Mistress in Her Household
Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 6: Eliza Ferraby’s Story: 1
Eliza Ferraby, farmer’s daughter, wife and helpmeet to prosperous ironmaster Josiah Ferraby, has seen a lot of changes in her life already. She did not ever anticipate falling in love herself with Clorinda Cathcart, the mistress she urged Josiah to take when her own state of health precluded marital relations. Nor did she expect to move in the exalted circles Clorinda’s connexions have brought them into. Now, Eliza’s health entirely restored, their business prospering, a loving triad established, the Ferrabys have adopted Flora, Clorinda’s daughter by Josiah: and life, following the upheaval caused by Clorinda’s pregnancy and the need to conceal it, seems to be settling down into a new routine. But there are still dramatic events to come…
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Read Chapter 1 ...
A Mission of Mercy
Although she was greatly grieved by the sad news — a young woman so suddenly deceased just at the point when one might suppose her past the perils of childbed — Eliza Ferraby found it hard to be entirely melancholy when she had dear precious bundle Flora upon her lap. Sure ’twas an entire indulgence for her, for Minnie grew quite devoted to her charge, and Patty was extremely beforehand in giving any help she might require: indeed, Flora was like to become completely spoilt by the amount of doating attention she received from all the family and household, did she not have such an exceeding amiable nature.
Eliza looked down at her, smiling and cooing, and thought that certainly she loved this unexpected gift of a little daughter, that she had yearned for so long; but also, Flora was a part of their too-distant darling, their beloved third, the beauteous and charming Madame Clorinda Cathcart, that was surely by now re-establishing her position as a leading courtesan in London Society. Josiah had said, on his recent return from thence about matters of business, that her circle seemed most entirely glad to see her returned from her supposed journey to Carlsbad — her soirée well-attended and an entire success until one came call for Mr Hacker and His Grace to go at once to Mulcaster House, for the Duchess went in labour — that excellent fellow Admiral Knighton was lately in Town having returned from the West Indies and in anticipation of orders from the Admiralty, was ever a very great favourite with her —
Indeed, said Eliza, one cannot help but notice that she smiles in a very particular way when she speaks of him, and sure, ’twould be wrong in us, as things are, to manifest jealousy does our darling find some little consolation, quite apart from any business considerations.
Why, said Josiah, as for that, I think her affairs are in very good order: the General’s bequest gives her a deal of security, along with the settlement His Grace made upon her at the time of his marriage; and Mr MacDonald has really obtained most exceeding good terms for her novel. She manages her finances very prudent. ’Tis no matter of desperate straits.
Oh, entirely so! One may observe how well-run her household is.
They looked at one another and sighed a little.
But, said Josiah, I should not neglect to convey to you the most particular kisses and caresses she desired me to carry to our wild girl.
Eliza looked down at the lovely infant in her lap, and was about to play little pigs with her adorable tiny toes when Josiah came in saying a letter had just come.
A letter? cried Eliza, for they had been in a little concern that there had been no letter from Clorinda, that was normally a most frequent correspondent, for some days — but sure, ’twas barely a se’ennight since Josiah had left her —
But his face did not suggest that it was the welcome epistle they anticipated.
’Tis addressed to you, he said, handing it over.
She looked at it — the Duke of Mulcaster’s frank, the direction in Lady Jane’s handwriting. She frowned. What can it be? she said, breaking the seal. I would not have thought this a time for her to be about correspondence — Oh. Oh, Jos’ — She looked up with tearful eyes. ’Tis a quite desperate situation, I should go to London at once and take Minnie with me.
And bring Flora with us of course — ’tis the babe, the poor motherless babe, that they have been endeavouring feed by hand and does not thrive, I do not wonder at it, and Lady Jane comes about somewhat against her will to consider that perchance they should hire a wet-nurse and so she seeks my advice in the matter — but indeed this is no time to delay and cogitate, now Minnie is well-fed and given plenty of stout to drink she has a deal of fine milk and I fancy can well feed two infants until they can be about finding one that will suit — I daresay Mrs Black would know of likely women, but how to advance her interest —
My dearest, said Josiah, taking her hands, the first thing is to get you there. He picked up Flora. I will go take her to Minnie, and tell Minnie what’s afoot, and you may go tell Miss Netherne and the girls that you are called away on this charitable mission, and begin upon packing, and I will go put in hand a good fast carriage to convey you there with all expedition.
