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Lady B- and the Poor Dusky Brethren

Chapter Text

Miss D- Is Concerned

Comes Miss D- to coffee this morning, and opens to me a full budget of gossip. O, she says, my dear, 'tis such a treat to speak of matters other than the Election, and then goes on to tell me all about the Election. and how Mr N- fears that he will be ousted from the Home Office by those who go about to be seen as a new broom.

His good friend General O- says he will be very glad to use his interest to find him a place in the War Department, says she, but the end of it will be that he will offend some Colonel Sir Somebody by telling him how to conduct a war, and the end of it will be a matter of honour, she quite knows it. And General O- always so willing to stand second to anyone, she adds, and almost bursts out weeping.

I can see she is quite overset, and send for more coffee, and a dainty called parkin whose recipe Euphemia had from Mrs F-'s cook the last time I visited my darlings. At this Miss D- revives, gives a dry laugh and says that she has quite forgotten to tell me all the news.

If it is not of politicks, I say, my dear, speak on.

Well, she says, there is the matter of Miss M-, or should you sooner hear of how Miss I- is returned to town?

O, Miss I-, I cry, I remember her very fondly from my earliest days in the profession.

She was quite the queen of the demi-mondaines in those days, being known for her fearless riding that quite outdid any at Astley's Amphitheatre, and also her exceptional skill at driving a carriage. I admired her excessively, she in turn being most gracious to me, and often tendering me such advice and other small kindnesses of which even a protegee of Madame Z- must occasionally find herself in need. Indeed now I think of it, in her stature and dashing ways, she puts me greatly in mind of my darling wild girl, but I do not say so to Miss D-.

Did she not take up with Mr de Q– that was known for being fearfull jealous, and whisked her off to a hunting-box?

Indeed yes, says Miss D-, it is a sad matter, and dabs her eyes with a handkerchief.

Is Mr de Q- gone to his fathers, then? I enquire, for I mind that Mr de Q- was exceeding handsome and Miss D- had some mind to him herself in former days.

Better he had been, says Miss D-, than to behave in such a way. He is engaged to be marry'd to a rich Irishwoman that has her own estate that is said to be in rattling good hunting country and has turn'd out Miss I- and her six children –

Six? I enquire, and endeavour to count without doing so on my fingers; sure it has been ten years or more, and six children therefore not such a surprize as I had first thought.

Six indeed and the youngest a babe in arms, my dear, says Miss D- very earnest, and told her that as for the Settlement he offer'd her, he has thrown all the papers on the fire and she may whistle for it. Sure t'is a sad shocking tale.

That wretch! cry I. I think of Miss I- that had the town at her feet, and of the six children, who look in my fancy a great deal like the young F-'s, and the babe in arms like Flora. I consider all those who will think this behaviour of Mr de Q-'s no shame at all, and those who will fix the blame on the Irish lady, and those who will have it all Miss I-'s fault and damn her for a w---e. I believe there are few but her sisters in arms (and sure not all of those) that would lay the blame squarely on Mr de Q-'s doorstep.

Indeed it makes me sorry that there is no such thing as a female politician (for a Politickal Female is indeed a different matter) that could bring in a bill to give Miss I- justice. But, think I, if I were forever telling the House of Commons I was a poor foolish creature, sure they would only believe it. Is there none of her old friends to assist her, I ask, for sure if there are Miss D- will be the one to know of it.

Why let me think, says Miss D-, though she seems distract'd from what would in the ordinary way be meat and drink to her. There was Mr van A- the painter, who is departed home to the Low Countries, and his great rival Mr J- G- that experimented with painting in mercury and passed away so young, and of course there was Sir J- S- O- who was last heard of bankrupt in Calais. He also painted, now I think it, she seemed to have a great love of the fellows of that fraternity.

Dear old Sir J-! I say, 'twas he that begged the honour of my first engagment when I left Madame Z-'s establishment and set up my own household. (The old rogue had a curious custom involving egg-whites, I mind, which he said he had learn'd in the Orient, and while there was no need of it in my case I think it a useful device for those who are more truly tyros in their craft when they set out upon it.)

Was it indeed so? says Miss D-. There was Mr W- that is now a bishop and suffers terribly from the gout, but may be interested in charitable causes, and was not Mr H- the philosopher of her party, when he came new up from the University? But he is another nasty creature.

Why, Miss D-, I say with much mirth, do you go about to call a bishop a nasty creature?

She laughs. Sure I spoke of Mr E- H- that is now of Grub Street, and thinks of himself as the great rival of Mr P-. Did you ever look at his treatise On Whether Female Creatures Possess Souls? Mr N- was a subscriber – for t'was at that time he was much incensed at Mr P- about some matter or other of correspondence in the newspapers – and it made me quite ill to see the thing in the library.

O, say I, he is paid out in his own coin; he has made his mark with little swift darts at those of us in the profession, and other poets and hacks, and now he tries to rise to philosophickal matters he finds his own feet are fix'd in the clay where he put 'em. But I doubt he should be of any use to Miss I- in any case.

You come the philosopher yourself, says Miss D-. Do you not recall that piece he wrote of you, after your Prussian essay'd to…

I pray her not to speak of the Prussian.

Well, says Miss D, there is one comfort for such poor wronged women as we, Mr E- H- may be the heir of Sir M- H- the dandy, but sure Sir M- would sooner spend his ready on a pink diamond collar for his poodle than leave a competence behind for his cousin.

I say that I should sooner read the poodle's thoughts on philosophy.

And then there is Miss M-, says Miss D- very darkly.

I perceive that Miss D- is still very intimate with Miss A-, and hears all her secrets. O, I say, is Miss M- return'd to Mr J's company? I thought there was some doubt of it.

She is return'd and left again, says Miss D- dramatickally. Run off most intemperate, and put them all in a taking. Miss A- was quite wild about it.

O, say I, I do not consider she should frazzle herself over Miss M-, that can take care very well of herself.

I dare say it is so, says Miss D-. She says she is expect'd at Mamzelle Bridgette's, but does not offer to go, and walks about the room instead.

Come my dear, say I, there is more.

Oh, no! she says, and then Oh, indeed! and weeps into her handkerchief. I send off Prue for more coffee and more parkin.

Tis Mr N-, she says into the handkerchief. I was about the house taking up odd papers to make tapers to light candles with, and finding an old bill for some fans I took it up, and turning it over saw... O my dear, he has been about making a list of reasons for and against matrimony!

O, 'tis very like Mr N-, I think, and sure Sandy would approve of his logickal approach to the matter. I pat Miss D- upon the shoulder and contrive to calm her. I do not believe, I say, that he would take such a step without making you a handsome settlement.

When I hear of Miss I- and her plight I wonder, she says dolefully. They say she is much chang'd.

I believe you should open the matter with Mr N-, say I, for sure he is a gentleman who will not take it amiss.

I cannot ask him, she says, he is gone to Gloucester to visit his mother, and 'tis not at all what can be broach'd in a letter, even did I know of a club where he might receive letters in Gloucester, which I do not.

I kiss her. Whatever may come to pass, I say, you must know yourself not altogether friendless in the world.

O indeed I know, she says fondly, and goes off to Mamzelle Bridgette's a little comforted.

I have time to write a little on my new tale. I think of introducing a new character, a forsaken odalisque. Up comes Euphemia, saying my lady, a word if convenient.

I put my work aside and mark that Euphemia looks annoy'd, but more in the way of a nurse with a troublesome charge than one who raises a grave matter. My lady, she says, Phoebe and I have been about the kitchen accounts together, and for certain there is food goes missing from the larder.

I hope there are no rats, say I, though if there are, I shall send to Roberts that has often told me of the good rat traps he is in the way of making.

O no indeed, not in my kitchen! she says most indignant, I should be sorry to look Seraphine in the eye should I ever allow such a thing. I thought most likely t'was Timothy, for boys of his age are always hungry, and therefore took occasion to tell him that should he want some bread and ham or a piece of cheese between one meal and another, he should ask, and it should be given.

To this he looked most innocent, and not, my lady, like one that goes about to put on a face of innocence, but as one that truly did not know what I was about. He said that what he should like is to have a cup of tea when I make one, unless he is needed about his duties and supposing the price of tea-leaves should permit. I run about a good deal, he says, it gives me a thirst.

He is a good deal better drinking tea than spirits at his age, I agree.

Well, so I thought, my lady, says Euphemia drying her hands, that need it not, on her clean apron. Well, then, that leaves Prue and Celeste, and sure both are good girls, and if either had a follower Phoebe and I would know of it. Therefore I think it is a matter of foolishness rather than anything much amiss. Perhaps one of them fancy's herself greensick. But more likely, Madame, there has been some remark made – by Timothy, I dare suppose, or perhaps that loose-tongued fellow Ajax - about the amount one or 'tother eats at table (for they are strong growing girls and need their sustenance) and now they peck at their food in company and resort to the larder at night.

Well, I say, I leave this in your hands, but if there is any medical matter amiss, you may be assured it will be treated, and nothing taken from their wages to pay for it.

Euphemia thanks me and bobs a curtsey. Speaking of Ajax, she says, he certainly eats a good deal and more, it seems, lately, but sure if he were blundering into the kitchen pantry t'would have woken the neighbourhood.

I shall go about to ask Hector to speak to him, I say, and turn to praise of her parkin.