Rescue Operations
Clorinda Cathcart's Circle
Volume 16: Changes of Life

Rescue Operations Cover

A little time has passed. The epidemic cholera has begun to recede. There is a return of stability in England and on the Continent. Not all the marriages that were recently made are entirely happy. Josh Ferraby has returned from Madras and turns his attention to the wildlife of his native land. A provincial lady comes to Town.

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Read Chapter 1 ...

Not quite such a sad provincial

It was not, thought Polly Fendersham, lifting her gaze from the book in her hands, that she found herself quite unable to concentrate on, that she had never been to Town. She was not quite such a sad provincial as that! Even before that really rather too brief visit to see Bobbie and Scilla wed with all due formality of the Church of England prayerbook at St George’s Hanover Square, nearly two years since, there had been those jaunts there — and how tedious and uncomfortable the journey had been, before the advent of the railways! — while her late husband was still alive.

She suppressed a sigh. Very dull and frustrating they had been for a young wife that had a desire for entertainments and occupations that did not appeal to her elderly husband. O, there had been visits to the theatre, but the late Lord Fendersham was for a jig, or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps. Did not like her to go about without him, unless it might be for the most harmless of formal calls on the womenfolk of the members of his set. One should not complain, had one married an elderly widower with children nigh upon one’s own years, in order to save one’s own mother from a penurious widowhood. But o, one did repine a little at times!

But now — dear Scilla, her step-granddaughter, had been begging her for some time to come make a good long visit and she could no longer find reasonable excuses not to. Was no longer took up with organizing relief efforts — though they had been better-prepared than most for the cholera, thanks to Lord Sallington’s forethoughtfulness, and less badly-affected than many areas — and could do with a change. Indeed, longed to look upon Scilla’s infant son Mark. And surely, a lady of her years, there could be entirely no objection to her going about and visiting the sights of Town on her own, she could make her own entertainment, had no doubt that the young Wallaces would have a deal of social engagements &C occupying ’em.

Had been presented with a number of cards by Lord Sallington that he confided would obtain her entrance into certain galleries and exhibitions and artists’ studios. So very kind. Were there not a deal of lectures &C — doubtless there would be information in the papers.

Dared say they would give a dinner-party or two — mayhap take her to the theatre — would not neglect her —

She looked across the compartment to where Julius Roberts, that had kindly offered to accompany her, since he was going to Town about some botanical meeting, was sitting next to a rampart of specimen cases that he had hesitated to entrust to the guard’s van.

Julius — is it not so that the public may visit Kew Gardens?

Julius looked up from the scientific journal he was perusing. Indeed so! — why do we not make an excursion there? The new Palm House is a most exceeding fine sight I hear. Also, my brother Joe is now a member of the Society of Apothecaries and I daresay can gain us the entrée to their garden in Chelsea, ’tis antient and very fine.

Would not wish to be a trouble —

Not in the least, I fancy Joe would be delighted to show it off. There are also the Horticultural Society gardens at Chiswick. He glanced out of the window. Why, I fancy we are almost at our destination — I am sure the Wallaces will have come meet you, I will go see about our luggage once we come in —

Oh, she felt entirely the country mouse as she stepped onto the platform — such a hustle and bustle and press of people, steam and smoke and soot —

But here, quite pushing through the crowd, dearest Scilla in what one must suppose was a very fashionable hat, followed by her husband. Scilla embraced Polly very heartily and said, hoped had not been a very tiresome journey? Would be dining quietly as family the e’en and dared say Polly-Granny would wish an early night.

While Bobbie Wallace enquired as to whether he needed to be toward about her luggage, just as came Julius with porters conveying her trunks and his. The two men slapped one another on the back and exchanged boisterous manly greetings. Julius assured Bobbie that he was expected at the Raxdell House gardener’s cottage by his mother and father — would be in Town some while, they must certainly foregather to exchange news.

Polly was exceeding glad of their shepherding through the crowds and into their carriage. What considerable poise Scilla showed! How well-dressed! Not in the least of a fluster! O, indeed she showed a deal of Town-polish!

