Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 11: Early Years - A Prequel
Hector Wilson is a young Black footman anxious to advance in good service, but finds that his employer’s unwanted amorous approaches to him pose a threat to his ambitions. Should he instead join his sister Phoebe and cousin Seraphine in the household of Madame Clorinda Cathcart, that noted courtesan? He is reluctant to enter service in an establishment supported by fornication, but dramatic events mean that he is obliged to take a place there at least temporarily. Meanwhile Madame Clorinda finds the pursuit of her occupation badly afflicted by the aftermath of a vicious assault…
Buy Good Practices
from these stores, paperbacks from Amazon, all DRM free
on Twitter for the latest gossip about Clorinda CathcartFollow Madame Clorinda
Read Chapter 1 ...
Mamber leant against the door to the butler’s pantry, observing the young footman diligently polishing silver within. He did not smile outwardly, but the sight was exceeding satisfactory. It was rare enough for one of the footmen to come and ask, Mr Mamber, is there any task I might be about? rather than going be idle somewhere. And few enough of ’em showed any disposition to learn the proper way of things.
But Wilson, here, displayed every likelihood of getting into good practices, and mayhap, advancing himself even as far as into a butler’s place.
Though sure, while there were those considered it quite the crack of style to have a strapping black footman about the place — especial one that looked so well as Wilson! — whether they would consider a fellow of that colour suited to a better position — Mamber sighed inwardly. His own advancement had been hindered by an eye that wandered disconcertingly — was it not for that, had no doubt he would be in some better household than the Bascombes, that were, when one came to it, vulgar cits very new come to wealth and quite lacking in the correct manner of doing things.
Very good, Wilson, he said, you have a fine hand with the silver — none of the leaving plate powder about it.
Why, ’tis as my sister Phoebe says, is a job worth doing, ’tis worth doing well.
An excellent maxim! — Mamber was about to expatiate further on this topic, when Hutton came by, saying that She had her set of gossips a-come to play cards and talk scandal in the parlour, and desired Wilson to go fetch ’em their orgeat and ratafia.
Mamber saw Wilson twitch — no, ’twas more of a shudder — put down the knife he was polishing with very great care, and then stand up to put on the coat he had removed while at his task.
Mamber went to smooth it down and ensure that Wilson looked entire proper for serving a company of ladies, was that what one might call ’em, in the parlour, and then said, he would go ensure that the tray was ready.
It was becoming entire apparent in the household that Mrs Bascombe took an exceeding fancy to Wilson — would desire him most specific for any particular service — proceed so far as to admiring the muscles he developed through going spend time in a boxing salon cultivating the pugilistic art — There were those would take advantage of such a situation, but one saw that Wilson had an entire distaste.
Nor did he go flirt with the maidservants, that showed some interest in him. Sure they were a plain bunch, that Mamber had no doubt at all was Mrs B’s doing, so as not to put temptation in Mr B’s way: but neat and clean, no slovens.
Mamber put the tray into Wilson’s hands, as he stood there, like a blank-faced ebony statue, and said, had no doubt they were already about their cards.
But he had already put away all the well-polished silver, and looked out the table-linen for the night’s dinner, and been down to the cellar to fetch up the wine, before Wilson came back with the empty tray.
He sat down heavily in a chair, shaking. Mamber rested a hand upon his shoulder. Take the evening off, he said, and tomorrow is your day out, is’t not?
Wilson turned his head to look up at him. Will they not expect — ?
Mamber made a rude noise. She will not say anything before Him in company. Go practice boxing, or visit your sister.
He heaved a sigh. Thank you, Mr Mamber.
Mamber shook his head as the younger man went out to change and leave the house. And it was not, his intuition told him, any matter of Wilson not inclining to the fairer sex: merely that he was quite admirably fastidious in his tastes.
Sure they are excellent fine diamonds, said Phoebe, but —
And a very handsome fellow, said Seraphine.
Handsome is as handsome does, returned Phoebe. Do you not think Docket is looking unwonted sour at present?
Oh, Docket — ! exclaimed Seraphine. Here, I have put up her tray, since she is too good to come eat with us in the kitchen.
Is the way of things with fine lady’s maids, said Phoebe. Zelide’s Harrington was of the like, do you not recall?
I daresay, said Seraphine, that you have the right of it, but sometimes I think that Docket looks upon us sideways on account of our dusky complexions.
Phoebe wrinkled her nose. Mayhap and perchance! Give me the tray.
In the dressing-room Docket was about putting up some lotion or other — from its scent, somewhat medicinal? a salve? Phoebe had thought that she had spotted a purple bruise, not quite concealed by Madame’s wrapper, the morn.
