, was an entire other matter we, that is, Hannah and I, wished open to you. Pray, Mr MacDonald, do not look in so much panic fear – we should desire nothing of you that you would not willingly give, sure we are not about to enact a reversal of Lovelace’s entrapment of Clarissa.

I am greatly relieved to hear it.

But may be there is a way might be contrived – tho’ indeed, 'tis but a passing mention of a thing that eminent surgeon John Hunter undertook, that Hannah found while perusing proceedings of the Royal Society. Sure we know not has it become much took up as a practice among the profession; we try to come about at some way we might interrogate Quintus upon the matter. But, according to the report, he found a way to contrive bringing the generative seed into the place where it should go, by artificial means.

Dear Flora, you quite bring me to the blush. (But, is she not Clorinda’s daughter? Have she and Hannah not read most exceeding widely? Are they not both mothers, even are they not wives? They are probably better informed than most Fellows of the Colleges on generative matters.)

Flora laughs. O, I daresay Clorinda would chide me exceedingly for taking the Nelson line and going straight ahead in this way, but I have not her skills in taking the roundabout way.

There is a pause and at length he says, My dear Flora, I am entire flattered that you offer me this opportunity of fatherhood, but as 'tis a thing that I thought would never come my way, will need some time to consider over it.

Entire reasonable, says Flora, as they turn back towards the formal garden. A woman must bear the child within her those tedious months, I dearly wish men would consider over the business rather more than they are wont to do.

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Sandy most dutifully goes about the various occasions to which he has been solicited. He discovers that Lord Abertyldd is exceeding eager to have his thoughts on various matters that currently go forward in Parliament, and realizes that now that there is no longer the regular morning convocation upon the matter, he no longer has these things at his fingertips. Has not even been perusing the press with his usual avidity.

Having made some passable attempt at giving Abertyldd some answer, he goes home and asks do they still have old copies of the various papers that come into the house? Dorcas says indeed they do, store 'em up against the time that fires are lit again, mostly, or laying down for muddy feet, or wrapping matters.

William delivers several arms-full to the library, and Sandy begins to educate himself again. These are not things that go away; these are the things that Gervase would have wanted him to continue concerning himself with; and he has taken not the slightest notice these past weeks.

He should see if he may make some occasion to converse with Lady Wallace.

Clorinda comes into the library. Fie, she says, 'tis time you went dress for this music party – o, do not pull that face, my dear.

But - , he begins.

La, I am invited too and shall go, and have spoke privily to Meg that I should be grateful was there no songs sung of a kind that would be like, in my present bereaved state, to move me to public tears.

He looks at her 'twixt exasperation and affection. So you go wear the willow?

I was oblig’d, says Clorinda crossly, to undertake the full rites of mourning for an entire year for a husband that I had known a mere matter of weeks, and that even had he inclined to my sex was in no state to consummate our union. At least I may show some respect for the memory of one that I had known these many years and ever stood my friend, even if matters were not as gossip supposes.

Dearest Clorinda, I did not mean to dismiss your loss. And 'twas an entire prudent thought.

She smiles a little tearfully. Go dress, she says.

There is a considerable crowd already assembled in the Knowles’ exceedingly fine music room when they arrive. Sebastian Knowles comes up and shakes his hand and says, 'tis not the time or place, but now he has come in to this independence, may desire some information and advice upon investments? Is ever quite entirely at his disposal in the matter.

'Tis a kind thought, and he says so. Is still, he adds, coming about to the realization of this new state.

Sebastian nods. 'Twas an entire different matter, he says, though I had been working so long with my father, after he died and I had to take over the entire business myself.

Sandy looks about the room, and sees that Clorinda is as ever in the midst of a little throng, and he dares say about a deal of contrivances. Looking further he observes to his surprize that Lady Jane is of the company: she rises and comes over to him and takes his hands and says all the proper things, although he has already had quite the kindest letter of condolence from her. Though she has never said in so many words, he knows that she was long apprized of the situation.

A hush falls upon the company and they all take their seats as Meg goes to the pianoforte. Indeed, the music is all very fine, but there is nothing played or sung that is like to evoke tears, fortunately.

Over supper, where he perceives Clorinda still about stratagems, Lady Jane tells him she comes up to Town about various philanthropic matters, and to enjoy a little music, go to the play &C (and, he supposes, visit her beloved Miss Addington). The Admiral stays upon the estate: 'tis no great distance to the coast, and he keeps a boat there, cannot be kept long from salt-water. Horatio was able pay them a short visit before he took up this fine opportunity of sailing under Captain Gold about this survey he is commissioned to. She sighs a little and adds that she thinks he has a notion to Deborah Samuels – excellent young woman that she is, she adds. But seems like only yesterday was setting off as a midshipman, and here he is, lieutenant and in such a good ship.

He says it must be agreeable to see her son so well-settled in a career.

She smiles and says, indeed he finds the Navy most congenial, but she confides that he also greatly takes to the notion of being a propertied gentleman in due course, has been lessoning himself with Jacob Samuels.

He smiles back and says, does he also take to the study of the classics? She sighs and says shows no inclination in that direction, alas. But mayhap they two might find occasion to converse on the matter, while she is in Town?

He concedes that this would be agreeable.

These are not parties that last on into the small hours of the morning, and 'tis still quite early when he and Clorinda return to her pretty house. My dear, she says, I purpose take a small sanitive glass of madeira afore I go to bed, should you care to join me there is port or brandy.

He agrees, and Hector comes to her parlour with the tray, and leaves a glass and the decanter of port beside him upon a small table. I hope, he says, that Hector does not suppose I go drown my sorrows.

She laughs a little and says she confides not, but considers it proper to let gentlemen make their own judgements concerning their indulgence.

They sip at their glasses in silence for a little while, and then Clorinda looks at him and says, my dear, you bore yourself excellent well the e’en.

He sighs and says, has a deal more sympathy than used to for actors that find themselves obliged to perform in a bad play, as it might be Queen Maud of dread memory, and must manifest their skills even though the matter gives ‘em little to work upon.

Clorinda grins and says, have we not heard Miss Addington being besought to present her For England speech from that play, or that very touching monologue at the end when she entrusts the realm to her son, that 'tis only her talents render telling? But indeed, she goes on, growing sober, indeed 'tis very much the like.

Still? he asks.

She looks reflective and says, No, 'tis no longer quite the like with her. Tho’, she continues, is not a day during which there is not some thought that I wish I might tell one or other or both of 'em. And sighs.

I had supposed, he says, that we should grow old together. But indeed, dearest Clorinda, I do not wish to make you melancholic, or impose my own melancholy upon you.

O, fiddlesticks! there are few enough to whom we may admit our sorrow. With one another we may take off the masks. Has it not ever been so?

It has, he realizes, ever been so.

They sit once more in silence.

I apprehend, says Clorinda at length, that Josh has some intention of going visit Flora and Hannah – 'tis still a se’ennight or so until the Mulcaster House dinner-party, and I confide he would wish to get out of Town a little. Did you wish go as well?

He considers over this and indeed it would be agreeable. But, he says, I am promised to dine with Geoffrey Merrett –

Poo, says Clorinda, I will give it out that Flora has some legal matter that she desires your advice on that will not wait, and I am sure he will not mind.

Dear sibyl, indeed I am not sure I am yet ready to encounter Mr Merrett’s enthusiasm. 'Tis an excellent fine mind, and meritorious ideals, but -

He is really a most remarkable advocate, she says, but sure there are still times he minds me of an eager puppy.

He finds the old quizzical look upon his face as he looks at her. For he quite apprehends that Clorinda will ever find it in her heart to show kind to fellows that demonstrate an admiration for her, so be they do not consider kindness owed to them. She smiles back and murmurs, secrets that are not all mine to disclose.

And then says, but sure I must to bed and not keep Sophy up any longer. Tho’ she stays in the household at present as Sam is off on a buying trip.

How many stables does he have now?

Three, says Clorinda, all doing exceeding well. She covers a yawn with her hand. Sure, she goes on, I am no longer able to wake long into the night as I was used in younger years.

They rise and make their separate ways to bed.

William, that has some thought to training up as a valet, waits for him, though Sandy confides that he can still manage to do for himself. But it is doubtless a kindness to let the young man practice upon him.

Lying in bed, he thinks that sometimes matters are as he described it to Clorinda, and sometimes 'tis like some mansion with a genteel party that goes forth in the public rooms, and in the cellar some gothic horror wails and moans.

