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Jane and the sins of society 4-6

February 24, 2018 09:43AM
Chapter 4

“I hope it doesn’t snow, it’ll spoil my race with Grey,” the tall, well-set gentleman was saying to another.
“You and your Draisine races,” the other said scornfully. “Give me a curricle any day; it’s a fad, it will never last.”
“It will revolutionise travel in the metropolis, and relieve the congestion. You, a curricle and two horses take up an excessive amount of room. Of course, the tradesfolk need their drays and horses, but if the single gentleman were to take up using a Draisine instead of a curricle or gig, it would significantly reduce the amount of horses in the city, thereby reducing the amount of filth and stench, and being more healthful.”
“And what if one fell in with a lady? One could hardly take her up on a two-wheeled hobby horse.”
“Ah, you are losing the argument so you pick derogatory terms for my lovely pedestrian curricle. If you fell in with a lady, you would dismount and walk with her, pushing the Draisine, for after all, you could scarcely take her up in a curricle or gig without a chaperone, could you? Or do you risk your lady-love’s reputation by ignoring the proprieties?”
“Trust you to turn it into a regular pi-jaw! A turn around the park in view of any chaperone is not about to ruin reputations! I’m inclined to agree with your brother that you are dicked in the nob!”
Jane turned to Caleb and asked quietly,
“What is a Draisine, my dear?”
“It’s an invention by an Austrian gentleman named Drais, I believe,” said Caleb. “It has two wheels arranged in line, not side by side, and a bar between them with a seat on it, and the front wheel may be steered somewhat by handles. A man straddles it and walks.”
“What is the point?”
“Ah, the point, Jane-girl, is that the man’s walking gets the wheels going, and then he needs only the odd step to keep him going as the machine barrels along at a considerable speed, on a good surface, a speed comparable to a light carriage. A man may push with both feet at once for greater impetus.”
“I knew you would know. Is this something you want?”
“I’m not sure, my love. I have considered that it might prove useful to the average Bow Street officer whilst in town, for considerably greater mobility, and yet an ability to dodge traffic. The mounted officers wouldn’t like it, though, as it would reduce the advantage they have over men on foot, so I suspect it would be hard fought if it were mooted. The problem is that over cobbles the shuddering would be ... remarkably painful for a man’s, er, equipment, and on uneven ground or mud they are slower than a man walking. And downhill, the speeds are positively frightening.”
“Caleb, you have used one.”
Caleb looked sheepish.
“Sir Nathanial has a friend who was trying to interest him in it, and he asked me to take it round the city to see what I thought,” he said. “I told him it had potential but only when all the streets are properly macadamed and moreover kept clean of soil. If they became popular, as that gentleman said, the soil from horses would be reduced, but in the meantime it remains impractical. I scared myself with the speed when free-wheeling and did not dare do as I believe some do, hooking their feet up onto special platforms to hold them, straight out in front of them. That is why I had such a considerable cobbler’s bill last month when I was in London. I used my feet as brakes.”
“And you did not confess to me? If you want one of these things, I will not complain, though I will beg you to be careful.”
“Well, it was good fun,” said Caleb. “If you aren’t opposed, I’ll certainly think about it.”
“Excuse me,” the Draisine enthusiast turned to Caleb, “Did I hear you say you are interested in getting a Draisine?”
“Yes, I’ve certainly thought about it,” said Caleb. “My name’s Armitage, Caleb Armitage, my wife, Jane.”
“Ma’am, your servant; I’m Alexander Montgomery. Mr. Armitage, would you care to visit me and look at my machine? And please bring your good lady,” he added, hastily.
“I thank you for including me, I should like to see what it is that has so enthused my husband,” said Jane. “It sounds fascinating, and what a shame it is built in such a way that it sounds as though a lady cannot use one, for if I have it correctly, it would be most healthful exercise.”
“Oh, it is,” said Montgomery. “Well, then, perhaps we might agree about noon tomorrow? My card ...” he handed it to Caleb, “And you will stay and sup tea? We are a bachelor household, I fear, my brother and I, but if you will not mind that, our housekeeper-cook makes the most excellent macaroons.”
“Oh, you have won my heart already, Mr. Montgomery,” laughed Jane.
He bowed to her, and then froze as Caleb passed his own card.
“Sir Caleb! I apologise for miscalling you,” he said.
“Think nothing of it; I did not give you my title, so how would you know?” said Caleb. “I’m as happy to be Armitage to a fellow enthusiast, you know; catching a traitor and getting knighted was almost accidental.”
“Oh! You’re the famous chap who caught the even younger pretender, if one may designate him thus, and from what I heard it was by some considerable effort that you contrived to be in time to save the whole royal family. I do admit you’d not have made it from darkest Essex to Richmond with a Draisine.”
“No, and fortunately I’m a competent enough horseman, though I’ve not the enthusiasm some men have,” said Caleb. “I like your designation of the young idiot; more a bedlamite than a villain, perhaps, but you can’t go around designing infernal devices to kill people, it’s deucedly uncivil, and he was dangerous.”
“Yes, most distressing. But thank you for your indulgence over my failure to recognise you, there’s an engraving in the Morning Post but frankly it could have been almost anyone.”