O, Jos’, ’tis extreme good of you. Sure there are husbands would pout and grump and make difficulties.
Why, do I think how devastated His Grace must be at the loss of his wife — ’twas quite a fairytale romance — ’twould be very hard was he to lose their son as well. Moreover has shown a very good friend to us. Sure Lady Jane has many fine qualities, but —
’Tis not a situation I fancy she can ever have thought to be in. I daresay the poor fellow must be quite dazed with grief —
Lord, when I think of my own state of mind when you were so poorly after Quintus’ birth! Indeed he must. The poor young man. Can you do aught for him —
O, indeed, my love. But I will run and be about all this business so that we may be off as soon as maybe.
She gave him a hearty kiss, and kissed Flora as she handed her to her father, and picked up her skirts to go run up to the schoolroom to speak to that excellent young woman Miss Netherne, and tell the girls to mind her and to be on their best behaviour while she was away, and then to Patty to tell her what was ado and give instructions about Quintus, and then to her own chamber to be about packing.
That task accomplished — sure these days they were from home often enough that she had now an established apprehension of the matter and what would be needful. So she could desire George to fetch down the trunks and instruct Sally as to what should go in ’em and did not need to stand staring at the presses pondering upon what she would require. Sure ’twould not be a state visit and ’twould be a house in mourning and she would not need any very formal dress. But was she in Town she might take the opportunity to make calls among their circle, would only be civil, indeed should make some occupation for herself so that it should not seem that she needed any entertainment, so would need some suitable array for that purpose.
Then she must go to the kitchen and instruct Janet about making up a basket for them to carry with ’em, so that they need not delay upon the road, and give some orders about feeding the household during her absence.
To her stillroom, to put together a few things that might be of utility and that they might not have at Mulcaster House, where there had been no infants these many years, and where, she apprehended, there could be none that had been nurse to generations of young Beaufoyles, she doubted not that was there such a one Lady Jane would not be in such a taking. For one could tell, somehow, that that very stiff, very correct lady was in a taking — indeed, did she come quite begging advice must be a most unwonted thing in her.
And then, at last, all under hand, she sat down at her desk to scribble a note to their very dearest darling to inform her of what was afoot and that sure this was no time for action at a distance and even if ’twas, she was like to suppose Lady Jane was not one that had much notion of what to look for in a wet-nurse, or indeed, concerning the care of babies more generally.
She sanded it, sealed it, and sighed. Might she find occasion to visit that pretty little house close by the Park? She handed the letter to Josiah. Do you see this dispatched with expedition, my love.
Josiah looked at it. Can you, dear ’Liza, find some means to see our treasure, ’twould ease my heart, for I cannot like that we have not received a letter for so many days. I am almost like to write to MacDonald and enquire is there some new bother comes to her that she does not wish to trouble us with.
Eliza forced a smile and said, perchance ’tis some new brangle of Miss Addington’s, takes up all her time.
They looked at one another and found their expressions growing sombre. Would that it was merely some new imbroglio to do with that charming but flighty actress.
Very early the next morning, she and Minnie with Flora set off in a fine private carriage towards Town: Eliza fancied that with well-managed changes and no accidents upon the roads, they might perchance reach Mulcaster House by night. For indeed the thought of that poor infant that did not flourish fretted her considerable.
But also, underneath this fret and worry, there was the thought that she was going to where Clorinda was. And surely, somehow, she might find some means to come at seeing her dearest lovely girl. Even had Josiah been to Town so recent, that there had been no letter since his return was a little troubling, for Clorinda was a most regular correspondent. Even did she, they feared, continue to conceal any frets and worries she might have, always present a sundial view telling the sunny hours, did not desire to worry ’em: as if they did not worry about what she might not be telling them, their rather too discreet darling, that had too much of a habit of keeping her troubles locked up in her own exquisite bosom.
Mayhap she might, even could she not come at dearest Clorinda herself, manage some discourse with Lord Raxdell and Mr MacDonald? — might say that there were business matters Josiah had wished her to communicate was she in Town —
She leaned back. How had it come about, that there was this ravishing creature that she yearned for, worried about —
Sure ’twas entire out of the common! O, mayhap, from things Clorinda had said, was known among some parts of Society, but ’twas not a thing one came across in their accustomed circles. Though she bethought her that was a thing would be kept extreme discreet, there would be — o, tales given out that would provide some explanation for the matter to the generality that would not take their minds to three people most amorous together in bed.
