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Authors: Jude Morgan

Indiscretion

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INDISCRETION

Jude Morgan

 

ST. MARTIN
S
PRESS NEW YORK

indiscrétion.
Copyright © 2005
by Jude
Morgan.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

For information, address St. Martin’s Press,
175
Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.
10010.

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Morgan, Jude,
1962—

Indiscretion
/
Jude Morgan.
— 1st
U.S. ed.

p. cm. ISBN-13:
978-0-312-36206-5
ISBN-10:
0-312-36206-4
I. Title.

PR6113.O743I53 2006
823’.92—
dc22

2006045091

First published in Great Britain by Review, an imprint of Headline Book Publishing

First U.S. Edition: December
2006

10 987654321

 

ALSO BY JUDE MORGAN

Passion

 

For Steve Webb
Chapter I

The well-travelled trunks stood on the dusty floorboards of their new lodgings. The porter was grumbling away down the stairs with his unsatisfying sixpence. Now it was Caroline’s familiar task to make their accommodation as comfortable as possible, whilst soothing her father’s mind, made gloomy and fretful by the necessity of the removal.

He had liked living where they were before. But their landlord had not liked them. The man had adopted an attitude towards rent arrears that Captain Fortune, sorrowfully, could only call irrational.

Caroline was so accustomed to this situation, and to making the best of it, that at first she did not notice something more than usually depressed in her father’s demeanour. She busied herself with the unpacking, and with making such tactful improvements to the furnished rooms as could be managed. She covered the holes in the sofa’s upholstery with cushions. She threw a cloth across the stained and scratched table. With artful swags and bunches she made the curtains look as if they actually fitted the windows. Meanwhile she kept up a cheerful commentary on the conveniences of their new home — one that, however, taxed her considerable powers of invention to the utmost. For these were the shabbiest lodgings yet, and her own spirits were more cast down than she cared to show.

Still, she was unprepared for the lingering groan that her father gave, just as she was hanging her mother’s miniature portrait above the parlour mantelshelf; and for his booming cry of: ‘It is all over, Caro — the die is cast — our revels now are ended — we are ruined!’

Caroline turned to find that he had sunk into a chair, and with another groan had buried his face in his hands. ‘Come, Papa, don’t take on so. It’s not so very bad,’ she urged, putting an arm about his shaking shoulders. ‘Perhaps we aren’t as pleasantly situated as we were at Frith Street, but we might do worse. Now let me mix you a glass of hock-and-soda-water. It’s not like you to be long in the dismals, and I suspicion you may have drunk bad port-wine last night — at the Cocoa-Tree, was it? You know that always—’

‘We might do worse, indeed,’ her father said hollowly, through his hands. ‘And I fear we will. Oh, yes. The debtors’ prison, Caro — that will be next for me.’

‘Oh, nonsense,’ said Caroline, who had heard this before; but as her father still groaned, and would not look at her, she was constrained to add: ‘It
is
nonsense — isn’t it, Papa?’

‘You would be better off, my dear, if I dropped myself in the river directly.’

‘No, I wouldn’t. For one, I would be no better off materially, because you’ve nothing to leave me. And more than that, I should be horribly grieved and miss you sorely. So no more watery talk, I beg you.’ Caroline went to the side-table on which stood their small hoard of glassware and made him a drink, taking a little genteel tipple for herself. When she turned back to her father, he was regarding her with tragic, bleary, agelessly blue eyes.

‘Oh,’ she said; and, an octave lower: ‘Oh.’

‘I had hoped,’ Captain Fortune said, reaching out for her hand, ‘to be giving you news of a very different kind at this time, my dear — news of a wonderful turn-about in our fortunes. I had it all planned — a turtle dinner from the King’s Head, or supper at Grillons — and you were to have a new gown for it, of course, my love, made by a modiste of the very first stare; and then we were to talk about what manner of carriage to set up, whether a curricle or barouche — for our Town residence only, naturally — for myself I have a fancy for a rather smart little high-perch phaeton I saw at the coachmaker’s in Long Acre, just being varnished—’

Well, but, Papa, that’s the different news,’ Caroline interrupted him, gently yet firmly, ‘the news you can’t give me. The real news, I fear, is very bad, is it not?’

‘I dare say,’ the Captain said, with a disgruntled look, as if it were lather churlish of her not to want to hear about the carriage they couldn’t have. ‘Yes. It could hardly be worse, indeed. But it was
meant
to be good, my dear, truly it was! I very nearly, you know, pulled off the most remarkable stroke! And instead we are — we are most damnably high and dry, Caro. In short, we have no money.’

