The Ironmaster's Tale
Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 1: Josiah Ferraby
Josiah Ferraby is a wealthy Northern ironmaster, active in civic improvements. It is feared bearing another child will kill his beloved wife Eliza. As he is periodically obliged to go to London, where he is struggling to make the contacts they need to expand and develop their interests, she suggests he takes a mistress there, away from local gossip. He is introduced to the noted courtesan, Madame Clorinda Cathcart…
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A provincial industrialist reluctantly seeks feminine companionship in Town
Josiah Ferraby — master of a fine flourishing ironworks, the wealthiest fellow in the district, leader in a deal of schemes for improvements in the locality — had never wanted any woman but his beloved wife Eliza. But since she nearly died giving birth to little Quintus, the opinion of the profession was that another child would kill her. It was not to be risked. But it was terribly, terribly hard to keep to that resolve.
Finally Eliza sat him down. They did not touch. They kept their hands from reaching across the table and twining together. He had not touched her for months now for fear of what might happen if he did.
Jos’, she said with a sigh, you need a woman. Now there are so many matters upon hand to do with the business and the improvements that require you to go so regular to London: could you not set up a mistress there? Provided there is naught to cause gossip locally, I had really rather see you happy. This will not do.
O my ’Liza, he replied, sighing himself. Perhaps I had better. He did not look at her.
Somehow, the next time he went to London, he made himself ask banker Boxtell about it, saying that he was now coming so often to Town and spending so much time there, that he proposed to set up a mistress, but was not sure how these things were properly done. Boxtell slapped him somewhat overfamiliar on the shoulder and invited him to the play, saying that Mr Pargiter, that was the patron of the actress Miss Addington, was holding a reception afterwards, at which there would be a number of very fine ladies of the Town present — crack courtesans, no Covent Garden Misses.
The play was dreadful. At the reception he shook hands with the grumpy Mr Pargiter, and the little scared-rabbit actress whose hand rested limp and cold in his. But indeed, there were sure some very fine women that he supposed must be courtesans present.
There was a little rustle among the crowd as a woman entered the room. She was not very tall, but she carried herself like — like a goddess. She glided along, acknowledging some and ignoring others.
Oho, said Boxtell, so Madame Clorinda has come. Pargiter was late among her favourites, but threw her over in favour of this Miss Addington. Sure there can be no comparison betwixt the two of them, one wonders what he can have been thinking.
The little actress looked frozen in terror, a baby rabbit under the hawk’s shadow.
Madame Clorinda made some brief chilly acknowledgement of Mr Pargiter, and turned to the actress, kissed her lightly on the cheek, and said something that brought an expression of happy delight to the girl’s face.
Well, said Boxtell, no-one expected hair-pulling and face-scratching, but all anticipated that she would wither the girl with a few well-chosen words. For she is one that understands good acting.
I should be extreme grateful could you introduce me to her, Josiah almost stammered.
Boxtell looked at him. I commend your taste, he said, but you should be apprized that Madame Clorinda does not come cheap. Worth every penny, though, he added.
The introduction was made. (She does not stand at a farmhouse door holding her father’s fowling-piece on her arm. He is not running from the keepers.) This ethereally beautiful creature looked at him over her fan with a faintly amuzed expression. He had expected painted bedizened creatures flaunting themselves, not this. He was dumbstruck as Boxtell faded away.
Were you at the play, Mr Ferraby? she enquired.
He gulped. Indeed he was, he said, but he did not think much to it, and Miss Addington was certainly no second Siddons.
Indeed it was poor stuff, she agreed, and I am not sure even Mrs S herself could have made much of that part, there was really not much to work with. Yet once or twice I thought Miss Addington managed effects that show that she has the matter in her. Do you go to the theatre often?
He explained that there were no theatres near where he lived — an occasional group of travelling players sometimes performed at the Assembly Rooms — but he liked to come to the play when in Town on business.
She led him on to talk about plays he had seen and suddenly they were having a comfortable conversation about taste in drama, thoughts on acting, and great actors they had seen. Eventually he recalled why he began this conversation and asked might he call upon her.
She raised her fan and fluttered her eyelashes. Why certainly, Mr Ferraby, and I could show you my cabinet of fine china — sure, I am exceeding fond of Wedgewood — and we could talk further about plays.
He spent perhaps more time than he should selecting some Wedgewood china for her collection, and arrived with it on the appointed day at the appointed hour at a pretty little house some short distance from the Park. A black manservant showed him in.
