Cotillion, p.35
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       Cotillion, p.35

           Georgette Heyer

  He paid no heed to this, but said: ‘The fair Olivia admitted you a little too deeply into her confidence, did she? I was afraid she would. Don’t trouble your pretty head for such a trifle as that, Kitty! You will own that I have borne with tolerable equanimity the news that she has fled to France with your enterprising cousin.’

  ‘No, no, it is not that! I can’t tell what it is, only that perhaps I have changed, or—or something of that nature!’ said Kitty. ‘And, indeed, Jack, I am excessively fond of you, and I daresay I shall always be, in spite of knowing that you are quite odiously selfish, but, if you will not be very much offended, I would much prefer not to be married to you!’

  He stood staring down into her perturbed face. The laugh had quite vanished from his eyes, and there was a white look round his mouth. Miss Charing had never before had experience of the temper Mr Westruther’s cousins knew well, and she was a little frightened.

  ‘So that’s it, is it?’ he said, quite softly. ‘George was right after all! Dolphinton was a little too much for you to swallow, but you had indeed set your heart on a title and a great position, and so you laid the cleverest trap for Freddy that I have ever been privileged to see! You cunning little jade!’

  It was at this point that Mr Standen, that most exquisite of Pinks, astounded the assembled company, himself included, by knocking him down.

  For this, two circumstances were largely responsible. He took Mr Westruther entirely unawares; and Mr Westruther, recoiling from the blow, tripped over a small footstool, lost his balance, and fell heavily.

  ‘Good God!’ said the Rector, forgetting his cloth. ‘Well done, Freddy! A nice, flush hit!’

  Lord Dolphinton, who had found the interchange between Kitty and his cousin rather beyond his power of comprehension and had allowed his attention to wander, now realized that a mill was in progress, which he was perfectly well able to understand. In high glee he called upon Miss Plymstock to observe that Freddy had floored Jack, and begged Freddy to do it again.

  Freddy himself, rather pale, stood waiting with his fists clenched while his cousin picked himself up. There was a very ugly look in Mr Westruther’s eyes, which caused Hugh, who had helped him to his feet, to maintain a grip upon his arm, and Kitty to say hurriedly: ‘Oh, Freddy, it was splendid of you, and I am so very much obliged to you, but pray do not do it again!’

  ‘No, no!’ said Freddy, conscience-stricken.

  The ugly looked faded. ‘At least admit you could not!’ said Mr Westruther.

  ‘No, I know I could not,’ replied Freddy, ‘but I dashed well don’t mind trying to!’

  Mr Westruther began to laugh. ‘Freddy, you dog, you took me off guard and off balance, and I have a good mind to knock you through that window! Oh, take your hand off my arm, Hugh! You can’t be fool enough to suppose I mean to have a turn-up with Freddy!’ He shook the Rector off as he spoke, and straightened his neckcloth. That done, he held out his hand imperatively to Kitty. ‘Come, cry friends with me!’ he said. ‘I will apologize for the whole, confess that I entirely misread a situation that is now perfectly plain to me, and remove myself immediately from your presence.’ He held her hand for a moment, grinning rather ruefully at her; then he lightly kissed her cheek, and said: ‘Accept my best wishes for your happiness, my dear, and believe that I shall do my utmost to cut you out with Uncle Matthew! My felicitations, Freddy. I’ll serve you trick-and-tie for that leveller one of these days. Oh, no, pray don’t accompany me, Hugh! Really, I have had more than enough of my family for one day!’

  A bow to Miss Plymstock, a wave of the hand, and he was gone. The front-door slammed behind him; they heard his tread going down the garden-path, the click of the gate-latch, and, in another moment or two, the sound of his horses’ hooves.

  Miss Plymstock rose, and shook out her skirt. ‘I’m bound to say I ain’t at all sorry to see the last of him,’ she remarked. ‘Nor I haven’t told you yet, Mr Standen, how very much obliged to you I am for bringing that licence.’

  But Mr Standen was not attending. He addressed himself to the Rector. ‘Oughtn’t to have done it, Hugh. Not the thing! He wasn’t expecting it.’

  ‘Very true,’ agreed the Rector. ‘It was, in a sense, improper, but since you could not, I fear, have landed him the smallest punch under any other circumstances, I cannot regret it. He came by his just deserts. The most deplorable feature of the business is that such a scene should have been enacted in this room, under the eyes of two ladies.’

  ‘Better have gone into the garden,’ nodded Lord Dolphinton. ‘Like watching a good mill.’

  ‘What you would have watched, my dear Foster, would not have been a mill, but a murder!’ said the Rector tartly.

  ‘Why, Hugh!’ exclaimed Kitty. ‘I do believe you are quite cross because it was Freddy who knocked him down, and not you!’

