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.