Madame Clorinda was seated on a sopha, reading, dressed extreme stylish, but by no means in any provocative or revealing fashion. She rose to greet him, and desired tea to be brought.
Sweating, feeling like a great lout in this exquisite place with this delicate creature, he managed to hand over the Wedgewood with something that charity might consider a pretty speech.
They fell into conversation but for him it was a matter of stops and starts until he could finally bring himself to come to the proposition, mentioning the very excellent reports he had heard of her, his own frequent visits to Town about business, and his desire for feminine companionship.
She looked at him attentively, head tilted to one side. So, Mr Ferraby, I apprehend that you would desire an arrangement with me upon those occasions when you visit Town, that is, regular assignations rather than an occasional romp?
He conceded that that was what was in his mind.
Well, if ’tis agreeable to you, I am at present so situate that I may offer a weekly appointment to come dine here and spend the night — for I understand you to be a man of business that most usual will be about his affairs during the daytime — and do we reach an agreement in the matter, the sum in question may be paid direct to my bank.
She named the sum: it was certainly high, but he looked around her pretty parlour, considered that she lived at a most eligible address, kept a fine footman — indeed a woman in her position was doubtless well-advized to have a strapping fellow like that to guard her door —
Why, that is entire agreeable to me.
She smiled. Why, Mr Ferraby, you show exceeding generous, but I believe you to be an acute man of business, and I am sure that was you to intend buying a horse, you would not conclude the bargain without first trying its paces.
He felt himself blushing like a lad, then recovering, declared that he did not need to start stoking up a furnace to know whether a batch of coke would be good for smelting. For he was by now embarrassingly conscious of his reaction to her charms. She laughed, rose and extended a hand to him, Come, my dear, let us immediately consummate this agreement.
He had not even dared to hope that this might be offered, and indeed, the prospect was somewhat daunting. I fear, he said, that any consummation will be rapidly achieved on my part.
She looked at him over her shoulder and smiled. Mayhap, and mayhap not.
Her boudoir was charming, though he found himself unable to take in much of it, too much entranced by a woman who did not fear disrobing in the daylight that filtered in through the fine high windows. No paint, no wig, no false hair, no padding — and a tidy ability to act the valet to a gentleman, as his own fingers fumbled about the task of undressing.
And here they were, both entirely naked, and he found himself almost entirely paralyzed, fearful of doing something crude and rough. Madame Clorinda looked downwards and smiled. She leaned across him to open a compartment concealed in the bedhead, and —
What is that?
O, ’tis a baudruche. Provides some security against certain ailments —
Really, he found himself most agreeable prepossessed by the prudence and practicality with which Madame Clorinda conducted her trade, a fine business-like way of going about matters, for, how could she know that that he had not previous been in the habit of visiting Covent Garden Misses —
And somehow he found himself lying upon his back, Madame Clorinda hovering above him, providing a very fine view indeed of her exquisite bubbies —
La, my dear, you may touch do you desire, I am not made of glass, I will not break —
’Twould have been churlish indeed to refuse such an offer, and her little pleased squeeking noises at his first tentative touches encouraged him to explore further, until, at last, she straddled him and rode him to what was a finer consummation than he had hoped for.
Why, Mr Ferraby, said Madame Clorinda at length, I confide that we shall deal extreme well together, I find myself entire smelted. Indeed, I observe that we are like to deal extreme well together again this very afternoon.
Do you have no objection in the matter, I should be entirely delighted to stoke up the furnace once more.
This time he was able to go about the business somewhat less precipitate. Sure he came to an appreciation of Madame Clorinda’s worth. Had never anticipated such charming enjoyment on her part.
In due course they rose and dressed, and Madame Clorinda expressed herself desolate that she might not desire him to stay to dinner the e’en, but would hope he might linger for tea — or mayhap somewhat stronger — afore he left?
Tea would be entire pleasing, said Josiah. A fellow in his position was not accustomed to take strong liquors during the daytime unless for some matter of health. So they went into her charming parlour, and she rang for her manservant to go desire Seraphine to prepare tea.
Josiah remarked that it must give a lady a fine sense of security to have such a fellow about the place.
Indeed ’tis so, she agreed, most particular since he has studied the pugilistic art — was a time that Sir Barton Wallace — do you have his acquaintance? — Josiah shook his head — was minded to make a prize-fighter of Hector, but he preferred to come here, where his sister Phoebe was already housemaid and his cousin my cook.
