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Authors: Georgette Heyer

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #General

Cousin Kate (4 page)

BOOK: Cousin Kate
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'How kind - how
kind he must be!' Kate exclaimed, much moved. 'Pray tell him how grateful I am, ma'am! But-'

'No, no, let us have no buts!' interrupted Lady Broome. 'You shall come to Staplewood on a visit merely. You can have no objection to spending a month or two in the country. Then, if you are still determined to seek another situation, I must try if I can find one for you.' She smiled at Kate's quick look of inquiry. 'Yes, I can, you know - and a better one than you could discover for yourself. However, we shan't think of that yet. In another fortnight we shall be in May, and must hope that this odiously sharp wind will have blown itself out. Ah, you can't conceive of any place more beautiful than Staplewood in summer!'

It was too tempting; it would be too churlish to refuse. Kate stammered her thanks, was silenced, and found herself listening to a description of the household.

'Sir Timothy,' said Lady Broome, 'is many years older than I am, and has become very frail. I am his second wife, you must know, and my son, Torquil, is his only surviving child. He is some years younger than you.' She hesitated, looking all at once a little stern; then she sighed, and continued quietly: 'I am sorry to say that his constitution is sickly. It has never been possible to send him to school. He is under the care of Dr Delabole, who also attends Sir Timothy, and lives with us. So you see, my dear, why I have so much wished for a daughter! I am a very lonely woman.'

Feeling all the embarrassment of one made the recipient of such a confidence, Kate murmured: 'Yes. I mean, I see!'

Lady Broome leaned forward to pat her hand. 'You don't, of course, but never mind! you will! Now, we must decide, must we not, what it will be proper to pay your nurse for having housed you. Do you think—'

'Oh, no!' Kate exclaimed, recoiling. 'No, no, ma'am! I beg you will not offer Sarah money! I shall give them all presents - Joe, and Mr Nidd, and the nephews as well! - but I must pay for them out of my own savings!'

'Very well!' said her ladyship, rising, and drawing her pelisse about her again, and buttoning it at the throat. Her eyes ran over her niece; she smiled, and held out a gloved hand. '
Au revoir
, then! I am putting up at the Clarendon. You will take a hackney coach, and join me there tomorrow: it is understood? Good! Now, do you think that Joe, or Mr Nidd, or even one of the nephews, could procure me a hack?'

'Yes, ma'am, on the instant!' replied Kate, starting up from her chair, and running to the door. 'Only wait, I do implore you!'

Pausing merely to cram a hat over her dusky locks, and to huddle a cloak about her person, she darted down the stairs, and out into the yard, to be pulled up in her tracks by Mr Nidd, who, from his vantage point on the balcony, saw her, and briskly commanded her to stop. Rising, not without difficulty, from his seat, he adjured her not to be a hoyden, but to come back into the house this instant. 'A'h, know!' he said. 'Going to summon a hack, ain't you? Well, you won't, see? You'll leave that to them as is better able than you to do it, my girl! Back with you into the house, miss! And take that nasty hat off your head!'

'It is not a nasty hat!' retorted Kate indignantly.

But, as Mr Nidd had dived through a doorway out of sight, this reply fell on the ambient air; and a few minutes later Old Tom came grumbling out of the stables, and hobbled across the yard to the gateway.

'Oh, Tom!' uttered Kate, in remorseful accents.

'You let him be!' said Mr Nidd, emerging from the stables behind him. 'Joe and Jos and Ted being gone off with loads, there ain't nobody but that gormless hunk, Will, in the stables, and likely he'd come back with the oldest hack in the rank. You get back up them stairs, missy, and go on gabbing to her ladyship!'

This, however, proved to be unnecessary, her ladyship having descended the stairs, and penetrated to the kitchen, where she found Sarah testing the heat of the oven with her hand, prior to inserting a large steak pie. 'Oh, don't let me disturb you, Mrs Nidd!' she begged. 'Dear me, how cosy it is in here, and
a good smell! I shall sit down on this chair, and watch you.' She seated herself as she spoke, and smiled graciously at her hostess. 'Well! you will be happy to know that I have prevailed upon Miss Kate to pay us a long visit,' she disclosed. 'I wonder would you be good enough to let me know her measurements? And the colours she prefers. Ah, thank you! What forethought!'