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The next morning Josh, Sandy confides, has gone to Raxdell House to examine Lady Raxdell’s sickly pup, and Clorinda has gone about acting the diplomat amongst the other Ferrabys. This will no doubt take some time, as when she visits Bess she will always complain that Clorinda never comes visit, they are entire neglected, and have a deal of matters she desire to open to her. And does she visit Harry, he doubts not that Lady Louisa will desire a cozy gossip while she is there.

If he is going to be a pet philosopher, perchance he should go and consider over some of his old writings in the library.

He does wonder if this is a somewhat self-indulgent setting – 'tis hardly Diogenes’ tub when fresh coffee is brought to him at regular intervals, usually when he is chewing on the end of his pen having just crossed out several lines after writing them.

It is somewhat of a welcome distraction when Hector brings in various letters and notes that have been delivered for him. Adding that Euphemia asks would he care for a little light nuncheon?

He looks up and ponders for a moment. He has not thought one way or the other about hunger for this while, merely consuming anything that has been set before him without having to consider the matter. Mayhap some bread and cheese, he says after hesitation, in some concern that Euphemia will feel she has to demonstrate her skills.

Hector nods but does not immediately leave. He clears his throat and says, he apprehends that Mr MacDonald will be staying in the household some little while yet?

Sandy replies that Lady Bexbury has very kindly said that he is welcome to remain.

Hector says, perchance 'tis a liberty to say so, but he is very glad of it. Her Ladyship has lately been inclined to spells of lowered spirits and he confides that Mr MacDonald's companionship will cheer her.

Lowered spirits? he says, for has not noticed anything of the kind: but Clorinda is far too adept at concealing such matters.

Hector nods. Her losses, he says.

He then pulls himself together, says, bread and cheese and leaves the room.

Indeed, she has lost her beloved Ferrabys, and Docket, that had been with her a great many years, and – he makes various calculations – must be coming around to that climacteric stage of a woman’s life, not that he knows any more of the matter than Mr Hacker has been occasionally wont to disclose, but apprehends may be attended with diverse ailments of the body and mind.

He is busy about dealing with his correspondence – an invitation from Lord Abertyldd to play golf, a card for the next musical party at the Knowles', a note from Geoffrey Merrett about dining together, and a solicitation to go dine at Mulcaster House. He sighs, considers that 'twould look particular did he continue to eschew society, and scribbles acceptances – when Euphemia herself comes with a fine plate of bread and cheese and fresh coffee, desiring to know whether ‘tis really all he requires?

She looks at the sealed notes upon the desk and says she will send William to take and deliver them.

'Tis very kind of you, he says.

Fie, Her Ladyship has give her instructions.

He returns to his writing, and of a sudden finds a train of thought that he should get down even does he refine it later, and is so entirely absorbed in the task that 'tis only when he looks up and stretches that he sees that Josh has entered the library.

You are very soft-footed, he remarks.

Josh grins and says, 'tis an entire necessity when one endeavours observe creatures in their natural surroundings, as it might be a philosopher that philosophizes in a library.

And how was Lady Raxdell’s dear doggie?

Josh grins again and says, is in the way to becoming a mother: one must hope that she did not contract too disastrous a mesalliance with some low cur from the streets.

And Lady Raxdell herself? – for I daresay she finds Town life disagrees with her herself somewhat.

Poor lady, says Josh. But grows entirely in love with Clorinda, and is prepossessed by the very good and civil set she introduces her to, after having an encounter with that harpy Lady Trembourne that nearly sent her scurrying back into the country. But, as for Town life – He looks down at the papers in his lap – sure I have a deal of invitations I should attend to – I purpose pay a visit to Flora and Hannah when I can find some convenable time.

'Tis no great matter to travel into Surrey these days – a deal of railways, one can contrive it quite within a day.

But I should wish spend a few days at least. Clorinda said you had some thoughts to go there yourself? There is a pause and he goes on, I am given to apprehend that you know the circumstance –

It is a relief to hear that Josh also knows the circumstance. He nods.

So I may tell you that I have a fine son, Johnny, by Hannah, that grows up there and should wish spend a little time getting to know.

Sandy blinks a little and takes off his spectacles to polish them. Why, he says at length, when I consider the perilous life you lead, 'tis perchance prudent to leave a copy.

That is one way of looking at it. But indeed I have both a fondness for Hannah and considerable esteem, and one must be conscious that quite apart from the difficulties that women experience in this world of ours, she has the additional burden of her African heritage. There are very few men that are anything like up to her mark would wish to marry her, even does she have a agreeable little competence from her share in the business of preserves and pickles. Sure it must answer a deal better that she lives as she does and may pursue her interests, while enjoying the companionship of the friend of her heart and the pleasures of maternity.

I confide, says Sandy, that Clorinda will have preached a deal of sermons upon the matter. No, not sermons, he continues, but e’en so, those who heard her will have come to a right apprehension. He then gives a small smile and says, 'tis quite the antithesis, I would suppose, of that experiment that is uncovered in her story of The Hidden Door. Sure had that scoundrel Evenden looked about him a little, perchance he would not have supposed he needed to experiment rather than observe -

Evenden? asks Josh curiously.

Sandy minds that there are secrets that are not his to disclose in the matter.

’Twas a fellow had some notion about an experiment like unto to that in The Hidden Door: planted the idea in her. (He wonders does Evenden still live, is he like ever to return to England, does Julius know the full tale of his begetting.)

Josh does not pursue the matter further.

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Sandy feels as if he has somehow been swept by an irresistible tide into this dinner-party – as if he could not have said at any time to Clorinda that he could not face the prospect, whereupon he doubts not that she would have smiled, said that Euphemia would send him up a nice little supper had he no occasion to be elsewhere, and written a pretty little note to some fellow to make up the numbers. A fellow that would probably then go preen himself at having been invited to one of Lady Bexbury’s dinner-parties.

He looks at himself in the mirror: sober but not too sombre. He has lately noticed that Clorinda has been dressing in shades that suggest half-mourning: dove-grey, lilac, subdued blues, but without going so far as to sport her jets rather than her pearls or her sapphires. He has no doubt that if he asked she would say that full mourning would be entirely too ostentatious, but that this sobriety in dress will convey a discreet message and people will be nodding their heads at the confirmation of the old rumour.

On the stairs he encounters Josh, also dressed for company, wearing the expression of a small boy forced into his best clothes and exhorted to come do the polite in company. They look at one another, raise their eyebrows, and smile, before proceeding upon their way.

He sees somewhat of the reason for Josh’s expression when Meg Knowles comes over and immediately begins chide him for his dilatoriness in visiting the family, saying that any of them would have been entire delighted to put him up, what did he think he was at, bothering Aunty Clorinda at this time? – she shoots a sideways glance at Clorinda, that is just greeting the Vinwiches.

He observes that Clorinda is wearing the pink diamonds with her blue gown: and shakes his head. This doubtless means something.

Lord Vinwich comes over, shakes his hand, remarks that there is a sad void, and desires introduction to Josh.

Sebastian lays a hand on Meg’s arm. She halts in her tirade, saying only a little fretfully that sure Josh has ever made an entire habit of running off. Sandy brings Vinwich over to Josh and makes the introduction.

Clorinda comes over and says to Meg that she may sit down, does she like. He takes another look at Meg, for he supposes that this indicates that she is increasing again, but sees no obvious sign.

The Abertyllds arrive, closely followed by Lord and Lady Raxdell, and then the Merretts arrive with Lalage Fenster. Hector goes about with wine, and, he observes, lemonade for Meg and any other lady that may wish it. Clorinda goes about making introductions and seeing that all are engaged in conversation.

She makes Josh known to Lord and Lady Raxdell, and he can see that Josh perceives Lady Raxdell’s nervousness and proceeds to behave as if she were a frightened animal in strange surroundings (though does not proceed so far as to find where she most likes being scratched affectionately). She becomes more relaxed and even begins to smile.

Meg, at his elbow, apologises for her ill-humour. Sure, she says, one cannot blame Josh for avoiding us, Harry and Bess are at present at outs over the works, were arguing all afternoon until my head ached. Quintus can usually act the diplomat, but he is at present perturbed that Sukey becomes melancholic again, it distracts him.

She sighs. I know not why Sukey should take these fits of melancholia.

Neither does he. They shake their heads over the matter. But, says Meg, I should go make civil to Charley Abertyldd and solicit her to sing at my next music party – I must mind and send you a card.

As Meg goes over to her, comes up to him Geoffrey Merrett, that for all his fine success at the Bar still has moments of being an eager puppy. Makes condolences – for indeed he has been a considerable time upon the Northern Circuit – and says the proper things. Extends an invitation to dine with him in his chambers, has a deal of matters he would like to discuss.