  ‘I would remind you, Kitty, that I am in Holy Orders,’ said the Rector austerely. ‘And let me tell you that if I had chosen to come to fisticuffs with Jack—However, we have said enough on this subject! The licence which Freddy has handed to me does indeed enable me to marry you to Miss Plymstock, Foster, but it in no way alters my reluctance to do so. Pray do not misunderstand me, ma’am! I do not wish to oppose the marriage. From what I have observed, I am inclined to think that Foster would derive considerable benefit from it.’

  ‘Well, for the lord’s sake, Hugh, stop prosing!’ recommended Freddy. ‘Dashed if you aren’t as bad as Kit’s French cousin!’

  The Rector cast him a withering look. ‘Have the goodness not to interrupt me, Freddy! While I am prepared to support Foster in his determination to marry Miss Plymstock, I cannot approve of his clandestine way of going about the business.’

  ‘What you mean, old fellow,’ said the irrepressible Mr Standen, ‘is that you don’t want to be mixed up in it. Scared of Aunt Dolphinton.’

  ‘I am not in the least scared of Aunt Dolphinton!’

  ‘Well, if you ain’t scared of her, you’re scared of what the rest of ’em will say. Don’t blame you: told Kit I’d as lief have nothing to do with it myself. However, shouldn’t be surprised if the family thought you’d done the right thing. I can tell you one who will, and that’s m’mother. What’s more, there’s two of us in it. I won’t hedge off.’

  The Rector hesitated. ‘That is all very well, but—’

  ‘I’ll tell you what it is, Hugh: no sense in refusing! Paltry thing to do, because if you won’t come up to scratch there’ll be nothing for it but for me to take ’em to the next parish first thing tomorrow morning, and hand ’em over to the parson there.’

  Miss Plymstock was moved to grasp him by the hand, saying warmly: ‘You’ve got a great deal of common-sense, Mr Standen, and I like you for it!’

  ‘You like Freddy too?’ said Lord Dolphinton, pleased. ‘I like Freddy! I like him—’

  ‘Now you’ve set him off again!’ said Freddy reproachfully.

  ‘That will do, Foster!’ said the Rector. ‘If you are determined on this course, I will perform the ceremony.’

  ‘Then that’s settled all right and tight,’ said Freddy. ‘They’ll have to stay here till the knot’s tied, but you won’t mind that. Going to drive Kit to Arnside now, but we’ll come over in the morning, and take ’em to Church.’

  Miss Charing, blinking at these competent plans, said: ‘Yes, but, Freddy, where are they to go when they are married? The thing is, you see, that it will take a little time for Hannah’s lawyer to settle everything with Dolph’s Mama, and until it is all quite safe she does not wish Lady Dolphinton to see Dolph, and also they will not have any money, which makes it particularly awkward for them.’

  ‘I shall be happy to offer you the hospitality of my house for as long as you wish to remain here, Miss Plymstock,’ said the Rector, untruthfully, but in a very Christian spirit.

  ‘No, that won’t do,’ said Freddy, considering
the matter. ‘Aunt Dolphinton’s bound to come after them. Don’t see how you could keep her out. They’ll have to go to Arnside.’

  ‘Arnside?’ repeated Kitty blankly. ‘Freddy, they could not!’

  ‘Yes, they could. I don’t say it’s where I’d choose to spend my honeymoon, but there’s nothing else for it. Thing is, it’s the one place my aunt dashed well can’t get into. Told me yourself the old gentleman had all the doors barred against her!’

  ‘Yes, he did, but you know how much he dislikes to have guests staying with him! He would never permit them to do so!’

  ‘Got a strong notion he will,’ said Freddy darkly. ‘Going to tell him it’ll make Aunt Dolphinton as mad as fire if he does. Lay you odds that card will take the trick! Shouldn’t wonder at it if it put him in high croak, what’s more.’

  ‘Freddy, you are perfectly right!’ said Miss Charing, awed. ‘Nothing ever puts him in such spirits as being disagreeable to Dolph’s Mama! I daresay he will be very much obliged to us for putting him in the way of serving her such a turn!’

  ‘Just what I was thinking,’ nodded Freddy. ‘Going to tell ’em to put the horses to now. No sense in dawdling here any longer: might put the old gentleman in a bad temper if we were late.’

  The Rector begged them to dine with him, but they were resolute in declining the invitation. Kitty put on her bonnet and pelisse, the chaise was bought to the front-gate, and after faithfully promising to return in time to support the bride and groom through the wedding ceremony on the morrow, Mr Standen and his betrothed left the Rectory.

  ‘Oh, Freddy, what a day this has been!’ sighed Miss Charing, sinking back against the squabs of the chaise.

  ‘Devilish!’ he agreed. ‘Brushed through it pretty well, though. All we have to do now is to see ’em safely married, and then we can be comfortable. Mind, there may be a kick-up over the business, but we can’t help that.’

  ‘I know it, and I wanted so much not to drag you into it!’ said Kitty remorsefully. ‘I thought, if only you knew nothing about it, it would serve as a reason for you to put an end to our engagement!’

