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Dear Hannah! I daresay you would know best, but you do not show at all, are you entire sure you are with child?

La, Maurice, I can assure you that women – most of 'em - know the matter’s afoot. At least once they have already been about the business a time or two. One does hear tales of young girls that did not realize their state, and women at a certain time of life that supposed ‘twas the climacteric come to ‘em.

He began to drape stuff around her and take measurements. If we gather it thus - you see? – makes a pleasing effect and none would suspect what lies beneath.

Mind you do not make it too fine – I shall not be about giving speeches the while, and going to as few meetings as I may. But one may not eschew all company, and there is the matter of village gossip.

He looked at her. It was entire pleasing to see such a happy young woman in his fitting-room. So many of the ladies who came to him had some matter that troubled them, or were discontent by nature, and even a little flattery, and dressing them very well, did not entirely soothe their spirits.

You manage matters 'twixt the pair of you very well: how is Miss Ferraby?

Entire well. We are indeed fortunate. But 'tis agreeable to come to Town and see family and friends. But indeed, I should ask is all well with you – Lady Bexbury said you had been having some little trouble?

Quite resolved, he said, greatly hoping that he was not the subject of conversation over that lady’s supper-table.

She said somewhat to the effect that 'twas indeed good of you to see me now you have so much business come upon hand now 'tis all remedied.

Sure, you are family.

Why, I am daresay there are those among our connexion would not wish make that acknowledgement, was all known.

Maurice looked at their reflections in the pier-glass. Provided, he says, one does not flaunt, maintains a due discretion, so that it does not have to be openly spoke and known about –

Hannah’s eyes met his in the glass. She did not need to voice her understanding.

Some moments later, while she was putting on her accustomed garments, she said, but really I do not understand why people make such a bother about it. So unnecessary. Sure society is very cruel to unwed mothers and their offspring, but one may see that there is some reason – may not be a good or charitable reason, but if 'tis not the fear of the fathers about bringing scandal upon them, ‘tis the more general worry that they may come upon the parish and cause expense and raising of the rates. She sighed. And at least one may talk of that, and say that that harshness causes unhappy women to destroy their infants, and make arguments for more humane treatment. But when something may not even be talked of –

He patted her shoulder.

After she had left, he scribbled down a few notes and sketches for the gowns he would have made for her, and then told Miss Coggin, the head of the sewing-room, that he would be going out. Did not have any ladies coming for fittings the afternoon; did any come in hopes – vulgar creatures, murmured Miss Coggin – she might go take their measurements and requirements and ask 'em to return once they had been given appointments.

She pursed her lips in the way he knew meant that she would bring any ladies that did so to a fine appreciation of the consequence of the establishment.

He set off on a journey he did not particularly want to take, but was to undertake a prudent matter to dispatch. He took a hansom cab to some distance from his final destination: for although the tavern he sought was not precisely within the notorious rookery of Seven Dials, it was on its border. He picked his way fastidiously along the streets, keeping his walking stick in his hand in a manner that suggested it might serve as a weapon as well as a fashionable accoutrement.

From long habit he looked about before entering the place. But it was very unlikely anyone who might recognize him would see him here.

Enquiring as to whether Nat Barron was on the premises, he was directed by a jerk of the thumb into a back room.

Nat was there among various members of his gang. One of whom – presumably a new recruit – said, 'ere, oo’s the pooff: earning himself a smack or two about the head from Nat. Show some respect, Maurie may look the gent but he’s an old friend.

Nat Bannon and Maurice clasped one another’s shoulder, looked into one another’s faces, and then Nat motioned him to sit down, pouring him a glass of the gin he kept for himself.

Got somebody that needs warning off? he asked.

Maurice shook his head. I think word has got about after making a few examples.

For what had gained him the position he now enjoyed at the club was this connexion that enabled severe warning to be given to any that used knowledge gained there for the purposes of extortion. In return, Nat acquired the good feeling of fellows in high places that might well be useful to him did necessity arise. 'Twas entirely mutually beneficial.

Pity, said Nat, as you see there are one or two fellows here would be the better of some occupation to work off their feelings.

Maurice took a sip of gin, and disclosed to Nat the recent trouble he had had.

Oh, and you want us to show this spying fellow the error of his ways?

Why, it might gratify my feelings did you so – Nat smiled and shook his head and says, talks as good as a play – but I thought, a fellow that has a memory like that, might be of use to you.

Nat nodded slowly. A good thought. You always did have that long view.

Maurice shrugged. If a long view was considering that luring fellows into alleys so that Nat and his boys could rob them was an occupation with a rather short future and like to end badly for him, whereas obliging gentlemen in comfortable indoor surroundings was not only remunerative but provided him with considerable insight into gentlemanly habits and behaviour, yes, he took the long view: and the even longer view had been completing his articles of apprenticeship. But he also made sure to stay on Nat’s good side. Passed on any useful gossip he learned from ladies in the course of his day, and had constructed this very beneficial alliance 'twixt Nat and the club.

Sure he owed Nat a considerable debt for the protection that in younger days his friendship had afforded an undersized pretty boy disinclined to the usual boyish pursuits and happier to play with girls.

May not linger, he said, but thought you should know of the fellow as soon as might be, before goes completely to ground.

Maurice walked to where he might find a hansom cab and directed it to take him to his lodging. Once there, he washed himself very thoroughly with the very expensive soap, to get rid of any lingering stink of Seven Dials before he went to the club, where he was bidden to a committee meeting to consider upon new members.

Smoothing pomade into his hair, he had the unwanted memory of a larger hand stroking it in a fashion it was entirely foolish to suppose affectionate, rather than the pleasure one might take in stroking a fine purring cat.

But that was past and done.

At the club he was ushered into the committee room. It was ever gratifying to him, even if these marks of respect were founded upon those early connexions.

Sir Stockwell sat at the head of the table; Chumbell at the foot; Colonel Adams, late of Bengal and with the most fascinating stories of dancing boys; Sir Hartley Zellen, whose fine looks were becoming a little florid, and his hair thinning; Terence Offerton; Lord Saythingport, that had a wife, an established mistress, and had at one time offered Maurice an establishment.

Ah, good, Allard, said Sir Stockwell. Mysell-Monting cannot come, but we have a quorum, nonetheless. Now, the matter of fellows we may solicit to join our number –

Various names were put forward, of whom Maurice knew little but any public reputation they had. Some former comrade of Adams in the East; a scholar known to Chumbell – a Cambridge man, but nevertheless a sound fellow, very sound; a naval officer acquainted with Sir Stockwell; a couple of young fellows in Saythingport’s set –

Sir Hartley cleared his throat. Has not the time come to consider MacDonald? he said. Sure it would have been somewhat vulgar to approach him very shortly after Lord Raxdell’s dreadful demise, but ‘tis nigh two years ago that the accident happened. An excellent fellow.

Is he not, replied Saythingport, given out most exceeding radical in his views?

Why, said Sir Hartley, he is a philosopher and will throw out a deal of hypotheses, but our set have always found him sensible and practical.

Is he not, squeaked Chumbell in great excitement, considered something of a classical scholar?

I would know nothing of that, said Offerton, but has quite the cunningest hand at billiards, next after Jacob Samuels.

Why, said Sir Stockwell, as to his abilities in classical learning, I was late conversing with Admiral Knighton, that says that his lady wife, that is known for her most remarkable unwomanly capacities in that sphere, holds him in quite the highest esteem. Also considers him a very clever fellow himself, that has a particular knack for sounding out mysteries.

Maurice felt his face settle into a mask as of one considering these arguments. 'Twould be entire vulgar to blackball MacDonald, that had done him such great service in his own difficulty. But one might confide that Saythingport, and possibly Adams, would do so.

But, when the balls for each candidate were tallied, there were no black balls for MacDonald.

Maurice’s heart sank.

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Sandy found himself feeling curiously light-hearted. He had entirely expected to feel cast into the gloom and despondency that had ever followed his carnal engagements with Geoffrey Merrett, but somehow, yestere’en’s romp with Maurice Allard had quite disproved the Galenic maxim. There been, perchance, a lack of the constraint that afflicted him when 'twas a matter of fellows he had known since their youth, that had – he fancied – been wont to look up to him, considered him even in the light of a mentor: and it had rendered the undertaking somewhat shameless in its indulgence. He doubted not that 'twould be very hard to shock Maurice Allard in any matter of carnality, anymore than one could Clorinda. Well, he had done the deed, much to his astonishment, and it had been exceeding enjoyable, and he would never have to see Allard again, and there would certainly be no matter of languishing sad spaniel eyes gazing at him across a dinner-table anxious for a depth of affection he could not give.

Why, my dear, said Clorinda, pouring him coffee, you are very cheerful the morn.

Why, have we not succeeded in sounding out a mystery and bringing the matter to a most exceeding satisfactory conclusion?

'Tis so, and yet –

And yet - ?