One does not spend so many years in the company of one famed for the excellence of his ton without some of it rubs off: Sandy finds that he is able to behave entire civil and proper in this company, makes a suitable response to this invitation, and also to Lord Abertyldd’s offer that he might care to come play golf at Blackheath some day.

And, he goes on, while we are about it, might desire your thoughts upon what His late Lordship would have desired us to do over certain matters currently before the Lords.

For, quite against all expectation, Abertyldd and Vinwich have become firm allies to Gervase’s coterie in Parliament, even do they not, perchance, think very deep upon matters or initiate any enterprize. Indeed they have pulled round remarkably from the days when he considered them entire empty-headed wastrels, a fribble set, and attend most conscientious to the duties of their station.

So he makes agreeable and says that 'twould be a pleasure, and does his father-in-law still play?

Alas, says Abertyldd, Mr Brumpage is afflicted at present with rheumaticks. Charley and her sisters exhort him to go take the waters somewhere, do you have any notion where might suit?

Sandy advises them to consult, have they not done so already, Quintus Ferraby.

Indeed, says Abertyldd, one hears him very well spoke of in his profession.

Hector comes and announces that dinner is served, and the company proceeds through to the dining-room. Clorinda has decided that the Raxdells will probably be made more comfortable by adherence to proper placement, and he is to take Meg in. Though as Josh is quite the lion of the occasion, it is he who takes in Lady Raxdell, that, was she a cat, would be curling up in his lap and purring.

Sure, murmurs Meg, she would go eat from his hand did he hold it out to her. But smiles as she says it.

It is a more agreeable party than he had anticipated. He takes a little concern when Clorinda withdraws the ladies, but observes that Sebastian Knowles has developed a very pretty ability in turning conversations away from any paths one would prefer them not to go. The port goes round no more than twice before they rejoin the ladies.

There is a little music from Meg and Charley Abertyldd, before the company departs.

Clorinda yawns. Why, she says, I think 'twas not an entire disaster.

They both laugh a little. Josh says that he has been requested go take a look at Lady Raxdell’s little dog, that does not thrive: he confides that 'tis city life that disagrees with it, eats higher than is used and needs more exercise than it gets, but doubts not 'twould show civil to go give 'em the benefit of his veterinary skills in the matter.

'Tis indeed good of you, Josh dear, says Clorinda. While I must go knock Harry and Bess’s heads together and bring 'em to some better accord.

I daresay, says Josh, that 'tis Bess has the right of it.

Sure, Harry is quite the finest of engineers, but Bess is a business-woman that looks at the practicalities and the wider view. But, Clorinda sighs, although she has a pretty diplomatic skill, somehow, 'twixt her and Harry…

Josh yawns, apologises, and says, sure society life is tiring, if they will excuse him?

After Josh has gone Clorinda comes over to Sandy and takes his hands in hers. My dear, she says, you did very well. I will confess I took a little concern as to how you would hold up.

He looks down at her. Dear sibyl: entirely more agreeable than I expected. Indeed I should go out more into company.

He goes on to say somewhat of how well the erstwhile fribbles show, are they not entirely a fine testimony to Gervase’s excellent influence? O, perchance they would have anyway pulled round in due course, but he confides that they did not fall into those coarser errors of youth that might have afflicted any future career.

Clorinda looks up at him with a little smile and droops her eyelids as she says, o, indeed Milord had the finest influence on those around him –

Sure, he says, do I have any polish and address must be entire his doing –

She looks up at him again and says, oh, my dear, 'twas more than the outward show.

He considers this over a while, and says, as you will say, mayhap and perchance! Alas that his fine character could not pull my own up more than it did: I am still too much the grudging resentful jealous fellow I ever was.

O, poo.

Dear Clorinda, he says, you would tell me did I become a burden within the household? (for it is a matter that has been preying upon his mind, that he takes advantage of her hospitable welcome and should be about setting up his own modest establishment, a thought that entirely daunts him.)

She looks up at him with a more sober expression. My dear, you know I should not detain you did you wish depart –

They look at one another in confused silence for a moment.

Why, says Clorinda, such old friends as we should be able speak freely. Sure I find it very agreeable to have your company and I confide that the household are entire of the same opinion, for as you know, I am not mistress in my own household, and is there any matter they like not, somehow they will make themselves plain without they ever go contradict me.

And indeed it is entirely agreeable to be here. I confide I should find myself entirely melancholic did I go set up in lodgings by myself.

Well then, o bello scozzese, you may stay as long as you like and consider it entirely Liberty Hall, and to defy scandal I shall put it about – I daresay 'tis entirely true – that you go about inditing some philosophical treatise and should not wish the distraction of domestic cares that would come with the setting up your own establishment. Sure I shall present myself as quite the patroness of philosophy - was there not an Empress of Russia kept a tame philosopher?

He is surprised into laughter. Also, he says, there was a Queen of Sweden did likewise, there is entire precedent. But – will it not - ?

Do we not give one another a deal of freedom? We shall not live in one another’s pockets, and I hope that you will not come glower in Calvinistickal fashion do I perchance entertain a gentleman or two?

Or mayhap a lady or two?

Clorinda shakes her head and he sees tears in her eyes. I think not, she says, though we know what we are, but not what we may be.

There is a little rap upon the door. Clorinda calls to enter, and Sophy comes in, looking a little indignant.

La, says, Clorinda, I confide 'tis past my bedtime – did I not say, not mistress in my own household?

Sophy looks at her very affectionately and then scowls in his direction.

No, says Clorinda, you should not blame Mr MacDonald, the fault lies quite equal between us, but I should not be keeping you up.

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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.

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'Tis somewhat later than usual when they go to their beds, but Sandy finds he cannot sleep. Perchance it was thinking of whether Clorinda still has lovers, and who they might be, but it turns his mind unhappily towards his own situation.

Indeed Gervase had quite the finest moral character: was kind, generous, hardworking at the slow and tedious business of bringing about reforms, ever thoughtful, the finest of examples to the young fribbles who followed him –

- and he misses the companionship of one so much better than himself, who embodied true honour –

- but even more, he begins to find himself missing that beautiful body, the talented hands and mouth, the entirely glorious –

He hits his pillow and then sits up. This will not do. They had been unwonted fortunate in the years they had had together, but they always knew how the law, the church, and public opinion would regard them did all become known. He is not now going to scurry furtively about dark alleyways in fear of the Watch or the Vice Society or just those who look for a brawl. He supposes the rational solution would be that certain club, but, somehow he cannot, not yet, bring himself to that.

He will go to the library and find some book to distract his mind.

There is a glint of light under the library door: he almost goes back to his bedchamber, for fear that 'tis Clorinda that sits up at night writing on her newest Gothic tale, though surely Sophy would never permit her to do anything so deleterious to her looks – would doubtless cry that Docket’s shade would come haunt her –

'Tis, he dares say, one of the household that recreates themself with a little reading, or mayhap goes improve their mind with heavier matter.

He opens the door and see Josh looking along the shelves.

He turns, with that delightful smile: that was a fine feast, he says, but I am not used to such rich fare, would not injure Euphemia’s feelings by waving it aside, but hinders me from sleep, when combined with the noises of the town, that I have grown quite unused to. Can you recommend anything that I might read, now that I am wakeful?

Why, says Sandy, moving over himself towards the shelves, I think you will find Clorinda’s very fine collection of play-texts over here, and this should be mostly novels. Those shelves are poetry.

Does she keep her own works together?

He shakes his head. Says 'twould look particular - they both give fond smiles – so they are mingled among the rest.

Have a fancy, says Josh, to peruse The Fateful Philtre once more.

I think, says Sandy, that it will be somewhere about here - he leans across Josh and their shoulders brush.

It must be very hard for you, says Josh in thoughtful tones, to present the right shade of sorrow – all know that there was a very fine mutual respect 'twixt you and His Lordship, so 'twould not do to seem unconcerned at his shocking premature end; and yet you may not mourn as perchance you should desire.

Sandy pauses with the book half-lifted from among its companions, struck to silence.

Josh rests a hand upon his shoulder. I think all of us, he says, when we were come to years of reasonable discretion, had Mama and Papa sit us down and tell us the way of things, whether 'twas Flora’s parentage or that the world has very cruel notions as to who should love who and who might not. And that did we desire discuss matters further, we should apply to our Aunty Clorinda for additional enlightenment.

Oh.

We could see, says Josh, your very great, your exemplary, mutual devotion. Just as we came to understand the quite out of the common affection in which Mama and Papa held Aunty Clorinda. He squeezes Sandy’s shoulder.

'Tis an entire proper gesture of manly affection.

Sandy lifts out the book and stumbles a little against Josh.

Their faces are close together.

Josh leans a little further towards him and kisses him.

