Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 3: Divers Friends & Acquaintances
There are numerous stories and episodes among Clorinda Cathcart, later Lady Bexbury’s, circle of friends and acquaintances, and in her household, that might be related. These are just a few of them.
View Cast of Players
- Admiral Knighton
- Ajax Wilson
- Alf White
- Arabella Stevens
- Belinda Gorston, Marchioness of Bexbury
- Bess Ferraby
- Beaufoyle Beaufoyle, Duke of Mulcaster
- Mr Robert Wallace
- The Honourable Robert Careldon
- Celeste Hurron
- Charlotte Brumpage
- Cecilia Brumpage
- Clorinda Cathcart
- Thomasina Docket
- Dorcas Chapman
- Miss Eleanor Netherne
- Euphemia Bennett
- Flora Ferraby
- Gretchen Hahn
- Miss Grace Narthing
- Hannah Clorinda Roberts
- Harry Ferraby
- Hector Wilson
- Herr Karl Paffenrath
- Jacob Samuels
- Jamie Yeomans
- Jerome Fallon
- Jimmie O'Callaghan
- Johnny Yeomans
- Josh Ferraby
- Julia Perrott
- Julius Roberts
- Kate Yeomans
- Lady Anna Merrett
- Lady Elizabeth Careldon
- Lady Catherine Beaufoyle
- Lady Demington
- Lady Diana Ambert
- Lady Emily Merrett
- Lady Jane Beaufoyle
- Lady Louisa Merrett
- Hester, Countess of Nuttenford
- Lady Rosamund Saxorby
- Griselda, Countess of Trembourne
- Lady Zellen
- Miss Lalage Fenster
- Livvy Bracewell
- George Parry-Lloyd, Viscount Abertyldd
- The Marquess of Antherley
- Augustus, Lord Imbremere
- The Earl of Mallascend
- The Marquess of Offgrange, FRS
- Gervase Reveley, Viscount Raxdell
- Lord Rollo Beaufoyle
- Beaufoyle Beaufoyle, Lord Sallington
- Lord South Worpley
- Charles, Lord Undersedge
- Lord Wayseth
- Marcello Traversini
- Maurice Allard
- Meg Ferraby
- Amelia Addington
- Hattie Daniels
- Martha Knowles
- Miss Millick
- Lucy Netherne
- Agnes Simpson
- Viola Knowles
- Mr George Carter
- Mr Derringe
- Raoul de Cléraut
- The Honourable Mr Edward Merrett
- Josiah Ferraby
- The Honourable Mr Geoffrey Merrett
- Adam Knowles
- Andrew Lowndes
- The Reverend Mr Hugh Lucas
- Alexander MacDonald, MA
- Elias Winch
- Mr Walter Yewall MP
- Mrs Atkins
- Eliza Ferraby
- Francis Narthing
- Nell Jupp
- Nick Jupp
- Phoebe Wilson
- Polly Mitchell
- Priscilla Purdew
- Quintus Ferraby
- Rebecca Gold
- Reynaldo di Serrante
- Elisha Roberts
- Sam Jupp
- Seraphine Pyecroft
- Sir Barton Wallace, MP
- Sir Charles Fairleigh
- Sir Thaddeus Iggleden
- Sir Toby Madden
- Sophy Lacey
- Susannah Wallace
- Maria-Bianca, Contessa di Serrante
- The Duggetts
- The Duke of Humpleforth
- The Verikers
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Read Chapter 1 ...
Mellow Fruitfulness (Hester, formerly Countess of Nuttenford, now Lady Fairleigh; Sir Charles Fairleigh; Miss Millick; Selina)
The carriage had come, at last, to a halt. It was a fine modern carriage, not like those dreadful antiquated ones that had jounced her around so painfully between Monks Garrowby and Town, and they had taken the journey by easy stages, but, even so, Hester was extremely glad that it was at an end.
And oh! as the carriage door opened, a wonderful mingled scent wafted in: not the heavy exotic floral scents of a hothouse but fresh ones that could almost have been a cottage garden. Milly, clutching Selina’s basket, looked out. Such a moon! she said. Sure I fancy one might read the newspaper by it ’tis so bright. How pretty it all is. She began to scramble out.