She stretched out her hand , and Sarah put the list into it, looking frowningly at her. It seemed to Sarah that she had taken possession of the house; and the feeling that her mantle was cast over its inmates, and even over the stables, grew upon her, and could not be shaken off. You couldn't say that she was condescending, for she was very affable. Patronage! that's what it was: my lady stooping from her height to be kind to a carrier's wife! No doubt she would be just as kind to Joe, and would laugh easily at Mr Nidd's sallies. She was putting the paper away in her reticule, and had drawn out her purse. Sarah stiffened, but she only selected half-a-crown from amongst the coins it contained, and laid it on the table. 'Will you give that to the stable-boy who has gone to summon up a hackney coach for me?' she asked.

Sarah nodded, still frowning. But Kate looked in at that moment, seeking her aunt, and, at sight of her, said gaily: 'Why, ma'am, when I couldn't find you in the parlour I made up my mind to it that I had dreamt the whole!' She saw Sarah's worried expression, and said, with a droll look: 'Oh, faithless one! I'll never forgive you! Or shall I? Yes, perhaps I shall! I can't tell. Aunt Minerva, Tom has procured a hack for you, and it is waiting in the yard.'

'Then you shall escort me to it,' responded Lady Broome, rising, and holding out her hand to Sarah. 'I'll take my leave of you, Mrs Nidd. I daresay it may be impossible for you to get away, but if you
contrive to do so I hope I need not tell you that you will be welcome at Staplewood?'

'No, my lady,' replied Sarah, with a slight curtsy. 'Oh, dear me, no!'

Lady Broome then preceded her niece out of the kitchen. Five minutes later, Kate came back, her eyes dancing, and her cheeks aglow. She clasped Sarah round the waist, and hugged her. 'Oh, Sarah, I've thrown my cap over the windmill, and whether I'm glad, or whether I'm sorry, I don't know, but I think I'm glad! To own the truth, it has been a struggle to know how to support my spirits, for the very thought of another situation as governess sinks me into gloom! Particularly now, when you have petted and cosseted me so much. Yes, but I'm a little frightened as well. How shall I go on in such a house as Staplewood seems to be? The Astleys' was nothing to it, I feel sure! There will be a butler, of course, and - do you think, footmen?'

'Not more than two,' answered Sarah decidedly. 'That's supposing there's an under-butler, which it's likely there will be. The housekeeper, her ladyship's dresser, the stillroom-maid, and four of five housemaids: that's all that need concern you, miss, for it's not to be expected that you'll have much to do with the gardeners, nor the grooms. When are you to go?'

'Tomorrow! At least, I am to join my aunt at the Clarendon tomorrow.' She put up her chin, allowed her eyelids to droop, and said languidly: 'I shall be spending the night at the Clarendon, Sarah: be good enough to pack my trunk!'

'You may be sure I will!' replied Sarah grimly.

'You will not!' cried Kate, abandoning her haughty pose.

'Indeed and I shall! Now, give over, Miss Kate! Who packed your trunk when you went to the Astleys, pray? I must get up your best muslin, too - which reminds me that you need to put fresh ribbons on it!' She bustled across the room to the dresser, and took her purse out of one of its drawers. 'Take this, love, and go and buy yourself some! Dinner won't be ready for above an hour yet, so you've plenty of time.'

Kate put her hands behind her back, vigorously shaking her head. 'I'll go, but I won't take your purse. I have a
deal of money in my own - so much, in fact, that I shan't grudge the expense of a hack to Bedford House!'

'Did her ladyship give it to you?' demanded Sarah. 'No, I saved it!' said Kate, laughing, and backing to the door. 'No, Sarah, no! I've had too much from you already. Keep some dinner for me, won't you?'

She vanished through the doorway, and was not seen again until nearly five o'clock, when a hack deposited her in the yard, laden with packages.

'Well!' said Sarah. 'A fine time to come home to dinner this is, miss! And what may you have been wasting your money on, if you please?'

'I haven't wasted it - at least, I do hope I have not!' replied Kate, spilling her parcels on to the kitchen table. 'That one is for you, and this is a pipe for Joe, and - oh, goodness, where is the snuff box I bought for Mr Nidd? It isn't
, or
that -
oh, I put it in my reticule, to be safe! Tell me, Sarah, do you think Joe will like—Why,
Sarah'! —'

'I can't help it,' sobbed Sarah, from behind her apron. 'To think of you flinging your money away, and you with so little! Oh, you naughty girl, how could you? Didn't you buy nothing for yourself? Oh, I can't bear it!'

