Of course Sandy had heard of the certain club. There had been that matter of the comedic actor Elias Winch, Miss Richardson’s uncle, whose perilous proceedings at public places of resort had entirely ceased once he had joined. And when it seemed that Sir Hartley Zellen, a very useful man in the Commons, might join their reforming set, it had been ascertained that he was entire discreet in indulging the urges of his disposition as a member of that club.
But it had been Clorinda who had acquired intelligence of the place. There had been no approaches during the years with Gervase.
So while he returned a civil reply to Sir Hartley’s discreet overture, he was not sure what he might do about the matter.
Is it not, he asked Clorinda, a bordello?
Why, I apprehend that there are arrangements whereby fellows may gratify their urges, but 'tis also, I confide, a place where fellows of the disposition may gather and feel they may breathe a little more freely than they may do in general society. And I daresay there is some matter of being able to assist does one of their number encounter difficulties, for there are fellows that command considerable interest among 'em. And perchance there are fellows that are not in the happy situation that you had and may not live together openly, but find it a place where they need not disguise their affections.
Indeed we were most uncommon fortunate, he said in sombre tones. But, dearest sibyl, is it foolish and sentimental in me to ask, what would Gervase say?
Clorinda smiled at him. Not in the least, dear Sandy. But I think he would wish that you did not become an entire recluse, went about in Society; and I think he would consider that your presence would be of entire benefit to the club, that must indeed be a thought of theirs as well. You are known a clever and well-thought-of fellow such I am sure they would greatly desire among their number.
Would that I had a fan about me that I might smack you with it as an arrant flatterer!
But is it not entirely so? You are still greatly valued among our political set for the acuity of your judgements, indeed there have been mutterings from Sir Barton and Lords Abertylld and Vinwich that sure you should stand for Parliament yourself.
Sandy shuddered. I think I prefer to be an eminence gris.
Or eminence rouge! Sure that better suits you, I confide. She sighed. Whereas do you not think that Susannah Wallace would show extreme well as an MP?
Without a doubt, but that in the present state of society, I fear men would not listen to her, however sound her arguments.
They both sighed.
He felt curiously agitated about the prospect of attending: there was some matter of an initiation to be undergone, and then, a deal of fellows, no doubt, that, apart from Sir Hartley, he did not know.
Do you think I am dressed entirely suitable? he asked Clorinda.
She glanced up at him. Sure, she said in a distracted fashion, these working-parties to make clothes for the orphans might answer, if only the ladies that express themselves with great enthusiasm at the prospect would ever come to 'em and work. What, my dear? Oh, indeed, you look an entire well-dressed philosopher, and I would suppose they do not expect a gentleman of fashion.
Clorinda! Please to look at me properly and tell me is anything out of order.
La, o bello scozzese, you are in a taking over this business, my dear. They have already passed you for membership –
There is some ceremony -
Swearing tremendous oaths I daresay. Mayhap somewhat like unto the Freemasons, not that I know aught about 'em. Is not The Magic Flute give out to be about masons?
You seem in somewhat of a taking yourself, o silly creature, you seem considerable distracted.
Clorinda sighed and shook her head. I think Sir Vernon is going propose to me again. Sure I should not have supposed that an occasional agreeable romp was merely all he desired.
Sandy snorted. Why, I suppose he has been about a very diplomatic wooing, to lure you into concessions step by step –
Alas, I think you have the right of it. But, my dear, you look entire well. I have told Nick to bring the carriage round for you, and then bring it back to convey me to Sir Vernon’s dinner party.
So he went off in fine style to the extremely discreet doorway where one scrutinized him through the peephole before admitting him, and he was conducted at once to a small room where he was met by and introduced to Sir Stockwell Channery, Lord Saythingport, Terence Offerton, and Mr Chumbell. They read him over the conditions of membership and the horrid warnings as to the fate of any that breached discretion, but there was no ritual to the matter and while he was required to take an oath, no-one made him swear upon a Bible.
