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Batch 2, story 4



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Mr Josiah Shuttleworth was warming himself somewhat ineffectually before a spitting fire in an aura of candles and coalsmoke, with thumbs in waistcoat pockets and rocking on the balls of his feet, smirking. Ah, but she was a beauty: his golden girl.

“Mr Shuttle, my dear, whatever have you brought home this time? I really do not think –“

“ My dear Mrs Shuttle, do not blench. She is a work of art. I won her at cards. Is she not elegant? Poor Lieutenant Rotters was embarrassed for funds again.”

On the mantelpiece lay his latest, and most glorious, acquisition. Beneath her glass dome the naked and gilded goddess Diana rose from her bath, passing one hand through her hair while Actaeon the stag nuzzled her leg. She was sinuous. Maria Shuttleworth was not at all sinuous.

“ Mr Shuttle, we really must have an end to this. The children – Frankie! Eustace! Please go to the nursery.”

But the children were already sniggering. Frankie fell chortling against the red-faced and apoplectic Eustace so that they bumped into the whatnot, unbalancing its multitudinous bric a brac onto the floor.

“Mama, I can see her situpon.”

Papa turned his eye upon them. The children left. Papa followed. As he steamed out of the parlour, in swept Mrs Mason, the elderly vicar’s wife, with her spinster daughters and a whiff of lavender.

“Morning, Mrs Shuttleworth.”

“Good morning, Mrs Mason, Misses Mason – what a very pleasant surprise. May I offer you some tea?”

“No, no, Mrs Shuttleworth, we are on pastoral duties – Oh.”

Her mouth pursed. Following Mrs Mason’s line of sight, which had become transfixed, Maria noted the cause with dismay. She bustled around to cover the indiscretion of the goddess of war with an antimacassar. Mrs and Misses Mason left promptly, pink-cheeked from the blaze in the homely Shuttleworth hearth, although not before three cups of the restoring brew.

Maria called down to the kitchen: “Rebeckah, fetch me the hammer.”

In her dressing room, Maria wrapped the pieces in brown paper, and placed them in the commode.

“You’re not so sinuous now, my lady,” she sniffed.

Downstairs in the parlour, a convocation had begun in which the parson, with coat-tails raised to warm the whole of his trembling body before the white-hot fire, was holding forth thus:

“Yes,” he continued, “she was acquired by my great grandfather in Italy on his Grand Tour. She was always said to be of sixteenth-century Venetian origin and worth all of a hundred guineas. The name of the great sculptor Fiorenzicci is inscribed on the base. I should be so grateful for her restoration to her rightful home. That blackguard, my nephew Rotters –“

“Reverend, please!” whispered his wife.

“Algernon, my dear friend! I should be so glad to be of service to you. I am only sorry that I shall be deprived of the pleasure of her Olympian gracefulness,” cried Josiah. “I believe she has been removed to a place of safekeeping. I shall fetch my beloved wife immediately, and all shall be resolved.”

A large coal tumbled from the grate and smouldered on the hearth.

Copyright © 2003 LS


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