I go lye down for a little with my stays loosen’d and Docket places slices of cowcumber upon my eyes, 'tis most extreme restfull. Sophy goes tend my hands the while.
After some several hours comes in Eliza to say that Mr MacD- is come in and looks exceeding fierce.
O, says I, sitting up and removing the cowcumber slices, I shall be down once I am decently clad.
I go down to the small parlour, where I find tea and some sandwiches; sure, I now find myself a little hungry.
Sandy is pacing up and down and swearing beneath his breath in what I take to be Scots.
Well, my dear, says I, pouring myself some tea and taking a sandwich, you may tell me your news.
He sits down and says, sure 'tis an eccentricity in Major S- to keep so many snakes about him, but he takes considerable measures to keep 'em secure, if only so that the servants may be reassur’d and not leave in a body. At his lodgings has a large chamber with a stout door and fine lock in which he has a set of glass-sid’d tanks, such as one will sometimes see fancy fish kept in, with tops that he may slide off in order to convey sustenance to his pets, keep 'em clean &C. For which task he prudently wears very stout leather gauntlets, for he says that they will strike does somewhat startle 'em.
But one may see that 'twould not be possible for a snake to escape unless there was some great carelessness, and he would not entrust the matter to any but himself.
Anyhow, I show’d him the corpse, at which he tutt’d and said 'twas indeed a cobra, the like of one that he had himself, a particular kind, and lookt it over very carefull and frown’d and said something concerning the distinctive markings, and then offer’d take me into his snakery.
And indeed 'tis very secure, keeps the keys about him, an exceeding stout door, construct’d so that even did a snake contrive to escape from its tank, could not get under it. And inside there are these tanks containing his serpentine favourites along with a couple of cages of white mice, that serve as their diet -
- Let us, says I, by no means communicate that particular matter to Josh -
- Indeed not. And he show’d me the tanks, that are very cunningly made, thick glass, lids that will slide open, and took me over to the one that had these particular cobras in, and lookt in and said, bless my soul, there is one missing. And then put on his gauntlets and open’d the lid a little and felt about – for there are rocks and branches within for the snakes to twine about, and do they remain very still are very much like rocks or branches themselves – and said, no, 'tis not one that looks a deal like one of mine, 'tis the exact same one.
And then we lookt at one another and he made a puzzl’d face and says, someone must have took it, but he cannot suppose that any of the servants – for they will not even go near the door unless they have to –
So I said, does he not have visitors from among the cognoscenti, that take a scientifick and philosophickal interest in ophidians; to which he frown’d, and then reply’d that sure it must have been since their last feeding, for surely he would have notic’d at that time, and they only require to be fed once of a se’ennight at the most. The only recent visitor he had was the Earl of N-, at which he was a little surpriz’d, for he thought the fellow only interest’d in the vegetable creation: but display’d a considerable desire to see the snakes, and was most interest’d in which were venomous and the degrees of venom – for, he add’d, there are some that crush their prey in their coils rather than by biting – sure, says Sandy, 'twas quite an education in the matter –
I raise my eyebrows at him somewhat and say, I am glad that he enlarges his understanding of reptiles, but should be exceeding gratefull did he come at the point, supposing there be one.
But, he goes on, I said that I presum’d he would not leave guests alone there. And he said, indeed 'twas not his practice, but that there was some matter he was momentarily call’d away for while the Earl was there, could not have been above a minute or two.
At this moment breaks in upon Sandy’s recital Josiah, in a quite towering rage, saying, what is this he hears about venomous snakes and mongooses?
So I tell him what happen’d the morn, and he says, what villain is this?
Why, says Sandy, the finger of suspicion at present points to the Earl of N-, but that I am not sure how he would contrive to carry away a serpent without Major S- seeing what he was about.
Hah, says I, a fellow that is give out to filch cuttings from other folks’ hothouses doubtless has light fingers that a common pickpocket would envy –
Josiah gives a start and says, we will recall the wild ways of his youth, and he is mind’d of the certain secret inner pockets in poachers’ jackets, and perchance, given the Earl’s larcenous habits, he has somewhat similar in his garments.