He was completely unprepared for that. Had not even wondered how a beard would feel – quite different from rasping stubble –

Josh pulls his head back and says, sorry, that was – I –

Sandy rests his hand on the back of Josh’s head and pulls him in for a longer kiss.

Only later does he think, furor: in the moment it is gasping, grasping, grappling, fumbling, grunting, desperation, behaving quite as if they were two schoolboys crept into some hidden retreat, and 'tis not at all long before both of them are busy with handkerchiefs and trying not to look one another in the eye.

Forgive me, says Josh. That was – sure 'twould be a vulgar excuse to say, has been a long time. I should have better command of myself. But –

Forgive you? Indeed, my dear Josh, I should be more master of my desires -

They mumble, stammer, in mutual embarrassment. Wish one another goodnight, and repair to their separate bedchambers.

He should probably think further about this, but sleep rises up and claims him for its own.

When Hector comes wake him the morn he can hardly believe what happened, it seems like some dream born out of his restless desires. He has some nervousness about encountering Josh at the breakfast table, but when he goes there he finds Clorinda alone. Josh, she says, was up betimes and has gone ensure all is done entire proper for his dear beasts and that they do not pine or fret, that they are fed and have sufficient water, &C&C.

But, my dear, what shall you be about today? I have promised to go visit Lady Raxdell so that I may tell her somewhat of Town Society, and then take her about a few calls when 'tis the proper hour for such, among ladies I confide will be kind and agreeable.

It is very good of you.

O, poo. Is a poor flustered creature never anticipated to be in this position, but minds that she should act as befits her new rank, did she know how to do so. Indeed dining the county every few months, and going to balls at the Assembly Rooms, and private dances, can have been little preparation.

Oh, he says, I confide 'tis a question of fie upon this quiet life, I want work!

Mayhap and perchance! I have no tale upon hand at the moment, but indeed, does it not seem that the taste for the Gothic declines, and thus my occupation’s gone? She sighs.

You have writ more than Gothic tales, dear Clorinda: I daresay there are those would welcome a new play from your pen.

She sighs again. At least, he thinks, looking at her across the breakfast table, it does not seem that she has deduced what went forth yestere’en, and that Josh has made no revelation. And does she intend to go out, there is no danger that they may sit in their old cozy fashion and that he may himself be led to disclosure.

She sighs again and says, but now there is no borrowed name that may be imputed under which to secure my treasure. But, she goes on, I daresay one might come about to contrive – and have long been in supposition that Miss Addington entire sees through the device. But she is a dear good discreet creature.

She rises from the table and says, will go be dutiful.

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As they sit in momentary silence, Hector enters with a note upon a tray for Sandy.

He opens it and gazes at it in some confusion.

Well, my dear? asks Clorinda.

He sighs and says, 'tis very kind: Lord Abertyldd goes hold one of their music parties and invites me –

Indeed 'tis civil, but why so dubious?

There will doubtless be one sings some lament, that will move me entirely to weeping, so I had rather avoid the occasion: yet 'twould be entire uncivil to refuse –

She leans over and twitches the note from his hand so that she may read it. Why, she says, 'tis indeed civil, but alas, you have already been solicited to what promises to be a most fascinating account of Anglo-Saxon antiquities –

I have?

I had a letter and cards for the Society’s meeting from Mr Lucas yesterday, but was distracted by those family matters from conveying the invitation to you. I daresay you will find that more congenial.

Indeed, he cannot suppose that an account of Anglo-Saxon antiquities is like to move him to tears.

So he lets himself be dressed for company, and given various messages for Mr Lucas and others that may be finding pleasure in the contemplation of the antiquities of the Anglo-Saxons, and despatched by carriage, although he declares he can perfectly well walk –

La, my dear, I shall not be requiring the carriage, why do you not take it?

It is the easiest course to comply rather than argue. So he goes and listens to the matter, or rather, does not particularly listen but sits with his own thoughts, and manages to make civil to those who come up and remark upon what a loss was the late Lord Raxdell and see whether he has aught to say concerning the new one.

And muses upon the revelation about Beatrice, and his own great fondness for Hannah, and by some process comes at the antient joke betwixt Clorinda and himself these many years about scientifick demonstration of the intercourse of man with woman –

Which brings him to a slight start – all will suppose he had fell into a doze and has now waked, he confides – for indeed, did Clorinda instruct him in the business, so that he had some notion of going about it –

Would be no harm in opening the matter to her –

And he wonders, and condemns himself for not thinking of it before, that no doubt there is some current favourite, mayhap more than one, preferred to her embraces, and here is he, living in her house, taking up her time. Perchance 'twas why she was glad to get him out of the house for a while?

It is a thought that returns when he re-enters the house and hears Clorinda laughing in the hearty unaffected style that is reserved for intimates. Perchance he should not go into the parlour, but go linger in the library.

Is that you, Sandy? she calls out. Come and see who is here!

He frowns for a moment, and then enters the parlour.

At first he thinks that the bearded fellow sitting vis-à-vis to Clorinda is a complete stranger, and then realises that it is Josh, Josh that must be returned from Africa – was it Africa? – after perilous adventures.

Josh stands with a delighted smile – even after all these years it is a shock to see him as it were unfurl into this tall lanky creature, that he suddenly shot up into when he was fifteen or so, overtopping Harry and his father and completely bewildered about what to do with his arms and legs and a head a deal higher than he was used to.

Josh then looks sober and says, 'twas quite the saddest news about His Lordship.

Clorinda says, and he left you that fine antient bestiary that was in his library that you loved so much.

That was very kind, says Josh, might you keep it for me? 'Tis not somewhat I would wish to take upon my travels.

You do not linger a little? asks Clorinda a little wistfully (after Flora, Josh was always her favourite).

Why, says Josh, I shall stay a while – have various fine beasts to distribute to zoologist acquaintances with instructions for their care – must go cry up my findings at scientific meetings and write up reports for journals – visit the family – but I am not yet ready to go settle somewhere with my personal menagerie around me.

You know that there is a chamber kept for you here? says Clorinda.

Why, I should not wish to presume upon your hospitality as I did that time I ran away to London –

O, poo! cries Clorinda, you are ever the welcomest of guests. I daresay you have left your dunnage at your club, do you let me send Ben to go fetch it, and tell Dorcas to have the bed made up and all put in readiness.

Why, says Josh, sitting down again and stretching out his legs, I confide 'twould be a deal more comfortable here will you have me.

Clorinda looks at him with great affection and desires him to give her and the household the pleasure of cossetting him after the arduous expedition he has been about.

Over the kind of nice little supper that Euphemia has ever been able to produce in any circumstance, Josh tells them a little of his adventures, and a great deal more about the animals he was able to observe and how although 'tis entire desirable and in his commission to bring living specimens back for observation, there is nothing like unto watching them in their accustomed native habitation –

As I collect you used to do with hedgehogs, says Clorinda.

- and he cannot see that 'tis such great sport to hunt and kill magnificent creatures so that they may be displayed on a trophy-room wall.

Clorinda looks a little conscious, and Sandy wonders whether Josh knows about the tigerskin and the bearskin, gifts from admirers, that used to, mayhap still do, adorn her boudoir.

I am sure, though, Josh goes on hastily, that when General Yeomans hunted tigers 'twas because they were attacking the herds and flocks of local villages – even, perchance, become man-eaters.

Clorinda looks at Josh with a little smile. He was the dearest of old fellows, she says.

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When they are in the library, Hannah clasps Sandy’s hands and looks up into his face through her spectacles and says she was so very sorry to hear the sad news, and sure it must be entire devastating for him.

There are those consider Hannah Clorinda Roberts as Flora Ferraby’s shadow: but Hannah is one of those quiet women that sit unnoticed and make their own judgements on matters.

She goes on to say, her papa lately preached a very fine sermon upon David and Jonathan.

He does not know what to say to that: instead, asks do Roberts and Seraphine remain at Raxdell House?

Hannah smiles and says, 'twould break her papa’s heart to leave the gardens now that he has got them into such condition. And his new Lordship and Ladyship do not go interfere with the gardens. Mama leaves a deal of kitchen matters in Miriam’s hands now.

They look at one another and he thinks of all those agreeable hours in the Raxdell House library, before Flora came back from her Grand Tour with Clorinda, Hannah quietly going about putting the books into order and writing up the ledgers.

His Lordship was very fond of you, he says. Greatly admired your talent in arranging flowers. He opened to me once that he should have liked to leave you some remembrance in his will, but thought that might lead to some adverse comment – mayhap that you were some bastard daughter of his or had been his mistress – that would be most unpleasing to you and your parents.

