Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 5: Ancient Secrets
Long-buried matters from Clorinda’s past risk being revealed: others’ secrets are also in danger of disclosure. However, ties of friendship and loyalty mean that even when people cannot find a way to help themselves, they have friends who may contrive to do so.
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Read Chapter 1 ...
Nitherholme and its neighbourhood
Bad news? enquired Julius.
What? Beaufoyle, Lord Sallington, looked up from the letter he was reading. Why should you suppose that? He observed that the sunlight through the dining-room windows struck little reddish-gold lights in Julius’ dark curls.
Well, Beauf, you were frowning somewhat, I thought it might be that.
No, said Beauf, looking down at the letter again, ’tis not precisely bad news. More of a matter of delicacy.
Julius poured himself some more coffee. Well, my dear, I hope you will open the matter to me.
Oh, you will recall that Saxham Loppingham died recently — Julius nodded — and here is a letter from MacDonald, is in some concern that there may be certain indiscreet letters to be found in his house, given that he was took off so sudden —
Julius whistled. By indiscreet, you imply —
Letters that one would not want falling into the hands of Fendersham, that is an amiable enough fellow but one of rather tiresomely strict principles, from one that one must suppose is some acquaintance of MacDonald — and he takes the thought that Loppingham was a connoisseur and a collector and that I might offer to go look over his possessions and advize Fendersham, for I doubt not that there are some very fine pieces there, that one would not wish to put into some provincial auctioneer’s hands — sure there might be one or two paintings I might offer for myself? Though I collect he had several Linsleighs, he did sometimes display somewhat better taste.
Julius sat back in his chair and grinned. I do not know what you have against Linsleigh!
Beauf groaned. Fussy, he said. Does not know when to leave a painting alone. He got up from the table and strolled over to the windows. Well, do I write at once to Fendersham making this offer, mayhap I could contrive to undertake the matter before Rollo and Di come visit, for I daresay the sooner the better, and could not do it while they are here, must be about civilly entertaining ’em, though I daresay Di will desire go botanize with you.
Julius pushed his own chair back and came to stand beside Beauf, laying a hand upon his shoulder. Did you know about Loppingham? he asked.
Why, one suspected — one of those fussy old-maidish fellows, and of course a taste for Linsleigh’s depictions of classical antiquity gives one to think, but no — o, Julius, did he ever — ?
Julius shook his head, and then paused. Perchance there was a look or two, now I think on’t. But I am so used to people looking — or perhaps staring would be more accurate a term —
Beauf looked at his dear friend and companion with affection and made a little grimace. Well, a place like this — ’tis not like Town, or some port, where they are used to see a deal of different complexions — (But, he thought, sure Julius was a fine handsome fellow, and really, by no means so very dark of skin — might readily pass as Spanish or Italian — but might modestly not suppose that those looks could be admiration.)
Quite so. ’Tis not, I fancy, so remote as ’twas when your father inherited, before they dug the canal, and now we have the railway as well, but ’tis still somewhat of a countrified provincial place. But Beauf, do not look so worried! Here I have these fine gardens that you give me an entire free hand with, and then there are the moors that I fancy I am the first to make a proper botanical survey of, I am extremely well-suited here. But, he said with a grin, surely you must know that, my dear.
Beauf looked at him tenderly. Now they had come to a better understanding of their natures and their feelings for one another, indeed it seemed to him that they were well-suited. Yet..…
You do not yearn for exploration?
Julius shrugged and then smiled. That was a whim that came out of my discontent, before matters came clear ’twixt us. It was running away: ’twas not like Josh Ferraby, that passionately desires go find out strange animals in their native places.
India, one hears, is the latest place he goes. Though ’tis rumoured that that is somewhat of a romantic undertaking — that the Dowager Duchess of Humpleforth takes a notion to a private menagerie that will recall her childhood in Bombay, and commissions him to the task like unto some knightly quest. Though I apprehend there is also some relative that is a highly-placed civilian in the Madras service, goes extend most hospitable invitations. And then, there is a Hindu ruler in those parts, that is given out to have very tender reminiscences of Lady Bexbury and has a very remarkable private menagerie and an extensive hunting park and her introduction will convey a right royal welcome, one understands.
Julius raised his eyebrows. I wonder — he said — o, ’tis almost a matter for a tale of adventure! But I mind Lord Offgrange telling me somewhat of his exploits before he succeeded, that a fellow that appeared an eccentrique English milord hunting plants might covertly be about other business and I daresay may be somewhat of the same thing is the fellow said to be entirely took up with observing elephants and mongeese..…
Say you so! But sure, I delay the writing of my letter to Fendersham: ’tis a matter of some delicacy in itself, must phrase it very careful. And then be about a deal of estate business. He sighed.