‘We never do. But this, I collect, is a different sort of having-no-money.’ She sat down by him. ‘Be frank with me, Papa.’

The Captain drained his glass. ‘It’s all gone,’ he said simply, as if referring to the wine. ‘You recall that run of luck I had just lately, at Brooks’s? And how I resolved I wouldn’t let the money slip through my fingers this time, but set it to work? Well, so I did. Now, I considered at first paying off some of my creditors; but on reflection that seemed a stupid idea.’

‘Did it?’ said Caroline, feeling her face fall.

‘Aye, aye — you may stop the dog’s mouth, but the teeth are still there,’ her father said, with grand obscurity. What was needed, I saw, was to put our finances on an entirely new footing. You’ll agree, my dear, that there can positively be nothing worse than this eternal
getting by.

Caroline could think of something worse; and she was afraid it was coming. But she held her peace.

‘So, I took advice. And not from Bennett — oh, I know the fellow has handled my affairs well enough in his time. But he is still a cautious pettifogging old lawyer after all. No, my informant was a smart young fellow I ran into at Tattersall’s. Now everyone knew him for a lodger in Queer Street, on account of being disappointed in his expectations of a rich uncle, who on his deathbed took against him and left his fortune to the Society for the Suppression of Vice. He had been living high, and was generally expected to crash before the season was out. And instead there was the young sprig with diamonds in his tiepin, laying out a mint on new bloodstock! What was his secret? One word. Speculation.’

Caroline made a creditable try at looking delighted, but plainly it did not come off.

‘My dear, you frown. You need not. Why, half the mansions of Russell Square were built from speculation on the Exchange. And what one must remember is there’s no arcane mystery about it, even though the cits like to pretend so. Five per cents, and Consols, and what-naught. As my young friend told me, any man of sense and spirit, especially if he knows what it is to chance all at the dice-box, can turn his hand to the Funds.’ From being cheerfully informative, the Captain’s tone took a sudden plunge into desolation. ‘And curse my bones that I ever listened to him, because it has ruined us!’

With another groan, he hid his face in his hands again, and for some while could give only muffled and disjointed replies to Caroline’s questions. The facts of the matter did not, however, require much elucidation. Her father, she soon gathered, had lost everything by speculating in the Funds: he had added to the number of his creditors, many of whom were at the end of their patience; and the rent even on this unprepossessing set of rooms in unfashionable Henrietta Street was paid only for a month, beyond which he saw no means of satisfying their new landlord.

Caroline sat for some moments mechanically patting her father’s hand, and taking the news in. It would have been doing it too brown, as he would say, to call herself shocked. She was used to dwelling with her father on the shady margins of insolvency. But hitherto he had always found another well of credit to dip into; now came sudden realisation, like nasty breath on the face, that that old life was at an end. The ground on which she had stood, however insecurely, had crumbled away altogether.

An observer might not have guessed how shaken she was. But where Captain Fortune shouted aloud when he was happy, just as he wailed when brought low, his daughter was less prodigal with her feelings, or at least with the expression of them. This was not reserve: more the prudence of someone who keeps still in a wildly pitching boat. So Caroline maintained an appearance of soothing cheerfulness, while she wrestled inwardly with this new knowledge.

One conclusion she came to swiftly. If she had had no direct hand in the fall, she had surely been guilty of averting her eyes from the true facts of their situation. Well, no more of that.

‘Papa, listen now,’ she said, having mixed him the last of the hock-and-soda, lit the candles against the encroaching evening, and drawn up a seat by the sofa where her father had sunk prostrated, like a man literally crushed by circumstance. ‘This is all most alarming and distressing, and it cuts me quite to see you so brought down. And believe me, I’m very far from making light of matters when I say this, but — is there not opportunity here also?’

‘No!’ her father intoned sepulchrally, his eyes closed; and then, opening them: ‘Where?’

‘Well, at the very least, in our being forced to sit down together and be honest, and look certain hard questions in the face. Which we have scarcely done, Papa — have we? Yet I can’t pretend to have had no notion. And indeed it has set me to thinking of late.’ She drew a deep breath and went on: ‘Do you recollect I mentioned — a little while ago, when we had to leave the house before last — the idea of governessing?’

‘I certainly do.’ Her father rose slowly and dramatically to a sitting position. ‘And
you
will recollect, Caro, how utterly damnable I found it. No, no. The river before that. Before that, my dear, the rivers of
hell—’

‘I don’t imagine there are any — wouldn’t they be cool and refreshing and defeat the purpose? Oh, there’s the Styx, I suppose. But truly, I don’t think we need to talk in these hellish terms. Not about something that is the lot of many a young woman without ...’

