Clorinda Cathcart's Circle
Volume 14: Shadows from the Past

Revenants Cover

Clorinda has found unexpected new love; this is unsettling to some of her intimates. The upheavals taking place nationally and internationally create unanticipated repercussions about her circle. Matters once thought entirely settled are stirring anew with troubling effect.

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

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Read Chapter 1 ...

Whether her darling had ever essayed her skills

Leda found the desk a considerable temptation, seeing that she was left in the parlour alone with it. The lock to it she fancied would give her no trouble at all, but she had the strongest suspicion that there were hidden compartments, and she would dearly love to see whether she might come at them.

But it would not be at all the thing to do, waiting here the e’en for her beloved Clorinda. The Season was gradually dwindling towards summer and Society going out of Town and to country house-parties but there were still enough occasions when the fascinating Lady Bexbury was invited into company.

Sure, my darling, Clorinda had said, ’tis a dinner-party that will not go onto the very late hours — the Marquess’s mother being with child has very early nights, and I apprehend some of the guests will be going on to balls or other revels — do you wait for me.

She gave a little adorable pout and added, my darling, in the whirl of both our lives sure ’tis at least a week since we have been together.

Ohhhhh: Leda wrapped her arms about herself. She still could not quite believe it, though ‘twas now some months. Lovers with the lovely and much admired Lady Bexbury. Sure she had never even thought of the like! Even when she had come about to have feelings towards her, had not supposed that they might ever be returned. Not Leda, that once been Bet Bloggs, Seven Dials whore and thief, that had run in fear from being the consort of Nat Barron, ruler of a deal of criminal enterprizes in those parts, and come about to be aided to a new identity and a respectable occupation.

Was all very well for Clorinda to laugh a little and remark that she had been a Lady of the Town afore she married the dear late Marquess, that had been very sickly and took a concern for the management of his estate after his death: but that was a deal different from walking the streets and alleyways of Seven Dials! Why, a Duke had give Clorinda this house! And there was a fine painting of her in earlier days adorned with the rubies an Indian prince had give her!

One might quite entirely see why — still, so many years later, Clorinda was lovely, but was not just her looks — was that charm, that kindness —

Well, was she not going to essay the desk, she might beguile the time with reading — there was a deal of books on the shelves here, and yet more in the library in the other wing, and various newspapers and journals piled up on a low table — or, she might hazard a little practice on these arts that Tommie Thorne had been about teaching her.

Yes, there was still a pack of cards tucked into one corner of the bookshelves, from last time when she had made a demonstration to Clorinda, that had looked a little tearful and said, ’twas entire foolish but was greatly minded of her dear Abby, that was, Leda apprehended, the mother of Tommie Thorne. So she took ’em out, and shuffled ’em in several exceeding fancy ways, and Motley and Fribble came over fascinated.

La, said Leda, do you pick a card — any card — as they jumped up onto the table, patting the cards with their paws — and then blushed, as William came in with a tray, to be found a-conversing with the cats.

Euphemia, he said, for on as ’twere professional household matters he referred to his parents by their names, has been trying over making ice-cream in advance of Her Ladyship’s dinner-party, and offers that you might care to sample a dish and give your opinion?

That is extreme kind, said Leda, sure I am quite spoilt.

He put the tray down, and looked with interest at the cards and said, did she do card-tricks? So she picked up the pack and shuffled and held them out in a fan desiring him to pick a card, any card — no, do not tell me what ’tis — and then putting it back and shuffling the cards again and turning up a card and lo! ’twas the one he had picked.

He grinned and said, that was clever! Young Mr Thorne had a deal like that.

O, I am entire Mr Thorne’s disciple in such matters! But where is Hector the e’en?

William stood more easy, as she picked up the dish and spoon, and said, goes into the dining room in the other wing, to convey a little instruction to polish up the skills of those that seek places by way of the Potter-Welch Registry, as may be somewhat out of practice, or not have trained in this à la Russe style of service.