Though ’twas not only that, even though she found herself longing for her darling —
Had begun as curiosity, about this fine mistress Josiah had found at her own urging in London, because he did not wish to risk her life after Quintus’ birth had left her so poorly, and what he told Eliza of her was so very intriguing — had most greatly advanced their business interests by making introductions and taking him about in Society and giving him some understanding of Town ways of doing things. And then had suggested that ’twas foolish that he should be laying out upon lodgings when he might reside in her well-run household during his visits to Town, and this had led to the opening of a correspondence ’twixt the two women that had quite shortly run entirely beyond matters of practicality.
The kindness, the thoughtfulness — the advice to consult Mr Hacker about her own state of health that led to the recommendation of Harrogate, that did so well for her, brought her round to her old self. And more than that, after her hints that she began to miss the conjugal embraces they dared not risk, had provided Josiah with the most valuable intelligence about means of prevention.
They had both cried at the restoration of conjugal comfort. It was not quite the wildness of their younger days, it was shadowed by the necessity for care, but o, it was her lost delight restored. She no longer starved for want of loving touch.
However, Josiah still had to be much in London. She did not know what to say when he told her that, of course, he would be giving up Clorinda Cathcart, no longer be staying in that well-run household but putting up at the bachelor establishment of Mr Evenden, that she could not like. She did not entirely care for Mr Evenden, even if she knew no actual ill of him. There would be no more of those amusing letters about books and plays that also conveyed the explanation for the missing shirts &C.
Josiah might be more sensible and understanding than most men, but it would be extremely strange to say to him, do you really want to give up your mistress? But as time went by, she would catch him staring vaguely at nothing, and then shake himself and continue with whatever he was doing. He missed her. He thought about her. It in no way took away from his feelings for Eliza, she had no doubt at all about this.
His trunks on his return told a tale of an ill-managed slovenly household.
She made plausible arguments as to why she should come to Town with him. Indeed, there were various matters that made it entirely practical: but they were not the reason.
There was at last an afternoon at her own disposal during their sojourn. She took a hackney carriage and got it to drop her at the end of the street. She stood for a moment on the doorstep, feeling her heart hammer. She lifted the knocker. Oh, that would be Hector that opened the door, dark face bending a measuring gaze upon her, hearkening to her request to see Madame, and going to ascertain was she at home to callers.
She was shown in to an exquisite parlour. The most exquisite thing in it rose from her chair. Josiah had told her of Clorinda Cathcart’s well-run household, her kindness, her web of connexions, her fashionable dress; he had vaguely implied her satisfactoriness as a mistress. He never mentioned that she was quite astoundingly beautiful.
Madame Clorinda Cathcart?
Mrs Ferraby? (Oh, Eliza thought, she recognizes the accent.)
They stood in the middle of the parlour clasping hands and looking happily into one another’s face. But then Clorinda’s happy smile faded: But what do you here? Ladies of your station do not call upon women of mine, does anyone know that you are here? and Eliza saw a very faint tremble about the lovely mouth. She looked like an unhappy child that fears it has done wrong and expects punishment.
She explained how she came here and why they were in London and then Hector came with tea.
They made idle conversation until she could come to the reason for her visit, that had this exquisite poised creature quite sobbing in her arms and declaring her own attachment to Mr Ferraby.
She put herself to rights as a generous tea-tray came in, and they moved to matters of more general conversation. They laughed together. She had never had a woman friend like this before. Had managed to make several more visits under the excuse of having encountered an old school-friend.