Julius squeezed his shoulder. Sure you are dutiful, Beauf my dear. I go look about the gardens — would like to be sure that all will be in order for your brother’s visit.
Beauf grinned. I fancy Rollo will be more interested in drains and cess-pits now he goes take up matters of sanitation and public health, but I doubt not Di will be interested in how your garden grows.
Julius went whistling out of the door. It was entire delightful to see him so happy, after the despondency that had shadowed last year and then the distress at learning of his illegitimate birth that had been kept so secret from him. But now: why, Beauf confided that there had been an entire reconciliation betwixt Julius and his mother and his stepfather, that entirely excellent fellow Elisha Roberts, and it was a surprising joy to find this new manifestation of the love they had had since childhood. Sure, one had to be aware that ’twas a matter frowned upon by law, religion and society. But one did not grow up at the heart of a political set considered quite dangerously radical in its opinions without gaining an apprehension of how many dreadful things were deemed entirely acceptable by law, religion and society and even approved as the Godly moral way of things, that led one to make one’s own judgements in such matters.
Beauf went to his study and sat down to write.
Within the week a letter came, not from Lord Fendersham himself but from his stepmother, the Dowager Baroness Fendersham, to say that His Lordship was at present in Town for the Parliamentary session (which showed him prepossessingly dutiful about his responsibilities, a great pity he was somewhat of a diehard Tory in his views), and had desired her to open up Loppingham’s house for Lord Sallington. He was most exceeding obliged to Lord Sallington for his kind offer: sure Loppingham had accumulated a deal of stuff, and indeed he dared say it was beyond the touch of the local auctioneers and should be conveyed to some crack London auction house that would understand its worth and he doubted not that Lord Sallington was the fellow to advize ’em.
Beauf therefore rode over to the little house, barely more than a quaint cottage, to meet Lady Fendersham, a lady not yet quite elderly, in whom one might see still the remnants of prettiness. She dipped him a curtesy. They had met once or twice at local assemblies, but he did not have great acquaintance with her: as Nitherholme was a bachelor household he did not entertain. It struck him that, with Rollo and Di visiting, he should at least give a dinner-party.
He was become a sad recluse! Sure ’twould have been different had he married Flora.
He bowed over her hand and greeted her very civil, asked after her health, &C. She said, as she unlocked the front door, with a somewhat wistful expression, that she heard that the gardens at Nitherholme were exceeding fine at this time of year — was an exceeding great change from the first time she visited there, shortly after her marriage to the late Lord Fendersham, when Lady Jane was in residence —
Why, said Beauf, considerably embarrassed, you must come and walk about ’em whenever you like, should not wish to put off neighbours — and should you like to look over the gallery, would be entire delighted to show it off to you.
O, that is so kind! If ’tis no bother to you.
Not in the least. But why do you not come call shortly, while my brother and his new bride are visiting —
O, was she not Lady Diana Ambert? Considered quite one of the belles of the Season?
Indeed, said Beauf, smiling, she is a great beauty, and my brother is a fine handsome fellow, make a very pleasing pair. As they entered the hall he looked about him with somewhat of an inward sigh. Loppingham, he fancied, had been more of a dilettante than a connoisseur, inclining to collect this or that haphazard as it took his fancy — some fine pieces of furniture but ones that did not particularly sort together, and indeed, crammed somewhat higgeldy-piggedly into the space.
He frowned a little in thought. How should it be, he said, did I go see first whether there was any inventory he kept? Or mayhap at least some record of his acquisitions —
I would suppose, said Lady Fendersham in doubtful tones, that any such matter would be in his study, as she led him up the stairs in that direction.
Excellent, thought Beauf, that gives me a prime opportunity to poke about in his desk and any presses in which he kept documents.
Lady Fendersham said, she would leave him to that and go make some tea, had brought a kettle and spirit lamp and the makings.
That was a very good thought, said Beauf, for I fear this will be dry and thirsty work.
By the time she came upstairs again he had come to the conclusion that Loppingham’s mode of keeping his papers was as haphazard as his collecting, letters and bills and notes and visiting cards stuffed quite at random into pigeonholes and drawers, and nothing so organized as an inventory.