That is a thoughtful thing — o, this is excellent good ice-cream! —

There was the sound of a carriage drawing up outside and William said, would convey her good opinion to Euphemia, and went to tend the door.

Shortly afterwards came in the exquisite Lady Bexbury, and Leda went to kiss her.

O, what cold lips! — I see Euphemia sent you up some ice-cream, is there a little taste left?

Leda laughed, and went to bring the dish and spoon to feed it to Clorinda. Mmmm — so good — will be greatly relished —

Leda stood a little back to look at her. Is that amber?

Clorinda looked down and smiled and said, Indeed, ’tis the amber set dear Sir Vernon sent me that time he was posted to St Petersburg, the dear creature — is it not pretty? But let us go sit down.

William came in with madeira and glasses on a tray.

After he had gone, Clorinda stretched out her legs before her, and glanced over at her desk, and said, had some curiosity as to whether her darling had ever essayed her skills upon it.

Leda blushed considerable, and said, had been tempted but had not fell.

La, that is pretty! But indeed, should be a matter of some interest to me to observe.

Leda hoisted her eyebrows, but got to her feet and went over to the desk, as she did so removing a hairpin. Unlocking the desk was an easy task — she could see Clorinda smiling, and proceeded — some of the inner compartments were locked, but they presented her no great difficulty — but she was very like to fancy that there would be concealed compartments, that would require some delicacy to come at without one caused damage.

Aha! — here she had it — and there was Clorinda’s pretty little pistol along with the necessary bullets &C, and also a — hatpin? She looked over at Clorinda.

O, I daresay I should dispose of that — a lady quite by accident struck out at her husband with it and terminated his existence, ’twas quite the happiest thing for her for he was a nasty fellow, but of course ’twas preferable that the matter should be give out natural causes — so I took it and concealed it.

Leda blinked, and continued her search. Yes, as she had supposed, there was yet another cunningly concealed compartment, containing — a miniature painting of a very pretty infant, another miniature of what Leda supposed to be the same child several years older, playing with a dormouse, and several bundles of letters tied up in ribbons. She looked again at the paintings.

Is this not Flora Ferraby? she said at length, her mind already going to why Clorinda might have concealed portraits of her infancy. Is she — ?

Flora is my daughter. Josiah Ferraby was her father. Eliza Ferraby was her mother, if love and care make a mother. And they were my very dearest loves.

Leda gulped and said, Both of ’em?

Clorinda stretched out her hands and drew Leda to come sit upon her knee. Both of ’em. I first met Josiah in the way of business, but indeed I soon fell into quite the greatest liking for him — ’twas he had the desk made for me —

Oh, that was entire out of the common! thought Leda.

  —  and ’twas very strange, but I also came about to know Eliza — that at first was an invalid very pulled down after the birth of Quintus, but then came about to health again — and then I went with child — and they were so kind and helpful and loving and thus we came about to be in triangle. ’Twas a deal easier after my marriage and widowhood. And I daresay you have heard that o, the Ferrabys were my greatest friends, or we were somehow related, and that I am in the character of a beloved aunt or such to their children, but ’tis entire time, my beloved Leda, that you should know the truth of the matter.

And, she continued, sure there have been certain old friends, I have not been solitary this while, but since the death of my beloved Eliza I did not suppose I should love again. And now I do, entire unexpected.

Leda said, would by no means wish to pry, but dared say Clorinda had a deal of stories, and would ever be willing to hear ‘em did she wish to tell. She rested her cheek against hers.

Clorinda gave a little sigh and said, was one thing — would have greatly wished to take Leda to Naples and the late Marquess’s villa in those parts — but, as things fell out in the peninsula at present, would be a hazardous undertaking! Mayhap at some future time.

Naples, sighed Leda, that had read certain tales writ under the style of A Lady Anonyma set in those parts.

Clorinda smiled, and kissed her.