Cotillion, p.8
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       Cotillion, p.8

           Georgette Heyer
 

  There might have been those who doubted Mr Standen’s ability to shake the world, but none could have been found with the hardihood to declare that he lacked social address. His bow indicated to Kitty that he had perfectly understood her, to Miss Fishguard the depth of his reverence. A second bow, directed to this lady, was so nicely graded as to draw from her, as soon as he had left the Saloon, an encomium upon his gentlemanly deportment. ‘Such courtesy, my love!’ she sighed. ‘Such exquisite regard for the feelings of one who, perhaps believing herself “not scorned in heaven,” is “little noticed here!”’

  Miss Charing agreed to this; and, observing that the fire was burning low, announced her intention of seeking her own couch. Miss Fishguard accompanied her upstairs to her bedchamber, so obviously determined to talk the whole matter over that Kitty thoughtfully reminded her to provide herself with a shawl, Mr Penicuik’s parsimony leading him to view with violent disapprobation the lighting of fires in any other bedchamber than his own.

  Accordingly, Miss Fishguard first sought her own apartment; while Kitty, encountering the arctic temperature of her chamber, made haste to shed her raiment and tumble into the old-fashioned four-poster bed. This had just been warmed for her by a maid bearing a large warming-pan when Miss Fishguard rejoined her, now swathed in a large shawl of nondescript colour and rather tufty appearance. She was in time to see Kitty get between sheets, her nightgown untied, and her cap in her hand, and clucked a faint protest. Kitty, fitting the cap over her head, and tieing its strings under her chin, paid no heed; and, indeed, the remonstrance lacked conviction. She pulled the quilt round her shoulders, and said, sitting up against her banked pillows: ‘Do you think you should stay, Fish? I am sure you will be perished with the cold! If ever I should be mistress of a house of my own, I shall have huge fires burning in every room!’

  Miss Fishguard was not unnaturally startled by this remark. ‘If ?’ she echoed. ‘But, my love—!’

  ‘Oh, yes, of course, to be sure!’ said Kitty, recollecting herself. ‘The—the thing is, it seems strange to me just at first!’

  Miss Fishguard could readily understand this. She pressed Kitty’s hand in a speaking manner: ‘A change in your circumstance, dear, but a natural one.’

  Kitty gave an involuntary gurgle. ‘Well, I must own it doesn’t seem a natural thing to me to be engaged to marry Freddy!’ she said frankly.

  Miss Fishguard forbore to reprove her for this outburst of candour. She said: ‘A very eligible connection! He has a thousand amiable qualities—most distinguished manners, I am sure! Most truly the gentleman! But, oh, my love, when Stobhill dropped a hint in my ear—so very improper, but one scarcely liked to give him a set-down, for I daresay he meant it for the best!—I declare I felt ready to drop! Pardon me, my dear Kitty, if I am presumptuous enough to say that I had not the remotest guess—never expected—in short, was amazed almost into a spasm! I do not pretend to any extraordinary quickness in these matters: it has never appeared to me that dear Mr Frederick had grown particular in his attentions!’

  ‘No,’ agreed Kitty, reflecting that since of all Mr Penicuik’s relations Mr Standen had been of late years the most infrequent visitor to Arnside, no one could wonder at Miss Fishguard’s surprise.

  ‘In another, I might almost have supposed this event to have been occasioned by pecuniary considerations,’ confessed Miss Fishguard. ‘I hasten, however, to assure you, my love, that in connection with Mr Frederick such a suspicion has only to occur to one to be banished! I am persuaded that he has too much delicacy of mind and sensibility of heart ever to be swayed by mercenary impulses! Besides,’ she added, ‘I cannot but be aware that he was born to the comfort of a handsome fortune.’

  ‘I must say, I do hope that others besides you will think that,’ remarked Kitty thoughtfully. ‘I quite see that it would be very disagreeable for poor Freddy to be supposed to have offered for me only to acquire Uncle Matthew’s money.’

  ‘So ignoble a thought,’ declared Miss Fishguard, ‘will not for an instant be permitted to obtrude!’

  ‘I own, I cannot imagine how it should,’ agreed Kitty, hugging her knees, and looking, with one curl escaping from beneath her cap, and a bow tied at a skittish angle under her chin, absurdly youthful. ‘But he seemed to think it would. Oh, well! Very likely he quite mistakes the matter, for he is the most foolish creature!’ She realized that she had shocked her governess, and added hastily: ‘I mean—I mean—he takes odd notions into his head!’

