The Comfortable Courtesan
Clorinda continues becoming ever closer to the F-s and their family. Their political coterie is growing in esteem and gaining further allies. But there are consequences still impending from contrivances she formerly wrought, as well as problems closer to home…
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A visit backstage
’Tis indeed with great expedition that Admiral K‑ and Lady J‑ go about to wed, tho’ of course must all be done very quiet and sober on account of M‑ House being a house in mourning. Even so I apprehend — for of course I am not present — that Biffle undertakes what he never suppos’d he should have to do, viz: giving his sister away in holy matrimony. But sure is marriage truly intend’d for the aid and comfort spouses may have of one another, I confide ’tis a most true and excellent union.
Altho’ the dear Admiral must soon go return post‑haste to his ship — tho’ he will mutter about this, for indeed there is no great matter of naval warfare at present in the Mediterranean — he and his new wife take a little honeymoon at his fine property in Hampshire, that I daresay they will find a more congenial matter than an excursion to Brighton or Bath, and will enable ’em to acquaint themselves with the tenantry and county neighbours.
Before her wedding night Lady J‑ went about to desire Mrs F‑ to perform what would have been a mother’s duty, her own mother having dy’d when she was but a young girl. Sure, says I to my belov’d wild girl Eliza, I would have suppos’d that she would have acquir’d any necessary knowledge from the classicks, that I am given to apprehend contain a deal of coarseness on matters of generation.
Indeed, ’tis that coarseness I think leads her to desire some lady to open the business to her, and tell her somewhat of what may be expect’d in the matrimonial couch, this present day.
Well, says I, she will be in very good hands with the dear Admiral. He knows the ropes as well about the feminine bodyly oeconomy as he does about any ship he ever command’d. Tho’ indeed I am somewhat surpriz’d that she askt you, that she was wont to think meekly submitt’d to your husband’s lustfull desires.
I am like to think, says Eliza, that she has come to some juster apprehension of the situation.
Indeed, I cannot suppose that any that has seen you and our dear Grand Turk together could think that he would require, or you give, meek submission.
We both laugh somewhat immoderate. Sure the appellation of wild girl entire fits my darling.
I say that ’twould be a good time to take Bess backstage at the theatre to meet Miss A‑: for I am sure Miss A‑ is greatly in need of distraction at present.
Says my darling, I might be worry’d at that, did I fear that Bess had taken some notion to being an actress. But I do not think her ambitions run in that direction.
One may have a great passion for the theatre without wishing to perform on stage, says I.
Sure she would be going to the theatre every day if she could! And will be about reading reviews &C and asking questions that sure I cannot answer. I tell her she should address ’em to you.
O, does she read reviews, she should address herself to Mr MacD‑, that indites reviews under an incognito.
Say you so! Sure he is a fellow of many talents.
So I arrange a day and time when I may take Bess to the theatre that will be agreeable to Miss A‑ and to the very many persons that are engag’d about the backstage business.
Bess is quite wild with excitement tho’ tries conceal it. We enter by the stage‑door, where the doorman greets me with great warmth, for he knew me when I was but a child running around. Indeed even those that do not remember those days look upon me as a child of the theatre that has made good in Society.
I take Bess about to show her where the scenery is stor’d and where the fellows are at working making it and painting it, to the wardrobe, to the green‑room, that at this hour of the day is quite empty, to see the machinery of the stage & C.
Bess remarks that ’tis just as Mama tells her, that behind what you see there is a deal that you do not. She takes a little memorandum book from her reticule — I begg’d Papa to let me have one, she says, they are the most usefull thing — and writes down all manner of things that she sees or I tell her or that is convey’d to her by the theatre people &C.
Did one think of building a theatre, she says, she sees that ’tis not just the building and the actors but a deal of other people as well.
Indeed, says I. My dear mama was a most well‑respect’d wardrobe mistress. So, you think of building a theatre?
