Old Enemies, New Problems
The Comfortable Courtesan
Volume 4

Old Enemies, New Problems Cover

Following her very brief marriage to Lord R-‘s friend the Marquess of B-, Clorinda is now the Dowager Marchioness of B-. While constrained by the formalities of mourning, she is becoming accepted in Society through her own ventures into philanthropy and the patronage of Lady J-. She remains the beloved third of Mr and Mrs F-. She takes up her pen again during a trip to her late husband’s villa near Naples in company with Lord R- and Mr MacD‑.

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Read Chapter 1 ...

I have cast off my weeds and gone a-travelling

Did I but have the pen of Mrs Radcliffe, sure I could go paint an exquisite picture of the setting within which I at present find myself, but alas, my talents lye not in that direction. So indeed all I can say is that the Bay of Naples is a fine prospect, does one turn a little one may behold the smoking mount of Vesuvius, that there are most immense picturesque olive groves, &C.

I sit upon the terrace of my late husband’s fine villa, and find that I have come to the conclusion of my novel The Antiquarian’s Daughter, that must now be fair-copy’d for the printer, and feel myself mind’d to continue the account of my life that I have been inditing for so long. I suppos’d that with certain dramas conclud’d: dear Biffle engag’d to Viola K‑, a young woman that has quite immeasurable improv’d since her first season, the horrid new Marquess of B- that was the Reverend Mr G- remov’d to the madhouse for the quality that is in Sussex — that life would somehow become uneventfull and leave nothing upon my hands.

Indeed I was somewhat premature in this supposition, for I almost immediate discover’d that Mr de C- has a very great notion towards marrying Phoebe, ’twould greatly affect my household; also that Miss M- continues a wick’d troublemaking minx.

Mr de C- goes about to court Phoebe, but does he do this under Hector’s watchfull eye, I confide that he will be like Jacob in the Bible and serve seven years for his bride.

I have warn’d Miss A- and Mr J- that Miss M- is at her old tricks; I also suggest’d to Biffle that he should have some manly communication with his future brother-in-law about women, and go convey warnings.

I then betook myself on a visit to my dearest darling F-s, ’twas most extreme pleasant. My adorable Flora walks and speaks and is as ever the most delightfull of infants.

But altho’ we should all three greatly desire it, I cannot live there, for the sake of their reputations. The world that will wink at a gentleman keeping a mistress quite set apart from his wife, I confide would be less agreeable to our loving triangle, altho’ I doubt any would imagine the full inwardness of things.

Having cast off my widow’s weeds with the final expiration of the full year of mourning, I depart’d for my late husband’s villa, in the company of Lord R- and Sandy, Marcello (that purports to be a hir’d cicerone, in which character he wears spectacles of green glass and a very unbecoming hat), and several members of their household. Also Hector was entire determin’d that I should not depart the shores of England without he came with me, Docket similarly insist’d upon coming (for Tibby is now with the new Duchess of M-) in spite of my concerns for her health, and Euphemia begg’d to come too, to expand her knowledge of cooking in the Italianate style, for she had lately discover’d, I surmize from Marcello, that there is far more to the matter than Signor V‑’s maestro della cucina communicat’d to Seraphine. So we are a large party.

I had suppos’d that this would be somewhat of a quiet retreat with, did we succeed in contriving was he to be in the vicinity, some pleasing romps with dear Admiral K‑. Instead, not only is there a deal of Naval society, for the dear Admiral I think desires go show me off whenever possible, but I entire fail’d to apprehend how much Society there is among those members of our nation that reside in these parts, not merely those in the Diplomatick, and indeed many of the local quality are exceeding welcoming.

Fortunately I left the packing of my trunks to Docket, and thus am provid’d with dress for almost any occasion. However, Docket did not foresee the need that arises for wide-brimm’d hats to protect the complexion from the sunlight: but nonetheless has contriv’d. Also she wonders whether there are possibilities in the picturesque garb of the local peasantry.

I go about in company a good deal with Milord, that confides that he is entire useless at the business of preparing my late spouse’s collection of antiquities for conveyance to the British Museum, and does he endeavour to assist, gets hisst at or scold’d by Marcello and Sandy.

(Sure the late Marquess acquir’d many objects that I am given to understand illustrate the worship of the generative principle, not a few of which could be taken for contents of the chest in which Mrs O’C- keeps her implements of special pleasures. Also several depictions of pretty fellows enjoying one another’s charms.)

Milord and I therefore are a good deal in local society: balls, routs, card-parties, the opera, the theatre, drives to sights of interest, &C&C, ’tis indeed quite the whirl. I cannot but be gratify’d at the attention I receive, for altho’ ’tis entirely agreeable company at the villa, ’tis most pleasing indeed to see that I can still arouse appreciation in gentlemen. Attentions might be yet more pressing was there not a certain caution over Milord’s reputation with the sword.

I find an admirer rather closer to home, for we have much to do with Signor C‑, the notaio that has been dealing with business matters over the late Marquess’s bequests, both open and secret, here. I had suppos’d that he would be a Neapolitan Mr Q‑, but he turns out a fellow of not yet thirty and in the local style of fine looks. ’Tis really not long before our convoking about matters of the estate results in mutually agreeable tumbles.

I also find that I may be of great assistance in his more secret work, for none supposes that any little notes passing to and from a lady of quality could be anything but billets-doux or concern assignations. Thus I can go about society and convey messages, either thro’ understood secret meanings of such words as beneath the balcony at midnight or writ in invisible ink. There is also a language of flowers in the bouquets.

I am quite surpriz’d at some of those that are thus reveal’d to be plotting revolution.

The villa is provid’d with a fine cook that is known as Nonna Guiseppina, to whom Euphemia immediately goes apprentice herself. Altho’ they have no language in common, they appear to understand one another well enough. I think that Guiseppina was a little took aback by the darkness of Euphemia’s complexion, and indeed initially sought to find out whether the colour would come off, but now seems to accept her in the freemasonry of the kitchen.

I am in a little concern about Hector, for as ever he is found most exceeding fascinating by the young women of the locality, and the young fellows hereabouts are fam’d for their jealousy and their readyness with knives. There are also those that manifest a superstitious shrinking from him.

Marcello informs me (he is quite entirely reconcil’d with Hector now he has learnt somewhat of the pugilistick art of him) that they are low ignorant peasants and doubtless suppose Hector is one that can cast the evil eye. Mayhap, he says, ’twill keep away those fellows that come to hang around in the hopes of finding favour with the English Milords.

(Sure Marcello grows very haughty in his opinions of his fellow-countrymen.)

O, says I, was that why you were swearing at ’em t’other day? (For I may not know the language very well, but I can tell when there is swearing going on.)

Marcello replies that they need to be lesson’d concerning respect to the household. He adds, also I have the suspicion that there may be spies and informers amongst ’em.

Sure there is some sense in shooing ’em hence, then, for from time to time there are fellows of the revolutionary party conceal’d in the cellar until their carriage to some safer place can be manag’d.

Milord and I are bidden to a ridotto. I look at my mask and remark that altho’ I know ’tis a common device in plays and operas, I cannot quite imagine how putting on a mere domino most immediate disguises a person even from those that know ’em most closely.

’Tis indeed foolishness, he agrees. But perchance at these affairs it gives those who don ’em a chance to pretend they are incognito.

Those, I daresay, that have never had to masquerade in earnest, I say, squeezing his hand.

We enter the palazzo. I feel my blood run cold and I grip Milord’s hand exceeding hard.

Sure ’tis that just the sight of one that is of that height and with that colour hair, that stands thus, can still shake me. I have prov’d that before.