'But of course I did! Ribbon trimmings, just as you bade me, and - oh, all manner of things, to furbish me up a trifle!' said Kate merrily. 'Sarah, do, pray, stop napping your bib!'

This had the desired effect. Sarah dropped her apron, ejaculating: 'Miss Kate! How dare you? Where did you learn that nasty, vulgar expression? Not that I need to ask you! From Father, I'll be bound!'

'Not a bit of it! From Tom!'

'Oh, you did, did you? And how many times have I told you not to go near the stables, miss? Yes, and I'll tell you something else, which is that if you talk like that at Staplewood you'll be back here in the twinkling of a bedpost!'

'Yes, Sarah!' said Kate meekly. She tore the wrapping from the largest of her parcels, shook out the Paisley shawl it contained, and swept it round her nurse. 'There! Please say you like it!' she coaxed, kissing Sarah's cheek. 'It comes to you with my love, dearest.'

Mr Nidd, entering the kitchen some minutes later, was revolted to find his daughter-in-law peacocking about (as he phrased it) in a handsome shawl, and instantly demanded to be told what she thought she was a-doing of, dressed-up like Christmas beef.

'Oh, Father, Miss Kate has given it to me!' said Sarah, dissolving again into tears. 'The very thing I always wanted!'

'Ho!' said Mr Nidd. 'I might ha' known it! Flashing the rags all over! Soon as I see her trapesing off, I says to myself:
Wasting the ready! that's what she's a-going to do

'Did you indeed?' said Kate. 'Well, in that case I won't give you your snuff box, Mr Nidd!'

'You've never gone and bought me a snuff box, miss?' he said incredulously. 'You're gammoning me!'

'See if I am!' challenged Kate, holding the box out to him.

'Well, dang me!' said Mr Nidd, accepting it in one gnarled hand, and subjecting it to a close inspection. 'Silver!' he pronounced, much gratified. 'Well, I'm sure I thank you very kindly, miss - very kindly indeed I thank you! Ah, and whenever I helps meself to a pinch of merry-go-up out of this here box I shall think of you, and I can't say no fairer than that!'

Even Sarah felt that he had expressed his gratitude with rare grace. He then, and with great care, transferred the contents of his horn box into the new silver one, handing the old box to Sarah, with instructions to throw it away, since he had no further use for it. After that, he sallied forth, bound for his favourite hostelry, where, no one could doubt, he had every intention of offering his cronies pinches from his box. The discovery, later, that Kate had bestowed a handkerchief on his youngest grandson only abated his satisfaction for as long as it took him to assess the respective values of a silver snuff box and what he designated a Bird's Eye Wipe.


By five o'clock two days later, the chaise that bore Lady Broome, her niece, and her abigail, was nearing its destination, and her ladyship woke up. Miss Malvern, bright-eyed and alert, had not slept, but had divided her time between reverently stroking the sleek ermine muff which Lady Broome had bestowed upon her, squinting down to admire the matching stole about her shoulders, observing with interest the country through which four fast horses were carrying her, and speculating on the sudden change in her fortunes.

From the moment of her arrival at the Clarendon Hotel, she felt that she had been pitchforked into another, and more affluent, world. Received with great civility, she was led upstairs to my lady's apartments, a large suite of rooms looking on to Albemarle Street, and welcomed affectionately by my lady, who kissed her, held her at arms' length, and exclaimed ruefully: 'How
pretty you are! And what charming taste you have! I don't wonder at it that that horrid young man made up to you! Ah, Sidlaw, here she is - my little half-niece! My love, this is Sidlaw, my dresser, and once, like your Sarah, my nurse!'

Not for nothing had Miss Malvern spent six months in a gentleman's establishment: Miss Sidlaw's mien might be forbidding, and her curtsy majestic, but Miss Malvern knew better than to offer her hand. She smiled, and acknowledged the curtsy with a gracious inclination of her head, well aware that by this manner of receiving an introduction she had risen from the status of Poor Relation to that of a Lady of the First Stare.

Dinner was served in my lady's private parlour: not a large dinner, but one of great elegance, beginning with a soup, going on with lobster, dressed in a sauce known only to Jacquard, reaching its climax in a capilotade of ducklings, and ending with a dish of peu d'amours. Miss Malvern, abandoning herself to the flesh-pots, enjoyed every mouthful.

BOOK: Cousin Kate
9.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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