News from the continent is not good. Bonaparte has a vast army encamped at Boulogne overlooking the Channel, within sight, on a clear day, of England. But the King merely sends peremptory messages to his allies in Vienna and Berlin. The Hanoverian Count Bennigsen is now a leading member of the conspiracy in St. Petersburg to assassinate Czar Paul, the Russian emperor, so Grand Duke Alexander will soon ascend the throne there; and he’s on our side — or we think he is. As the damp, grey English winter drags London through the first weeks of 1799, Edward’s rheumatism, aggravated by injuries from his fall, begins to cause him acute suffering. Every doctor his mother sends him prescribes bleeding, and a spell at the waters of Bath. He chooses the waters. As Julie’s maids begin to pack and prepare for their trip to Somerset, he decides to honour his pledge and visit Caroline, the Princess of Wales, out at Blackheath.
He reaches the Montague estate after a two-hour ride with aching joints, pleasantly surprised to find the house and grounds ample enough and exceedingly well-tended. Caroline’s maid shows him into a spacious, if curiously furnished drawing room, saying her mistress will be down shortly, and offering him tea. Seated on a richly embroidered sofa, opposite French doors looking out on a snow-blanketed garden, with trellis-work arbours and arches, he looks around at the room and its many decorations. There are erotic paintings, some of a Sapphic nature, hung on walls of a deep Chinese-red with gold edging. All manner of objects and small bronze sculptures jockey for his attention. There is a Turkish water pipe, recently smoked and containing a brownish residue. There are several phallic shaped rods, each about a foot in height and fashioned from wood, metal, ivory or marble. Oriental rugs sprawl across the floorboards, overlapping one another untidily. When his tea arrives, on a brass tray the size of a door, he sips at it, reaching for a crudely printed, unbound book on the side table. The text is in French, and its title translates as The 120 Days of Sodom. The author is a certain Louis Sade. Edward assumes it’s some sort of theological tract: the story of Lot and his family. Was that as long a narrative as 120 days? In the Bible it seems more like a very long weekend. Opening a page at random and reading idly, he comes across a passage of such fantastically vile obscenity that he can scarcely believe his eyes. There are also several engravings of activities he barely even understands. The shock of this book brings on a bilious attack of such severity he can no longer drink his tea, gulping down some milk from a small jug instead. He puts the book back on its table, wishing he could now wash his hands, wash his eyes and mind. How could anyone possess such an abomination?
It is at this point that Princess Caroline enters the room in a cloud of patchouli, a stocky figure wearing a long red silk gown with applique dragons. Her hair hangs in blonde ringlets. Despite Wales’ aspersions, she’s far from ugly.
“Are you sick?” she asks, eschewing any formalities. “You are looking not very well.” She has traces of a German accent that are more evident in her battered grammar and tessalated ssyntax than in her constricted pronunciation.
He rises to bow and kiss her hand, saying, “I’ve had an accidental fall, Highness; it’s nothing.”
“I am not being ‘Highness’ here to you,” she announces grandly. “I am ‘Caroline’ for you, and a sister. You must kiss me, especial as they say you are the one who is not like Gorge. Is it so?”
Gorge? It suits Wales, he thinks. He’s confused, but he kisses her hot cheeks in the French manner, and then he is lost for words. She smells of musk and lavender water, not fish. Her face is rounded, with full lips, a distinctively noble nose and wide blue eyes, which have dark smudges beneath them, yet still contain much sparkling life. He immediately feels she’s being wronged.
“Madame,” he says, in German, “I have come to introduce myself and pay my respects.”
She prefers to speak English, however, saying, “Because you is the kind one, as all say. Please sit and have finished with you tea. It is pleasant for me to have a kind one here.”
She sits where he’d been on the sofa, patting the nearby cushion for him to join her there. He complains of the biliousness that makes tea hard on his stomach.
“Ach, your father is having the biliousness in him also,” she tells him. “He is a poor, sweet man. Like you, not like Gorge. But saucy for his years.”
