Sandy cannot truthfully say that he looks forward to anything these days, but he confides that a small dinner party at Mulcaster House is unlikely to prove an entire ordeal; there will be a good deal of tacit understanding of the situation, he will be among kind friends.
Did you not, he says to Josh, have a great admiration for the Duchess in your youth?
That was Harry, says Josh. He sighs somewhat.
You must look upon these occasions, says Clorinda, as scratching Society in the places it finds agreeable, do you wish gain patronage for the various causes you are about.
Josh sighs again and says, indeed he understands the necessity, and he apprehends His Grace has already done a considerable amount to advance the cause of more humane treatment of animals.
Also, Clorinda goes on, Jacob and Martha Samuels will be there, and dear Martha writes a deal in the agricultural press, her thoughts upon poultry are most highly esteemed, and might do somewhat there.
The carriage draws up at Mulcaster House and they are shown into the drawing-room.
Josh pauses upon the threshold, with his my-very-own-infant-wombatt? expression.
O, cries Clorinda with delight, 'tis dear Julia. One was in great fears she would decide remain at Bombay – the Dowager Duchess of Humpleforth, she adds, turning to Josh.
I collect, he says. She came visit the mongoose one day. I did not know she had been widowed.
O, some considerable while, says Clorinda, her husband was much older – 'twas a second marriage.
They go make civil to the rest of the party.
Admiral Knighton and Lady Jane are of the party: the Admiral comes wring Josh by the hand, remark that he looks very well for his travels, sure Africa may be a very unhealthful place. Josh smiles and says, sure Africa is exceeding large, and he went nowhere near the Bight of Benin of such ill-fame. The Admiral recounts his own experiences in that unhappy spot.
He then bows over Clorinda’s hand, murmuring, still the finest woman in Town. Clorinda taps him lightly with her fan, but looks gratified.
Josh says, looking about, that he wonders whether he might persuade Mrs Samuels to come draw some of his beasts? Has never become truly adept with pencil and brush.
Sandy cannot suppose that Martha Samuels would be anything but delighted, and indeed, when Josh goes address her on the matter, shows in some disposition to cut dinner and go at once to the warehouse. He himself takes opportunity to make some preliminary soundings as to whether Jacob Samuels knows aught of the scientific set in Philadelphia.
Clorinda has gone talk to the Dowager Duchess, that is saying somewhat to the effect that Bombay is not what it was in her childhood, to which Her Grace of Mulcaster remarks that have not poets writ of the enchanted haze that recollection casts over childhood scenes?
(He cannot recall any enchanted scenes from his own childhood.)
He is to take Lady Jane into dinner: a very agreeable prospect. Clorinda is being approached by Lord Sallington, that does not at all have the air of one dutifully doing the civil to a friend of his parents, but of one that will doubtless go boast to his friends of having been at table with the fascinating Lady Bexbury. He is given out to be something of a connoisseur of art, and while there is a fine tradition of collecting in the ducal family, it may be supposed that he gets some of his eye from his late mother, His Grace’s first duchess.
At dinner, he can hear that Her Grace of Mulcaster quizzing Josh about the languages of Africa; he mentions running across certain missionaries that are about compiling dictionaries of the various tongues.
Lady Jane says to Sandy with a small smile that she will not venture beyond Latin and Greek: hears that there are given out to be excellent fine works in Sanskrit and Persian, but confides that she is perchance too old to start putting her mind to the study of new tongues. Never had dear Viola’s facility. Does he find time for any study in the classics lately?
They fall to an agreeable discussion, until the course is removed and they must turn to their other sides. He turns to Martha, that has been having a lively convocation with the Admiral about better ways of keeping chickens on shipboard. She looks at him commiserating and says, sure must be a great change - by which he hopes she intends, from being a confidential secretary to an extremely busy member of the House of Lords, to being a gentleman of leisure and tame philosopher – but indeed, she confides that it must answer a deal better where he is than having the trouble of setting up in his own household, even if 'tis but a bachelor establishment. She sighs a little and says, sure housekeeping is an entire burden, but they have a most excellent housekeeper, a connexion of dear Phoebe de Clérault, at the Hampshire property, makes a most immense difference.
She then looks across the table to where Clorinda and the Duke are talking with the amiability of very old friends and says, does he not think that Lady Bexbury begins come round? 'Twas a very fine thing she did, taking poor Lady Ferraby into her own house, providing nurses around the clock &C – for one must consider, her own children were just at that time of their lives when they had small children of their own, were about inheriting businesses and property or setting up in their profession, 'twould have fallen very hard upon any of 'em: and of course they were very old and dear friends. But sure it took its toll upon her.
He confides that Martha does not apprehend the extent of the friendship between Clorinda and Eliza Ferraby, even does she have the very finest understanding of the depth of their affection for one another. Indeed, he is not sure that he himself would ever have sounded it out without having been inadvertent confronted with the evidence of their feelings.
Indeed, he says, though His Lordship’s demise came as a blow to her.
Sure it must have done, Martha agrees. He manages to divert the conversation onto her children.
He observes that Josh is gazing in quite besotted fashion at Her Grace of Humpleforth as they discourse of mongooses and other fauna of India.
After the ladies have withdrawn, and the port goes around, there is some good serious talk about how one might come about improving the treatment of animals. Legislation can only go so far, remarks the Duke. He adds with a sigh that sure there are fellows in the Lords that take one for an entire Evangelical killjoy does one endeavour to move against their favoured pursuits.
Jacob Samuels remarks that there are neighbours of his will declare that the fox enjoys being hunted. The Admiral says that he has resorted to the excuse about sailors on horseback when asked why he does not ride to hounds; though indeed his lady wife finds some relish in it, but more for the fine riding it affords, is entire happy does the fox escape.
Josh says, with a little frown, that he sometimes takes a concern that 'tis very hard upon animals to be took from their homes and brought to this land, but yet, there is a deal of scientific interest, and 'twould be exceeding hard to contrive to study 'em in their native places.
Sandy finds himself making some contribution to the discussion, but not so much as he was formerly wont.
They look about one another and the Duke suggests that they go to join the ladies. This proposal is received with enthusiasm: indeed Lord Sallington has been looking somewhat restless.
In the drawing-room, Josh goes with remarkable expedition to talk mongeese with the Dowager Duchess, and Lord Sallington shows some tendency to monopolize Clorinda, until she is besought to delight the company with a little reading from Shakspeare: she smiles and complies.
Sandy is in some fret that he may be asked to read Burns, but the Duchess goes to the piano.
In the carriage returning Josh observes that Sallington seemed entire smitten with Clorinda.
La, she says, 'tis an entire family tradition: and then puts her hand to her mouth. In earlier days, she says, before his first marriage, His Grace and I were on excellent terms.
When they reach her house, Josh says he must be up betimes to go over to the warehouse to see how the animals do, he hopes they may now be in fit condition to be moved.
Clorinda and Sandy go into the parlour. Clorinda raises her hands to her face. Sure I should not have had a second glass of ratafia, I grow careless.
Surely the young Ferrabys have some apprehension of your life afore your elevation.
O, most like! But, 'twas not just that I was His Grace’s mistress aforetimes, there were some passages with his father the Old Duke. She sighs.
Why, says Sandy, I confide that Josh is the one you have the least to worry about in the matter, does he even think on it.
Belike! Indeed Harry in particular grows somewhat censorious, I daresay 'tis the weight of the responsibilities he did not anticipate to take up just yet. But, my dear, unless you have any matter that was opened over the port to convey to me – sure there was nothing of any urgency conveyed over ratafia and teacups – I should go to bed myself, and not keep Sophy up.