How very fine a mansion the Wallaces lived in! one quite saw that was no matter of being crammed in with Sir Barton and Lady Wallace — very spacious. Extremely well-appointed — made her consider that Fendersham Hall grew somewhat shabby —

Now, said Scilla, conveying Polly upstairs, there are a deal of notes and invitations for you — Polly made a strangled gasp — but those may well wait until tomorrow for you to address, and I fancy you will have a few days to find your feet before making a debut in Society. Sukey purposes a tea-party on Friday, to introduce you about the ladies of our set —

This is your room — excellent, I see Channock is already about your unpacking — do you take off your coat and hat, and let us just go take a peep at little Mark —

Channock was at once about assisting Polly out of her things, and added that she would be a-ringing for hot water.

The nursery is along here, said Scilla, taking Polly’s hand. We have the most excellent nurserymaid, Tansy — trained under Betty Higgins in the Mulcaster nursery, there can be no higher recommendation —

A rather plain young women with ginger hair and freckles but admirably clean and neat in her person, was watching over the infant kicking and gurgling on the floor and essaying to roll over. Stood up to make a bob as they entered. Scilla immediately knelt down and picked up the babe to kiss him, then stood to show him off to Polly.

A fine healthy child, even did he resemble a little her husband his late great-grandfather. She took him, feeling a little tearful — had never had the chance to do the like with Tina’s three children, that flourished in Nova Scotia. But Tina was well-married, sounded entirely happy apart from some little servant troubles, her husband Mr Gartslade being in the shipping business they were able to take various jaunts along the seaboard, the society in Halifax sounded entirely eligible.

Was the way of the world, as it was with Christie, even further away in Peru.

Such a darling, she said. Scilla smiled down at the baby and said, indeed so, took him back, kissed him, and restored him to Tansy. But you will wish to restore yourself after the journey —

That will come grateful, Polly agreed, though added that ’twas a deal easier than in former days. Sure one had seen a deal of changes!

She felt a good deal refreshed for a chance to wash, then have Channock come and brush out her hair and put it up again, and dress her to dine with the family. While she still felt a little daunted, this chance to gather her forces greatly improved her spirits.

Nonetheless, it was somewhat disconcerting to enter the drawing-room and to discover that family comprized not merely — as she had anticipated — Sir Barton and Lady Wallace as well as Bobbie and Scilla, but their younger son Barty, very much the young man about Town with what she supposed must be the most fashionable style in whiskers, and Dr and Mrs Ferraby. Polly apprehended that Scilla had found a very great friend and mentor in the ways of Town in her sister-in-law Sukey Ferraby, but —

But sure, nothing could have been more amiable than her reception! Sir Barton greeted her in the heartiest fashion, saying it was about time they had the opportunity to offer her hospitality, a sentiment in which his wife entirely joined. For a lady that was given out a tremendous blue-stocking, Susannah Wallace was always enviably well-turned out, Polly thought with an inward sigh. And how charming were the Ferrabys — but she should have expected that, had she not the very happiest memories of Dr Ferraby’s parents during that dreadful visit to Nitherholme as a young bride in the early stages of increase?

Dr Ferraby remarked that he apprehended that Lady Fendersham’s own father had been a medical man? — that led to agreeable reminiscence as they moved into the dining-room, and she found herself seated between Sir Barton and Dr Ferraby, and sure, ’twas all much less formal and frightening than she had imagined.

When the ladies withdrew to Lady Wallace’s sitting-room to enjoy ratafia and macaroons, Scilla said, ’twas a tiresome thing, but had a fitting at Mamzelle Bridgette the next day, would be obliged to leave Polly solitary —

Fie, said Sukey, for by now all were on friendly terms, why do you not take her with you?

Polly had oft wished to see what a fine fashionable modiste’s establishment was like, so readily fell in with this plan, assured that it was entirely the thing for ladies to take some friend or relative or other companion — one may sit and look at fashion plates &C, while they are having pins stuck in ’em and being draped.

So that was an entirely agreeable plan, and she went to bed with assurances that no-one would expect her to be responding to their notes yet, or going about leaving cards, and she might take matters very easy for the next few days.

It was an entire pleasure to wake up very leisurely, and not to have to rise in order to be present at family prayers to set a good example, but instead to have tea brought to her bedside, and to have the attentions of Massey, that was being brought on as a lady’s maid under the eye of Lady Wallace’s Bellamy, when dressing for the day.

