Sir Stockwell had indicated to Sandy that he would be extremely grateful for some private discourse at a time when fewer fellows were about the club, so early one afternoon Sandy made his way there, was admitted, and shown to a sanctum where Sir Stockwell was smoking a pipe over some papers.
MacDonald! he rose to shake hands. Good of you to come. He gathered together the papers on his desk, placed them in a drawer, and locked it. 'Tis a quieter place to study over complicated matters than the Admiralty, he said by way of explanation.
He offered Sandy sherry, but was entirely equable when he suggested a preference for coffee, that was brought hot and strong, if not quite as good as Euphemia’s.
Sandy said somewhat of what a fine club it was, excellent set of fellows, greatly gratified to be admitted to membership, as Sir Stockwell relit his pipe and seemed somewhat self-conscious.
'Tis given out, he said at length, that you have a particular talent for finding out hidden matters with extreme discretion.
Sure I think repute somewhat exaggerates my capacities, but I have a great fondness for delving into mysteries: there are those have said I am as curious as a mongoose.
Only, said Sir Stockwell, there is a certain private matter I should desire discover, but indeed it is a matter demanding very great discretion, and I minded that, could you not come at it, you might open it to the wisdom of Lady Bexbury, for 'tis a matter of women -
Sandy lifted his eyebrows and looked sympathetic.
- in short, 'tis my wife, that I am in some suspicion takes a lover. Have no firm evidence, does not give scandal, but should like to know what she is about, who the fellow is. For indeed, there are fellows will go make up to wives, when they wish to come at the husband and his affairs –
Sandy let out a suitable groan and confided that alas, 'twas so, keeping his face exceeding straight. For he was in no inclination to betray Geoffrey Merrett’s confidences without he at least consulted Clorinda as to the wisdom of doing so; and perchance he should let Geoff know what was afoot. It disposed him to think that the extortionist had been very much making a shot at venture: though presumably Lady Sarah was not apprized of her husband’s complaisance - ? but also to consider further the notion that it might have been one sally in a wider campaign to milk adulterous wives.
Why, he said, will go see what I may find in the matter. Does your wife have any confidantes?
Goes about with that harridan Lady Trembourne: but she is a fool does she disclose any secrets to her.
Sandy grimaced and agreed that secrets would not be safe, and like to be used to as much damage as possible, in that lady’s hands. But, he went on, the matter may be one that is in constant discourse over tea-tables, so I would purpose an initial sounding of whether Lady Bexbury has heard aught.
'Tis wise, and she is given out extreme discreet.
Sandy rose to go, they shook hands once more, and he left, with the most urgent desire to communicate the entire imbroglio to Clorinda.
However, when he arrived back at her house, when Hector let him he sighed and said, we have company - family company –
Indeed Sandy could hear an agitated voice within the parlour, quite loud enough to be heard in the hall. He raised his eyebrows in query.
Lady Ollifaunt, said Hector, in a considerable taking.
Sandy sighed. He had left Clorinda in a happy anticipation of an afternoon scribbling at her new tale, being given out not at home, but there were ever those to whom that could not be said, and the Ferrabys were of that number.
He was in some inclination to go hide in the library until Bess might be gone, but perchance that was not the most manly course of action. He entered the parlour, and saw Clorinda’s glance of relief.
Bess Ollifaunt was storming up and down in a fury. But is it not entirely beyond everything, dear Aunty Clorinda, that Harry should go talk to some fellow at the Admiralty about the provision of iron and not tell me beforehand? Am I not entire partner in the ironworks? Was it some matter of engineering, mayhap somewhat to do with steam, I could understand it. But no, 'tis some question of iron, and very particular specifications, and he goes think he may deal entire by himself on the matter, does not need to inform me –
Dear Bess, said Clorinda, with the air of one who had been hearing the same complaint reiterated several times over, sit down and take some tea and try calm yourself. Sure I think 'twas a little ill-advized in Harry not to open the matter to you well beforehand, but I daresay the Admiralty are in somewhat of a habit of dealing with gentlemen rather than ladies. Calm yourself and tell me the story in a little better order, and also, show civil and greet Mr MacDonald.
Oh! cried Bess, I am indeed sorry, I did not see you come in, delighted to see you.
She sat down and accepted a cup of tea and Sandy did likewise.
