Two Weddings & Several Revelations
Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle
Volume 4: The Younger Generation Coming of Age
In Clorinda’s circle, the younger generation are coming of age, finding their places in the world, and forming relationships. Life by no means stands still for their elders. A long-buried secret may be revealed.
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Belinda knows not how she should be styled
Belinda stirred and came to wakefulness. It still surprized her, how quickly she had become accustomed to the habitual noise and bustle of a mews in a fashionable part of Town. She was no longer disturbed by the rumbling of carts, the clattering of shod hooves upon cobblestones, or the cries of street-sellers and the sometimes heated exchanges taking place at the kitchen door.
She had, of course, been grateful to dear Clorinda for offering shelter to a lady still overshadowed by antient scandal. Certainly none of her own relatives would have taken under their roof one that had notoriously run away from her husband to set up in business horse-breeding and training with another man. A scandal that had been revived when her husband, succeeding to a title, endeavoured a bigamous marriage to a wealthy heiress, was denounced by Belinda at the very altar, nearly murdered her, and was confined as a lunatic in the care of Chancery until his recent death. And the even more recent revelation that he had not been the rightful heir.
Could she, Belinda wondered, still call herself, was she so inclined, Lady Bexbury?
Possibly her relations might have found her some lonely distant cottage where she might reside out of the gaze of the respectable, but she had the impression that ladies in her position were supposed to take themselves abroad, a prospect that filled her with horror even had lameness not been increasing upon her.
Even had there not been the trouble from her dear Captain’s relatives over the business, she did not have the heart to continue it without him. Had also noticed that their local society, that had not shown particularly concerned over their state while the Captain was alive, became a little — chilly — towards a woman alone. Did the wives and ladies in the horsey set they had frequented suppose that, had a woman once run off from her husband with another man, she might, middle-aged and lame as she was, levant with some other woman’s fellow, being by then in the habit?
Belinda sighed. Dear Captain Penkarding: the finest of friends, the most excellent of business partners: but perhaps his greatest virtue had been that he had had no desire to share her bed. Oh, once or twice, crowded inns at race-meetings and the like, they had been obliged to share a chamber, but had been entire courteous constraint ’twixt the two of ’em. He had not troubled her with a matter she detested; and she had provided him with a most useful masquerade for desires that the law looked upon with great heaviness.
Little Molly, the under-housemaid, came in with morning tea, and then returned with hot water. Was there anything else? she asked. Belinda considered her state of health and determined that she would not need assistance in rising and dressing the morn.
Indeed her leg felt better than was wont: Hector and Euphemia’s Patience, that was a trained nurse and ambitious to become one of Mrs Fry’s nursing sisters, had lately prevailed upon the Dowager Duchess of Humpleforth’s Hindoo ayah to teach her the art of champooing, and had undertaken the same upon Belinda. Belinda shook the leg. A deal less stiff.
When she went out into her sitting-room, a fire already lit and burning brightly, she found Euphemia herself setting the table for her breakfast. Should you, she asked, care for a fine fresh country egg? Mrs Samuels came by to leave a basketful yesterday, fresh the morn.
Mrs Samuels? said Belinda — sure indeed I could fancy a fine soft-boiled egg.
Elder sister to the Duchess of Mulcaster, said Euphemia, her husband is a very clever fellow, in the Royal Society, is land agent to Admiral Knighton, she has a pretty hand for drawing and keeps hens. Comes to Town, I hear, in order that Maurice may go dress her entire proper for these two family weddings they are about. Her Ladyship offers that you might care join ’em for tea —
But, said Belinda.
Euphemia gave a hearty chuckle. Is not one cares much for the uses of Society, she said. I will go see about your egg.
And one of those weddings, thought Belinda, buttering a nice warm muffin, was of the Duke’s daughter to the true Marquess of Bexbury, usurped by that monster she had married. A pleasant young man, from all she had been told, but she did not fancy to intrude herself upon him.