  ‘Kitty!’ said Miss Fishguard, her voice sinking a tone, and her cheeks suffused with colour, ‘can it be that you have mistaken your heart?’

  Kitty made haste to assure her that she had not. Miss Fishguard, her fingers writhing together, and her eyes cast upwards, said tremulously: ‘Let one whose vernal hopes were blighted by the ambition of a parent assure you that “love will still be lord of all!” Dear Kitty, do not, I implore you, be seduced by thoughts of worldly advancement!’

  ‘No, no, I promise you I will not!’ Kitty said. ‘But—but what were your vernal hopes, dear Fish?’

  ‘Alas!’ sighed Miss Fishguard. ‘His situation was inferior, and although I must always hold to the belief that his character was respectable, I could not but acquiesce in my dear father’s decision that it might not be.’ She met Miss Charing’s enquiring gaze, and sank her head, saying in a stricken under-voice: ‘He was the apothecary’s assistant. He was a very handsome young man, my dear, and looked quite the gentleman. I can see him now, putting up the pills which poor papa was forced to take to alleviate the pangs of indigestion. But of course it would not do!’

  ‘Of course not,’ said Kitty, over-awed by the mental vision of Miss Fishguard in the throes of love for an apothecary’s assistant.

  ‘For my revered papa, as I need scarcely remind you,’ said Miss Fishguard, ‘was, like Mr Rattray, in Holy Orders.’

  This name aroused Kitty from her reverie, and she said with a good deal of feeling: ‘Do not speak to me of Hugh, I beg of you! Only fancy, Fish! He would have me believe he offered for me out of pity!’

  Miss Fishguard, who was at once afraid of the Rector and resentful of his efforts to prevail upon Mr Penicuik to replace her with a governess able to instruct Kitty in the Italian tongue, clicked her tongue, and shook her head, saying that she feared Mr Rattray was guilty of dissimulation. ‘I do not know how it is, my love,’ she said impressively, ‘but although he is excessively handsome I can never bring myself to trust him! His manners are reserved, and although I am sure I hope he may be a man of rectitude, one cannot but reflect that instances have been known when outward piety has served but as a cloak for—well, consider Schedoni, dearest Kitty!’

  But the thought of a comparison’s being drawn between Hugh Rattray and the villainous monk in Mrs Radclyffe’s popular romance set Kitty off into such a fit of giggling that Miss Fishguard became offended, and was with difficulty mollified. Indeed, only her desire to discover what circumstance it had been that had impelled Mr Standen so suddenly to declare himself kept her seated still beside Kitty’s bed. Feeling that she could not improve upon the words she had spoken in the Saloon, for the benefit of her other suitors, Kitty repeated them. Miss Fishguard was at once affected by the thought of the pangs endured by Freddy while concealing his hopeless passion for Miss Charing. She was put so much in mind of all her favourite heroes that for several minutes she forgot what she could not but consider to be the superior claims of Mr Westruther. But these presently recurred to her memory, and she ventured to enquire whether tidings had yet been received of this gentleman.

  ‘Dear me, no!’ replied Kitty airily. ‘I assure you, I do not expect to see him at Arnside on this occasion!’

  Miss Fishguard sighed. ‘How often one may be deceived in one’s fellow-creatures!’ she observed. ‘When Mr Penicuik was so obliging as to make known to me his intentions, I must own it was Mr Jack whom I expected to see at Arnsi
de, ahead of all!’

  ‘I had no such expectation!’ said Kitty. ‘Nor had I the smallest wish to see him here.’

  Miss Fishguard looked timidly at her, for she sounded rather fierce. Encountering a dangerous sparkle in those big eyes, which met hers full, she said doubtfully: ‘I have sometimes wondered, my love . . . ’

  ‘You have wondered what, dear Fish?’ prompted Kitty, with deceptive sweetness.

  ‘Only that—Such a very handsome man, and of the first style of elegance! Air and address everything that they should be!’ faltered Miss Fishguard. ‘And one cannot but recollect that it is he who has been most often at Arnside, after all!’

