Aftermath
Clorinda Cathcart's Circle
Volume 18: Tides Turning

Aftermath Cover

Matters begin to recover from the upheavals created by Rathe’s plots and Lotting’s malignity. However, unanticipated events bring new sorrows and turmoil. Yet there are also surprising developments and unexpected encounters. New friendships and fresh alliances are made, as well as old friends and acquaintance remet.

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Read Chapter 1 ...

Not a summons she might ignore

Clorinda’s Shropshire hunting-box had a very special place in their hearts: was the place where Leda had first made her declaration of love, never supposing that it could possibly be returned. So here they were, in the springtime as they had been then, and just as there had been then, Eppie and Dorrie had a couple of young orphan lambs in the kitchen, and here was Leda, turning herself back into Leda Hacker from being Leo Harper.

Perchance, this time there would be no unwonted callers, very desirous that Lady Bexbury should untangle their problems!

Her transformation was a matter of Sophy undertaking a great deal of washing of her hair and eyebrows to get the dark colour out of ’em! — as well as giving her hair time to grow out a little from its masculine crop. At present Leda was sitting with it bundled up under a cap, after Sophy had rubbed some oily preparation into it — otherwise, she said fiercely, will be about being thin and dry and mayhap falling out.

Was a great relief to have ended that masquerade — sure, she remarked to Clorinda, I had supposed that they would see right through me, but no, they was very incurious — and their converse was extreme tedious —

Clorinda laughed and said, ’twas ever thus, young men of rank! La, I remember Milord’s fribble setempty-headed wastrels as dear Sandy used to call ’em — there was no harm in ’em, unlike some of the sets of the day, and they were kind — and indeed had more depths than one supposed, Abertyldd had — has — a very fine taste in music, was no matter of ogling opera-dancers but true appreciation of the art of the singers. But they suit their conversation to their company — I daresay Lord Stephen did not discourse of poetry?

Horses, cricket, and women, sighed Leda, leaning down to tousle the ears of Wowzkie, the little black spaniel, that returned her a gaze of undying devotion. And cards, that they was mostly very inept at, so ’twas largely a tally of their losses.

Clorinda groaned and said, in her days as a lady of the Town, had of course advanced her consequence to have patrons that were men of rank and high station, be seen about with ’em, was prudent business. But her preference had been for fellows that had more entertaining and one might say instructive conversation — men of business and affairs, or art and learning — though of course it had done very well for her to have artists paint her!

And sure, she went on, even aristocratic gentlemen may be more interesting when they are not about impressing their own consequence upon their fellows! I mind me of dear Lord Julian Favelle, that was a younger son of the Marquess of Maldane — the moneyless Maldanes, that were famously penurious — had obtained a place in the Foreign Office, where all supposed him merely ornamental, whereas under a foolish appearance had a very sharp wit. She looked a little wistful. Was sent on a mission to Washington, that is famously unhealthful, and died from the feverish miasmas.

Then Milord, when he was still the Honble Mr Gervase Reveley, was obliged to conceal a deal of his character and opinions from his father, the Vicious Viscount, that had a most unnatural unfatherly detestation of him, so was obliged to act one quite entire absorbed in frivolities of style and sport.

She smiled. Fancied they would have done well even had they not been born to the station they were —

Leda smiled back. You said once to me about a queen that said somewhat of the like that was she turned out of the realm in her petticoat she could go to any realm and still flourish? I daresay there are gentlemen and even kings that the same might be said!

Sometimes, said Clorinda thoughtfully, being turned out is very good for ’em. From all I hear of Nardo’s father, has come to being a most excellent cunning fighter against oppression, instead of a foolish reckless fellow that posed danger to his comrades in The Cause. But that may be Priscie’s influence!

They were sitting in comfortable mutual silence in the little parlour of the hunting-box, the tomcat Portly taking that place he considered his right on Clorinda’s lap, somewhat inconvenient to her task of correcting the proofs of Lady Anonyma’s latest novel. Leda was idly leafing through the latest issue of The Oracle, while being worshipped by Wowskie.