Why, she said, Harry came to me the morn and said he had lately been asked to go see Sir Stockwell Channery – Sandy lifted his head and then looked down into his teacup – at the Admiralty, that is in charge, he supposes, of improving steamships &C, and he dares says that it is a matter of boilers and degrees of tolerance, for he was asking might we be able to provide iron to such and such specifications, and really, 'twas most out of the common, one would need go talk to Mr Dalgleish about the practicalities of the matter, and sure, 'twould do us no harm whatsoever to have an Admiralty contract, but I think Harry should have spoke to me first.
La, said Clorinda, but he did come tell you quite immediate afterwards.
Indeed not so, Bess said fretfully, waited until he might convoke with me face to face in private, would not put the matter in a letter. But, she conceded, did so quite as soon as he was able to contrive that. But it put me in a great fret that he might go commit us to something we might not be able to fulfil – or would mean putting back other orders, a thing I can never like – and I said he should show me the papers. And he said, that there were no papers, 'twas entire a verbal matter so far, so I hope the notes he made in his memorandum book most immediate afterwards are accurate.
Why, I think you may trust Harry for that – Bess gave a little reluctant nod – And I daresay what is ado is that the Admiralty go about to consult various fellows in the iron business, to find out can the thing be done, and what time it might take, and what 'twould cost, and ‘tis all very informal at present.
Do you think so?
Why, I think Lady Bexbury has the right of it, said Sandy. But I have some little acquaintance with Sir Stockwell and do I have any occasion to talk to him about his work at the Admiralty – though he is extreme close on the matter – will see can I sound the matter out. But I daresay 'tis indeed as ‘twere a matter of taking preliminary soundings.
At length Bess was soothed into a quieter state of mind, encouraged to say a little of how her husband and children did, and was in entire better mood by the time she left.
Clorinda leaned back in her chair and fanned herself. Dear Bess, she said. I wonder shall I have Harry coming about saying Bess is quite unreasonable – or mayhap Lou, saying, Harry is very upset, is not Bess being rather unreasonable? She sighed. But, my dear, I did not know you knew Sir Stockwell Channery.
Sandy got up to look out of the window and ascertain that Bess’s carriage had left. You do not anticipate any further company? She shook her head.
I feel I may therefore disclose to you, most extreme discreet –
Silence to the death!
- that Sir Stockwell is a leading figure in the club I lately joined.
Say you so!
And has, indeed, commissioned me to an enquiry concerning his lady.
That poor dispirited creature Lady Sarah, that is the Unfair Rosamund’s hanger-on?
It seems, says Sandy, that she has shown enough spirit to enter upon a liaison with – my dear Clorinda, sure I should have told you before, but I was not sure the secret was mine to disclose - but there are matters about it that I find I need open to your acuity.
She sat up and smacked him lightly with her fan. With who?
The Honble Geoffrey Merrett.
Clorinda laughed quite immoderately, and then said, sure I am somewhat surprized, but indeed, he is just the sort would find himself entangled with some poor neglected creature like her, would be entire moved to pity –
Sandy laughed and said, I think you hit it off very precise. But, dear sibyl, he was wont to enjoy her favours in the discreet chamber at Madame Francine’s establishment – Oho! – and she received a letter demanding recompense for silence. Geoff is sanguine that her concerns are now over, since that lady has been exposed, but I am like to wonder was Lady Sarah the only one subjected to such a demand. Have you heard aught of such a matter?
Not yet, but I will be about it. Mrs Nixon is but lately returned from Harrogate, and I will put her to the business.
And besides that, Sir Stockwell is now in some suspicion that his wife has a lover – is not jealous, I confide, but in some concern over the discretion in the matter and whether 'tis some sad rogue of a seducer. I know not what to say.
Indeed the matter is somewhat delicate! I will go consider over all this tangle. By the way, is Mr Merrett a member of this club?
It seems not. Sure there are fellows there that are married or have mistresses set up but my impression is that 'tis all entire masquerade. You would know better than I, but I think Geoff truly enjoys the other sex.
Oh yes, said Clorinda with a reminiscent smile. Indeed has no distaste at all for womanly parts, sure his tastes are exceeding catholic.
Back in 2008, Gandhian pilgrimage that ended at Calais.
And his present (surely it is the same guy) simple life agenda has crossed my horizon heretofore.
My dearios, I give you I live a healthier life now I’m free of the trappings of modernity.
