The Comfortable Courtesan
Matters having fallen out very satisfactorily for the family of the Earl of N-, and with several other problems contrived for, Clorinda embarks upon a round of summer house-parties. But there are troubling sinister undercurrents…
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A brief return to my own pretty house
Seems entire prudent to leave R‑ House and return, even be it only for a few days, to my own pretty, and now enlarg’d, house, as my dear ones begin the tedious business of packing up the household in order to return to the north and the ironworks for a few months. For indeed the project much preoccupies ’em and I should only be in the way.
So, altho’ there are perchance a few tears shed along with the promises we make to one another in my fine reserv’d chamber the night before I depart, we make a civil and formal farewell, as far as my darlings are concern’d, the morn. However, Bess and Meg pout and sulk and desire me to promise in exceeding strong terms — sure I begin to wonder will they at any moment produce a Bible for me to swear upon — that I will come visit in their desolate exile —
Sure, says I, you will not be twin Didos in the ruins of Carthage, my dears, I daresay you will have forgot me entirely by the time I go arrive.
They deny this very fervent, while my lovely Flora clings at my skirts despite Quintus’ efforts to make her let go.
Josh asks am I sure I should not like a dormouse? — to which I reply that I fear that Dandy and Pounce would suppose that I brought ’em home a treat did I arrive with any such thing. He then hugs me very hard.
I get into my carriage — sure I feel a little tearfull myself — and we drive off.
And ’tis ever pleasant to arrive at my own front door, where I can see that one has been about polishing the brass and whiting the step, and the windows gleam.
Also I do not return to great piles of cards and letters for Hector has been bearing these to me daily at R‑ House, and I confide that even with all the many distractions that attend’d me there, I am not more than a little behindhand with my correspondence, that I may readyly dispatch in the next day or so.
Hector greets me and does not look as if he conceals some trouble or difficulty within the household for my own good. Why, Hector, says I, do you give me a little while to refresh myself, I would desire you to conduct me around next door so that I may see how matters get on there and what should be the next thing I should consider doing.
Hector says, of course, Your Ladyship, and as ‘tis such a warm day, perchance I would care for a cooling sherbet?
’Twould quite exceed, says I, going into my pretty parlour. Dandy and Pounce sit in the window and ignore me, ’tis quite entire the cut direct for my absence, leaving ’em entire unfriend’d in a household that they would desire persuade me starves and neglects ’em utterly. (They are both in fine sleek plump condition and I confide ’tis an entire masquerade to demonstrate their displeasure.)
Indeed ’tis agreeable to be there again. ’Tis no great while until Euphemia comes with my sherbet.
As I sit and sip it, I look around my parlour. Sure indeed I have a deal of books that I may move into my fine new library, tho’ I daresay there is still some matter of decoration needfull, but occurs to me that do I have a library, mayhap I should have my books tidyly bound as I have seen the works in the great houses I have visit’d? I take out my little memorandum book and make a note of the matter.
Then, do I move some of the books — for I would still wish to have some about me in my parlour — I might put in another china cabinet, for my new collection of china that would be quite entire a demonstration of my taste in that art and not form a record of my favour’d patrons in past days for folks to go speckulate upon.
Sure there are some several matters I should like to put in hand afore I am gone about my travels this summer.
Comes in Hector, and says, is My Ladyship rest’d, mayhap we could go look over the work next door?
Indeed, says I, lead on: and discover that there is already a communicating door put in and I do not have to go out into the street and back in at the front door. Hector remarks that they have nail’d up the front door for the present, but he inclines to suppose that we might as well go brick it up.
’Tis a good thought, says I.
We go into what will become the dining‑room. That excellent device for conveying food hot from the kitchen is already put in. ’Twill all need painting, says Hector.
Indeed, says I. I have already gone put in hand commissions for a fine table and chairs, a sideboard, and china‑cupboard, but ’twill be some little while afore they are ready.
