Cotillion, p.32
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       Cotillion, p.32

           Georgette Heyer
 

  ‘But, Freddy, does she know the truth?’ demanded Meg. ‘That he is not what we have believed him to be? That he is—’

  ‘Oh, indeed, ma’am, I know everything!’ Olivia assured her. ‘Oh, pray do not say I must not go to my Camille!’

  ‘But—’

  ‘Here, Meg, must have a word with you!’ interrupted Freddy, gripping her arm, and propelling her towards the door. Outside the room, he released her, but said in a tone of strong censure: ‘If it ain’t just like you to be trying to throw a rub in the path, the very moment we are in a way to going on like winking! You hold your tongue, now, or you’ll plunge us all back into disorder!’

  ‘Yes, but, Freddy, I have been thinking, and—’

  ‘Well, I wish you won’t, because I never knew any good to come of it when you started thinking. Very likely to find ourselves in queer stirrups if we was to listen to you.’

  ‘I declare you are the most odious creature alive!’ said Meg indignantly. ‘Pray, have you considered what a situation I shall be in when that horrid woman discovers that I helped her daughter to elope?’

  ‘Won’t discover it. Mean to warn her not to mention the matter. When Skelton tells her the girl ain’t been here—which reminds me: must remember to slip a couple of Yellow Boys into his hand!—well, when he tells her that, she’s bound to think of d’Evron. Won’t find him at his lodging. Paid his shot—at least, I hope he will—and gone! Plain as a pikestaff! Now, you be a good girl, Meg, and don’t, for the lord’s sake, try to think! Something more important to be done. Can’t let Miss Broughty go off without her nightgown! Must give her what she’ll need till she gets to Paris.’

  ‘What, are you expecting me to give the wretched girl my own clothes?’ demanded Meg.

  ‘Won’t miss a nightgown, dash it! Better give her a shawl too.’

  ‘If I do, will you promise never to tell Mama I had the least knowledge of this shocking business?’

  ‘Promise anything!’ said Freddy recklessly.

  ‘Oh, very well, then!’ Meg said, and went back into the drawing-room to invite Olivia to go upstairs with her to her bedchamber.

  Some little time later, Freddy handed Miss Broughty into a hackney-coach, directed the coachman to drive to the Golden Cross, and took his seat beside his charge. At their feet reposed a modest valise, and over one arm Miss Broughty carried a folded shawl. Her cheeks were delicately flushed, her eyes were softly sparkling, and she appeared to be floating in some pleasurable dream. She was recalled by Freddy’s voice, addressing her, and turned towards him with a start. ‘Oh, I beg your pardon! I was not attending!’

  ‘Just wanted to be sure all was right,’ said Freddy. ‘M’sister give you everything you should have?’

  ‘Oh, yes, she was so very kind, and she packed the bag with her own hands! I was quite overcome!’

  ‘Did it herself, did she? Then I’ll lay a monkey she forgot something!’

  ‘No, I am sure she did not! Only fancy! She would have me take such a pretty dress, to wear when I reach Paris, because she says this one I have on will be sadly crushed by the journey!’

  A gleam of hope shone in Mr Standen’s eye. ‘The lilac one?’ he asked.

  ‘No, it is not lilac, but green, and of the finest cambric!’

  He sighed. ‘Thought she wouldn’t part with the lilac one,’ he said mournfully. He passed under rapid mental review such articles as he supposed must be necessary to a female setting forth on a long journey, and suddenly said: ‘Hairbrush and comb. Toothbrush.’

  Miss Broughty turned a stricken gaze upon him. ‘Oh, dear! I don’t think—Whatever shall I do?’

  ‘Stop and purchase ’em,’ replied Freddy, with decision. ‘Good thing you told me m’sister packed the bag. Where do you commonly buy such things?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ faltered Olivia. ‘I have not had occasion to buy them since I came to town. Oh, I am sure they can be had at Newton’s, in Leicester Square, only I—I have only a shilling or two in my purse, and I dare not go into Newton’s in case Mama might be there!’

  ‘Get ’em for you,’ said Freddy, putting his head out of the window to shout the new direction to the coachman.

  ‘Oh, Mr Standen, you are so very—! No, no, you must not!’

  ‘Yes, I must,’ said Freddy. ‘Can’t go off to France without a toothbrush. Wedding-present!’

