Cotillion, p.15
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       Cotillion, p.15

           Georgette Heyer
 

  ‘My dear Kitty, why did you not tell me so?’ said Mr Westruther, quite shocked. ‘Had I had the least suspicion of this very natural desire—! But it is not too late, I believe, to rectify my omissions! I have reason to think that one of your French relations is even now in London. Let me assure you that I shall lose no time in bringing him to visit you! You will like him excessively—a man of the first rank and character, I am persuaded! Dearest Meg, I must tear myself away from you—positively I must! Past ten o’clock, and I pledged to present myself at the Rockcliffes’ not an instant later than half-past nine! I must obviously make haste, or I shall be guilty of unpunctuality. I kiss your hands, my charmer, and Kitty’s cheek. Oh, you have no occasion to blush, absurd child! Recollect that I was your first love—in your nursery-days, of course, so Freddy must not take umbrage!’

  Her colour was indeed heightened, but she said, stammering a little: ‘Yes, indeed you w-were, but Freddy won’t take umbrage at that, for you are precisely a schoolgirl’s notion of what a romantic hero should be, Jack!’

  The laughter was back in his yes. ‘A doubler!’ he said.

  Her own gaze fell; she said hurriedly: ‘But tell me! Who is this relation of mine, pray?’

  ‘The Chevalier d’Evron. Rely upon me to make him known to you!’

  A friendly nod to Freddy, and he was gone. Kitty said doubtfully: ‘Who can it be? I never heard of such a person, you know!’

  ‘If you ask me,’ said Freddy, in a mood of dark scepticism, ‘it’s a hum! Playing off his tricks, that’s what I thought!’

  ‘Why, whatever can you mean?’ cried Meg. ‘He said the Chevalier was a man of the first rank and character!’

  ‘Heard him,’ replied Freddy. ‘Might not have thought it was a bubble, if he hadn’t said that. Dashed smoky, that’s what it is! I know Jack! If this Chevalier of his is one of Kit’s relations, willing to lay you a monkey he turns out to be a dirty dish!’ He saw that he had alarmed and slightly offended Miss Charing, and added kindly: ‘No need to take a pet! Very likely thing to happen! Everyone has ’em in the family. We have. Well, you ask Meg if it ain’t so!’

  ‘Yes, very true!’ corroborated his sister. ‘And they always arrive, without the least warning, to spend a long visit just when one is giving a ton party!’

  ‘Under a cloud, and telling you there’s an execution in the house,’ nodded Freddy.

  ‘Oh, you are thinking of Alfred Standen, and poor Papa having to pay all his debts! But what is much worse, Freddy, is people like Cousin Maria, really delighting in being shabby-genteel! But there is not the least reason to suppose that the Chevalier is not perfectly respectable!’

  ‘Lay you a monkey he ain’t,’ replied Freddy obstinately.

  Neither lady accepted the wager, which, in the event, was a fortunate circumstance for him. Nothing was seen in Berkeley Square of Mr Westruther during the succeeding two days, a defection on his part which would have troubled Miss Charing much more had she not been so sunk in dissipation as scarcely to notice it. Lady Buckhaven might say that London in March was as dull as could be, but in Miss Charing’s eyes all was wonderful, from Carlton House to an itinerant vendor of hot pies. She was determined to see all the sights, and to Mr Standen fell the task of escorting her on an extensive and exhausting tour of the town. His dismay at learning what was expected of him held him speechless for a full minute, a space of time occupied by Miss Charing in reciting a list of the historic edifices she wished to see, which made his eyes start from his head with horror. He managed to utter an inarticulate protest which made her pause and look enquiringly at him. ‘No, dash it, Kit!’ he said. ‘You can’t think I’m going to totter all over London looking at a lot of buildings I don’t want to see! Very happy to take you driving in the Park, but that’s coming it too strong, my dear girl!’

  Her face fell. ‘Meg thought you would take me,’ she faltered. ‘She says there can be no objection.’

  ‘Oh, she does, does she?’ said Freddy, justly incensed. ‘Well, if that’s what she thinks why don’t she take you herself? Tell me that!’

  ‘But, Freddy, indeed, I think she should not, in her situation! Might she not find it too fatiguing?’

