Sandy found himself feeling curiously light-hearted. He had entirely expected to feel cast into the gloom and despondency that had ever followed his carnal engagements with Geoffrey Merrett, but somehow, yestere’en’s romp with Maurice Allard had quite disproved the Galenic maxim. There been, perchance, a lack of the constraint that afflicted him when 'twas a matter of fellows he had known since their youth, that had – he fancied – been wont to look up to him, considered him even in the light of a mentor: and it had rendered the undertaking somewhat shameless in its indulgence. He doubted not that 'twould be very hard to shock Maurice Allard in any matter of carnality, anymore than one could Clorinda. Well, he had done the deed, much to his astonishment, and it had been exceeding enjoyable, and he would never have to see Allard again, and there would certainly be no matter of languishing sad spaniel eyes gazing at him across a dinner-table anxious for a depth of affection he could not give.
Why, my dear, said Clorinda, pouring him coffee, you are very cheerful the morn.
Why, have we not succeeded in sounding out a mystery and bringing the matter to a most exceeding satisfactory conclusion?
'Tis so, and yet –
And yet - ?
La, I am a foolish fretful creature, but I wonder what that woman goes about now. Perchance one should go warn Miss Addington, lest she goes try her encroaching ways upon her.
Why, 'tis by no means like the time you were given out at Carlsbad when she behaved so shocking.
Indeed she is a soberer creature these days: and I confide she would go straight to Lady Jane and disclose the matter to her.
And ask whether she might send for the Admiral and his horsewhip, perchance!
Hector came in with a note upon a tray for Sandy, saying that the boy waited for a reply.
The sight of Geoffrey Merrett’s handwriting somewhat lowered his mood. He broke the seal. Why, he said, Geoff is back in Town and wonders am I free the e’en to dine at his club – I cannot recollect any other engagement and may as well get this over with –
He went to the desk, scribbled an acceptance, blotted, folded and sealed it and handed it to Hector, adding sixpence for the boy.
Why, my dear, you make a very hearty breakfast the morn, shall I ring for more muffins?
No, I have had an entire sufficiency, but might you oblige me with more coffee –
She did so, adding, and do you go out at all?
I had a purpose to work in the library if that is agreeable?
Entirely, if you do not mind me coming to and fro a little for books upon monasteries and monks and some general history.
You go write some tale on that topic?
Have some inclination to do so, 'tis very pleasing to feel a tale under my hands again. But Hannah will come look in at tea-time. Purposes stay at Raxdell House with her parents, that falls out well: might give her a little note for Seraphine, in case that minx – sure she is by now a deal too old to be named minx! – endeavours make trouble.
Indeed, 'twas being in that plot with Evenden brought about their ill-fated union, so that she might not turn evidence upon him, the wretch – but I cannot see it profiting her.
O, did she not ever quite feed upon spite and malice! But I daresay you will wish to see Hannah.
I am ever pleased to see Hannah.
Indeed, it was a very agreeable day: sitting in the library and Clorinda in and out and talking of monasteries: are there not, she asked, communities of monks now returned to English soil?
Indeed so: do you like, I might ask Father O’Donaghue of the matter when I go play chess with him, might take his mind off the state of Irish affairs.
'Twould be most exceeding kind.
And then having tea with dear Hannah, that was looking most exceeding well, but not yet visibly with child. Clorinda looked at her and said, La, these modern fashions, a lady may conceal a deal beneath 'em.
Hannah smiled. 'Tis sure a better thing than lacing very tightly to conceal one’s state. Tomorrow I go consult with cousin Maurice as to how to have my skirts cut so that they will disguise my condition until 'tis time for us to go into Shropshire.
Sandy reminded himself that he was entirely bound to hear occasional news of Allard from his relatives in and out of the household: had ever been the case and was no matter to be bothered about now.
He felt a curious shyness towards Hannah, that might be bearing his child, but as a result of the application of scientific ingenuity rather than the more usual means. But then she asked him about the works of Mr Dickens and the use of fiction to draw attention to social problems, and they were having one of their fine accustomed conversations.
All a deal more agreeable than the prospect of dining with Geoffrey Merrett. But he arrived punctual to the minute at Geoffrey’s club, and was shown to a discreet nook where Geoffrey was waiting, looking less agitated that Sandy had anticipated.
Dear fellow! Sit down. Have some of this excellent sherry.
You are in good spirits, remarked Sandy.
Why, I think that matters have come about so that the concern I had will have disappeared entirely.
Sandy sipped sherry and noticed that for all Geoffrey seemed so cheerful, his gaze was evasive and he did not meet Sandy’s eyes.
But he waited until they had been served dinner and the attendant had withdrawn before interrogating the matter further.
I think, he said, you had better tell me the all, nonetheless.
Geoffrey put down his soup-spoon, looked at Sandy, and sighed. You will think me the most wretched of fellows –
Sure I doubt that –
- but it came to pass that I entered upon a liaison with Lady Sarah Channery -
Why, you dog! (Sure it would have been entire improper and unkind to laugh.)
- which we conducted very discreet at her dressmaker’s – Madame Francine –
(Of course: Lady Sarah was a hanger-on of Lady Trembourne’s, would have been persuaded by her to patronize the latest sensation.)
- but then, the poor dear creature received a note demanding recompense in return for not communicating the matter to Sir Stockwell.
Sandy thought this over for a moment. Had it not been given out, when she married Sir Stockwell, that her portion was very small indeed, the Marquesses of Maldane having been pockets to let these several generations?
How might she pay – or was it supposed that you would cover the amount?
Geoffrey frowned. Why, one does not like to give in to extortion, so I advised her to write pointing out her position, and saying she needed time to go about selling jewels most exceeding discreet to raise the ready. And then hoped to lay the matter before your wisdom to see how we might proceed so as to scotch this snake.
But, Geoffrey went on, breaking into a beaming smile, one hears that Madame Francine has been shown up an entire imposter, and has closed up her establishment and disappeared. So we may suppose that she has entirely fled from the scene of her crimes.
I am like, mused Sandy, to wonder did she make it a common practice to exact this levy upon the ladies that made use of her discreet chamber? 'twould make it more understandable – for although Lady Sarah is not a wealthy lady, was she one among some several, I daresay 'twould all mount up into an agreeable sum.
Indeed she is not, poor soul. Has a decent allowance of pin-money, but bills go to her husband.
Sandy suppressed a snort of amusement at the thought – had it occurred to Geoffrey? – that dressmakers’ bills presumably included some disguised item for use of the discreet chamber.
Is Sir Stockwell a jealous husband? he asked, trying to recollect what he knew of the fellow. Held some post at the Admiralty, did he not?
Why, has not shown undue jealous in the past – indeed, somewhat neglectful I fancy, 'tis a great pity, entirely the sort of thing that disinclines one to matrimony, the sight of spouses that are entire indifferent to one another. But one may suppose that he would not desire to be given out a cuckold.
May be they have some understanding? But I confide that is she so worried about this attempt, cannot be so.
O, you mean like Lady Zellen?
Precisely so. I daresay Sir Hartley would not care for their matrimonial arrangements to be announced in the press, but has ever found it entirely to answer to have young fellows squire Lady Zellen around while he is about his other business. Why, did not your brother Eddy - ?
Oh, that was long since! Before he went rusticate in Herefordshire, marry Cissie, become the entire country squire.
Geoffrey began to recount various matters of family gossip, while Sandy determined that 'twould be reasonable to desire Clorinda to investigate whether any other ladies had been subjected to like demands, and who they were.