Pretty Ring Time
Clorinda Cathcart's Circle
Volume 19: Matches Making

Pretty Ring Time Cover

Matters are gradually coming back into more regular ways. Although it is an unseasonable spring and early summer, fancies, not of young men only, turn to thoughts of love, and various projects of courtship and marriage are upon hand. These are not all pleasing to everyone concerned. There are also curious mysteries to do with Lord Saythingport’s affairs that may affect more than the Marquess himself. Clorinda discovers that she cannot entirely eschew the habit of contriving.

You might like to read the Chronology & Reading Order for these books & also the notes for this book: Pretty Ring Time: Allusions and References. Or view all books in the Clorinda Cathcart's Circle series.

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Read Chapter 1 ...

Conjugal affairs

Beaufoyle Beaufoyle, Earl of Sallington, heir to the Duke of Mulcaster, was entirely dumbstruck. He hoped this appeared to be giving the kind of consideration to this extraordinary proposition that he would have given to a painting being shown to him — that well-known connoisseur — by a reputable dealer.

But really. The last thing he would have anticipated being presented to him within the walls of this very discreet club for fellows of a certain disposition was the advancement of a dynastic union. Surely — at the very least — it was a refuge from the Marriage Market being conducted by Society during the Season? Certain members that were fathers of daughters might come in and groan about having to do their duties about escorting ’em &C — but —

And Saythingport. The kind of High Tory that looked somewhat askance at Peel. Quite the antithesis to His Grace of Mulcaster.

Beauf realized that he was gazing quite unseeing at a Basil Linsleigh of the abduction of Ganymede — when had that been brought down from the attic to which it had been consigned at the time Linsleigh had found it prudent to leave the country? He blinked.

M’daughters, Saythingport had said, have been brought up to understand the meaning of marriage — what their duties are and that they have no business interfering in their husbands’ pursuits —

Well, it was entire notorious that Lady Saythingport remained mewed up at Roughton Arching while her husband publicly disported with the fiery opera-dancer Carlotta Delgado, and more privately with the handsome young men provided at the club, generously paid for their discretion. But Beauf had read his father’s private memoir of his tragically short marriage to his own mother, seen the happy companionship of his second marriage — seen the other unions in their circle in which there was love and mutual respect — had a very different notion of what marriage should be, even in their station.

And as far as duty went in conjugal affairs, Saythingport was not aware that besides Beauf’s attachment to the handsome dusky botanist and horticulturalist Julius Roberts, there was a longstanding — he was not sure what one might call it! — with that fiery speaker and writer of radical opinions, Flora Ferraby. They might have as careless very young lovers begotten their adored daughter Kate, but they now, with more prudence — among her other shocking subjects, Flora preached on Malthusian matters — still enjoyed mutual embraces when occasion presented itself. Did not think that he would happily resign himself to conjugal duty having known what an enthusiastic partner in pleasures could be.

You are speaking, he said at length, of Lady Lucretia? A young woman that had been quite persecuting him with a pretended — he was fairly sure it was pretended — interest in art.

You cannot imagine I meant Hermione!

Beauf did not see that this was entirely out of the question — Lady Hermione Shallock had lately come to Town with her mother and was staying with the Undersedges at Trembourne House. While it was true she was a cripple, she was rather better-looking than her younger sister, and one had the impression that in her seclusion at Roughton Arching had improved her mind with a deal of miscellaneous reading. But here was Lady Lucretia, nearly at the end of her second Season, and, one must presume from this approach, no offers, or none of any eligibility.

Beauf raised his eyebrows and smiled slightly and said, he had not had any particular thoughts of marrying — it was not as though there was any urgency to the matter — here was his brother Rollo went be fruitful and multiply most exemplary —

Two bouncing infant sons as well as a daughter, it was a great weight off his shoulders.

— not to mention that his father was yet in the prime of life. This was perhaps a low blow — Saythingport’s elder daughter Lady Marina having been married to the Duke of Werrell’s heir Lord Iffling. His Grace, however, though completely lunatic for many years, was in very robust bodily health and his son unlikely to succeed at all expeditious.

Saythingport, that normally had exceedingly polished manners, looked somewhat grumpy. Indeed, he had been observed somewhat out of humour these some several months. One understood that he was still about the business of finding a successor to the Delgado, that had suited him very well, being as wishful as he was to have the appearance of a tempestuous liaison rather than the reality: this was perhaps a more difficult task than he had expected.

But his fastidious taste reportedly found her growing a little stale — showing signs of age — while one heard of instances when a man’s mistress was more of an ancillary wife and were her endearing young charms faded and ruined by age or infirmity affection still remained, was it so that the lady was for show rather than use, one must suppose that some fresher item was required.