Prize-fighting is a chancy way to make a living, though I understand that gentlemen will also practice that art? — in our parts ’tis wrestling rather than boxing —
At this moment came in a woman, somewhat lighter of complexion than Hector, carrying a tray with tea-things upon it that she laid out upon the table, and said she would be back directly. And returned with platters of anchovy toast, some savoury-smelling things he did not recognise, and warm scones.
Why, this is something like!
Fie, would not send you away empty, for sure, stoking furnaces is hungry work.
She poured tea and said, she apprehended from Mr Boxtell that his business was in iron — those, Mr Ferraby, are currie-puffs, they are exceeding good but you may find ’em somewhat high-spiced —
Indeed they were. He took a gulp of tea. Indeed, I am in the business of iron, but the way things are in industrial affairs in these times, that will encompass a deal of other matters; also, I am one of a party in our vicinity that goes about improvements.
He looked over at those lovely blue eyes, that wore an expression of sympathetic interest, and found himself telling Madame Clorinda a deal of his troubles — there were so many matters it was exceeding hard to come at did one not have any interest in the right quarters, as it might be fellows that would be agreeable to sponsoring private bills &C, or come in on a project for canals that would greatly advance business — oh, there were names he had been given, and he had sent in cards, and sat around in anterooms, and even got so far as meetings in some cases, but did not get very far. And government offices — !
These were worries he had not even dared voice more than very vaguely to Eliza, for he did not wish to fret her when her spirits were already so lowered by her poor health.
’Tis indeed thus, agreed Madame Clorinda, that comes about that ’tis more of a matter of who you know than any merit in your cause —
He sighed. Entirely so, he said. I make some acquaintance in the City that does some service —
Sure indeed it must —
Daresay ’tis a matter of time and patience just as it is with any undertaking. But I confide that I have already took up a deal of your own time —
Why, Mr Ferraby, you have beguiled it most agreeably —
And should be about my business.
Well, my dear, let us fix upon a time when you may come dine and spend a night with me at greater leisure —
This concluded, he stood to take his leave, and found himself kissing Madame Clorinda farewell quite as if she were some sweetheart — he was not sure was this quite proper in the circumstance, but she did not seem to dislike it.
As Hector showed him out he pressed a guinea into his hand, and gave him another to be conveyed to Seraphine in compliment for the fine tea.
He had felt a deal brisker in spirits after that assignation: what a very fine woman was Madame Clorinda. Had anticipated something harder and coarser, but indeed, for all that admirable practicality, there was something most exceeding fetching about her. Sure even that practicality was fetching: an excellent prudent creature.
A few days later he arrived at her door for the promised night of pleasure. There was a little nagging anxiety: perchance it had been the extremity of his desires so long unsatisfied that had made her appear so exceeding seductive, and today she would appear more commonplace?
Hector, he thought, looked upon him with a certain warmth as he let him in, took his coat and hat, and showed him into the parlour —
Oh. Still indeed quite the entirely most ravishing of creatures, and this time, dressed rather more revealing, that rose, came over to him, took his hands in hers, lifted her face for a kiss —
Why, Mr Ferraby, ’tis an extreme pleasure to see you again. Do you come sit by the fire and — La, sir, perchance you should prefer to ascend to the boudoir at once, and dine later? I will desire Seraphine to hold dinner back a little.
Indeed, he found himself quite over-mastered by the impetuosity of lust, and was only too eager to ascend to her boudoir — where a fine fire was already blazing — and be at once about amorous sport. So eager indeed that they were neither of them fully undressed before they were engaged in the business.
After they were done, he was somewhat apologetic for his unmannerly haste — Fie, Mr Ferraby, ’tis exceeding gratifying to a lady of my summers that has been of my trade nigh upon a dozen years, to find a fellow so exceeding taken by my charms; and so very apt at the arts of Venus himself.
He smiled down at her flushed face. Why, Madame Clorinda, I fear you flatter me.
Sure, Mr Ferraby, I confide you are a fellow of sense and judgement that is unlike to be readily cozened by a flattering tongue, and I would deal with you as one that prefers plain dealing.
He scrutinized her, and considered how often she must have been obliged to speak sweet and beguiling to fellows whether or not she felt thus inclined, kissed her, and said, indeed he should entirely prefer her to be straightforward with him, for he was a blunt provincial fellow that did not understand all these fancy Town ways of saying one thing and meaning another —
O, poo. But, my dear, let us up and dress, and I may hope that my gown is not so disarrayed that Docket will go scold me upon it —
Docket, that is my lady’s maid, is most exceeding exacting.