La, I am a foolish fretful creature, but I wonder what that woman goes about now. Perchance one should go warn Miss Addington, lest she goes try her encroaching ways upon her.

Why, 'tis by no means like the time you were given out at Carlsbad when she behaved so shocking.

Indeed she is a soberer creature these days: and I confide she would go straight to Lady Jane and disclose the matter to her.

And ask whether she might send for the Admiral and his horsewhip, perchance!

Hector came in with a note upon a tray for Sandy, saying that the boy waited for a reply.

The sight of Geoffrey Merrett’s handwriting somewhat lowered his mood. He broke the seal. Why, he said, Geoff is back in Town and wonders am I free the e’en to dine at his club – I cannot recollect any other engagement and may as well get this over with –

He went to the desk, scribbled an acceptance, blotted, folded and sealed it and handed it to Hector, adding sixpence for the boy.

Why, my dear, you make a very hearty breakfast the morn, shall I ring for more muffins?

No, I have had an entire sufficiency, but might you oblige me with more coffee –

She did so, adding, and do you go out at all?

I had a purpose to work in the library if that is agreeable?

Entirely, if you do not mind me coming to and fro a little for books upon monasteries and monks and some general history.

You go write some tale on that topic?

Have some inclination to do so, 'tis very pleasing to feel a tale under my hands again. But Hannah will come look in at tea-time. Purposes stay at Raxdell House with her parents, that falls out well: might give her a little note for Seraphine, in case that minx – sure she is by now a deal too old to be named minx! – endeavours make trouble.

Indeed, 'twas being in that plot with Evenden brought about their ill-fated union, so that she might not turn evidence upon him, the wretch – but I cannot see it profiting her.

O, did she not ever quite feed upon spite and malice! But I daresay you will wish to see Hannah.

I am ever pleased to see Hannah.

Indeed, it was a very agreeable day: sitting in the library and Clorinda in and out and talking of monasteries: are there not, she asked, communities of monks now returned to English soil?

Indeed so: do you like, I might ask Father O’Donaghue of the matter when I go play chess with him, might take his mind off the state of Irish affairs.

'Twould be most exceeding kind.

And then having tea with dear Hannah, that was looking most exceeding well, but not yet visibly with child. Clorinda looked at her and said, La, these modern fashions, a lady may conceal a deal beneath 'em.

Hannah smiled. 'Tis sure a better thing than lacing very tightly to conceal one’s state. Tomorrow I go consult with cousin Maurice as to how to have my skirts cut so that they will disguise my condition until 'tis time for us to go into Shropshire.

Sandy reminded himself that he was entirely bound to hear occasional news of Allard from his relatives in and out of the household: had ever been the case and was no matter to be bothered about now.

He felt a curious shyness towards Hannah, that might be bearing his child, but as a result of the application of scientific ingenuity rather than the more usual means. But then she asked him about the works of Mr Dickens and the use of fiction to draw attention to social problems, and they were having one of their fine accustomed conversations.

All a deal more agreeable than the prospect of dining with Geoffrey Merrett. But he arrived punctual to the minute at Geoffrey’s club, and was shown to a discreet nook where Geoffrey was waiting, looking less agitated that Sandy had anticipated.

Dear fellow! Sit down. Have some of this excellent sherry.

You are in good spirits, remarked Sandy.

Why, I think that matters have come about so that the concern I had will have disappeared entirely.

Sandy sipped sherry and noticed that for all Geoffrey seemed so cheerful, his gaze was evasive and he did not meet Sandy’s eyes.

But he waited until they had been served dinner and the attendant had withdrawn before interrogating the matter further.

I think, he said, you had better tell me the all, nonetheless.

Geoffrey put down his soup-spoon, looked at Sandy, and sighed. You will think me the most wretched of fellows –

Sure I doubt that –

- but it came to pass that I entered upon a liaison with Lady Sarah Channery -

Why, you dog! (Sure it would have been entire improper and unkind to laugh.)

- which we conducted very discreet at her dressmaker’s – Madame Francine –

(Of course: Lady Sarah was a hanger-on of Lady Trembourne’s, would have been persuaded by her to patronize the latest sensation.)

- but then, the poor dear creature received a note demanding recompense in return for not communicating the matter to Sir Stockwell.

Sandy thought this over for a moment. Had it not been given out, when she married Sir Stockwell, that her portion was very small indeed, the Marquesses of Maldane having been pockets to let these several generations?

How might she pay – or was it supposed that you would cover the amount?

Geoffrey frowned. Why, one does not like to give in to extortion, so I advised her to write pointing out her position, and saying she needed time to go about selling jewels most exceeding discreet to raise the ready. And then hoped to lay the matter before your wisdom to see how we might proceed so as to scotch this snake.

But, Geoffrey went on, breaking into a beaming smile, one hears that Madame Francine has been shown up an entire imposter, and has closed up her establishment and disappeared. So we may suppose that she has entirely fled from the scene of her crimes.

I am like, mused Sandy, to wonder did she make it a common practice to exact this levy upon the ladies that made use of her discreet chamber? 'twould make it more understandable – for although Lady Sarah is not a wealthy lady, was she one among some several, I daresay 'twould all mount up into an agreeable sum.

Indeed she is not, poor soul. Has a decent allowance of pin-money, but bills go to her husband.

Sandy suppressed a snort of amusement at the thought – had it occurred to Geoffrey? – that dressmakers’ bills presumably included some disguised item for use of the discreet chamber.

Is Sir Stockwell a jealous husband? he asked, trying to recollect what he knew of the fellow. Held some post at the Admiralty, did he not?

Why, has not shown undue jealous in the past – indeed, somewhat neglectful I fancy, 'tis a great pity, entirely the sort of thing that disinclines one to matrimony, the sight of spouses that are entire indifferent to one another. But one may suppose that he would not desire to be given out a cuckold.

May be they have some understanding? But I confide that is she so worried about this attempt, cannot be so.

O, you mean like Lady Zellen?

Precisely so. I daresay Sir Hartley would not care for their matrimonial arrangements to be announced in the press, but has ever found it entirely to answer to have young fellows squire Lady Zellen around while he is about his other business. Why, did not your brother Eddy - ?

Oh, that was long since! Before he went rusticate in Herefordshire, marry Cissie, become the entire country squire.

Geoffrey began to recount various matters of family gossip, while Sandy determined that 'twould be reasonable to desire Clorinda to investigate whether any other ladies had been subjected to like demands, and who they were.

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Maurice looked up from his desk, stretched and smiled. A deal of little notes from ladies desiring appointments; also a deal of notes from various hands previously employed by Madame Francine, that now found themselves out of a place. Well, with this sudden flurry of work, he would need more hands –

Though, looking over the little notes, he was not going to welcome the notoriously difficult and demanding Lady Trembourne back into his fitting room. No: he would send civil regrets that with the amount of business Mamzelle Bridgette had upon hand, they found themselves unable &C&C.

If he was going to deal with these matters, he should go out and provide himself with a pie or so to sustain him during the evening.

He ran down the backstairs and through the backdoor, and observed, at the corner of the alley, MacDonald in close discourse with a very young boy, concluding by pressing a coin into the lad’s hand.

MacDonald proceeded upon his way to the doorway.

Fond of little boys, are you? murmured Maurice, between a gratification at observing some fault in MacDonald, and a – disappointment? – that he did have some low vicious taste.

MacDonald turned a scorching glower upon him. A useful informant, he said. Perchance we might step in so that I may disclose the business?

Would be only a matter of minutes, Maurice considered, and led him up to the office where he had been about dealing with his correspondence.

MacDonald lounged against the doorframe, not coming wholly into the room, that was indeed more of a nook than a room. We now know who has been misappropriating your – notions – and conveying them to the so-called Madame Francine. There is a fellow comes several days of a se’ennight delivering what I am told are haberdashery matters, has been followed to her establishment and reported closeted there for a deal longer than any delivery business might take.

My thought was, he went on, that we should inform his employer about what he has been doing – for I daresay that has been about these matters at times when he was he was supposed to be employed about his licit business. But is not any matter one might readily bring to the courts.

I would suppose not. And Madame Francine is quite exploded?

Her place is locked and bolted, nobody there, has levanted no doubt, now she is known no Parisienne but a failed actress embroiled in scandal.

Well, thought Maurice, this was all a great relief, the difficulty had been resolved, his own business was looking in much healthier state, and he would no longer be obliged to have to do with MacDonald. In the normal way of things their paths were unlikely to cross –

Why, Maurice drawled, lifting his chin, drooping his eyelashes, tilting his hips, and generally conveying an air of lascivious invitation, sure I am most inestimable grateful to you –

(This would surely have MacDonald leaving most expeditious, perchance casting a puritanical frown over his shoulder as he left.)

He found himself slammed against the wall, a hand gripping the back of his neck, a mouth coming down hard upon his, and another hand making a very direct approach to his cock. Which he had been trying to ignore, for it had developed a habit of showing immense interest in this –

- really most exasperatingly attractive fellow that was quite entirely not his kind. And was not only, as he had previously ascertained, by no means a flabby scholar, but also larger than he was.