But, Beauf said, perchance he should consider over the matter — there might be some prudence in it —

For were not several members of the club married? It was a done thing.

It was not, however, a thing that Beauf had any intention of doing!

Saythingport nodded, his expression clearing. You are still young, he remarked — do not wish to be hindered from dashing to the Continent about some painting or statue —

Beauf conceded that that was so, though surely Saythingport’s vision of matrimony would hardly hinder that?

Saythingport cleared his throat and said, there was another matter —

Some new recruit for club membership perchance that he wished to sound out opinion concerning afore proposing in all formality?

— has His Grace your father had any offers for Lady Isabella yet?

Beauf had not anticipated that! He shook his head. If he has, he said, they were so ineligible as not to be worthy of discussion.

It is widely remarked how very admirable your other sister shows as Marchioness of Bexbury.

Beauf was stunned into incoherence. True, Bella had — so far — not created any scandal or disported herself in a manner unbefitting a young lady making her debut: they must, he fancied, be glad of the influence of her sensible friend Chloe Ollifaunt, that would, one had confidence, be able to keep a hand on Bella’s freaks. But Cathy was no pattern for her younger sister. While one must be startled that Saythingport’s whole duty for bringing up daughters was dutiful meek uninterfering wives, yet he was prepossessed by Cathy.

Cathy might not be headstrong like Bella, but she was far from meek — somewhat of a blue-stocking like her mother — a highly competent estate manager, that her husband, the lost heir that had not been bred up to the duties of a Marquess found very much needed —

Or did he merely mean that Cathy had already presented Phil with two healthy sons and a daughter? sound breeding stock.

Here is Talshaw, at present undertakes the Grand Tour —

Beauf knew perhaps more of young Lord Talshaw’s exploits than the generality, since His young Lordship was at present in Vienna, where Beauf’s brother Gillie — Lord Gilbert Beaufoyle — was being polished up in the Diplomatic. The duties of his position, one deduced, included retrieving young men of rank from embarrassing situations they had got themselves into, Talshaw’s bear-leader being singularly inept at keeping him out of them. Talshaw, one fancied, was not over-burdened with native wit in the first place.

He could not envisage what kind of a man would make a fit husband for Bella, if anyone might — Lord, mayhap Josh Ferraby, that had a prime hand at taming savage beasts! — but certainly not Talshaw.

Beauf murmured that he dared say Lord Talshaw would be about that for some time yet? Saythingport gave a snort that perchance imputed that he had heard of his son’s exploits and had rather have him under his own eye.

— and Bella was still very young —

Was not her mother barely out of the schoolroom when His Grace your father wed her? It was a little talked upon.

Well, one would not drag up the romantic old family tale that, still in mourning for Beauf’s mother, the Duke had been moved to offer for Viola Knowles to save her from the proposal of the — subsequently discovered not only lunatic and bigamous, but spurious — Marquess of Bexbury, a match being urged by her ambitious parents.

Beauf smiled vaguely and murmured somewhat about different times. But indeed, was there any family convocation over suitors for his sister, would mention Lord Saythingport’s interest (for he was not at all persuaded that it was a case of Lord Talshaw saw her a-riding in the Park and was so smitten that he cannot forget her. Doubted he could distinguish her from amongst the other debutantes of the Season).

At last Saythingport rose and remarked that had other business, hoped Lord Sallington would consider over his proposals.

After he had left Beauf reached for the brandy decanter and poured himself a hearty glassful, that he drank down before leaving the private room.He found Julius in the common parlour in conversation with Tom Tressillian, that did not in the least look to be wearing the willow over Captain Gold’s sailing away on Hydrographic Survey business. Well, he might make eyes at Julius but Beauf doubted that that meant very much or had any particular intention, it was the handsome actor’s way. He caught Julius’ eye and silently conveyed that he would very much like to be in private.

As if idly, he went upstairs — somebody had been bringing back Linsleigh’s awful daubs, several lined the staircase — and into one of the rooms that were such a boon to two young men that, whilst in Town, were obliged to live with their families.

One dared say that Julius might, having been left a substantial independence by the father whose existence he had not even suspected, go take up bachelor quarters somewhere. Julius had, however, decided that this would so distress his mother Seraphine, that had kept that secret and let it be supposed that her husband Elisha Roberts was his father until Evenden’s bequest had revealed all, that he would dutifully stay at the gardener’s cottage at Raxdell House with his family when in Town.

Julius came into the room and grinned at Beauf. Lord, what did Saythingport want? You were closeted with him a deal of a time.

Beauf groaned.