The Courtesan and the Clergyman
Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 13: A Game of Chance and Love

The Courtesan and the Clergyman Cover

Miss G- says ‘tis nothing like sharping but the scientifick demonstration of certain principles in mathematicks, requiring only, she adds modestly, an accurate memory and a capacity for calculation. She goes on to say that she is in correspondence with a Fellow of the Royal Society, that considers her recent achievements constitute sound proof of certain theories of his own…We have now correspond’d for some months, she says, with wistfully romantick expression… Dearest Abby, I say finally… you are engaging in epistolary mathematickal flirtation with a clergyman.

“Miss G- contrives to shock me”
The Comfortable Courtesan: Volume 1 - Being MEMOIRS by Clorinda Cathcart (that has been a Lady of the Town these several years)

And then, quite by chance, Abigail Gowing meets her clerical correspondent – Could anyone have foreseen what would happen then?

You might like to read the Chronology & Reading Order for these books & also the notes for this book: The Courtesan and the Clergyman: Allusions and References.

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Read Chapter 1 ...

Shuffling the pack

The Reverend Mr Thomas Thorne looked out of his study window to the very charming sight of the little wombatt a-running about the lawn and frisking and rolling; sure it came about to do very well in this climate. He was less sanguine about the antipodean birds — had had a fine aviary constructed, lest the local feathered tribes took ’em in resentment and essayed attacks — but was not entire certain they should all survive another winter in Essex. While some of ’em were somewhat particular as to diet. Several had already perished — Mortman had come down from Town in order to undertake dissection but there was no very obvious cause for their demise. Mortman had took ’em away so that a taxidermist friend of his might prepare ‘em.

But the wombatt was not in the least nice in its diet — would eat just about anything that was put before it, and a deal of things that were not, the dear naughty creature. But would be entire contented with a pile of turnips.

The garden came on — sure some of his antipodean plants were still being carefully nurtured in the hothouse, but he had essayed to bed out several things and was seeing very pleasing results, as had reported at a scientific conversazione quite recently.

Oh, one must regret that the platypus had died on voyage, but his antipodean garden — why perchance one would not say entirely flourished, but the experiment was by no means a failure.

And here came Pelling with a bundle of letters.

He supposed that he ought to be giving mind to next Sunday’s sermon, but succumbed to the temptation of reading the post.

A letter from that chymist fellow Evenden, that had made so effusive agreeable at the conversazione — Thomas had found that a little encroaching, but could not entirely say wherein the objection might lie. Had mentioned Mr Thorne’s antipodean garden and his wombatt to the Royal Academician Sir Zoffany Robinson, that was passionately interested in the antipodes — wondered might he propose a sketching-party to Mr Thorne’s vicarage?

Well, he must concede that it would be agreeable to see company that was not the general run of the mill in the parish. He laid the letter to one side.

Aha — a missive from George Carter! — how was he finding provincial practice, Thomas wondered — oho! A prospect upon hand of a scientific expedition to New South Wales, that he fancied Carter would find a deal more attractive — indeed, the thought made him a little wistful —

Perchance was a temptation —

And, on the subject of temptations, he had at least contrived to leave to last this epistle in a hand that had grown familiar over recent months —

He chided himself for his foolishness. Sure it was a rare and remarkable thing to find a woman — or, truth be told, anyone — with such a fine mathematical mind, and one that had already entered into the fascinating questions around card-play. Miss Gavin had first writ to him after his article on the subject had been published, remarking that it marched with certain observations of her own, and that had led to a lively correspondence upon various card-games and mathematical matters more generally. But very little about her life beyond that.

Thomas surmized — from the fact that she desired letters to be sent in care of a certain stationer — that she was, perchance, a governess, or schoolmistress, or lady’s companion, that would not wish to be discovered in correspondence with a man even on the austere and impersonal topic of mathematics, the world being what it was. He sighed. A sad thing. One that might have been another Mrs Somerville at best teaching children their times-tables, and at worst, no doubt, counting stitches for some lady’s knitting. A wicked waste —

He unfolded the letter. She wrote, in response to his question as to whether she had ever played chess, that she entirely doated upon chess. One of the most agreeable episodes in her life had been the months she had spent in Bath as the companion to an invalid that was obliged to take the waters there, that had been quite passionate about chess, so that they had played almost every day. Had it not been that she had been separated from a dear friend that remained in Town, that time would be been entire perfection.

A lady’s companion — no doubt playing cards for pennies or merely shell-counters, and he dared say having to be tactful and lose often, for would be taken ill did she constantly win as he doubted not she would be able —

He shook his head. Here he was, making romantical speculations, and she might be a woman of fifty or more that had worn out her life in this depressing service. But even was that the case, was a fine mind that he greatly enjoyed corresponding with. Mayhap they might consider upon chess problems? Were there not those played chess by post? …