Hannah takes off her spectacles to wipe away the tears. He was always so very kind, she says in a choked whisper.

He was, says Sandy, feeling tears threaten himself, ever the kindest of men.

But of course, says Hannah, I already had a remembrance.

Sandy looks at her frowning, for he cannot quite remember –

Beatrice, she says.

Beatrice is one of the several children that he has supposed orphans or those in similar unfortunate condition, that Flora and Hannah have taken in. Beatrice, he recalls, is one of two that he confides come from among Hannah’s connections, by the duskiness of their skin and the curl of their hair.

Hannah puts a hand to her mouth. O, she says, surely you knew, you must have known.

He looks at her with a puzzled frown.

That His Lordship was her father.

What? (for he knew that Gervase could accomplish the act with women, even though it was by no means his inclination.)

Oh, says Hannah, we thought you must know about the children, surely Her Ladyship –

Have you never heard her say secrets that are not mine to disclose? They are your children?

And Flora’s. But – I am astonished you knew naught of this – one e’en Lady Bexbury was reading Shakspeare’s Sonnets to us, that desire a fellow to go beget copies of himself, and I said, 'twas a great pity that His Lordship had not done so, and so we put it to him, and he very kindly conceded to undertake the matter, and so I bore my lovely Beatrice – he chose the name, 'twas ever his favourite Shakspearean heroine.

Indeed, says Sandy, very shaken by this intelligence. Why had he not – 'tis not really surprising, does he think on it, given his own jealousy; and might also have affected his affection towards Hannah. And he knows that Gervase sometimes regretted that he did not have offspring.

And made a generous settlement upon her tho’ we said was entire unnecessary.

He swallows and says, might I come see her, some day?

Why, of course, 'twould be an entire pleasure: you might come visit for a while.

Hector comes say that dinner is about to be served, and they go down to the dining-room.

It is not a thing that one would go ask: but he has always supposed, since they took up residence in the Surrey house, neither of them displaying any inclination to marry, that Flora and Hannah were of the Sapphic disposition. Though, he also recollects, Lady Jane, who could not be doubted of that disposition, had had a great desire for motherhood.

He also minds that they have, between the two of them, writ several pamphlets drawing attention to the iniquitous way the laws of marriage, and those of society generally, are slanted against women. Perchance they make the practical application.

But he cannot muse long when there are two intelligent young women desiring to know his thoughts on various matters.

Clorinda looks at them all very fondly.

But the next day, after Hannah and Flora have departed, and he takes tea with Clorinda, he goes about to discover how much she apprehends of the situation.

At which she laughs merrily and says, have been entire in the plot these several years. Indeed, when comes the time they may no longer conceal their condition, they go to the Shropshire estate, where they may reside quite eremitickal until they are brought to bed.

He frowns a little. But, he says, I had thought that what you had wanted for Flora was some grand match –

Clorinda laughs again and says, 'twas more that had she desired such, would have been deemed an entire acceptable parti, but I ever wanted for her what would make her happy. And while the condition of women remains entire distressing, gives her a deal of gratification to endeavour improve it. Along with her other studies, and the company of Hannah, and their children.

He knows not how to come at enquiring whether 'tis a Sapphic union, but Clorinda has always been able to detect his unasked questions.

They are the dearest of friends, says she, indeed, like unto sisters tho’ perchance with less brangling than Bess and Meg, but 'tis a sympathy of the mind and the heart, not the body. Sure they like men well enough, but they are not obliged to marry.

I daresay, he says, you will tell me that 'tis secrets that are not yours to disclose, but do you know who are the fathers of their children?

I do: but there are secrets that are not mine to disclose. Tho’, she continues with a slight quaver in her voice, I was like to suppose that Milord would have communicated somewhat of the matter of Beatrice to you, and that the pink diamonds were to come to me in trust for her, when she is come to an age that she will not be a-putting 'em in her mouth and being most disappointed that they do not taste as lovely as they look.

He is silent for a while and says at length he is not sure that there is not some resentment that he himself was not deemed suited as a sire.

There is a little quiver about Clorinda’s mouth. O, she says, the matter was discussed, when we were talking of leaving copies. But, my dear, 'twould be somewhat of a heavy matter to undertake an act you had never before performed with so much at stake in the business.

Upon considering over this, he concedes that she has the right of it. Even could he contrive to perform he doubts not he would be clumsy and awkward about the matter, and should not like to inflict that upon any young woman whom he held in affection.

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When Sandy arrives back at Clorinda’s house, he finds she has company, if Dr Quintus Ferraby convoking with her upon matters of sanitation can be counted as company. Quintus stands, shakes his hand, makes comments suitable to the situation. He also regards him with that piercing scrutiny that has made him so famed for his powers of diagnosis.

He then says, with unusual hesitation, that it is opined among the profession that 'tis more healthful to express grief than to bottle it up.

There are those, says Sandy, would consider I had cause for rejoicing rather than grief.

They both look at him but say nothing.

Clorinda breaks the silence by asking after Sukey. She is well enough in herself, says Quintus, but is in one of her melancholic fits. He sighs, and takes his leave.

Very clever, says Sandy to Clorinda, I confide 'twas not entirely coincidental you desired him to come advize on your proposed improvements about the mine?

Perchance not, says Clorinda. But, my dear, I hope you have come about to dispatch your business at Raxdell House?

He conveys to her the Viscount’s request concerning the Viscountess – Clorinda sighs a little, and takes out her little memorandum book to make a note. Poor creature, she says, I daresay she has been entire contented in county society and now feels as if she has been thrown into a pit of crocodiles.

And he gave me these for you.

O, she cries, that was exceeding kind! Sure these are the fabled pink diamonds.

And the snuffbox in which you both found such amusement, he says.

Oh, did he never show you the trick of it? She takes the snuffbox and says, do you press here beside the lid, you will see that it opens up to display a naughty device within. Have you never seen the like?

No, he says, but I would suppose that even among hidden naughty devices, that is somewhat out of the common.

Sure I have not made a study, but I quite daresay 'tis the case. I mind me that I should write to Ammerpark concerning the painting.

I am at a loss, he says, to know what it might be, for Gervase was not a great collector of art.

Why, my dear, 'tis Raoul de Clérault's fine study of a titian-haired philosopher at his desk.

It undoes him to hear this: that doubtless by some confederacy with Clorinda, Gervase had purchased that portrait and concealed it at Ammerpark all these years. He finds himself on his knees, sobbing into Clorinda's lap.

He was so much better than me, he blurts, with his sweet nature and his generosity; I that am such a crabbed sour grudging jealous creature.

Clorinda says nothing but strokes his hair.

And then coming lean upon you and your kindness –

Dear Sandy, it gives me comfort to comfort you.

He lifts his head to look at her. Can it be so?

Yes, my dear, it can.

He decides that he will believe that she tells the truth, though, for all she will occasionally murmur about Universal Law, her attitude towards truth has always had a certain flexibility about it.

And it is, as far as any state may be considered agreeable at this time, very agreeable to be anywhere that is not Raxdell House, especially when it is in such a comfortable and well-run house, and to be exhorted to make free of the library and consider it quite as his study. To have his appetite tempted by a variety of treats prepared by Euphemia – he confides that did he of a sudden declare a craving for haggis, she would be about the matter at once, while her brose would have inspired the pen of Burns.

He is not quite so certain about Clorinda’s attempts to provide treats of the mind for him – at least, that is what he supposes they are. Perchance it has been more of a custom than he supposed for Matt Johnson to come call upon her? But one day he goes take tea with her, as has become somewhat of a habit, and there is Matt Johnson, grey of hair and not one that would offer these days to pursue criminals at a run, but still with knotted problems and mysteries to do with crimes that he is delighted to unfold.

Mayhap when Jacob Samuels comes to Town for meetings of the Royal Society or the Geological Society it is entirely usual for him to come to take tea with Clorinda and give her the news of Martha and their offspring; and since he has time before his meeting, may as well undertake a game of chess with Sandy.

If Agnes Lucas comes to Town with some new poems to show Clorinda, 'tis entirely understandable that she may take the opportunity to ask his own critical opinion

Indeed, there are many of their circle are surely regular callers upon Clorinda, and quite as much friends of himself.

Does he accuse Clorinda of contrivance, he can suppose the eyes looking tearful, and quite the finest pathetic expression upon her face. But he has seen her in action so many times over these many years.

But they neither of them, he confides, expected the descent of the entire convocation, save for Josh, that is somewhere in Africa, of Ferrabys.

He has been about reading in the library – The Last Man was not perhaps the happiest choice – and thinks that must be time for tea. So he descends the stair and goes through the connecting door and observes that Hector is looking more than usually enigmatic. Glancing out of the window he observes several carriages drawn up.