Here was dear Charles, that had been riding on the box, in order, he said, not to crowd them, handing down poor dear Milly as if she was a duchess, and civilly making her known to his housekeeper Mrs Fossitt, that said, over Selina’s cries of affront, for she apprehended that somewhat was ado, that she should come along and they would find some milk for Puss and butter her paws for her.
Milly looked back, a little frown upon her face. You go with her and see Selina attended to, said Hester, and mayhap have some tea.
Charles leant into the interior of the carriage. Dearest Hester, he said, do you incline just a little this way I fancy I may contrive to lift you out and should not cause you too much pain —
Sure she was used to be lifted in and out of carriages, feeble and helpless as she was, but somehow ’twas entirely different being taken up into her new husband’s arms and looking up into his face and saying, no pain at all, my darling.
Might you even, he enquired, bear it did I convey you across the threshold in proper bridal fashion?
Indeed so, she said (could remember no such ceremony with her first marriage).
You are no heavy burden, he said when they came into the hall. He looked about at the servants and said, he confided that Lady Fairleigh was somewhat knocked up by the journey and he purposed take her at once to her room, deferring introductions to the morrow. So he carried her, her arms about his neck through the hall and down a corridor — I had this room made ready for you, on this floor, he said, so that when your chair is brought in you may go in and out as you like.
She buried her face against his shoulder. So thoughtful. The tears came to her eyes.
There was a fine large bed made ready, a dressing-room. He laid Hester down upon the bed. You have borne up bravely, he said, no word of complaint, but I can see that you have indeed been knocked up by the journey, and would be the best thing to let you rest.
He clasped her hand and raised it to his lips. I am no longer the impetuous young fellow that begged you to fly with him, I had rather wait until you are not drooping with exhaustion to have a wedding-night.
Dearest Charles, she said, indeed I think you are right. Is there one of the maids might come help ready me for bed?
I sent instructions to Mrs Fossitt, so there will be one or another knows what to do. He bent over and kissed her gently. Dearest Hester.
Shortly after came in a young woman that made a tidy bob, said her name was Livvy and that she would make shift to make My Lady comfortable for bed. And indeed she did not so badly for one that was unused to the matter.
Hester lay very briefly wakeful, listening to a bird singing somewhere beyond the window — might it be a nightingale? — but soon fell asleep.
In the morning she woke, with the recurrent fear that it had all been a delightful dream and that she would find herself in her bedchamber at Monks Garrowby or Nuttenford House, still the Countess of Nuttenford, her husband the Earl still living —
But she opened her eyes upon this pleasing if somewhat rustic chamber in beloved Charles’ manor house, the scent of the flowers in the beds about the walls coming in through the window, the shrill twittering of swallows —
If it had been a dream, she would not have been feeling these wonted morning aches, along with those added by the strains of travel. She was glad of them. They meant that this was real. That she truly was married to Charles, that had loved her so long and faithfully.
There was a timid tap upon the door. Come in! Milly poked her head around, but was preceded into the room by Selina, that jumped up onto the bed, climbed onto her favourite spot upon Hester’s bosom, and began purring and kneading. Hester stroked the sleek furry head. And how’s my naughty puss Selina the morn?
Milly got herself into the room and said, Makes herself the entire favourite in the kitchen, sure they have never seen a fine cat the like of her, have been offering her little treats and enticing her to their laps. She gave an indulgent smile. I fancy she will not be running off!
I trust you are well seen to? Hester asked her companion.
O, the prettiest little bedchamber, entirely charming. Have not yet seen a deal of the house but there is a drawing-room set aside for our use. And I came in to say, specific, would you wish for a little breakfast upon a tray, or should you rather get up and go into the dining-room to join Sir Charles?
Hester considered. Why, I fancy, I feel well enough that I might get up and go in my chair, do I not delay him.
I will go fetch Livvy, and they have already brought your chair, ’tis just outside the door.