Docket’s hands, though uncommon large, were exceeding delicate in their operations: ’twas quite a pleasure to watch her at work. Phoebe cleared her throat and said that she had brought the supper-tray, should she put it down upon the table?
Thank you, said Docket, have my hands engaged at the moment —
Phoebe, that had some ambitions in the still-room line herself, put the tray down on the small table, and watched a little, and then thought she did not wish to seem impertinently curious, and said, would be up to fetch it later.
Returning to the kitchen, she found her brother arrived, that she had not been in any expectation of, and that Seraphine had already put before him a mug of ale and a fine slice of veal pie —
Hector! Phoebe went to kiss his cheek. We thought we might see you the morrow, but did not hope to see you this e’en.
Hector swallowed a mouthful and said, Mr Mamber very kindly gave me the evening off — are you sure, Seraphine, that you should be a-giving me this fine pie?
Seraphine laughed and said, fie, ’twas leftovers, Madame would not have a pie in such condition served to company at her table.
Is your Madame in the e’en?
Phoebe shook her head. Goes be shown off by this Prussian nobleman that is in favour with her at present — daresay will be back later.
Hector looked — thoughtful — and addressed himself to the refreshment he had been provided. Eventually he pushed his chair back from the table, took a long gulp of ale and said, Sister, I am in a most desperate trouble.
Trouble? Phoebe could not imagine what sort of trouble Hector — the most proper-conducted and law-abiding of young men — could be in. Was not of the weak-minded kind that was like to be led into debauched ways by his fellows.
Her brother groaned. ’Tis Her — Mrs Bascombe. She — she goes take a fancy to me —
What? His sister and his cousin exclaimed.
I fear she has improper designs upon me —
They looked at him, and at one another; indeed, Hector was a very well-looking fellow, and because of his size and serious demeanour perchance seemed older than his actual years, and from his boxing practice had excellent well-developed muscles, and one heard that there were idle ladies that disported with their menservants —
And this afternoon, growled Hector, asked most particular that I should bring in the tray with drinks for her gossips that come to play cards, and when I did so, ’twas quite disgusting, was as ’twere showing me off like an animal in a show or —
Or, said Phoebe bitterly, a slave on the block, that there is naught of in this nation these some several years.
— observing upon my muscles and strength and they were going ooh! and ah! —
But what can I do? Do I object, one of these days she will be claiming a ravishment against me out of spite, one hears such tales —
Very like! said Seraphine, a bitch of that kind.
— the only way out I can see is the proposal that Sir Barton Wallace made to me at the boxing salon, that he would take me in and bring me on as a prize-fighter, but I cannot like it —
’Tis a dangerous profession, said Phoebe.
— there is indeed that consideration, but also, seems to me, that being kept as a wealthy fellow’s prize-fighter is much about like being his fine race-horse.
Phoebe and Seraphine nodded.
And here I come about to learn a deal of the ways of good service from Mr Mamber, and might have thought to advance myself in that way, but that this comes athwart my path — did I go to Sir Barton I daresay he would make all right with ’em, but otherwise, ’twould be breaking my contract —
They all sighed.
Then Phoebe and Seraphine looked at one another once more and said, perchance Madame —
La, said Phoebe, what I come at, is that Madame has a deal of acquaintance and very like there is one or another might have a manservant’s place —
Ladies of the Town?
She also, said Seraphine a little drily, has a deal of acquaintance among gentlemen. And as for her trade, we are well-paid and well-treated, and does any fellow think he may be saucy to us, she will close her door upon him.
Hector raised his eyebrows.
’Tis true, said Phoebe. From what you say of your respectable household, we are a deal better off here. Do very well from vails and perquisites —
But ’tis a house of sin.
Phoebe snorted and said, she wondered where the Bascombes’ fortunes came from.
Hark, said Seraphine, I think they are come in. Daresay they will be about ringing for wine —
But there was a thump and a thud and a cry, and the sound of blows, and a man swearing, and a woman crying out, and Docket saying, What is this ado? and the sound of a body tumbling against a wall.
Hector leapt to his feet, followed by Phoebe and Seraphine, and they rushed upstairs to the landing.
In the light of the candle the huge shadow of a man towered over the cringing body of a woman. The actual man was tall enough, fair-haired, cursing in some tongue that was not English, kicking at the woman on the floor as she curled around trying to protect herself, and striking at her with his cane. Docket was struggling up from where, one supposed, she had been struck aside, her cap and false-front awry.
