That merry gossip Miss D-, who has lately become part of the set at my soirees, tells me that Sir B- W-'s fearsome old mother has come to Town, desiring (or ordering) him to accompany her to Bath, as she has been advised by her physician to take the waters there. The on-dit, she adds, is that she is extremely desirous to see grandchildren, and is determined to see him married and in the way to providing them.
While this was a blow to my plans that he might make an honest woman of Miss G- (it being not unknown for men of his rank to marry their mistresses), I am persuaded that he is unlikely to cast her off, being a man of habit and unlike Mr O'D, no indiscriminate womaniser.
So it thus perchanced that he was not present at my next soiree.
We were already a convivial group - Miss G- at cards with Mr H- and General Y-, Mr F- discoursing with Mr B-, Misses L- and McK- looking over their music, &C, when Hector shows in Mr E-, Sir Z- R-, and an unknown gentleman wearing clerical bands. Mr E- and Sir Z-R- kiss my hand, which has become the custom for my regular visitors, and introduce their dear friend Mr T-, who is in Town and staying with Mr E-. Calling on the latter to go together to my soiree, Sir Z- R- persuades Mr T-, with whom he is now well-acquainted after his sketching excursion to see the wombatt, to come along with them. For I told him, Madame C-, that he will not find genteeler or more elegant company or better conversation anywhere in London.
Mr T- is by no means as old as I had imagined: not above thirty at my estimation, somewhat plain but by no means ugly, with bright brown eyes that scan the company after he makes his bow.
Had he been expecting flaunting doxies he must have been disappointed: Miss G- it is true is as usual somewhat decolletee, but far less than many duchesses; Misses L- and McK- have come from a drawing-room recital; Miss A-, being quite nauseated with the elaborate costumes she is obliged to wear on-stage, goes into company very simply attired; and Miss D- affects an almost Quakerish plainness of dress, though moves in such a fashion as to give glimpses of her very fine ankles.
Mr E- notes Mr F- is of the company and goes over to invite him to visit his laboratory. Mr T-'s gaze falls on the gaming table and he stiffens like a pointer, with an expression as of a schoolboy that spies a pastry-shop. I am about to introduce him to Mr P-, who will hold him in conversation about The Stage for as long as he can, but I am thwarted by Sir Z- R- laying a hand on my arm and desiring a word.
As I turn with an agreeable smile to Sir Z- R- I see Mr T- head for the card table like a greyhound loos'd from the slips. I have seen about the place, says Sir Z- R-, a woman like an African Queen. I am commissioned for a large canvas of the embassy of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon and she is my very notion of that lady, who is reported black.
That, says I, is my housemaid, Phoebe, sister to Hector (and this recalls to me my intention of promoting her housekeeper and finding an undermaid). She is indeed a fine figure of a woman. Sir Z- R- beseeches me to ask whether she will sit to him for his painting, and I agree to do so, with only the proviso that I trust he will pay her generously, and that Hector may chaperone her. He is also a fine figure, remarks Sir Z- R-, and would serve as a model for her guard.
It is now too late to prevent Mr T- joining the card players, and I see the famous supposed diamond bracelet flashing on Miss G-'s arm as she displays her lovely hands in cutting and dealing the cards and distributing counters. In comes Mr N- to further distract with apologies for his lateness, being about the business of the nation in Whitehall, and making me some foolish compliments. I introduce him to Miss D-, Mr P- he already knows.
Mr F- and Mr E- are chatting by the supper table. Mr E- turns to me and remarks that my chef seems to understand very well the chymical processes that turn uncomestible materials into exquisite delights for the palate. I had not, says I, previously thought in such terms of the matter, and I do not employ a chef, but would match my cook Seraphine against any of them. Oh, says Mr E-, doubtless she proceeds on innate instinct and a little tradition. Mr F- comments that it has seemed to him that Seraphine is constantly developing her art and indeed, is a bold experimentalist of the kitchen. Really, says Mr E-, I would very much desire converse with her. I respond that I should have to ask her whether this would be agreeable to her.
At the card table, Mr H- and General Y- have long since departed, casting up their hands at Mr T-'s facility. He and Miss G- were for some while at some two-handed game, but have now moved to the chess-board which I keep set up lest anyone fancy a match, and because it is a very finely carved set. I would that I could think the low conversation between the two heads bent over the board was all of rooks and knights and pawns, but cannot persuade myself that this is so.
That horse, I fear, has bolted and it will prove futile now locking the stable door.