O, lucky old you, a healthy bloke with sufficient resources to undertake this project and pontificate about it. You are not just lucky to be 'born without any serious long-term health issues' - this is due to various factors including maternal nutrition and antenatal care, vaccination against common childhood diseases (even if he didn't get these, and I bet he did, he would have benefitted from herd immunity), i.e. the benefits of modern medicine and sanitation.
Also, I have no time whatsoever for anyone who dismisses other people's experiences of pain: there is a man who, we must suppose, never sat an exam while doubled over with period pain, or suffered a migraine. Not at all rare conditions. Your body is not 'always aiming for balance and health'.
And we observe that he has had a vasectomy... because one of my questions (among the many stimulated by the thought of all the technological advances that have made women's lives so much less arduous, which I remarked on when his bogosity first impinged upon my aghast gaze), wot abaht contraception?
Perhaps we might introduce him to the notion that being regularly flogged with a large codfish is a cure for pretentious woowoo?
(And do we think that his simple austere life is 'more work for other people', like the process that gets his handwritten ms - written on tree bark in berry juice, we wonder? - from his simple cabin in the woods to the Guardian website?)
So, we took the car in for the 10,000 mile check-up and tire rotation thingy, then went to IHOP for breakfast and a test drive of the hearphones.
The hearphones...are problematical on two fronts.
Front One: I can't keep the damned things charged. Admittedly, this files under Operator Error, but I'm not usually an idiot about keeping the toys charged, so there's some subtlety I'm missing. And it doesn't lessen Operator Aggravation to arrive at the Test Location and find that the 'phones are, ahem, critically low on power.
Front Two: Hearing my own voice in my ears is gonna drive me bugs. And this may actually be a deal-breaker. Steve urges me to give it another run, to see if I get used to it, which is fair, but at the moment what I'm doing is whispering in an attempt not to hear my own voice, which is...not really much better than sitting like a stump at a group dinner because I can't hear what anyone else is saying.
The plaque (and check) which together comprise "Wise Child's" Readers Choice award arrived yesterday. The check we deposited in the bank today while we were out and about. Here is a photograph of the plaque, being modeled by the delightful Mr. Miller.
So, my next order of business is to read another 50ish pages of the Neogenesis page proofs. Lunch is on the schedule, and, very possibly, a nap, because we not only got up at stoopid o'clock to take the car in, but we got flu shots (the high-test flu shots reserved for those of us who are temporally elongated), too.
Everybody be good.
Yay, the cover for The Murderbot Diaries III: Rogue Protocol is on Tor.com:
The cover reveal for Murderbot Diaries II, Artificial Condition was here on The Verge:
Art by Jaime Jones
Maurice, though by now clothed, and in his right mind, lay on the bed with an arm across his eyes. This really would not do.
Once was something that could happen. Twice was – cause for perturbation. It was no longer the gratification of a passing inclination.
Why had MacDonald kissed him before leaving? Lightly, affectionately, as if they were devoted lovers facing a brief parting? It made no sense at all.
He heard several fellows come up the stairs: one, from the tittering, was Chumbell, and one – oh dear, that was Basil’s great honking laugh – and that voice that had so recently been whispering in his ear, soft words that he dared say were Scots for he did not understand them, only that from the tone, they were endearments and not the filth that some fellows liked to talk at such times – saying, oh, sure they will show the things to English milords for a little recompense – what, you have never been so far as Naples –
Basil was saying something about his desire to go to Greece - though Maurice confided that Basil liked his comforts entirely too much to undertake such a journey – and MacDonald remarked upon the very notable Greek influences in the Two Sicilies.
Oh, he would become a prime favourite in the club at the rate he was going, damn his eyes.
- you have not seen the Bexbury Bequest at the Museum? Sure, 'tis not on open display, save for a chaste vase or so, but 'tis entire possible for those of the cognoscenti to go examine the late Marquess’ very fine collections.
Chumbell was quite squeaking with excitement.
And then they were standing by the large canvas on the corridor wall just outside the door, and Chumbell murmuring about accuracy and Basil making claims for the need to make a telling composition - would they never go so that he might escape?
At length he heard them – after a deal of expatiation on various paintings – go back down the stairs. He stood up, tidied himself, smoothed down his hair yet again, and peeped out of the door to ensure that there were no onlookers.
He descended the stairs and nearly ran into Sir Stockwell. Ah, Allard, he said – he always manifested the very good ton of addressing Maurice as quite his equal, and not a fellow that he had once been wont to have for a guinea a time, when they were both younger. Come and take port with me.
