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4. Margaret's Coffin

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His jingle-brained cousin having been thrown into gaol for debt, Herriard goes running to his friend Edwin for help and intercession in various directions.  As all of them belong to the upper orders and Beau Brummell has just begun his reign over the World of Fashion, it is certainly not the thing to go visiting prisons or anywhere, really, beyond Charing Cross.  Very reluctantly, Edwin shifts himself accordingly, and while loitering in a gaol-house corridor, he sees a fresh, young charity worker, who smells of soap … and who comes with strange and mysterious baggage.  Edwin just cannot resist.

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Anne Hauden©


                        It was a bright morning and the air very clear, that was to say, for an urban location at least; it was early too, for those who passed their days in nothing of use to do, thô late for men and women concerned with business, domestic order and the routine of comfortable survival according to custom and norm, for already, if one stood on the southern reaches of the bridges, or paused on the south bank of the river westward of the Redriff Wharves or the swarming borough of Southwark, it could be seen that the atmosphere was well laden with the haze, in a blanket above the roof tops, that the smoke from several hundred chimneys had been making since chambermaids had lit fires, cooks stoked stoves and bakers fired ovens all at some unseasonable hour before dawn.  After all, it was the season to be chilly, for if the supposedly ill winds of winter had long gone, the Earth had yet sufficiently to be warmed before gentlemen troubled no more to heat their houses.  Of course, there was a breeze, too strong and brisk to be the zephyr much sung of in poetry, especially when encountered about street corners or in certain thoroughfares, in the form of a powerful draught, for that was what a breeze became in a township composed of tall buildings and blocks of terraces – and London Town was notoriously draughty for all that, particularly about the wider roads and squares developing beyond the City of Westminster, turning into fashionable dwellings the disreputable old fairground of the May Fair, or even the rural Bloomsbury estate.  At least it was not dusty, for when sharp currents of wind typical of the capital blew into the face and clothes of a pedestrian, they were usually generous enough to choke and smear him with some dry, argillaceous debris, commonly deposited on and lifted up from the paving stones and cobbles, but it had been recently and intermittently too wet of weather and too early in the year for that. 

            Nevertheless, anyone, out of doors and on foot, clinging to his hat, tottering every time he turned a corner or traversed a junction and, lurching whenever the winds raised his cloak about his shoulders or threatened to blow it between his nether limbs, was not going to count the absence of dust as an uncommon blessing and, on this fine spring morn, there was one such unfortunate readily cursing the breezes – or whatever they were – as he made his awkward way among the streets of St. James’s, past rows of elegant porticos supported by columns and, under neat windows, some crowned by arches or pediments, behind which folk dwelt and played à la mode as far as their incomes or their gumption would allow them.  There were not so very many people about, for the fresh-faced country girls whom milk-sellers hired to hawk milk had almost compleated their ‘walks’, as each round was called and, most of the tradesmen required to call or deliver usually began as early in the day.  This was no mercantile locus where merchants, brokers and clerks might be seen bustling about, and it was too soon for the modish ladies and the fancy gentlemen to emerge, respectively, in their soft shawls and close, plumed bonnets and muslin draperies or, their smooth coats and gleaming boots and immaculate linens, riding in an assortment of vehicles from the large and stately barouche to the squashed, high, unwieldy carrick.

            Thus, perhaps, it was a little strange that someone was abroad now, dressed up in clothes of a cloth and cut which could only have come from the most exclusive of Bond Street drapers and tailors, even if the exquisite tailcoat was partly hidden under a greatcoat with...

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An old, impecunious nobleman lives with his family in his shambles of a country castle, and to make good his failed finances, means to marry off his eldest daughter to a wealthy but disreputable rake – who, on visiting to meet his intended, immediately exercises his roving eye. The trouble is, he also comes with a loaded past that reflects very luridly on his present and has a cynical family of his own.

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Grateful thanks to The Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut,
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.,
Michael Judkins, at Pexels.