Excerpt of The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
(Page 6 of 7)
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Our intermittent correspondence continued for some years after she took up
residence at Blithe Lodge. I would send a brief note every few months, to
enquire how she did, and whether she was in need of anything, and she would
reply to say that she was going on very well, that her employer was kindness
itself, and that she wanted for nothing. Then one day, in the early months
of 1853, I happened to be in the vicinity of St Johns Wood and thought I
would call on her, to see for myself that all was well, and (I confess) to
satisfy my curiosity that she was still as beautiful as I remembered her.
I was admitted to an elegant drawing-room, displaying both taste and means.
The door opened; but it was not Bella. Two giggling young ladies, unaware
that a visitor was within, burst into the room. On seeing me, they halted,
looked me up and down, and then looked at each other. They were a most
ravishing pair, one blonde, the other dark; and both had an unmistakable
look about them. I had seen it a hundred times, though rarely in such
They begged my pardon (unnecessarily: I would have forgiven them any liberty
they had chosen to take), and were about to withdraw when another figure
appeared in the doorway.
She was as beautiful as I remembered her; dressed to the highest point of
fashion, coiffured and bejewelled, but still possessed of a natural grace of
carriage, and displaying that warm and open expression with which she had
greeted me when I had first come to her fathers house. After her fair
companions had departed, we walked out into the garden and talked away, like
the old friends we were, until a female servant came across from the house
to tell Bella that she had another visitor.
Will you call again? she asked. I seem to have spoken only of myself, and
would so like to hear more about what you have been doing with your life,
and what your plans are for the future.
I needed no further hint, and said that I would come again the following
day, if it was convenient.
Neither of us had said anything concerning the true character of Blithe
Lodge; there was no need. She saw, by my look and tone of voice, that I was
not in the least shocked or disgusted by what she had chosen to become; and
for my part, I could see that as she had told me so often she wanted for
nothing, and that her professed contentment with her lot was unfeigned.
I returned the next day, when I was introduced to Mrs D herself; and the
following week attended a soirée, at which were assembled some of the most
eminent and well-placed of the capitals fast men. Gradually, my visits
increased in frequency and soon brotherly solicitation began to transform
into something more intimate. By special dispensation, I was not required to
make any contribution to the domestic economy of the house. Youre most
welcome here any time, my dear, said Mrs D, with whom I had quickly become
a great favourite, just as long Bella aint distracted from her
Mrs D being a widow with no dependants, it had long been settled that Bella,
who had become like a daughter to her, would in the course of time assume
the reins of power in this thriving carnal kingdom. On this account, I would
call her my little heiress, and she would smile contentedly as I pictured to
her the days of ease that lay ahead once the inevitable mortal release of
Mrs D, now in her sixty-first year, delivered the succession into her hands.
I dont like to think of it too much, she said, as we lay together in the
dark after the incident in Cain-court, talking of Mrs Ds impending
retirement, seeing how fond I am of Kitty, and how kind shes always been
to me. But, you know, I cant help feeling well, a little satisfied at the
prospect, though Im sure I dont deserve it.
Excerpted from The Meaning of the Night, copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Cox. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, W.W.Norton and Company. All rights reserved