I apprehend, murmured MacDonald in his ear, that there is a discreet chamber about the place?

Maurice nodded. This way, he said, picking up the lamp and pausing only to take up a pot of cold cream as he led him there.

Leave the lamp on, said MacDonald. And take your clothes off. If we’re going to do this, let’s not fumble around like a pair of schoolboys.

He paused, watching as Maurice disrobed. Oh, he remarked, you must have been the model for Linsleigh’s Faun.

That was some while ago, said Maurice, when I was younger, was in considerable demand as a model. And are you going to keep your clothes on?

Certainly not. MacDonald looked about the chamber, and then removed his spectacles, placing them in a niche where they were unlikely to get knocked off. It seems to me, he went on, that there is a certain, ah, urge on both sides, even do we also find a considerable antipathy between us.

Are you going to philosophize, or are you going to undress?

I can usually contrive to both, said MacDonald with his transforming grin, and suiting action to words, but I wished to assure you that I shall not trouble you again, now this problem of yours is resolved. Do we indulge this curious mutual inclination I daresay the consummation will cause it to dissipate rather than linger.

There was a certain sense to that – not leaving a haunting curiosity. Maurice lay down on the bed and rolled over into a provocative pose. Entire ready to consummate, he said.

How impatient you are. MacDonald came over to the bed and sat down beside Maurice, stroking a finger down his spine. Planting a lingering kiss upon his shoulder. It was not what he had expected. Hands and mouth thoughtfully exploring, registering what Maurice particularly liked. It was by no means as he has anticipated – something more urgent, clumsier – and then considered, as far as he was capable of rational consideration, that MacDonald had resided for many years with his aristocratic lover under conditions that must have made for –

- this thoughtful appreciation, no need for haste -

Damn you, are you ever going to fuck me?

MacDonald paused. If that’s to your taste?

Very much so, muttered Maurice between gritted teeth. You will perceive that I have placed the cold cream close at hand.

Very prudent, remarked MacDonald, making liberal application of the same. Inform me do you wish me to stop or slow down.

The late Lord Raxdell had been widely famed for the excellence of his ton: clearly this had also manifested in the bedroom.

Maurice let out a groan – No! that did not mean stop! – but soon could do nothing but make incoherent cries and sobs until, at last, the act was completed.

He had not intended, not even expected, to lie curled in a comfortable embrace with the prickly and annoying Mr MacDonald.

Why, asked the latter in idle tones, do you put that awful greasy preparation on your hair? – wiping his hand upon the sheet.

'Tis neater, he said.

Hmmmm: Maurice did not know how MacDonald managed it but his very hmmmms seemed to speak: this one was perchance considering that Basil Linsleigh and others had painted him as an Indian boy or a faun or an Italian urchin or in other exotic roles, but never as African.

I suppose, said Maurice waspishly, aware of his cock once more manifesting a lively interest in MacDonald’s undoubted charms, that you are one of these manly fellows that will not concede to take the womanish part, but I observe that you have a fine stand upon you that I should be happy to take down in whatever other fashion you desire.

MacDonald laughed – No, I do not laugh at you, ‘twas an entire association of ideas of my own; but I assure you, I am not so manly a fellow as not to relish a fine rogering of my own arse, does the opportunity arise.

'Tis a most exceeding fine one, said Maurice, that I should hope to do justice to.

If MacDonald’s response was a measure to go by, he did indeed achieve that aim. Most unexpected.

At length they got up and dressed. MacDonald restored his spectacles to his face. For a moment Maurice was greatly tempted to invite him to join him in dining at the local chop-house: but even did MacDonald agree, that really would not do. They had gratified this strange mutual urge and their paths were unlike to cross again.

MacDonald smoothed his disordered hair, and said, is there anything further to communicate concerning this matter, I confide I may do so by way of Lady Bexbury.

Indeed, will entire answer.

They looked at one another. There was nothing to say. MacDonald shrugged awkwardly, and turned to go.

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This note just came for you, said Hector as Sandy entered the house.

Sandy looked at it: Geoffrey Merrett’s unmistakeable hand. He broke the seal and discovered that Geoffrey was exceeding desolated to have to cry off from dinner the e’en, but had been called away very sudden about a case. Still had a matter he greatly desired to open to Sandy, so would solicit his company so soon as he had returned to Town.

Sandy felt relieved. He had not been particularly looking forward to dining with Geoffrey, even was it at his club rather than in his chambers. Geoffrey was surely all that was eligible: intelligent, discreet, well-bred, handsome, and remarkable apt at amorous sport, indeed one might make some lewd jest about the lawyerly agility of his tongue. And yet –

My dear! called Clorinda from the parlour, sure I have the most remarkable intelligence to convey to you.

He went in and saw Clorinda looking exceeding merry in her wonted chair by the fire.

Dearest sibyl, you look most exceeding cheerful, considering that, as I apprehend, you made your first visit to Madame Francine today.

Clorinda laughed quite immoderately, and said, Madame Francine! Who do you suppose she really is? – why, Fanny Minton, Gaffney, Evenden, a second-rate actress, alleged bigamous wife to a second-rate tragedian, and divorced wife of a chymical professor. Indeed any who knew aught of style might have seen already that she had not had her training in the art of dress in Paris, or even some more provincial spot in France, and really, one could readily observe that she had no notion of the business at all.

Sandy sat down vis-à-vis and accepted a cup of tea, raising his eyebrows.

One could not help noticing before even visiting her establishment that although the gowns created by Madame Francine’s workshop use the very fine notions devized by Maurice, she had no apprehension at all of how to use 'em –

She smiled across at Sandy. Oh, my dear, I know you consider dress a matter of entire frivolity and look forward to that time when we all go clad in garments of utilitarian simplicity, but as life in society is at present constituted, 'tis a matter of some import to ladies to be well-dressed. And that means, in such fashion that a lady is not give out a dowd, is garbed appropriate to the particular occasion, and in a style that is becoming to her. It quite entire maximizes felicity.

Why, I will concede to your understanding of the matter –

'Tis exceeding kind of you to listen to such a silly creature on such a trivial subject! But Maurice, as Biddy was wont, ever matches particular notions to particular ladies and the style that best suits 'em, 'tis not about applying some cut or trim wholesale but in a discriminating manner. 'Tis a precept in the philosophy of dress that the quondam Miss Minton has failed to grasp: I daresay she does not read Sheba’s fine thoughts upon the subject in The Intelligencer. Also I confide she does not have that understanding of the craft that would permit her to direct the hands she employs to the achievement of a better end: Docket would have expressed herself most severe about the finish of her gowns.

But did she not recognize you?

O, I daresay! But I confide that she imagined that she was entire disguised from any former acquaintance – sure one must suppose her entire misled by the conventions of the stage concerning masquerades – has put on a deal of flesh, though was ever of a plump figure, would not have shown well as Rosalind or Viola, her hair is grey and she goes wear a large and concealing cap and green spectacles. I confide there is also some little matter of paint &C; but really, she does not come about to fool me. But indeed, I managed to conceal any start of familiarity and do not think she suspects that I have found her out.

Why, this is excellent fine news, said Sandy. I still have my acquaintance in the scandalmonging press – for I do not think this is matter for the sober pages of the Intelligencer, do you, unless Tibby might have somewhat to say to it? – and something very telling might be done concerning a failed actress that is most exceeding unrespectable, cast out even from Yankee society that is known a deal less discriminating than our own, divorced for adultery, and has gone put on a very mediocre performance in the character of a Parisian modiste, that has yet deluded a considerable number that go chase after the latest fashion –

Dearest Sandy, you should write novels!

He glowered at her. One might also bring in the stealing? – though, indeed, I am inclined to continue pursue that matter to sound it out further, for it may be some rogue that even is this lady’s game up, will be about hawking stolen notions about other dressmakers, rather than throw it upon the table just yet.

Tis a good thought, can you come at it.

'Twas the business I wished convoke with Matt Johnson about.

Clorinda blushed a little. It so perchances that he comes take a little supper with me the e’en: I confide that you are out, but I am like to suppose that Matt will still be here at breakfast time, did you wish join us.

He smiled at her affectionately. Why, you are still entirely Venus’s votaress, I apprehend. And would it not embarrass either of you, Geoff has been obliged to cut our dinner so I am quite at your disposal.

Why, I will go at once to Euphemia and tell her that you go sup with us.

Well, thought Sandy, Miss Minton – Mrs Evenden? – how did one even style the lady, if lady she might be called.

He went to change, and upon returning to the parlour, found Matt Johnson already seated beside the fire gossiping with Clorinda. They shook hands.

After some general exchange of news, and after Euphemia had brought in a very fine supper, Sandy asked Matt whether he still had any band of juvenile Runners, such as he had been used to employ to follow suspicious persons, themselves quite unsuspected: or rather, suspected to have a mind towards their preys’ purses or watches, rather than where they went and who they spoke to.

