Read Hervey 09 - Man Of War Online

Authors: Allan Mallinson

Hervey 09 - Man Of War (41 page)

BOOK: Hervey 09 - Man Of War
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Lord John Howard now sought to change the subject to something more palatable. ‘Why did not you tell me that your sister was coming up? I saw her name yesterday on the levee list for the King’s Germans!’

Next morning, Hervey received a letter from Kat asking him to call at Holland Park that afternoon. She was to dine at Apsley House, and she had ‘information that will be of the greatest reassurance to you’.

He arrived at three, and was admitted at once to Kat’s sitting room. They kissed, on the lips, though briefly, and sat down cosily together in a fauteuil by the French doors to her little, private rose garden.

Kat wore a dark blue day dress, tight-bodiced and full-sleeved, with a yellow muslin tucker – Hervey’s favourite colours. She was a year or so past forty, he understood, but she was undeniably (this afternoon especially) one of the handsomest women in London.

‘I hear you are the King’s new favourite,’ she began, playfully.

Hervey screwed up his face. ‘What is the game?’

She smiled. ‘I heard that you humbugged the Guards at Windsor.’

Hervey looked uneasy. ‘Where did you hear? From whom?’

Kat raised an eyebrow. ‘From Captain Darbishire.’

‘Mm. Captain Darbishire.’ He sounded faintly vexed.

‘Poor Hol’ness. Such an agreeable man.’

Hervey sat up a little, as if to distance himself. ‘Kat, you did not summon me to relay tattle.’


Matthew
,’ she said, sounding hurt. ‘Be not unkind!’

He sighed. ‘I’m sorry.’ He took her hand. ‘It has been the very devil of a time. And yesterday Howard told me the depositions from two senior officers at Waltham Abbey do not augur well.’

‘Ah,’ she exclaimed, brightening. ‘It is that of which I have good news. Sir Peregrine is
not
to be president of the inquiry.’

‘What? But only the other day—’

‘I made it quite plain to him that it would require his presence here wholly unreasonably, and that we would not be able to spend August in Alderney . . . or Sark, or wherever it is, if he were to preside. I told him, too, that it was all Harry Palmerston’s doing, and that the commander-in-chief disapproved of it, and no good could come of it – that Lord Hill might even be minded to recall him from the Channel Islands.’

Hervey was wholly taken aback, quite overcome with admiration, indeed; for Kat’s imaginative use of ‘fact’ was masterly. ‘Kat, I—’

She lowered her eyes, modestly.

His relief was prodigious. He kissed her.

She smiled, happy to have made him content.

He put his arms around her, and kissed her more.

She rose, left the sitting room for a minute or so, and returned looking uncommonly demure. ‘I must leave for Apsley House at eight. I have dismissed the servants for the afternoon.’ She held out a hand. ‘Come.’

After breakfast the following morning, while Fairbrother took a hackney cab to Mill Hill (where he had an appointment to meet with Mr Wilberforce, who lived there quietly in retirement, but active yet in his interest in the fortunes of the West India slaves), Hervey took to his feet for Berkeley Square, where (he could not bear to put a name to the man) Major-Baron Heinrici kept a house. Fairbrother had offered to abandon his interview, though it was one he had looked to keenly, for he would have liked to see Elizabeth again. And not merely for the pleasure of spirited company: he knew very well that his friend was in ill humour at the prospect of their meeting this morning, disapproving still of his sister’s proposed course, and especially her accompanying to St James’s a man to whom she was most unofficially attached; and he believed that his attendance might do something to ameliorate matters. But Hervey had prevailed upon him: it was unhappy family business to which he would not wish to expose an outsider, even one whose friendship he valued so much.

When he arrived at No. 27, Berkeley Square, he trusted that it was at an hour when Heinrici would not be at home, having sent word to Elizabeth the evening before that he would call on her. His sister received him warmly, happily indeed, yet with just the suggestion of unease that derived from knowing her brother’s disapproval. She showed him into a small sitting room and asked Major Heinrici’s man to have coffee brought to them. She did it so sweetly, and Heinrici’s man was so pleased to be obliging (evidence, he rued, of his sister’s being entirely at home with her lamentable decision) that Hervey had to remind himself not to be beguiled into complicity.

‘A handsome house,’ he said, with a note of accusation.

Elizabeth ignored the note. ‘It is, is it not? Major Heinrici, I find, has the most felicitous taste.’