  ‘I should rather think she would! Anyone would!’ said Freddy. ‘For the lord’s sake, Kit, don’t make such a goose of yourself! You’d be knocked into horse-nails!’

  ‘No, no, I am persuaded I should not!’

  ‘Well, I should!’ said Freddy bluntly. ‘Besides, I don’t know anything about these curst places you want to see! Couldn’t tell you anything about ’em!’

  ‘Oh, but that need not signify! Look, I purchased this book in Hatchard’s shop this morning, and it tells one everything! It is called The Picture of London, and it says here that it is a correct guide to all the Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments, and Remarkable Objects in and near London, made for the use of Strangers, Foreigners, and all Persons who are not intimately acquainted with the Metropolis!’

  Freddy regarded the fat little volume with an eye of fascinated abhorrence. ‘Kit!’ he ejaculated. ‘No, really, Kit! Not yourself! Can’t be! Nice pair of flats we should look, going all over town with a dashed guide book!’

  She looked wistfully at him. ‘Would you dislike it so very much? I won’t tease you—only I have longed all my life to see St Paul’s, and Westminster Abbey, and the Waxworks, and the Guildhall, and London Bridge, and the Tower, and perhaps I may never have the opportunity again!’ Her voice broke on an unmistakable sob, but she swallowed resolutely, and laid the guide book aside, saying, with an uncertain smile: ‘I won’t think of it any more, I promise you! I wouldn’t have mentioned it if I had had the least notion it would be disagreeable to you, for indeed, Freddy, I am not unmindful of how deep I am in your debt!’

  ‘Now, my dear girl!’ expostulated Freddy. ‘Kit, for the lord’s sake—! Oh, very well!’

  A radiant face was turned towards him. ‘You will, Freddy!’ Miss Charing cried joyfully. ‘You will take me? Oh, Freddy, how very good you are! I can never be sufficiently obliged to you!’

  So Miss Charing, squired by Mr Standen, and armed with The Picture of London (Price Five Shillings, Bound in Red), set forth on a tour of the Metropolis in Lady Legerwood’s town carriage, borrowed for the occasion by Mr Standen, who doubted his ability to discover the locality of the various places of interest his betrothed was desirous of visiting, and so, with rare acumen, decided to entrust this task to his mother’s coachman rather than to attempt to find the way in his own natty tilbury.

  Their first port of call was naturally Westminster Abbey. Had Mr Standen had his way, it would also have been their last. Fresh as paint, and full of enthusiasm, Miss Charing was determined to miss nothing, even dragging Freddy to the twelve chapels, where an attendant verger took them in charge, and imparted a great deal of information to them in a way that caused Freddy to whisper in Miss Charing’s ear that he couldn’t stand much more of this sort of thing, because it made him feel he was back at Eton. He conducted himself very creditably at Shakespeare’s grave, saying that at all events he knew who he was, and adding a further touch of erudition by telling Kitty an interesting anecdote of having escorted his mother to the theatre once to see Kean in Hamlet, and of having dreamt, during this memorable performance, that he walked smash into a fellow he hadn’t set eyes on for years. ‘And, by Jove, that’s just what I did do, the very next day!’ he said. ‘Not that I wanted to, mind you, but there it was!’ He admitted that he was glad to have seen the Coronation Chair; but the dilapidated effigies in the Henry the Seventh Chapel, in particular the ghoulish countenance of Queen Elizabeth, proved to be his breaking-point. He said that he had never seen such a set of rum touches in his life, and represented to Miss Charing in the strongest terms that another five minutes spent in the chapel would make them both feel as blue as megrim. Miss Charing agreed that the effigies were horr
id, and said she believed that Mme Tussaud’s figures were superior. But when they reached the Hanover Square Rooms, where Miss Fishguard had once seen this famous collection, the luck favoured Freddy: Mme Tussaud’s exhibition had been removed to Blackheath years ago, and was now thought to be touring the country. Kitty was disappointed, but she bore up well, saying that they would instead visit the British Museum. However, reference to The Picture of London presented her with a piece of quelling information. ‘Spectators,’ stated this invaluable handbook, ‘are allowed three hours for visiting the whole, one hour for each of the three departments.’

  ‘Do you mean to tell me that if we go inside the place we shall have to stay for three hours?’ demanded Freddy. ‘Why, I daresay we could do the thing in three minutes! What have we got to see there?’