Euphemia came in with a large brown egg, cooked to the exact degree that Belinda liked. Sure they did her most exceeding well here.
When she finally pushed her plate away — a very fine egg indeed, and wherever Euphemia got her butter, it gave the lie to all she had heard about the inferiority of Town comestibles — she could hear Prue coming downstairs to begin the nigh endless task of keeping all clean and sweet. She came in to clear the table, asked if Belinda needed any help, and then took the china and cutlery into the scullery, where she could be heard lustily singing hymns as she washed up. Belinda smiled.
She picked her shawl off the back of the chair and draped it over her shoulders, pulled herself to standing, took up the stick that rested at her side, and walked with only a little hitching in her stride to the back door. She stood there for a moment, sniffing the air: that pervasive Town tang of smoke, but underlying it, the good stable-scent of horse and hay, from Clorinda’s own stable near at hand, and, further down the mews, Sam Jupp’s fine livery stable and carriage-hire business. ’Twas homelike.
She limped over the cobbles into the stable, where Nick Jupp was brushing Melusine’s tail into spun silver. He nodded. Y’r Ladyship. Did you want to go out on Columbine?
’Twill wait upon you finishing your task, she said, sitting down upon a convenient bale of hay.
He looked at the tail in his hand, remarked that Her Ladyship would not be going out until later, did she ride at all today, and went to saddle Columbine. Belinda looked around her. Such a pleasingly well-run stable, one could tell that Nick had had his training under Ajax, and took a pride in how well turned out the cattle under his care were. Had no ambition to be a businessman like his brother Sam — look how thin his hair grows from the worry and the fret, he had remarked one day.
Nick boosted her into the saddle and she took the reins. A nice crisp autumn morn for a ride in the Park — sure her days of wild gallops in the hunting field were done — ’twas a little tame perhaps, but she took care to go ride there at the unfashionable hours when there was no great press of those more interested in seeing and being seen than enjoying a fine canter. There was also the consideration that she had rather not display herself at those times when her presence might cause adverse comment.
The Park was sure exceeding pretty with the leaves turning colour &C, but ’twas not the country she was used to. There were a few others about, but she dared say that they were those like herself more interested in equestrian exercize than Society.
And then she noticed that one of the riders was coming towards her. Belinda frowned, and was about to turn Columbine in a different direction, when the rider lifted his whip in greeting, and, peering a little, she perceived that it was no encroaching stranger but Terence Offerton that had ever been a good friend of the Captain’s. Had writ a very fine condoling letter for one that she suspected but seldom put pen to paper.
How now, Mr Offerton! she cried, how do you the day?
Why, well enough, but I must confess, was riding out the morn in hopes of encountering you.
Why, had lately heard that you were come to Town, to live with Lady Bexbury —
Sure I did not suppose ’twas an on-dit.
I daresay not generally, but I had come about to hear it through my acquaintance with Mr MacDonald —
Belinda stared. Terence Offerton, that never read aught but the Racing Calendar except it might be the adventures of Jorrocks, and was, insofar as he bothered with political opinions, a diehard Tory, an acquaintance of Mr MacDonald, that learned radical philosopher — Oh. Oh. Might it be so?
— and, he went on, confide I am not the only fellow would be most entire eager to have the benefits of your understanding of the equine race. Would not wish to impose, and sure I hesitate to invite a lady to a bachelor establishment such as mine, but ’twould be an immense boon might you cast your eye over my cattle some day and give me your thoughts upon ’em, for they do not do as well as they might.
Why, ’twould be an entire pleasure! As you may have heard, I go somewhat lame these days, but would still be pleased to walk a deal of a distance to see your fine creatures.
’Tis exceeding generous of you, and, he went on awkwardly, should not wish take advantage of your kindness —
Oh fie! Thanks to Lady Bexbury and her good friends, came to an agreement with the Captain’s family over the business and the estate, have not been left in penury, if that is your concern.