Maurice had been greatly looking forward to a glass of gin – port was just not the same – but did not protest.
They went into Sir Stockwell’s private office. There was port already on the table. He motioned Maurice into a chair.
Well, he said, I am most exceeding grateful that we have prevailed upon MacDonald to join our number –
Maurice sipped his port and raised his eyebrows.
- but I confide Sir Hartley was quite right that 'twould have been premature to invite him any earlier, 'twas the proper thing to respect his mourning for Lord Raxdell. I was a little concerned about how Saythingport might vote –
Not Colonel Adams?
Adams will think any fellow that can argue about Alexander’s Greeks that settled among the Afghans and discourse on Hindu religion is a fine fellow. But I brought Saythingport to see the prudence of having a fellow so noted for sounding out mysteries among us – for sometimes we have matters we should desire to investigate but can hardly employ some private inquiry agent. I was very careful to choose an occasion when Mysell-Monting could not join us.
Maurice smiled and said he was surprised that Sir Stockwell had not joined the Diplomatic rather than the Admiralty.
But indeed, went on Sir Stockwell, I had a most particular concern of my own. He cleared his throat. I daresay, he said, that my wife will be coming to be dressed by you again, following this scandal of the silly women that were beguiled by an imposter that was neither French nor even a real dressmaker –
I should naturally be delighted, said Maurice, though I confide that she will go wherever Lady Trembourne does, and she, alas, is no patron of mine.
Frightful woman, said Sir Stockwell, if she were my wife – but that fool Trembourne quite grovels at her feet – but does my wife come to your establishment –
(Surely Sir Stockwell was not leading up to being granted very favourable terms when the bills for dressing his lady were made up?)
- I am in some suspicion that she has taken a lover. While she is at least so discreet in the matter that I have no definite knowledge as yet, is it so I should very much like to know who he is. Should not like her beguiled by some seducing rogue or brought into scandal. For indeed one would very much dislike to have to come to a crim.con. action.
Does you entire credit, said Maurice. Even does she not come to me, I daresay there may be ladies in the secret that may be persuaded to a little gossip.
Excellent, my dear fellow. He clapped Maurice heartily on the shoulder. Fellows such as we are well-advized to keep beforehand of matters.
Next morn, Maurice called in Miss Coggin to ask had they ever dressed Lady Sarah Channery, for his memory failed him in the matter.
Miss Coggin gave a loud and vulgar snort, and said, I daresay you would hardly have noticed her, for she ever came with Lady Trembourne, and even though she is better-born, one would have supposed her some poor relation or hired companion. And she is somewhat of the same style of looks –
Ah yes, now I recollect. Never required use of the discreet chamber?
Indeed not. A pathetic creature.
Maurice went to look over the books to see what further information on her patronage he might glean, and was about the task when he heard somebody mounting the back stairway with the clunking of a cane.
He looked out of the doorway. Biddy! he cried, jumping up and going to extend his arm to aid her ascent. Kissing her upon the cheek when she was panting at the top, he said, but sure we did not expect a visit from you. Here, come sit down and I will send for tea.
Biddy sat wheezing for a little while, and then said, came up to lay flowers on dear Thomasina’s grave, and do a little shopping for such matters as Worthing cannot provide. And I went take tea yesterday with dear Tibby, and sure I had heard nothing down by the seaside of this trouble you had been having.
Fie, did not wish bother you with it, the imposture is discovered, we have a deal of business on hand as a result –
I see what it is, you were ever a good thoughtful boy, did not want me to worry, bore it all on your own shoulders -
Did not so, he protested, opened the matter to Lady Bexbury –
There’s my clever boy!
- that quite entirely came at the imposture. But indeed, he said, sitting down and handing her a cup of tea, know not how I might have contrived without her intervention.
Has ever been a good friend to us, said Biddy. And her kindness to dear Thomasina – why, 'twas not even, la, can you no longer work I will go find some almshouse where you may reside so that you need not go upon the parish, no, 'twas keep her in the household among familiar faces, able advize Sophy, the best of everything. She dabbed at her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. O, sure she had savings put by, but in her state of health –
She had a good friend in you, said Maurice. And now, are you here, I should desire open to you some of my thoughts for the gowns for the coming Season, and the ladies that are coming here.
