Cotillion, p.21
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       Cotillion, p.21

           Georgette Heyer
 

  An involuntary gurgle of mirth drew his eyes towards the Attendant Nymph. He raised his quizzing-glass with an air of hauteur, but speedily allowed it to fall again. No quizzing-glass, however magnifying its lens, could avail against Miss Charing’s clear, unwavering gaze. From the crown of his jauntily-poised beaver to the toes of his polished boots, Miss Charing surveyed him, critically, but with indulgence. For a horrid moment it seemed to him that she detected the tight corsets he wore; and knew that the glowing chestnut hue of his curled and oiled locks could only be ascribed to the exertions of his barber. In the agitation of this moment, he failed to assimilate the introduction stammeringly performed by Miss Broughty. A lifetime of self-satisfaction came to his rescue; he realized that the Attendant Nymph’s rapt gaze could only spring from admiration of so complete a Bond Street Lounger; favoured her with a nod, and a smile not pronounced enough to disturb the maquillage which so cleverly hid the wrinkles in his face, and turned his attention to Miss Broughty. ‘Fair Amaryllis!’ he said. ‘It is not too much to say that you adorn the spring! All our beauties are cast into the shade, I protest!’

  ‘No, that’s not right, sir,’ said the well-read Miss Charing, painstakingly helpful. ‘“To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,” and quite ineligible!’

  Sir Henry sustained a severe shock. His jaw dropped, and he groped again for his quizzing-glass, and raised it, this time with every intention of depressing pretension. Miss Charing’s wide gray eyes observed this manœuvre with interest. The glass dropped; Sir Henry said, showing all his excellent, if not genuine, teeth in an unloving smile: ‘Very witty, Miss—er—Scorton!’

  ‘You cannot have been attending, sir,’ said Kitty reprovingly. ‘I am Miss Charing, not Miss Scorton.’

  ‘Oh, I beg pardon! I did not immediately perceive—! Ah, exactly so! You are not Miss Broughty’s cousin, ma’am! Ten thousand pardons! My dear Miss Broughty, you are unattended—you have no footman—no maid! You must allow me to escort you!’

  Olivia, thrown into the greatest discomfort, knew not how to counter this. Her companion was made of sterner stuff. ‘Unattended, Sir Henry? When you yourself knew me for an Attendant Nymph!’ exclaimed Miss Charing. ‘Indeed, we shall not put you to so much trouble!’

  He protested that he could know no greater pleasure, talked archly of the distinction of having a lovely lady on either arm, and interspersed these compliments with broad hints to Kitty to take herself off, so that there seemed to be no possibility of getting rid of him. But when they had walked a few hundred yards salvation appeared in equestrian guise. Kitty, idly looking at the carriages and the horsemen, suddenly perceived her French cousin, trotting towards them on a brown hack. She waved; he saw her; and at once drew up, sweeping off his hat, and bowing. ‘My cousin! But what a coup de bonheur! They tell me that to be gent du monde in England I must ride in the Park, so behold me, mounted, à grands frais, upon a slug! I have my reward, cependant quoi qu’il en soit!’ He laughed down into Kitty’s eyes, saw in them an unmistakeable message, glanced at Sir Henry, and at once swung himself lightly out of the saddle, twitching his bridle over the hired hack’s head, and saying: ‘You will permit me to go with you, cousin?’

  Much pleased with this swift, Gallic comprehension, Kitty said: ‘Oh, we shall be delighted to have your escort, Camille! Sir Henry here—oh, let me make you known to my cousin, the Chevalier d’Evron, Sir Henry!—has been so obliging as to turn his steps aside to accompany us, but now that you are come we need no longer trespass upon his good-nature!’ She then turned, and held out her hand to Sir Henry, adding brightly: ‘Goodbye! It was so kind in you!’

  There was nothing for him to do but to take his dismissal with what grace he could muster. The Chevalier, having discovered Miss Broughty, averted his eyes from her countenance with an effort, and bowed again, saying with mechanical civility: ‘Au plaisir de vous revoir, m’sieur!’

  Sir Henry executed a bow, glared for a moment at the handsome young Frenchman, and walked away, jauntily twirling his cane. Kitty, observing that the Chevalier’s gaze had returned to her blushing friend’s face, hastily repaired an omission. ‘My dear Miss Broughty, you must allow me to present to you my cousin, the Chevalier d’Evron!’