Hector grabbed the man’s shoulders, pulled him round, and fetched him a vigorous kick in the balls, a sharp jab in the midriff, and then a series of vicious blows to the face and jaw.
Docket, meanwhile, commenced to drag Madame Clorinda away from the scene, leaving an ominous trail of blood.
Phoebe went to take her feet so that they might convey her to her bed — o, indeed, blood was soaking into her skirts, that could not be a good sign —
Seraphine, she said, I think this may be Aunty Black business.
They got her onto the bed, whimpering and cringing. Leave her to me, said Docket, will try to get her undressed and a little comfortable — fancy I should send for that sawbones —
When they went out from the bedchamber Hector was standing over the unconscious body of the assailant.
They all three looked at one another.
Who is he? asked Hector.
A Prussian Junker — has been a patron of Madame for some weeks —
What are we going to do? Seraphine burst out.
Docket came out of the bedchamber. We have to get him out of the house —
Out of the house and some way from here, said Hector, is there any — mayhap brandy? that one might sprinkle about him so that would look as if he had been drunk and got into some brawl —
Docket looked at him with an approving nod, and said, Set upon by thieves —
She went back inside, came out with a small bottle of brandy, and commenced upon sprinkling it about the unconscious Junker, while Phoebe, taking the hint about robbery, removed the jewelled stickpin from his cravat and the rings from his fingers.
Don’t forget the watch, said Seraphine. And check his pockets.
When this was done, they wrapped the spoils in his fine linen handkerchief and Seraphine went convey the bundle behind the loose brick in the kitchen fireplace.
Hector began to lift the heavy body — will look, he said, very like some gentleman being carried home by his valet after an evening of indulgence, until I find some dark alley to leave him in.
Phoebe went down the stairs with him to let him out at the backdoor. ’Tis an imposition, she said, is this not enough already, but could you go fetch Aunty Black when you have disposed of him, ’twould be a prudent thing.
Hector swallowed, looking embarrassed — half-killed this fellow and shocked by the mention of women’s troubles — ’Tis very late to be bothering her, he said.
’Tis the common thing in her trade, said Phoebe. Will not mind — may go grumble a little, I only hope that she is not about a delivery.
Phoebe went back upstairs to see was there any assistance she might give Docket.
Docket smoothed the hair away from the lovely brow. Sure she could have murdered the fellow herself. Madame Clorinda twitched and made a restless noise.
A step on the stair — here came Hacker, that she had sent the house’s boot-boy with a note for —
She was telling him the tale — fell upon her in a drunken fury, we managed to get him out of the house — as the surgeon made an initial examination and was like to think there was naught broken, but very badly bruised — and — how now, what was this? —
A small, very black, elderly woman was ushered into the bedchamber by that fine strapping fellow — sure one took the thought that Madame ought to have one like that about the place, ’twould be a deal safer —
Why, Mrs Black! why, ’twas well-thought-of to send for you, I am in a concern that she goes miscarry from the hurts he inflicted —
Miscarry? Had not even known she was with child — whose then?
’Twas reported thus, said the woman, very likely so, poor thing, is there any fever?
Docket stood up. Her lady was in safe hands, she could tell, and there was no brangling ’twixt the two of ’em, either, but a sober professional discussion about commencing. She might step out for a moment —
The young fellow was standing outside the door. Phoebe says, he said, that Seraphine goes make tea and some snack, should you wish to join us in the kitchen.
Well, ’twas not the usual circumstance, and they had done well. She nodded, and said, would come grateful.
And in the kitchen Seraphine had stirred up the fire, and brewed tea, and had put brandy to’t, very good in this circumstance, and was now a-making toast, and there was a great bowl of very good dripping — might not be the most refined fare, but this night, why, indeed it came grateful.
Docket sat down, and accepted tea, and toast, and spread it with dripping. Meanwhile Phoebe was urging the young man — her brother? — indeed, now she looked at him closely she saw the likeness, and that he was younger than she had first supposed — urging him to take off that shirt so that she might soak it afore the bloodstains set —
Well-thought-of, and sure Docket had not found any grounds for criticism of Phoebe’s skills in hussifery.
’Tis none of mine, he said, yawning, but sure I drew his cork for him.
The more reason, said Seraphine, to get rid of any marks.
Phoebe pulled the shirt over his head, and took it away to the scullery. He looked somewhat abashed to be shirtless in company.
Seraphine asked a little timidly had Mr Hacker expressed any opinion concerning Madame’s condition?
Why, said Docket, warmed by the good tea and brandy, had only begun his examination, but was like to think there was naught broken, but that she went miscarry — Phoebe and Seraphine looked at one another and nodded, and then glanced at Docket, with an air of supposing that she might have been more in Madame’s confidence in the matter.
