The Comfortable Courtesan
Shaken by her encounter with the escaped lunatic marquess, Clorinda nonetheless continues upon her social round of visits and house-parties. There are new friends with new troubles, leading to new contrivances…
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’Twould be uncivil to cut
I do not feel in the least inclin’d to go about on the several visits I have been solicit’d to, but ‘twould be uncivil to cut without some very plausible reason, such as being order’d to take the waters by a physician. Also I daresay I may go about my usual gleaning of intelligence.
But sure I feel quite entire as Miss A‑ has give out that she does on performing in some dull part in a play that does not inspire her; that she will give it her best, but there is entire something lacking, she feels like a puppet and not an actress.
I will be polite, I will, I daresay, charm, I will oblige people by reading from Shakspeare, I will permit gentlemen to flirt with me, but indeed I do not feel like doing it.
I know not why I find myself so overset by that appearance of the present Marquess of B‑, the former Reverend Mr G‑ (I confide that the bishop goes about to de‑reverend him), that is quite entirely mad, even had he the cunning to escape from the fine madhouse for the quality in Sussex and make his way to Town.
But I — that was not so very shaken when Herr F‑ went about to shoot at me as I rode my dear Jezzie‑girl in the Park — have nightmares about that creeping scuttling thing. ‘Tis bad enough do I dream it comes menace me but ‘tis worse do I see it creep very malign towards my treasur’d Flora.
O, I do most desperate wish for my darlings.
Or perchance the dear Admiral, that steer’d me into safe harbour when I was so shaken after the Junker’s attack.
But these things cannot be and I must tell myself courage, C‑! and comport yourself like an Englishwoman!
So, I set out upon my visits.
Arriving at Sir P‑ O‑’s place in Leicestershire, my heart is like to sink a little, for seems a great number in the company and none that I know as more than a passing acquaintance. Sure should not daunt me, but does.
I am conduct’d to my chamber and Docket and Sophy go about to change my travelling gear for somewhat more suitable. I look out of the window and see that there are fellows that play some kind of game upon the lawn, I apprehend ’tis cricket.
Docket frowns at me and says that My Ladyship will get unbecoming lines does she pull that face —
What, says I, is’t not that does the wind change ’twill stick like that?
She looks at me more close and says My Ladyship’s eyes are a little redden’d from the dust upon the roads, and bids Sophy go acquire a cowcumber from the kitchens. Or indeed, she says, just a couple of slices do they not have a whole one to spare.
She desires me to go recline myself upon the chaise longue and she will brush out my hair as well.
Returns Sophy with half a cowcumber and says they were very civil in the kitchens.
I should hope so! says Docket a little snappish. Are you not in Her Ladyship’s service?
(I wonder does she find that there are those that will be uncivil to Sophy on account of her colour.)
She tells me to close my eyes and places the cowcumber slices upon ‘em: indeed, ’tis a pleasing sensation after the heat and dust of the roads. She goes brush my hair, an exceeding soothing thing.
She tells Sophy to polish up my nails, and rub some lotion into my hands.
Sure ’tis exceeding pleasant to be tend’d to in this way, and not to have to go immediate face a crowd of near‑strangers.
But I cannot remain like this all afternoon, alas. I must rouse myself from the pleasing half‑sleep I fall into, and put on one of my fine muslins and have a hat secur’d very firmly upon my head, and my parasol put into my hand, &C, and go display myself.
Docket and Sophy look at me, and Docket says that she confides that there will be no lady here to touch me, ‘tis exceeding gratifying.
So I go out to the lawn, where there is a deal of company, either playing or watching the game. I am greet’d very warm by Lady O‑, that is a lady I have met in philanthropick circles. She explains to me that Sir P‑ is currently batting — but ’tis an entire friendly game, to put ‘em in practice for matches they go play against teams from neighbouring estates over the next days.
Why, thinks I, I daresay this is like unto having a shoot, ’twill keep the fellows occupy’d and their minds off idle flirtations.
’Twill be a great treat to watch, she adds, and I apprehend with some gloom that the ladies of the party are suppos’d to act the admiring audience, cheer the fellows on &C. (Sure this would not be agreeable to Bess and Meg, that would jump up and down and desire to play and be very scornfull did any fellow bowl gentle to ‘em out of concern for their sex’s delicacy. But my girlhood did not contain games of this sort.)
