The ladies of the party have withdrawn from the dinner-table, and sit about in the very fine large drawing-room that has a pleasing view over the grounds. There are some that gossip, several at embroidery, a couple that play spillikins, and Mrs D- K-, that plays patience with an expression like unto Medusa.
Lady Z- and I look at one another and sigh somewhat. I wonder a little that Mr and Mrs D- K- have been invit’d, but have some suspicion that there may be some distant family connexion that provides them an entrée. Lady P- goes ask her whether she would like a little tea, or perhaps a glass of ratafia, and receives a refusal which is no model of gracious behaviour.
O, Lady B-, says Lady Z-, I mind me of that fine ghost story that you told us at A-. Might I desire you to tell it again, 'twas a very fine tale.
Why, says I, putting down my tea-cup, 'twould be an entire pleasure.
This is a tale, I commence, was told me by the Contessa di S- as one that has come down in her family in Naples. And indeed, says I, looking at Lady P- and Lady D- that show attentive, there is a deal of superstitious belief in those parts, why, the cook at the fine villa of the late Marquess was give out to be a strega, or as we should say, witch - tho’ in her defence, I will say that she did not go cozen the local peasantry for gain. The Contessa herself, I go on, is a fine educat’d woman that had an English governess, and communicat’d the tale to me as a curiosity -
As I continue with the tale, Mrs D- K- continues to play patience, slapping down the cards somewhat emphatick, but I see the hands at embroidery grow still, the spillkins suddenly fall in a clatter, and the gossip dyes into silence.
Miss S-, I see, is quite particular rapt.
There is a little silence after I conclude.
Lady D- gives a little shudder and says 'tis a most remarkable tale. Miss S- is still quite rapt. Lady P- says that there are many superstitious tales told in this part of the country, in particular among the miners.
Lady D- gives her sister, that is still away in some dream, a little nudge, and says, a little musick would be exceeding pleasant, would it not? at which Miss S- shakes herself, takes the hint, and goes over to the piano. She is a player of some competence tho’ not, I think, an equal to Meg in talent.
I sit back and covertly observe Mrs D- K-. It seems to me that she is not quite so well-turn’d-out as at the party at A-. Since I confide she is not a woman that would care to present herself as a poor relation, I wonder what is ado.
Lady Z- leans over to me and says, is that not a gown she wore at A-, made-over somewhat?
I think you are right, says I. And then I bethink me that, altho’ an MP may not be su’d for debt, tradesmen are not oblig’d to extend credit where they consider their chances of payment exceeding remote, which I confide is the on-dit about the D- K-s.
I should not be surpriz’d, she goes on in the same undertone, does that brute stint her over dress. Sure there are far worse husbands than Sir H-.
At this moment the gentleman come rejoin us. Mrs D- K- immediate puts on an agreeable face, and I wonder at whom she casts her nets. Mr W- Y- goes over to the piano to make pleasant to Miss S-, which may be entire civility, or it may be he wishes to establish interest in that quarter.
I observe that Lord D- is quite engrosst in conversation with Sandy.
Lady D- says she has heard of my work with the optickal dispensary, what a fine practickal endeavour that is, that will enable those that are hinder’d by defects of sight to be self-supporting.
I tell her that I shall be holding a drawing-room meeting for this cause when Society returns to Town, and have had a promise from the celebrat’d actress, Miss A-, to give us some recitations from the Bard.
An actress? says Lady D- in dubious tones.
O, says I, there can be entirely no objection to Miss A-. Has the patronage of Lady J-, that is sister to the Duke of M-.
Ah, says Lady D-, that would quite allay one’s concerns. Sure Lady J- is quite a queen in philanthropick circles. And how romantick a tale this is of her marriage, quite like unto a novel - tho’ of course I do not read novels, she adds with something of a blush. (I confide that this means that she reads novels, but not where any may see, and carefully conceals them.)
Is it not? says I. She goes out to the Mediterranean to visit her husband – indeed, I daresay she would go sail with him was it not that she feels the responsibilities of the fine property he inherit’d.
What an admirable woman she must be, says Lady D-.
Why, says I, I confide that she will be present at my drawing-room meeting, and attends my soirées. I would be entire delight’d to make an introduction.
Lady D- goes on to say that in the autumn they purpose opening up P- House and residing in Town – that is, she says, Lord D- and myself, and also my sister, so that we may give her a little society – she gives a little sigh, which I suppose to be that of a well-marry’d sister who observes that her sister does not take and wishes to promote her interest but is not in full confidence over the matter.
Indeed, says I, is she of a musickal inclination Lady J- holds the finest, very select, private musicales. 'Twould be a pleasure to ensure she is sent a card – and you too, do you care to attend.
Oh, that would be quite the most agreeable thing! she exclaims. For we have not been much in Town Society.
When I go up to my chamber, I mention to Docket the matter of Mrs D- K- and whether she has yet sound’d out any intelligence from her lady’s maid.
Docket says that they arriv’d exceeding late and her maid was thus not at the fine tea-drinking there was: but she will go about the matter.
I add that there will be a ride in the park in the morn, so is my riding-habit not yet furbisht up, I shall need it then.
Docket sniffs and says she was in consideration that there might be riding and Sophy has already been at the matter.
So in the morn I go out to the stables – for it has been given out that Lord P- is able to mount those that do not bring their own horses – and Ajax leads me up a fine bay horse, that he communicates to me with nods and winks &C is an excellent quiet creature that will give me no trouble, that he has saddl’d and bridl’d himself.
Sure 'tis not my lovely Jezzie-girl, but when I mount I find he sits placid under me and does not twitch or fuss.
What, says Lord P-, you ride Trantum? Should have thought you would have pickt out a more spirit’d steed. (Sure I now have an entire false reputation as a dashing horsewoman.)
Why, says I, for a quiet morning ride over country I do not know, I prefer something that will not of sudden take off with me and perchance catch its foot in a rabbit-hole. And does one ride in company, I confide that good manners are a thing most desirable (for Mrs D- K-‘s horse swishes its tail, sidles, and offers to bite does any come close – 'tis an entirely fitting mount for that b---h).
Sure you are right, he says. As we ride off he goes on to say he hears that this property that Lady J- has marry’d into has some very fine dairy-cattle, and would very much like to convoke with her upon the subject.
She is now on her way – may even be there by now – to the Mediterranean to join her husband, but purposes to return in a few months.
Fine woman, says Lord P-, most excellent understanding of cows as one seldom finds, and a prime hand at dairying.
Alas, says I, I know very little about the bovine race but for those one may see in Hyde Park.
This sets Lord P- off on quite a diatribe concerning the failings of Town cows, the poor conditions they are kept in, the badness of the milk, &C.
He then minds that he should be doing the polite with other members of the company and trots off.
Comes up Sir H- Z- by my side. O, says I, Lady Z- does not ride the morn?
He replies that she sent her woman to say she was feeling a little indispos’d, so would stay in bed a little. Womanly troubles, eh? he goes on, in the tones of one who minds that this is a phrase much us’d by husbands.
Oho, thinks I, sure there are other womanly troubles that render one reluctant to rise of a morning, but I wonder - ? When a lady has an ardent young Neapolitan nobleman as a lover, it gives me to speculate.
On our return I go visit Lady Z- with my smelling-bottle. That is very kind, she says, but indeed, 'twas a passing qualmishness.
I confide that she is unlike to say more indoors and with servants about.