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Authors: Georgette Heyer

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

Cousin Kate (6 page)

BOOK: Cousin Kate
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Having washed her face and hands, Kate sat down at the dressing-table, in her petticoat, and vigorously brushed her hair, threading a ribbon through it, and twisting the ringlets round her fingers. Her handmaiden, watching with great interest, said: 'Lor', miss! Is it
natural
?'

'Yes, quite natural!' Kate answered, amused. 'Isn't it fortunate for me? Now, if you will do up my dress for me - oh, and open the package my aunt gave me! - Good God, what a beautiful shawl! It must be Norwich silk, surely! - Where is my trinket box?' She dived into her trunk again, and dragged from its depths a small box, which she opened. After critically inspecting its contents, she selected a modest string of beads, and a posy-ring; and, having clasped the one round her throat, and slipped the other on her finger, disposed the shawl becomingly, and announced that she was now ready.

'Oh, miss, you do look a picture!' exclaimed her handmaiden involuntarily.

Heartened by this tribute, Kate drew a resolute breath, and stepped out into the corridor. She was led down it to the hall, and across this to a picture gallery, where brocade curtains shrouded no fewer than fifteen very tall windows. Wax candles flickered in a number of wall sconces, but did little to warm the gallery. Kate drew the shawl more closely about her shoulders, and was reminded of a draughty chateau near Toulouse, where she and her father had had the ill-fortune to be billeted for several weeks.

'This is the anteroom, miss!' whispered Ellen, opening a door, and walking across the room on tiptoe to where heavy curtains veiled an archway. She pulled one back a little way, signifying, with a jerk of her head and a frightened grimace, that Kate was to pass through the archway.

There were only two people in the Long Drawing-room, neither of whom was known to Kate. She hesitated, looking inquiringly from one to the other.

Standing before the fire was a well-preserved gentleman of uncertain age; and lounging on a sofa was the most beautiful youth Kate had ever seen. Under a brow of alabaster were set a pair of large and oddly luminous blue eyes, fringed by long, curling lashes; his nose was classic; his petulant mouth most exquisitely curved; and his pale golden hair looked like silk. He wore it rather long, and one waving strand, whether by accident or design, fell forward across his brow. He pushed it back with a slender white hand, and favoured Kate with the look of a sulky schoolboy.

His companion came forward, bowing, and smiling. 'Miss Malvern, is it not? I must make myself known to you: I am Dr Delabole. Torquil, dear boy, where are your manners?'

This was uttered in a tone of gentle reproof, and had the effect of making Torquil get up, and execute a reluctant bow.

'How do you do?' said Kate calmly, putting out her hand. 'I shan't eat you, you know!'

Light intensified in his eyes; he laughed delightedly, and took her hand, and stood holding it. 'Oh, I like you!' he said impulsively.

'I'm so glad,' responded Kate, making an attempt to withdraw her hand. His fingers closed on it with surprising strength. She was obliged to request him to let her go. 'Even if you do like me!' she said, quizzing him.

The cloud descended again; he almost flung her hand away, muttering: 'You don't like me!'

'Well, I find you excessively uncivil,' she owned. 'However, I daresay you are subject to fits of the sullens, and, of course, I don't know what may have occurred to put you out of temper.'

For a moment it seemed as if he was furious; then, as he looked at her, the cloud lifted, and he exclaimed: 'Oh, your eyes are laughing! Yes, I
do
like you. I'll beg your pardon, if you wish it.'

'Torquil, Torquil!' said Dr Delabole, in an admonishing voice. 'I am afraid, Miss Malvern, you find us in one of our twitty moods, eh, my boy?'

She could not help feeling that this was a tactless thing to have said; but before she could speak Sir Timothy, with her aunt leaning on his arm, had come into the room, and Lady Broome had exclaimed: 'Oh, you are before me! Torquil, my son!' She moved forward, in a cloud of puce satin and gauze, holding out her hands to him. He took one, and punctiliously kissed it; and she laid the other upon his shoulder, compelling him (as it seemed to Kate) to salute her cheek. Retaining her clasp on his hand, she led him up to Kate, saying: 'I will have no formality! Kate, my love, you will allow me to present you to your Cousin Torquil! Torquil, Cousin Kate!'

