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.