“They didn’t get me to sit, so it probably was almost anyone,” said Caleb.
“I expect they had a space to fill,” said Mongomery, sagely. “Excuse me, may I ask a question? Pray tell me, who was the lady with Lady Caroline with whom you were speaking a short while ago?” he asked as Caleb nodded his permission to ask a question.
“Her name is Mrs. Fielding, Lady Caroline introduced her as a connexion of her late husband,” said Caleb.
“Well, she reminds me strongly of someone who might well have been a connexion of Sir Hubert, but not in a way he’d want his wife to know about,” said Montgomery. “But of course I am probably wrong. I’ll go and have a chat with her at some point.”
“And I have to retire to the pianoforte; I see Lady Lieven beckoning,” said Jane. That was interesting; and she and Caleb exchanged a brief, speaking look.
Jane sat herself down and began to play, as people sorted themselves into seats for the evening’s entertainment. The knowledgeable rapidly finished conversation and slid quietly into seats to listen, but Jane was under no illusions that she would have the full attention of all, since few people were aware just how good she was. Lady Lieven, however, looked thunderstruck that she was permitting someone so good to play the company in. Her face apologised to Jane, who smiled warmly, and continued with a selection of Mozart as light enough to get people in the mood. Mr. Montague and Mrs. Fielding were engaged in a passionate-looking exchange of words, but they, too, finally sat down. At a nod from Lady Lieven, Jane moved to Bach, and then left the pianoforte when everyone might be supposed to be stunned into sufficient silence to permit the rest of the company to perform without interruption.
“My dear Lady Armitage, you are much more than tolerably accomplished,” murmured Lady Lieven, after introducing a young man with a trumpet. “I will not make that mistake again, I assure you! Why, I’d pay to hear you play.”
“Oh, I don’t mind playing people in,” said Jane, quietly. “It relaxes me.”
“Well, if you are sure you do not mind, it has settled them down wonderfully. Mr. Radcliffe is no virtuoso but I thought he would follow nicely to drown out any final conversations.”
“Well, at least he can mostly, er, Handel his trumpet voluntary,” said Jane, wincing at a sour note.
“Now, my dear, a pun that bad is very naughty,” said Lady Lieven, smirking.
“My nephew tried the cornet and swore he would play Handel’s Water Music, the little wretch having previously filled the instrument with water, and sprayed us all royally, which was taking a pun too far,” said Jane. “Mr. Radcliffe has room for improvement but at least you can hear what it is that he is playing.”
She had to make herself available for Miss Fielding shortly, singing ‘Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill,’ in a rather breathy voice; Mrs. Fielding had kept the girl to plain white muslin, with modest ruffles as trims, and permitted her pretty complexion, blue eyes and golden hair to speak for themselves. The picture was pretty enough to make up for any deficiencies in her singing, and Jane did her best to use the music to help the girl.
Jane was also happy to serve as accompanist next to a Miss Laura Evans. Miss Evans was a plain child, with a round, amiable face and rather lank brown hair. She was sensibly clad in a white round gown of muslin woven with a satin stripe, which showed prettily against an under-gown of jonquil, and trimmed with small jonquil-coloured silk roses. Jane thought she looked charming, and it was good that a girl with high colour should avoid the pink so often assigned to girls with brown hair. As a private musicale, dress code as it related to the half mourning was relaxed.
“Oh, I pray you, ma’am, may I ask if you will play for me, also?” asked Miss Evans. “I can play for myself, but when I do I either forget the words, or manage to lose my fingers,”
“I’d be delighted, it is quite a skill to learn to do both at once, and one I am not fond of myself,” said Jane. She smiled at the child, who gave her a shy smile in return.
The girl managed a startlingly sweet contralto to sing ‘Greensleeves’. Jane knew the song very well indeed, having insisted on singing it whenever Frank wanted her to play, to drive home how she felt betrayed by him. Nowadays it was just a song, but one she played with great feeling, which lifted Miss Evans’ performance. The girl thanked Jane prettily, and skipped off looking happier than when she had stood up. The happiness dissolved rather when a beautiful dark haired girl said something to Miss Evans, who wilted; this young lady, or, thought Jane, little madam might fit her better, was introduced as Miss Jenny Welbeloved and a harp was being brought out for her. Jane thought the girl might have done well to have learned from the restrained elegance of Miss Evans, being dressed in a way better suited to a young matron. Her gown was a deep rose, flattering enough for her colouring, but it was embroidered in gold thread in stripes of leaves and flowers running down the skirt, which was trimmed with three, heavily embroidered, flounces. The bodice was embroidered and beaded, the sleeves slashed with gold tissue. Jane reflected that some women might be able to wear such excess, and still not look as though they were dressed up for the wrong side of the footlights at the opera, but it was not a suitable dress for a young girl, making her first appearance in society. What could the girl’s mother have been thinking about! Jane buried her disapproval, after all, she did not know who had chosen the girl’s clothing, and just because this young person had upset Miss Evans was no reason to assume anything about her. She looked quizzically at the girl, in case Miss Welbeloved needed an accompanist.
Miss Welbeloved smirked at Jane.
“I can accompany myself, you can go now,” she said.
Jane raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t generally appreciate naughty little chits ordering me about, you know,” she said. “I suggest you apologise.”