“Saucy?” He thinks he must have misheard her.
A smile. Her nipples are pushing against the fabric of her gown, thick and hard. “Yes, very saucy,” she explains, but in a tone that suggests this sauciness is just a harmless foible. “He come here once all lone, by his horse’s back; and he tell me that from now onward his whole family – excepting the one person we know – will be treating me nicely for the future.” She then sighs theatrically. “But that Ernst brother – I do not like him. He has wicked eyes. He arrive chasing the King. But your father order the Ernst to stay out of this room, so I am lone with him here. He say how much he love me, and also my mother, who be his sister. We are sit us there,” she says, pointing to a green velvet daybed, “and this naughty King he fall himself on me, with the hand on my bosom’ – she pats one full breast, which undulates beneath her fingers ‘– saying many time how he want to have at me.’ She slides her pink tongue along plump lips. ‘I was a tiny bit shock for the moment; but then I slip me off the far side and run to my table, knowing not what must be said.” Her eyes are wide, but somehow, she doesn’t make a very convincing victim.
“How was the King taking this?” he asks her, embarrassed both by and for his father. He is aware of the heat coming from her body.
“He is laughing, with the face now red. He think I am play the game with him. So, he is comie to my table, saying I am the little fox who will soon be in his trap…”
He thinks of the kindly old fellow with his pouch of winking coins, saying, “What did you do?” He sees that trap, but feels that he’s in it himself, and she’s bearing down on him with her dangerously equivocal smile.
“As you see,’ she says, ‘the table is of a round shaping, so he cannot catch with me because I am alway move opposite to him. But I am laugh too now, because his face be so red and saucy.” Her cheeks are now flushed, red and distinctly saucy.
“He thought you were not offended?” he says, feeling dizzy, drowning in the jungle pool of her her warmth and perfume.
She thumps his thigh with her fist, moving closer. “I was not offend, Edvard. I was maybe even eine kleine flattery. My husband do not want me in his bed, but his father want me on the furnishing… or it may be on anywhere. It is nice to be want by someone, and I also feel good to put such spirit into an alder man.” She leans her head on his shoulder, the spiced breath whispering through her lips.
A breast sprawls over his elbow, big and taut. He’s not sure he wants to hear the end of her story, but he asks for it anyway.
“Oh,” she replies, as if his inquisitiveness were unexpected, the word’s deep chord rippling over her insistent breast, “he is soon tire by the table chasing, and he sit, telling me what a dear girl I is, and how he will alway be looking after me.” She grips his wrist with a thick warm hand, even her proximate aura steamy and intoxicating.
“No more attacks?” he asks, sympathising with his father’s lust, but wondering who was the real predator that day here.
She sits upright, her warmth vanishing. “Never, not ever,’ she says firmly. ‘And he come to me many time, giving a gift alway. Did you know I am now a Ranger of Green-Witch Park?” Her eyelids open so wide that the orbs seem in danger of rolling out and smashing on the floor.
“Greenwich?’ he says, now missing the sultry heat. ‘No, I did not know that.”
“Yes, it is truth; and there is a good income from it to help with my expenditure. He want to give me the Green-Witch Park also, but I say, No. Because I am know this park is a belonging of your mother.”
Well, that’s laudable, he thinks, but he wonders what royal gifts she has not refused. Instead of this, he asks her why she thinks the King is now acting in such a kindly and generous fashion. Edward assumes it’s just guilt over the attack; but he still can’t believe the old king capable of such spry licentiousness. He’s heard the stories, though, and her account gives them creedence – not that creedence was required for acts witnessed by so many.
She dips a forefinger into the milk and licks it. “He try to make apology for his Prince of Veils,’ she says, ‘who, if he get his self more fat, will soon be a Prince of Whales.” She pronounces this last word ‘Wa-hales’, lest he miss her pun.