But, says I, a snake? Would it not bite?
Sandy looks thoughtfull and says, Major S- will say quite early on in his recital about his pets, of which the burden is that they are not as dangerous as one may suppose, that does one pick 'em up just behind the head they cannot strike at the hand that holds 'em; and did the Earl go there with some intention I daresay he would have provid’d himself with a stout leather bag or some such.
And then we all three look about at one another and I say, but I doubt could be prov’d upon him, ‘tis entire supposition.
Circumstantial evidence, says Sandy. I do not think 'twill make a strong enough thread to tye him up.
We all sigh. They look at me a little worry’d, and Sandy says, perchance did we bring Matt Johnson into our counsels he might come at some way to lay this to His Lordship’s account?
And then I sigh. Sure may not be proof enough for the courts of law, I should greatly dislike to try and bring it before a magistrate, 'tis all too like unto some Gothick tale -
Sandy says, he has some notion that as 'twould be a matter of a jury of his peers, the Earl would be arraign’d before the House of Lords -
- but 'tis proof enough for me. And the Earl is a fool does he suppose I did not have anything in store did some unusual accident come to me. Hector had letters to give out in such case. And I feel myself now no longer oblig’d to keep silence.
But, says I, this e’en I go dine at O- House and Lord U- is, I confide, to be of the company, and I may solicit him to a private interview, for he is a young man of excellent sense and sound intentions.
You will go out to dine? cries Josiah. Are you in any condition to go out? Sure you should go rest and recover yourself.
O, fiddlesticks, says I. I have rest’d already, do I stay at home I shall only go fret. And, o, I cry, as a thought takes me, do you still have the dead snake about you, Mr MacD-?
Sandy raises his eyebrows and says it perchances that he does, for he considers it in the light of evidence.
Then, says I, I would advize that you go ask Seraphine may you place it in the ice-house, 'twill go somewhat to preserve it from decay.
'Tis prudent, says Josiah, but will it not alarm any of the kitchenmaids that go there?
One might leave it in the bag, says I, and mayhap not mention what 'tis.
But, says Josiah, what is this matter that you had in store concerning the Earl? For indeed I think many of your friends have been inclin’d to suppose that you had somewhat to do with a late elopement, but is there some other dealing you have had with him?
He and Sandy both look at me somewhat speculative.
Why, says I, permit me to put suspicious minds at rest: there have never been any passages 'twixt the Earl and myself. But indeed I found out some matter not like to do any good to his reputation, but I decid’d that 'twould do better to trade my silence in the matter for his better behaviour towards the Countess and his daughters, the penny-pinching wretch.
Oh, says Sandy, and that is why Lady Anna and Lady Emily ceas’d to be the titter’d-at dowds of the Season and instead became most envy’d for being in quite the crack of fashion? And Lady N- goes about in a crack invalid carriage?
Precisely, says I.
And may we know, asks Josiah, what this disreputable matter was? Sure filching cuttings is poor ton –
Indeed 'tis, says I, does him no credit at all, but the matter I quite perchance came at was that he was, under the name of Perkins and presenting himself as a middling prosperous fellow, keeping a Covent Garden Miss very clandestine. That he has now, I go on, thrown over and left pennyless.
They both go roll their eyes. Sandy remarks that sure, one could make a deal of coarse jokes upon the fam’d amateur of hortickulture that cultivates a fallen blossom, would make a pretty Holywell Street print –
’Twas indeed my thought, says I, and the Earl is not the most popular of fellows, respect’d enough but not much lik’d.
Why, says Josiah, one may see why he may bear some grudge against the lovely Lady B-, but indeed 'tis taking the matter entire too far to resort to assassination –
- And by so clumsy a device, interjects Sandy –
Quite so, says I, and I will not take the matter meekly.
Dearest of C-s, says Josiah with an anxious expression, I beg you to be cautious in this matter.
O, says I, surely you are appriz’d that you may count upon my prudence and discretion?
They sigh deeply.
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