Once they had returned to the north, she had exhorted Josiah to renew relations: sure she could not resent Clorinda, thought of her entirely as a friend — or — indeed, there were moments of puzzlement — the time when she wrote to Clorinda from Nitherholme: sure I have nigh fallen in love with Lady Jane, His Grace’s sister. And then looked at the words she had just penned. ’Twas a mere manner of speaking about a lady one found entire after one’s own heart with her fine herb-garden and well-equipped stillroom, her remarkable skill in dairy matters. Simply meant one was very prepossessed by her. And yet, when Lady Jane talked of the late Miss Billston, there seemed, Eliza found herself frowning as she wrote, she knew not what, but more than the affection due a cousin. But as she wrote to Clorinda, naturally she would recall those laughing blue eyes…
That time when they were together at Harrogate: one night when she sat up in bed, wakeful, though usually a sound sleeper, but tonight…. She hoped her restlessness did not disturb Clorinda, sweetly slumbering in the other bed. She looked over to the carefully braided golden curls on the pillow. Surely she should be tired, after that fine long walk with the Samuels? Perchance — perchance it was just that she missed Josiah, most especially now their conjugal pleasures were restored? Clorinda stirred, murmured something in her sleep, turned over, disarranging her bedclothes. Eliza jumped up to pull them over her again, and found her hand hovering, not quite touching a bare shoulder.
Indeed they had become quite the dearest of friends: o, she thought, ’twas quite ridiculous, but she almost felt a jealousy of her own dear husband that was able to go pass hours with the lovely Clorinda and mingle in masculine company with her, when he went to Town upon business and stayed in her pretty house. But still, there were letters exchanged —
Why, thought Eliza, had Clorinda been the sea-captain’s wife they had at first given out as her old school-friend, she might have gone even more distant, sailed with her husband to the ends of the earth —
Mayhap they might make a yearly pilgrimage to Harrogate? she had wondered.
These thoughts of how the two of them might contrive to meet as friends in spite of their very different stations had continued to teaze at Eliza for some little while: and then came the day of the letter.
Once she saw the words: Madame Clorinda finds herself with child by you — she had known she must go to her. Had she not seen in Harrogate how Clorinda could get into a fret and a fuss and quite lose that calm good sense she would have brought to the matter did it concern any but herself? And sure ’twas a time when she would need another woman about her, why, her dear Jos’ was quite the finest of men and had a better understanding than most of how ways went with womanhood, but even so, what a woman wanted and needed in such circumstance was one of her own sex that had been through that experience herself. How fortunate that Wakes Week was about to commence.
Sure Miss Netherne had not been in the household long, but one could see that Bess and Meg already took to her, that Quintus made her a favourite, that for all her youth she was a good sensible creature and they need have no great concern about leaving her there — and the rest of the household were all in the way of good practices, Eliza doubted that a se’ennight or so without her eye upon ’em would bring about chaos.
So off they set, very anxious and clasping one another’s hands in the carriage.
When they came to the street, Eliza said she would slip out and go around through the mews to the kitchen door, ’twould look somewhat particular did they both go to the front door. So she stepped out onto the cobblestones and went through the archway into the mews, and into the well-swept and exceeding tidy yard by the back door of Clorinda’s house, and peeped in, and there was Euphemia in the scullery, that gaped to see her, and cried out, and Seraphine, with Julius in her arms, and Phoebe came running out of the kitchen.
Oh, Mrs Ferraby, cried Seraphine, thank the heavens you are here! Madame is in such a taking, with pacing up and down, and a-wringing of hands, that we were in doubts what we should do or who we might send to.
Fie, said Phoebe, ’tis not so bad as that, I fancy that she comes round to thinking that ’twould be answerable to go reside in the good old General’s fine house in Surrey, that indeed is in entire good order, even if ’tis a countrified place. Brother Hector says she goes sit down examine her accounts and has give herself out not at home to any callers — but I am sure she does not mean you, Mrs Ferraby. Do you go upstairs, and Seraphine will be about bringing you some tea.
Eliza smiled. Mr Ferraby has already gone in at the front door, she said, so please to bring three cups —
And, said Seraphine, I daresay you will be staying to dine?
Eliza nodded. So be we are invited!
She ascended the stairs to the hall, where a somewhat dishevelled Hector attempted to bar her way into the parlour. She laughed and said, Yes, Hector, I know very well who is within, I assure you I do not have a pistol about me and do not intend some jealous scene.
She entered the parlour and saw the very pretty sight of her darling in Josiah’s arms as she rushed to embrace her herself. They both held her most exceeding tight, assuring her that they would of course wish to know this matter of the child, whosesoever it was, and would stand her friend in all circumstance.
Clorinda burst into tears, declaring that she was not so foolish a creature as they supposed. She had indeed made excellent plans, to go conceal herself at the General’s place in Surrey while giving it out she went to Carlsbad to rescue her dear friend Abby Gowing from some straits she had fallen into.