Why, you know that these days I conduct a business in private enquiries - I daresay all these new ideas of policing and detection are very fine, but I am too old a dog by now to learn their new tricks –

O poo, murmured Clorinda, do I not hear of fellows from among the peelers that come lay their difficulties before your wisdom and experience in running down malefactors?

Oh, there are one or two young fellows that were of my juvenile Runners once, like to make the old fellow feel of use. But sure I still find certain young creatures of the greatest utility in tracking and spying.

Sandy opened to him the matter of the various persons that were to and fro to Mamzelle Bridgette’s to deliver or collect, and whether any of them might be taking stolen notions to Madame Francine. There were some two or three that were quite regular callers, he had come to discover from Tibby, that would be the first to look closely at –

Shall be about it directly.

'Tis exceeding good of you, said Clorinda.

The conversation turned to other matters.

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How now, Allard! cried Terence Offerton as Maurice entered the club. Linsleigh’s paintings at last grace the walls of the supper-room, very fine stuff, though sure I know nothing of art. Or indeed of the Ancient Greeks. But they look exceeding well, though a deal chaster than the ones that hang upstairs.

Why, 'tis about time, has been labouring over 'em these months.

Indeed so. Was wondering whether I might get him to come paint some of my fine creatures, but indeed he takes a deal of a time over his business.

Maurice, who had, over the years, posed some several times for Basil Linsleigh, sighed and concurred. Basil was a handsome fellow and, to Maurice’s somewhat untutored eye, a fine artist, but he was in no requirement to make a living at the matter. So was able to spend months if not years labouring over large canvases of mythological and historical subjects, representations of scenes from literature (Maurice had first posed for Titania’s Indian boy, many years since) and suchlike. Occasionally he sold one.

He asked Offerton how he was doing this racing season. Offerton sighed and said, sure you cannot have any more trouble with fashionable ladies and their whims than I do with my cattle. Showing very poorly at present: one greatly misses Penkarding’s advice in such matters.

A great loss, Maurice agreed.

Though the grey mare was reckoned to have the greater wisdom of the two of 'em. There was a fine woman. He sighed, clapped Maurice upon the back, and said he would not detain him longer from the sight of the paintings.

Maurice therefore felt obliged to go to the supper-room (where supper was just being laid out) and discovered there Basil Linsleigh, gazing upon his paintings with a ferocious scrutiny, doubtless endeavouring to determine whether they were hung as well as might be.

Maurice! cried Basil, flinging an arm about his shoulders, tell me, do you think this is in entirely the best light?

There were two exceeding large canvases placed vis-à-vis upon the walls of the room. One displayed fellows that were presumably Ancient Greeks entire decorously draped and reclining about a supper-table; the other displayed what might perchance be the same fellows, hardly draped at all and about wrestling in the open air.

Why, Linsleigh, said Chumbell, a short stoutish fellow with spectacles that was given out a very learned don at Oxford, indeed you have hit off that combination of philosophical symposium and physical prowess that was the ideal of the Athenians. 'Tis an excellent conceit. And yet, what I should like to see is those philosophers that engaged in discourse in the agora while the fine manly exercizes were going on.

'Tis indeed a notion, said Linsleigh.

Maurice dragged his mind away from uninvited thoughts of the philosophical Mr MacDonald wrestling in a state of nature, as Basil was saying something to him while Chumbell went up to the fellow that was serving, perchance to find out what was for supper, and perchance with some other purpose. Indeed the club livery showed off manly charms very effective.

I’m sorry, said Maurice, was quite absorbed in studying the picture, did not hear you.

Basil expatiated upon certain effects he had achieved, and then said, but, my dear, I should be very pleased might we dine privately – had a matter I wished to open to you.

Maurice’s heart sank a little. Surely Basil was not going to open to him yet again the prospect of living together? But he could think of no civil and agreeable way of refusing, and perhaps 'twas some other business.

So they went to one of the small side rooms apt to the purpose, and Basil ordered wine, and dishes were laid upon the table and they were left in discreet solitude.

After a polite exchange of civilities, during which Maurice felt himself obliged to evade any mention of how very troubled he was at present, Basil laid down his fork, took a drink of wine, and said, 'tis exceeding gratifying, I find myself with some very agreeable commissions on hand, but I come to the realization that I am a sad careless fellow. There are so many matters of business that must be dealt with, most tiresome. Alas that I may not marry myself to such an excellent fine useful wife as Raoul de Clérault has – quite entirely takes all that side of the matter from him, leaves him free to paint - is she not some relative of yours?

We are cousins.

But it occurred to me that – sure I quite saw the force of your objections to coming live with me in the capacity of a model, though you were, indeed you still are, a very fine one – but did you come in the relation of a man of business, that would handle my commissions, go deal with canvas-stretchers and frame-makers and colour-men, keep the accounts &C, could be no objection at all.

Maurice put down his own glass. Dear Basil, he said, I am entire flattered by your notions of my capacity but I have a business to run myself, cannot leave it.

Why, said Basil with a frown, should have thought you would be glad to leave such a position – must be entirely ennuyant dealing with the whims of fashionable ladies, managing a crowd of seamstresses, &C, quite a miasma of feminine vapours.

Maurice put down the knife and fork he had just taken up, lest the shaking of his hands be noticed. It was clear that Basil had no notion that he might enjoy what he did, even without the loyalty he owed to Biddy. He also had no apprehension that what Maurice did might in its own way be an art. Or that, although he would not disclose confidences, he picked up a deal of very useful gossip.

But, thought Maurice, it would be exceeding imprudent to make a blunt refusal. If this matter of Madame Francine and the loss of his business was not resolved –

Why, he said mildly, I will think upon it. Mayhap speak to cousin Phoebe. But 'tis not a time when I might just walk out from my present place, with the Season so soon upon us.

The sentiment does you entire credit. 'Tis entirely that sound prudent attitude of yours that I should require: you know what a sad feckless fellow I am.

Maurice smiled politely, for it would hardly be in good ton to say that Basil had never been obliged to be otherwise, with his wealthy family that thought it gave them considerable consequence to have a dilettante artist among their number. He was not obliged to live by his art. An entirely different position to that of Raoul de Clérault, whose family had stood upon their ancient French aristocratic lineage, considered being an artist barely better than being in trade, and cut him off quite entirely for marrying Phoebe.

His heart sank as he observed Basil looking somewhat languishing at him across the table. Over the years there had been many mutually pleasant passages between them, but this particular evening he was by no means inclined to amorous activity.

My dear, alas, I cannot linger the e’en: just looked in for an hour or so – was that almost a pout upon Basil’s handsome features? – but 'twas most agreeable to see you and that your paintings are now hung.

He had, in fact, intended to spend the evening at the club. But he would rather spend a lonely night in his lodgings than have to continue to pretend to Basil that all was well with him.

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Sandy returned to Clorinda’s house from an afternoon of agreeable exercize upon Lord Abertyldd’s tennis court – a fine contrivance for those seasons of the year when the weather was such as to preclude a round or two of golf, and only the hardiest would dare swim - to discover that had been a day for her to receive callers, that were, fortunately, upon departing.

Hector was just assisting Susannah Wallace into her outer garments.

Mr MacDonald! You must come take tea some day very soon, there are a deal of matters going forward in Parliament I should desire your thoughts upon.

That would be entire delightful, Lady Wallace.

And might I beg you to use your influence to persuade dear Clorinda to resume her soirées? I cannot believe that she judges the matter justly when she claims that they would be stale old matter, that the younger set might attend as if they viewed a cabinet of antiquities.

Why, have I not encountered several of the younger set talking of her famed soirées with great interest, regretting that there is nothing quite of the same kind these days?

Of course, she went on, there would be those very greatly missed from our former number, but she has such a talent for the thing –

Well, I will do what I can to persuade her.

Indeed he wondered if Clorinda could bring herself to resume holding the soirées that had begun, well before her elevation, with a view to promoting Josiah Ferraby’s interests in Town.

He looked at Hector.

Lady Wallace was the last to leave, he said.

So Sandy entered the parlour in confidence that he was not intruding upon a ladies’ tea-party and gossip-exchange, and found Clorinda seated by the fire, reading a letter.

My dear, there is a note for you came while you were out, upon my desk.

He picked up, saw the handwriting, and sighed. 'Tis Geoff Merrett’s hand am I not mistaken, he said, breaking the seal. Invites me to dine – oh, at his club -

La, my dear, you may take it he has no designs upon your manly virtue, then –

Sandy glowered at her briefly and looked back at the note. Has a delicate matter wishes open to me.

I wonder what that might be, murmured Clorinda. Some family matter perchance? – surely cannot be that he at last goes wed. But, my dear, I have not told you the news that comes in this letter from that excellent woman that married Reynaldo di Serrante, the fair Quakeress Priscilla.