Bess blushes a little and says mayhap ’tis a childish dream, but Papa said to her, did she go about to investigate the matter in the way one would was one getting into any kind of business, and put it all together, why, we might see whether might have a place in the improvements at home.
(What a very fine way is this, that dear Josiah neither treats the matter as a childish whim nor goes about to indulge her fancies, but speaks to her as a sensible being and puts the matter to her very educational. I mind me of the way that he quite apprehend’d that my former way of life was a business, and how most exceeding helpfull he was about putting me in the way of being business‑like in organising my accounts &C.)
Sure, says I, had I gone take more thought I could have seen might we talk to Mr I‑, that is the business manager, but he is a very busy fellow that I would not wish to break in upon unannounc’d.
Oh, indeed not, says Bess, ’twould be most uncivil.
So unless there is any other matter you would like to see, let us go and call upon Miss A‑ in her dressing‑room.
Will she not mind?
Indeed not, she and I are old friends and I have told her that we shall be visiting.
I tap upon Miss A‑’s dressing‑room door and am bid come in.
We enter and I apprehend that she must have been expecting someone else, perchance Maggy, for she is seat’d at her dressing‑table looking somewhat pensive upon a locket in her hands, that I confide holds a fine portrait in enamel of Lady J‑.
How now, dear rogue, says I — O, Lady B‑! you quite startl’d me. — May I introduce to you Elizabeth F‑, that is a great admirer of yours?
Entire enchant’d, says Miss A‑, rising and taking Bess’s hand. Bess makes a pretty curtesy (sure one sees the effects of the dancing‑class). She asks Bess about the plays she has seen, that Bess is only too pleas’d to do, tho’ she then says, she wishes she had seen The Gypsy’s Curse, for she has heard from the other girls at her dancing‑class that ’twas most exceeding excellent and in particular Miss A‑’s performance.
Miss A‑ says that alas, she could hardly perform the entire play here now, but mayhap she could just manage a scene or two?
Bess looks quite ecstatick as Miss A‑ presents some of her particular telling moments in the play, concluding with the placing of the curse. Sure even without those effects that Mr J‑ was so wild about she shows very fine indeed.
O, says Bess, that quite exceeds, O, thank you, Miss A‑. O, ’tis entire too much to ask I know, but might you write in my album?
But of course, says Miss A, looking about her for pen and ink. I find ’em upon a side table and hand ’em to her. She taps the quill against her lips for a moment and then writes a few lines of Shakspeare (I see ’tis Viola’s speech from Twelfth Night about Patience on a monument, and I am hard put not to laugh; but at least ’tis not the words of the Shrew concerning a woman mov’d) and her signature. She shakes sand onto it and hands it back to Bess, that is by now quite entire in love with her.
At this moment there is a tap at the door and comes in Miss R‑, that carries a very small pug.
O, cries Miss A‑, what is that adorable creature?
We all look at it.
Miss R‑ looks down at it fondly and says that Danvers’ mama’s pug contract’d a union with a female pug of most distinguisht lineage — sure she supposes that crown’d heads make a match with less to‑do — and this is one of their offspring.
She puts the puppy down upon the floor. It quite immediate goes about to undertake something unfit for polite society and then looks up at Miss R‑ as if has just made her a fine gift. Bess covers her mouth and shakes with giggles. Miss A‑ goes to the door to call for Maggy to come clean it up. Maggy comes in and goes about the task, muttering somewhat and then beginning upon tales of long‑gone actors and the animals they brought into the theatre and the inadvisability of such a proceeding.
Looks around the door Mr W‑. I make the introduction of Bess to him and to Miss R‑. He makes most exceeding amiable and even concedes to demonstrate Bottom to Bess.
O, thank you, Aunty C‑, says Bess after we leave and take my carriage back to my house where Euphemia will have prepar’d a fine light luncheon. That was most exceeding fine, what a very fine kind lady is Miss A‑, and how very pleasant all show’d themselves. She then giggles and I apprehend she thinks of the pug.