So they went downstairs, and sat by the fire, and Hector came in and poured them both some most excellent wine, and went about laying the table for dinner. Then Seraphine came in bearing platters that smelt most exceeding delicious and he realized how very hungry he was.
Mutton chops; a boiled chicken; roasted cod; creamed spinach; potato collops; gravies and sauces; good solid food but most exceeding well-prepared. He helped Madame Clorinda to some chicken and cod and took a couple of mutton chops.
You have a most excellent cook, he remarked.
Is she not? I am greatly feared one or another will poach her from me. She signaled to Hector to refill their glasses, and then leave them with the bottle.
After the meal was finished they went to sit by the fire: she rang for Hector who served Josiah with brandy and herself with madeira and then cleared the table.
It was exceeding agreeable to think that they had the whole night before them: he looked at her across his glass and she smiled back.
Thinking of what she had said about plain dealing and his own sense that sometimes he was but a Babe in the Wood when he came to Town, Josiah took a sip of the very fine brandy and said, have lately been approached by a fellow called Langford, that offers to make connexions for me among those that have interest, in return for a commission —
She sat up straighter and looked thoughtful. Langford — tall fellow, dark hair that grows in a widow’s peak, plausible manner about him —
That sounds like the same fellow.
She looked into her glass and swung one foot to and fro. Why, may be a fellow of entire probity in matters of business, but —
O, made suit to one of my sisterhood some several months since: she had been in keeping for some considerable while, then the fellow came into his inheritance, was obliged to go marry befitting his station and live upon his estate, but did the entire proper thing and made a tidy settlement upon her. So, this Langford makes suit to her, offers set her up in an establishment, presents her with some fine jewellery; and all seems in order but that when she comes to the establishment he proposes, she finds it somewhat poky — o, says he, he has some affairs in train that he waits upon to come round, and when they do of course they will move to more eligible accommodations —
She took a sip of madeira. But then, some little while later, he comes to her, and says, the most tiresome thing, is being dunned for a debt, that would be no matter at all once these affairs of his come about, might she lend him the amount — for he gives it out that he is in some fear of being thrown into debtors’ prison over the matter —
And ’tis finally, when matters come to this pass, that she comes to me, saying, is it wrong in her to feel a little mistrustful? And sure I sigh a little, and say to her, my dear, did you go get the jewellery he gave you valued? Sure I am a wicked suspicious Clorinda, but here you are, left exceeding comfortable, sure there are designing wretches about that will take advantage of women’s trusting hearts: and indeed, you were many years with a most excellent fellow that behaved entirely proper, that must incline you to suppose that all men are of the like. So she gasps and says, might it be so? She had put him off, saying that ’twould take some little while to put her hands upon the amount in question, ’twas no more than the truth: and she will go at once to a reputable jeweller.
And I was in no surprize whatsoever when she called again to say, paste! The scoundrel. Have thrown ’em back at him and give him his congé.
Why, said Josiah, I am not sure I would wish to enter into any business arrangement with a fellow that behaved thus towards women, even did I not take a consideration that he is very like to lack scruple towards men, in particular those he may suppose innocent trusting provincials.
Madame Clorinda smiled. Mr Ferraby, she said, I am like to suppose that one does not become a wealthy ironmaster is one an entire simpleton that will trust any plausible rogue that goes about with a pig in a poke. Indeed I have had quite the testimonial to your capacities from Mr Boxtell.
He looked at her in admiration. Madame Clorinda, he said, ’tis a deal too much to ask of you — you are already doing much for me —
She raised her eyebrows with an agreeable expression. Say on, she said.
I can see, he went on, that you have a very fine understanding of the way things go on here in Town.
She gave a little shrug. Mayhap and perchance! ’Tis somewhat of a necessity in my trade to know who’s in, who’s out, who’s up, who’s down.
Might you constitute yourself the advizer to a provincial fellow on these matters?