  Olivia saw nothing incongruous in this, but thanked him earnestly. While he braved the dangers of Newton’s Emporium, she remained cowering in her corner of the coach, dreading every instant that her mother’s face would appear at the window. But no such terrible sight assailed her eyes; and in a short space of time Mr Standen rejoined her, placing on her lap a neat parcel; and the hack rumbled on towards Charing Cross.

  Here, in the yard of the Golden Cross, pacing up and down, his watch in his hand, and on his face an expression of anxiety, they found the Chevalier. When he saw Olivia peeping from the window of the coach, he thrust his watch back into his pocket, and sprang forward to wrench open the door, exclaiming: ‘Mon ange, ma bien-aimée!’

  ‘My Camille!’ squeaked Olivia, almost falling out of the coach into his arms.

  They embraced passionately. Mr Standen, descending more soberly from the aged vehicle, observed these transports with fastidious pain, and felt that some explanation was due to the interested coachman. ‘French!’ he said briefly. ‘Don’t you drive off! I shall be needing you. Er—no wish to meddle, d’Evron, but daresay you may not have noticed: couple of waiters looking at you over the blind! That your chaise? Get into it, if I were you!’

  ‘Ah, my friend!’ said the Chevalier, turning to him. ‘What can I say to you? How can I repay you?’

  ‘No need to say anything at all,’ replied Freddy firmly. ‘Pressed for time! Easily repay me! Very much obliged to you if you won’t visit London again!’

  The Chevalier burst out laughing. ‘Ah, have no fear! Present, if you please, my compliments to my cousin—my regretful farewells!’

  ‘Oh, yes, Mr Standen! Pray, will you explain to dear Miss Charing how it was, and tell her that I shall never, never forget her kindness?’ said Olivia. ‘And, oh, Mr Standen, I am so very grateful to you for all—’

  ‘Yes, yes!’ said Freddy, shepherding them to where a post-chaise stood waiting. ‘Beg you won’t give it a thought! Pleasure!’

  He then handed her up into the chaise, shook hands with the Chevalier, and waved goodbye as the horses began to move forward. After that, he turned back to the hackney. ‘Doctors’ Commons!’ he commanded. ‘And don’t dawdle!’

  Nineteen

  It was not a very long distance from London to the Reverend Hugh Rattray’s parish of Garsfield, but the time spent on the road was more than enough to reduce Lord Dolphinton’s nerves to ribbons, and to place a great strain upon Miss Charing’s patience. Not all her representations served to convince him that his mother was not hard on his heels; and when a broken trace necessitated a wait of several minutes it really seemed as though any further check would wholly overset his slender reason. As for pausing to partake of refreshment, when the horses were changed, he would not hear of it. Neither Finglass nor the coachman showed any surprise at his twittering impatience, so Kitty could only suppose that such moods were not uncommon in him. She herself had not been prepared to find him so much tortured by apprehension, but after travelling only five miles in his company she could readily understand why Miss Plymstock had so unhesitatingly stated that a journey all the way to Gretna Green would not have done for him.

  Miss Plymstock, to Kitty’s abiding admiration, maintained throughout her air of stolid calm, talking to his lordship in a matter-of-fact way which seemed to soothe him, and never for an instant betraying a hint of exasperation. Indeed, Kitty was tempted to believe that she felt none, and was quite ashamed of herself for wishing on several occasions to speak sharply to him.
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br />   Garsfield, a very respectable parish, was situated less than ten miles from Arnside, and comprised, besides the village, several farms, one or two handsome houses, perhaps a dozen smaller ones, occupied by the lesser gentry, and a number of picturesque cottages. The Rectory, whose garden abutted on to the Churchyard, was a comfortable, squarely-built house, situated at one end of the village street. Everything about it, from its front-door, set precisely between two pairs of sash-windows, to its tidy flower-beds, was neat and symmetrical. Miss Plymstock admired it very much, and said, as she alighted from the carriage, that it was just such a house as she would like to live in herself. This observation momentarily diverted his lordship’s mind from its cares, but also caused him to feel an added anxiety. He said, looking earnestly into her face: ‘Like Dolphinton House better!’

  ‘Yes, I am persuaded I shall,’ she replied.

  ‘Not like this,’ said his lordship, closely watching for the effect of his words upon her. ‘Bigger. Much bigger. Bigger than George’s place. Bigger than Arnside.’ He reflected, and added, with a certain amount of dissatisfaction: ‘Not as big as Legerwood.’

  ‘Legerwood would be too big for me, and Arnside too small,’ said Miss Plymstock, never having visited either house.