Then to go into the dining room and greet Scilla — that said that the gentlemen of the family were about business already, as was Mama-in-Law, goes read the newspapers very attentive — though, she added, I fancy Barty is not up yet! — and to be asked whether there was aught not already upon the table or the sideboard that she might care for?

Sure there was such a spread she was hard put to make a choice!

As well as very good coffee — she had wished she might have persuaded the kitchens at Fendersham Hall to go lesson themselves in that art at Nitherholme or with gloomy Mrs Dunstall at Julius’ cottage, but ’twould not do, she feared.

Scilla smiled at her across the table and said, was an entire delight to have her dearest Polly-Granny come to stay — oh, Mama and Papa-in-Law were entire charming, and Sukey was quite her dearest friend after darling Rachel and Artie, and Bobbie was the best of husbands, but she did miss Polly-Granny considerable. ’Twas all a quite immense change — oh, no matter of people in Society going be proud and haughty to a provincial miss or such, but ’tis very different from our local society!

Polly knew something of moving into different society — though this looked a deal more congenial than the county set she herself had married into. She looked fondly at Scilla; so very dear to her even were they no actual relation. Had felt that Scilla’s mother, her stepson’s wife, had made some endeavour to keep the child away from her father-in-law’s young second wife. Had not said anything, but Polly had sensed unspoken thoughts upon the kind of young woman of no particular rank or wealth that had married the elderly Baron Fendersham of Fendersham Hall. One might also have noted that his daughter-in-law did not at all approve of him either, with his manners and habits that had been formed in an earlier day.

But indeed, one could not go around saying, would have wed Bluebeard to save my mother from penury — for dearest Father had been more concerned with attending upon the sick than making sure they paid their bills with due promptitude, and they had been left somewhat in straits. And her husband, though by no means the most delicate or sensitive of men, had been, within his lights, kind. Given to over-indulgence in his cups, and also to making jealous grumblings did other fellows show her what he considered encroaching attentions, but had been generous with pin-money, sending gifts of estate produce to Mama, and never objecting did Polly invite her to visit.

It was only when Andrew’s wife had died in childbed of a stillborn infant that Polly had come about to make any particular acquaintance with Scilla. Had been playing the piano in her little parlour, and going out, found young Scilla sitting on the floor outside. Scrambling up, she ducked her head and confessed that she had been listening to the music —

So Polly had invited her in, and rung to have chocolate brought, and played a little more, while considering that Scilla must be a little desolate in this household of men — her brother already gone back to school. She was a little — no, not exactly desolate herself, but one must feel it, a daughter gone across the sea, well-married, certainly, but so distant! Christie gone to cram the various matters he would require to know in the Consular Service.

They had become, one might only say, confederates in that rather austere household — for her husband was become invalid and largely confined to bed, and the rule of matters passed to his son with his Evangelical leanings.

She smiled at Scilla and said, that was most gratifying to hear, for she could see how very amiable the Wallaces were, and had met some of the Ferraby connexion and they were entirely charming, were they not?

Scilla expatiated a little more about the circles she now moved in, and then, at the musical chiming of the clock on the mantelshelf, cried, la, they must be about their business!

Polly discovered the exterior of Mamzelle Bridgette’s establishment a deal plainer than she had anticipated, but then took the thought that a really crack Mayfair modiste, that was doubtless turning away many ladies hopeful of being dressed there, had no need to flaunt. Inside was appointed in very good taste — and all exceeding neat and tidy.

A small, rather dark, but exquisitely pretty young woman — quite entirely what Solomon must have meant by black but comely! — was a-waiting for them. Made a very polished curtsey. Polly, said Scilla, this is that artist of fashion Miss Thomasina Jupp — this is my grandmother, Dowager Baroness Fendersham, might she wait for me while I am fitted?

Of course! said Miss Jupp. I will have tea brought up. There are magazines and fashion plates — do you make yourself comfortable, Your Ladyship. How prettily she spoke, Polly thought.  

She had settled into one of the surprisingly comfortable chairs, and picked up one of the magazines, when a door opened to admit —

A very well-looking small man of years she could not quite determine, a few shades lighter than Miss Jupp, dressed with discreet elegance, and — how could there be some look of familiarity? — bearing a tray with tea-things.

