Sandy sighed as he walked along. He had really lingered far too long about that prancing molly’s den of vanity and vain adornment, would have to go quite directly to the meeting of the antiquarians. But there was a pieman with his tray, and while Euphemia would probably poison him did she ever hear he had bought food in the streets, or mayhap knock him down with the frying pan, necessity was upon him: he had no wish to sit in learned company with a belly rumbling from hunger.
He had consumed the pie and wiped away any evidence of its consumption by the time he attained the antiquarians’ society, brightly lit up and with quite a throng present. For this e’en there was to be a most interesting preliminary report of the excavation of the monastery ruins at Monks Garrowby. The Earl of Nuttenford, that had not only given his permission but had contributed to the expenses of the matter, was likely to be present along with other members of his family and their circle.
And indeed, there were the Earl and Countess, his sister Lady Emily and her constant companion Lalage Fenster, his other sister the Marchioness of Offgrange and her husband, and – Sandy’s heart sank a little – his brother Geoffrey, whose face lit up upon catching sight of him.
Sandy sighed inwardly. Perchance it had not been so very prudent to suggest that his disinclination to continue an otherwise agreeable carnal acquaintance with Mr Merrett was simply due to the very recent nature of his bereavement, that he was not yet ready to love again, rather than the somewhat overwhelming nature of Geoffrey’s devotion. It was now well over a year since Gervase’s dreadful sudden death, and it was not unlike that Geoffrey retained hopes.
A fan tapped him sharply upon the arm. La, Mr MacDonald, you are come most exceeding late upon the hour.
He looked down at his dearest friend, Clorinda, Lady Bexbury. Why, he said, 'tis an intriguing problem you have set me, though sure 'tis a very unwonted setting to find myself in. But 'tis not the place to talk of it, I confide.
Indeed not, let us go take our seats.
'Twas considerable late by the time they were in her carriage returning home. Sandy was about to open the business to Clorinda, but she held up her hand and took a small memorandum book and a pencil out of her reticule. I am a sad forgetful creature and I wish get down that very fine information about monasteries afore memory fades.
He smiled and said, I confide has given you a notion for a tale.
Mayhap and perchance! she said, scribbling busily. He would be happy indeed did she take up her pen once more to write horrid tales or plays, for it had lain unused for that task since Eliza Ferraby’s death – or, it came to him, before, she had writ nothing but necessary letters and charity pamphlets during Eliza’s long illness. There had been a tale or two after Josiah Ferraby’s sudden demise, but naught since then.
At length they came to her pretty house and went to the parlour where Hector brought them madeira and port, as was by now an entire habit with them.
Clorinda put her memorandum book upon her writing desk and went to sit by the fire. Indeed, gave me several notions that might work up into fine tales. But, my dear, I await your own news most anxious.
Why, he said, indeed I wish to open the matter entirely to your wisdom –
O poo, you flattering wretch. I could make nothing of it myself, I was quite entire at stand and therefore wished to have your mind upon it.
You did not tell me, he says, that Mamzelle Bridgette is in fact a monsieur -
La, I am a fool, I supposed you knew but there is no reason you should. 'Tis entire a name of business, devised aforetimes by dear Docket’s old friend Biddy Smith, they saw no reason to change it when she moved to Worthing for her health.
- though such an effeminate fellow as I daresay makes little difference. But sure I should not let myself be hindered in any investigation by my dislike to the molly-set among those that are of the disposition.
O dear, murmured Clorinda, I hope you did not entire paralyze him with a dour Calvinistical glare.
Anyway, I have come about to think of ways one might proceed, and I should like to speak to Tibby –
- oh, that is an excellent thought! –
- and I think 'twould also be of great service could one find out more about Madame Francine’s establishment. Do any of your circle go be dressed by her?
Indeed not! If they do not go to Maurice, they go to Madame Lisette. But, my dear, would it not answer did I go to her, saying that I find that Maurice’s inspiration grows tired?
My dear Clorinda! 'Twould answer most exceedingly, but I hesitate to advance a course of action that will no doubt lead to you having to purchase gowns you have no intention to wear, or else show, I doubt not, an entire dowd, that will have Docket’s shade come howl and gibber in your dressing-room.
Clorinda giggled and said, perchance I might give 'em to some deserving cause: but I do not intend to come at actually buying from her. I shall be one of those difficult ladies that keeps changing her requirements, and disliking matters she had already desired when she sees them upon her, and I confide that Madame Francine will be very desirous of keeping Lady Bexbury’s custom, so will not complain or dismiss me from her establishment, and 'twill give me great occasion to be to and fro there.