Company?

Hector sighs. Not so much company as family, he says.

Sandy is very minded to turn back, but how should he fear the Ferrabys?

He had not expected the entire family, including spouses, and Hannah, to be disposed about the room as he entered, while Clorinda giggles and says, my dears, I am touched, no, very greatly touched, that you desire protect me from detrimental fortune hunters, but really, my loves, surely you cannot suppose –

Hannah is casting her eyes up in the manner of one that has been making this argument to no avail. Sebastian Knowles is also wearing a somewhat sceptical expression.

They all turn their eyes upon him. Sir Harry comes up and shakes his hand and expresses condolences, followed by all the rest: Lady Louisa, Bess and Sir Thomas, Meg and Sebastian, Quintus and Sukey, Flora and Hannah.

But, says Bess, what were we to think? Was it not ever a jest about Raxdell House about the two of you?

(Not a jest, he dares say, that either of them ever heard.)

Oh, really, my dears, laughs Clorinda, 'tis entirely a matter of antient friendship, and sure Mr MacDonald has been left a very comfortable independence, perchance you might warn him against designing widows?

But gossip – begins Sir Harry.

O, poo, says Clorinda, at our years? Is there no other scandal that society may be about? La, used to be 'twas I got into fusses and frets and would be brought to a more sober frame of mind by your dear parents’ prudent counsel. But indeed, my loves, 'tis entire agreeable to see you all, and I am in the supposition that at any moment there will be a deal of tea and many fine cakes come through the door, and I shall have a deal of endeavour to convince Euphemia that you came quite impromptu and I had no expectation of this visit.

Flora goes to kneel beside Clorinda’s chair. Dearest tiger, she says, what these foolish creatures will not come at telling you is that 'twas all their concern for me, their baby sister – as if you have not already showed most exceeding generous, 'tis not as though I should be left in want did you go change your will –

Clorinda lays her hand upon the golden head, and looks lovingly at her daughter. La, she says, did all suppose that poor Mr MacDonald would be out of a place and in want, and such a fate move me entirely to womanly pity?

There is a general air of consciousness among the Ferraby clan.

Fie, my darlings, you that all knew and loved Milord, how could you suppose that he would not have provided for one that had served him so diligently so many years? Or indeed that there are not those that would entire jump at offering Mr MacDonald a place?

Hannah coughs and says, 'twas not quite the like with my Mama and Papa, for there is the jam factory that shows so profitable they might quit service and go set up in a country mansion tomorrow did they desire. But still he showed generous.

Comes Euphemia herself with tea, followed by one of her daughters with a deal of cakes.

He is in some concern that the entire family may stay to dinner, but they have matters to be about, all except Flora and Hannah, that have come up from Surrey.

Will you not stay, my sweet wombatt? asks Clorinda.

Flora says, 'tis a great temptation – might we, Hannah?

Hannah smiles and says, 'tis not as tho’ we have left the children alone in the house, they are well attended, I doubt they will be going fall into the fire. Also, was a matter or two I should greatly wish look out in your library, Lady B-.

Why, dear Hannah, you are entire welcome: and mayhap Mr MacDonald would be so kind as to assist you to any volumes you seek.

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Sandy wakes up to the aroma of coffee and the sounds of someone moving about the dressing-room. Hector comes out and says, they sent to Jerome at Raxdell House to send over some fresh clothes, and he confides that he himself is still quite able to shave and dress a gentleman. Sandy would protest that he is quite able to shave himself and then looks at the trembling of the coffee in the cup from the tremors in his hand. He asks Hector what time it is.

Nigh on ten of the morning, says Hector, consulting the watch that Clorinda gave him those many years ago in Surrey.

What! He has slept the clock round and more.

When he descends to the parlour, and finds Clorinda at her desk, he asks what was in that posset?

My dear, do you accuse me of drugging you? There was a little brandy, but 'twas mostly milk and spices, quite entirely sanitive. You were quite entire exhausted, my dear.

Euphemia comes to set a substantial breakfast before him: he does not think he can possibly eat, until he starts, and discovers himself quite ravenous.

When he has finished, he says, well, he has slept, he has eaten, now he should return to Raxdell House.

Indeed not, says Clorinda, I am in the very act of writing to the new Lord Raxdell to say that, after you had convey’d me home, 'twas quite apparent that you were in a state of extreme exhaustion and I am like to fear a brain-fever do you not rest. I am in considerable concern that I should send for a physician.

He snorts and says, 'tis very kind of you, dear sibyl, but you do not need to lie for me.

Alexander MacDonald! snaps Clorinda, sure there has been a certain amount of equivocation and masquerade over the years, but this is quite the entirest truth. Sure if you endeavour leave, I shall have Hector lock you up. I will not have you work yourself into illness, sure, how can you suppose that Milord would have wanted any such thing? He left you that fine independence entirely so you should not need to. I confide that 'twould be carrying out his wishes to prevent you.

My dear, she says in gentler tones, you appear incapable of manifesting your dour Calvinistickal glare, 'tis the surest of signs that you are not your wont’d self.

His chest starts heaving and he finds himself entirely overtaken by the physical manifestations of grief. And finds himself being held by Clorinda, and when thought begins to return, has fleeting considerations about the very comforting nature of female softness, and then comes to realise that Clorinda is weeping herself.

O, he cries, I am the most selfish of fellows! As if you too do not mourn a dear friend of many years.

Why, 'tis something that we may grieve together, for who else besides ourselves would know the inwardness of the matter? She hands him a large handkerchief, while dabbing at her own cheeks with a delicate lacy affair.

And after your other losses, he goes on, conscience-stricken, remembering walking across the lawns at Raxdell House with Josiah Ferraby, smoking cigars and talking of some matter going forth in Parliament, and the other man suddenly putting a hand to his chest with an expression of startlement and crumpling to the ground. And the agonizing long illness of Eliza Ferraby, Clorinda’s pretty house become a house of sickness for those many painful months, the finest physicians and surgeons in London called upon, crack nurses in attendance, nothing to be done but to try and keep her as comfortable as possible.

O my dear, says Clorinda with a tearful laugh, sure 'tis no matter upon which one may make mathematical calculations of degrees of infelicity. But sure I hope you will remain here at least for a little while.

He looks down at his hands. It would be quite infinitely more agreeable, or at least less painful, to be here rather than at Raxdell House.

But – he begins –

O, fie upon your buts!

It is entirely too kind –

Fiddlesticks! Have we not been the dearest of friends this long while? Unless there was some other course of action you preferred – travel, or return to your native soil, or to go stay with one of your philosopher friends – sure I am a thoughtless Clorinda –

No, no, indeed no, silly creature. He sees that Clorinda is trying, with less success than usually attends, to conceal tearfulness.

Sure I should ask before going contrive, she says, blowing her nose. But I saw that fellow, quite desiring bind you to his interests, the wretch, as if you were some automaton, and – but I daresay you had your own plans already, o, I confide that behind my back I am known as that Meddlesome Marchioness –

No, dearest Clorinda, had he had time I am sure Gervase would have instructed you to kidnap me before I was beguiled by some false sense of duty into remaining. 'Twould be exceeding agreeable to me to find refuge here, but will there not be gossip?

She laughs somewhat immoderate, nigh unto hysterics, and says, my dear, we have been gossiped upon these many years, 'twill entirely be a matter of knowing tapping of noses. Sure scandalmonging tongues have had us abed together this long while.

Well, he says, was that tedious journey across France with the masquerade of marriage, and that time in Scarborough -

- The one room left in any hostelry that we would have cared to sleep in, sure I had not consider’d how popular a watering-place 'twas -

- awake half the night arguing about a device for some Gothick tale of yours!

They look at one another with affection.

I confide, says Clorinda, that Jerome would be the one to apply to about your trunks –

There are, he says, some matters of papers in the office that are to do with my own business –

Sure, says Clorinda, 'twould be a shocking thing was it discovered upon you that you were that savage critic, Deacon Brodie; and I daresay there is a philosophical treatise or so that you have never had the leisure to prepare for publication, that you might wish take in hand now –

Dearest Clorinda, you have ever read me like a book; so I will go to Raxdell House and pack them up myself, and make various commendations of the clerks to the new Viscount, and advance the interest of those that might suit as secretary –

Quite excellent ton!

So the next day he goes to Raxdell House, and the new Viscount displays excellent ton himself in saying that now he considers upon the matter and sees Mr MacDonald’s condition, indeed he realises that 'twould be an entire imposition to ask him to take on this task, but would be exceeding grateful of his advice. He also remarks upon the sanitive benefits of sea-voyages.