Lady Fendersham handed him a cup of tea — it came very grateful — and said that she collected that Loppie — they had been on friendly terms, was very amusing company — also had a lap-desk, for when he was confined to bed with one of his asthmatic attacks. Perchance might be found in his bedchamber. Indeed, had been bed-rid much of the past winter, but they had supposed he would pull round when the weather became finer, had been considered a creaking gate — She sighed.
Is there no objection, I will go look — may be quite immediate apparent, said Beauf. She nodded.
So he went along the corridor to the bedchamber, that still had somewhat of the fusty smell of a sickroom about it, with the curtains closed. He opened them a crack to admit a little light into the room, and observed, standing upon a table close to the bed, a lap-desk. Locked, but the key in the lock, so he turned it, and opened the lid.
Disclosing some letters of recent date, one half-written that he must suppose left unfinished by Loppingham himself, and, towards the back, a small painting.
One could quite see why Loppingham had kept this concealed rather than displayed upon the wall somewhere about the house: depicted a young fellow of dusky complexion in an attitude that suggested — Beauf frowned at it — both quite recent sensual gratification and a considerable interest in repeating the experience, from that smile.
Could it be — good heavens, yes, there in the corner, Linsleigh’s signature, but so unlike his usual work, must have been a study in preparation for something that had become one of Linsleigh’s characteristic pieces — Fauns in Arcadia, perchance, ’twas a theme he relished — that he had not fiddled at and polished until all the life went out of it.
He felt it would be a kindness to prevent Fendersham from seeing it, so tucked it into an inner pocket of his jacket, before turning to the letters. There was nothing particular revealing about them: some fellow that expressed an interest in Loppingham’s collection of antique lace (something that Beauf had not yet come across), that indeed the half-finished letter addressed. He took the prudent thought that it would be wise to check that there was no secret compartment or false bottom to the thing, but he could not see that one could have been contrived.
He looked further about the chamber, pulled out the drawers in the presses and opened the cupboards, took a thought to poke about among the folded linens lest Loppingham had been one that thought that a suitable place of concealment (surely not, where one’s valet might readily come across the matter), and examine pockets, but he found naught but a couple of unpaid bills for china — the fellow had been shocking unbusiness-like in his habits!
He returned to the study and found that Lady Fendersham had departed — he went downstairs and found her in the parlour, gazing somewhat mournfully at a cabinet of ivory curios.
’Tis quite the task, he said, entirely more than a day’s work. Let us go sit outside a little in the sunshine — I am provided with some refreshment, and I am sure there will be enough for two — and convoke over what might be done next.
Indeed, there was a fine raised pie from the Nitherholme kitchens, and fruit from the hothouses, and they made a most agreeable pique-nique of it, and Lady Fendersham became reminiscent of her first visit to Nitherholme. Had quite recent married Lord Fendersham — was a little daunted at the prospect of a Duke’s house-party — and one had heard he had been in Turkey — and she was somewhat unused to such company — but oh, there was such a kind lady, a Mrs Ferraby, and her husband was also very charming, somewhat to do with iron — Oh, said Beauf, the Ferrabys were quite the greatest friends of the family, their children’s nursery at Raxdell House was quite the gathering place for infant Society —
How delightful, cried Lady Fendersham —
Sir Josiah and Lady Ferraby are alas deceased, but Sir Harry, their son, is still very much the advisor about our own iron-workings. (He must mind and invite Lady Fendersham to dine next time Harry and Lady Louisa came visit.) He added somewhat about his other acquaintance with that family — o, she said, was a friend of hers had consulted Dr Ferraby, had not realized he was their son, had quite the highest praise for his abilities. (Was that not ever the tale about Quintus?)
He brushed the crumbs from his lap, looked about and said, indeed there are some very remarkable pieces that Mr Loppingham acquired — had quite an eye — would it be agreeable did I send over one of our clerks from Nitherholme to tidy up his papers and put ’em in order, for I noticed there were one or two matters of unpaid bills —
That would be most exceedingly kind, Lord Sallington —
— and I am like to think that ’twould be beneficial to appoint someone to undertake an inventory; daresay I may find someone among my connexion.
Sure I shall write to Fendersham but I am sure he will find this very answerable, has been in a considerable worry about the matter: ’tis exceeding neighbourly of you, Your Lordship.
Why, said Beauf, now I come about to have matters as we should desire ’em at Nitherholme, ’tis high time to look about and take part in county life. Have been a sad recluse but must not become a hermit.
So they parted, with his promise to send a clerk, and an arrangement for Lady Fendersham to come and see the gardens and the gallery and the improvements they had made to the house since she had visited it as a young bride.