  ‘Certainly, for he is quite Uncle Matthew’s favourite!’ responded Kitty swiftly. ‘As for the rest, I believe that he is a very dashing blade, as Freddy would say! My dear Fish, has he added you to his many conquests? The most shocking flirt in town, I am persuaded! He does very well for—for one’s entertainment, but the female who receives his advances seriously will be destined, I fear, to sad disappointment! But do not let us be talking about such a rattle! The thing is, Fish, that Freddy is very desirous of presenting me to his parents, and means to carry me off to London almost immediately.’

  ‘But, Kitty, you are already acquainted with dear Lady Legerwood!’ objected Miss Fishguard. ‘And with Lord Legerwood too, for now I come to think of it, he accompanied her ladyship to Arnside, on the occasion of—’

  ‘Yes, yes, but that is more than a year ago!’ Kitty pointed out. ‘Lord Legerwood’s relations, too—I believe he has many, and you must know that I have never met them! Besides, there will be all my bride-clothes to order from the warehouses, and—and—You must perceive, Fish, that it will be proper for me to visit the Legerwoods!’

  Miss Fishguard acknowledged it, but ventured to enquire who was to fill Kitty’s place at Arnside while she went away on this visit of duty.

  ‘Why, you, to be sure!’ declared Kitty, with a brilliant smile.

  Miss Fishguard had already faced with a sinking heart the prospect of being obliged, at an advanced time of life, to seek a new position, and it spoke volumes for the real benevolence of her character that she had been able to face it with fortitude, resolutely stifling every selfish wish that her pupil might remain unwed, and thus in need of her continued chaperonage. The tidings that her services would still be needed at Arnside, so far from relieving her mind of its most pressing care, threw her into disorder and no little agitation. ‘Remain to keep house for Mr Penicuik?’ she almost shrieked. ‘Oh, I could not! Oh, Kitty, how can you think of such a thing? You know how much he dislikes me!’

  ‘Fiddle!’ said Kitty bracingly. ‘It is only that you will let him bully and browbeat you, Fish! Depend upon it, he would be very much vexed if you left Arnside! You must be firm! Remember how much he hates to have strangers about him! If he should throw his stick at you, or fly into one of his absurd rages, you have but to tell him that you mean to leave Arnside immediately, and I assure you he will mend his ways!’ She perceived that dismay still dwelled in Miss Fishguard’s countenance, and said imploringly: ‘Pray, Fish, do not fail me, I beg of you! He will never let me go to London if you too desert him! It will only be for one month! Oh, Fish—!’

  Much moved, Miss Fishguard shed tears, and declared that no power on earth should prevail upon her to fail her dearest Kitty. But she felt bound to add, as she wiped her reddened eyes, that she was by no means persuaded that the betrothal would find favour with Mr Penicuik! ‘My love, it is my duty to utter a warning!’ she said, hiccuping on a sob. ‘I believe him to have intended, from the outset, to bestow you upon Mr Jack! You cannot have failed to observe how vexed he is that Mr Jack has not come to Arnside, how he delayed to make known his intentions for a whole day! Spiddle told me tonight—not that I would have you suppose that I have been gossiping with the servants, but you know how they will talk!—Well, he told me that Mr Penicuik is in such a taking as never was, not having imagined that Mr Jack would absent himself upon such an occasion. I have the greatest apprehension that you and dear Mr Frederick may encounter strong opposition, and that there is little likelihood of his consenting to your proposed visit to London.’

  But when the affianced couple obeyed a summons to Mr Penicuik’s dressing-room next morning, he surprised them both by receiving them with almost affability. In what spirit he had greeted the news of the engagement, obligingly conveyed to him overnight by his valet, Spiddle naturally did not inform the happy pair. The night had brought counsel; and had anything further been needed to confirm the old gentleman’s resolve to pursue a Machiavellian policy it was supplied by an early visit from the Reverend Hugh Rattray, whose discourse so much enraged Mr Penicuik that he declared himself thankful at least that his ward had not been so misguided as to become engaged to such an intolerable stick of a parson. He then indicated his burning desire to see his house rid of his great-nephews, and charged the Rector with a message for his brother and for Dolphinton, that they need not put themselves to the trouble of taking formal leave of him.

  By the time that Kitty and Mr Standen (no early riser) presented themselves, Mr Penicuik had consumed a sustaining repast, and was seated in a winged chair before the fire in his dressing-room, a shawl over his knees and another round his shoulders. His sagging form and apparently palsied hand informed the initiated that his rôle this morning was one of senile decay; but there was nothing very senile in the needle-sharp glance he cast at his ward, as she approached his chair.