She is easy to seduce, he thinks, because she is the seducer. He forces himself to remember his mission here. “You have been treated very badly, have you not?” he says.
“Your Gorge brother,” she tells him, leaning close again and all but whispering, “give my pearl bracelets to his Lady Jersey — did you know of that?” Her face is angled, and her big blue eyes search his, looking for what? Her whisper is now like the purring of a momentarily content cat.
“No,” he confesses. “I did not. Why are you whispering?”
“Because she is here,” Caroline hisses. “She is alway somewheres here, listening, spying, making the report back for Gorge. I have to take my dinner with that woman almuch every night – and I hate her so great I want to cut my knife with her throat…”
“You want to cut her throat?” he suggests.
“No, worse,’ she says, leaping to her feet. ‘I like to jump her head on my knife until the knife break up!’ She hops up and down, stamping, her heavy breasts rolling around behind the red silk. She crashes back on the sofa sighing. ‘Alway she wear my pearl bracelets to miliate me,’ she says. ‘He take way all my jewel and give them to little Charlotte, who she cannot wear them, natural, so they are looked after for her until she grow big. It is all for hurt me. He wish me a death, but he know all the peoples they will blame him for that. He want to be love, but he do not make his self able to be love. Often, I feel a pity for him, since he can be the nice man; yet also he be a nasty vindicate man, and blame me for all his hurt…”
She is an unusual person, he thinks, not easy to read. “But what started all this hostility and cruelty?” he says. This is what he really wants to know. “George is not exactly a model human being, but I have never found him to be a wicked or inhumane one. Something must have happened between you to create such an intense animosity? I will, of course, understand if it’s too intimate or personal a matter that you cannot speak of it…”
“I trusting you,” she tells him, still whispering, “but you must promise me not to be repeat what I will say for the lifetime of me and my dear Charlotte…” Her expression of unannealed frankness is a little too theatrical.
He assures her he never breaks a promise.
“On the night of us wedding,” she says, her bright eyes now distinctly sad, tears ready to well up and slide, ‘he is so drunken that he fall down and sleep. I leave him there, not wanting this special night to be spoil. But, after a two or three hour, he wake up, and he come to me quite tender, with kissings and all natural affections. Then he put himself inside, and he stop in there, saying to me, ‘You are not maiden, are you, Madame?’ Her eyebrows have risen to the hairline. ‘He is angry, but now very rough; he finish with his self all the sames. As he lay backs, with hard breath, he demand of me why I am not the wirgin I am suppose proper to be for him. I understand his anger; so, I decide I will tell truth of it. I say to him that in Brunsvick I was have two ladies who is my special friend, and we sometime be play games in the bed, with one lady pretending herself a husband, and me acting a role of wife.’ She presses her chubby palms together and begins plunging a forefinger between the first two fingers of her other hand, in and out, in and out. ‘In this game,’ she goes on, ‘we use what you call ‘didoe’ for the husband, and so this is how I losing my head maiden.’ Her eyes have taken on a greenish hue, and something wild glints inside them. ‘I am young then, I tell to him,’ she says, ‘and not with knowledges of such matter. The Gorge he listen to me quiet; then he ask if I enjoy these game with girls.’ She smiles, her lips somehow fuller, wet and shiny. ‘I wish to be honest for him,’ she says, ‘so I admit to him I very much enjoys it.’ She leans over to look directly into his eyes, panting softly before continuing. ‘This is when he goes into a crazy, a complete
verrückt, punching my belly, calling me terrible name, hitting my head, and telling me he never will touch me ever again. I am scare he might kill me – as we hear the English king does with wifes – but he start drinking of the brandy again, walking up and down room, calling me disgusted thing, and telling the marriage it is over. He drink perhap two pint of brandy, and look as if he will light into flame. Then he suddenly lie on sofa and is a sleep immediate, snoring so loud I must put cloth in my ear. This is what happen on the night.’ She straightens up, elbows out. ‘What you hear about this is thing I make to prevent shame for both him and me. Do you understanding better now?” she asks him, looking as if a burden has fallen from her hunched shoulders, fallen into his strong arms.