Josiah looked thoughtful and disclosed his suspicions that Miss Gowing had, in fact, married the Reverend Mr Thorne and departed with him for the antipodes. Clorinda conceded the matter. But all supposed that crack courtesan and noted gamester was staking her bracelet as had been her notorious practice in high-playing spaws on the continent, Carlsbad was quite entire a likely place for her to find herself —
Eliza’s reverie was broken in upon by a fretful little wail from Flora. She looked over at Minnie. Hah, she said, I fancy that is the cry that signifies her clout is wet, do you pass her to me so that I may see is’t the case.
Minnie obediently did so, and Eliza ascertained that her surmize was quite entire correct, and went about the matter of repairing the situation so that her precious darling was comfortable once more and her usual amiable self.
La, Mrs Ferraby, I should be about that, said Minnie, somewhat in arrears of the matter.
Fie, have done the like for her brothers and sisters, ’tis no new matter to me, is it, my baby dumpling? She nuzzled Flora. There’s my sweet girl, my sweet, sweet girl. There, she said, handing her back to Minnie, I fancy do you put her in her cradle she will go sleep very peaceful for a little while. And do you essay to sleep a little can you contrive to, you were up early and ’tis an exceeding long day.
Minnie indeed yawned, and said, if Mrs Ferraby did not mind.
Sure, thought Eliza, one gained a very adverse impression of the places Minnie had been in, chivvied and harried and underfed, poor child, a parish brat that was expected to be grateful that she even had a place and a roof over her head. But when one minded upon the parson of the parish there one was in no great surprize of how things were, not a fellow that set a good example. ’Twas no wonder so many went over to the Methodists. Nasty fellow that had plagued their darling Clorinda in her exile.
She closed her eyes and returned to her memories. Indeed one could quite see that Madame Clorinda was in an entirely satisfactory situation to make a retreat to her country house — how very fortunate that her tenants had so recently left! — would by no means be in straits — Eliza fancied that housekeeping would be a deal cheaper outside of Town —
When Josiah began to say somewhat about seeking lodgings at some inn, and Clorinda casting down her eyes and saying very humble that ’twould not be at all proper for ’em to stay under her roof — Eliza snorted. I am not leaving you alone to work yourself up into another state of the frets. Also there are womanly matters that we should discuss. I shall most certainly stay. Josiah looked at her and then at Clorinda, and said that indeed he did not like leaving her alone.
So that was decided, and he went to apologize to Hector for manhandling him in order to attain to Clorinda — very proper protective of his mistress — and to ask his advice upon jobbing a carriage to go visit the Surrey place.
Eliza put her arm about Clorinda, that rested her head upon her shoulder and gave a little sigh. Now, my dear Mrs Ferraby, I daresay we should discourse of womanly matters, but indeed I assure you I have been to Mrs Black and spoke of the matter —
I am pleased to hear you have had that much sense! But indeed, my dear Madame Clorinda, I have the usual womanly curiosity to know how matters go when a lady is in your condition, so I hope you will indulge me.
Why, ’tis ever pleasing to me to indulge your whims, so I will disclose how matters go with me —
So when Josiah returned, he smiled to see the sight of Madame Clorinda talking obstetric matters with Eliza. Hector, he said, had gone bespeak a carriage from Jupp at the mews livery stable for the morn, had a good opinion of ’em.
O, indeed, murmured Clorinda, ’tis an exceeding proper-run establishment, one can have no complaints at all of ’em.
It was entirely congenial to find themselves all three together in one place — not the slightest awkwardness that might have been anticipated — did she take the time to consider over it, ’twas very curious that ’twas so, but yet, seemed quite natural and as if a long-established habit.
Only became a little uneasy after the very fine dinner that Seraphine served to them, when they began to consider how they would dispose themselves upon going to bed.
La, said Clorinda, my bed is a fine large one, could readily accommodate three in entire comfort…
As they went upstairs Josiah asked Eliza, very quietly, was she sure about this? Clorinda seemed almost sleepwalking, a dazed expression on her lovely face. Eliza only knew that they were all three together in one place at last and she did not want them flying apart. And somehow, with a certain amount of awkwardness, there they were, all three of ’em, in Clorinda’s very large bed. Perhaps, she thought, as they began to settle themselves, they would just all sleep in a pile like kittens, and that would be comforting, but that was not quite what she wanted, that she hadn’t dared to dream of…
The wild girl, absent these many years while Eliza was been bearing and rearing children, running the household and taking care of the ironworks, that she thought perhaps would never return, after Quintus was born and she was so ill, lifted herself up onto one elbow and said, my dears, I have always wondered what it is that a crack courtesan does with a fellow, might you bring yourselves to demonstrate? (For this was something she had longed to find out.)