  ‘Well,’ said Kitty, in a daunted voice, ‘I must say it doesn’t sound very interesting! The book says that there is one department devoted to Manuscripts and Medals, and one to Natural and Artificial Products, and the third is Printed Books.’

  ‘You don’t mean it!’ Freddy ejaculated. ‘The thing’s a dashed take-in! A pretty set of bubble-merchants they must be, the fellows that look after that place! I’ll tell you what, Kit: it’s a fortunate thing you brought that book! Why, if we hadn’t had it we should have been done brown as a pair of berries! Wonder if m’father knows about it?’

  ‘Well, I don’t think we need visit it,’ said Kitty. She flicked over the pages of the guide book, but suddenly bethought her of her hostess’s parting admonition. ‘Oh, Meg said I must go to see the marbles which Lord Elgin brought from Greece! She says everyone has seen them! They are at Burlington House, she told me.’

  Freddy said severely that it was a pity she had not remembered the marbles before they came to Hanover Square, but he gave the direction to the coachman, and confided, as the carriage wended its way southward again, that he would not object to taking a look at them. ‘Deuce of a dust kicked up about ’em!’ he said. ‘Seem to be all the crack, though.’

  But when, having, as he put it, dropped the blunt for two tickets of admission and a catalogue, he confronted these treasures of ancient Greece, he was quite dumbfounded, and only recovered his voice when he was called upon to admire the Three Fates, from the eastern pediment. ‘Dash it, they’ve got no heads!’ he protested.

  ‘No, but you see, Freddy, they are so very old! They have been damaged!’ explained Miss Charing.

  ‘Damaged! I should rather think so! They haven’t got any arms either! Well, if this don’t beat the Dutch! And just look at this, Kit!’

  ‘Birth of Athene from the brain of Zeus,’ said Kitty, consulting the catalogue.

  ‘Birth of Athene from what?’

  ‘The central groups, which are the most important features of the composition, are missing,’ said Kitty, in propitiating accents. ‘And the catalogue says that the metopes are not in good preservation either, so perhaps we should just study the frieze, which is excessively beautiful!’

  But the disclosure that he had been maced of his blunt by a set of persons whom he freely characterized as hell-kites only to see a collection of marbles of which the main parts were missing so worked upon him that he could not be brought to recognize the merits of the frieze, but seemed instead to be so much inclined to seek out the author of this attempt to gull the public that Kitty hastily announced her wish to visit St Paul’s Cathedral, and coaxed him out of the building.

  During the drive to the City, Kitty diligently studied her handbook. She was conscious of a slight feeling of fatigue, so when she discovered that the guide thought poorly of the interior of St Paul’s, likening it, in fact, to a vast vault, she fell in with Freddy’s suggestion that they should content themselves with a view of the exterior. After this, she thought, they ought to drive to Cornhill, to look at the Bank of England, and the Royal Exchange. But here again The Picture of London came to Freddy’s rescue. ‘It is unnecessary to describe minutely such architecture as that of the Royal Exchange,’ stated the guide austerely. ‘It is of a mixed kind, in bad taste.’

  ‘Well, there’s no sense in going to look at that!’ said Freddy, relieved. ‘What’s it say about the Bank of England?’

  ‘“One of the wonders of commerce; and one of the abortions of art,”’ read out Miss Charing.

  ‘Is it, though? Well, that settles it! We needn’t go to Cornhill at all. You know, Kit, that’s a dashed good book! We can go home now!’

  ‘Yes, for we should scarcely have time to visit the Tower, I suppose,’ agreed Kitty. ‘Only do you think we should see some of the prisons?’

  ‘See the prisons?’ exclaimed Freddy. ‘Why?’

  ‘Well, I don’t precisely know, but the book says that “no stranger who visits London should omit to view these mansions of misery.”’

  But Freddy decided that they had had enough misery for one day, and bade the coachman drive back to Berkeley Square, reminding Miss Charing, when she suggested that they ought, perhaps, to pause at the Temple on the way, that since she was accompanying Meg to an informal party that evening it would not do for her to be late in returning home. She agreed to this, consoling herself with the reflection that the Temple might easily be visited on their way to the Tower on the morrow.