(O, I miss all my dear F‑s so very much)
I exchange various gossip with Lady O‑, and mention that I have lately heard from Lady J‑, that is with her husband the Admiral in the Mediterranean. Lady O‑ finds their marriage quite the most romantick thing, quite like that novel that she does not recollect the title of, but sure ’twas a fine tale. But indeed she hopes does not mean that dear Lady J‑ (as I collect, Lady O‑ has had many brangles with Lady J‑) will give up her fine endeavours in good causes, for she is quite a pillar of so many. But sure she is not of such an age that she may not hope for a pledge of their affections.
And she hears that the Duchess has given His Grace a baby daughter?
We go thro’ a deal of other news about obstetricks and medical matters more generally.
Comes up to me Mr van H‑, that has just been got out, that I am like to think is a great relief to him, for he is red in the face and puffing. We exchange greetings and I am given to understand that he comes make some paintings of the house and property.
Saddest thing about the de C‑s, he remarks. Sure de C‑ quite doat’d upon the child, would talk of little else at our dinner about the exhibition plans.
Lady O‑ says, is not Mr de C‑ a Frenchman?
O. says I, his family came from France many years ago when he was but a child in arms: one would never suppose him French.
Marry’d that fine creature that was formerly Lady B‑’s housekeeper, goes on Mr van H‑, at which Lady O‑ raises her eyebrows somewhat. I see him recall the occasion and he says, I collect, Lady B‑, seeing your new housekeeper at the wedding feast? Sure I should greatly like to paint her.
Does she not have very remarkable looks? I say. But indeed she is a modest pious creature, I fear she would consider sitting to her portrait entire vanity.
Mr van H‑ has a dreaming look. Sure there are old paintings that show the Seven Works of Mercy, he says, she would look very well paint’d thus.
Sure, says I, I apprehend that Mr Wesley had some teaching upon the works of mercy — Dorcas, I add, is a Methodist —
And you do not object? asks Lady O‑.
(I would most greatly desire to remark to her about the extreme fine devotion display’d by dear General Y‑’s Hindoo servants, but I refrain.)
Why, does not affect her work at all: indeed, would suppose makes her more diligent, sure I have not the least complaint to make upon her.
It seems to me that the game comes to some kind of conclusion, or mayhap ’tis just that ’tis the hour to go dress for dinner, and this fortunately also brings this conversation to an end.
I go in and am array’d suitable for the company, deckt with my fine diamond and emerald parure, that pleases me in particular because of the secret compartment that holds a lock of my dear child’s baby hair, and because ‘twas give me by my very dearest Grand Turk Josiah, and is a solid reminder of my very dearest darlings.
I am taken in to dinner by Lord A‑, that is one of Lord R‑’s empty‑head’d wastrel set, an entirely amiable creature, tells me that I look entire ravishing (tho’ I daresay he would say some such whatever kind of looks I was in), and adds that he does not observe any swans about the place so I need be in no apprehension.
O, says I, laughing behind my fan, can you also promise that there are no poets? sure I think that swan had considerable critickal acuity — perchance, I go on, ’twas Deacon Brodie, disguis’d.
O, very good, says Lord A‑ with a guffaw that sets people a‑looking at him. I confide that there are no poets among the company here. But there will be a deal of very pretty cricket play’d.
He talks very much about cricket and the fine matches of previous years, and the matches he has already play’d this summer, and makes most particular mention of some fine thing in the cricket line accomplisht by Milord. (Milord knows better than to discourse to me of cricket, so I had not heard of this.)
But here is Danvers D‑, he says in positively shockt tones, the finest of batsmen, a very usefull bowler, spends the entire summer chasing about after his horse‑fac’d actress, can you fathom it? Has not, I daresay, had a game the entire time, ’tis an entire waste.
(Perchance the reason why Danvers’ mother is so pleas’d that he has set up Miss R‑ in an establishment is that previous he was more interest’d in cricket than women, and thus this departure imports that he may come around in time even unto matrimony and the provision of grandchildren.)