The dark beauty tossed her hair.
“I have no intention of apologising; pray fulfil your function and do as you are told,” she said, turning to her harp.
She had engaged to play a pretty, inconsequential piece, and as she ignored Jane entirely, Jane quite lost her temper, and as the girl was sitting herself down, Jane engaged the loud pedal, and struck a chord..
It got the harpist’s attention.
Miss Welbeloved leaped up and ran over.
“How dare you!” she screeched.
“I will not be spoken to like that, young lady, and if you do not apologise, I will speak to your mother, and I will advise her not to bring you into public until you are old enough to behave better than a moppet of three or four summers,” said Jane, quietly.
The girl slapped Jane hard.
Lady Lieven came forward.
“Lady Armitage, would you mind explaining what is going on?” she asked, icily.
“Not at all, my lady. I found myself addressed rudely by this chit, who ordered me off the pianoforte as though I were the cat’s mother putting pawmarks on the keys. I ventured to give her a hint that I expected an apology and she refused. I wished her to understand the depth of my disapprobation. I will not, however, stand to be slapped by a little girl with no discipline. Were there not gentlemen present, I must have surely put her over my knee to administer the spanking such a nasty little girl plainly deserves. I suggest you might hint to her mother that if she is not old enough to behave in company, she should be left in the nursery.”
Jane’s voice carried.
Miss Welbeloved, who had been winding up to have a tantrum, screeched,
“Well, how was I to know you were a Lady anything? It’s governesses and menials who do the accompanying!” she yowled.
“Enough!” snapped Lady Lieven. “Miss Welbeloved, I see that Lady Armitage is quite correct, and you are not old enough to appear in public; your mother will do well to keep you in the nursery for another year.”
A tremulous looking woman had come forward and Miss Wellbeloved cast herself on her.
“I’m sorry, Lady Lieven,” the older woman said.
“Yes, I am sorry that you cannot teach your stepdaughter better manners,” said Lady Lieven. They withdrew, and the countess murmured, “an unconventional public set-down to play a chord, and I do not wholly approve, but on the other hand I concede that the provocation was very great, and it was a novel solution. Pray play something frivolous to settle people down.”
“Yes, my lady. I apologise to you for disrupting proceedings, but I do not regret my actions,” said Jane.
Lady Lieven nodded.
“Good,” she said. “Heaven help the governesses of that revolting child!”

“You lost your temper,” said Caleb.
“I did lose my temper. I would have censured her had I been but a governess, for those kind of manners can never please. Caleb, I was tempted to wait for her to start, and then launch into Beethoven’s Fifth symphony with the loud pedal firmly engaged and drown her right out.”
Caleb winced. There were few pieces louder than Beethoven’s fifth symphony, but he could quite see the temptation. He suddenly remembered a long-winded young ensign, who had been drowned out by the trumpeter hinting that he’d been at it all day by playing taps. He’d had to put the trumpeter on a charge, but had managed to tell the colonel the story in such a way as to make him laugh before the boy was sent up to see his officer, and the youth was sentenced to play for a dance. He shared the story with Jane, and then sighed.
“Apparently her stepmother has spoiled her, wanting to make up for a child who had lost her mother when she was six or seven years old,” said Caleb. “Some of the old biddies are shocked at your loud rebuke, but the general consensus was that it served her right. Especially from mothers of daughters her age. Mrs. Fielding bid me say a thanks to you; the unfortunate Cora has been the subject of sneers from a fashionable brunette, and I wager she positively bullies that roly-poly babe with the golden voice. I murmured that as the mother of a lively eleven year old boy, you were not accustomed to be spoken to in so rude a fashion by naughty children. There was some laughter at that, and you are considered ‘formidable’, I fear.” He chuckled. “I did point out that it was you who trapped and captured the even younger pretender.”
Jane laughed.
“I was spiritless when Frank was alive; I think I would rather be formidable. Somehow it evokes visions of indomitable old ladies like old Miss Abercrombie whom we met before Christmas, dressed in uncompromising brocades, clearing a ruthless path through the crowds with their panniers.”
“Lud, when you put it that way ... still, I fancy nobody will be displeased to see Miss Welbeloved withdraw from the season.”
And as if to prove that, Jane was accosted, and embraced by Miss Evans.
“Oh, thank you so much for not giving in to the gazetted beauty,” she said.
“There, Miss Evans, I had the first hint that she was an unpleasant creature in her manner towards you,” said Jane, unaware that having noticed the exchange raised her onto a pedestal on the part of Miss Evans.
On the whole she was glad to escape from the soirée.

Chapter 5

A manservant let Jane and Caleb in, when they went to visit Mr. Montgomery. A young man who bore a passing resemblance to their host looked up from a newspaper as they were shown into a parlour to await Alexander Montgomery. He started to sneer, then caught sight of Jane, and leaped to his feet.
“Ma’am! Sir, I beg your pardon, I thought you were just another Draisine lover. Christopher Montgomery at your service.”
“Happy to make your acquaintance,” said Caleb. “Name’s Armitage, Sir Caleb Armitage, and I embarrassed your brother last night by not admitting to the ‘sir’ so I learned my lesson there. My good lady,” and Jane curtseyed appropriately.
