Torches
Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 8: Acquaintance Old and New

Torches Cover

Matters in Clorinda’s circle and its further reaches remain somewhat unsettled following recent events. Relationships have been disturbed, alignments changed, and the effects are wide-ranging. Clorinda herself was most unwontedly shaken, and looks forward to recruiting her spirits in a round of congenial summer visits.

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Read Chapter 1 ...

Tetterdene does not have ghosts

Tetterdene was a deal less dilapidated than Helen Dabney had supposed they would find it. Sure she apprehended that there had been work put in hand since Phil’s succession, but it did not seem that the place had fallen into ruin during the years of his great-uncle’s exile and the lunacy of the false Marquess, somewhat had been done to keep the place in repair.

She had said as much to dear Clorinda Bexbury after her first visit: o, said Clorinda, there has been an excellent fine agent keeping an eye upon the place — I fancy ’tis now the son of the fellow we first had to deal with, but I surmize ’tis quite entirely down to them that you still have such excellent tenants and that the house itself is not in the state that the Town house had fallen into before it was put to rights. Of course, there must be matters of decoration

Perchance they might not yet wish to invite many guests — though indeed there was company in the house, ’twas more in the nature of a working-party, with a view to bringing the place into a condition where one might invite society.

So there were dear Cathy’s aunt and uncle Samuels, and he was very noted for his abilities in estate management besides being an esteemed geologist and a Fellow of the Royal Society and entire delighted to put his knowledge to their service. Helen had blinked a little upon meeting the Samuels, and observing Jacob Samuels to be Jewish, that was not a thing that would ever have come about in their old Northamptonshire circles: but she came along to see how very narrow and provincial those were.

And then there were Mr and Miss Roberts, that quite clearly had Negro blood, and were dear friends from Cathy’s childhood, and he was a most well-thought-of horticulturalist and botanist that went about to advize about the gardens, and she was a young woman of learning that contributed to the periodical press and had offered to undertake to restore the library to some semblance of its former glory.

But what a charming creature was Cathy! Entirely everything she might have hoped for in a daughter — so thoughtful, so kind. Had quite refused to listen to Helen’s timid suggestions that perchance she should go live apart from the young couple — did not wish to be an interfering mother-in-law (and indeed she was a little daunted at the state Phil was now obliged to keep) — sure she would be quite happy in some modest dwelling — No, said Cathy, she could see the great fondness there was ’twixt mother and son, would not wish to come between. And, she went on, came to find herself in such a condition that she would greatly desire an older woman about her —

So entirely delightful a thing! Phil, she confided, was quite ecstatic.

But here was this gloomy fellow, some connexion of Cathy’s that her mother had desired her to take in — had been advized to rusticate by his physician, and Her Grace had considered that there would be too much bustle and press of company at Qualling for one in need of bucolic quiet, might they find him room at Tetterdene? Captain Horrocks, of the Navy. Civil enough — inclined to start at sudden noises —

There was a tap on her sitting-room door and Cathy peeped room. Might I come in, Mama Helen?

O, indeed, my dear! How very well you are looking.

Have just been walking about the woods with Uncle Jacob: he is like to think that we should thin them out, they are badly overgrown and have not been properly managed this age, but the timber will do very well towards paying for some of the other matters that need seeing to.

How very delightful was Cathy’s understanding of matters of estate management: it was a quality she had never anticipated in a daughter-in-law, and yet, how very useful it was in the position they now found themselves.

But I must warn you a little about Captain Horrocks: some years ago was on the West Africa Patrol —

O, that is very fine work!

Indeed so, but he saw dreadful things — does not speak of it, but was as ’twere a shock to the mind that still comes back to trouble him from time to time. There was some matter lately that I am given to apprehend has brought it back to him. ’Tis by no means madness

One may see he is in his right mind, said Helen.

— but a state of nerves, so can we be very gentle and calm around him, will be salutory for him. Quintus — that is, Dr Ferraby, has writ conveying his suggestions for recovering his health.

What a very fine physician is young Doctor Ferraby! remarked Helen.

Cathy smiled. Dear Quintus — the gentle ruler of the Raxdell House nursery set in our childhood. She gave a little sigh. We have still not entirely given up hope that Sallington will marry his sister Flora — such a fine young woman — But does Captain Horrocks’ hand shake at dinner or such-like, ’twould be a kindness not to notice.

Helen nodded.

Indeed, one did perceive at dinner — that was a congenial informal affair with no fuss about precedence &C — that Captain Horrocks’ hand was inclined to shake and that he refused the soup, doubtless for that reason.

But Miss Roberts went about to distract the company by talking about the discovery she had made, that although one had heard that the former Marquess, His Lordship’s great-uncle, had been obliged to leave the country somewhat precipitate, either he, or one in whom he had posed a justified trust, had taken due care of the library. For, she said, she had been in anticipation of finding it in a most parlous state — silverfish, bookworm — mice nesting in the folios — mushrooms growing in dank corners — found that one had very careful put away the most precious volumes well-wrapped up in chests in a good dry part of the attics, and she fancied that there must have been instructions to the agent that the books left upon the shelves were to be took down and thoroughly dusted very regular — all, she said with a smile, entire exemplary. Have seen libraries in houses that have been in constant habitation less well-kept.