He feels dazed from the surfeit of truth. “I do indeed,” he says. “And I deeply appreciate your honesty, as well as your trust. But what of little Charlotte? Where is she in all this unpleasantness?”
“That is how he hurt me most, Edvard,’ she says woefully. ‘The King he adore her, and she now is under his care official; but she is live herselve at Carlton House, with Lady Elgin for the governess – a good person, this lady. I am give permit to see her one time a week, for only the hour; and often this is not possible be for me, because Gorge is send her off to the different place. He want my heart to break into a small piece; but I will not let this breaking happen to me. I am remain myselve strong, and also happy. One day Charlotte will be make her own mind on who she will see; and she is know I love her, and want to be more with her if it is allow to me. She also know her father can see her much time as he wish, but he see her for less than I am do. She feel she is have no parent; and this is not be right. It is not be very right at all, no…” Caroline begins to weep, and he puts an arm on her shoulders, offering consoling words that sound to him as empty as the air.
“The King ardently wishes for reconciliation,” he says at length. “Is there no way of effecting this, if only for the family and for little Charlotte’s sake?” She suddenly feels so small under his huge arm, so small and so soft.
“Ask to your brother this question, not to me,” she replies testily. “He is the one who throw the obstacle across my roads.”
“But he invited you to spend Christmas at Carlton House. Why did you decline his offer?” he says, inhaling briefly the scent of ginger on her breath.
She snorts indignantly. “I am be to go there and get miliated by his wa-hore and drinker friend?” she snaps, shaking back her yellow ringlets over his forearm.
“He could have been genuinely attempting to build a bridge,’ he says, watching her chest ebb and flow, disturbed by his own thoughts. ‘You ought to have given him a chance – and you know how sensitive he is to slights or insults…”
She twists free of his arms, her body pivoting. “And you do not knowing how he be unsensitive to him wife and child.’ She spits this out. ‘He cannot build any thing, let lone the bridge. He drink; he wa-hore; he fatten; he gomble; he sleep – these are be his talent; these are be his work.’ She claps her hands and then turns back to him, mellow now. ‘It is not like you,’ she says, the voice still breathy, ‘who lead armies and rule over the umpires…”
He’s flattered that reports of him have given her so high an opinion of his very modest accomplishments. Who was circulating such encomia? Not a relative to be sure. He wants to point out that Wales does possess other talents, yet he’s sensible that such qualities hardly mitigate the vindictive cruelties she’s endured at her husband’s hands. He glances at the foul book on her side table. Why would she have such a thing? He doesn’t dare ask. He wonders how truthful she’s being. There are always two versions of any tale about relationships, aren’t there? “The Prince of Wales’ position is very different from my own,” he decides to say. “He is heir to the throne and cannot be placed in life-threatening situations. His task is to watch and learn, waiting for the time when he will hold the reins of power.” That’s the official version, he thinks.
“He cannot even hold the rein of him horse,” she says scornfully. “He fall off in his drinked state. I hope he never is wearing the crown here, because your country will suffer with him. The peoples will kill him like King Louis –chop!’ She chops his thigh so hard he cries out. ‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘Me they will spare, the peoples, because they is know I too suffer off him.”
He assures her he’ll continue to labour on her behalf with Wales, and will visit her as often as possible, making sure she’s provided with everything she needs.
“And to help the lone me?” she says, asking then if he wants to see how she spends her time out here at Blackheath.
‘Delighted,’ he says.