Livvy showed very apt and neat-handed in the matter: perchance she might make a personal maid? Brownlee had made some representations that she should come with Her Ladyship, but Hester had declared that Brownlee would find herself entire at loose ends in the depths of Herefordshire. ’Twould be entirely more answerable did she remain with dear Em and that good sensible creature Cousin Lalage, that had far greater need of a fine lady’s maid. And was not many years before little Lou would be making her curtesy and going about during the Season —
Hester smiled. Such a kind thought of Mrs Ferraby, that Lou might like to go on a good long visit with Bess, for the poor child would be lonely at Monks Garrowby, and Dambert Chase was unanswerable with Nan so took up with baby Di.
Milly somewhat officious took over the matter of pushing the chair along to the dining room: she must have words with her about that, much better did some stronger younger person take over the task. Hester had wondered a little whether she should bring Milly: but sure, one could not turn Miss Millick upon the world at her age to go be a governess again, ’twas best that she stayed among familiar faces as a companion. Could brush Selina, sort embroidery silks and help match colours, read aloud, daresay she might be sent undertake commissions in the nearest town —
And here they were at the dining room, where Sir Charles was already seated at table with a mug of ale, but rose at once to his feet to come over and kiss Hester. Why, I see you revive quite remarkable in our good country air!
I slept so well, she said.
Will you have your chair up to the table?
Do you give me your arm, I may come and sit next to you as your lady should.
It was only a few steps, and leaning upon Charles it was no effort to undertake them.
Now, my dear, I will ring at once for them to bring tea, for I made sure you would require it fresh, and do you tell me what you should like to eat. There is porridge, and bacon and eggs, and some good fresh bread and butter, and mayhap you might fancy a boiled egg?
Hester thought; it was so easy to say, o, make me up a plate from the sideboard. But she minded what dear Clorinda had said: dear Hester, you must learn to want things and not just smile very civil at whatever anyone brings you. I assure you, ’twill greatly please Sir Charles to feel that he indulges you — why, I confide did you express a wish for the roc’s feather he would quite immediate go see where one might be had.
If ’tis no trouble to the kitchen, she said, I should greatly fancy a soft-boiled egg and some bread and butter. Milly — what will you take?
Just then the tea came in and Charles gave orders for the egg. Hester poured tea for herself and Milly, but Charles laughed and said he kept old-fashioned country ways, gesturing to his ale-mug. Milly conceded that she would take some porridge.
Hester looked around the dining-room: sure the furnishings were somewhat old-fashioned and bore the signs of years of use, but also the signs of careful tending over those years — oh, that was the difference ’twixt here and Nuttenford House or Monks Garrowby. It was not that the furniture had been kept because ‘twas perfectly good and sound, why should one go spend money for new, but because, doubtless, Charles could recall his mother pouring tea at this table, his father fetching her a plate of breakfast from that sideboard, that it held fond memories.
I daresay, she said, there is a deal of history to the things in this room —
Indeed so, said Charles with a broad smile. We do not have the finest china out for breakfast, that came with my great-grandmother, that is in that cabinet over there, or the very fine silverware that came down to my mother, but this table has been here a very great while, and so has the sideboard, that is said to go back to the time of the Civil War or before. And that painting above the fireplace is of the bull that was one of the first progenitors of the fine herd that we have here now. ’Tis not of any great artistic merit I confide — some local fellow that eked a living painting cattle and horses — but ’tis a family heirloom.
He scrutinized the picture for a while. Well, I think I may boast that I have improved the breed since then, or perchance the fellow was not very skilled at his trade.
Mrs Mason, the cook, came herself bearing a freshly cooked egg for Hester, and waited until she had cracked the shell and taken a spoonful and found it to her satisfaction. A very fine egg, said Hester, cooked exactly right (for indeed, Nan’s Arabella could have done no better).
She found herself with an excellent appetite the morn: once the egg was finished, she declared she would try just a little of the bacon, that smelt so enticing. Charles jumped up at once to fetch it for her, and she also exhorted Milly to take a little more than porridge. Sure, said Milly, this fine country air gave one an appetite.
After breakfast, Charles helped Hester back into her chair so that they might go into the hall and she be introduced to the household: Mason, the butler, and Mrs Mason, the cook, Mrs Fossitt the housekeeper, the three indoor maids Livvy, Hettie and Maria, Charles’s valet Parker. Little Maria came forward, made a dip, and presented Hester with a posy.
