Dear Hannah! I daresay you would know best, but you do not show at all, are you entire sure you are with child?
La, Maurice, I can assure you that women – most of 'em - know the matter’s afoot. At least once they have already been about the business a time or two. One does hear tales of young girls that did not realize their state, and women at a certain time of life that supposed ‘twas the climacteric come to ‘em.
He began to drape stuff around her and take measurements. If we gather it thus - you see? – makes a pleasing effect and none would suspect what lies beneath.
Mind you do not make it too fine – I shall not be about giving speeches the while, and going to as few meetings as I may. But one may not eschew all company, and there is the matter of village gossip.
He looked at her. It was entire pleasing to see such a happy young woman in his fitting-room. So many of the ladies who came to him had some matter that troubled them, or were discontent by nature, and even a little flattery, and dressing them very well, did not entirely soothe their spirits.
You manage matters 'twixt the pair of you very well: how is Miss Ferraby?
Entire well. We are indeed fortunate. But 'tis agreeable to come to Town and see family and friends. But indeed, I should ask is all well with you – Lady Bexbury said you had been having some little trouble?
Quite resolved, he said, greatly hoping that he was not the subject of conversation over that lady’s supper-table.
She said somewhat to the effect that 'twas indeed good of you to see me now you have so much business come upon hand now 'tis all remedied.
Sure, you are family.
Why, I am daresay there are those among our connexion would not wish make that acknowledgement, was all known.
Maurice looked at their reflections in the pier-glass. Provided, he says, one does not flaunt, maintains a due discretion, so that it does not have to be openly spoke and known about –
Hannah’s eyes met his in the glass. She did not need to voice her understanding.
Some moments later, while she was putting on her accustomed garments, she said, but really I do not understand why people make such a bother about it. So unnecessary. Sure society is very cruel to unwed mothers and their offspring, but one may see that there is some reason – may not be a good or charitable reason, but if 'tis not the fear of the fathers about bringing scandal upon them, ‘tis the more general worry that they may come upon the parish and cause expense and raising of the rates. She sighed. And at least one may talk of that, and say that that harshness causes unhappy women to destroy their infants, and make arguments for more humane treatment. But when something may not even be talked of –
He patted her shoulder.
After she had left, he scribbled down a few notes and sketches for the gowns he would have made for her, and then told Miss Coggin, the head of the sewing-room, that he would be going out. Did not have any ladies coming for fittings the afternoon; did any come in hopes – vulgar creatures, murmured Miss Coggin – she might go take their measurements and requirements and ask 'em to return once they had been given appointments.
She pursed her lips in the way he knew meant that she would bring any ladies that did so to a fine appreciation of the consequence of the establishment.
He set off on a journey he did not particularly want to take, but was to undertake a prudent matter to dispatch. He took a hansom cab to some distance from his final destination: for although the tavern he sought was not precisely within the notorious rookery of Seven Dials, it was on its border. He picked his way fastidiously along the streets, keeping his walking stick in his hand in a manner that suggested it might serve as a weapon as well as a fashionable accoutrement.
From long habit he looked about before entering the place. But it was very unlikely anyone who might recognize him would see him here.
Enquiring as to whether Nat Barron was on the premises, he was directed by a jerk of the thumb into a back room.
Nat was there among various members of his gang. One of whom – presumably a new recruit – said, 'ere, oo’s the pooff: earning himself a smack or two about the head from Nat. Show some respect, Maurie may look the gent but he’s an old friend.
Nat Barron and Maurice clasped one another’s shoulder, looked into one another’s faces, and then Nat motioned him to sit down, pouring him a glass of the gin he kept for himself.
Got somebody that needs warning off? he asked.
Maurice shook his head. I think word has got about after making a few examples.
For what had gained him the position he now enjoyed at the club was this connexion that enabled severe warning to be given to any that used knowledge gained there for the purposes of extortion. In return, Nat acquired the good feeling of fellows in high places that might well be useful to him did necessity arise. 'Twas entirely mutually beneficial.