So Sandy says that Mr Cartwright has a very fine understanding of the general business of the Raxdell interests – His Lordship will surely know that for many years he himself acted very much in the capacity of a political advisor to the late Viscount, rather than having the day to day administration of affairs in his hands. Cartwright he confides would give entire satisfaction was he promoted to the entire oversight of the estates, the management of Raxdell House &C.

Why, says His Lordship, does not suppose he will follow in the late Viscount’s political footsteps – Sandy confides not, for just the mention of these makes the fellow look uneasy – although of course will take his seat in the Lords.

He then opens a drawer in his desk and says, sure these legal fellows take a deal of a time about settling all the matters of the will, but he and his dear lady have been looking into some of the personal matters themselves, and they confide that these are the items that the late Viscount wished Lady Bexbury to have.

There is the snuffbox – he knows that there was some private joke 'twixt Gervase and Clorinda about the snuffbox – and the various pieces of jewellery, including the famed pink diamond parure and several fine rings.

The Viscount clears his throat, and says that the Viscountess finds herself quite translated into this new and unanticipated sphere, has no connections in Town Society, is at somewhat of a loss as to how she should proceed. Has heard that there are certain ladies of fine breeding and understanding of ton that alas find themselves financially embarrassed and may be hired as advisors, but –

Sandy has not spent these many years as confidante to the exquisite Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury to misunderstand what the Viscount reaches at. He indicates that, does Lady Bexbury suppose she will be welcome, she will certainly call and her understanding of the usages of Society is everywhere most highly esteemed. (He cannot imagine that Clorinda will not relish the task.)

The Viscount looks exceeding relieved.

After they have taken civil leave of one another, he goes to the office to be about packing up his things. Cartwright comes in and says, there are a deal of letters marked for his personal attention have lately come. He frowns, spreads them out upon the desk, observes the franks and the seals and realizes that these are from members of their coterie and wider circles, and that though he is sure they have writ condolences in entire formal fashion to the new Viscount, they convey the messages of sympathy from long friendship to himself. Treacherous tears come to his eyes, even as he thinks that Clorinda would laugh and point out that he is not an antient mariner alone upon the waves with a dead seagull about his neck but has a deal of social connections.

He pushes the letters into a tidy pile, blinking as he does so, and manages to compose himself sufficiently to say, he will take them with him to Lady Bexbury’s where he may peruse them at leisure, and do any more come, should be sent there. But he dares say it gets about that he may be found at that direction.

Cartwright asks, with a trace of anxiety in his tone, whether Mr MacDonald does not intend remain in the service of the Viscount?

Sandy can tell from the change of Cartwright’s expression that his own has become dour and Calvinistickal. He blinks again and says, hoping that his features show more amiable, that he confides that the present Viscount does not have the same political interests, and in respect of all the quotidian matters of administration, Mr Cartwright is eminently fitted to carry them out; he has spoke to the Viscount already to that effect. Is there any matter of advice on particular questions required, he is quite entirely at their service.

But, he says, did His late Lordship trouble to leave me an independence, I think it shows respectful of his wishes to go enjoy it.

(Though the notion of enjoyment seems some wild fantastical opium dream, a phantasm.)

Hector’s fine strapping son Ben comes to say, the boxes are all stowed in the carriage, was there anything more needed put in?

Sandy says that he confides that Jerome has the matter of clothes well under hand and he has enough at present to serve, 'tis not as though he intends going about in Society. He picks up the letters, shakes Cartwright firmly by the hand saying he will do most excellently, and follows Ben out to the carriage. Ben goes sit beside Nick on the box after closing the door upon him, and they drive off.

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The final volume of the AMacD commonplace books ends abruptly halfway through. Between two pages are inserted a large number of loose cuttings from assorted periodicals, reporting the death of Gervase Reveley, Viscount Raxdell, in a street accident which only his own skills as a whip prevented from being a far worse disaster, but leading to his being thrown clear of his own curricle and fatally injured. There are also a number of obituary notices. On the following page is written three times I must be philosophical with a heavy line drawn underneath.

Alexander MacDonald, MA, locks the volume away with the others in the secure press, and looks down at his hand. The effects of grief upon the physical body are surely a topic suited to the philosopher, he murmurs as he observes its faint persistent trembling.

But, he thinks, no-one will imagine it to be anything but the natural effects of his efforts over these past few days: no-one will suppose that the signs of lack of sleep upon his face due to anything but the business of organising the funeral, arranging for the succession of the new viscount, writing or causing to be written the vast number of letters that have been necessary, and having all in order for this present morning’s reading of the will.

At least he had been there to the last: it had been considered not in the least remarkable that Gervase desired to communicate last wishes to his dedicated secretary, when they brought in his broken body.

He bites his lip. The new viscount, a fellow of nearly Gervase’s own years that had never expected to inherit, any anticipations in the matter falling upon his son, shows considerable signs of wanting him to stay and steer an obscure country squire through the new paths he suddenly finds himself set upon. But to stay at Raxdell House, when there is no Gervase –

But first, the reading of the will. The servants were well instructed beforehand, but he should be there with His new Lordship to greet the lawyers as they arrive.

The relatives and the household have assembled. Jerome, Seraphine and Roberts all sit together. Old Fosticue – demonstrating respect for the ancient association of the firm with the Reveley family, it is Old Fosticue comes creaking about this ceremony – picks up the document.

There is a little – not quite a gasp, more the sounds of breaths being drawn in among the assembled company – and Old Fosticue looks up as the drawing-room door can be heard opening. A late-comer to the reading? He cannot think of anyone who should be there and isn’t - mayhap some family black sheep in hopes of some small legacy –

A rustle of silk. He turns to look.

Still able to glide like a swan into a room, though in this instance, a black swan, Clorinda, Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury, advances down the rows of chairs, clad in the deepest of mourning, and, gracefully resisting any efforts to direct her anywhere else, comes to sit beside him.

How could he have not known she would come? One must play the comedy out to the last act and the final bow, she has said in respect of so many stratagems and contrivances over the years. Of course she would be here. Under concealment of the full skirt, she takes and squeezes his hand.

A deal of the property is entailed but there was still a considerable amount entirely within Gervase’s disposal. In the will he has carefully detailed numerous minor bequests to various members of the household, distant relatives, and friends. Jerome is well-provided for, as he should be. His dear friend, the Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury, comes in for several pieces of his mother’s jewellery, a valuable snuff-box, and a painting by Raoul de Clérault: doubtless everyone will speculate that Gervase made some settlement upon her years ago, and guess that these are merely sentimental tokens of his esteem. And after all, she is known a well-left widow with no need to hang out for legacies

And to my devoted secretary, who has served me so well and so faithfully - of course, he had expected some remembrance –

- but not that it would be what could only be described as a generous independence, along with something about enabling him to devote his abilities to philosophy -

- at which he finds himself feeling quite the reverse of philosophical, but Clorinda grips his hand again and he does not faint or fall into a fit of weeping.

Afterwards, His new Lordship says all that is proper, but looks as though he is about to lead to the possibility of Sandy's remaining; but a weight leans upon his arm, a voice says in die-away tones, o, Mr MacDonald, I feel quite overset - no-one can apply a dainty handkerchief to her eyes as Clorinda can – might you see is my smelling-bottle in my reticule, sure I thought I had put it in – o, Your Lordship, I am indeed sorry to break in upon your conversation, but I find myself so exceeding faint I would prevail upon Mr MacDonald's kindness to escort me home.

Clorinda’s hair under the cap may be silver-gilt rather than golden these days, she is no longer a young woman, but she still has only to enter a room to draw a bevy of men, old and young, to her side. The new viscount swallows and says, indeed, he would not wish to detain Lady Bexbury here –

O, thank you, breathes Clorinda, and they leave the room quite as if he is rescuing her from the press rather than the reverse.

Once they are in her carriage, and driving away, she says, really! solicit you at such a time to remain about Raxdell House! shocking ton.

But -, he begins.

O, but me no buts, Sandy dear. Are there not young men among your connexion would jump at such a place? You need only say to Lord Raxdell that you have become so entire used to Milord’s particular ways that you confide you would find it hard, at your time of life, to have to change to suit his, but that you will ever be entire at his disposal and that of any secretary he appoints to give advice.

It is entirely true, utterly sensible, quite proper: and something that he had not even managed to begin to think in his frozen state.

My dear, she says, I confide that these past days you have barely slept, have been about all matter of arrangements and perform’d them all exceeding well, and 'tis entirely that consideration should prevent Lord Raxdell from approaching you until you have had time to think of what you will do now. In particular as you do not need to be hanging out for preference.