  ‘Well, my dear!’ he said. ‘They tell me I’m to wish you happy. Hey?’

  ‘If you please, sir,’ responded Kitty, dutifully bending to kiss his cheek.

  ‘I do wish you happy!’ said Mr Penicuik, with strong resolution. He turned his penetrating eyes towards Freddy, but instantly shut them, his countenance contorted, possibly, by a twinge of gout. ‘I felicitate you, Frederick!’ he said. He opened his eyes again, took another look at the successful suitor, and averted them with a visible shudder. But this was unfair: the Honourable Frederick had done justice to the occasion by arranging his neck-tie in the style known as the trône d’amour, a mode as difficult to achieve as it was beautiful to behold. Any one of a score or more aspirations to fashion would have been glad to have studied its intricacies, and several dashing blades would have had no hesitation in demanding the name of the genius who had designed his waistcoat. It was not so with Mr Penicuik. He reached out a trembling hand for his snuff-box, recruited his forces with a large pinch of Nut Brown, sneezed violently, shut the box with a snap, and said with all the air of one who had made up his mind to perform a painful duty: ‘Very well! You have my blessing!’

  Kitty looked at her swain in an expectant way, but Freddy, quite unnerved by the basilisk glance he had encountered, forgot his carefully conned part, and merely said that he was very much obliged. Kitty, realizing that little could be hoped for from that quarter, made the best of it, and said brightly: ‘Yes, sir, and Freddy wishes me to go to Mount Street, to be formally presented to his parents, if you should not object to it.’

  Recalled to a sense of his shortcoming, Freddy made hasty amends. ‘Very likely to have forgotten her,’ he explained. ‘Good thing to remind them!’

  ‘Imbecile!’ said Mr Penicuik. His gaze rested thoughtfully on Kitty’s face. There was a tense pause. ‘London, eh?’ he said at last. ‘What do you mean to do there, miss?’

  Kitty’s heart began to thump. ‘If—if Lady Legerwood should be so obliging as to invite me, sir, I—I shall do whatever she desires, of course!’ she produced.

  ‘Don’t tell me!’ said Mr Penicuik. ‘Go raking about town, that’s what you want to do!’ he turned his eyes upon Freddy. ‘I suppose Emma—your mother—goes to all the swell places? Almack’s—box at the Opera—Carlton House parties? She was dressed as fine as fivepence the last time I saw her: I daresay fifty pounds wouldn’t have paid for what she had on her back! N
ot that it’s any concern of mine if your father chooses to let her squander a fortune on trumpery!’

  ‘No,’ said Freddy.

  ‘What do you mean, No?’ demanded Mr Penicuik, glaring at him.

  ‘No concern of yours,’ said Freddy, with unimpaired amiability. ‘What’s more, fifty pounds wouldn’t have paid for her dress, let alone her hat, and her gloves, and the rest of it. Dash it, sir, m’mother don’t buy made-up clothes in Cranbourne Alley! Never heard of such a thing!’

  Mr Penicuik’s hand clenched on his ebony stick, and his demeanour was for a moment so alarming that Kitty feared her betrothed might flee from his presence. But as Mr Standen had just then caught sight of a piece of fluff, adhering to the lapel of his riding-coat, and was carefully removing it, he remained entirely unconscious of the danger he stood in. By the time he had leisure to turn his attention again to his great-uncle, Mr Penicuik had regained control over his emotions, and merely said: ‘Plump in the pocket, your father!’

  ‘Oh, very!’ agreed Freddy.

  Mr Penicuik regarded him with narrowed eyes. ‘Suppose I let Kitty go to London?’ he said abruptly. ‘Think your mother will take her to the ton parties?’

  ‘Bound to,’ said Freddy reflectively. ‘Only parties my mother goes to.’

  ‘H’m!’ grunted Mr Penicuik, taking another pinch of snuff. He gave a sudden cackle of laughter. ‘Ay, you’re a sly puss!’ he told Miss Charing. ‘Damme, I’ll let you go!’ His mirth ceased; a look of anguish entered his face; he said, with a moan: ‘But you’ll be wanting to waste my money on finery!’

 
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