They then all heartily wrung his hand and desired him to enjoy the amenities of the establishment.
Chumbell, that was positively bouncing up and down, put his arm through Sandy’s and said, perchance they might go take a little sherry and discourse of classics?
Oh, come, Chumbell, said Offerton, taking Sandy’s other arm, there will be time enough for that, let the fellow find his feet a little first. Though he then went on to remark on the very fine billiard-table provided for members.
Indeed it was an excellent fine club – splendid comfortable public rooms, attentive footmen, a well-provided supper-table – and more familiar faces than he had anticipated. Tom Tressillian the actor; Colonel Adams, that had given such a fine lecture to the antiquarians on certain Hindu antiquities of Bengal; Sir Hartley, of course –
Is that music? he asked.
Why, must be Herr Hahn favours us upon his flute, cried Offerton.
Well: Franz Hahn; 'twas no surprise when he came to think of it.
And, in the room where Hahn was playing, standing under a painting of a faun, that was probably a Linsleigh, and undoubtedly one for which he had modelled, Maurice Allard, looking at him with a little lift of his chin and an air of having as much right as anyone to be there: surely the case. He was dressed entirely sober, but one did not spend two decades and more in the company of such a noted arbiter of style as Gervase, that had achieved the approbation of Brummell himself, without garnering some apprehension of what fine tailoring looked like. And how it might set off a fellow’s looks…
Franz Hahn put down his flute with great care, came up and shook Sandy by the hand, murmured that he heard Lady Bexbury was likely to resume her soirées? and gave a civil response to Sandy’s enquiries after his family. Did he know everybody? Perchance he had not met Allard?
Naturally, said Sandy, as Franz Hahn made the introduction, Lady Bexbury has spoken of him, declares she would be an entire dowd without him.
'Tis ever a pleasure, said Maurice, to have the dressing of Lady Bexbury.
At which moment came up Colonel Adams, with recollections of the very interesting questions Mr MacDonald had raised at his lecture, and wondering if he would some time care to come look at his little private collection of Hindu antiquities?
Sandy made some civil reply and was very glad of the glass of wine he found in his hand. He looked about the room and said, I confide that painting is a Linsleigh?
The most of the paintings are, said Offerton. He added, with a wink, there are some particular fine ones on the upper floor – is Basil here the e’en?
Maurice shrugged. Have not seen him.
Offerton went on, you may go look at 'em – of course, do not enter any chamber that has the door closed, but is the door open you may look in.
Mayhap later, said Sandy, a little overwhelmed at the warmth of his reception – the icy gaze in those black eyes was quite salutory refreshing by comparison.
After supper, feeling in need of a few moment’s solitude, he said that he would go look at the paintings, no need to accompany him.
Some few of the doors were already closed, but there were paintings along the corridor, and he peeped inside the first open door he came to. The chamber was empty, though well-furnished, and he examined the painting, rather glad that he was alone, for he could still, he found, be brought to the blush.
There was a faint noise: he looked up, and saw Maurice Allard, in the act of closing the door.
He was about to say that he supposed that they could both maintain a reasonable cool civility to one another in public – for it looked as though that was the concern that Allard wished to disclose – and their eyes met, their gazes locked. And – oh, they had not exorcized that carnal urging, that furor, after all.
Some while later – sure these chambers were very well provided for their purpose – Maurice looked up and said, that was not what I intended.
I did not think it was. Will it be noted?
I am like to doubt it, providing we do not go downstairs together.
Well, I shall go down first, and say how very taken I was by the paintings, is that really the time, sure one might have supposed oneself frolicking with Dionysus in Ancient Greece – and then I shall go ask Chumbell about whether he considers them an accurate portrayal –
Do you do this sort of thing very often?
Seldom, said Sandy, but have long had the acquaintance of an entire mistress of the art of making people see what she wants them to see.
Maurice scowled at him. It was - endearing. Sandy kissed him and began to dress.