I am about tidying myself up and restoring an air of respectability when Biffle clears his throat and says, dearest Madame C-, you have been quite infinitely good to me during this dreadfull time. I turn around and look at him. My dear Biffle, are we not the oldest of friends?
Indeed we are, and I fear I have taken quite the gravest advantage of your friendship and your good nature –
If this is Her Ladyship your sister insinuating that I shall come to ruin, do I not spend more time attending to business, you may confide that this is entirely not the case. Sure I am very comfortable at present and do not need to be hanging out for patrons.
No, she has said nothing of the sort to me, but as I come more to myself, I think that Kitty would never have intended that you should give up so much of your time to me for so long –
Why, say I, 'tis only a matter of some weeks.
- you have been of immense comfort and help to me, but I cannot let you go on like this. I should not go on like this.
I sit down on the edge of bed and take his hand. Ah, I say, I think you may be wise. For there are times for laudanum but one should not let it become a habit. I lean over to kiss him. But you know that you may always summon me, should it be necessary.
He gives me a half-smile. Twice you have drawn me out of hell; they say things come in threes.
I hope that is not the case: twice is too often.
We embrace and then I finish dressing. I wonder will this determination last.
The carriage takes me home, at an hour which gives me rather too long to ponder and worry about my impending encounter at R- House. Tho’ it has been given out that it will be a very private and informal dinner, yet if I am to meet the Marquess I feel that I should dress for the occasion, and adorn myself with my rubies. And the very faintest touch of rouge.
I do not know why I should be in such a fuss over the matter.
A carriage has been sent for me. Sure, I realize, 'tis probable the case that I am quite unus’d to being a dining guest at R- House – the last time I was there was that horrid night when young Master K- offer’d such coarse behaviour towards me.
Indeed it is strange to be admitt’d as if I am some honour’d guest by servants that conduct themselves extreme civil (even if this has been latterly the case at M- House), and shown into the parlour.
His Lordship is standing by the sideboard. One I take to be the Marquess is seated in a chair, a large volume open on a low table before him, with Sandy looking over his shoulder at something he points to. All look up as I enter.
I make them my best curtesy. The Marquess takes the cane that rests by his chair, comes to his feet, and makes a most elegant leg.
But, o dear, 'tis indeed the case that he is in most exceeding poor health: tho’ he is some several years the senior of Lord G- R-, he looks far older, very pale, dreadfull thin. One can still see, however, that he was once very well-looking indeed.
He sinks back into the chair. Well, I can understand now why young Rowley was so besotted with you.
He was? – sure, he never declar’d himself (indeed, I have to take considerable mind to remember him – a young fellow of His Lordship’s empty-headed wastrel set, that as I recollect, was most fond of Seraphine’s curd tartlets).
The foolish boy, goes on the Marquess, wanted to do something of note before daring to pay suit to you – run a fine race-horse, become a crack whip, something of that sort.
I make suitable condolences on the loss of his heir.
I was fond of the boy, says the Marquess with a sigh.
Lord G- R- offers me a little sherry. I take it and go sit down. I glance at the book open before the Marquess and were I given to blushing, would be put to the blush. It is however Sandy who blushes and says that they were just perusing The Worship of Priapus, which is a philosophickal study of the religious worship of the generative principle. Lord B- was telling me about some instances he has observed very similar to those illustrated.
I manage to maintain an entirely sober demeanour.
We dine exceeding well (sure I can recognize Seraphine’s touch) and since we are so very informal, at the end of the meal Lord G- R- desires me to take a little port with them.
The three of them look from one to the other after we have all had port poured into our glasses, Sandy has lit a cigar, and the footman has left the room.
Lord B- says that he comes to Town partly in order to die in his native land – for the quacks only quarrel about the exact date, and are all agreed it cannot be long – but also to get his affairs in order after poor young Rowley’s untimely death.
For the next heir is a distant cousin whom I detest, he says, a creeping hypocrite parson that will rebuke me for my sinfull ways and then go on with scarce a pause to say that I ought to be doing something about his preference in the Church and putting him into a better living. I can do nothing about the title, or the entail’d estates, but I have other property that I may devise to whomever I will. I was quite happy that it should go to Rowley, a near relative and one for whom I had an affection, especially as the B- estates are quite badly encumbered due to the imprudent habits and poor management of my forebears. But if it is not to go to him I have other uses I would put it to.
These are not, he goes on, uses I feel it prudent to describe in a testamentary document. But if I could leave this part of my property to one that knew my desires in the matter and I could trust to undertake 'em –
- And, says Lord G- R-, it would hardly be prudent to name me in such case –
- someone who would appear an entirely appropriate beneficiary that could not be contested or cause gossip. Such as a wife. He looks at me across the table. I have heard much of your discretion, Madame C-, and your reputation for honest and trustworthy dealing.
I slowly open my fan, close it again, tap it against the table, open it and wave it gently to cool myself. Say you so? this is most gratifying to hear.
But, I say, my honour’d preceptress Madame Z- was firm in her exhortations to get the terms of the bargain clear before concluding it. Since I am a woman of property, were I to dwindle into a wife, I should desire to ensure that my own wealth was well-ty’d up - tho’ I do not nurse any suspicion that you seek to wed me for my fortune. My affairs are in the hands of Mr Q- the attorney.
I fold the fan, tap it against my lips, open it again and look at them over it. Indeed I perceive the advantage to me of this match: it would convey to me not merely the respectability that goes with matrimony, but elevated rank. I also make the inference that I may anticipate to be quite soon a widow.
I confide that you would leave me private instructions as to the disposition of your estate?
The Marquess looks at me. I would not expect you to undertake this entirely without recompense. You would have a position to maintain.
I shrug, and fan myself. (This comes so very close upon my concerns over my future that I fear to make some entirely precipitate decision.)
I think, says Lord G- R- to the Marquess, you should disclose the identity of your heir at law.
O, says I, is this some clergyman that goes around endeavouring to attain penitent magdalenes? Fie upon the breed.
It is, says Sandy with a great grin, one Mr G-, that has a cure of souls in Surrey.
O, I cry, snapping my fan shut, sure I would pay to disoblige Mr G-!
The Marquess frowns. How come you to know the fellow? For tho' I am sure he is one that lusts in his heart, one of his other deadly sins is avarice.
I was, I say, oblig’d to rusticate for some months at the little place in Surrey left me by dear General Y-, that was in the Hon Company forces at Madras, under guise of being the wife of a sea-captain. Sure I was horribly teaz’d by Mr G- who was most attentive to my spiritual well-being, the wretch, which he seem’d to perceive located somewhere in the region of my bubbies; and he consider’d it a most ungodly thing for wives to have control of their own fortunes, for women are weak-minded creatures, as he continually told me.
Oh! I go on, I apprehend that there is no intention of consummation? The Marquess nods (sure, even if he had any notion towards my sex, I can see that his state of health would render any prospect of the enjoyment of conjugal rights extreme moot). But we would of course let it be suppos’d that all was done as is proper.
Why, I continue, sure I might be bearing an heir, which would put his succession in doubt, and altho’ this would in due course be disprov’d, it would greatly alarm him until it was.
I lay down my fan. I suppose that all must be carry’d out with some expedition. I will instruct Mr Q- to convoke with your legal advisors, and once these matters are settled in due legal form, why, the nuptials may take place whenever you desire.
Sandy remarks that he hopes he never does anything to annoy me, for I am Nemesis incarnate in my vengeance. I pick up my fan, lean over and smack him with it as hard as I am able.