Pity, said Nat, as you see there are one or two fellows here would be the better of some occupation to work off their feelings.
Maurice took a sip of gin, and disclosed to Nat the recent trouble he had had.
Oh, and you want us to show this spying fellow the error of his ways?
Why, it might gratify my feelings did you so – Nat smiled and shook his head and says, talks as good as a play – but I thought, a fellow that has a memory like that, might be of use to you.
Nat nodded slowly. A good thought. You always did have that long view.
Maurice shrugged. If a long view was considering that luring fellows into alleys so that Nat and his boys could rob them was an occupation with a rather short future and like to end badly for him, whereas obliging gentlemen in comfortable indoor surroundings was not only remunerative but provided him with considerable insight into gentlemanly habits and behaviour, yes, he took the long view: and the even longer view had been completing his articles of apprenticeship. But he also made sure to stay on Nat’s good side. Passed on any useful gossip he learned from ladies in the course of his day, and had constructed this very beneficial alliance 'twixt Nat and the club.
Sure he owed Nat a considerable debt for the protection that in younger days his friendship had afforded an undersized pretty boy disinclined to the usual boyish pursuits and happier to play with girls.
May not linger, he said, but thought you should know of the fellow as soon as might be, before goes completely to ground.
Maurice walked to where he might find a hansom cab and directed it to take him to his lodging. Once there, he washed himself very thoroughly with the very expensive soap, to get rid of any lingering stink of Seven Dials before he went to the club, where he was bidden to a committee meeting to consider upon new members.
Smoothing pomade into his hair, he had the unwanted memory of a larger hand stroking it in a fashion it was entirely foolish to suppose affectionate, rather than the pleasure one might take in stroking a fine purring cat.
But that was past and done.
At the club he was ushered into the committee room. It was ever gratifying to him, even if these marks of respect were founded upon those early connexions.
Sir Stockwell sat at the head of the table; Chumbell at the foot; Colonel Adams, late of Bengal and with the most fascinating stories of dancing boys; Sir Hartley Zellen, whose fine looks were becoming a little florid, and his hair thinning; Terence Offerton; Lord Saythingport, that had a wife, an established mistress, and had at one time offered Maurice an establishment.
Ah, good, Allard, said Sir Stockwell. Mysell-Monting cannot come, but we have a quorum, nonetheless. Now, the matter of fellows we may solicit to join our number –
Various names were put forward, of whom Maurice knew little but any public reputation they had. Some former comrade of Adams in the East; a scholar known to Chumbell – a Cambridge man, but nevertheless a sound fellow, very sound; a naval officer acquainted with Sir Stockwell; a couple of young fellows in Saythingport’s set –
Sir Hartley cleared his throat. Has not the time come to consider MacDonald? he said. Sure it would have been somewhat vulgar to approach him very shortly after Lord Raxdell’s dreadful demise, but ‘tis nigh two years ago that the accident happened. An excellent fellow.
Is he not, replied Saythingport, given out most exceeding radical in his views?
Why, said Sir Hartley, he is a philosopher and will throw out a deal of hypotheses, but our set have always found him sensible and practical.
Is he not, squeaked Chumbell in great excitement, considered something of a classical scholar?
I would know nothing of that, said Offerton, but has quite the cunningest hand at billiards, next after Jacob Samuels.
Why, said Sir Stockwell, as to his abilities in classical learning, I was late conversing with Admiral Knighton, that says that his lady wife, that is known for her most remarkable unwomanly capacities in that sphere, holds him in quite the highest esteem. Also considers him a very clever fellow himself, that has a particular knack for sounding out mysteries.
Maurice felt his face settle into a mask as of one considering these arguments. 'Twould be entire vulgar to blackball MacDonald, that had done him such great service in his own difficulty. But one might confide that Saythingport, and possibly Adams, would do so.
But, when the balls for each candidate were tallied, there were no black balls for MacDonald.
Maurice’s heart sank.