“Oh, please, take a seat,” said the younger Montgomery. Jane disposed her skirts and sat, gracefully, meaning that Christopher Montgomery could resume his seat. He waited for Caleb to sit first, of course.
“I’m interested in Draisines, professionally, as you might say,” said Caleb. “I was talking about them to Sir Nathanial Conant, and I’m of the opinion that they might be of some use to Bow Street Officers, at least in the metropolis.”
“I suppose they would make responding to trouble faster, but I’d advise against it,” said Christopher. “Nasty, dangerous machines, no way to stop them once you get going except falling off, I expect daily to hear that my brother has been taken up dead. Not that it would be any great loss, he’s dicked in the nob, if you ask me, wasting our inheritance on lunacies like Draisines. I hope he breaks his neck,” he added, viciously.
Jane blinked.
“Dear me,” she said, raising one eyebrow.
Christopher flushed, and dug one toe into the carpet, for all the world like a little boy being told off by his governess.
“Well, he’s a bully and an unnatural brother, and he won’t let me have a curricle and three to drive unicorn, says it’s too much and that I wouldn’t be safe, but it doesn’t stop him having his Draisine and that’s not safe.”
“Perhaps Mr. Montgomery feels you should reach your majority before you need such things,” said Caleb.
“Quite so, Sir Caleb!” said Alexander Montgomery, coming into the room. “Kit isn’t a good enough driver to drive unicorn, and in a year he shall have a curricle and pair and drive tandem for a while first, but I am not buying a curricle for a boy not yet eighteen years old.”
Christopher scowled.
“I am quite capable of handling the ribbons,” he said.
“In the country,” said Montgomery. “You are untried in town traffic, and I am your guardian. Enough of your foolishness! Sir Caleb, pray come outside, my man is bringing my Draisine round. My lady, did you wish to see it, or shall I have tea brought for you?”
“Oh, I wish to see it; if my husband is wishful to have one, I want to gauge what injuries he is likely to have to know how much arnica to purchase,” said Jane.
Caleb chuckled, ruefully.
A crowd of urchins followed Montgomery’s man as he wheeled the Draisine round. Some of them were jeering and catcalling, but some were plainly just curious. A red-haired tyke dressed in disreputable baggy rags sidled up towards Jane. Jane regarded the child thoughtfully.
“Far be it for me to take away your character, but if your lay happens to be as a file, I strongly suggest you take it elsewhere. I may be a swell mort but I know how to guard myself from having my cly filed. If I wrong you, my apologies.”
Caleb was chuckling in the background to hear Jane come out with cant regarding having her purse picked in the most ladylike tones.
The urchin gave her a grin.
“Well, if I didn’t practise filing lore I’d go hungry, but I weren’t goin’ to steal off of you, lady, ain’t you the swell mort who took in Simmy?”
“My goodness! You remember me? Yes, my husband adopted him before we were married, so he is now my stepson. I’m afraid he is not in town with us or I’d send him to play with old comrades, but he is in school with his friends and said he preferred to stay.”
The child grinned again.
“He’s a good kiddy is Simmy. You tell him Ginger was askin’ arter him.”
“I shall, Ginger, and I am sure he would be wishful that I give you enough not to need to pick any pockets for a while, which I’m going to slip to you with one hand while I give you a small coin with the other, so nobody tries to take it off you.”
“Cuh, missus, you are a peevy mort,” said Ginger, in admiration. “A really peevy mort,” the young pickpocket added as Jane parted with a heap of small change rather than a larger denomination coin.
“I’ll give my housekeeper standing orders to provide you with a meal every day as well,” said Jane. “Do you know where we live?”
“Yes’m, it’s on the south side of Pembridge Square,” said Ginger. “Cuh, fanks, missus!”
“I’ll probably have some jobs for you and any friends you trust as well,” said Jane. “Now let us watch the gentlemen play with this new toy of theirs.”
Ginger giggled, and Jane raised an eyebrow.
That might change matters.
She could not take in every able-bodied urchin whom Simmy knew but ...
Montgomery mounted his Draisine, with the concerned aid of his man. It was made entirely from wood, the wheels like those on a curricle, and the bar between them not unlike the shaft of a carriage, save that instead of having a horse each side, a man’s legs would be each side, and one wheel ahead of him. The forward wheel was able to pivot, so that it might be steered, by means of a serpentine metal bar. This ran from the hub of the wheel, over the top of the wheel and culminated in a carven wooden handle. It was attached to the top of the forked metal shaft which held the front wheel by some manner of swivel. Jane thought it looked more like the pintle holding the oars of a rowing boat than anything else, and about as manoeuvrable. Still, a demonstration would give a better idea. Montgomery set off down the street at a run, slowly at first, but picking up momentum.
“Ain’t the laws of Sir Isaac Newton wonderful,” said Caleb, with some irony.
“Indeed, and one cannot help thinking that when a body is in motion, it will remain in motion until such time as it finds a wall to crash into,” said Jane.
Montgomery came to grief shortly thereafter, though not by crashing into anything. He attempted to u-turn in the street, and the turning circle, being too small, he began to lean and teeter until he crashed over onto his side. Jane and Caleb, who had something of the appreciation of the laws of motion, had already started running down the street as the pedestrian curricle started to lean at a dangerous angle. His man, too, ran, worry on his face.