Then she leads him from the room down creaking corridors, past potted plants and framed landscapes, to another room far away in the east wing. It’s an artist’s studio, with large windows on three walls, and a skylight in the ceiling. On three easels sit paintings in various stages of completion. They’re mainly landscapes, but with small sketchy figures in the foreground. The work is competent, yet decidedly not good. Upon small revolving podia are foot-high shapes shrouded in damp brown rags. Caroline removes these covers, revealing heads sculpted in clay, also far from complete, with little russet blobs like carbuncles in many areas. The work on these heads, however, strikes him as quite accomplished. Two are of women; one is a man closely resembling his father. The eyes, nose, and lips are exceedingly life-like – almost uncannily so — and balefully reminiscent of a death mask. He asks Caroline if this is indeed the King.
“So, he is recognize to you?” she says, clearly delighted the likeness is good.
“Did he sit for the sculpting?” he inquires, trying to picture such a scene.
“A little he does,” she replies, “but most is from the memories.”
Not all the memories, I hope, he thinks. ‘I’m impressed,’ he says, aware she needs praise like a starving man needs food. ‘You have a great talent here, Caroline…’
‘Also,’ she tells him, already drunk on his manna, ‘I am become musician, also writer, and farmer also…’
‘Farmer!’ he says in surprise. She explains that she tends a vegetable garden, invisible now due to the snow, whose produce she sells at a local market for good money. He finds this rather difficult to believe, since her grounds are not extensive enough to provide sufficient space for crops serving much more than her own kitchens. But he praises her industry, remarking that she makes excellent use of her time, which must weigh heavy on her isolated existence. She repays this with a hot wet kiss on his lips, which she can only reach by standing on a chair. It is the kind of kiss that lingers, that smoulders, that wakes you deep in the night with unbearable yearning. It is an experienced kiss.
‘As I was taking my horse from the groom,’ he tells Julie back in Knightsbridge, ‘I saw Lady Jersey peering down from an upstairs window. I smiled in acknowledgement; but the moment I did she dodged away. Odd, no?’
‘Bizarre, I’d say,’ Julie says. ‘What a dreadful existence that poor Caroline leads…’
‘Indeed. But it isn’t anything like as tragic as that of her sister,’ he says. ‘She was locked away in a remote Danish castle by her husband, and then found dead in the dungeon… under very suspicious circumstances…’
‘Surely,’ says Julie superciliously, ‘they’re the only circumstances that leave one dead in a dungeon?’
‘True,’ he says. ‘But you’re right: Caroline’s life here is still unnecessarily awful. I’m going to do whatever I can for her…’
‘I see,’ says Julie, regarding him forensically. ‘And does that mean spending more time alone with her out there at Blackheath?’
‘Madame de St. Laurent!’ he declaims. ‘Are you jealous?’
‘It may be that I am, Major-General…It may well be I am…’
Mr. Pitt has now introduced an income tax of two shillings on the pound to help pay for the war. It is very far from popular and only applies to the wealthy. Taxing the poorer classes Is too complicated. We’re sending Admiral Sir Sydney Smith and the Royal Navy to assist the Ottoman Turks at Acre, in Haifa Bay on the eastern Mediterranean coast. Evidently on his way to Constantinople — and planning to march from there to take India — Bonaparte, having lost his fleet to Admiral Nelson, has now laid siege to the Acre fortress with 20,000 men. We’re going to trap him in the east – if the plague hasn’t already claimed him. He’s been out of touch with Paris for a year now, and the Directoire – a governing body largely comprising greedy plutocrats and war profiteers — fearing his popularity and power, hopes he’ll stay out of touch permanently. After his father’s murder, Grand Duke Alexander is now Czar, and the Russian alliance with Prussia and Austria has once more resumed. This allows us to rest easier, with the continental powers waging the war against France on our behalf. We’ll contribute some gold, but our armies can stay out in those parts of the Empire where they’re needed – which is where they can profit us rather than drain the exchequer.