  He was much pleased with this answer, and turned back to inform Kitty, who had stayed to direct the coachman to drive the carriage round to the stables, that Hannah preferred Dolphinton to either Legerwood or Arnside. He then perceived that his carriage was driving away, and was at once attacked by a dread that Finglass, suspecting that he had been hoaxed, would, by means unknown, hasten back to London to carry the news to Lady Dolphinton. He seemed to think that it was by no means impossible that Finglass should have the effrontery to ride off on the Rector’s hack; and was much inclined to summon the man back.

  ‘No, no, that would make him suspicious!’ said Kitty. ‘Depend upon it, he is thinking of nothing but going off to the Green Man! I told him that we should remain for at least an hour.’

  ‘Come, Foster!’ said Miss Plymstock, putting a hand in his arm. ‘You know he believes Miss Charing has a message to give your cousin from Lady Buckhaven! You may be sure he sees nothing odd in our having come here before going to Arnside. Now, haven’t you told me how often you have been visiting the Reverend in the past?’

  He admitted it, and consented to be drawn on towards the house. But here a stunning disappointment awaited them. Hugh’s housekeeper, who herself opened the door to the visitors, exclaimed in dismay that the Reverend was away from home.

  A moan broke from Lord Dolphinton, and, for once, Miss Plymstock was at a loss. She looked at Kitty, her eyes round with horror.

  ‘Away!’ said Kitty. ‘Oh, dear, what a—Is he at Arnside, perhaps, Mrs Armathwaite?’

  ‘No, miss. He has gone to Biddenden for two nights,’ replied the housekeeper. ‘He will be put out to think he was away, when you and his lordship came to visit him!’

  ‘We must send for him!’ said Kitty resolutely. ‘It is most important that I should see him. Someone must ride to Biddenden with a letter!’

  Mrs Armathwaite looked very much astonished; and ventured to point out to her that since Biddenden Manor was situated quite fifteen miles distant from Garsfield the Rector could scarcely be fetched in time to reach his home before dusk.

  ‘Must be fetched!’ said Dolphinton urgently. ‘Important!’

  ‘Well, of course, my lord, if you say so,’ replied Mrs Armathwaite doubtfully. ‘I suppose Peter could take the cob.’

  ‘Peter take the cob,’ nodded his lordship.

  ‘Yes, my lord. If you will come into the parlour, I’ll have a taper put to the fire immediately.’

  She looked a little curiously at Miss Plymstock as she ushered the party into the parlour on the left of the front-door, so Kitty, perceiving this, at once made Hannah known to her, describing her as a friend who had been kind enough to bear her company on the journey. This explanation seemed perfectly to satisfy Mrs Armathwaite, and she curtseyed, and went away to procure refreshment for the uninvited guests.

  The two ladies then held a consultation in under-voices, as a result of which Miss Plymstock begged Lord Dolphinton to show her more of the Rector’s garden, and Miss Charing went off to his study to find pens, ink, and paper.

  The composition of a letter to Hugh she soon found to present her with certain difficulties. After writing My dear Hugh, she sat for some time tickling her chin with the end of the quill, wondering how best to phrase her need. A very little earnest cogitation was enough to convince her that the story of his cousin Dolphinton’s love-affair would be better conveyed to him by word of mouth, since she could place no dependence on his withholding it from Biddenden, who, she felt sure, would heartily disapprove of such an alliance. In the end, the letter which Hugh’s man, Peter, was instructed to carry to his master with all speed was extremely brief, containing nothing more than the intelligence that his affectionate Kitty was at the Rectory and in urgent need of his help. It seemed probable that this communication would bring him home as fast as his horse could carry him.

  In the meantime, Mrs Armathwaite had been busy. By the time Peter had been sent off on his errand, a cold collation had been set out in the dining-parlour at the back of the house, and a fire kindled in the front parlour. Miss Plymstock having diverted his thoughts successfully, Dolphinton was able to attack the remains of a sirloin of beef with gusto. He and Kitty made hearty meals; it was, curiously enough, Miss Plymstock who seemed not to fancy more than a mouthful of any dish offered to her. She disclosed to Kitty at the earliest opportunity the reason for her lack of appetite.