Clorinda sat up with a soft giggle and there was an endearing little dimple beside her mouth as she said, o, our dearest Mr Ferraby does not really require enormous exertion of my professional skills, I do not have to go about making immense efforts to arouse his interest —
Indeed, said Josiah, that first time ’twas quite the reverse problem. Sure I thought ’twould be all over before it began. They looked at one another and indeed, Eliza could observe that there was no need to arouse his interest.
Clorinda looked at her. Are you sure, my dearest? For I should not like you to be distressed at all.
She reached over and squeezed Clorinda’s hand. Sure she did not know what it was that she felt, but she loved them both so very much. My darling, I long to see.
It was really a very pretty thing to observe, in particular those final moments as Clorinda threw her lovely head back with gasping cries, then flopped down laughing onto the groaning Josiah.
She rolled off and into Eliza’s waiting arms. Eliza kissed her dear friend, the one who made her dear husband so very happy, who lit up her own life. And went on kissing, not knowing what was happening, or what to do, because she had never in her life felt anything like this and yet it felt as though it was why she had brought all this about.
My dearest darling, murmured Clorinda through kissing, there should be entirely no objection did you move your hand a little, did it please you to do so. And did you shift your leg, thus -
This was indeed a very fine suggestion that brought thoughts of her own towards other things, that had Clorinda making little squeeks. Looking up, she saw Josiah smiling at them.
The wild girl looked back at him. He must have thought she had gone forever, but now she had come back.
And then Eliza was entirely lost in what was happening.
Afterwards they all embraced together very warmly, kisses being placed wherever lips found a spot: travelers who had crossed into a new country but there together.
O, she had felt quite bubbling with happiness the next day, scarce able to keep from laughing when Mr MacDonald arrived and cast such a severe look at the three of ’em seated about the breakfast table, their feet underneath about nudging one another.
’Twas a pity it was a grey mizzling day, she dared say the gardens of Clorinda’s Surrey house would show exceptional in better weather, but o, what a fine place it was, she was quite entirely envious as soon as they went in at the front door. So light; such large airy rooms yet one might guess that they would not be in the least draughty come colder weather; so well-planned, so unlike their own house that rambled and had had parts thrown out here and there upon various occasions with no thought to the convenience of housekeeping. But this: it gladdened her heart to think that their beloved would be living in such a well-appointed place, all in quite the latest most modern style — sure the kitchen would delight Seraphine with that range! — and that thoughtful contrivance to bring food hot from the kitchen to the dining-room, instead of having to be conveyed up stairs and along corridors growing cold in the process.
Such a fine aspect to the gardens from the parlour windows.
Josiah said he would step out and see if he could find the gardener and sound out the matter of whether he was selling the produce of the place.
Eliza looked fondly at Clorinda, that had been quite rushing about in her eagerness to display the merits of the place, and put an arm about her, remarking, ’twould be entire beneficial to her to go sit down a little.
Clorinda smiled up at her, and said, she would be ruled, as she went to sit upon the sopha.
This sent a curious and delightful shiver through Eliza as Josiah stepped through the French windows into the garden. To cover the confusion she felt she began to hum and practise dancing-steps about the room.
My love, said Clorinda, with a tender look, I have never known you in such a wild and giddy mood. I had always thought you our sensible one, but really, you quite mind me of my dear Miss Gowing.
Eliza was like to feel a little jealousy of this old and dear friend of Clorinda’s, and to have a certain sense of relief that she was bound for the antipodes. But she was the one here, sitting on the sopha beside the lovely Clorinda, with that beautiful head resting on her shoulder, making, she confided from Josiah’s adoring smile as he came back from the garden, a most exceeding pretty picture.
Those had been a very fine few days when they had first begun upon sounding out this triangle: but sure she had fallen into quite a melancholy distress upon their return home, in the greatest fret about their darling and missing her so much.