That did not sound entirely like his sister. There was a note of irreverence, of defiance even. He would not mince his words (what point did it serve?): ‘And you are resolved on this . . . course?’

A footman brought coffee. ‘
Schönen Dank, Hartmut. Und eine Bissen Kuchen, vielleicht?

Hervey’s expression was now undisguised: he had never known her possess a word of German. ‘You have wasted no time in that regard, I see.’

But again Elizabeth would not give battle: if her brother wanted to test her defences, he was going to have to do so more resolutely than mere tilting. ‘Indeed I have. All Major Heinrici’s servants speak the most excellent English, but I have a mind that they like to hear me try at least.’

‘So you see a good deal of them, then?’

‘Daily – when I am permitted by my obligations at Horningsham, and the workhouse.’

One of those obligations, he knew full well, ought wholly to be his own, and the other – their parents – he rightly shared with Elizabeth, though
in absentia
. Was she trying to wrong-foot him by such a remark? He would not be shaken, however. He cleared his throat determinedly, and moved to the edge of his chair. ‘So you refuse to give up this scheme?’

‘Scheme, Matthew?’

‘Your . . . renouncing Peto, and taking instead this . . . German. You refuse to change your course?’

‘Who asks me to?’

Hervey was astonished. ‘I cannot believe I am speaking to my own sister!’

‘And
I
cannot believe it too!’

Hervey stood up. ‘You give a man your word to marry him, and then renounce him to take another: is that right conduct? Is that what people would consider right conduct?’

Elizabeth rose, and threw up her chin. ‘Do not you judge me, Matthew! Do not you presume that because I have lived quietly all my life – ay, and obligingly – that I have no feeling!’

Hervey’s mouth fell open in utter incomprehension. Then his voice began to rise. ‘I might understand it – though heaven knows how – if you were simply to say that you did not wish any longer to marry Peto. But to take up with another while still promised—’

‘I have written to Captain Peto . . .’ There was just a note of imploring.

‘Written?
Written?

‘Matthew, it is our only means of communication. His proposal to me was in writing, and my acceptance too.’

‘It is not decent, Elizabeth. You cannot marry this man!’

Elizabeth stiffened. ‘Ah, for the sake of appearance you would have me die an old maid!’

‘I can’t believe what I hear!’

She breathed deeply, her face red with anger and dismay. ‘Well, Matthew, I may tell you that I am incapable of obliging you in that regard any longer.’

‘What do you mean?’

She held his stare, though with the greatest difficulty. ‘I have lain with Major Heinrici!’

Hervey looked as if he would explode. ‘Good God!’

Elizabeth’s jaw now positively jutted. ‘How dare you, Matthew! How dare you condemn me when you do as you do!’

Hervey’s face returned to incomprehension. ‘What do you mean, “do as I do”?’

‘Hah! You think me so provincial that I do not know what takes place between you and Lady Katherine Greville? And she a married woman, Matthew –
a married woman
! Do you want to debate the degree to which we both individually break the seventh commandment?’

Hervey reeled. ‘This is unsupportable! I cannot believe what I hear. We can have no more to say to each other. Goodbye, Elizabeth!’ And he turned and stalked from the room as if he would knock down the first man who ill-crossed his path.

He ate no lunch. He walked instead for mile upon mile, at turns angry and despairing, yet not knowing precisely what was the true root of the anger, nor of the despair, which did not help his recovering the composure he considered necessary for returning to the United Service Club. Until at about six o’clock, in St James’s Park, a Guards band playing gentle Irish tunes he recalled from the Peninsula began to calm his savage breast.

He sat on a bench listening, observing two ducks from the lake making affectionate display, until he started wondering at his own judgement, which he knew, in his wholly rational moments, to be distorted still by the image of Henrietta and that short but perfect consummation of all his childhood longing (and that of his cornet years – the uncomplicated time, the
honest
years). He was doing his very best, was he not, to recover the simplicity of those years? And was he not merely, and rightly, alarmed for Elizabeth’s sake, anxious that she too did not fall into the sort of maze in which he had stumbled for so long?

He rose, replaced his hat, dusted off his coat, and, suppressing a sigh that might have been deep enough to make the ducks give flight, strode peaceably at last towards the Horse Guards Parade, and thence to the United Service.

There he found Fairbrother in the coffee room, looking more uneasy than ever he had seen him. ‘My dear fellow, are you quite well?’