  ‘I don’t know how it is, Miss Charing,’ she said, ‘for you may believe I am not in general a vapourish creature, but I won’t deny that I can’t be easy in my mind. It ain’t only this mischance of finding your cousin away from home, but it came to me when Foster was showing me the orchard that in all the bustle and the excitement not one of us took the least thought to where him and me was to go once the knot has been tied between us. What’s more, I daresay it won’t be possible for this Reverend to marry us now until tomorrow.’

  Such a mundane consideration as this had not crossed Kitty’s mind, but she instantly perceived the force of it, and was inclined to blame herself severely for her lack of practical foresight.

  ‘However, there can be no difficulty about tonight, for this house is very commodious, you know, and you may be sure Hugh will be pleased to have beds made up for you,’ she said. ‘Of course, I could take you to Arnside, but I fear you might not be quite comfortable there, on account of my Uncle Matthew’s disliking strangers excessively. But afterwards! I own I had not thought of that. Oh, dear, I wish it had been possible for me to have consulted Freddy, for it is just the thing he could have advised us on! You will not like to stay at some respectable hostelry?’

  ‘Lord, it ain’t that!’ said Miss Plymstock. ‘But until I can settle things betwixt Foster and that mother of his we shan’t have more than a few guineas between the pair of us, for I daren’t take him back to London, you know, and if I don’t do that, how is he to reach his bank?’

  ‘He must borrow some money from Hugh,’ said Kitty. ‘Oh dear, how stupid it was of me not to tell him to draw a large sum out yesterday!’

  ‘It wouldn’t have answered. Let me tell you, Miss Charing,’ said Hannah grimly, ‘that it’s his Mama that draws the money, and doles it out to him as she chooses! I don’t doubt she’s gone beyond her rights, but what I say is, things won’t be put in the way they should be in a trice. However, I don’t mean to be teasing you with such matters. The chief thing is for us to be married as soon as may be. It won’t do to be keeping Foster in the suspense he’s in now. He’s sensible enough if he’s kept happy and quiet, but all this botheration and excitement ain’t good for him, and I don’t doubt I shall have a rare task to keep him occupied until his cousin ret
urns.’

  She had not understated the case. During the hours which followed, the task of keeping Dolphinton occupied taxed their ingenuity to snapping-point. Garsfield village was intersected by a busy cross-country road, and during the course of the afternoon a great many vehicles passed the Rectory. Every time the sound of approaching hoof-beats penetrated to the parlour, Dolphinton became obsessed by the idea that his mother had discovered his clandestine intentions and would, in another instant, descend upon him. Happily, there was a large cupboard in the parlour, filling the recess on one side of the fireplace. His lordship remembered its existence when a vehicle was heard to draw up outside the gate, and with rare presence of mind dived into it. The vehicle, which turned out to be a sporting curricle, belonged to one of the younger Churchwardens, who called at the Rectory merely to leave a note for the Reverend Hugh; but nothing would induce Dolphinton to leave his hiding-place until the ladies could assure him that the visitor had driven away. A backgammon board being discovered, he was persuaded to sit down to play this mild game with Miss Plymstock. It served, in some measure, to restore the balance of his mind, but any unexpected noise outside the house had the effect of making him take precipitate refuge in his hiding-place, until he began to remind Kitty of nothing so much as a jack-in-the-box. Miss Plymstock made no attempt to dissuade him from bolting into the cupboard, saying very sensibly to Kitty that if it made him happier to do so she was sure he was doing no harm to anyone.

  When Hugh arrived, it was past five o’clock, and he took his uninvited guests by surprise, walking up from the stables through the garden, and entering the house by a side-door. The sound of a firm footstep approaching the parlour so much alarmed Dolphinton that he forgot the existence of the cupboard, and sought refuge instead under the table. So the Rector, standing transfixed upon the threshold, was confronted by the unusual spectacle of two ladies on their knees, trying to coax something or somebody to emerge from behind the screen of a fringed tablecloth. One of the ladies looked over her shoulder towards him, and he recognized, not without difficulty, his great-uncle’s demure ward, Kitty Charing. When he had last seen her, she had worn a sober green gown, and her hair had been arranged in neat bands. He beheld her now in what seemed to him a very much too dashing driving-dress, which was not only of a frivolous shade of pink but was also embellished with mannish epaulettes. The dark locks, of whose neatness he had formerly approved, had been cut and curled and arranged in a style which, however becoming it might be, could scarcely have been called demure; and he could not doubt that the high-crowned bonnet with two curled ostrich feather plumes, and very long satin strings, which reposed upon a chair against the wall, belonged to her.

 
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