A slow smile dawned across her face. Why, Mr Ferraby, it had been in my mind to make some such offer to you. But sure, there are fellows do not wish to be lessoned by a woman —
Josiah chuckled — as if he did not owe so much of his success to his beloved Eliza and her prudent counsel. The man who does not hearken to the wisdom of women is a fool, he said. Should be most obliged for any help you might give me: and should not wish you to be a loser by the matter —
Fie, Mr Ferraby! Perchance you have not give the matter any thought, but what a fellow gains from being the patron of a crack courtesan is a deal more than boudoir business: they wish to display their consequence, or be envied among their circle, or, I have heard, have one that will distract other fellows at the gaming table with a tantalizing glimpse of bubbie as she leans over him. Or they desire one that will listen very sympathetic to the tales of their law-suits, or whatever else concerns ’em. You already pay most exceeding generous for my services —
But, she said thoughtfully, Mr Boxtell gives quite the highest praise to your acuity in the matter of investment: might you convey a little advice on the matter to me, ’twould be entire recompense.
Why, ’twould be a pleasure.
They smiled at one another. Well, she said, the thought that most immediate has come to me upon your situation, is that ’twould be most advizable did you go about a little to make informal acquaintance in Society and get yourself known, and I will consider upon how we might go about this. There is also a little matter of dress, but I think I know how I may come at that.
Indeed, said Josiah, I have wondered about that — sure I have no desire to join the dandy-set, but yet —
’Twill make a difference, she said, ’tis shocking that people will judge so upon externals, but as they do, one must attend to ’em. But, my dear Mr Ferraby, I think we have discoursed enough of this matter for now, and I daresay we might now repair once more to my boudoir to pay Venus her dues.
It was well within a se’ennight that he paid his next visit to Madame Clorinda, coming to an apprehension that he had by some happy chance found one here in Town that he might talk to of his affairs and his difficulties, a thing he had hardly known how much he missed.
My dear! she cried, rising to greet him, you come entire apt to the moment, for I have just received these for you.
Laid out upon a low table were a number of little notes, sealed, he observed as he picked one up, with some aristocratic crest.
I have, she said with a pleased expression, obtained the entrée for you with a good tailor, crack shirtmakers, bootmakers, hatmakers, and a barber. Do you take these introductions along, I fancy you will be most exceeding obsequious received.
He sat down. I will?
It perchances, she said, that I have considerable interest with Viscount Raxdell — that is, the new Lord Raxdell that quite lately succeeded, was formerly the Honble Gervase Reveley, has a deal of consequence among tailors &C, for has been praised by Brummell himself for the exceeding niceness of his taste in dress. Sure, she added, I should greatly like to bring about an introduction ’twixt the two of you — he takes an interest in canals and also gives some mind to improvements upon his estates — but has been obliged to spend a deal of time out of Town upon his estates bringing matters into better order than they were left by his late father. Mayhap upon some other occasion.
When you say you have considerable interest with him —
O, to speak bluntly, have been his mistress these five or more years, but, dear Mr Ferraby, you need not be concerned that there will be any matter of calling out or such, Lord Raxdell quite understands that I do not grant exclusive rights in my person and I will give my favours as I will.
I am in the greatest relief to hear it! But ’tis above and beyond kindness to commend me to his tailor &C.
Why, I fancy ’tis not his own tailor, that will only take personal introductions, but nonetheless a very good fellow that will see you dressed entirely in Town style.
He drew her into his arms. But for the moment, he murmured, perchance you could undress me in Town style?
La, Mr Ferraby, you are pleased to be saucy!
Indeed, he was received most exceeding obsequious at the establishments to which he had been given recommendations. He gulped somewhat at the prices: but would, he dared say, be entire false economy to cavil at them. And looking at himself arrayed in this new style, he could see that there was somewhat of a difference — or was that just his own opinion?
’Twas not, he found, when making certain calls, and finding that instead of taking his card with somewhat of a sneer and closing the door upon him, the footmen confided that their masters were at home, he was received, and was able to open certain negotiations that he thought would never come to pass.
Writing his weekly letter to Eliza, Josiah remarked that she might consider that he had been frivolously laying out upon vain adornment, but ’twas more in the light of casting bread upon the waters, for sure made a difference. He also added that he had been attending to her recommendations concerning healthful exercize and found it answerable. He conveyed to her the gratifying progress that their affairs made, hoped that she did not go about to over-do, and desired her to kiss all the children for him.
He sanded and sealed the letter, and looked at it lying upon the table. He looked up and around the room, and sighed. There was naught wrong with his lodgings — sure they were a shocking price but that was London — and he was not living in entire squalor, yet he could not help contrasting the place with Madame Clorinda’s charming house, that was always so very well-kept.