Had not, she added, made yet any very remarkable discoveries of volumes, but, she said with a mischievous glance at her brother, there are some quaint old herbals.

One may imagine, said Mr Roberts. Mandrake roots drawn in the form of a man, and so on.

Quite so!

Martha Samuels expressed a desire to examine them and Miss Roberts declared that she was quite entirely welcome — would leave ’em out upon the library table.

Why, that is agreeable occupation for the evening: for although the studio has a fine light aspect, I do not think we should wish to try our eyes there over much — ? she looked smiling at Helen. What a very amiable creature was Mrs Samuels — no amateur dabbler, but most highly esteemed for her capacity in scientific illustration, but entirely threw open the old orangery that had become her studio to Helen and her china-painting.

Indeed not, agreed Helen. I should greatly like to see these old herbals myself.

So the party went into the library, where one could already see that matters were beginning to be put in order, and Helen was in some temptation to browse, but minded that Miss Roberts was still working upon it. So went look upon the herbals, that were indeed very quaint.

Really, she slept very well these days: no midnight frettings over making ends meet or what would become of Phil, and the beds here so very comfortable —

Yet she found herself stirring sometime in the dark hours and then came to an awareness of footsteps along the corridor.

She sat up. ’Twas less likely that it was some ghostly apparition — there were no tales of family spectres at Tetterdene — than that poor Captain Horrocks went, she dared say, walk in his sleep, she had heard that was a thing happened with those of troubled mind.

Pulling a wrapper around her she went to the door and looked out. Indeed that was the lean figure of the naval officer, clad in a robe, at the head of the stairs. Fearful of startling him — was that not given out perilous to sleepwalkers? — she moved towards him.

He turned and she saw that he was awake. Mrs Dabney?

O! Captain Horrocks — I was in some fear that you might be sleep-walking —

He gave a small smile. No — have been spared that — but was having such ill dreams that I feared to fall back into ’em and got up to walk about a little.

Perchance, said Helen, you might like a cup of tea?

Why, that would come very grateful, but I should not care to disturb the servants.

No need, said Helen, beginning to descend the staircase. We have a spirit-lamp and kettle and tea-set in the studio.

For Martha Samuels had declared that when she desired a cup of tea in the midst of her labours, she had a deal rather be about making it herself than having to ring and go send for it and wait for it to be brought. So they were entirely set up for the matter.

’Tis very kind of you — when I have disturbed your slumbers —

O, ’tis no bother.

She led him into the studio and went about lighting a candle and the spirit lamp and seeing was there water in the kettle and making all the preparations. Captain Horrocks sat down in a chair.

When the tea had brewed she handed him a cup, not too full because she took a concern about the tremor in his hands. He sipped at it as she poured a cup for herself.

They sat silent for a little while and then Captain Horrocks said, What a sorry story of trickery there was about that fellow that was your late husband’s trustee! Sure you could have been living at Tetterdene this age had you had your rights.

Helen looked down into her cup and said, ’twas curious, but she did not entirely regret that — took the thought that Phil would have inherited as a babe-in-arms, and doubted not that there would have been some guardian appointed, and matters of tutors, and sending off to school for the upbringing and education proper to his station, in which she apprehended mothers were of little account, in particular mothers that were not born to that station —

Was perchance somewhat selfish of her. But although their circumstances had been a little straitened, they had been very happy during his childhood —

And one observes, said Horrocks, that he has a fine sense of responsibility that one does not always see in those that were bred up in high station, along with that very useful apprehension of legal matters.

Helen smiled. ’Tis kind of you to say so. Mothers are inclined to be partial.

He said, ’twas entirely true, he minded on how very embarrassed he was, upon joining Captain Knighton’s, as then was, ship as a little middy, and his mother praising him to the skies — well, he had been fortunate, it had been a good ship, firm but fair treatment, ’twas not always the case, and in due course his mother had seen him advanced to Lieutenant, had been immense proud.

This is good tea, he added, putting his cup down, and smiled. It transformed his face. This is entirely uncommon good of you, Mrs Dabney.

Why, said Helen, ’tis little enough — the very fine work I hear you have been about — admirable —

He gave a deep sigh and said, ’twas like the Hydra in the myth — but indeed, there come times when one feels that one has as ’twere uprooted a deal of evil — that ’tis not entire fruitless

She leant forward to clasp his hands in hers. Oh, indeed it cannot be, she said.

He cast down his eyes, and cleared his throat, and mumbled somewhat about, too much credit — one’s duty — and then stood up, saying, sure he should not keep her waking any longer, and fancied he might sleep more restful now.

Helen rose, asking was he sure?

Indeed so, he said, bowing over her hand.

She waited a little while, putting by the cups tidily, before making her own way back to bed.