He sat down vis-à-vis and said, tell on. I hope Reynaldo has not been getting himself into trouble as a fiery abolitionist agitator.

Mayhap and perchance! For she writes that he goes a-traveling into those benighted regions of the country, without her, and meanwhile she goes visit family connexions in Philadelphia –

Ah! And do her connexions have aught to do with the university?

Most assuredly they do, excellent learned people I apprehend and entire devoted to abolition. And not at all give to gossip, but somehow she has been brought to an understanding that there is a considerable degree of scandal attaches to Professor Evenden. Sure he is agreed a very clever learned chymist, and his discoveries and the patents he has upon 'em assure him a fine independence; but quite shockingly, he is known to have divorced his wife, that was rumoured to have been on the stage afore their marriage, for adultery and desertion. Are we, my dear, in the least surprized that the quondam Miss Minton, or mayhap Mrs Gaffney, levanted?

Why, only to be anticipated, for sure.

As a result, is said to have become almost a recluse but for the discharge of the duties of his post. Clorinda sighed. Is he so, most like he has happily no intention to return to these shores.

We may hope so.

But I wonder what became of her: went become a strolling player in those parts, perchance. I did mention the matter to dear Miss Addington a little while ago, that has heard nothing of her from any that have tried their fortunes over there: but added that mayhap she had changed her name yet again, and most of those that have lately been there are not of an age to remember her and recognize her did they see her.

Found some other fellow might be beguiled into wedlock, mayhap.

They looked at one another. Well, said Clorinda, I think we find ourselves at stand in that investigation at present. But I remain in some concern, for Julius begins make a considerable name for himself, is a son any man might like to own now 'tis entire clear what credit 'twould do him.

Yes: Evenden is a fellow would take the credit for himself, rather than put it down to capacities inherited from Seraphine, and the fine training he received from Roberts, that has ever been most entire fatherly to him.

Clorinda gave a wicked smile. That minds me, do we converse of fatherhood, that Hannah comes to Town shortly –

Is’t not imprudent of her to travel at this time? asked Sandy, finding himself curiously agitated in the matter.

O, poo, 'tis still early on, has not yet quickened, feels herself entire well. But indeed, my dear, your concern does you credit.

Well, 'tis a thing I never anticipated would come to me.

Clorinda smiled at him. Let me distract your mind, she said, by talking a little of how I get on in our other investigation. Have disclosed to Madame Francine my intention to go be dressed by her, and had a note back, very high and mighty, I see she purposes display her consequence, declaring she has a deal of business upon hand and can only just find time to fit me in within this se’ennight. 'Twould not, I confide, have been so was Docket still alive, 'twould have been entirely at your convenience, Lady Bexbury. She pulled a face. Sure I lose consequence.

Perchance, said Sandy, this modiste is ill-acquainted with the leaders of fashion.

Dear Sandy, 'tis kind of you to say so, but while I ever had the most useful advice on style from Milord, that was one of those interests of his you did not share, and I must confess that I would not entirely trust your judgement in such matters.

Dearest sibyl, you are entire right that I know little of the matter, but I have every confidence that you are still one of the most fashionable ladies in Town.

O, poo. But, my dear, surely 'tis time you went dress for the theatre?

Sandy groaned. I have the lowest possible hopes of this play.

'Tis the harsh lot of the critic. Euphemia has put you up a little light supper, so that hunger does not render you too ferocious critical.

He laughed, and went to change and to eat the very excellent little supper Euphemia had put ready for him, and went to the theatre, and tried to keep his mind upon the play, but indeed it was sorry stuff, even had he not had other thoughts upon his mind.

Later, lying in bed, sleepless, he found his mind turning to ways in which he might pursue the present investigation while encountering Maurice Allard as little as possible. And yet –

If he did not mince and prance, neither did he screech. Sure his voice was pitched somewhat high, but entirely mellifluous: and he spoke well.

Sandy could not keep denying to himself those sudden urges to push the fellow up against the wall, kiss those full lips, and make himself a good deal better acquainted with that slender body. And if Allard was not the kind of man he had ever supposed to his own taste, that was not wonted behaviour of his own either.

He wondered what Clorinda would say did he open the matter to her: la, my dear, you have lived quite like unto a monk since you gave Geoffrey Merrett his congé; and then either consider upon their acquaintance to see were there any fellows of the disposition to whom he might incline, or go about to find out about the entrée to that certain club.

It was really very tempting to resume the liaison with Geoffrey. However, Universal Law would suggest to the contrary. He could not bring the mutual devotion he apprehended Geoffrey would desire.

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Maurice looked out through the fine large windows of the receiving-room of the establishment, empty at present. He had just given up the extremely depressing task of undertaking the monthly accounts, and had no notion how he might present them to Biddy in such fashion that she would not get into a pother. It made some difference, but not enough, that Mrs Lucas had indeed paid up on the nail for her gowns; would that more ladies did so.

His idle gaze upon the passersby suddenly struck upon a fellow scrutinizing the building through a spyglass. He ran down the stairs and out into the street to see could he catch the fellow; discovering when he did so that it was MacDonald, a hat concealing the hair that was still, though fading in parts, a quite remarkable and distinctive red.

Oh: you.

MacDonald put down the spyglass. I had a thought, he said, that there were fine large skylights above the workroom –

- 'Tis entire necessary to have it well lit –

- and I wondered whether might be possible for one to get onto the roof, and peer through: but I cannot ascertain it at this distance, even with a telescope. Is’t possible to come at the roof at all from within?

Maurice conceded that there was a trapdoor onto the roof, and a ladder to it, and Mr MacDonald was entire welcome to make the essay.

So they went upstairs and MacDonald went up the ladder like a sailor up rigging – and a very fine view it was – and looked back down at Maurice, who realized that he was expected to make this excursion as well. He did not desire to display weakness before MacDonald, so he climbed up and stepped very tentative out onto the roof: it would probably be all right did he stay away from the edge, but his heart hammered and he felt slightly sick.

MacDonald was looking about the roof like a terrier after a rat. Maurice moved slowly towards the chimney-stack and set his back against it, as MacDonald remarked that he confided that had anyone been up upon the roof, would have left some marks of his passing, scuffing a line in the encrusted grime underfoot with the toe of his shoe.

He looked out and said, why, I daresay one might lay a plank, or swing by a rope, to cross from the next roof, yet that would require being able to come at the next building. He then went right to edge and crouched to look over the very low balustrade. Maurice closed his eyes.

I daresay, said MacDonald, that there are those might contrive to climb up, but 'twould be a risky business, though I apprehend there are burglars pride themselves on their skill in the matter. But, he went on, rising and dusting his hands together, I am like to think that there would have been signs, had any done so. Marks where they had passed; mayhap a spike or so hammered in to hold a rope. 'Twas merely a thought: considered it best to close that avenue of enquiry before proceeding to another –

- Mr Allard! Are you well?

Don’t – like high places, Maurice muttered between teeth clenched to keep them from chattering.

Why, you should have said, need not have come up. But we may go down now.

Maurice found himself entirely paralyzed, his legs weak under him.

Here, said MacDonald, take my arm, I will conduct you to the trap.

Maurice took the proferred arm, much against his will. It was a more muscular arm than he had anticipated – knowing MacDonald to be a scholar, had anticipated that 'twould either be scrawny or flabby, but had a pleasing firmness.

They came to the trap. Shall I, suggested MacDonald, go first down the ladder?

This was entirely sensible, even if annoying. He acquitted MacDonald of any interest in surveying his own still pretty arse in the process, and, closing his eyes, began the descent. At the foot, he felt his feet reach the floor, dropped his painfully tight grip, and found that his still shaking knees caused him to fall up against MacDonald.

Indeed in much finer physical condition than he would have supposed; and, oh, beautifully clean but with a faint scent of fine tobacco and – surely he did not employ perfume? – mayhap some good soap, or his linen stored with sachets of herbs?

Are you all right? enquired MacDonald. Here, you should sit down. He conducted Maurice over to a chair and looked about. Do you keep any brandy about the place, perchance?

Maurice waved towards the drawer in which he kept a small bottle of gin, and fumbled in his pocket for the key.

'Tis, he said, as MacDonald took it out and frowned at it, considered entire sovereign for certain female troubles, but should serve here.

MacDonald raised his eyebrows, found the glass, poured a generous tot, and handed it to Maurice. Indeed, he said, there is no shame in having no head for heights, 'tis a not uncommon affliction. 'Tis not a matter one may address entirely by the determined action of the will, any more than by wishing I might render my spectacles unnecessary. I am like to suppose 'tis some matter of the constitution, of innate nature.

He looked for a moment startled, as if overhearing himself, and frowned.

Maurice took a drink, and felt more like himself. Perhaps too much, because he found himself asking, Did no-one remark upon you peering about through a spying-glass?