  Freddy groaned, but attempted no remonstrance. Any hope that he might have cherished that Miss Charing would be too weary to embark upon a second voyage of exploration was slain by her appearance on the following morning, dressed in a very smart habit, and obviously in fine fettle. She took her place beside him in the carriage, drew The Picture of London from her muff, and proved to him, by reading aloud from this book, that it clearly behooved her to see the Guildhall on the way to the Tower. This ordeal behind them, the rest of the day was spent more agreeably than Freddy had expected. He would not have chosen to waste his time in such a fashion, and he could only deprecate Miss Charing’s determination to omit no corner of the various buildings from her tour; but he was pleasantly surprised to find that the Tower housed a fine collection of wild beasts; and he was even roused to real interest in the Mint, where they were allowed to watch the stamping of various coins. A tendency on Miss Charing’s part to brood over the sufferings of such former visitors to the Tower as Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh he quelled, saying that there was no sense in falling into a fit of the dismals about things which had happened in the Middle Ages; and a moving account of the behaviour of the Princess Elizabeth at the Traitors’ Gate quite failed to impress him.

  ‘Silly thing to do!’ he remarked. ‘Shouldn’t wonder at it if she caught a chill. I had an uncle who got soaked to the skin once. Had an inflammation of the lungs. Dead as a herring within the week. Come along, let us take a look at this Ladies’ Line they talk about!’

  It was upon their return from this expedition, and while Kitty was still describing to Meg some of the things she had seen, that Mr Jack Westruther paid a formal call in Berkeley Square, and brought with him the Chevalier d’Evron.

  Any apprehensions engendered by Freddy’s gloomy forebodings were put to flight on the instant. The Chevalier was a handsome young man, with a lively, intelligent pair of eyes, beautifully glossy locks of a light brown, cut and curled à la cherubim, and an air and deportment worthy of the first circles. His long-tailed coat of bottle-green had obviously been fashioned for him by a master; his fawn pantaloons admirably became a pair of really excellent legs; his linen was meticulously starched; and his Hessian boots would have furnished anyone with a very tolerable mirror. If Mr Westruther, a careless beau, thought those cherubim ringlets a trifle effeminate; and Mr Standen, a high stickler, considered the Chevalier’s waistcoat to be rather too florid, these were faults of style which the ladies were easily able to overlook. The Chevalier’s bow almost put Freddy’s to shame; air and address were alike distinguished; and when, to the advantages of a handsome face and a good figure, he was found to add a very slight fo
reign accent to his speech, his success with the fair sex was assured.

  Kitty, who had been staring at him while he bowed over Meg’s hand, exclaimed suddenly: ‘But—You are Camille!’

  He turned towards her, smiling. ‘But yes! I am Camille, little cousin! I did not dare to think that I could hold a place in your memory. Tell me, I beg of you!—did she long survive my surgery, that blonde beauty? Alas, that I should have forgotten her name!’

  She laughed, warmly shaking hands with him. ‘Rosabel—and indeed she survived for many years! I am so happy to see you again! I hope my uncle, and your brother, are both well?’

  ‘I thank you, very well. And your amiable guardian?’

  ‘Yes, indeed. Are you upon a visit to England? Where do you stay?’

  He told her that he was lodging in Duke Street, which, however little it might convey to country-bred Kitty, served to convince Meg that his domicile was as unimpeachable as his manners. Very well-pleased to add so personable a young man to her circle, she extended to him an invitation to a small rout-party she was holding three days later. He accepted with just the right degree of gratitude, and took his leave, after a visit lasting for a correct half-hour, in an atmosphere of general approval, even Freddy acknowledging that he seemed to be a tolerable fellow. It had transpired, during the course of conversation, that he, like Lady Buckhaven and the engaged couple, meant to be present at the Non-Pareil Theatre that evening, to see a new play which was being put on there; he begged to be allowed to visit her ladyship’s box during the interval, was accorded a gracious permission, and bowed himself out in a manner which led Meg to say that only a man accustomed to move in the world of ton could get himself out of a room with such ease and grace.

  Kitty was so much delighted to have met again one of whom she cherished the kindest memories that her transports might have been expected to have cast her betrothed into agonies of jealousy. Mr Standen managed without effort to preserve his equanimity, a fact of which his cousin’s amused eyes took due note.

 
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