Kate promptly sank into a deep curtsy, to which he responded with a flourishing bow, uttering: 'Cousin Kate!'

'Cousin Torquil!'

'Dinner is served, my lady,' announced Pennymore.

'Sir Timothy, will you escort Kate?' directed her ladyship. 'She has yet to learn her way about!'

'It will be a pleasure!' said Sir Timothy, offering his arm with a courtly gesture. 'A bewildering house, isn't it? I have often thought so. I should warn you, perhaps, that the food comes quite cold to table, the kitchens being most inconveniently placed.'

Kate gave a gurgle of laughter, but Lady Broome, overhearing the remark, said: 'Nonsense, Sir Timothy! When I have been at such pains to introduce chafing dishes!'

'So you have, Minerva, so you have!' he replied apologetically.

The dining-room, which was reached by way of the picture gallery, the Grand Stairway, a broad corridor, and an anteroom, was an immense apartment on the entrance floor of the mansion, panelled in black oak, and hung with crimson damask. Several rather dark portraits did little to lighten it, all the light being shed from four branching chandeliers, which were set at intervals on the long, rather narrow table, on either side of a massive silver epergne. The chairs were Jacobean, with tall backs, upholstered in crimson brocade; and in the gloom that lay beyond the light Kate could dimly perceive a large sideboard.

'Not very homelike?' murmured Sir Timothy.

'Not like any home I was ever in, sir,' she replied demurely.

Torquil, overhearing this as he took his seat beside her, said: 'Bravo! Cousin Kate, Mama, has just said that this is not like any home she was ever in!'

Kate flushed vividly, and cast an apologetic look at Lady Broome, who, however, smiled at her, and said: 'Well, I don't suppose it is, my son. Your cousin has spent her life following the drum, remember! She never knew
my
home. What have you before you, Sir Timothy? Ah, a cod's head! Give Kate some, but don't, I do implore you, place an eye upon her plate! Considered by many to be a high relish, but not by me!'

'Or by me!' said Torquil, shuddering. 'I shall have some soup, Mama.'

'Which leaves the cod's eyes to me, and to Sir Timothy!' said Dr Delabole. '
We
don't despise them, I promise you!'

Since he was seated opposite her, Kate was now at leisure to observe him more particularly. He was a large man, with a bland smile, and sufficiently well-looking to make the epithet
handsome
, frequently used to describe him, not wholly inapposite. He had very white hands, and his mouse-coloured hair was brushed into a fashionable Brutus; and while there was nothing in his attire to support the theory, he gave an impression of modishness. Perhaps, thought Kate, because his shirt-points, though of moderate height, were so exquisitely starched, and his neckcloth arranged with great nicety.

The cod's head was removed with a loin of veal; and the soup with a Beef Tremblant and Roots. Between them, side dishes were set on the table: pigeons a la Crapaudine, petits pates, a matelot of eels, and a fricassee of chicken. Kate, partaking sparingly of the veal, in the foreknowledge that she would be expected to do justice to the second course, watched, with awe, Dr Delabole, who had already consumed a large portion of cod, help himself to two pigeons, and eat both, with considerable gusto.

The second course consisted of a green goose, two rabbits, a dressed crab, some broccoli, some spinach, and an apple-pie. It occurred forcibly to Kate that Lady Browne's housekeeping was on a large scale. She was not so much impressed as shocked, for as one who knew that one skinny fowl could, skilfully cooked, provide a satisfying meal for three hungry persons, and - who had seldom had more than a few shillings to spend on dinner, this lavishness was horrifying. Torquil had eaten two mouthfuls of the crab before pushing his plate away, peevishly saying that the crab was inedible, and toying with his apple-pie; Sir Timothy, delicately carving a minute portion of rabbit for himself, had allowed her to place a spoonful of spinach on his plate, and then had left it untouched; Lady Broome, having pressed Dr Delabole to permit her to give him some of the goose, took a small slice herself; and Kate, resisting all coaxing attempts to make her sample the goose, ended the repast with the apple-pie and custard. Throughout the meal, Lady Broome maintained a flow of small talk, and Dr Delabole one of anecdote. Sir Timothy, his world-weary eyes on Kate's face, talked to her of the Peninsular Campaign, to which she responded, at first shyly, and then, when he touched on battles that came within her adult memory, with animation. She drew a soft laugh from him when she described conditions in the Pyrenees, 'when even Headquarters, which were at Lesaca, were - were
odious!'