Montgomery bit off the obscenities which were falling from his lips as he saw Jane.
“Lady Armitage! My apologies!”
“Not to worry; I am sure that swearing helped,” said Jane. “That was a nasty tumble.”
“I misjudged; made the turn too tight,” said Montgomery.
“Yes, I noticed,” said Jane.
“Have you room to turn in this street?” asked Caleb.
“Yes, I’ve done it before, but I was going a bit faster than I liked, I should have moved to the left so I would have had plenty of room to swing to the right. Practice makes perfect!” Montgomery said cheerfully as Caleb helped him up, and his man, with almost a scowl at Caleb for performing the service to his master, lifted the vehicle.
“Still interested, my dear?” asked Jane.
“Yes, but if I do get one, I shall be enrolling in the Draisine school which I saw advertised in the paper,” said Caleb. “And what’s more, I’m getting one with metal wheels, which I have seen, I think they are more manoeuvrable.”
“By Jove, not a half bad idea,” said Montgomery, who was limping slightly. He reached for his man to lean on him, with a reassuring smile that he was not badly hurt. “But I have a race on Friday; you’ll come and support me, won’t you?”
“Certainly, where is it to be held?” asked Jane.
“We’re going round Hampstead Heath, all the tolls from the toll gate at the ‘Spaniard Inn’ to be taken care of in advance,” said Montgomery.
Jane shuddered.
Her memories of the ‘Spaniard’ were not good ones; but it would not do to spoil this young man’s enjoyment by crying off. It was time for her to face up to the terrors of being tortured in the inn before Caleb had rescued her.
Caleb took Jane’s hand into his and squeezed it gently.
“They won’t ever get back to see the ‘Spaniard’,” he whispered. “Nubbing cheat had them, remember.”
Jane nodded. Knowing the violent, wicked men who had murdered her husband, and who stopped at nothing, had been hanged did help.

When Jane and Caleb returned home to Pembridge Square, it was to find that there had been a number of invitations dropped in.
“I sorted them into stacks of which ones clashed, for you, madam, and left them on the desk in the book room,” said Fowler. “I thought you’d be wishful to pick and choose. That dratted pug helped me by chasing some of them, growling, until he got bored, but he hasn’t put more than the odd tooth mark in ‘em, I’ll say that for him, he ain’t destructive.”
“Well, I’m relieved to be included in any invitations, never mind having enough that they clash,” said Jane. “I wondered if I had destroyed any social pretensions before I had begun by putting that little hussy down.”
“I suspect she had already made herself sufficiently obnoxious that you amused more than you offended,” said Caleb. “We cannot expect invitations from the mothers of those young men who were her court. Having said that, on the other hand, I might well think otherwise, were I the parent of a lad who was worshipping at the feet of a spoilt little madam like that. I’d likely be grateful to someone showing her up in her true colours in public. I wager she never showed her rag-manners to her suitors; only to those she saw as servants. Having a very public temper might well open a few eyes.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Jane. “And I do not think Lady Lieven was very put out, though she is a stickler.”
“That’s why she weren’t put out, Jane-girl. The insult that girl gave you was not something she would stand for. And though you would have been perfectly within your rights to call the chit to book for it, your solution was more elegant. I thought so, anyway.”
Jane laughed, and sighed.
“Well, I do not decry my temper, for it is better to be able to stand up for myself than to be the doormat Frank made of me for a while,” she said. “Will you help me sort these invitations?”
“I’ll do my best,” said Caleb. “However, the comments you are likely to get are more likely to sound like a thief’s character written up in an occurrence book than socially accurate.”
“And that will amuse me more, and will doubtless be the more revealing,” said Jane. “And when in doubt, we will discard any which Nat has disapproved of enough to leave a toothmark. Well, this one is from Mrs. Fielding and we have no choice but to accept that; after all, we are investigating her for Lady Lieven. Nat appears to suspect her motives too, for the corner is missing. Had you sent Jackie to look for parish records?”
“Yes, he’s to take notes of anyone about the right age as well.” Caleb scratched Nat’s head as the dog came over to see if they had approved his efforts in dealing with things.
“I have a feeling we should be investigating through Cora,” said Jane. “It’s such a ... well, it’s a name I’d expect to find used by a novelist. From the Greek, meaning a maiden. Corinne and Corinna have both been used by novelists, but real people rarely give girls names that outlandish.”
“May I remind you of your friend Euphelia and her sisters,” said Caleb. “As I recall they were all named after characters from that Helen Maria Williams’ poems, and one of them was Cora if I remember rightly.”
“Yes, and the rest were Zilia, Aciloe and Alzira, mercifully shortened to Cilly and Zira,” said Jane. “How could I have forgotten Cora Redmayne?”
“Maybe because she was tolerably forgettable,” said Caleb. “Euphelia had the sense she was born with, but I think that all the brains of the family went to her, and any to spare trickled out of her mother via her nose.”
“Unkind, but sadly fair enough,” said Jane. “However, in a way, it does prove my point, that Julia Redmayne was an idiot.”
“I’m not disputing that for an instant, but then we have Mrs. Fielding, who strikes me as being as shrewd as a banker, and not given to flights of fancy.”