Oh, how charming! cried Hester. How very pretty a nosegay this is. She held it to her nose. And smells so sweet.
She looked at them and swallowed and said, was sure they had served Sir Charles exceeding well all these years, would not wish to begin by making any great changes in the household, but was there any matter they wished to open to her, hoped that they would. Dared say they could see she was not one that could bustle about but would hope to have matters under hand.
Charles patted her hand and said, sure his people had been wishing to see him bring ’em a Lady Fairleigh these many years, and were entire delighted now one had come.
And this, added Hester, turning to Milly, is Miss Millick, that is my feet and companion.
Now, my dear, said Charles, do you feel in shape to make a tour of the house and mayhap a little look around the grounds?
Why, replied Hester smiling up at him, should desire to furbish myself a little for the day, put on somewhat more fitting than this wrapper.
Tut, have been a bachelor household for so long, I neglect the proper way of things, but we shall get into ’em, never fear. Perchance you should like some warm water to wash with?
’Twould be exceeding convenable; and mayhap one of the maids to help me?
Of course! He struck himself upon the forehead. Will Livvy suit?
Livvy bobbed, looking entire delighted, and came over to help Milly push the chair back to Hester’s chamber. Where Selina was sitting queenlike upon the bed, but condescended to mew a greeting as they entered, and then to jump down into order to come jump up into Hester’s lap and begin her deep rumbling purr as Hester stroked her head.
Livvy showed some inclination to stand about looking doating at Selina, but at that moment Hettie and Maria came carrying between them a large can of water, and the bustle of washing and dressing for the day began. Selina took the opportunity to whisk out of the window, doubtless to pursue her own toilette in some secluded corner of the flowerbeds.
Really, Livvy was very apt and neat-handed about the business for one that had, Hester supposed, never had to undertake the duties of a lady’s maid. Lacking of course that polish and initiative in the matter of a maid that had been properly trained, but by no means manifesting a rustic awkwardness or clumsiness. Dear Milly was watching her quite like unto a hawk, ready to step in at any faltering, but ‘twas not in the least necessary.
Soon enough she was dressed fit for the daytime and seated comfortably in her chair, ready to be shown around her new home.
Dear Charles came at once to push her, although the chair was so constructed that required no great muscular effort along a level. First he showed the drawing-room: has not seen much use, he said, in a bachelor household — daresay ’twould be proper to go invite the neighbours to dine, now they may bring their wives, will it not be burdensome for you, my love — and I confide may need some furbishing to suit your taste.
O, has a very pretty view over the lawn to the orchard!
I only wish you might have seen it in blossoming time — but there will be many years for that, I may hope.
She looked around the room. It had what dear Clorinda was wont to describe as pleasing proportions — and the furniture, though somewhat of an old-fashioned style, was good, and well-polished-up. A fine Turkey carpet upon the floor. ’Tis entire charming, she said. Perchance ’twould benefit from a freshening of the paint? And — did you not mention that you had some very good china? — might one not have a cabinet to display it, ’tis quite entirely a done thing.
Was also in my mind that you might require a writing-desk, for I daresay that there will be a deal of family letters go to and fro.
Hester considered upon this. Or, she said, I have seen a thing — a writing board that would fit across my chair, would be exceeding convenable — and mayhap a press to keep papers in. They looked at one another with most exceeding affection. Dearest Charles, she said, I am in some concern that did I express some whim to have the room decked out like the Pavilion at Brighton you would at once be about it.
Did that please you, indeed I should.
I fancy ’twould be entire out of keeping with the place, not that I have any inclination to such a show. Is the piano in tune?
I fear not — has not been touched this age.
Milly went over and struck a note or two. Indeed requires tuning, but seems in good order.
Would be agreeable to have a little music of an evening, murmured Hester, and do I not recall that you have a fine singing voice?
Why, am greatly out of practice, but a little domestic music would indeed be most agreeable. I will find out about a piano-tuner, daresay there is one in the vicinity, and also consider upon the matter of painting.
Then there was Charles’s study and business-room, and the various domestic quarters.
Now, my dear, I might carry you to see the upper floors, though indeed ’tis entirely a matter of bedrooms and attics, or we might go out into the grounds.