Biddy protested that sure, she was quite out of Town and knowledge of the latest styles, but Maurice confided that even did she not read scandal, she read the pages in the papers on matters of fashion more religiously than her Bible.
(Not that I have anything against Collin Street Bakery, who do in fact make the world's best fruitcake. But I order my stuff from them online.)
What I read
Finished Boys will be Boys, which was still very familiar although it is many years since I last read it. Wonder if Turner would really have liked to be writing something a bit more serious about matters of popular culture; and would have liked to be nerdish in the archives of the publishing companies, because there are sometimes wistful asides about the mysteries that might be solved thereby. Pretty sure this is where the very youthful oursin first acquired that apprehension that each generation disses upon what the young of next are consuming (whether print or radio or more latterly other media) as A Road to Ruin (I wish I could locate my copy of his Roads to Ruin).
Also finished The Witch of Syracuse: worked well, did not have that sense one so oft has when scattered short stories on a character/s are brought together of 'fix-up', but that it worked as a narrative arc. Also thought it worked well on the historical contingencies, nature of the deities, etc. (Very unfluffy Hellenic/Punic goddesses.)
Being somewhat smitten with travel angst, read various short things, comfort re-reads, etc.
Did read the novella Suradanna and the Sea by Rebecca Fraimow (2016): very good, even though I couldn't remember why or when I'd downloaded it.
On the go
Finally began Victoria Bates, Sexual Forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England: Age, Crime and Consent in the Courts (2015) - very good so far.
Also currently in medias res, Patricia McKillip, Kingfisher (2017) - very good, but my bar for riffing on/mashing up Arthuriana is set very high with Naomi Mitchison's To the Chapel Perilous.
*Among other sights seen today, Rynek Underground.
For those following along at home: The hearphone movie test was inconclusive. I could, indeed, hear the dialog in Fantastic Beasts clearly while wearing the hearphones, but! So could I without. I am forced to conclude that the speakers on the new television set are superior to those in the local movie theater.
I have not yet done the Noisy Bar test drive. I have a window of opportunity tomorrow, when I need to be in Augusta insanely early so the car can get its 10,000 mile inspection, fine-tuning, whatever. Steve has bravely volunteered to go with me, and the plan (The Plan) is that, after the car is taken care of, we shall adjourn to IHOP, which is really pretty noisy, and I will do a test there.
One of the things that's really freaky about the hearphones, besides hearing yourself talk through your ears, is that there's a option for "silence" -- which turns off your ears. Or at least feels like it's turned off your ears. No input gets through.
In other news, the page proofs for Neogenesis, the twenty-first book in the Liaden Universe®; the eleventh Liaden book we've written for Baen -- landed in my in-box yesterday. Today, after breakfast, Sprite and I sat down with our red pen and our sticky tabs and went over the front matter and the first 48 pages, which takes us through the first section/chapter.
I will now go on to other things, including working on Fifth of Five, the sequel to Neogenesis and the last book in both the five-book arc beginning with Dragon in Exile, and the last book in the arc begun 29 years ago, in Agent of Change.
Twenty-nine years ago.
Well. I guess I've earned those purple hairs.
Before anyone asks: Nope, still don't know when the eArc of Neogenesis will appear at a Baen.com near you. The last word I had, from two "Baen insiders" (editors, actually, but "Baen insiders" sounds infinitely cooler than "editor") was that the eArc would be available in September. That is the sum of my knowledge on the subject (honest!). If you need to know more, you need to write to Baen.
What else? The fountain pen experiment continues to go well. I have one pen (out of, er, four? that escalated quickly) that I'm not really crazy about, but I am declaring success.
So, that seems to be all the news. Everybody be well.
As someone who’s been reading SF for over forty years now, I’m fascinated by the different ways life on Mars has been portrayed over the decades. My earliest encounters were through books like Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and in my early teens, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. Alongside such fiction, I remember reading about Mariner 4 in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. So I already knew that real scientific discoveries meant these enthralling stories were impossible. That didn’t matter. Mars fascinated me.
That’s still true today, as books on my shelves by Alastair Reynolds, Andy Weir and James Corey attest. The film of The Martian and the TV adaptation of The Expanse series are merely the latest depictions of Mars that I’ve enjoyed on screen, from Flash Gordon through Doctor Who to Babylon 5. I’m still reading National Geographic, and any articles I see elsewhere discussing the real practicalities of sustaining human life on our near neighbour. Then there’s the ongoing exploration of Mars by the Opportunity rover. Go robots!