“Indeed, and that’s a discrepancy, and discrepancies are clues.”
“I taught you that when we first met. I suppose it could be because she finds her own name, Jane, to be too ordinary? Now, I think it’s the most beautiful name in the world, but like Elizabeth and Anne, Mary and Catherine it is moderately common. If she were at school with several other girls called Jane, might she want to have a daughter with a different name?”
“That is a possibility,” admitted Jane. “Oh, Caleb, I must be a most uncharitable person.”
“Why so, my dear?” Caleb considered Jane to be one of the most charitable people he knew.
“Well, the first thing I thought when I heard the name ‘Cora’ was not of the Redmayne girls, who were, as you might say, a matched set. I thought of Floradora and her friend, Esmeralda , which were assumed stage names.”
“Well now! It’s not that big a leap, really,” said Caleb. “Lady Lieven already intimated that she thought there was something dashed smokey about Mrs. Fielding, and in looking for something false, it’s not wonderful that you would have the assumed names of those actresses in mind.”
“Oh, do you think that is it? I was feeling a bit guilty.”
“I don’t say your instincts in seeing something false are wrong, mind,” said Caleb. “And it might be that shrewd Jane Fielding named her daughter ‘Mary’, and is regretting that now she has the opportunity to enter society.”
“Plenty of Marys in society,” said Jane. “Besides, the girl wouldn’t remember a name change if it hadn’t been shouted at her for several years on end. But a middle class girl hoping to better herself and her family in the future might give her daughter a literary name.”
Caleb nodded.
“We shall see what Jackie finds,” he said.

Chapter 6

The Soirée was very much for the benefit of the younger people. Being made up of a wider number of people, half-mourning was technically in force, but in practice this meant that the younger ladies dressed in white muslin, with trims and shawls in darker, sober colours, and the men were limited to grey or black waistcoats, and black satin smallclothes.
“I hope you will not think it presumptuous of me, Lady Armitage, but I’d be terribly grateful if you would play for dancing later, just country measures, of course,” said Mrs. Fielding. “La! You’re good enough to play on stage, you reelly are.”
Jane kept her expression immobile at the lapse of refined speech. That was not the tones of Wiltshire, but more those of the parish of Bow.
“I’d be delighted to play; and I don’t mind that your invitation was with my skills in mind,” said Jane. “Or was it that Sir Caleb can be relied upon to be civil and kind to any poor girl left without a partner?”
“Well, I don’t deny that a gentleman who is willing to do his duty by the odd wallflower is much appreciated,” said Mrs. Fielding. “And at that, you may be sure that a handsome, gentlemanly man who is already taken is a more welcome man to most fond mamas than a handsome fribble with more hair than wit, and more snot than cabbage.”
“Dear me! I must say so pithy a description intrigues me,” said Jane.
Mrs. Fielding laughed.
“Oh, we have a poet present, and I find it difficult not to invite him, since he has the ear of a number of people in the Russian Embassy. His name is Alexei Ivanovitch Kiasov, and I fear he is quite beautiful.”
“A dangerous young man, then. Does he break hearts?”
“No, he’d be less dangerous if he did, though all the young ladies sigh about him, even my Cora, who ought to have more sense, even if her understanding is ... limited.” Mrs. Fielding frowned. “He has chosen as his muse a Miss Elizabeth Elliot, who is flattered and who is outspoken in her intent to marry him, despite her mother’s wishes, and my idiot daughter is egging her on. I doubt Mr. Kiasov has any intention of marriage, because that would involve things like the realities of life, but Miss Elliot is as silly as any young girl, and has said some quite disturbing things to Cora, that she quite wished her mother out of the way.”
“Dear me, indeed a very foolish young girl,” agreed Jane. “I dare say we have, at times, all wished our guardians to be a little more lenient, but to wish her mother out of the way does not argue for a very good relationship.”
“Indeed, and though Barbara Elliot is a stern woman, she is not cold or unkind towards her daughter,” said Mrs. Fielding.
“One may hope that Miss Elliot soon gets over her infatuation,” said Jane. “I was half inclined to bring out my aunt’s ward, but Araminta declares she prefers provincial assemblies, which my aunt and uncle find less taxing.”
Leaving Mrs. Fielding, Jane made her way towards the pianoforte, noting a pile of light, inconsequential music on the top, of the sort usually used for parlour games of the kind of musical magic, as well as for country dances. Musical magic was a good game to break the ice without too much in the way of rambunctious forfeits or tomfoolery, the loudness at which the music was played giving a clue to how close the victim sent outside the room might be to performing some simple task. Jane preferred to play by ear for such things, and segue into music which was quiet or loud by nature rather than use one piece of music, but it was good of Mrs. Fielding to find something.
She sighed to overhear a group of young gentlemen, too loud, as young men often are, making a rather tasteless wager about the tedious great aunt of one of them living into her eighties; and another answering that he would bet that the good lady would survive no more than a week with the inclement weather. The amount wagered was shocking to Jane, who considered that bets in the thousands of pounds were profligate in the extreme. Why, even Frank had not been so reckless! She sat down to play, calming herself with a little Mozart as background music for the soirée, which seemed to be a successful way to start the evening.