Where, he thought with happy anticipation, he had an assignation on the morrow. And then looked once more at the letter lying upon the table. How very quickly it had become a deal more than simply the easing of lust. How agreeable was Madame Clorinda’s company out of bed as well as in it: he had not expected that. But had he not been entirely inclined towards her by the kindness of her conduct to that poor little actress? Not just the exquisite face and form. And then he had also discovered her wit and her prudence —
He did still love his dearest Eliza. But — the prospect of returning to London in future no longer filled him with a feeling of despair at facing arduous struggle.
A few days before his departure, Josiah looked across the breakfast table to Madame Clorinda, golden hair still tousled from their morning romp. You know, he said, that I must return to the north by the end of this week, but I hope that I may return when I am next in Town?
Why, Mr Ferraby, do you have any doubts in the matter? She smiled over her coffee-cup. Shall be entire delighted to re-make your acquaintance. Do you have a deal of matters to be about until your departure?
It so perchances that I do not, and that, indeed, I find myself quite at leisure today.
Oh, that falls out entire pleasingly! Sure, Hector was saying to me that, did you not require to leave very abrupt the morn, he would greatly like to give your boots a little attention, and furbish your garments somewhat: I am in some concern that he takes an ambition to seek a place as a valet —
Why, ’tis very civil in him, and I should not in the least mind lingering a little, should I not be in the way.
Not in the least, my dear, but I regret that ’tis the morn upon which Docket has obtained for me preference to a fitting with a crack new modiste, Mamzelle Bridgette, and I dare not cut.
Dear Madame Clorinda, I confide I can entertain myself for an hour or so — there are newspapers, I see you have many fine books, I will not be at all at loose ends — Indeed, I might consult with Hector over the best care of boots —
She smiled at him. And should you be at leisure this afternoon, I was purposing to go visit Mr Robinson’s studio, and should be delighted could you escort me?
Zoffany Robinson, the artist — perchance you met him at Mr Pargiter’s reception for Miss Addington? — a most agreeable fellow, his studio is a great place of resort for all sorts and conditions, and he has a fine gallery.
Josiah considered this proposal for a moment, and it seemed entirely agreeable. Why, do you care for my company, I shall be entire delighted to escort you.
They smiled at one another. Clorinda rang for Hector to convey him the intelligence that Josiah would be staying, and would be requiring somewhat in the way of nuncheon before they went out. Hector nodded. Clorinda rose, and said, she had better go dress, had no doubt that Docket was waiting all impatience.
Josiah turned to Hector and said it was most exceeding civil of him to offer to furbish up his boots and clothes, and would be exceeding grateful for any hints he could give on keeping them properly. Hector gave him a small smile and said, did Mr Ferraby desire to observe the matter, would there be any objection to coming belowstairs? Should not like to be about such matters here — he glanced about the parlour.
No objection in the least, said Josiah, do I not intrude.
Hector conducted him downstairs and found him a chair to sit upon while he undertook the tasks.
Josiah had been hoping for some opportunity of converse with Hector — not, he thought, in the manner of one who seeks out servants’ gossip, but to be reassured in certain matters. So as Hector addressed himself to the boots, with explanations of what he was doing and why it was the proper thing, he said, I daresay I need be in no fret about Madame Clorinda’s well-being and prosperity while I am gone?
Hector looked up with a beaming grin. Oh, Mr Ferraby, indeed you need have no worries! Madame is exceeding well situated. I think she may take a little concern that Mr Reveley, that is now Lord Raxdell, will be obliged to go marry, but we confide that does he so he is like to make a generous settlement. And there are other regular patrons —
His sister, the majestic Phoebe, came in with the just delivered clean laundry for sorting. She gave a little snort and said, General Yeomans is a fine generous man and showed heroic in the wars in India, but do you not think he looks frail of late? And, she gave a little shudder, sure I could not fancy Mr Hacker, that cuts up dead bodies.
Mr Hacker, said Hector with an air of reproof, is a very learned fellow and famed for his skills at surgery.
Still, said Phoebe. And we have not seen aught of Sir Barton this age. Hector gave a snort. Gambling wastrel, he said.
In order to change the subject, Josiah cleared his throat and said, he was minded to suppose that it would be proper to give Madame Clorinda some token of appreciation —
They both turned and smiled upon him. But, said Hector, one would really need to ask Docket —
Did not Madame say somewhat about some very stylish shoe-buckles she saw?
But has Docket give ’em her approval?
They both sniggered a little.