  ‘Yes, I know you did. Told me so, in that letter you wrote me. Dashed cork-brained notion! Stands to reason if you’re in it I must be too.’

  ‘No, Freddy, it does not,’ said Kitty, in a constricted tone. ‘You know it is all a hoax, our engagement. I am determined to end it. I ought never, never to have thought of such a thing!’

  ‘Now, Kit, don’t say we must quarrel, because I won’t do it!’ begged Freddy.

  ‘Oh, no, how could I quarrel with you? I think we should tell everyone that we—find we are not suited.’

  ‘No, we shouldn’t,’ said Freddy. ‘Silly thing to say, because everyone must know it ain’t true. Got a better notion. Daresay you won’t like it, but it’s what I should like.’

  ‘What is it?’ asked Miss Charing rather huskily.

  ‘Send that dashed notice to the Gazette, and get married,’ replied Freddy.

  Something that sounded suspiciously like a sob broke from Miss Charing. ‘Oh, no, no! Freddy, pray do not! You know it was all my doing! You never wanted to be engaged to me!’

  ‘No, I didn’t,’ he acknowledged. ‘Thing is, changed my mind! Haven’t said anything, because, to tell you the truth, I thought Jack was right: got engaged to me to make him jealous.’

  Miss Charing blew her nose. ‘I did. I was utterly wicked, and shameless, and stupid!’

  ‘No, no! Very understandable thing to do. Devil of a fellow, Jack! Trouble is—wouldn’t make you a good husband, Kit. Been worrying me for a long time. Thought you was in love with him. Don’t mind telling you it was as much as I could do to keep a still tongue in my head when he asked you to marry him tonight. What I mean is, like you to have everything you want. Wished it was me, and not Jack, that’s all.’

  Miss Charing raised her face from her handkerchief. ‘I was never in love with Jack in my life!’ she said. ‘I thought I was, but I know now it was no such thing. He seemed just like all the heroes in books, but I soon found that he is not like them at all.’

  ‘No,’ agreed Freddy. ‘I’m afraid I ain’t either, Kit.’

  ‘Of course you are not! No one is! And if somebody was, I should think him quite odious!’

  ‘You would?’ said Freddy hopefully. ‘I must say, Kit, I think you would too. Well, what I mean is, if you ever met anyone like that fellow the Fish talked of—fellow who snatched up some female in the middle of a party, and threw her on his horse—dashed embarrassing, you know! Wouldn’t like it at all!’

  ‘No, indeed I shouldn’t!’

  ‘You don’t feel you could marry me instead? Got no brains, of course, and I ain’t a handsome fellow, like Jack, but I love you. Don’t think I could ever love anyone else. Daresay it ain’t any use telling you, but—well, there it is!’

  ‘Oh, Freddy, Freddy!’ sobbed Miss Charing.

  ‘No, no, Kit, don’t cry!’ begged Freddy, putting his arm round her. ‘Can’t bear you not to be happy! I won’t say another word. Never thought there was any hope for me. Just wanted to tell you.’

  ‘Freddy, I love you with all my heart!’ Kitty said, turning within his arm, and casting both her own round his neck. ‘Much, much more than you could possibly love me!’

  ‘You do?’ exclaimed Freddy, tightening his hold. ‘Well, by Jove! Here, take this dashed bonnet off! How the deuce am I to kiss you with a lot of curst feathers in my face?’ He found the strings, tugged ruthlessly at them, and cast the offending bonnet aside. ‘That’s better! Been wanting to kiss you for weeks!’

  Miss Charing, assisting him to achieve this ambition, was for some moments unable to make any remark. But the rude handling of her headgear seemed to her to call for reproof, and she presently murmured, with her head on his shoulder: ‘I daresay my bonnet is quite ruined.’

  ‘If it comes to that, I’m dashed sure my neckcloth is,’ said Mr Standen. ‘It don’t signify about the bonnet. I don’t like it above half. Buy you a new one.’

  ‘No. Just a set of garnets!’ said Kitty, with a tiny gurgle.

  ‘Garnets?’ said Freddy scornfully. ‘You don’t suppose I’m going to buy you trumpery things like that, do you? Got my eye on some good rubies. Just the thing!’

  ‘Oh, no, Freddy!’

  ‘And don’t you say “Oh, no!” because now that we really are engaged, I can dashed well give you anything I like!’

  ‘Yes, Freddy,’ said Miss Charing meekly.

  About the Author

  Author of over fifty books, Georgette Heyer is one of the best-known and best-loved of all historical novelists, making the Regency period her own. Her first novel, The Black Moth, published in 1921, was written at the age of fifteen to amuse her convalescent brother; her last was My Lord John. Although most famous for her historical novels, she also wrote twelve detective stories. Georgette Heyer died in 1974 at the age of seventy-one.



  Georgette Heyer, Cotillion



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