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Authors: Georgette Heyer

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

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BOOK: Cousin Kate
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'Frequently, sir!'

'We'll try that too. Delabole is no match for me, and Torquil holds all such sports in abomination. In which he takes after his mother, who can't tell a spade from a club! Eh, Minerva?'

She smiled at him, but rather in the manner of a woman who found little to interest her in the prattling of a Child; and signed to Dr Delabole to sit beside her on one of the sofas. Him she engaged in low-voiced converse, while Torquil sat down at the piano, and strummed idly. Glancing up momentarily from her game, Kate was forcibly struck by the intense melancholy of his expression. His eyes were sombre, his mouth took on a tragic droop; but before she could speculate on this her attention was recalled by Sir Timothy, who said demurely: 'I
don't
think you should accept a double, should you, Kate?'

CHAPTER IV

The following morning was spent by Kate in exploration. Torquil was her guide, and since he seemed to have thrown off the blue devils, an agreeable one. He conducted her all over the house, not excluding his own wing of it, and entertained her with his version of its history. 'And here,' he said solemnly, throwing open a door, 'we have the Muniment Room! Why don't you bow profoundly? I warn you, my mama will expect you to do so! She has been at such pains to collect our records, and to store them here! I don't think Papa ever troubled himself to do so - or to have a Muniment Room - but pray don't tell her I said so!' He cast her a sidelong look, out of eyes brimming with laughter. 'Isn't it odd that she, who was not born a Broome, should care so much more for them than Papa? She was ably assisted by Matthew - oh, Dr Delabole! I call him Matthew - who has also catalogued the library. Have you seen enough? Shall I take you out into the gardens?'

'Yes, please, but let me get a shawl first.'

He accompanied her to her bedchamber, and stood in the doorway, leaning his shoulders against the wall, his hands dug into his pockets, while she changed her slippers for a pair of half-boots, and wrapped a shawl round herself. His attitude was one of careless grace; his dress negligent, with the unstarched points of his shirt-collar drooping over a loosely knotted handkerchief, and a shooting-jacket worn open over a fancy waistcoat. A lock of his gleaming hair fell across his brow, and prompted Kate to say, with a twinkle: 'You do study the picturesque, don't you? One might take you for a poet!'

'I am a poet,' he replied coldly.

'No, are you? Then that accounts for it!'

'Accounts for what?'

'The windswept look, of course. Oh, don't poker up! Did no one ever banter you before?'

It seemed, for a moment, as though he had taken offence; but then he laughed, rather reluctantly, and said: 'No, never. Is that what you mean to do, cousin?'

'Well, I don't precisely
mean
to, but I daresay I shall. You must remember that I have lived amongst soldiers! Very young officers, you know, are for ever cutting jokes, and poking fun at each other, and anyone making a figure of himself must be prepared to stand the roast! Come, let us go: I am quite ready!'

He muttered something which she did not catch, but she did not ask him to repeat it, feeling that he must be left to recover his temper. Not until they had left the house did she speak again, and then, perceiving a bed of spring flowers, she exclaimed: 'Oh, how charming! Your mama told me that she had made the gardens her particular concern. Pray take me all over them! If it isn't a dead bore?'

'Oh, everything is a dead bore!' he said, shrugging up his shoulders. 'Being a Broome - being the heir - being alive! Do you ever wish you had never been born?'

Suspecting him of dramatizing himself, she answered, after consideration: 'No. I always think, when things are at their worst, that
tomorrow
will be better. And it very often is - as when your mother, finding me, if not quite destitute, at any rate at my wits' end, invited me to stay with her. So don't despair, Torquil!'

She ended by impulsively pressing his thin hand, and smiling up into his suddenly haggard face. He stared hungrily down at her for a moment, before shaking off her hand, and saying harshly: 'Well, let us take a look at the Italian garden - and the rose-garden - and the knot-garden - and the belvedere - if that's what you wish! Oh, and the herb-garden, and the shrubbery! Not that you will see much in them at this season! But you won't care for that, I daresay!'

