To my almost ecstatic delight I receive a letter from dear Mrs T-, dated from The Cape, which by the markings and stains has undergone many adventures on its way to me. Mrs T- is still quite extremely happy in her lot, though she confides that it is a pleasure to step onto dry land even if her legs still suppose her on deck. Mr T- remains the most excellent of husbands and much valu'd by the other members of the expedition, both for his scientifick capacities and his spiritual counsel (for being at sea during a high storm will give most to think about their latter end).
She finds the gentlemen of the expedition most friendly towards her, which she puts down to the great utility they find in her mathematickal abilities as well as the feminine arts of the needle - these have been of great service in mending and patching, and also in assisting Mr C-, the expedition surgeon. There is also a certain amount of play at cards to pass the time, but only for shell counters, and she and Mr T- are very cautious about seeming to win too often.
The gentlemen of the expedition, she goes on, although they will concede that certain women have prov'd most apt for intellectual endeavours, whether Mrs Carter that was a noted scholar of Antient Greek or Mrs Somerville, or, they are kind enough to say, you too, Mrs T-, debate whether such women are exceptional members of their sex, or whether, did girls have the same education and chances as boys, many more would show these abilities. Mr T- holds out strongly for the latter case, and says that many great dunces among men, that would be better put to some useful trade, are sent to the great universities and take no advantage, and he had rather see women that love learning in their places. But he is considered very radickal in these views, though I love him for them.
Oh, thinks I, if I only I could respond to dear Mrs T- and send her a copy of this book that Sandy so kindly gave me (which has quite replaced embroidery as the occupation of my idle moments). I am quite sure that both she and Mr T- would find it of the greatest interest and are surely better fitted to examine its arguments than myself, who have no great claim to intellectual abilities. It certainly makes a deal of sense.
Mrs T-'s letter continues with some account of observations made at the Cape. She writes most vividly and sure should write the book of her travels. I miss her exceedingly.
At this point Hector shows in Mrs O'C-, who appears in some agitation. I desire him to fetch us some strong coffee and urge her to sit down and disclose what the matter is.
O, my dear Madame C-, she says, already becoming lacrymose, Miss D- has made the most unjust accusation to me that I have been casting my eyes on Mr N-. I never thought of such a thing - all it is, is that he is so excruciating deliberate over deciding his play at cards that I try to use the power of my glance to urge him on, for it is very tedious of him and irks the entire table.
And anyway, she continues, I am in such a situation that I fear to encourage any that might become suitors for my favours (not that I would consider Mr N-), because of my wretched scoundrel wastrel of a husband. (O, I say, though I am already appriz'd of the fact, you are not a widow, Mrs O'C-?) I have refused to live with him these several years and he will go away and I think I have seen the last of him, but does he hear I have found a generous patron, he will not only come and take any money that I have put by (which I understand is his legal right, tho' I cannot think it just), he will pretend to be most injured and will threaten to bring a crim. con. action unless he is compensated. The worst of it is, gentlemen are very wont to suppose that there must be some confederacy between us, which is quite the reverse of the case.
She wipes her eyes and drinks her coffee. I said something of this to Miss D-, and she said to me, why did I not consider that there are men who have curious freaks of taste that do not involve fornication, such as, she understands, that nasty creature, Mr P-. She says she has never dealt with such herself but it is put about that there are those who make an excellent living in such manner, and that Madame C-, that is so well-informed on so many subjects, might advise me.
Well, I say, Mr P- may be a nasty creature, but he is one that is prepared to pay quite generously one that will indulge his peculiarity. I describe this to her and she blinks a little and says, why, I think I could manage that, and 'tis in no way adultery.
I outline to her some of the other freaks I have encountered, whether it is the pretending to be a dog and forced to eat from a bowl on the floor, or to be arrayed like a fine lady with the stays pulled very tight, or a passion for feet, as well as the very common desire to be whippt. She considers this all within her capabilities, and I say that I will put it about that Mrs O'C- is willing to provide certain special pleasures.
But my dear, I go on, why do you not try to obtain a separation? I did enquire at one time about that, she says, and unless there be violent cruelty I do not think it is possible: with all his numerous faults of character, he has never laid hands on me. Let me, I say, consult with advisers on this topic, for I daresay there may be some expedient.
At least, she says, my little boy is safe with my sister in Dublin, for the wretch will not dare to return there where he has many foes and a large number of debtors and would be immediately taken up. But I dare not have him with me because of that scoundrel, that always tells me what his rights as a husband are. She dabs at her eyes again.
While I see around me that there are men, like dear Mr F- and Mr T-, that are most excellent husbands (and Sir B- W- seems surprizingly admirable, though Lady W- has prudently kept her own fortune well-ty'd-up), it has always seemed to me that the law matrimonial gives undue rights that the worser kinds of men are happy to misuse. I console Mrs O'C-, make her a gift of some implements that I do not at present have use for, and determine to interrogate Mr MacD- on any possible legal recourse that might avail her.