  ‘How do you do?’ whispered Olivia, putting out her hand, and blushing more furiously than ever.

  ‘Mademoiselle!’ breathed the Chevalier, taking the little hand reverently in his, and holding it as a man might hold a rare bird.

  Thirteen

  Never had there been a clearer case of love at first sight! As the Chevalier stood, tenderly holding the little gloved hand in his, while his gaze devoured the flower-like face, Olivia raised her eyes to his in a look of wonder, as though she had been an enchanted maiden awakened from long, dreamless sleep. Kitty, interestedly watching, thought that they exchanged hearts in that moment, and was quite sorry when a recollection of their surroundings made each look away. Olivia recovered her hand, and the Chevalier began at once to talk in his vivacious style to Kitty. He walked beside them, leading his horse, and when they would have parted from him at the Stanhope Gate, declared that he had been on his way to the livery-stables when he had encountered them, and wished to ride no more. He escorted them along Mount Street; and Kitty, much enjoying her first efforts at matchmaking, begged them to stroll on towards Berkeley Square while she paused at the Legerwood house, to enquire after the invalids. When she presently overtook them, they were conversing with the ease of long friendship, or perfect understanding; and the Chevalier had begged leave to stable his horse, and to return immediately to Lady Buckhaven’s house, that he might have the privilege of driving Olivia back to Hans Crescent. Kitty could only admire such ready address. The Chevalier certainly had no carriage in England, but she did not doubt that he would contrive to beg, borrow, or hire a suitable vehicle. Nor was she disappointed: in a surprisingly short space of time he presented himself in Meg’s drawing-room, leaving a groom from the livery-stables he patronized in charge of a neat phaeton-and-pair.

  He arrived to find the elder Miss Scorton sitting with Kitty and Olivia, and Kitty could have laughed aloud to see the look of chagrin that flickered in his eyes. But Olivia’s cousin Eliza, a kind, vulgar spinster of uncertain age and romantic disposition, had no notion of spoiling sport. She had indeed come to bear Olivia company on her way home, but one glance at the Chevalier’s excellent riding-dress and indefinable air of affluence was enough to convince her that here was a possible parti for her beautiful little cousin who combined wealth with attributes still more alluring to the female mind; and she lost no time in breaking into a voluble explanation of the several reasons which made it inconvenient for her to take Olivia back to Hans Crescent for at least an hour. She then took leave of Miss Charing, and departed, but not, rather unfortunately, before Lady Buckhaven came in. Meg received her protestations with civility, but coolly; and when she and Kitty were presently left alone she said, in a pet, that she wished Kitty would not invite such vulgar creatures to her house.

  Kitty was contrite, but she was able to assure her hostess that Miss Scorton had no notion of encroaching. ‘She came only to escort Olivia home, you know. But, Meg, did you observe my cousin? I declare to you he no sooner clapped eyes on Olivia than he had no eyes for anyone else! It is the most famous thing!’

  But Meg did not think it a famous thing at all. ‘Of course I observed your cousin, and I must say, Kitty, I think it is foolish beyond permission to encourage such a thing! The Chevalier and a girl with such low connections? You must be mad to think of it!’

  ‘Oh, fiddle!’ Kitty said. ‘You will own that her birth is respectable, and as for her connections, why, Camille will take her away to France, and they need never be troubled by Mrs Broughty, or the Scortons!’

  ‘You can know nothing of relations if that is what you think!’ said Meg tartly. ‘Good gracious, I wonder that Freddy will let you make such a goosecap of yourself!’


  Miss Charing refrained from explaining that it was not in Mr Standen’s power to control any of her actions. She guessed that Meg would lose no time in telling Freddy, and was fully prepared to counter opposition from that quarter. But Freddy, rubbing his nose as he always did when at a stand, merely said in a thoughtful voice: ‘Shouldn’t wonder if you were to catch cold at that, Kit.’

  ‘Why, what do you mean?’

  ‘Don’t think it’ll fadge,’ said Freddy.

  ‘Oh, you are thinking of those dreadful Scortons, I daresay! I own, if Camille were an Englishman it might not do, but consider!—he is here only upon a visit, and it is not to be supposed that Mrs Broughty or her sister will for ever be journeying into France! Indeed, I should be astonished if they went there at all! To Olivia herself there can be not the least objection!’

  ‘Got a notion Mrs Broughty won’t like it,’ said Freddy.