Seraphine came in and said sure it was time for elevens, would Mr Ferraby care to join ’em? ’Twas naught fancy —
It might not be fancy, but it was very excellent cake that she served along with their tea. Indeed, he remarked, I am delighted to observe how very well-looked-after is Madame Clorinda —
We hope, said Phoebe, we know what is proper.
One can see that, said Josiah, who knew what to look for in a well-kept household, and this one was entirely such as Eliza would have approved — he halted that thought.
We apprehend, said Hector, that you will be visiting us in future, Mr Ferraby?
I am obliged, said Josiah, to come to Town several times in the year about various matters of business, and it is entirely soothing to my spirits to have the company of Madame Clorinda, for they give me a deal of bother and fret while I am about ’em. So indeed I hope to call here again when I return.
Hector and Phoebe beamed upon him and said, he had become quite the favourite with Madame already.
Indeed, said Phoebe, I have not seen her so merry since Captain Knighton had his sailing orders for the China Seas.
’Tis so, agreed Hector. But I was minded, Mr Ferraby, that you may have matters that you would desire to keep in Town, are you back and forth, rather than to keep conveying ’em hither and yon.
Josiah considered upon this. Certainly he would have no use for his new fine Town garments at home, where they would only cause comment — Eh, Ferraby, quite the dandy I see — that would not serve their interests particularly well. Why, is it no trouble, he said, should indeed be grateful, for it cannot be good to keep packing things up, and there is always the possibility of ’em going astray —
Entirely so, said Hector. Do you leave ’em with us. And, he added, should you ever be wishful to go see a prizefight, should be delighted to take you some time.
I know little enough of prize-fighting, said Josiah, in our parts ’tis wrestling, in former days I was accounted a tidy wrestler, but I apprehend boxing is quite a great matter here in Town.
Sure I did not greatly fancy that life, said Hector — Phoebe gave a little snort — but I know somewhat of the pugilistic art.
Perchance when I return to Town, said Josiah.
Seraphine came in and said that Madame had mentioned the matter of a little nuncheon —
Why, is it just for me I should be happy with bread and cheese —
Seraphine looked affronted. Fie, Madame should be back as soon as maybe, and even was she not, sure we can do somewhat better than that. I have some soup a-cooking, and there is that potted game I put up from the present that Mr Reve — I mean, Lord Raxdell — lately sent. And ’twould be no bother at all to bake a few apples.
Josiah had had no idea what to expect of their visit to Mr Robinson’s studio: he had certainly not anticipated that all would turn to gaze upon their entrance. Though he could not deny that ’twas somewhat agreeable to see those expression of envy on certain fellows’ faces at the sight of Madame Clorinda upon his arm. One could see that she was well-known, but treated with — yes, there was a degree of respect there, there was none showed vulgar familiar towards her.
She conducted him to Mr Robinson, that was displaying some new painting to an interested group. He immediately ceased whatever he was saying, bowed exceeding low over her hand, declared that it was an entire age since he had seen her, and when would she sit to him again?
She tapped him lightly with her fan and said were there not a deal of fresher faces about Town? but permit her to introduce to him Mr Ferraby, that made most excellent fine iron and had interest in canals and was about improvements —
Mr Robinson shook his hand most exceeding hearty, made very amiable, desired to introduce him about the company; and Josiah realized that indeed, this was an excellent fine way to become acquainted with fellows that might come about to be of use to him, and he to them, for they were by no means fribbles or dilettantes but virtuosi and savants and those with whom he could find a deal in common.
He could hear Madame Clorinda and Robinson in idle converse about mutual acquaintance, when he heard her give a little squeek, beg leave of Mr Robinson, and go over to another lady, a fine tall gypsyish-looking creature, and smite her upon the arm with her fan, crying, Abby Gowing, you sad trollop! Have not seen you this age, where have you been hiding yourself?
He thought the lady looked a little uneasy, but then said, why, have been travelling about the races, have not seen you there at all.
Why, with Lord Raxdell in mourning, ’twould be most improper for him to be about such matters —
Miss Gowing snorted and said, Even when one considers what sort of a fellow his father was? Sure I am surprised he did not go hold a rout on the evening of the funeral.
He wishes, I daresay, to show an entire contrast to that wretched scoundrel. But, my dear, how did you do?
O, Miss Gowing looked modestly down, I did well enough.