Lady Fendersham, he said, your servant. Maurice Allard, part proprietor of Mamzelle Bridgette. He put the tea-tray down. I was delighted to hear that Mrs Wallace had brought you — we had a friend in common —

Polly raised her eyebrows.

Mr Saxham Loppingham?

Loppie? She blinked, and then remembered, visiting dear Loppie at the cottage one time when he was bedridden following a severe asthmatic attack, and glimpsing on the low table at his bedside a small painting of a very lovely, and entirely naked, young man, that Loppie had hastened to put by in his lap-desk.

O, indeed! cried Polly, he was quite my dearest friend.

And your company made his exile bearable, said Mr Allard. At first he was not at sure that it was worth extending his life in the fine healthy airs at the cost of perishing of entire ennui —

Polly laughed, remembering Loppie expatiating on his horror at first going about in their local society — fell-running! hound-trails! wrestling! fox-hunting! La, I am Ovid among the Goths!

— but was quite immense charmed to find one whose appreciation and understanding of music extended beyond either bawdy drinking songs or Evangelical hymns, had a subscription to the circulating library —

That had been one indulgence her pin-money had gone to!

— and felt much as he did about the local society.

Indeed, they had gone be scathing and sarcastic ’twixt the two of ’em, had relieved her spirits considerable.

While I missed his company, would not have wished to see him pass another winter in Town. Every quack he consulted told him the same: the smoke and the miasmas were killing him.

Indeed, his attacks were severe enough, one may imagine how the London fogs would have exacerbated ’em — my father, she added, was a doctor.

I was glad that he did not become a sad recluse with naught but his collections to keep him company. So very remote — a shocking difficult journey before the railways came and I apprehend little room for guests —

Polly looked at Mr Allard and tried to imagine him in that northern setting. He would have been even more exotique a creature than Loppie.

Of course I would not have ventured myself — would no doubt have created scandal — a dusky dressmaker —

Ah. One saw that.

But, Your Ladyship, what I would come at — more tea? — is that I apprehend from Mrs Wallace that you make a visit of some while to her and will be going about in Society — Polly nodded — and, he cast down his eyes — such eyelashes! A cause for envy! — it would give me pleasure to provide you with a gown or so, for your kindness to Loppie.

Oh! Polly felt herself blushing and raised her hands to her face. Oh, it was by no means — it was a mutuality of friendship, the kindness went both ways, you must not suppose I went be a charitable Lady Bountiful to the invalid at our gates.

Entirely so — for providing him with pleasure in his exile. Well?

She clasped her hands in her lap, looked down at them and then up again. Swallowed and said, ’tis a very kind offer, but I have some qualms over being mutton dressed as lamb.

By no means! exclaimed Mr Allard. Would you consider Lady Wallace in that light?

Indeed not, Polly thought, but —

I also have a little concern as to the cost — She had, a couple of year previous, borne the expense of having Scilla dressed by Mamzelle Bridgette during her first season, but had required a certain amount of economy over other matters.

Mr Allard drew himself up and said, he was entirely making a gift.

That, said Polly, is above and beyond — a most exemplary tribute to your feeling for your friend.

I have been given to apprehend that you understand these matters, he said with a little stiffness in his tone. Julius Roberts is my cousin.

Polly beamed at him and said, how entirely charming. For she had come to apprehend that there was an out of the common affection ’twixt Lord Sallington and Julius Roberts. At first, with Loppie, had been somewhat surprized that her husband did not make his usual objections to her going into masculine company. But after he had made some remark that at least his cousin these days was unlike to disgrace the family by being took up in Hyde Park for unnatural offences, she attained to some understanding of the matter, further enlightened during her intercourse with dear Loppie.

At this moment emerged from the fitting-room Scilla with Miss Jupp, making very gratified. Seeing them there, she cried, O, Polly-Granny, do say that you are going to have Mr Maurice make for you! That would be excellent fine!

Polly smiled slowly and said, she fancied she had been persuaded.

Mr Maurice jumped to his feet and desired Miss Jupp to go fetch Coggin, and instruct her to bring a deal of things, the details of which caused Polly’s head to whirl. Scilla came to embrace her and to say, had had somewhat of this in mind with bringing her here.

And she must concede, the thought of having really good gowns from a crack modiste gave her far more confidence over the prospect of addressing all those invitations that she still had to face.