  She stared at him. ‘But why should she not? Besides, I have learnt that Camille was received by her when he drove Olivia to Hans Crescent that day, and nothing could have exceeding her affability!’

  Freddy looked vaguely distressed, and rubbed his nose harder than ever.

  ‘But, Freddy—!’

  In Freddy’s pocket there nestled a brief note from Lord Legerwood, informing him that he could discover no noble French family bearing the patronymic of Evron. ‘Of “my uncle the Marquis,”’ wrote Lord Legerwood, ‘there is no discoverable trace. One feels that the creation of this peer was a mistake. One is further tempted to hazard the conjecture that your Chevalier may well prove to be a chevalier d’industrie . . . ’

  Freddy looked at Miss Charing, whose innocent eyes were fixed enquiringly upon his face, and coloured. ‘French, y’know!’ he said. ‘Been at war with the Frogs so long—!’

  Miss Charing was satisfied, and laughed away such doubts. Freddy, foreseeing that Mrs Broughty, as well as himself, might be inspired to make certain enquiries, perceived shoals ahead, and looked unhappier than ever. His sister would have been glad had she been able to persuade him to remonstrate with his betrothed on her friendship with Olivia; for although Mrs Broughty, content to have insinuated her daughter into the genteel stronghold of the Buckhaven mansion, did not herself attempt to gain the entrée there, Meg lived in constant dread that she would one day do so. She told Freddy that she feared to be dragged into the Scorton-set: if Mrs Broughty presented herself in Berkeley Square she would not know how to refuse her admittance. Freddy replied, in a practical spirit, that such knowledge was unnecessary. ‘Only have to tell Skelton you ain’t at home: he’ll do the rest. Dash it, that’s what butlers are for!’

  ‘Oh, well, if you don’t care for me,’ said Meg crossly, ‘I wonder you should not care for Kitty’s getting herself into a scrape, as she very likely will!’

  ‘Don’t see why she should,’ responded Freddy obstinately.

  Meg was in low spirits, suffering from the little malaises of pregnant women, which made her say with a fretfulness alien to her character: ‘How can you be so stupid? That sort of thing always leads to trouble! It is all kindness, and I am sure I am quite as sorry for Miss Broughty as anyone, but one cannot make a friend of everybody in distressing circumstances! Only, Kitty has been about the world so little she does not understand, and you do not make the least push to set her right!’

  ‘Yes, I do!’ said Freddy, stung by this unjust remark. ‘If it hadn’t been for me, she’d have been going all over town in that devilish hat you told her was all the crack!’

  ‘It was all the crack!’ exclaimed Meg, sitting upright on the sofa in her indignation. ‘Only you are so gothic and stuffy! You would not let her purchase it, just because you had never seen one of the new jockey-bonnets before! So I did, and it has been very much admired, let me tell you!’

  ‘What?’ ejaculated Freddy, roused to real dismay. ‘Good God, Meg, you ain’t such a sapskull as to put a lilac coal-scuttle on that yaller head of yours?’

  ‘A great many persons of exquisite taste,’ his sister informed him in trembling accents, ‘have told me that I look excessively becomingly in it!’

  ‘A great many gapeseeds!’ said Freddy witheringly. ‘It’s time m’mother left the young ’uns to Nurse to look after, and stopped you making a figure of yourself! No, really, Meg! Might consider me, you know! Might consider Mama, too! Do us credit!’

  ‘Like Kitty! Permitting you to tell her what she may wear, and what she may not! I wonder she will listen to you!’

  ‘Sensible little thing, Kit,’ said Freddy. ‘Does do me credit! M’father was saying so only the other day.’

  ‘Well, she does look remarkably well, I own,’ said Meg, ‘but in one way, Freddy—and I don’t say it out of spite, for I love her dearly!—she doesn’t do you any credit at all. And Mama has heard of it, for she is not still looking after the children, and she asked me if it were true, and what could be the meaning of it? Of course I turned it off, and indeed I don’t believe a word of it, but—why does she let Dolph attach himself to her so particularly?’