Fairbrother, holding a large measure of whiskey and soda, which looked as if it might already have been replenished at least once, shook his head, as if doubting his ability to give an answer.

‘I am sorry I was not returned at our usual hour,’ continued Hervey. ‘I imagined, though, that your interview with Mr Wilberforce might become an extended affair.’

His friend nodded, and then shook his head again, seeming to correct himself. ‘No, it was of no very great length.’

‘What is the matter?’ Hervey sat down opposite him and nodded to the steward.

Fairbrother scratched his forehead. ‘How was your sister?’

Hervey looked away and cleared his throat. ‘I think the least said the better on that account.’

‘Why? What transpired between the two of you?’ Fairbrother was now sitting upright.

Hervey was first inclined to think it was no business of his friend’s, but . . . ‘She is adamant she will not marry Peto, and that she will marry instead this German.’

Fairbrother frowned. ‘He has a name, has he not?’

‘Heinrici.’

‘Yes, I know it is Heinrici. If you would use it rather than “this German” you might become better disposed towards him. In any case, I rather thought you approved of Germans.’

‘Of course I approve.’

‘The most faithful fellows, by all accounts.’

‘Yes, indeed, though—’

‘Well perhaps you might admit that Elizabeth may admire that quality too.’

Hervey took the glass from the steward, and a long sip of it to gain a little time: his friend was distracting him with superficially reasonable propositions. ‘Why were you looking so discomposed when I returned? And still do.’

Fairbrother stifled a sigh, biting his lip and fair rolling his eyes. Hervey knew at once he was steeling himself to something.

‘I went to Mr Wilberforce’s this morning, and he received me very civilly, but abed. He had a severe chill. I had not thought that he was such an age, which was remiss of me of course. I stayed only a little while; we resolved to meet again when he was better. And then I went to Greenwich, instead of tomorrow. I told you that I’d learned that Admiral Holmes’s papers were there, and I wished to see them.’

Hervey nodded: he recalled the intention well.

Fairbrother breathed in deep before resuming. ‘Well, in the course of that visit I was shown the hospital – I never saw such a noble place – and on the door of one of the officers’ rooms was the name of your friend, Peto.’

Hervey’s face at once betrayed alarm.

Fairbrother’s changed from resolution to sadness. ‘It was pitiful, Hervey. So active a man as I heard you so often describe, yet reduced to . . .’He fell silent.

Hervey, gathering his own strength for the question, was some time before he could reply. ‘What is it? Are you able to say precisely? He is wounded, is he, or is it an infection – something from the east?’

Fairbrother nodded. ‘He is wounded, really very grievously. He has lost an arm, and the left is still badly shattered. And he has not the use of his legs. The surgeons do not know why.’

Hervey groaned – a long, hopeless sigh of despair. He made to rise. ‘I must go at once.’

‘No, Hervey,’ said Fairbrother, reaching out a hand to grasp his friend’s knee. ‘He was dosed with morphium as I left. The surgeon said to give him a peaceful night.’

Hervey sat back and emptied his glass. ‘Was the surgeon able to say what had happened? Why have we not known before now?’

Fairbrother sat back, too, and beckoned to the steward for more whiskey. ‘It seems he made his lieutenant keep his name from the casualty returns until the following day, by which time Codrington had sent his despatch. The ship’s surgeon thought he would not live more than a day or so. He removed the arm and filled him with laudanum, and after ten days or so, though he was still very fevered, he was transferred to a brig and taken to Malta. He was brought to Greenwich not ten days ago.’

‘Were you able to speak with him?’

‘I was, yes. I told him of our acquaintance . . . and Elizabeth.’

Hervey groaned. ‘What did he say of her?’

Fairbrother’s voice almost broke in the reply. ‘He asked to see you, so that he might tell you he wished to release Elizabeth from the engagement.’

Hervey sighed, loud, and shook his head. ‘Was there ever such decency as in that man? Oh, God!’

‘The very greatest nobility.’

Hervey gritted his teeth. ‘I
shall
see him – tomorrow; and so shall Elizabeth. Let her see for herself what duty calls a man to do – and judge for herself what a woman’s response should be!’

BOOK: Hervey 09 - Man Of War
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Chosen by Desire by Kate Perry
This Noble Land by James A. Michener
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Missing You by Louise Douglas
A Toaster on Mars by Darrell Pitt
Seduced in the Dark by Cj Roberts
Marines by Jay Allan
The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz