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.