On such a beautiful day, let us go out.
’Tis a working farm, said Charles as they came out of the front door, no fine gardens such as you have been used to —
It pleases me quite exceedingly, responded Hester. These pretty beds of country flowers and herbs delight me far more than all those exotic blooms that the late Earl so doated upon.
It was entire delightful to her: so unlike the pompous state of Monks Garrowby. The apple and pear orchards. The hens and the pigs. The dairy cows. And Charles’s great pride, his renowned herd of fine Herefordshire beef cattle, that placidly stood in their fields fattening upon the lush grass.
And this, said Charles, as they came to one that stood alone in his field, is my fine bull Prinny —
Prinny? Behind Hester, Milly gave a shocked gasp.
Why, his full name is Prince Florizel of Bohemia, but we have got into the habit of calling him Prinny. Has a deal of acknowledged progeny, unlike his namesake. And maintains a far better figure for his kind —
Hester giggled. La, Sir Charles, you talk positive treasonous!
Oh, she felt positively giddy the morn, out here in the sunlight and the fresh light breeze, the song of the birds and the buzzing of bees, the mingled scents of the countryside, with dearest Charles.
My dear, do not wish to overdo you your first day here: there will be a deal of time for further exploration.
So they returned slowly by a different direction to the house, so that she could see a little more of the place.
It was also pleasing to go sit in her drawing-room, to have lemonade brought, and along with it, a dish of strawberries and cream, most exceeding delightful.
My dear, said Charles, taking her hand when they had finished this little repast, I should really give some little time to business, having been away this while: would you mind very much did I go spend some few hours in my study attending to matters?
She lifted his hand to rest her cheek against it. Should not wish to hinder you from your responsibilities: and sure there are matters Milly and I may be about here, so that I may have occupation to my hands. She looked about. Perchance I could have my workbox and my embroidery frame there by the window, to have a good light to it. And mayhap put out some books upon those shelves? And there are various little ornaments that the children have give me that I should like to put about where I may look at ’em —
Why, you must make yourself entirely at home. You may mark the bells here: this is for Mason, and this is for the maids.
He bent down to kiss her. Until later, my darling.
Milly, said Hester, I daresay there are a deal of boxes as yet unpacked — ?
Sure, said Milly, have not yet had time to unpack ’em all, and know not where I may put everything, but I think I may put my hands upon your workbox and the books we packed and your mementoes of the dear children. She went bustling out.
Hester leant back in her chair and closed her eyes. All still felt like some happy dream. Yet, how could she give dear Charles the happiness he deserved? A poor crippled creature like her, unable to be a true wife —
Milly came back in saying with a somewhat doubtful expression that here were the samplers that the girls had worked, did she really wish to display ’em? Hester gave a little laugh, remembering the mutinous faces of Nan and Em and Lou as they were obliged to be about learning their stitchery: the prickings of fingers, the kissing of them better, the praising of any part that was satisfactory accomplished. Indeed I should, she said, I know they are not the finest examples of the art, but they are remembrances of my dear girls’ childhood.
And, she said, I mind that we packed those excellent fine china vases and posy-pots that the boys brought back from their Grand Tour: would they not sit very pleasing upon the mantelshelf, and you might see could you cut a few flowers to put in ’em?
Oh, said Milly, ’twould indeed make a very pretty effect.
But, said Hester, mayhap you could first of all bring me in my work-box, so I may look over whether there is aught I should send for — I am minded to work a waistcoat for Sir Charles, but I daresay I shall require fresh embroidery silks as well as some suitable stuff.
Milly looked at her with a fond expression, as if this were an entire proper proceeding. And indeed, she confided ’twas, there was little enough she could do for dear Charles.
As Milly went out Hester felt a little shiver. So little she could do: could not even be a proper wife. What kind of a wedding night might they have? O, was there somewhat she might bear that would make Charles happy —
Milly pattering to and fro and chattering was at least a little distraction from these thoughts — and then, had the time flown that much? dear Charles came in and said, he dared say ’twas the hour for tea, and would be most agreeable to take it here, and hoped that matters with her got on —
And here came Hettie with the tea-tray, that Milly went to take most immediate, and to place upon the table, and set out ready to pour.