Torquil said curiously: 'Were you there?'

'No, not at Lesaca,' she replied, turning her head towards him, and smiling in her friendly way.

'Oh, I meant in the Peninsula!'

'Why, yes! You may say that I was bred in Portugal! Though, owing to the fact that I was only a child at the time, and was left with Mama and my nurse in Lisbon, I can't tell you anything about the retreat to Corunna. Indeed, the first campaign of which I have the smallest recollection is that of 1811, when Lord Wellington advanced from the Lines of Torres Vedras, and drove all before him, as far as to Madrid!'

'How much I envy you!'

'Do you? It was very uncomfortable, you know! And sometimes rather dangerous.'

'I shouldn't care for that,' he said, throwing a challenging look at his mother. 'I bear a charmed life!'

'You talk a great deal of nonsense, my son,' she said shortly, rising, and going to the door. One of the footmen opened it for her and she passed out of the room, followed by Kate, whose instinct bade her thank the man, but whose judgement forbade her to do so. She achieved a compromise between self-importance and the sort of familiarity she knew her aunt would deprecate, and smiled warmly up at him. He maintained his air of rigid immobility, but later rendered himself odious to his peers by saying that he knew Quality when he saw it, and it didn't depend on a fortune, not by a long chalk it didn't, whatever ill-informed persons might suppose. 'Sir Timothy's Quality,' he said, pointing his knife at his immediate' superior, and speaking a trifle thickly, 'which you won't deny! And for why? Because he ain't so stiff-rumped that he won't thank you civil if you was to perform a service for him! And his lady ain't! For why? Because she's so top-lofty she don't so much as notice any of us servants! And that Dr Delabole ain't Quality either, for
he
notices us too much! But Miss Kate
is
!'

Meanwhile, Kate, unaware of this encomium, had followed her aunt to the Yellow saloon, and was listening to her exposition of her son's character. According to Lady Broome, he had been (owing to his sickly childhood) too much indulged, to which circumstance must be attributed his every fault. 'You won't heed him, I know, when he talks in that wild way,' she said, with a slight smile. 'I sometimes think that he would have made a very good actor - though whence he derives his histrionic talent I confess I haven't the remotest guess!'

'Oh, no! I shan't heed him,' replied Kate cheerfully. Any more than I heeded my father's subalterns!'

'Dear child!' purred her ladyship. 'You have such superior sense! Torquil, I fear, has none at all, so you will be an excellent companion for him. I should explain to you, perhaps, that although it was found to be impossible to send him to school, I felt that it would be improper to admit him into our social life, and so set up an establishment for him in the West Wing, where he resides - or has resided, up to the present time - with Dr Delabole, and his valet, our faithful Badger.'

A wrinkle appeared on Kate's brow; she ventured to ask how old Torquil was. She was told, Nineteen, and looked surprised.

'You are thinking,' said her ladyship smoothly, 'that he should be at Oxford. Unfortunately, his health is still too precarious to make it advisable to send him up.'

'No, I wasn't thinking that, ma'am. But - but he is a man grown, and it does seem a little odd that he should be kept in the nursery!' said Kate frankly.

Lady Broome laughed. 'Oh, dear me, no! Not the nursery! What a notion to take into your head! The thing is that having been reared in the West Wing he chooses to remain there - using it as a retreat, when he is out of humour. He is subject to moods, as I don't doubt you will have noticed, and the least excitement brings on one of his distressing migraines. These prostrate him, and there is nothing for it but to put him to bed, and to keep him in absolute quiet. Impossible, of course, if his room were in the main part of the house.'

Never having had experience of sickly young men, Kate accepted this, and said no more. When the gentlemen had come into the room, the backgammon table was set out, and Sir Timothy asked her if she played the game. She responded drolly: 'Why, yes, sir! I have been used to play with my father, and consider myself to be quite a dab at it!'

He chuckled. 'Come and pit your skill against mine!' he invited. 'Did you also play piquet with your father?'

BOOK: Cousin Kate
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