Suddenly Portly hissed and leapt down from his throne, arching his back, as Wowskie similarly jumped up and began to yap.

Clorinda frowned. Mayhap ’tis the post? But ’tis not the usual hour.

Dorrie came bustling out of the kitchen to answer the door, and then entered the parlour looking shaken.

Telegram, she whispered.

Clorinda raised her eyebrows as she took the flimsy message from Dorrie’s hand. I hope, she said, that this is not merely one that gets into some taking —

Oh. She sank back into her chair with a stunned look on her face. Oh. Thank you, Dorrie.

Dorrie made a dip and left.

Clorinda looked down once more at the message, passed a hand across her forehead, and said, my darling, this is not a summons I might ignore. Lady Jane sends to say that the Admiral — the dear Admiral — her voice quivered a little — is very desperate ill and the quacks are not hopeful.

Leda went and knelt beside Clorinda’s chair. Of course you must go, she said. I will go inform Sophy so that she may be about packing your traps for departure.

Clorinda took Leda’s hand. You may stay here, she said — you are still not quite in order to return to Society. She kissed the hand. Though I daresay it may be dull for you —

Leda said she dared say she might find occupation. Indeed, she had had some notion of looking into Lady Anonyma’s business accounts — sure she was not so sharp at seeing suspicious figures as Solly Abrahams, but she fancied she might see enough to determine whether ’twas worth asking him to delve further!

You might, Clorinda as she stood up and moved towards the shelf bearing Bradshaw, exercize Melusine for me.

Prime, thought Leda.

Sophy’s eyes filled with tears at the news, but she dashed ’em away and immediate set about the task of packing with all her usual efficiency.

It was only after they had driven off to the railway station in the gig that Leda came to reflect that sure ’twas considerable out of the common that Lady Jane should have thought to summon Clorinda to her husband’s deathbed, for that was what it sounded to be. But, then, Clorinda was also known quite the greatest friend of Lady Jane herself, that would desire a woman friend about her at such a time. And while she might prefer above all others that acclaimed mistress of the London stage, Amelia Addington, one saw that that would not do even might Miss Addington commission her understudy to play her parts.

There was a note from Clorinda to report her safe arrival — indeed the poor dear Admiral was very ill, pneumonia succeeding upon a cold following a drenching he had taken when sailing his little boat one day. But recognized her and smiled. Horrie and Deb were already in Hampshire, since Captain Gold was still waiting upon a new survey commission, and the Geoff Merretts had arrived. The Samuels were greatly affected. Lady Jane was bearing up.

It was very fine sport exercizing Clorinda’s lovely dapple-grey mare Melusine! More agreeable, she must admit, than Terence Offerton’s fiery chestnut Stromboli, that he had lent to the supposed Leo Harper, that he took a fancy toQuite Shakspearean! Clorinda had murmured with a smirk. Had certainly conveyed Leo a deal of consequence when he rode in the Row, but had had to keep his wits about him the while. Melusine, however, was an entire lady.

Leda had turned towards home after a pleasing canter, bringing Melusine into a walk so as not to be chidden by Nick Jupp, when she saw a station fly driving up to the hunting-box. She frowned a little. Who might it be? She could see, from this distance, that there was but one person, that appeared to be of the masculine sex, being conveyed.

As she entrusted Melusine to Nick’s care, he informed her it was a young fellow, that Eppie and Dorrie had not seen before, but they sighed considerable over his good looks.

Leda lifted her eyebrows, and went in. At least she was wearing an entire proper lady’s riding habit and not breeches!

She went into the parlour to discover Nardo di Serrante in a state of some agitation pacing up and down.

Miss Hacker! They said Her Ladyship was departed about some matter — ?

Leda apprized him of the business, and added that she remained to undertake various secretarial matters for Her Ladyship.

He looked somewhat put about. Told her that his family — well, not all of ’em, but his father and mother and sister Bianca — were coming visit London, would, he confided, already by this time have sailed from Boston — but that was not his main motive for coming to see Her Ladyship —

There was a very delicate matter in which he desired her advice.

Leda managed to keep a straight face.