Madame Clorinda beckoned to Josiah with her fan, in order that she might make an introduction — this naughty rogue is my oldest and dearest friend, Miss Abigail Gowing, sure I must caution you do you ever venture to sit down to a game at cards with her —
At this moment came up, looking a little abashed, a fellow that had all the air of a gentleman about town of the sporting set —
Miss Gowing also looked somewhat conscious as he slipped his arm through hers.
La, Sir Barton! Have not seen you this age, was in some fret there was some matter of debts of honour leading you to rusticate — but I confide that you have been disporting yourself about the Turf with this saucy wench here —
(Had not there been some mention of Sir Barton as among Madame Clorinda’s favourites? She was taking his defection, was it such, with entire aplomb, and it was, indeed, the gentleman and Miss Gowing that were looking in some embarrassment.)
But I fail in my manners! Sir Barton, permit me to introduce Mr Ferraby, that does most exceeding well out of iron and suchlike matters —
Charmed, said Sir Barton, extending his hand with a genial expression —
Mr Ferraby, Sir Barton Wallace, Member of Parliament for Moncombe Upshaw. But, she put her arm through Miss Gowing’s, I must beg your leaves to go exchange gossip with this wanton doxy that I have not seen in so long —
Sir Barton shook his head as the two women walked away. Fine woman, he said, exceeding fine woman.
Entirely, said Josiah.
Would never show it, but I came to suppose she found gaming-hells a little tedious, whereas Miss Gowing — now, she is a gamester through and through. But you are in the business of iron, she says —
They proceeded to discussion and Josiah found Sir Barton most exceeding agreeable — no deep thinker, perchance, and he dared say was one upon whom the duties of MP sat very lightly, but all amiability: regretted to hear that Mr Ferraby would be returning to the north so soon, would have quite delighted to take him to a prizefight — he sighed a little at the fine prize-fighter he had lost in Hector — and sure, one day he must come dine at his club. Did he come to Town again -?
Josiah allowed that he was like to be back with a couple of months or so.
Why, I daresay one may leave messages with Madame Clorinda? One hears you are in quite the greatest favour there.
Josiah looked, he hoped, suitably modest at the thought. I daresay, he said, that she would keep ’em for me.
The two women returned, apparently on quite the greatest terms of amiability, giggling a little together. Well, said Madame Clorinda, is’t not pleasant to renew acquaintance? And by the by, Sir Barton, how does that good old lady your mother?
Sir Barton gave somewhat between a sigh and a groan and said, has been persuaded to try Buxton for a change.
’Tis a deal further off than Bath, said Miss Gowing with an air of great cheer.
Madame Clorinda said ’twas time they took their leave of Mr Robinson —
Indeed, said Miss Gowing, here comes that rattle Miss Daniels, let us all leave together with an air of quite the greatest friendship, or she will have it all over town that we were about pulling of hair and scratching faces.
Entirely prudent, dearest Abby.
Why, said Sir Barton, have m’carriage without, might drop you by your house.
So very kind, she murmured, before going to make their congé to Mr Robinson.
Once they were returned to Madame Clorinda’s pretty house, and had tea and anchovy-toast and very fresh hot scones before them, she remarked that all had fallen out a deal more advantageous than she had hoped. Had not supposed, she said, that one might run across Sir Barton in Town at this season, had meant sometime to contrive an introduction, for I confide that it must be of considerable utility to you to have the acquaintance of an MP — o, one must confess he is not noted for his diligence about the affairs of the nation, but he is very good-natured and will put himself about to help friends in matters of private bills &C —
Josiah agreed that Sir Barton seemed quite the most agreeable of fellows, but, he had been led to surmize —
O! Madame Clorinda giggled a little. Sure he is a pleasant fellow, but he has a tiresome fondness for the four pasteboard queens that supersedes any devotion to a flesh-and-blood lady once he is at the tables, most exceeding ennuyant. ’Tis entirely delightful to me that he has took up with Abby, that can enter into his passion as I cannot. Also, she added, one always fears that the dreadful crocodile, Old Lady Wallace his mother, that is so like unto a crocodile that one wonders that she is not haled off to a menagerie, is like to grow vengeful against ladies that distract him from marrying and presenting her with grandchildren.
Not, she went on, that I would wish ill upon Abby, that is quite my oldest and dearest friend, the reckless rogue. She smiled fondly.
A most pleasant, and, I am like to think, profitable afternoon, said Josiah. Might I desire you, now you have poured tea, to come sit upon my knee?
Sure, Mr Ferraby, that would be quite entire agreeable!