However, there had been a deal to keep her busy and her mind occupied between the children and the household in general and the works and the various matters of improvements about the town, and Josiah’s notion that ’twould be entirely in order to go build a new house somewhat out of the smoke of the works, entirely in the convenient modern way of things —
And there had been letters, such warm loving letters, even did they fear that their darling was over-careful about concealing worries and frets. And some occasions when they had contrived to visit, and see that Clorinda was in health, no signs of anything that might give one to worry about how matters went.
O, she did not want to return in memory to those dreadful days when Clorinda had suffered so much in labour to bring forth their adorable Flora, and even Mrs Black had looked a little worried from time to time, and those following days when she had lain white and silent and barely rousing when they lifted her up so that she might sip beef tea or nourishing posset or some healing brew of herbs. Sure Eliza had found herself somewhat out of charity with Josiah! that could do naught but hover about looking hangdog and fretful.
But their beloved had come round, and had fallen quite entirely in love with her tiny infant daughter, but had nevertheless, their brave unselfish darling, quite begged Eliza to take her and bring her up as their own, in the bosom of a loving respectable family. One might see how much it pained her, but, indeed, how might she bring up a child in her way of life? London was so unhealthful for infants, would it be some matter of putting her out to nurse in some nearby country part? Sure it was better for Flora to have her father and a second mother and doating brothers and sisters.
Yet — when they were all together in Harrogate, afterwards, and almost completely happy, and had Flora with ’em, Eliza had sometimes caught that little wistful look upon Clorinda’s face when she gazed upon her daughter.
Eliza started. Fie, she had fallen into an entire slumber, and here they were, well into the streets of London, and nearly at Mulcaster House. ’Twas indeed late — night had fallen — Minnie was rubbing her eyes, and then turning to see how Flora did in her cradle.
As Mulcaster House, still displaying the funerary hatchment for the late Duchess, loomed before them, Eliza felt a little daunted. Yet, here she was upon an errand of mercy and the important thing was that poor infant.
Come, Minnie, she said, picking up Flora’s cradle herself, they know me here. (Sure she hoped that ’twould be one that recalled her minded the door.)
She rapped with the crape-bedecked knocker, and the door opened a crack. With almost a sigh of relief she observed that it was that sensible fellow Thomas.
How now, Thomas! cried Eliza, you will remember me, Mrs Ferraby. Her Ladyship wrote to me about a wet-nurse for His little Lordship, and so I came quite post-haste with our little Flora’s Minnie, until she can go about finding one here in Town.
Thomas, with the look of one that hears the cry of reprieve! said that he would send at once to Her Ladyship, do you go sit down, Mrs Ferraby, over there, and perchance you might find a little brandy reviving?
He went over to ring a bell and dispatched another footman.
Eliza allowed that she would find a very little brandy reviving, for had been a long journey, and did they have any stout about the place, ’twould be an excellent thing for Minnie.
Thomas nodded and departed to be about instructions in the matter.
As Eliza was sitting there, came down the stairs in a wrapper and cap, Lady Jane herself.
Mrs Ferraby! can this be so?
Eliza got to her feet and curtseyed, and gestured to Minnie to make her dip. Entirely so, Your Ladyship. ’Tis not a business in which one should hesitate, so I came straightway with Minnie, that has a deal of most excellent milk — you may see how our Flora thrives upon it — she waved towards the cradle — that I fancy will set up little Lord Sallington very proper until you may be about appointing his own wet-nurse.
Lady Jane raised her hands to her face. O, she said, it is above and beyond kindness. Thomas, she said, as he came with the tray, do you bring that up to the nursery where I take Mrs Ferraby and her nurse, and then go tell Burgess to come to me there so that I may send her about with my instructions.
Very good, Your Ladyship, said Thomas, as they proceeded up the elegant front stairway of Mulcaster House and up further stairs and along corridors to the nursery, where a maidservant was hanging over a crib. She looked up and gasped and bobbed and said, O — Your Ladyship! Indeed I have been trying to feed him —
Very good, Mary. But here comes Mrs Ferraby, that was such a friend of the late Duchess, brings her own wet-nurse until we may find one —
Eliza went over to the crib. Tears came to her eyes at the sight of the poor starveling little creature within. She picked him up. Such a light burden. Minnie, she said, do you take some of that good stout, and go sit you down in that chair there. Set Flora’s cradle down, I fancy she will sleep on.