Well, I will consult with Lady Bexbury, that has the very nicest sense of the ton in such matters, said Belinda.
They rode on together companionably for a while, until Terence saluted her with his whip and took his leave.
Sure ’twas most exceeding gratifying to have her services thus solicited, though mayhap ’twas entire a kindness in Terence Offerton, that must consider her in sad case, her occupation gone, and went about to find somewhat that would engage her mind. Yet, had she not thought, last time she had been at the races with the dear Captain, that had she had the handling of Terence’s colt, she might bring him on somewhat?
She sighed a little and turned back to home, as she must now consider it. Indeed Clorinda had desired her to treat it entirely as her own home, invite company, &C, but she still had somewhat of hesitation about doing so.
Her sitting-room smelt most agreeably of polish when she entered. Hardly had she sat down, and picked up the newspapers that had been thoughtfully laid beside her chair, than Molly put her head around the door and said, Euphemia offered that Her Ladyship might care for a little nuncheon?
Why, mayhap some bread and cheese, would not wish to give any trouble.
Some little while later came Euphemia with a bowl of hot soup and a plate on which there was her Welsh rabbit, a dish entirely fit for angels. Let us, she said, have none of this poor relation o, make no trouble for me nonsense. Her Ladyship has give her orders.
Belinda felt almost tearful. Why, she is very good.
And ’tis no trouble at all. But, if we talk of trouble, should you mind did Ben come take a look at the hoist? Has come visit a few days — I daresay you collect that he goes study to be an engineer? — and thinks ’twould be most instructive to examine it. Apprehends that there was some particular fine notion of Sir Harry’s went into the matter.
Why, should be delighted. What a very fine thing it is to be sure. Must be agreeable to you to have Ben come visit?
Euphemia smiled broadly. Indeed so, and to see that he does not go waste away now he is from home. Though one observes some matters of needful mending.
Belinda laughed. O, young men.
But I must go see does Mr MacDonald require any sustenance: will get quite lost in his studies and never think to ring.
It was such an excellent repast that Belinda found herself dozing over the newspapers that she endeavoured to give her attention to afterwards, and was only waked, with somewhat of a start, when Ben came in and offered that she might like helping to the hoist so that she could go take tea with Her Ladyship?
Oh, that is exceeding kind of you!
’Tis no trouble, he said. What a fine mechanism it is, I wonder Sir Harry does not go about to patent it.
She sat herself down in the seat that had been placed on the platform, and Ben hauled upon the rope so that the whole contraption quite flew up taking her to the next floor like the Demon King bursting out of the trapdoor in a pantomime. Once she was there Hector offered her his arm to help her rise, and conveyed her into the parlour, where dear Clorinda was waiting, with another lady with somewhat disordered hair and the air of one that had somewhat reluctant dressed for Town, perchance a little under Clorinda’s own years.
Dear Belinda, permit me to introduce Martha Samuels; Martha, Belinda Gorston, Marchioness of Bexbury —
Am I, said Belinda, entitled to that rank, seeing that that monster my husband had it by entire mistake.
Indeed, is it not quite the Gothic tale? said Mrs Samuels. That there are such rogues in the world. But what a nice young fellow is the real Marquess, and entire devoted to dear Cathy — that is, my niece, Lady Catherine Beaufoyle, quite the prettiest romance, is it not?
They all sat down and Euphemia came bustling in with tea and a deal of sandwiches and savoury pastries and cakes.
Mrs Samuels remarked that sure social conventions were a deal of nonsense and exceeding tiresome but somehow one is obliged to observe them and misses a deal thereby. She declared that she had ever had quite the greatest admiration for Belinda since hearing of her courageous confrontation of her lunatic husband in the very act of committing bigamy — the nasty wretch had endeavoured to offer for Little V before that, nigh on old enough to be her grandfather and I confide her fortune was what he aimed at, the scoundrel, but most fortunate His Grace came down like the fellow in the Greek myth that saved the lady from the sea-monster.