Hester was about to open the matter of where one might send did one require embroidery silks &C, when Mason came in and said, Sir Toby Madden has come call.
Damnation! — excuse my swearing, my love. I should have expected this. He appoints himself quite the Mercury of the neighbourhood, going about gathering up the news and the gossip and distributing it again. Well, Mason, show him in.
Mason ushered in a fellow that was well-named Toby for he was short and squab and very much like unto those vessels called Toby-jugs.
How now, Fairleigh, I hear you have gone and married yourself a wife? and this — it was perhaps an understandable mistake, to suppose that the lady that was taking charge of the tea-table must be the lady in question, and perchance he had not noticed Hester in her chair by the window — I apprehend must be the new Lady Fairleigh?
Had Milly not served some several years as governess to the riotous Merrett children she might have been more discomposed than she was, and even, perchance, have gone poured tea into a saucer or even onto the table. She put the teapot down and said, fie, by no means.
My dear fellow, cried Charles, conducting him over to the window, this is Lady Fairleigh. Hester, permit me to introduce Sir Toby Madden, that is our nearest neighbour and a JP. Sir Toby, my wife, late the Countess of Nuttenford.
Sir Toby blinked. Doubtless the quite sensational news of the Earl’s demise — eaten by a bear in the American wilderness — had penetrated even to these rural parts.
Sir Toby, permit me to introduce Miss Millick, my wife’s companion. Sir Toby bowed. Miss Millick, our neighbour, Sir Toby Madden.
Tea, Sir Toby? asked Milly, with that aplomb gained from maintaining a calm face during years of Em and Geoff’s wilder freaks.
Why, thank you, Miss Millick. He accepted a cup but remained standing.
’Twas somewhat of a precipitate marriage, said Sir Charles with a smile, but here was my godson Undersedge, that is now Nuttenford, has all the responsibilities of the rank fall upon him —
And, said Hester, sure my dear eldest girl, that is Lady Offgrange, would have given me hospitality at Dambert Chase, but only lately lay-in of a fine daughter, and I did not wish to be a burden upon her at such a time.
So, said Charles, we determined to defy gossip and go wed now rather than wait out the conventional time, so that I might take care of my dear lady.
They looked at one another with affection.
Why, ’tis exceeding pretty, quite like unto a play, remarked Sir Toby, and went to sit down in the most comfortable chair.
Where he sat on and on, talking of local matters and conveying country gossip, occasionally minding that he should ask some question of the ladies, that was mostly along the lines of had they yet been to some local sight, had they called upon such and such a country neighbour —
Charles said that they were but lately arrived back from Town, but sure they would in due course be about such matters —
It became alas entire obvious that Sir Toby was angling to be asked to remain to dine, and indeed ’twould have been uncivil to send him upon his ways, so there he was, at table, still prosing on with some matter about the vicar and tithes and then the business there had lately been at Quarter Sessions — sure, Lady Fairleigh, mayhap you may persuade Sir Charles to join us upon the bench, sound fellows are ever required — and in very little disposition to quit the company.
Hester caught Milly’s eye and said, Miss Millick, sure ’tis time we left the gentlemen — though I pray you, Sir Toby, not to keep my husband too long over port and pipes —
Milly had got the chair into the drawing-room before they both burst into giggles, only sobering up when Hettie came with the tea-tray.
I daresay, said Milly, the poor fellow is lonely, does he hang out to be invited stay to dine.
O, I confide you are right! I fancy he is a fellow would allude to a wife, did he have one, and say we must call upon her, and tell us of what good works she favoured, and whether she had any feuds upon hand with other ladies in the neighbourhood. And were there any offspring would tell us a deal about ’em. But I hope he does not keep poor Sir Charles too long in masculine converse over the port.
So they sipped their tea, and Hester remarked upon the matter of embroidery silks, and whether there might be a circulating library in the locality, and whether ’twas like Sir Toby would know aught of a piano-tuner. Then they fell to wondering how the family got on, and were just expatiating upon what a fine child Nan’s little Di was when the gentlemen came in.
Hester offered tea, but Sir Toby said, sure ’twas getting late, should be riding off before got too dark. Bowed over her hand and Milly’s, hoped to see ’em about in local society, shook hands with Charles and departed.