She checked to see that the poor little lordship was dry and warm, and handed him to Minnie. O, she said, her voice catching, sure he minds me of my poor little scrap, give him here, the poor thing —
Let us not, said Eliza to Lady Jane, stand here spectating upon the matter —
Indeed not, said Lady Jane, let us go into the anteroom and I will be about sending Burgess to the kitchens to get them to prepare you and your nursemaid some supper, and to tell Mrs Maddox to prepare you a bedchamber, and I daresay one might put a truckle-bed in the nursery for Minnie?
Entirely answerable, said Eliza, our boxes are in the carriage could one bring ’em in. Would have sent word, but there was such urgency—
Lady Jane sighed. I fear you are entire right about that — becoming too weak even to wail. Indeed I was well-advized to write to you in the matter, should not have foolishly hesitated.
Once they were in the anteroom Eliza sat down in one of the comfortable chairs and sipped a little brandy, while Lady Jane went about instructing her personal maid Burgess in the various matters that she was to undertake.
But, said Lady Jane, once Burgess had gone about the business, there is a thing I should mention about how matters are at present at Mulcaster House —
Why, said Eliza, I entire apprehend that ’tis a household in mourning —
Lady Jane let out a deep sigh and said, You will doubtless apprehend that His Grace my brother felt the loss very much indeed —
’Tis only to be expected, the exceeding great fondness they had for one another.
— such that there were fears that he would follow her to the grave.
Eliza sighed and tutted.
But in her letters that she had left in the case that she did not survive the birth of the child, she had left a most curious instruction that I should find some means to bring m’brother’s former mistress to him, as she would know how to bring him consolation in his loss.
Eliza kept her face straight with an effort. But, indeed, she could quite imagine that their best darling might do that for a young widower with whom, she fancied, she had antient ties of affection.
And perchance ’tis entirely fanciful of me but ’twas like unto some tale in the classics of a descent into Hades and she indeed brought him back to life and he goes mind upon his responsibilities and takes up his duties, although will still tire very easily. She still comes call upon him, has a very sanitive effect upon his exceeding low spirits, but I assure you, my dear Mrs Ferraby, I will so contrive that there need be no encounter between the two of you.
Eliza sputtered somewhat trying not to laugh — the brandy was going a little to her head — and said, Fie, went down the wrong way. O, were they not both of ’em about errands of mercy in their own spheres here at Mulcaster House?
But indeed, said Lady Jane thoughtfully, one may see that just because a woman conducts her life outside the conventional strictures of morality, does not in the least import that she may not be a woman of very excellent qualities in her way: has, I apprehend, not fallen as I had supposed from some respectable station but quite risen from exceeding lowly origins that one would not at all guess at, nothing in the least vulgar in her manner and conduct.
So ’tis given out, murmured Eliza, that heartily wished she might have observed this conjunction of her dear love and Lady Jane.
And if men have weaknesses — Eliza saw Lady Jane mind that one of those men was Eliza’s own husband, and she fell silent.
I am pleased, she went on after a little pause, to see you so much in health.
O, said Eliza, I was in very good hands — and then afterwards went to Harrogate to recruit, I find Harrogate exceeding beneficial to my constitution.
And how, asked Lady Jane, finally mindful of les convenances, does Mr Ferraby? and your other children?
So Eliza was able to expatiate somewhat about how well the works did, and the very excellent school that the boys were at, and how very prepossessed they were with Miss Netherne as a governess for the girls, and would also be teaching little Quintus his letters and numbers — and found herself yawning.
Lady Jane frowned and said, she had hoped that the kitchen would be expeditious about supper — at which precise moment came a footman with a tray, followed by Burgess with intelligence of the sleeping arrangements. Eliza said she would just go apprize Minnie of these, and take her some supper.
Minnie looked up from the infant at her breast. He comes about to suck, she said, but ’tis exceeding feeble, not like Miss Flora.
Why, he is very weak still, once he gets some of your good milk inside him he will come round. But do you come have a little supper to keep your own strength up, and they will bring in a truckle bed so that you may sleep in here beside him and have Flora with you as well.
She looked down at little Lord Sallington, that seemed a little rosier in colour.
She yawned again. Sure it had been a long day.
Burgess came to help her to bed, ’twas very civil in her, and the bed was well-aired and exceeding comfortable. There were matters she should attend to, but they could await the morning —