I am at my desk one forenoon busy about a deal of correspondence when Hector shows in Sandy. I no longer need to state that we should desire good strong coffee as this will come quite without my saying.
He tells me that he has been offer’d very pleasing terms for the publication of The Antiquarian’s Daughter in three pretty volumes, and that there is a deal of interest in the tales I compos’d lately during our travels – he is like to wait to see what is the best offer.
That is indeed most gratifying, say I – and do help yourself to these fine shortbreads that Euphemia has made, that she quite not’d you have a taste for.
In other matters, he has spoke to Alf, that finds the prospect of a trip out of the country most congenial, as there are fellows from the Vice Society going about to make themselves very troublesome at known places of resort of the brotherhood in Town and there have been prosecutions. Also, he adds, I think he finds the prospect of seeing Marcello again most pleasing.
Are we not in a state of great relief, he goes on, to think that does Marcello stab anyone, 'tis no longer our concern?
Indeed, I say, 'tis much more restfull to suppose that he is about wielding his stiletto upon the agents of the tyrannickal Bourbon in his native land. But, my dear Sandy, you look not as entirely happy as might be in the light of all this.
Sandy sighs and says, firstly, G- has many fine plans and in order to commence upon them, desires him to go with him to A- over the Christmas season, so that they can prepare matters in readiness for the New Year.
Well, really, my dear, you have been wont to complain of being solitary in a household full of resentment at R- House while he is away, and now you complain that you go with him.
Sandy glares and says I will recollect his sentiments about staying at A- during this season when there are G-'s family connections staying and the county visiting, and feeling quite entirely a fish out of water.
But, I say, is it not that this time you will have work upon hand?
He concedes that 'tis so, and sighs again. But also G- has got into some kind of worry - dearest C-, I know that you are an entire oyster of discretion, sure he cannot know about that time I was so exceeding foolish in Surrey?
Silence unto death! I declaim.
But he will wonder whether I have ever given the matter of women a fair consideration, and mention, as if in jest, but with an unease behind it, that it is never in doubt among those he knows but that I remain the helpless captive of Lady B-'s charms.
(Indeed I should be inclin’d to laugh at this had it not been for Milord’s strange remark about his own pretty fellow while we talkt in the olive grove.)
Hmm, say I: of course his father was one that would put a boy to bed with women as soon as he came to manhood, so I daresay he confides that he knows something of the matter of women from that.
So he tells it, agrees Sandy. But 'twas entirely not so with me.
While I will concede, say I with what is perhaps an over-fond smile at the thought, that one may be quite surpriz’d at discovering where one’s affections tend, this is not, I think, the usual case.
Indeed, says Sandy, I have always known, as long as I can remember.
I shrug. I know not why he should be in a fret about this; but he does, though somewhat slantwise, open his concerns to you rather than brooding upon them as he was once wont to do. Indeed you should do the like.
Sandy departs and I return to my own business, worrying a little about what is ado with Lord G- R-.
In the afternoon I go to call upon Mrs S-, as I am told that the S-s are at present in Town and I greatly long to see the dear creature.
The door is open’d to me by the maid, for they keep a very modest household, and I ask is Mrs S- at home? Here is my card. She gapes at the card as if she has never seen one but then takes it through to her mistress, who comes running out to greet me with a paintbrush in her hand.
Dear Lady B-! Such a pleasure! – Alice, go fetch us some tea, we will have it in the parlour. You have been away, I hear – Florence, was it?
Naples, I say, I was staying at the late Marquess’s villa tidying up various matters of business he left me.
Mrs S- sighs deeply. Mr S- quite longs to go to that part of the world and see the volcanoes, she says, I am sure that it is not really dangerous to go quite close providing they do not offer to erupt?
Oh, indeed there is little danger, I reply, while we were there Mr MacD- indeed climbed Vesuvius.
She looks at me. Mr MacD- was of your company?
Indeed, I say, Lord G- R- as the executor of my husband’s will and also his very old friend came along. There was a matter of some antiquities at the villa that the Marquess desir’d should go to the British Museum – Mr MacD- was of quite infinite assistance owing to his own classickal learning.
The maid comes in with tea. Mrs S- realises she still has the paintbrush in her hand and puts it down upon the tray. I see very little company here, she says in some explanation, I do not anticipate callers.
Have you heard about the terrible case Lady W- is in? What a dreadfull thing that is, and Sir B- W- in such a state over her, the poor fellow. Have you been to call upon her yet? – I concede that I have – is she not entirely unlike herself, quite a changeling? and I confide that the doctors are entire quacks that have no notion what to do, so they will go about purging and bleeding her to show that they do something, the wretches.
Indeed I had a notion, says I, I know not what you will think of it, but I wonder would Mrs Black, that has seen so many hundreds if not thousands of women as a midwife have experience to bring to the matter.
O, dear Lady B-, sure that it is a most excellent idea! I will write at once to Sir B- W- preferring her to him as most likely to have sound thoughts on Lady W-'s case.
I cannot like, I add, that she is given opium.
Opium! cries Mrs S-, indeed one does not like the sound of that, for I cannot suppose it to be anything but more lowering to her. Sure there are instances when a little laudanum is entirely the thing, but I am not persuad’d that it is the panacea. I think perhaps I should go visit and talk to Sir B- W-. Is not Mrs F- staying there at present? I am sure she will act my confederate in making a plea to consult Mrs Black.
This particular matter dispatcht and I confide in quite excellent hands, I ask how does she and the rest of her family. O, she and Mr S- do most exceeding well, apart from their constant sadness over lack of increase, but she was indeed hearten’d by talking to Mrs Black on the matter. Sebastian is buckling down to the matter of learning the business quite remarkable and is a great comfort to dear Papa; poor stepmama is no better tho’ possibly no worse just at present.
They have received a most charming invitation to join little V and the Duke at Q- for the Christmas season. She feels somewhat qualmish at the prospect, for it will not be like N- but very much a Society affair she does not doubt. However, little V says that Tibby, or as we must now style her in her new station, Phillips, will be entirely glad to be of help in matters of dress &C so that is one worry less.
And how does Her Grace? I enquire.
O, is quite full of the wonders of the Rhine that they saw on their cruise; but somehow I think her a little overwhelm’d by her new rank and its responsibilities: she looks somewhat sober’d by 'em. But His Grace is sure entirely all that is charming and shows great fondness. I have some little concern about Lady J-, who is a most admirable woman but –
Very much one that likes to command?
Mrs S- begins to laugh and then covers her mouth with her hand. Indeed I am sure she ever intends for the best.
But my dear Lady B-, she goes on, do you ever think of remarriage?
I am somewhat taken aback by this question, and say that it is still no great time since my late husband’s death, even if the mourning year is past.
For of course you must be aware that there is one most deserving young man that has long aspir’d to you, and in your new station you could make him most happy and aid his career –
Dear Mrs S-, I say, trying to maintain a straight face, if you mean Mr MacD-, as I confide you do, he once inform’d me that any fellow of any spirit would be entirely reluctant to marry for wealth and advancement –
But if he is anyway in love with you, does that not make a difference? says Mrs S- hopefully.
I am saved from having to devise an answer by the arrival of Sebastian K-, that looks most surpriz’d and delight’d to see me there and makes a very polisht leg.
O, says Mrs S-, I know one should keep calls to a certain length, but when I start talking to you, Lady B-, time runs away.
Dearest Mrs S-, I did not come here for some stiff formal call but to enjoy a good conversation, even, I may confess, a cozy gossip, with you.
She tells Sebastian to go ask for fresh tea, and see if we might have some buttered toast to it.