Belinda declared that she was quite put to the blush (what a very amiable creature indeed was Mrs Samuels). But, she went on, I hear you keep hens, Mrs Samuels, and we are to thank you for the fine eggs we had to our breakfast the morn?
Indeed they are fine eggs, she said complacently, and sure hens are a deal more interesting than one supposes.
Have you not read Martha’s little book on the subject? asked Clorinda. ’Tis most exceeding entertaining and instructive.
Oh, fiddlesticks, you would not cease from nagging until I writ it. I daresay she will be about telling you you must write some treatise upon horseflesh, that you are give out exceeding knowing about —
La, Martha, ’tis a most excellent idea, I will be about procuring Belinda pens and paper quite immediate.
Poo, I am no writer, can keep up a stud-book but that is all.
Martha remarked that she did the like for her hens, ’twas most useful instructive.
Clorinda asked how her children were doing.
O, you know Deborah takes to the study of shells? — Clorinda nodded — and Horatio will send her parcels from wherever he sails upon the survey with Captain Gold, is that not charming? and Davey still travels about the Continent calling upon family connections and visiting libraries &C, that he has recommendations from Mr Lucas and others to. She gave a happy little sigh. Sure ’twas most agreeable how dear Papa finally came round to my marriage — provided most handsome for the two of ’em, so Davey is in no necessity to take some uncongenial occupation —
That minds me, said Clorinda, that I meant to advance Jacob’s interest to the new Marquess in the matter of Tetterdene, if that would be agreeable?
Why, would be entire delighted, I confide. For when he advized upon it those years since, was of the opinion that there was a deal more could be done, did one have the will.
’Twas in a most desperate state, remarked Belinda. The fellow that was agent had the matter in him, but without authority was little enough he could do. Still, we went poke Chancery and stirred ’em up somewhat.
While I am in no mind to think ’tis Cathy’s portion leads him to this match — for one sees him gaze upon her most adoring — ’twill I daresay be most beneficial that she comes well-endowed —
I fancy, said Clorinda, that her understanding of estate management will be worth at least as much. Was not brought up to be merely ornamental. Though sure she is very fine-looking and they make a handsome couple. Perchance not quite as handsome as Lord Rollo and Lady Diana, that are quite out of the common remarkable-looking, but still exceeding fine. Not, she added, that one should be entire beguiled by the pleasure of the eye — sure one has known handsome fellows that were quite the worst characters, and ladies whose beauty of face is not matched by a similar beauty of character —
That rabid vixen Lady Trembourne I apprehend remains abroad? interjected Martha.
Fie, I apprehend from Josh that vixens are most devoted mothers &C and are much maligned — was one he saved from the hounds one time became quite a prime favourite — are a deal finer characters than that lady. But yes, they drag from spaw to spaw I hear.
How does Josh? asked Belinda. Do you hear from him at all?
O, every so often there will be a fat letter that he has writ over some considerable while in the wilds and takes some opportunity to post. I will get ’em out so you may read ’em.
So when Mrs Samuels had finally made her adieux, Belinda was conveyed back down to her own quarters with a fine bundle of Josh’s letters to peruse.
Indeed, as she read them, she apprehended that they had been entire written with a view to circulation among Clorinda’s connexion, for one could see that they had already been much read and handled, and in several instances there were little pencilled notes in the margins concerning some phenomenon he had observed, that she dared say were the handiwork of Mr MacDonald. And sure they were most exceeding fine reading, Josh had quite a knack for presenting a picture to his correspondents. Dear Josh, she thought, sure she had never had any great yearning such as she heard some ladies had towards offspring, but ’twould have been a fine thing to have had a son like Josh.
She was chuckling a little over his account when there was a little knock at her parlour door. She looked up. Come in!
Sam Jupp poked his head around the door, removed his hat, and said, Might we come in?
He has, added a fastidious voice behind him, wiped his boots very thorough.
Why, come in, said Belinda, laying aside the letters, what might I do for you? Will you take tea? Do sit down.