After they had heard Mason showing him out they all looked about at one another and laughed. Why, said Charles, ’twas not the evening I had planned, but he is a good-hearted fellow even if a somewhat tedious one — long a widower, no children, I daresay gossiping upon his neighbours provides him an interest in life. My fear is that he will go spread the news about and we shall have a deal of callers.
He looked at Hester. I hope his babble did not tire you, my dear?
Not in the least — sure I feel myself a deal better-informed about matters in the locality now!
Charles chuckled. Better than a newspaper, he conceded.
Milly stood up and said, unless Lady Fairleigh had any further need of her, still had matters of her own unpacking &C to be about, and had been exceeding prepossessed by young Livvy’s capacities, was sure she might do all that was needful —
Of course, Milly (for Milly looked somewhat embarrassed, and Hester confided that she was in some desire to leave the newly-weds together in solitude).
Milly left them.
Charles looked down at Hester, bent down, and kissed her. My darling, he said, I know this is all new and strange to you, and perchance you are tired after the day you have had, but, might I join you this night?
Hester clasped his hand in hers. Dearest Charles, she said, indeed you may. If you take me to my dressing-room and summon Livvy, I will be about preparing for bed.
At least the unexpected advent of Sir Toby had meant that she had been distracted and had not had the entire evening to get into a fret at the prospect of this wedding night. Indeed she loved and trusted dearest Charles. She had sought and received reassurances that she did not need to anticipate an ordeal from her dearest friend, and most knowledgeable authority upon all matters pertaining to man and woman, Clorinda Bexbury. But, even so — might there not be some flinching, some sign that might convey to Charles that — o, she would do all she might to convey him what gratification was possible, in her sad state, but —
But here was Livvy, ready to help undress her and ready her for bed.
When she was finally there, in the fine nightgown she had chosen, she reached to the nightstand when she had, earlier in the day, placed a little vial of perfume. Dear Clorinda had pressed it into her hand. I daresay the savants have some scientific explanation for it, but scents are most exceeding soothing to the spirits: do you sprinkle a few drops upon your pillow, I fancy ’twill calm any frets you are in.
Indeed the scent was agreeable, and to her relief she did not have to lie there very long before came in Sir Charles in his nightshirt.
My dearest love, he said, climbing into bed beside her, may I say that gives me quite the extremest pleasure just to lie alongside you, after so long? Would not wish to do aught that would give you pain — so you must tell me at once if anything does so — or that you mislike. I know that there are consummations that should not be undertook —
Indeed, said Hester, finding herself cuddling up against her husband, Mr Hacker gave me to understand that he very much doubted that the usual act could be contrived without injury, and he had quite the direst warnings about the peril that increase was like to bring —
He was entire fierce with me upon the matter! — but, might I just hold you in my arms, as I have longed to do these very many years —
Of course, said Hester, nestling in to him, and finding this more agreeable than she had anticipated. The warmth of his body — the tender way his arm curved about her — the faint scent of tobacco and good soap that lingered about him —
The kisses planted upon her face and neck: she turned her head a little so that she might kiss him back. So sweet, so gentle. The hand that stroked her shoulder, and then went to caress her hair, trail down her cheek, trace her lips. Dearest Hester —
They lay thus for a little while and then Charles gave a sudden groan —
Forgive me, dearest: I really did not anticipate such an impetuosity of passion, in a fellow of my years. But indeed, was overcome by the entirest gratification, my love, simply from your presence. But must just go cleanse myself a little —
He leant over to kiss her. ‘Twill take but a moment.
Indeed ’twas not much more than a moment before he came back to bed and put his arms about her again. Dear love. Are you quite comfortable?
Hester considered. Indeed, she was quite remarkable comfortable. Yes, dearest Charles, she said, turning to kiss him, dear husband.
Somehow, in time, she must have drifted into sleep, for was waked by the sound of birdsong and a little sunlight creeping through the curtains.
How do you the morn, my darling?
Why, she said, turning to look at him, most endearingly tousled from sleep, very well, I find.
(Oh, how very far from an ordeal she would endure for the sake of dear Charles it had been.)