  But here Freddy felt himself to be upon acutely assailable ground, and he beat a retreat. A visit to Mount Street the following day did nothing to heal the wound to his amour propre, for although Lord Legerwood made no reference whatsoever to the intrusions of Dolphinton, Lady Legerwood was not similarly reticent. In deep concern, she informed him that the few particular friends to whom she had confided the news of his engagement were quite in a puzzle to know what to think of Miss Charing’s predilection for Lord Dolphinton’s society. It was not, therefore, surprising that when, a few days later, Mr Standen, bowling along Piccadilly in his tilbury, reached the bottom of Old Bond Street in time to see Miss Charing, accompanied by Lord Dolphinton, enter the portals of the Egyptian Hall, upon the south side of the street, he should have been moved to pull up abruptly, to consign his carriage to the care of his groom, and to cross Piccadilly in a purposeful manner.

  The Egyptian Hall, which had been erected four years previously, was otherwise known as Bullock’s Museum, and contained curiosities from the South Seas, from North and South America; a collection of armoury, and works of art; and had lately received, as an additional attraction, the Emperor Napoleon’s travelling-carriage. Its cognomen was derived from the style of its architecture, which included inclined pilasters ornamented with hieroglyphics. It was an imposing edifice, but it had not previously tempted Mr Standen to inspect its many marvels. Nor, when he had penetrated beyond the vestibule, did he waste time in studying the exhibits tastefully arranged around the walls. The only object in which he was interested was found seated primly upon a chair, a catalogue in her gloved hands, and her gaze fixed thoughtfully upon the model of a Red Indian chief in full panoply of war. Of Lord Dolphinton there was no sign, a circumstance which caused Mr Standen to exclaim, quite contrary to his intention: ‘Well, if this don’t beat the Dutch! First the fellow brings you to a devilish place like this, and then he dashed well leaves you here!’

  ‘Freddy!’ cried Miss Charing, jumping almost out of her skin.

  ‘And don’t you say Freddy to me!’ added Mr Standen severely. ‘I told you I wouldn’t have it, Kit, and I dashed well meant it! Have the whole town talking!’

  Kitty looked very much bewildered, but as it was plain that Mr Standen was filled with righteous wrath she refrained from protest, merely saying in a small, doubtful voice: ‘Frederick? Should I, in public, call you Mr Standen?’

  ‘Call me Mr Standen?’ said Freddy, thrown quite out of his stride. ‘No, of course you should not! Never heard such a silly question in my life! And it ain’t a bit of use trying to turn the subject! Not one to take a pet for no reason, but this is the outside of enough, Kit!’

  ‘I wasn’t trying to turn the subject! You said I must not call you Freddy!’

  Mr Standen stared at her. ‘Said you wasn’t to call me Freddy? Nonsense!’

 
But you did!’ replied Kitty indignantly. ‘Just this moment past! I must own, I think it was very unkind in you, for I had no notion it was wrong!’

  ‘It’s my belief,’ said Mr Standen, with austerity, ‘that you’re trying to fob me off, Kit! Well, it won’t fadge! I saw you walk into this place on Dolph’s arm! Seems to me there’s something deuced havey-cavey going on between the pair of you. Time I had a word with Dolph! Where the devil is he?’

  Enlightenment dawned on Miss Charing. She gave an irrepressible gurgle of mirth. ‘Oh, Freddy, is that what brings you here?’

  ‘Yes, it is, and it ain’t anything to laugh at!’ said Freddy. ‘Good God, you don’t suppose I’d come to a place like this for no reason, do you? I’d as lief visit Westminster Abbey again!’ He levelled his glass, and swept a condemnatory glance round the room. ‘In fact, liefer!’ he added. ‘I don’t say those effigies weren’t pretty devilish, but they weren’t as devilish as this freak you was staring at when I came in. You know what?—you’ll start having nightmares if you don’t take care! Lord, if it ain’t just like Dolph to choose a place like this for his dashed flirtations! Shows you he’s queer in his attic.’

  ‘He did not bring me here to flirt with me!’

  ‘Now, don’t you tell me he wanted to look at curiosities from the South Seas!’ said Freddy warningly. ‘I ain’t a big enough bleater to swallow that one! Just a trifle too loud, Kit!’

  ‘No, of course he did not. Oh, dear, how awkward this is! I wonder what I should do?’

  ‘Well, I can tell you that!’ said Freddy. ‘You can stop making a cake of me. What’s more, if you let Dolph go on hanging round you for ever I’ll tell everyone that our betrothal is a hum!’

  ‘Freddy, you would not!’ exclaimed Miss Charing, turning pale. ‘What can it signify to you, after all?’

 
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