She stood her ground, saying calmly: 'But I do care. Take me, if you please, to the belvedere, which I have already seen from the window of my room, and which seems to command a view of the lake!'

Their eyes battled for mastery. Hers won, their coolness quenching the flame in his; but the effort to withstand his scorching gaze left her shaken. Before she could bring her thoughts into order, the flame had shrunk, and he was making an exaggerated bow, and saying gaily: 'As you wish, cousin! This way!'

She walked in silence beside him down a path which led to the belvedere, and almost shrank from him when, all at once, he stopped, compelling her to do so too by gripping her arm, and swinging her round to face him. 'Are you afraid of me, Cousin Kate?' he demanded.

'Afraid of you? No, why should I be?' she countered.

'You jumped!'

'Well, so I should think, when you startled me so much!' she said indignantly. 'For goodness' sake, Torquil, don't playact! At all events, not to me, for, whatever your entourage may feel, I am quite unimpressed! Now, if you will be so obliging as to let me go, we will proceed on our way to the belvedere!'

He gave a low chuckle, and released his painful grip on her arm. 'Strong, aren't I?' He flexed his long fingers, regarding them with an admiring smile. 'I could strangle you one-handed, you know. Wouldn't think it, to look at me, would you?'

'No, but as I haven't had occasion to consider the matter there's nothing wonderful in that!' she retorted, rubbing her arm. His chagrined face stirred her sense of fun; she broke into laughter, and said: 'Cry craven, Torquil! You have the wrong sow by the ear: I'm not so easily impressed!'

That made him echo her laughter. 'Kate, Cousin Kate, do you call yourself a sow? I should never dare do so! You are the most unusual girl!'

'I've had an unusual upbringing - and well for you if you don't call me a sow! Now, do come to the belvedere! My aunt will certainly ask if you showed it to me, and if you are obliged to say that you didn't, it will be all holiday with you!'

He threw a quick look over his shoulder, as though he feared to see Lady Broome. 'Yes. As you say! Come, let's run!'

He caught her hand as he spoke, and forced her to run beside him down the path. She made a snatch at her skirt, but arrived, breathless, laughing, and with a torn flounce, at the belvedere. '
Odious
boy!' she scolded, pulling her hand out of his. 'Just look at what you've made me do to my gown! Now I must pin it up!' She opened her reticule, drew out a paper of pins, and, sitting down on the steps, began to repair the damage.

Watching with great interest, Torquil asked if she always carried pins.

'Yes, for one never knows when one may need them. There! I hope it will hold until I can stitch it - and that my aunt doesn't see me with a pinned-up flounce! She would take me for a regular Mab, I daresay. I may now enjoy the view - and, oh, yes, I do enjoy it! How very right your mama was to build a belvedere just here! May I enter it?'

'Do!' he said cordially.

She mounted the steps, and found herself in a summer-house, which was furnished with a table, and one chair. A book lay on the table and a standish was set beside it. Kate said: 'Is it private, this room? Ought I to be in it?'

'Oh, yes! I don't care.'

'You may not, but perhaps your mama might!'

'Why?
She
doesn't sit here!'

'Is it yours, then? I'm very much obliged to you for letting me see it.' She moved to the front of the round tower, and stood resting her hands on the stone ledge, looking out between the slender pillars to the lake below, and to the trees and the flowering shrubs beyond the lake. 'It is very beautiful,' she said, in a troubled tone. 'Very beautiful, and yet very sad. Why should still water be so melancholy?'

'I don't know. I don't find it so. Come down to the bridge!
There is a willow grows aslant a brook, That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream -
only it isn't a brook! Just a deep lake!'

She followed him down the steps to the stone bridge which was flung across the narrow end of the lake. He went ahead of her to the middle of the bridge, and stood there, leaning his arms on the parapet, and watching her with a mocking smile. 'Come along!' he coaxed. 'I won't throw you in!'

She laughed. 'No, won't you?'

'Not if you don't wish it!'

'I most certainly do not wish it!'

'Don't you? Not at all? I often think how pleasant it would be to drown.'