Should not take long, said Maurice Allard, following behind, but that I find that this fellow has been taking advantage of your kindness in veterinary matters.
Why, said Belinda, am I able to provide a little advice —
— a little advice that means that he no longer goes pay a retainer to that veterinarian fellow Donnelly for his services, because he has you entire upon his doorstep, and has also, I apprehend, conveyed you about to his other establishments. ’Tis not, said Maurice, folding his hands and suddenly looking most exceedingly like Hector, the good practices we are accustomed to. Should be all done on a proper business-like foundation.
Belinda sat back in her chair and looked from one to the other, the large ruddy-faced, somewhat balding Sam, biting his lips and fidgeting with his hat, and small dark Maurice, that was, she confided, long accustomed to have business dealings with The Quality of kinds that perchance did not incline him to any great deference.
Lady Bexbury, said Maurice — Sure I am not sure am I entitled to be thus styled! — you are a deal more fortunate than many ladies that have no other accomplishment to fall back upon than their needle. Mayhap you have not been to any veterinary college, but your understanding of horses is most widely given out as entirely exceptional —
’Tis exceeding kind of fellows to say so.
— and I fear you go be taken advantage of in the matter, in your kindness and concern. Sure Sam here should do the thing in proper fashion.
One does not, said Sam at length, wish to speak money to a lady —
Fie, said Maurice, was she not in business these many years with the late Captain? I confide she knows the value of a guinea. Just as because all matters to do with the other Lady Bexbury’s interest are dealt with by way of the Quennells does not import, I confide, that she neglects to scrutinize the accounts herself.
Sam threw up his hands and then dropped them rapidly to catch his hat before it fell to the floor. Very well! Should not wish to gain a reputation for sharp practice. Will convoke with young Mr Quennell about an agreement in proper form. He rose to his feet and said, if she would give him leave, would go at once and be writing a letter to him.
Why, indeed, said Belinda.
What he means, said Maurice after they had heard the door close behind Sam, is that he will go have Sophy write the letter for him.
Belinda tilted her head to one side and looked at Maurice. Indeed I am not come to entire penury, she said, but sure I should like to repay Lady Bexbury for her outlay here, as well as somewhat towards my keep.
Maurice snorted with laughter. Why, you may try, he said, but I confide ’twill end up some matter of a generous donation to some favoured charity of hers. And Sam can well afford the matter, you need not fret.
Why, one may see that the stables do exceeding well. But ’tis most exceeding good of you to take this trouble about the business on my behalf.
’Tis no trouble in the least, said Maurice, casting down his eyes. Sure there are matters that one may do out of friendship and good feeling, but one should not be taken advantage of. And Captain Penkarding once gave me the very soundest advice when I was a young fellow deciding upon a course in life — sure at the time I was like to be a little beguiled by a false glamour —
Belinda smiled at him. She had some recollection of the dear Captain grumbling somewhat about a matter of Lord Saythingport desiring to keep a fellow quite like unto a lapdog — I do not think ’tis a jealous pet in me to find it objectionable, my dear — And she had responded with a remark about her own rash imprudent rush into marriage in the false belief that ’twould convey her independence.
I wish, she said, that one had conveyed me good advice when I was young and set upon a rash course — but then, I daresay had I not married that clerical wretch, should never have met the dear Captain when his regiment was come about the parish. O, he was a fine sight in his regimentals! But ’twas in the hunting field that I saw his true mettle.
He was a fine fellow and very well-liked, said Maurice.
Belinda looked at him fondly. The pose of being a hard-headed businessman, she confided, concealed an exceeding soft heart: had she not seen how kindly he showed towards that pretty child Lizzie?
There was the sound of someone entering at the backdoor and Maurice’s head turned. There was a discreet rap at her own door and Mr MacDonald looked around it. Belinda smiled at the attempts to show indifferent: for it was entirely clear that the two men were quite extreme delighted to see one another.