The Duke of Kent’s journey with Julie to the River Avon Valley in Somerset, accompanied by Lieutenant-General Weatherall and a small escort of the Windsor Guard, is uneventful enough, though arduously long, a hundred miles over ruinous roads, and in unusually atrocious weather even for England. The city of Bath comes as something of a surprise. It was laid out earlier in the century by John Wood the Elder in a series of elegant crescents and broad squares built of creamy Bath limestone. The effect is regal indeed, a miniature of Nash’s new London. In spite the endless rain, the streets swarm with as many denizens as you’d see on the pavements of Mayfair. Edward’s party is lodged in a house owned by the fabulously wealthy Duke of Devonshire, overlooking the park on Royal Crescent. That same evening, before they’ve even settled in, a doctor named Poole arrives to explain the details of Edward’s regimen at the spa. It is rigorous, even hectic. Yet besides drinking the waters and taking various kinds of bath at various times of day, it also includes a packed schedule of social events, balls, dinners, concerts, drawing rooms, all of which he finds utterly superfluous to any curative process. He tells Poole he’ll adhere to his advice regarding the remedial waters but can promise no more. When the doctor has just left, a liveried servant appears bearing a teetering stack of some hundred invitations to this and that event, from this and that person. Except for three old friends, these persons are all strangers to him; thus, he feels no compunction to respond to their solicitations in any way at all. He looks forward to a rest and a cure, not a busy social life. He has no real liking for society, as we’ve seen, and no talent at the social graces. Whether the one is cause of the other is something the reader must decide, for the duke is silent on these matters.
‘I want to see the Roman baths and temple ruins,’ he says. ‘And that will be that. I shall read in peace. My ambitions go no further…’ If only this were true, he thinks.
‘What about us?’ says Julie, standing beside Weatherall and looking forlorn, her mouth theatrically downturned.
It has not yet occurred to him that Julie and Weatherall are very social people, enjoying the company of others that he prefers to shun. We all tend to assume that everyone’s tastes are just like our own. ‘I shall enjoy your company,’ he tells them, ‘…from my chaise right here…’ His massive brow nods at furniture in question and he smiles serenely.
Bath has been a spa town since the Roman occupation, and its hot springs have been enjoyed back into prehistory. After a fallow period, its popularity revived under George I, and it is now the main adjunct to London society. You’d think you were in Piccadilly: everybody’s here. It is very far from the restful retreat promoted by its owners and even by its patrons, most of who may claim to seek rest and recuperation when all they want is the same London society in a different setting with a change of air.
‘You can start on this,’ says Julie, throwing him a book. “It mentions Bath and might make the place more… amusing for you.” She means more of something else but he can’t decide what.
He opens the cover. It is The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett. He’d read it as a child and had then hated the fact that it was no story at all, but rather a disparate collection of letters. Yet his returns to Swift and Defoe have proved to him that books can richly repay a second visit from the land of experience; so he resolves to give Captain Smollett another chance, as many have done to their profit.
His first appointment the following morning is at what is called the ‘Pump Room’. Here he drinks the waters – turbid and sulphurous –which have an almost instant emetic effect. Then he is escorted to the baths. There are three separate ones: Royalty, Quality and Others. He’s been told Quality is the best, but his station forces him to bathe in Royalty. He’s not impressed. It is a vat of turgid tepid-hot brown water, with the crumbling remains of a temple to Jupiter surrounding it in untidy piles. But on this day, there is one strikingly unusual and unavoidably noticeable feature. Among his fellow bathers is the self-proclaimed Louis XVIII, Comte de Provence, the exiled rightful King of France since the young dauphin is now believed dead. He’s on a visit to England for the purpose of soliciting King George’s permission to allow him to reside here, since Bonaparte is making exile anywhere on the continent rather irksome. You’d have to live on the Baltic coast to be fairly certain republicanism wouldn’t roust you from bed at night. A bloated walrus-like figure sprawled across a stone slab in the bath, Louis is with his brother, the formerly dashing Comte d’Artois, now a scrawny armature of sagging flesh. The pair are courteous to Edward, but neither man is very talkative, except when the opportunity presents itself to curse Bonaparte, ‘that Corsican usurper’, and to maunder over their lost throne. Looking at Louis’ inflated marble flesh, Edward finds uncharitable thoughts flashing through his mind. Little about these brothers is regal now. Little is even dignified. He imagines the supreme pleasure that helping ruined Bourbons must be giving his father. There is a biblical apothegm about charity trumping revenge, but he cannot recall it. The hellish fetor of these waters seems to have a narcotic effect. To make you forget, he thinks, forget you ever parboiled yourself in this vat of sewage with remnants of the French monarchy.
