The final volume of the AMacD commonplace books ends abruptly halfway through. Between two pages are inserted a large number of loose cuttings from assorted periodicals, reporting the death of Gervase Reveley, Viscount Raxdell, in a street accident which only his own skills as a whip prevented from being a far worse disaster, but leading to his being thrown clear of his own curricle and fatally injured. There are also a number of obituary notices. On the following page is written three times I must be philosophical with a heavy line drawn underneath.
Alexander MacDonald, MA, locks the volume away with the others in the secure press, and looks down at his hand. The effects of grief upon the physical body are surely a topic suited to the philosopher, he murmurs as he observes its faint persistent trembling.
But, he thinks, no-one will imagine it to be anything but the natural effects of his efforts over these past few days: no-one will suppose that the signs of lack of sleep upon his face due to anything but the business of organising the funeral, arranging for the succession of the new viscount, writing or causing to be written the vast number of letters that have been necessary, and having all in order for this present morning’s reading of the will.
At least he had been there to the last: it had been considered not in the least remarkable that Gervase desired to communicate last wishes to his dedicated secretary, when they brought in his broken body.
He bites his lip. The new viscount, a fellow of nearly Gervase’s own years that had never expected to inherit, any anticipations in the matter falling upon his son, shows considerable signs of wanting him to stay and steer an obscure country squire through the new paths he suddenly finds himself set upon. But to stay at Raxdell House, when there is no Gervase –
But first, the reading of the will. The servants were well instructed beforehand, but he should be there with His new Lordship to greet the lawyers as they arrive.
The relatives and the household have assembled. Jerome, Seraphine and Roberts all sit together. Old Fosticue – demonstrating respect for the ancient association of the firm with the Reveley family, it is Old Fosticue comes creaking about this ceremony – picks up the document.
There is a little – not quite a gasp, more the sounds of breaths being drawn in among the assembled company – and Old Fosticue looks up as the drawing-room door can be heard opening. A late-comer to the reading? He cannot think of anyone who should be there and isn’t - mayhap some family black sheep in hopes of some small legacy –
A rustle of silk. He turns to look.
Still able to glide like a swan into a room, though in this instance, a black swan, Clorinda, Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury, advances down the rows of chairs, clad in the deepest of mourning, and, gracefully resisting any efforts to direct her anywhere else, comes to sit beside him.
How could he have not known she would come? One must play the comedy out to the last act and the final bow, she has said in respect of so many stratagems and contrivances over the years. Of course she would be here. Under concealment of the full skirt, she takes and squeezes his hand.
A deal of the property is entailed but there was still a considerable amount entirely within Gervase’s disposal. In the will he has carefully detailed numerous minor bequests to various members of the household, distant relatives, and friends. Jerome is well-provided for, as he should be. His dear friend, the Dowager Marchioness of Bexbury, comes in for several pieces of his mother’s jewellery, a valuable snuff-box, and a painting by Raoul de Clérault: doubtless everyone will speculate that Gervase made some settlement upon her years ago, and guess that these are merely sentimental tokens of his esteem. And after all, she is known a well-left widow with no need to hang out for legacies
And to my devoted secretary, who has served me so well and so faithfully - of course, he had expected some remembrance –
- but not that it would be what could only be described as a generous independence, along with something about enabling him to devote his abilities to philosophy -
- at which he finds himself feeling quite the reverse of philosophical, but Clorinda grips his hand again and he does not faint or fall into a fit of weeping.
Afterwards, His new Lordship says all that is proper, but looks as though he is about to lead to the possibility of Sandy's remaining; but a weight leans upon his arm, a voice says in die-away tones, o, Mr MacDonald, I feel quite overset - no-one can apply a dainty handkerchief to her eyes as Clorinda can – might you see is my smelling-bottle in my reticule, sure I thought I had put it in – o, Your Lordship, I am indeed sorry to break in upon your conversation, but I find myself so exceeding faint I would prevail upon Mr MacDonald's kindness to escort me home.
Clorinda’s hair under the cap may be silver-gilt rather than golden these days, she is no longer a young woman, but she still has only to enter a room to draw a bevy of men, old and young, to her side. The new viscount swallows and says, indeed, he would not wish to detain Lady Bexbury here –
O, thank you, breathes Clorinda, and they leave the room quite as if he is rescuing her from the press rather than the reverse.
Once they are in her carriage, and driving away, she says, really! solicit you at such a time to remain about Raxdell House! shocking ton.
But -, he begins.
O, but me no buts, Sandy dear. Are there not young men among your connexion would jump at such a place? You need only say to Lord Raxdell that you have become so entire used to Milord’s particular ways that you confide you would find it hard, at your time of life, to have to change to suit his, but that you will ever be entire at his disposal and that of any secretary he appoints to give advice.
It is entirely true, utterly sensible, quite proper: and something that he had not even managed to begin to think in his frozen state.
My dear, she says, I confide that these past days you have barely slept, have been about all matter of arrangements and perform’d them all exceeding well, and 'tis entirely that consideration should prevent Lord Raxdell from approaching you until you have had time to think of what you will do now. In particular as you do not need to be hanging out for preference.
No… he says, wondering if having something to put his hand to would at least be a distraction, keep him from thinking, from remembering –
They arrive at Clorinda’s pretty house, where they have hatched so many plots and sounded so many mysteries. Hector makes exceeding civil condolences to him, and shows them into the pretty parlour. He goes sit in his accustomed chair.
Vaguely, he hears Clorinda give some instructions to Hector, then turn and say, and Hector, when you have spoke to Euphemia, send up someone with more coals to stir up the fire.
He thinks it might be one of Hector and Euphemia’s offspring that comes lay more coals and stir up the fire into a fine blaze.
Why, dearest C-, do we need a great fire? (For the weather has of a sudden become a deal milder than that cold snap, with ice upon the ground that contributed to the accident.)
Because, dear Sandy, you are shivering.
So he is.
Quite shortly afterwards comes Euphemia herself with a mug in her hand. He had been expecting coffee, has not coffee ever been almost immediately served whenever he comes here?
'Tis a posset, says Clorinda, a most sustaining thing. I daresay you have not eat a thing these several days. You cannot live upon coffee.
He wrinkles his nose but indeed, he cannot remember eating anything, though surely Seraphine must have been leaving food for him.
A little while later comes some excellent soup.
And then he remembers nothing more except for some faint remembrance of being conveyed upstairs by Hector.