Jane played while people arrived, and stopped when Mrs. Fielding nodded to her. The young people were called to order fairly ruthlessly to play parlour games, and Jane smiled to see Miss Evans helping out Miss Fielding, and managing to bloom somewhat in the absence of Miss Welbeloved. Never, thought Jane, had a girl been so badly named! Hopefully the shock of being sent back to the nursery would have the child appear next season with a better attitude.
Jane was pleased to see that Mrs. Fielding rejected a request for a game of Blind Man’s Buff; such a game often engendered a lot of horse play, and could be very embarrassing for the shyer girls involved. Indeed, the reason she had first found herself favourably inclined towards Frank Churchill had been over such a game. It had been at a party at Mr. Weston’s house, in Highbury, and another young man under the blindfold had caught a painfully shy Jane, and was busy touching her most inappropriately in order, he said, to guess whom he had caught. Frank had come over and demanded that the fellow should unhand the lady, and Jane suddenly realised that he had done so deliberately in order to make a favourable impression on a young woman who was so shy, she might readily be moulded to his purpose. She groaned at the stupidity of her former self. She frowned. The other young man had given up willingly enough, surely Frank could not have arranged with him that he should do so? The amount of cheating that usually went on during such a game would allow for peeping. Or maybe she wronged Frank, and he had merely been opportunistic.
At least it gave her the knowledge to watch out for such things.
Steal the White Loaf was a good game, Cora was ‘it’ to begin with, and sat with her back to the company at one end of the room, with a bracelet behind her. The others took turns to try to sneak up to grab it, and if Cora heard movement, she might turn round to catch the ‘thief’ in the act. Cora might not be clever, but her hearing was sharp enough, and soon exchanged places with a Mr. Lawrence Pelham.
Mr. Pelham was an impatient player, and turned round often enough to earn censure, both from Mrs. Fielding, and an older woman who was sat with the parents.
“Lawrie has no patience,” murmured that worthy to Jane.
“Few young men do,” said Jane, dryly. “I expect he will learn it. I’m Jane Armitage.”
“Julie Demomerie,” said the old woman. “And it’s Lady Julia by rights, just as you are Lady Armitage.”
“I’ve still not got used to it,” said Jane. “Your young relative likes to dress well, too.”
“He’s an expensive cub, but he’s my nevvy’s only child. Hard sometimes not to be too soft,” sighed Lady Julia.
Jane wondered whether she should share how Mrs. Churchill had alternately spoiled and denied Frank, and made him selfish and greedy, but it was none of Lady Julia’s business. Maybe if they met often enough at such gatherings it would be suitable to share personal matters.
Mrs. Fielding announced a change of game to Move All, and lifted an eyebrow at Jane, who went obligingly back to the piano. Music was not necessary really for this game, but it made it more lively and jolly. One less chair than there were young people were set in a circle, and the last person who was ‘it’ in the previous game stood in the middle, and called out “Move All!” The object was for ‘it’ to find a chair, and the last person left without somewhere to sit was the new ‘it’. It left the young people laughing and breathless, and if there was the odd incident of a young lady sitting on the knee of the beautiful young man who almost had to be the Russian poet, well, such hoyting behaviour occurred in parlour games, and a sharp “Elizabeth!” from the girl’s mother quickly broke up such a lack of decorum.
“I believe I will sit out,” said the Poet. “This game has no dignity or beauty. I go elsewhere for a while.”
“And take your chair with you,” said Mrs. Fielding, sternly.
“I? I am of royal blood, I do not carry chairs like a kulak, a peasant. Let the footman do it.” With a dismissive wave of the hand, he wandered off.
A footman hastily retrieved his chair, and Miss Elizabeth Elliot discovered that she was ‘it’ by default of not having found a proper chair.
“I don’t want to play any more, either,” she said.
“You’ll play one more turn until another person is chosen,” said Mrs. Fielding, and sulkily, Miss Elliot complied. She was about to leave the room in search of Mr. Kiasov, or more correctly, Jane had discovered, Gospodin Kiasov, when she was intercepted by her mother and led firmly to sit with the dowagers.
“I’m bored,” groused Miss Elliot.
“You should not have dropped out of the games, then,” said her mother. “You may either sit here until a new game starts and join in with that, or we will go home, and you will then go to bed after a nursery dinner, if you cannot act your age.”
“I want to stay,” muttered Miss Elliot.
A game of Musical Magic followed, Jane doing her best to lead each victim in turn to their allotted tasks, and then dinner was announced. After dinner would be dancing, followed by a late supper.
Dinner was sumptuous, with a number of removes, and finishing with both syllabubs and ice cream.
“I am glad I am playing, not dancing,” said Jane, to Caleb, who had taken her in to dinner. “I am not sure I could dance on such a spread.”
“Why, I would not have been able to do so myself, had I not been frugal,” said Caleb.
Jane flushed.
“Ice cream is something of a secret vice of mine,” she admitted.
She took herself over to the piano ready to play for the dancing, and played a waltz air to entice the others into the ballroom. The Russian poet drifted over.
“Ah, I was not mistaken earlier,” he said. “You are serene as the sky on a summer’s day, and your hands are perfect! I will write a poem to your perfect fingers!