We go up the stairs to my fine library and indeed I am extreme delight’d to see the bookshelves, the presses, the writing‑desk; and mind that I shall need one or two easy‑chairs. I make a note in my little memorandum book.
Up the next stairs to the guest bedchamber with dressing‑room &C, and sure all gives quite entire satisfaction.
Why, says I, we are quite come to matters of painting, or perchance wallpaper and furniture, ’tis all coming along most expeditious.
Hector says, indeed, even tho’ there have been these matters at O‑ House that the carpenters have been about. He dares say they are extreme anxious to gain Lady B‑’s good opinion.
La, says I, do they desire a testimonial indeed I might be about writing one that was entire praise and did not contain sly hints to the contrary.
Tomorrow, I go on, I think ’twill be prudent to go visit some warehouses as I have been solicit’d to do and mayhap get my commissions in hand. For I have had the thought that I should have a set of state china with my crest upon it, as well as one or two that will be less formal.
Hector says that he confides that ’tis time that Timothy was instruct’d in serving at the dining table, and purposes see might he go to R‑ House to be lesson’d by those that are us’d to such service.
Indeed, says I, ’twill be a different business to nice little dinners for a friend or two or three.
Hector says with a smile that Euphemia greatly looks forward to the prospect.
And was there any matter she requir’d for the other kitchen? I ask.
He says has all been put in hand — some little matter of shelves and counters at a comfortable height for her. But ’tis a most well‑set‑up kitchen. Has spent a little time in there already so that she may get us’d to any vagaries of the range.
Exceeding prudent, says I, as we go back in to my own original small pretty house. And does the ice‑house serve?
Extremely, says Hector. A fine tight thing.
I go sit in my parlour and desire him send in Dorcas.
Comes in Dorcas and makes her dip. I ask how housekeeping matters go, and she says, sure the works brought about a deal of dust, but she confides I will find all clean and in order now.
Indeed, says I, one would not know by looking that there had been a deal of work going on here. And how does young Nell shape now she is preferr’d to this establishment?
Why, quite exceedingly, says Dorcas, has already had sound training in good practices in the mews cottage, indeed when her sister Sal that is now undertaking that will come in for elevens or tea Nell will be about quizzing her quite ferocious to ensure she does all in proper order.
She goes on to say that they at first gave Nell that small chamber in the attic, but she is not us’d to sleeping alone, and gets into a fret, so Prue comes sleep in her chamber and Nell goes in with Celeste.
’Tis very good of you, says I.
O, she says, Prue is no bother and we may read the Bible together afore sleep, and I daresay there will be more chambers open up when the works next door are finisht.
But, she goes on, she would be very gratefull could Sophy give some counsel to Nell about her hair and wearing it in some neater fashion. Indeed, she says with a smile, she would not ask Docket, that would she daresay terrify Nell into a faint, but Sophy is a good kind girl that already advizes Prue and Celeste on the matter.
She is a good girl, says I, and ever very carefull over minding Docket’s health. And, says I, I confide you still go minister in Covent Garden? I doubt I shall find time to go see Mrs Mutton, but I have some funds for her.
Dorcas says that they find that the Lord’s work goes well at present, and they even have some hopes that Mrs Binns is coming around and may yet feel the gift of grace. She already does nicely with her hat‑trimming: has a very nice touch — fears Prue is very tempt’d to go commission her.
Why, says I, I think might incline her to you does she not feel judg’d for a trade that might be deem’d to pander to vanity.
Dorcas looks at me very approving and says, ’tis a good thought.
I enquire as to any other news in their family connexion — Tibby comes occasional to visit Euphemia, and they hear that Titus has again got excellent employment for the summer singing at Vauxhall.
And is there any news of Phoebe? I ask.
Dorcas says that I will mind that Phoebe has gone out of Town into the healthfull airs of Hampshire — indeed, says I, quite the best thing — but they have not had any further intelligence of how she does —
At this moment comes in Hector to say, a boy just came to the back door with a note from Aunty Black, to say that she is summon’d to Hampshire for Phoebe’s lying‑in.