'Well, it wouldn't be in the least pleasant!' she said severely. 'Are you trying to make my flesh creep? I warn you, I have a very matter-of-fact mind, and shall put you to a non-plus! What lies beyond the lake?'

'Oh, the Home Wood! Do you care to walk in it?'

'Yes, of all things! If we have time? What
is
the time?'

'I haven't a notion. Does it signify?'

'I was thinking of my aunt.'

'Why?'

'She may need me to do something for her!'

'Mama? Good God, she doesn't need anyone to do things for her!' he said impatiently. 'Besides, she told me to take you all about!'

'Oh, then in that case!—' she said, yielding.

It was pleasant in the wood, sheltered from the slight but sharp wind, and with the sun filtering through the trees. There were several grassy rides cut through the undergrowth, and in a clearing bluebells had been planted. Kate exclaimed in delight at these, and could scarcely drag herself away. 'How much I envy you!' she said impulsively. 'I have never lived in the English countryside, until last year, and then, you know, it wasn't springtime. The autumn tints were lovely, but oh, how it did rain!'

'Where was this?' he asked.

'In Cambridgeshire, not far from Wisbech. I was employed as governess to two detestably spoilt children, and as the elder was only seven our walks were restricted. Thank God I left before the third could be handed over to me!'

'A governess!' he said, looking very much struck. 'Does Mama know this?'

'Of course she does! You may say that she rescued me!' She glanced up at him inquiringly. 'Didn't she tell you?'

'Tell me? Oh, no! How could you suppose she would? She never tells me anything!'

'Perhaps she thought I shouldn't wish it to be known.'

'More likely
she
didn't wish it to be known! Very high in the instep, my dear mama! Keeps the world at a proper distance !'

Kate was shocked, for there was a note of venom in his voice. After a moment's hesitation, she said diffidently: 'You should not speak so, least of all to me. Recollect that I have cause to be grateful to her! Indeed, she has almost overwhelmed me by her kindness!'

'Has she, by Jove? I wonder why?' he said ruminatively, his eyes narrowed, and gleaming strangely. 'You may depend upon it that she has a reason! But what can it be?' His eyes slid to her face, saw in it a deep disapproval, and shifted. 'Oh, are you shocked?' he said derisively. 'Do you believe that one should love and honour one's parents? Well, I don't, do you hear me? I don't! I am treated like a child - not allowed to do this - not allowed to do the other - kept in seclusion-spied on—' He broke off, his face convulsed with rage. He covered it with his shaking hands, and said chokingly: '
She
is to blame! She has my father so much under her thumb - oh, you don't know! you can't know! We are all afraid of her - all of us, even Matthew! Even me!'

He ended on a hysterical sob. As much moved as shocked, she ventured to lay a soothing hand on his arm, and to say: 'You are her only child, and - and, I collect, not
robust!'
Her ,care of you must spring from her love - don't you think?'

His hands fell; he showed her a distorted face, in which his eyes blazed 'Love?' he ejaculated. '
Love
? Mama? Oh, that's good! That's rich, by God!' Suddenly he stiffened, and grasped her wrist, listening intently. 'I thought as much! Matthew, or Badger, spying on me! If they ask you what I've been saying to you, don't tell them - either of them!
Promise
me!'

She had only time to utter the desired assurance before his hand left her wrist. Dr Delabole stepped into the clearing, and waved to them, saying: 'So here you are! "Depend upon it," I told her ladyship, "Torquil has taken Miss Kate to see the bluebells!" My dear young people, have you the least notion of what the time may be?'

'Well, I did ask my cousin, when he suggested a stroll through the wood, but he said it didn't signify! And then we came upon the bluebells!' replied Kate gaily.

'Beautiful, aren't they? One could spend an hour, feasting one's eyes upon them! But it is past noon, and a nuncheon awaits you!'

'Past noon! Oh, we must go back instantly!' exclaimed Kate, stricken.

'On the contrary! We must go on!' said the doctor, laughing gently. 'The wood dwindles into the park, and if we continue down this ride we shall find ourselves within a stone's throw of the house. And what, Miss Kate, did you think of the belvedere?'

BOOK: Cousin Kate
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