MacDonald gave a small smile and said, Had any accosted me upon the matter, I would have represented myself as a devoted ornithologist and declared that I had heard report of an exceedingly rare bird nesting upon your roof. I confide I should have been most convincing. But, he continued, as I said, that line of enquiry goes nowhere, and I must pursue another.

You have another?

Indeed so, quite apart from Lady Bexbury going spy upon Madame Francine. But I had rather say nothing on the matter as yet.

Maurice, mindful that it was very good of MacDonald to be about this matter, that must seem to him much like a lady fretting that her lapdog had been took by dog-thieves did it not return home when it should, said that did he wish it, he might help himself to some gin – entire wholesome stuff, true Hollands geneva.

Why, I will take a little, thank you. He poured himself a small tot and perched up against the windowsill, looking about.

Surely no-one could take it for a den of depravity? Entirely clean and tidy, all in order.

Have you, asked MacDonald, ever met Madame Francine?

Maurice shook his head. Never to my knowledge.

Only I took a consideration that mayhap she had worked here herself at some time, and perchance there might be some matter of personal spite in the business.

Why, I cannot think of any that we let go with any bad feeling: there will ever be those go marry, or have some better place offered elsewhere. But I do not recollect any great resentments.

MacDonald sighed. Sometimes there are those that will go brood upon what they suppose slights. When I first came to know Lady Bexbury, she was being given a deal of bother by some fellow that had become vengeful because she had, he claimed, spurned his suit, that she herself did not even recollect: 'twas in those days when one may imagine she had so many suitors that one among 'em was readily forgot. But, he said, putting down his glass, I must be on my way. May take some little while until I come at more information.

He took up his hat, frowned, turned to look at Maurice and said, I trust you are over your disturbance of the nerves?

Entirely so, said Maurice, adding snappishly, do I find myself at all overcome there is a smelling-bottle kept in the drawer against attacks of the vapours.

MacDonald twitched his shoulders, said nothing, and departed.

Indeed it would be a great relief when MacDonald sounded out this tangle, if only that then Maurice would no longer have to encounter him.

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Tibby said to Sandy that sure she would have brung him passes for Titus’s next recital, but 'twas a benefit he gave for Mr Gordon Duncan, that was such a fine mentor to him in days gone by. Not at all in health, poor fellow – but sure he must be a considerable age – and impoverished through that pack of offspring he brought into the world. Though indeed, are not undutiful, but go scrape their livings in such fashion as have very little to spare.

'Tis very good of him, Sandy remarked, and would indeed take a ticket for himself.

Tibby smiled and said, sure Her Ladyship has already took up places for a party. But, this dreadful matter of one that goes steal Maurice’s notions – sure if any can fathom it 'tis you and Her Ladyship.

Sandy gave a small smile and said she gave them too much credit, 'twas an entire maze at present, could not yet see a way through. But he confided that she had managed to have conversation with the needlewomen &C of the establishment?

Indeed yes, said Tibby, settling herself in the chair. Sure Euphemia’s cakes and a cup or so of the good tea will loosen their tongues! But either they are such good actresses that they should be on the stage, for 'tis scarce more precarious a living than seamstress, or 'tis none of 'em that is about the matter.

At least, she added thoughtfully, not with any deliberate intention. But sure there are errand-boys come to and fro, and footmen to fetch ladies’ gowns, and I daresay there are flirtations go on, and they might let somewhat drop, particular if the fellow went about with questions.

Why, said Sandy, that is a thought. Or was there some fellow that has that unusual gift of memory that some have, might be able to carry away impressions and sketch 'em down at leisure.

Say you so! O, perchance like unto those fellows that need only hear a piece of music once and can play it over entire accurate.

Much of the same thing.

Sandy was ever struck by the intelligence and abilities of the extensive family connexion of Hector and Euphemia, an entire riposte to any claims for the inferiority of those with black skin. There was Titus Marshall, not merely in possession of a most exceeding fine voice but a talented composer, and Tibby, that from attaining to be lady’s maid to a duchess had turned her hand to writing newspaper columns upon fashion for those ladies that could not aspire to be dressed by Mayfair modistes. And sure 'twas no matter of any admixture of European blood that conveyed them their talents, for Titus and Tibby were quite entirely African in their looks, quite ebony. He had not yet, however, come at some way he might compose a pamphlet upon the subject without the individuals upon whom he based his arguments being recognized. (Perchance he should ask Clorinda?)

And do your children take to music? he asked.

Tibby laughed. Oh, although young Gordon had a fine boyish treble, 'tis none so remarkable after its change, but most fortunate, his great desire is to be a newspaperman: I purpose see might I prefer him to Mr Lowndes to learn somewhat of the business.

May be a somewhat rackety life, remarked Sandy.

Tibby sighed and said, indeed. But now, little Clo – not so little now, a fine bouncing girl – shows a fine musical talent. The others are yet young.

She then said, but, has she conveyed all the matter she can think of concerning Maurice’s establishment, she promised have a word with Sophy about going to lay flowers upon dear Docket’s grave, and then take tea with Euphemia.

Indeed, I would not detain you, 'tis most greatly obliging of you.

Why, Maurice is family, anything we might do to help.

She rose, shook out her skirts, and left the library.

Sandy sighed. He would have to go back to that temple of the vanities and that mincing molly of a modiste –

Though, to be fair, he thought to himself, in spite of his effeminate airs Maurice Allard did not mince or prance, but was merely somewhat unmasculine graceful in his deportment. Sandy frowned. Had not Gervase been the epitome of – entirely manly – gracefulness? Wherein lay that difference?

He shrugged. He dared say that Clorinda would be having tea in her parlour, and he might as well join her.

When he went in, he found that she was not alone, but in amiable converse with Admiral Knighton. Looking from one to the other, he was in the greatest suspicion that they had very lately been enjoying amorous intimacies. And indeed, why not? 'Twas a most longstanding affection 'twixt the two of them, entirely understood by Lady Jane, whose own exceeding affection for that talented actress-manager Miss Addington was quite entirely accepted by the Admiral.

Clorinda had writ some exceeding fine tales, but surely her masterpiece was the tale, still sighed over in Society as so romantic, about the poor young naval lieutenant with his career to make and the country at war, in no position to offer suit to a Duke’s daughter, that had finally come into property and able to ask for her hand. And she remaining unmarried herself, all those years –

Whereas there had been the most happy conjunction of the Admiral’s need for someone to oversee his property while he was at sea, the necessity to counteract spiteful scandal about Lady Jane, and their mutual desire for offspring, along with fine friendship.

He and the Admiral nodded to one another, and the Admiral said that he was just telling Lady Bexbury that he had had a fine letter from Horatio, mentioning running into Josh Ferraby somewhere in South America, and nearly being beguiled into taking a pet sloth on his voyage.

Why, sure a sloth would be more convenable as a shipmate than a llama -

And talking of the Ferrabys, happened to be visiting old comrades at the Admiralty t’other day, ran into young Sir Harry – surely he cannot have a son old enough yet to be seeking a midshipman’s berth? Should be entire delighted to use any interest I still have, if so.

Indeed, young Hal is only just out of dresses and into the schoolroom. I daresay 'twas some matter to do with steam navigation, Harry is most well-reputed in matters of steam.

So he is, now I collect the matter. Does he not have the finest look of his late father?

He does so. Clorinda blinked a little and then said, but how does Janey? Do you find the school to answer for her?

The Admiral had most exceeding praise for the school – had even been at the trouble to find a mathematics tutor for Janey, that had gone beyond what they could teach. But went on to say he dared say Lady Bexbury would like to learn more of how Josh was doing, and withdrew the letter from an inner pocket so that she might read the passages in question.

After he had gone, pleading a dinner-party at Mulcaster House, Sandy looked at Clorinda and grinned, saying, still Venus’ votaress?

O, poo, Mr MacDonald, you cannot be shocked that I still enjoy a romp or two with old favourites.

Of whom there are quite some several! But I mind that I would be extreme glad of a word or two with Matt Johnson, is he like to come about the house.

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Lady Bexbury! Enchanted! Maurice showed her in to his workroom, dusted off a chair so that she might sit, and went to the door to call for tea.

Once this had been served, and he was perched upon the stool by his bench, she asked how he found Mr MacDonald.

Why, 'tis clear that he is a fellow of considerable apprehension: but, is he not some kind of severe Evangelickal?

Lady Bexbury spluttered tea. Indeed not, she said with a mirthful expression, is quite entirely a freethinker and a utilitarian philosopher. But indeed he can manifest a certain severity of manner, especially with those he knows not well, 'tis a form of shyness. But he already comes at ways we might pursue this little matter of yours, indeed that is most particular why I came to see you today.

Not to start preparing your wardrobe for the Season?

Alas, Maurice, I hope you will not cast me out of doors for telling you, but I purpose go to Madame Francine about the business –

Maurice stared, and then said with a laugh, La, Lady Bexbury, you go as a spy?