‘Ah.’ He nodded in fierce gloomy encouragement. ‘Go on. Out with it. Without
prospects.’

‘Well, there is no use in mincing words. And there — now it’s out, and it’s not so very terrible, is it? Consider. If I were to take a post as a governess, I would be provided for, and that burden would be lifted from you—’

‘Burden?’ cried Captain Fortune, with a woeful shake of his head. ‘I must have been a wretched father indeed — worse even than I can suppose — if I have been complaining of you as a burden, my dear.’

‘Oh, Papa — say responsibility, then. Suppose me placed with an agreeable family, or even a half-way agreeable one. I will be comfortably accommodated and secure, and I will have a stipend, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing—’

‘Of knowing how I have failed you. To be sure,’ said her father, breathing hard. ‘You do well, my dear, to reproach me with it. Oh, but is it not so? Look at these rooms. A man can barely even make a show as a bachelor in such a place. Poor Marriner will be sleeping in what amounts to a boot-cupboard, when his loyalty has already been put to the severe test of living on board-wages. I smell damp in the hall. And that wallpaper is beyond anything.’ He pointed a majestically disdainful finger. ‘Indeed, it is my one request that you take a sample of that wallpaper, Caro, and paste it upon my gravestone when I am gone, as an emblem of my failure. Your promise, now!’

‘Nonsense, Papa,’ she murmured, between pain and laughter; but the Captain sprang up, flushed with self-punishing energy.

‘This is not what I wanted for you,’ he went on, ruffling his hair savagely. ‘When I saw you growing up so pretty and accomplished — oh, yes,’ he added, as she made a face,’and accomplished — remember what that music master said of you? What was his name? Signor — Signor—’

‘Higginbottom.’

‘That’s the man. And then your drawing — and the most elegant way of carrying yourself, just like your poor mother — well, I thought that when I brought you into society, you’d surely conquer. Conquer! It’s not long since I ran into Stanton of my old regiment at Limmer’s, and he said he’d seen you and me walking in Hyde Park, and demanded to know when that delicious daughter of mine — his words, my dear! — was going to make her début at Almack’s. Heyo! I can think of nothing that would please me better. But without money and without connections ... Even a season at Bath is beyond us now, Caro: do you know why? Because I have creditors there who would pounce on me the moment I crossed Pulteney Bridge. Now, Caro, admit it —’ he hung his head with dogmatic gloom ‘— admit that I have failed you!’

‘Well, but you don’t want me to, Papa — you want me to say the opposite. And that I gladly do. I never did expect a début at Almack’s, you know, and I never supposed we were well connected—’

‘Ah! but there’s the bitter kernel. The connections
are
there, or should be. In Devonshire my name stands as high as any, but my side have all died out. And then there’s your poor mother’s family, very comfortably situated. They could undoubtedly do something for you, if they
would.
But they’re a damned hard-faced unforgiving set! ...’ He sighed and looked perplexed: here was a genuine unhappiness that could not be dramatized. ‘As for me, I live m a man’s world, and there’s precious little for you there.’

‘Why, I’ve learnt how to play faro, and macao, and hazard, and billiards, and how to judge a good cravat, and how to make a bowl of rack-punch—’

‘Hush, hush — you make me blush for shame. Not that you don’t play a devilish hand at cards, and I fancy you’d have the coat off the back of the hardest gamester at Brooks’s ... but that is not as it should be, Caro, as well you know. I speak of society. When did you last enjoy a genteel social evening, in mixed company?’

‘Well ... when I went to stay with Miss Willis last year.’ Caroline spoke reluctantly, for she did not want to confirm his pessimistic opinion; but neither did she wish, for her own sake, to revive that happy memory.

Miss Willis was a friend made at her last school, who had had Caroline to her family home in Hertfordshire for the vacation. There, Caroline had enjoyed all the commonplace amusements of gossip, of shopping, of charades and dinners and picnics, from which her father’s raffish life had debarred her. They were not great things, of course — but she would willingly have sampled more of them. And Miss Willis had not been a great friend — but she would rather have drifted naturally away from her than had their association severed. For Caroline had made an abrupt and premature departure from that Seminary for Young Ladies in Chelsea. The proprietress had fetched her early one morning to her private parlour, and told her she must pack her things: six months’ fees were owing, and her father’s bankers would not honour his last draft. So she had left the school secretly, with none of the customary farewells and exchanges, and had been obliged to borrow five shillings from the kindly, brandy-tippling French-mistress to get her and her luggage by hackney to her father’s then lodging in Frith Street.

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