He rode back to Nitherholme, pleased with his day’s work. Sure he should be more toward about going about in local society. And he could write to MacDonald and say that there were no compromising letters and that he had extracted a scandalous painting.
Indeed, he could be quite immediately about writing that letter, and putting it in the tray ready to be sent, most exceedingly gratifying. Having accomplished that, he might wash and be dressed for a quiet dinner at home with Julius. He picked up the painting, for he wanted to show it to Julius, and went down to the drawing-room. Travers came in with sherry upon a tray and glasses.
Mr Roberts has only just come in, said the butler, but says he will be down very shortly.
Thank you, Travers, you may leave the decanter.
Beauf poured himself a glass and went to look out of the window at the gardens, pondering upon how he might show more sociable among his neighbours. Well, the visit of Rollo and Di would be an excuse for giving dinner-parties — no doubt there would be return invitations — he sighed a little. But indeed one did not wish to gain the reputation of a hermit.
Julius came in. How now, Beauf! How was your quest? He helped himself to sherry.
Oh, no scandalous letters that I could find — though sure his affairs were in a state — but I have contrived to spare Lord Fendersham any blushes over this —
He picked up the painting, which he had laid upon one of the side-tables.
Julius quite flinched back, spilling a little sherry as he did so, with an expression quite of horror.
Why, my dear, what’s ado?
That, said Julius with an expression of disgust, is my cousin Maurice.
Beauf suppressed a sigh. He knew there was some — family difficulty — there, but, really, Julius could be somewhat of a prig. So his cousin had modelled for artists — and mayhap done somewhat more for them — he apprehended that that side of the family had been in considerable straits, had not been in the comfortable situation that Julius had always known. Sure, his parents might be servants, but they were the famed cook Seraphine, that also made a very good business out of her receipts for preserves and pickles, and Elisha Roberts, that most noted horticulturalist, and had ever been highly valued. He also apprehended that Maurice Allard was now an extremely successful Society modiste, had, as the phrase was, made something of himself, ’twas surely a very meritorious thing coming from such unpromising origins.
But he could see that it was not something one might teaze Julius about. Well, he said, putting the painting back and turning it face down, I daresay one might find some way to convey it to him. Does he not dress Lady Bexbury? One cannot suppose that she would be scandalized by it. But, my dear, let me fill up your glass. I had a thought today that I should go give a dinner-party or two when Rollo and Di are here —
Why, I am sure I can make some excuse to be away —
Julius! I fancy Di will have a far greater desire to discourse with you than with me. Moreover, you are now a fellow of independent means, noted in scientific circles — sure it cannot be very long before the Royal Society recognizes your merits — Uncle Jacob said somewhat to that purpose to me lately —
Did he so! cried Julius, looking exceedingly gratified. But, he went on in different tones —
My dear, we are known old boyhood friends, and that you have, in your kindness, been about bringing the gardens into their present state, that you make important scientific discoveries, &C&C —
Julius paced about the room a little.
— also, it fell very happily, said Beauf, Lady Fendersham met the Ferrabys a good many years ago when my father gave a house-party here: gave me an opportunity to drop a word or two concerning the hopes I still had of attaining the fair Flora that alas shows so fickle —
Julius spluttered sherry. Beauf, you hypocrite!
— so I fancy that will go about the neighbourhood quite expeditious and I will be considered a fascinatingly romantic figure, and I daresay the young ladies in local society will endeavour distract me and perchance heal my wounded heart. Also, has come to me that Loppingham’s little house now stands empty, and when ’tis cleared — though I fancy that will be some while off! — Fendersham may be looking around for some tenant that will actually pay rather than a dependent relative — though I fancy that when he goes sell off Loppingham’s collections he will find himself well-recompensed. ’Tis no great distance from here — most convenient to the moors — has a garden I fancy you could make a good thing of in small scale —
Beauf, said Julius, extending a hand to his friend and entwining their fingers together, why has none ever noticed that you have entire inherited your sire’s gifts in diplomacy?
Fie, does none think one must be entire diplomatic when telling some family that their ancestor was beguiled by some cozening dealer into purchasing spurious works? Also, should not wish to exercize any such talent I have on the wider stage — must be very fretting. He smiled at Julius. And should be obliged to go to all those remote places, some of which sound most disagreeable — Sir Vernon will go expatiate on the trials he has borne —
But, my dearest, he went on, ’tis time to go dine, I hear Travers go strike the gong with all ceremony. And we shall be obliged to be served with formality, I fear. But will come an hour when we may dismiss the servants —
They smiled at one another.