So I do, and I should be glad could you give me some notions as to how to behave as a very exacting lady that will never be satisfied and will say, 'tis still not right, and, might the trim not be in a different shade? and keep coming back but never finding the thing entire to her liking?

Maurice laughed. Why, I may make some suggestions, but do you think on Lady Trembourne, I am persuaded you would have a fine example. I was never happier than when she decided we did not come up to her standards.

Ha, the Unfair Rosamund, indeed she is quite the pattern I would look for, never, ever, contented in anything. But, dear Maurice, though I shall not be coming for fittings, you have my mannequin, do you not, and may make up my gowns? I would not have you be a loser by this stratagem. 'Twould not seem at all particular did Sophy come call upon you from time to time to see how they did.

Might well be supposed that Sophy would come out of family feeling to commiserate upon my losing your custom, and mayhap gossip upon the matter, and to convoke as to how you might be brought about to be persuaded back, 'tis a good thought. Or even perchance that it must be coming around the time young Thomasina should be prenticed and she looks about for a good place.

Lady Bexbury sighed and rose from the chair. Seems like yesterday that she came and placed Thomasina in dear Docket’s arms and begged her to stand godmother, and Docket wept.

'Twas a most uncommon occurrence!

But I should leave you now, and you must go grumble upon me and the fickle ways of ladies.

Sure, Lady Bexbury, you should go write plays!

But he went into the workroom, and acted the necessary comedy, and one or two of the newer hands showed some disposition to giggle until kicked by their next neighbours, that had grown quite entire accustomed to Mr Maurice’s ways.

Then next day came his dear coz Tibby, that had done so well for herself, and handed him passes for Titus’ next recital, and said that she purposed go stand treat in the workroom, showing him the packages of fine pastries she had brought with her – a practice of hers these several years, whereby she could pick up notions for her writings on fashion in The Intelligencer, 'twould not seem at all particular did she so – and would see what gossip she might glean.

He looked at her and said, he confided 'twas not the first time she had done the like.

Tibby laughed and said, sure, began when she was still with Lady Bexbury, one hears things, may be most useful.

Did you ever come across this fellow MacDonald?

Tibby gave a girlish giggle most unsuited to her present age and standing and said, Was one Christmastide when Euphemia and I were still careless giddy girls, and there had been a matter of a wassail-bowl that was stronger liquor than we were used to, and we waylaid him under the kissing bunch. For he was quite the prettiest fellow – indeed, is still very well-looking, do you not think so? – but o, the scold we got from Hector! We were most exceeding mortified. But he took the matter most civil. Has been an intimate of Her Ladyship’s household these many years, indeed, since before her elevation.

Also, she went on, 'twas he that uncovered that Prue needed spectacles, made quite an immense difference. Sure 'twixt 'em, he and Her Ladyship can see further through a brick wall than most. Can any come at what is afoot here, must be the two of 'em.

Sure you give him an excellent character!

Why, has ever been quite the finest of friends to Her Ladyship. But I will go gossip – making sure that all have put their work aside afore they begin upon these fine cakes that Euphemia put up for me.

Do you bring Euphemia’s cakes I could quite envy 'em!

Tibby left the room and Maurice went back to sketching out designs. But though one could conceal designs, lock them away in hidden drawers, once the work was in hand, 'twas no longer entire secret –

At length he sighed, pushed them into the secret compartment hidden beneath the locked drawer, and stood up. He would go to the club tonight. Entirely not with any particular design to find an agreeable fellow to have a little amusement with, merely to be among fellows of his own kind that did not frown upon him.

Sure 'twas an occasion when one particularly missed Elias Winch, that was so very entertaining. But it was ever exceeding gratifying to enter the club by its front door, even was that a very discreet entrance that did not advertize itself, and see the fine appointments of the place, the spacious hall and public rooms, the marble floors and staircase, the elegant carpets and furniture, and know it a place where he was accepted.

He went into the parlour and one of the footmen brought him a glass of gin – good Hollands geneva, none of your nasty poisonous blue ruin. Maurice eyed him up and down – 'twas an understood thing that the footmen were for hire, were they agreeable. But somehow the fellow did not appeal, his attentiveness was somewhat encroaching.

Sir Hartley Zellen entered the room and came to sit in the adjacent chair. Allard! Delighted! Sir Stockwell was saying, are some proposals for membership the committee should go deliberate upon – sure there is no urgency in the matter, but we should be about it.

He then cleared his throat and lowered his voice and said that he apprehended that his lady wife was taking advantage of Maurice’s discreet chamber again? He did not wish to pry into her affairs so long as she was happy, but hoped that she was not about any indiscretion in her choice.

Maurice concealed a smile. There was a taste Sir Hartley and his wife had in common, that he doubted they knew of: young men – not very young, not schoolboys, but usually under twenty-five years. Their sons’ younger contemporaries, these days. 'Twas Barty Wallace was her current favourite, a young fellow that combined his father’s quondam taste for pleasures with his mother’s ever level head. No cause at all for concern, he said. All very prudent.

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Sandy sighed as he walked along. He had really lingered far too long about that prancing molly’s den of vanity and vain adornment, would have to go quite directly to the meeting of the antiquarians. But there was a pieman with his tray, and while Euphemia would probably poison him did she ever hear he had bought food in the streets, or mayhap knock him down with the frying pan, necessity was upon him: he had no wish to sit in learned company with a belly rumbling from hunger.

He had consumed the pie and wiped away any evidence of its consumption by the time he attained the antiquarians’ society, brightly lit up and with quite a throng present. For this e’en there was to be a most interesting preliminary report of the excavation of the monastery ruins at Monks Garrowby. The Earl of Nuttenford, that had not only given his permission but had contributed to the expenses of the matter, was likely to be present along with other members of his family and their circle.

And indeed, there were the Earl and Countess, his sister Lady Emily and her constant companion Lalage Fenster, his other sister the Marchioness of Offgrange and her husband, and – Sandy’s heart sank a little – his brother Geoffrey, whose face lit up upon catching sight of him.

Sandy sighed inwardly. Perchance it had not been so very prudent to suggest that his disinclination to continue an otherwise agreeable carnal acquaintance with Mr Merrett was simply due to the very recent nature of his bereavement, that he was not yet ready to love again, rather than the somewhat overwhelming nature of Geoffrey’s devotion. It was now well over a year since Gervase’s dreadful sudden death, and it was not unlike that Geoffrey retained hopes.

A fan tapped him sharply upon the arm. La, Mr MacDonald, you are come most exceeding late upon the hour.

He looked down at his dearest friend, Clorinda, Lady Bexbury. Why, he said, 'tis an intriguing problem you have set me, though sure 'tis a very unwonted setting to find myself in. But 'tis not the place to talk of it, I confide.

Indeed not, let us go take our seats.

'Twas considerable late by the time they were in her carriage returning home. Sandy was about to open the business to Clorinda, but she held up her hand and took a small memorandum book and a pencil out of her reticule. I am a sad forgetful creature and I wish get down that very fine information about monasteries afore memory fades.

He smiled and said, I confide has given you a notion for a tale.

Mayhap and perchance! she said, scribbling busily. He would be happy indeed did she take up her pen once more to write horrid tales or plays, for it had lain unused for that task since Eliza Ferraby’s death – or, it came to him, before, she had writ nothing but necessary letters and charity pamphlets during Eliza’s long illness. There had been a tale or two after Josiah Ferraby’s sudden demise, but naught since then.

At length they came to her pretty house and went to the parlour where Hector brought them madeira and port, as was by now an entire habit with them.

Clorinda put her memorandum book upon her writing desk and went to sit by the fire. Indeed, gave me several notions that might work up into fine tales. But, my dear, I await your own news most anxious.

Why, he said, indeed I wish to open the matter entirely to your wisdom –

O poo, you flattering wretch. I could make nothing of it myself, I was quite entire at stand and therefore wished to have your mind upon it.

You did not tell me, he says, that Mamzelle Bridgette is in fact a monsieur -

La, I am a fool, I supposed you knew but there is no reason you should. 'Tis entire a name of business, devised aforetimes by dear Docket’s old friend Biddy Smith, they saw no reason to change it when she moved to Worthing for her health.

- though such an effeminate fellow as I daresay makes little difference. But sure I should not let myself be hindered in any investigation by my dislike to the molly-set among those that are of the disposition.

O dear, murmured Clorinda, I hope you did not entire paralyze him with a dour Calvinistical glare.

Anyway, I have come about to think of ways one might proceed, and I should like to speak to Tibby –

- oh, that is an excellent thought! –

- and I think 'twould also be of great service could one find out more about Madame Francine’s establishment. Do any of your circle go be dressed by her?

Indeed not! If they do not go to Maurice, they go to Madame Lisette. But, my dear, would it not answer did I go to her, saying that I find that Maurice’s inspiration grows tired?

My dear Clorinda! 'Twould answer most exceedingly, but I hesitate to advance a course of action that will no doubt lead to you having to purchase gowns you have no intention to wear, or else show, I doubt not, an entire dowd, that will have Docket’s shade come howl and gibber in your dressing-room.