No… he says, wondering if having something to put his hand to would at least be a distraction, keep him from thinking, from remembering –

They arrive at Clorinda’s pretty house, where they have hatched so many plots and sounded so many mysteries. Hector makes exceeding civil condolences to him, and shows them into the pretty parlour. He goes sit in his accustomed chair.

Vaguely, he hears Clorinda give some instructions to Hector, then turn and say, and Hector, when you have spoke to Euphemia, send up someone with more coals to stir up the fire.

He thinks it might be one of Hector and Euphemia’s offspring that comes lay more coals and stir up the fire into a fine blaze.

Why, dearest C-, do we need a great fire? (For the weather has of a sudden become a deal milder than that cold snap, with ice upon the ground that contributed to the accident.)

Because, dear Sandy, you are shivering.

So he is.

Quite shortly afterwards comes Euphemia herself with a mug in her hand. He had been expecting coffee, has not coffee ever been almost immediately served whenever he comes here?

'Tis a posset, says Clorinda, a most sustaining thing. I daresay you have not eat a thing these several days. You cannot live upon coffee.

He wrinkles his nose but indeed, he cannot remember eating anything, though surely Seraphine must have been leaving food for him.

A little while later comes some excellent soup.

And then he remembers nothing more except for some faint remembrance of being conveyed upstairs by Hector.

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

Dear readers, I have recently completed what I suppose, length-wise, amounts to a novella, i.e. long enough that I will be posting it in instalments.

It is set some 20+ years after Clorinda renounced writing her memoirs.

Content warnings: some character deaths, atypical behaviour while in the throes of bereavement, startling and unexpected revelations.

But some answers to questions about 'what happened to - ?'.

First episode coming shortly.

the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)

Lady Bexbury was dressed in what was probably the model of what to wear when making an informal friendly call during the unfashionable season in Town: nothing too ostentatious, a fine muslin, a set of corals…

Lalage remarked that 'twas a very close afternoon, perchance they might have lemonade instead of tea?

Lady Bexbury fanned herself and said with an agreeable smile that lemonade would be entire delightful.

Lalage went on, having summoned a footman to go fetch the refreshment, that she was somewhat surprised to find Lady Bexbury in Town – would have supposed her at house-parties throughout the summer months.

She gave a little sigh and her expression became more serious. Alas, she said, did you ever meet the Contessa di Serrante while she was here in Town? – Lalage shook her head, but Em nodded vigorously, murmuring something about a ridotto - very lately had the news that she died at Naples. She had took thought for the prospect, and commissioned me that I would undertake a few little matters on her behalf amongst her compatriots that live here when the news came, so once I had heard I came post-haste to be about 'em.

Lalage supposed that there might be family retainers or connexions that had determined to remain in England, questions of pensions and annuities and such.

But, my dears, said Lady Bexbury after the lemonade had come and the footman departed, I apprehend from Lady Emily that you find yourselves come to a happy declaration of mutual devotion?

Em leant over and took Lalage’s hand. O, she cried, I have been such a thoughtless foolish creature!

Lalage squeezed her hand.

She smiled at them. 'Tis a very pretty thing, she said.

And, said Em, you said the morn that 'twas not entire out of the common?

La, my dears, sure you must have heard of the famed ladies Ponsonby and Butler in their picturesque seclusion at Llangollen? And indeed, the matter of female devotion has been known a deal of a long time – there is that fine affection 'twixt Ruth and Naomi in the Old Testament, and among the antient Greeks there was the poetess Sappho, 'tis why the matter will sometimes be called Sapphic disposition -

O! Lalage put a hand to her cheek. Those pretty songs that Miss McKeown sings so affecting, that were composed by Lady Jane’s late cousin – is’t not give out that they are from the works of Sappho?

Entirely so – the verses were translated by Lady Jane herself, that is so very noted for her abilities in Greek.

But – Em began, frowning a little – sure 'tis give out that 'twas an old romance 'twixt her and Admiral Knighton – but indeed, her affection to Miss Addington is also much remarked upon – (Lalage tried not to smile. Had Em really not drawn the conclusion?)

Why, there are those may incline to men as well as women – there were those two married ladies of rank, lately conducted themselves shocking indiscreet, came to an entire open scandal and vulgar prints.

One would not, Lalage said, desire anything in the way of scandal -

Lady Bexbury smiled and wafted her fan a little. My dears, can be entire no scandal in the matter of two ladies that are relatives, both of 'em disappointed in love –

What? yelped Em.

Why, 'tis considered a most heart-rending tale about Miss Fenster’s affianced husband, that went to the South Seas and died of the fever afore she might join him in his missionary endeavours. Though, she went on, there are those, I apprehend from Mrs Nixon, that entire Encyclopaedia Universal of scandals and on-dits, whisper that he was in fact eat by cannibals –

O, really, said Lalage, Mr Derringe assured me 'twas an entire calumny that the fellows he intended go among ate human flesh.

- and 'tis remarked upon that Lady Emily showed a considerable liking to Captain Collins, would sit out with him at balls &C –

What? sure I liked to hear of his adventures and the places he had been, and sometimes he would find dancing tired him so would ask might we sit out instead –

- and then he was beguiled into an elopement by Mrs Darton Kendall, 'twas an entire blow - yes, my dear, I know 'tis an entire tale, but will serve exceeding well for a reason why you incline to none of your suitors – for 'tis not accepted as an excuse for not marrying that one’s aspirants are quite the dullest fellows in Society, but does it go around that one’s heart has been broke by a fickle wretch that fell to the wiles of a designing woman, 'tis considered most understandable that one does not incline to any of 'em. And sure your brother the Earl would not go force you to any match you liked not. Has indeed remarked to me that he hopes he is not obliged to go do the civil at family gatherings with Wayseth, that is even more of a tedious fellow about theological errors than Lord Demington.

'Tis true, said Em, has entirely promised me that he will not. And indeed they are a pack of sad bores that I fear did one bring any of 'em into the family would be complaining about our amateur theatricals and wild ways and find themselves being twitted by Eddy and Geoff &C.

And in a few years, your sad stories will be told, but 'twill be said that you find a little consolation in your companionship with one another, and mayhap some matter of pet dogs, or gardens, or some interest that you share and undertake together –

'Twas really very often remarked in their set that sure, Lady Bexbury should go write novels, but Lalage considered that 'twould be entire trite to do so now.

'Twould answer, then? she said.

I confide 'twould. You might go tell somewhat of the matter to the Earl – sure might there not be some pretty dower house or cottage somewhere among his estates that would be entire suit’d for two ladies?

They looked at one another. Sure, said Em thoughtfully, I can never like Monks Garrowby, but Attervale is give out a very pretty little place.

You need not, went on Lady Bexbury, tell him the entire matter. Merely that you find yourselves such congenial companions that would wish continue in that state.

Lalage raised her eyebrows.

O, said Em, blushing, I said somewhat to Lady Bexbury of the delight I found in kissing you &C.

'Tis supposed, murmured Lady Bexbury, that ladies can enjoy no carnal pleasures without there is manhood somewhere in the matter. 'Tis a prudent protection to the amour-propre of the entire male sex does one not reveal to the contrary. Pretty romantic devotion is admirable, entire a manifestation of the most exquisite ladylike sensibility.

They both stared at her. Lalage, with the sensation that her whole body was a-blush, wondered – sure one could not be ignorant of Lady Bexbury’s history – might it be there were ladies as well as gentlemen went patronise courtesans? Had she not heard some rumour that Miss Addington had once been most desperate in love with her, before her elevation?

Well, my dears, said Lady Bexbury, rising, you may ever call upon me is there any matter upon which you might require my advice – for sure, I never had the benefits of any fine education, but I have seen a deal of the world in my time.

She squeezed each of them by the hand as she kissed them upon the cheek, and glided from the room.

Oh, cried Em, flinging herself impetuously to her knees beside Lalage’s chair, did I do wrong? But when I kissed you the only thing I could think of at all the like was that time we went to that demonstration of electricity. And I remembered that Nan told me once that she was in a great fret on her wedding eve, and Lady Bexbury was quite the kindest of counsellors to her.

I am, she went on, a sad badly-brought-up creature. Mama was so poorly, and Milly could do naught with us, and of course Papa did not care what we did so long as 'twas out of his way and he did not need be bothered, we grew up quite as savages.

Lalage stroked her hair and said, Or unspoilt children of nature?

But – Em straightened up and looked Lalage in the face, Intreat me not to leave thee?

Oh my dearest Em, said Lalage, pulling her up to sit more comfortably upon her knee, whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge.

And kissing her, thought that the comparison to electricity was entirely apt.

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