One did not wish to betray how very close Madame could be even towards her own maid! Had had no notion —
Mayhap there were signs there, that Thomasina Docket would not have apprehended? When one’s own mama, that paragon of maternal fondness, had not been obliged to provide warnings about unwanted increase, as somewhat that was not going to afflict Thomasina?
Phoebe said mayhap they should brew some fresh tea that she might run up to Mr Hacker and Aunty Black.
Abby Gowing paid off the chairmen, and mounted the steps to the front door. She frowned. At this hour of the morn, the house should be dark and quiet, but there was a stirring and glints of light from —
From the door of Clorinda’s apartments.
’Twas no good sign.
She put her ear to the door. Voices murmuring within — was that not Hacker’s voice, though she could not make out what he was saying? — and a woman’s voice she did not know.
She opened the door and went in.
Sssshh! hissed a tiny black woman peering out from Clorinda’s bedroom door. Goes sleep a little at last. She went back in and firmly closed the door behind her.
Abby shook her head and looked into the dressing-room for Docket — not there? — well, she would venture below-stairs and see whether she might discover what was ado, for she was now in quite the greatest concern over what might have come to Clo.
The kitchen door was slightly ajar when she came to it and pushed it open.
Seated around the table, the quite unwonted sight of Docket along with Phoebe, Seraphine, and a strange young man, that must be some relation to the latter two, shirtless — a fine figure — la, had she not seen him that time Sir Barton took her to see the prize-fighting? — all of ’em a-drinking of tea, with a brandy-bottle also upon the table, and various matters of foodstuff about —
Miss Gowing! Docket came to her feet. Oh, this is a sad dreadful thing has come to Madame.
I apprehend some heavy matter is afoot, said Abby, do you apprize me of what comes forth.
They all looked around at one another, and Phoebe got up and shut the kitchen door. Seraphine went to put the kettle on — I daresay you would like some fresh tea, Miss Gowing.
Abby pulled out a chair and sat down and said, tea would come grateful, but what had happened?
’Twas that Prussian villain, said Docket, nearly spitting with rage, they came in — she had done naught, her usual entire amiable self — and he fell upon her like a wild beast, a-kicking at her, striking her with his cane, cursing — could not make out what he said, ’twas in his own tongue, but had the sound of somewhat very vile —
And most exceeding fortunate, said Phoebe, here was brother Hector had come call the e’en, and has studied boxing, and was able drag him off and render him senseless —
Carried him away from this place and left him in an alley, said the young man, as if was drunk and had been set upon.
We may give it out, said Seraphine, handing Abby a cup of tea, and asking with a look whether she desired brandy to it — Abby nodded — that he had been drunkenly quarrelling with her and Hector had contrived to convey him out of the house —
One quite saw that a young black fellow — mayhap a footman in service elsewhere? — would not wish to have laid to his charge a violent assault upon a Prussian nobleman, in however deserving a cause. But a fellow belligerent and clumsy in drink might well stumble and bruise and indeed, fall among thieves afore he came to where he might find a chair or a hackney carriage or at the very least a link-boy to guide him home.
They continued the tale with the summoning of Hacker and Mrs Black — miscarrying? the naughty wench had said naught of going with child! whose might it have been?
Abby pondered. The Junker von Ehleben had been advanced to Clorinda’s interest by His Grace the Duke of Mulcaster, that indeed had lately shown very toward in promoting her advantage among his set. And sure, at first had shown a very eligible connexion — generous terms — those diamonds! — and yet, Abby had thought that Clo looked not entire happy. But sure, one must suppose she still wore the willow somewhat over young Lord Sallington’s departure for Turkey! She had had a deal of fondness for that young man, even had she kept her level head against his pleadings for a flight to Gretna.
There was a letter, Abby thought, she must write, and dispatch most expeditious, to His Grace the Duke.
She rose to her feet. Well, she cannot be in better hands than those she is in, she said. And while I think on’t, as if he had fell among thieves —?
The little group looked exceeding conscious. Phoebe stood up and said, We did indeed take certain rings &C, for the purpose of the story —
Abby smiled. Do you give ’em to me some time and I will go convert ’em for you. Shall say that I received ‘em across the tables laid upon the cards. For was by no means an unknown thing for that skillful gamester Gypsy Abby Gowing to be a-selling valuables she had thus acquired! Though, she added, mayhap should delay a little — does he inform the Runners that he has been robbed, word may be put out for jewelers and pawnbrokers to be on the look-out for the things —