So now I want to write my own story set on Mars. It’s the ideal setting for me to explore a notion that’s been coming together in my imagination thanks to several recent popular-science articles that I’ve read. The last piece I needed was the invitation to write a new story featuring the Ur Bar, the eternal, time-travelling tavern from the ZNB anthology ‘After Hours’.
So now all I need is this year’s ZNB anthologies Kickstarter to fund. At the time of writing, we’ve got a week to go, and we’re just over two-thirds funded, so there’s $6333 still needed. Do take a look, if you haven’t done so already, and flag the project up to friends who might be interested. There are three anthologies to choose from, and to consider submitting something to, if you’re a writer yourself. You can get involved for as little as $7.
If you’re really keen, there’s a tuckerisation up for grabs. Do you fancy giving your own, or someone else’s, name to my story’s protagonist?
Of course Sandy had heard of the certain club. There had been that matter of the comedic actor Elias Winch, Miss Richardson’s uncle, whose perilous proceedings at public places of resort had entirely ceased once he had joined. And when it seemed that Sir Hartley Zellen, a very useful man in the Commons, might join their reforming set, it had been ascertained that he was entire discreet in indulging the urges of his disposition as a member of that club.
But it had been Clorinda who had acquired intelligence of the place. There had been no approaches during the years with Gervase.
So while he returned a civil reply to Sir Hartley’s discreet overture, he was not sure what he might do about the matter.
Is it not, he asked Clorinda, a bordello?
Why, I apprehend that there are arrangements whereby fellows may gratify their urges, but 'tis also, I confide, a place where fellows of the disposition may gather and feel they may breathe a little more freely than they may do in general society. And I daresay there is some matter of being able to assist does one of their number encounter difficulties, for there are fellows that command considerable interest among 'em. And perchance there are fellows that are not in the happy situation that you had and may not live together openly, but find it a place where they need not disguise their affections.
Indeed we were most uncommon fortunate, he said in sombre tones. But, dearest sibyl, is it foolish and sentimental in me to ask, what would Gervase say?
Clorinda smiled at him. Not in the least, dear Sandy. But I think he would wish that you did not become an entire recluse, went about in Society; and I think he would consider that your presence would be of entire benefit to the club, that must indeed be a thought of theirs as well. You are known a clever and well-thought-of fellow such I am sure they would greatly desire among their number.
Would that I had a fan about me that I might smack you with it as an arrant flatterer!
But is it not entirely so? You are still greatly valued among our political set for the acuity of your judgements, indeed there have been mutterings from Sir Barton and Lords Abertylld and Vinwich that sure you should stand for Parliament yourself.
Sandy shuddered. I think I prefer to be an eminence gris.
Or eminence rouge! Sure that better suits you, I confide. She sighed. Whereas do you not think that Susannah Wallace would show extreme well as an MP?
Without a doubt, but that in the present state of society, I fear men would not listen to her, however sound her arguments.
They both sighed.
He felt curiously agitated about the prospect of attending: there was some matter of an initiation to be undergone, and then, a deal of fellows, no doubt, that, apart from Sir Hartley, he did not know.
Do you think I am dressed entirely suitable? he asked Clorinda.
She glanced up at him. Sure, she said in a distracted fashion, these working-parties to make clothes for the orphans might answer, if only the ladies that express themselves with great enthusiasm at the prospect would ever come to 'em and work. What, my dear? Oh, indeed, you look an entire well-dressed philosopher, and I would suppose they do not expect a gentleman of fashion.
Clorinda! Please to look at me properly and tell me is anything out of order.
La, o bello scozzese, you are in a taking over this business, my dear. They have already passed you for membership –
There is some ceremony -
Swearing tremendous oaths I daresay. Mayhap somewhat like unto the Freemasons, not that I know aught about 'em. Is not The Magic Flute give out to be about masons?
You seem in somewhat of a taking yourself, o silly creature, you seem considerable distracted.
Clorinda sighed and shook her head. I think Sir Vernon is going propose to me again. Sure I should not have supposed that an occasional agreeable romp was merely all he desired.
Sandy snorted. Why, I suppose he has been about a very diplomatic wooing, to lure you into concessions step by step –
Alas, I think you have the right of it. But, my dear, you look entire well. I have told Nick to bring the carriage round for you, and then bring it back to convey me to Sir Vernon’s dinner party.