Why, she said, Mr Allard here has been protecting my interests —
I am pleased to hear it, said Mr MacDonald.
One cannot like it, said Maurice in grumbling tones, when there are those go about undertaking matters to their own great inconvenience and saying, o, ’tis no matter, ’tis all between friends — did you sound out the mystery of whether ’twas the lady’s maid had made off with the pearls?
So that was the matter that had taken Mr MacDonald on a visit to Halsingford Manor; one of those little problems that he was more and more often asked to look into: ’tis not like calling upon a police detective, was the on-dit, ’twill all be quite discreet, scandal will be avoided.
He sighed and said, I fancy the fear was that Mrs Bamplemede had taken them herself to sell for some purpose she dared not disclose to her husband; but — I may say this here, I confide that ’twill go no further — the lady walks in her sleep, had taken them and hidden them, and would go in that state to look that they were still in their place of concealment. Most curious. I confide that there is some difficulty ’twixt the pair of ’em, entirely beyond my own commission — I daresay Clorinda might untangle the matter —
O, very like! said Maurice. But sure she cannot remedy the lot of every neglected wife in Society.
Mr McDonald frowned. I fancied — though sure I do not have Clorinda’s acuity in such matters — that ’twas not so much a case of neglect as undue possessiveness —
That can indeed be a most exceeding tiresome quality in a husband! said Belinda. But I daresay Mr MacDonald, you are quite done-up after your journey, and I would not detain you here gossiping.
Indeed, said Maurice, and I confide I should go with him to ensure he does not of a sudden go get lost in some book and forget to eat or drink.
She smiled at them and said, most wise.
After they had left there was a little sound of scuffling upon the stair. She smiled, and picked up Josh’s letters once more.
And as ever, dear Clorinda came look in upon her, though ’twas clear from her dress that she was about to go out to some fine occasion. La, my dear, ’tis sure a mad whirl at present, no time to sit and have cozy womanly gossip beside the fire, but I apprehend you had visitors the afternoon?
Belinda disclosed the matter to her — though confided that she was very like already well-apprized of what went forth. But, my dear, I am not sure whether ’tis proper in me to take money for my services. For do you not undertake a deal of matters — O, Lady Bexbury, your taste is so remarkable, can you not advize on how we should furbish our new house — entire unremunerated?
Clorinda looked thoughtful and sat down carefully in order not to disarrange her dress. Why, she said, I confide that such matters bring in remuneration in other coin, do me a deal of good in Society — and, she added with a mischievous grin, the knowledge that I may give fine recommendations inclines tradesmen to offer me most excellent fine prices for any work they do for me and to beg my esteemed custom most exceeding fulsome. But in your situation, my dear, I think ’tis quite entire proper and that you are worthy of your hire.
Sure you come away from the brangle with the Captain’s family with a pleasing little amount of capital — though, my dear, now you are a little more settled, I think you should go consider over investments: I have ever found Sebastian Knowles a fine advizer in such matters. But can do no harm to have a little extra coming in.
I will be advized by you, that is known such a fine businesswoman!
Fie, ’tis give out that Lady Bexbury is an entire featherwit!
Belinda looked fondly at her old friend. Still ravishing, her looks quite jealously tended by Sophy, still, the on-dit gave out, widely admired by gentlemen of all ages. Still the same sensible creature.
Well, said Clorinda, jumping up, I must be off so as not to see uncivil haughty late, but o, ’tis exceeding agreeable to have you here.
And to be here — what a very pleasant woman is Mrs Samuels, I hope we may meet again.
O, quite the finest creature! Clorinda darted across the room to kiss Belinda on the cheek. And I assure you, my people will be much aggrieved do you not ring is there the slightest thing you require, and Euphemia has a very fine supper for you.
She left. Belinda leaned back in her chair, smiling.
She had thought that she would pass out her days as a useless dependent: but she found, here, on her doorstep, matters that she could be about, that she was desired to be about, that she had a new life before her that she had not imagined.