Clorinda giggled and said, perchance I might give 'em to some deserving cause: but I do not intend to come at actually buying from her. I shall be one of those difficult ladies that keeps changing her requirements, and disliking matters she had already desired when she sees them upon her, and I confide that Madame Francine will be very desirous of keeping Lady Bexbury’s custom, so will not complain or dismiss me from her establishment, and 'twill give me great occasion to be to and fro there.

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Mrs Lucas twirled sedately around and smiled. Entire stylish yet will not look particular do we go dine at the Bishop’s Palace, she said. 'Tis very good of you to make this time for me, for I confide 'tis coming up your busy time o’ year.

Maurice smiled back. How different was this confident lady from the shy lumpish young woman he had first dressed so many years ago. Why, he said, one always likes to see old patrons; most particularly the ones that pay up their bills as promptly as you do.

Why, since we are in the happy position we are, not in the least the proverbial church mice, 'tis only right to pay on the nail. She twirled again. And yet will not be out of place when we go dine with the Marquess.

She sighed a little and said, well, must take this off and have it sent with the other gowns. 'Twill not be appreciated by the antiquarians at this e’en’s gathering.

Indeed, it was rather late of the day by the time she left, the light already fading. Maurice went to the bench by the window where he had laid out samples of various stuffs he had been sent. It was just about light enough for his purposes, and touch was quite as important as sight in determining whether the fabric was of the first quality or not. He was reluctant to light the gas just yet: given the present state of affairs, any little economy seemed prudent.

There was a rapping on the door. Mayhap Mrs Lucas had left something behind? He could not recollect that he was in anticipation of a delivery of anything.

Come in.

Whatever he had expected, it was not that. A man that looked like a preacher from the Vice Society about to hold forth in a brothel, glaring about the room as if 'twas a den of iniquity rather than a modiste’s establishment. The light through the window was still just enough to reveal that he was very good-looking, even in those spectacles.

Mamzelle Bridgette? he asked.

Yes? (Ten to one this was about a bill that had come to the fellow’s attention. He did not, however, have the air of a married man. A younger sister? A ward?)

You’re Mamzelle Bridgette?

I’m her partner – Maurice Allard. (These days Biddy spent most of the time at Worthing. Which was just as well, because he did not want her bothered about the present trouble could it be helped.) What is your business?

Lady Bexbury sent me.

Lady Bexbury sent you?

His visitor fumbled in a pocket and produced a card. She said you had been having a problem.

It was indeed her card, with a note scribbled upon the reverse: To introduce Mr Alexander MacDonald. He may be able to help you.

Maurice looked up from the card, suppressing a whistle. Alexander MacDonald, that had been the confidential secretary and political advisor to Lord Raxdell until the latter’s untimely death: and, among those of the brotherhood, suspected to have been a good deal more.

And what, he thought, was Mr MacDonald seeing as he scowled across the room? Even in the rapidly dimming light the manifestations of Maurice’s African blood must have been apparent in spite of the relative paleness of his complexion: by this time of day curls were beginning to rebel against the earlier application of pomatum. Effeminacy would be presumed, given his profession, but indeed a deliberate air of effeminacy was a wise choice for a man-modiste, found most exceeding reassuring.

Just because a fellow was of the brotherhood, did not in the least mean that one quite immediate took a notion to him. Maurice had long eschewed those low places of resort where fellows of his kind might have furtive encounters, out of self-preservation as well as more general fastidiousness. He might have sold his services to gentlemen in his younger days, but they were gentlemen and it was at that certain club where all was done discreet and in very good style. And now he was not just a member of the club in good standing, but on the committee, entire respected as a sound useful fellow; and safe.

Alexander MacDonald was by no means the kind of fellow he inclined to. Might have acquired some polish through association with such a model as Lord Raxdell, but given out a Scot of humble origins, though all conceded most immense clever. Well-dressed, but with the air of one that had acquired the habit of going to a good tailor without ever thinking much about what he wore.

After this lengthy pause as they looked at one another like dogs deciding whether to fight or merely give admonitory barks and pass on, MacDonald said, Lady Bexbury told me that you were having some little trouble, that you did not think was anything you might take to the law –

And why did she tell you of it? (The troubles of modistes could only be despised by such a fellow.)

MacDonald shrugged. I have some little aptitude for sounding out puzzles and mysteries. Clo – Lady Bexbury applies her own ingenuity to thinking about the matter, but desired that I would also go look into it. Mayhap you might lay it out for me?

Maurice would not wish to offend Lady Bexbury, even did offending her not also portend repercussions among his family connexions. So he waved MacDonald to one of the other stools, and sat down again himself.

He sighed. He could not suppose that this fellow would take the matter as anything but a frivolous fret, yet 'twas of quite material significance to the continuing good name of the business.

Somebody, he said, is stealing my notions.

Notions? said MacDonald.

Notions, repeated Maurice. My ideas in matters to do with style and fashion. Lately there is another modiste brings out gowns that use various notions that I had – and, he added bitterly – doing them less well than we would. 'Tis extreme deleterious to our business. For ladies come to us for styles that will be original and out of the common way, not somewhat that they have already seen on someone else.

And you do not know who might be conveying these – notions – to her?

He sighed again. Sure I thought we might trust our cutters and seamstresses – well-paid, good conditions – but mayhap one or another has been tempted, 'tis a precarious matter to live by one’s needle – but who else would have the chance to see the designs? And 'twould cause ill-feeling to open the matter among 'em.

And this other modiste?

Madame Francine, she calls herself. But lately set up in Town – says she is from Paris, but is she French, I’m Prince Albert. Most assuredly sees herself as a rival to us.

He raised his eyes from his twisting hands and – o, he thought, that is a difference, looking at a face transfigured, alight with interest and curiosity, a hound upon the trail.

Could you, said MacDonald, just walk me around your premises a little? And say who are likely to come call upon you – I suppose, he added, that it could not be one of your customers?

Patrons, said Maurice, but I confide not, there is no lady would be able to see so much of what we do, only what was in train for her or mayhap a friend or so do they come in company together.

Lady Bexbury informs me, went on MacDonald as they ascended the stairs to the fine large light – when it was daytime – attic workroom, that there is a chamber about this place that ladies may employ for discreet assignations?

Maurice paused and said, ladies in such case usually have their minds on other things than some particular new fashion of cut or trimming; and there is a discreet door, they would not come through anywhere where any work was in hand.

If you could show me the various entrances - for I daresay there is a tradesman’s entrance quite distinct from where your cus - patrons - come in?

So they made a very extensive survey of the premises until MacDonald looked at his watch and said, sure the time had rushed on, he must be away, but would go consider over the matter and look into it, and would Mr Allard have any objection did he open the matter to Mrs Marshall, that he apprehended was a cousin of his?

That was a very apt thought, to consult Tibby, that he had not even thought of himself; but sure Tibby must know a deal of the gossip about fashion and modistes.

Can be no objection whatsoever, he said.

I suppose, MacDonald went on, 'twould look particular did I come about during the working day.

Maurice looked at him and was unable to think of any reason he could give but the real one for MacDonald’s presence. He nodded his head.

I will go think on’t, then, talk to Clo – Lady Bexbury, may come at some contrivance.

They walked down the stairs to the tradesman’s entrance. Pausing on the threshold, Maurice began, awkwardly, Of course, do you find out the matter, I should wish to show grateful –

The hellfire-preacher look came back as if Maurice had made an improper suggestion (and mayhap that had not been so far from his mind, a good deal less far than it should have been). Does it perchance that we may come at what and who lies behind this business, mayhap you could make some contribution to one of Lady Bexbury’s good causes.

Maurice, twitching his shoulders, watched him striding off down the alley, feeling that he would be vastly obliged did he never have to see MacDonald again, but also that if anyone could fathom out the mystery, it was like to be MacDonald. He greatly disliked to be the recipient of favours: he preferred to keep any balance in the matter firmly on his own side. And this did not seem like a matter in which he could readily pay off that debt. He could quite imagine MacDonald’s expression did he offer a coin some fellows found quite irresistible (sure he was no longer a very young fellow but were those still considered he had charms).

Thoughts requested

Sep. 8th, 2017 11:19 am
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As I make my chelonian, even glacial, progress towards more formal publication, I have two thoughts to lay before my dear readers, which are more in the area of that thing about 'You can't just publish, you have to PROMOTE':

Might it be a good idea to have a website? I was thinking I could put up clarification of various allusions there (Welsh seclusion, eloping with Mercury, &C) (because footnoting would be exceeding ennuyant) as well as more general info.

Would it be quite the vulgarest of ton to solicit kind testimonials from among those of my readers already well-reputed in the literary sphere?

***

Also, I appear to have another novella-length thing that I will be posting in installments shortly, for which I think the content warning is: a very well-worn trope?

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