So he went off in fine style to the extremely discreet doorway where one scrutinized him through the peephole before admitting him, and he was conducted at once to a small room where he was met by and introduced to Sir Stockwell Channery, Lord Saythingport, Terence Offerton, and Mr Chumbell. They read him over the conditions of membership and the horrid warnings as to the fate of any that breached discretion, but there was no ritual to the matter and while he was required to take an oath, no-one made him swear upon a Bible.
They then all heartily wrung his hand and desired him to enjoy the amenities of the establishment.
Chumbell, that was positively bouncing up and down, put his arm through Sandy’s and said, perchance they might go take a little sherry and discourse of classics?
Oh, come, Chumbell, said Offerton, taking Sandy’s other arm, there will be time enough for that, let the fellow find his feet a little first. Though he then went on to remark on the very fine billiard-table provided for members.
Indeed it was an excellent fine club – splendid comfortable public rooms, attentive footmen, a well-provided supper-table – and more familiar faces than he had anticipated. Tom Tressillian the actor; Colonel Adams, that had given such a fine lecture to the antiquarians on certain Hindu antiquities of Bengal; Sir Hartley, of course –
Is that music? he asked.
Why, must be Herr Hahn favours us upon his flute, cried Offerton.
Well: Franz Hahn; 'twas no surprise when he came to think of it.
And, in the room where Hahn was playing, standing under a painting of a faun, that was probably a Linsleigh, and undoubtedly one for which he had modelled, Maurice Allard, looking at him with a little lift of his chin and an air of having as much right as anyone to be there: surely the case. He was dressed entirely sober, but one did not spend two decades and more in the company of such a noted arbiter of style as Gervase, that had achieved the approbation of Brummell himself, without garnering some apprehension of what fine tailoring looked like. And how it might set off a fellow’s looks…
Franz Hahn put down his flute with great care, came up and shook Sandy by the hand, murmured that he heard Lady Bexbury was likely to resume her soirées? and gave a civil response to Sandy’s enquiries after his family. Did he know everybody? Perchance he had not met Allard?
Naturally, said Sandy, as Franz Hahn made the introduction, Lady Bexbury has spoken of him, declares she would be an entire dowd without him.
'Tis ever a pleasure, said Maurice, to have the dressing of Lady Bexbury.
At which moment came up Colonel Adams, with recollections of the very interesting questions Mr MacDonald had raised at his lecture, and wondering if he would some time care to come look at his little private collection of Hindu antiquities?
Sandy made some civil reply and was very glad of the glass of wine he found in his hand. He looked about the room and said, I confide that painting is a Linsleigh?
The most of the paintings are, said Offerton. He added, with a wink, there are some particular fine ones on the upper floor – is Basil here the e’en?
Maurice shrugged. Have not seen him.
Offerton went on, you may go look at 'em – of course, do not enter any chamber that has the door closed, but is the door open you may look in.
Mayhap later, said Sandy, a little overwhelmed at the warmth of his reception – the icy gaze in those black eyes was quite salutory refreshing by comparison.
After supper, feeling in need of a few moment’s solitude, he said that he would go look at the paintings, no need to accompany him.
Some few of the doors were already closed, but there were paintings along the corridor, and he peeped inside the first open door he came to. The chamber was empty, though well-furnished, and he examined the painting, rather glad that he was alone, for he could still, he found, be brought to the blush.
There was a faint noise: he looked up, and saw Maurice Allard, in the act of closing the door.
He was about to say that he supposed that they could both maintain a reasonable cool civility to one another in public – for it looked as though that was the concern that Allard wished to disclose – and their eyes met, their gazes locked. And – oh, they had not exorcized that carnal urging, that furor, after all.
Some while later – sure these chambers were very well provided for their purpose – Maurice looked up and said, that was not what I intended.
I did not think it was. Will it be noted?
I am like to doubt it, providing we do not go downstairs together.
Well, I shall go down first, and say how very taken I was by the paintings, is that really the time, sure one might have supposed oneself frolicking with Dionysus in Ancient Greece – and then I shall go ask Chumbell about whether he considers them an accurate portrayal –
Do you do this sort of thing very often?
Seldom, said Sandy, but have long had the acquaintance of an entire mistress of the art of making people see what she wants them to see.
Maurice scowled at him. It was - endearing. Sandy kissed him and began to dress.