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.
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.