Somewhat refreshed by his bath, however, dressed and outside the Stygian bathhouse, he is approached by a young lad of tidy appearance, holding a sheaf of pamphlets.
“Read all about the inefficacy of the waters!” the boy cries, proferring a pamphlet. “Only tuppence, good sir.”
He buys one, thanking the lad. The quarto is indeed titled On the Inefficacies of the Bath Waters; and the author is one Tobias Smollett, sailor and novelist. Julie will enjoy the coincidence, he tells himself complacently.
“How typical of you to find the only thing here designed to ruin our little holiday,” she says, tossing the pamphlet onto a table.
“Nonsense,” he tells her, clapping his big paws and trying to sound effervescent with good cheer. “We shall soon go to dinner, and then to a concert, possibly even a ball. I’m aglow with new health and all the pleasures that await us in life…” The forced professional smile on his face makes him feel like a crafty old crocodile, eye sockets just above the sludge.
‘Really?’ She looks at him quizzically, saying, “Your sentence seems to require a ‘but’, does it not. But what?”
“Well,” he confesses, “it would continue something like, ‘But I’m not sure the baths of Bath will be amongst those pleasures.’ The waters, on the other hand, seem somewhat worth pursuing.” He recounts his experiences of Pump Room and bath, finding her growing more sympathetic to his dislike of the latter. “You’ll never guess who I met in that cesspit though,” he says.
“Tobias Smollett?” she speculates.
“No, close, but not close enough. It was Louis XVIII.”
She shakes her head and utters a modest little laugh. “It’s only fitting you found him wallowing in filth,” she says, a tad bitterly, “since he’s spent most of his life doing nothing else, that fat pig…”
Edward is surprised by her sour tone. “Your king? Well, he’s convinced he’ll be back on the throne in Paris within months,” he says. “Did you know Bonaparte has returned safe and sound in France, and to a hero’s welcome?” D’Artois had told him this in the bath as a preliminary, or perhaps a caveat to bewailing a cruel and capricious fate.
A look of curious relief washes over Julie’s face. “How would I know that?” she asks peevishly.
“You hear things…”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Why so irritable?’
‘My time maybe?’ she suggests. ‘If Bonaparte is back the Bourbons won’t be, will they?’ It seems an odd thing to look relieved about.
Weatherall comes bounding in before Edward can pursue the issue with her.
“This place is busier than Mayfair,” says the lieutenant-general. “In a half-hour’s stroll I met five old acquaintances! My dance-card is already full…”
“Try the waters, Fred, and it will soon empty out…”
“Does this mean you’ll not be joining us for dinner?” Julie asks him, her tone as ambiguous as her mood.
“I’m afraid I shall hardly be joining you for anything, my lady,” replies Weatherall. “These are friends I haven’t seen in fifteen years – I can hardly refuse their invitations, can I?”
“Of course not.”
Edward agrees with her and, over the following week, they end up spending, as they always do when it’s possible, a delightful time a deux. He continues his patronage of the Pump Room, finding, as promised, that the waters gradually become more tolerable and their restorative virtues become more evident. The baths he eschews entirely. ‘My mother is always recommending them,’ he says, ‘but I sincerely doubt if she would ever lower herself into one of those cesspits…’
‘Well,’ says Julie, ‘whatever she’s doing works. She looks marvellous for her age…’
‘It’s the drinking human blood,’ he says. ‘And a broth made from the bones…’
‘I see,’ she says. ‘So that’s what happened to your two missing brothers, was it?’
‘And the Arran islanders…’