Jane looked startled and just had time to notice that Miss Elliot was glaring at her before Caleb tapped Kiasov on the shoulder.
“You will refrain from presuming to address my wife in that improper manner,” said Caleb. “If you even dare to write your miserable and mediocre poetry to her fingers, I will knock you down, because you would show yourself to be insufficient of a gentleman for me to call you out. Now move away.”
The poet’s dark eyes filled with tears.
“It is true that my poetry is miserable and mediocre, but I strive! Always I strive! And I seek a muse ... the so-serene pianist is an inspiration, pray do not prevent me from listening to her and watching her!”
“You can do both from a decent distance,” growled Caleb. The poet retreated, dabbing at his eyes.
“How did you know how bad his poetry is and that he would get emotional about it?” asked Jane.
“He’s Russian, Jane-girl; they cry at the drop of a hat, I was in charge of the safety of the Czar’s retinue in 1815. Learned a bit of Russian too, but as it was from their hussars’ stable hands, it ain’t fit for civilised company. I hope you don’t think I was too heavy handed? I didn’t think you were enjoying his company.”
“I wasn’t; indeed I was horrified. Thank you!”
Caleb bowed.
“At my lady’s services.”
Caleb left Jane to her playing, to be at the services of any lone girl who needed a partner. Miss Evans thought him wonderful, and thanked him shyly for treating her as if she were a beautiful lady.
“My dear Miss Evans,” said Caleb, “You are a lovely young lady. My wife is beautiful, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes, Sir Caleb, she is so lovely, and gracious, and graceful! I was not flirting with you, indeed I was not, I could not compete even if you were not married!” Miss Evans looked aghast.
“I know that, Miss Evans. But you see, when my wife was your age, she was an awkward and gawky girl, who was certain she was plain, and uninteresting. I am certain she was neither plain, nor uninteresting; and neither are you. Presently you will grow into knowing where your feet are at all times, and you will learn to smile without worrying about what impression you are making, and to present as serene and gracious an appearance as Lady Armitage does.”
“Oh, do you really think so, Sir Caleb?”
“I know so, child. Now, run along, and flirt with someone your own age, who is unattached, because learning to flirt is a skill as much as dancing, and you might as well enjoy it.”
“Oh, yes sir!” said Miss Evans.
Caleb shook his head, smiling. She was as much a child as Araminta. More so, indeed; Araminta had learned cynicism in the school of hard knocks. He turned his attention to the young girls, and smiled at Miss Elliot.
“Would you honour me with a dance?” he asked.
“I suppose so. Mama will not let me dance with Alexei a third time,” said Miss Elliot.
“Oh, if it is too much effort to dance, far be it for me to force you,” said Caleb, with heavy irony.
“No, I would like to dance. Thank you. You are married to the lady at the piano, are you not?”
“Yes, I am. I must say I did not think much of that Russian fellow’s manners making most improper comments and compliments to my wife; but I have come to the conclusion that he is not so much a rude fellow as a poet.”
“Indeed; he does not find himself bound by conventions,” said Miss Elliot, eagerly.
“If you ask me, he should consider it his duty to learn to cope with conventions, if he hopes to marry one day,” said Caleb.
“But it will trammel him as a poet!” declared Miss Elliot, dramatically, throwing the comment over her shoulder as the dance parted them. They danced through a figure and met up again.
“You are perhaps correct in that, and in that case one may hope that he never marries, for to expect a wife to put up with the hardships of a poet’s temperament, having ornaments thrown at her, and vituperation heaped on her head when she interrupts his muse is unreasonable, not to mention the fact that when I met him in ’15 he could not keep servants, for he was too demanding. No man can expect a gentlewoman to do all his cooking and washing for him, heave his coal and tend to beating his own carpets, I understand that before he got a job in the embassy he lived in total squalor,” said Caleb.
“It cannot be so!” Miss Elliot was shocked.
Caleb shrugged.
“It is why I am pleased that my wife sees playing as a pleasant avocation, and is not a genius,” he said. “I am not sufficiently selfless to devote my life to genius.”
He left Miss Elliot looking horrified, and thoughtful. He strongly suspected that the comment about vituperation for interrupting the muse had resonated strongly with her.
He drifted over to the Dowagers.
“A word, Mrs. Elliot?” he murmured to the chit’s mother, noting that Miss Elliot had withdrawn to cool her face.
“My daughter filled your ears with her ridiculous ideas?” said Mrs. Elliot.
“No, I out-talked her,” said Caleb. “Told her what a genius her idiot poet was and how he can’t keep servants because of it. I’m almost certain that he has told her off for interrupting his poetising. She winced when I said poets do this. If I may venture some advice?”
“I’m willing to listen to anything.”
“Throw them together until she’s totally bored by his eulogies to her golden locks, and make sure to suggest he shows her museums, preferably when it is raining, and have an adequate young man of your choice follow them to procure a hackney carriage when the poet cannot,” said Caleb.
“Sir Caleb, you are a devious man. Thank you.”
Caleb bowed, and left her to do his duty for the rest of the ball. It was as well to be in practise.
Next week, Almack’s would be giving its first subscription ball, and they would be going.

Jane and the sins of society 4-6

Sarah WaldockFebruary 24, 2018 09:43AM


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