Authors: Jane Ashford
“Whew!” remarked Katharine. “She is a tartar, isn't she?”
“Oh, how did she find out?” cried Elinor. “We are lost now.”
“I fear I wrote her,” admitted Mary. “I had no idea she was soâ¦ When I met her before, she seemed quite charming.”
“But, Elinor, this is just what we wanted,” said Katharine. “You did not want to scold Tom. Well, here is someone who will, soundly.” She smiled at her cousin.
“No, no. It will make him wild,” protested Elinor. “He hates being lectured by his mother.”
“Elinor!” came a stentorian call up the stairs. “The carriages are here. Come along.”
Elinor wrung her hands. “Oh, dearâ¦oh, dear. Katharine! You must come with me. I cannot face her alone.”
“You must! Please, please.”
“All right, all right. Do not fall into a fit of the vapors. I will come.”
“I knew you would not desert me now.”
“I must get my bonnet. You go and tell Lady Agnes you are coming.”
“I have said so, goose. Go on.”
Elinor turned to walk downstairs as Katharine started up to her bedchamber to fetch her hat. “Oh, this will be dreadful,” murmured the former, “
Lady Agnes reached the Marchington town house before Elinor and Katharine, and she was awaiting them in the drawing room, arms folded over her formidable bodice, foot tapping. Elinor positively cringed when she entered, and Katharine, though somewhat amused, still wished herself elsewhere.
Lady Agnes was surprised to see her. “Katharine?” she said with raised eyebrows. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought I might be of some assistance, Lady Agnes.”
“Assistance?” The other appeared astonished.
“I begged her to come,” exclaimed Elinor. “She has helped me all along, and I wanted her here when I told youâ”
“Helped you?” Lady Agnes looked Katharine up and down. “Can it be that I have you to thank for the way this affair has been botched? I thought it was Elinor, which was only to be expected, of course. But I had been told that you were a young woman of sense.”
Elinor made a strangled sound.
“You were obviously misinformed,” replied Katharine. “My presence here is evidence of that.”
Glimpsing the twinkle in her amber eyes, Lady Agnes snorted. “If you think this is amusing, I don't wonder you botched it. I do not, I promise you. My only son disgracing the family with a highborn trollop! If this escapade reaches my husband's ears, you will all be sorry for it.”
“You haven't told him, then?” gasped Elinor.
“I have not.” Her mother-in-law glared at her. “Yet.”
“Thank heavens. But Lady Agnes, I beg you not to scold Tom. He hates it so, you know that, and he will onlyâ”
“Scold? I mean to do far more than that! I shall drag him back home by his ear, like the naughty boy he is behaving as, and administer the hiding of his life.”
Katharine tried to imagine the beefy Tom Marchington being “hided.” As she looked at his mother, she could.
“But, Lady Agnes,” pleaded Elinor. “He won't come. He won't listen to anyone. And I am afraid you will only drive him to do something worse!”
“He will listen to me! But where is he?” She stalked over to the bell rope and pulled it vigorously. When the butler came in, she ordered, “Bring me Chivers, at once!”
“Who is Chivers?” whispered Katharine to her cousin. “I know only that he had his ears boxed.”
“He is Tom's valet,” murmured the other girl miserably. “He has been with him forever.”
After a few moments, a slender, ruddy man entered the drawing room. Though he was dressed as a gentleman's gentleman, Katharine thought he looked more like a groom. He also looked distinctly frightened when he saw Lady Agnes.
“So, Chivers,” said her ladyship. “What have you been at, allowing Tom to run wild? I seem to recall telling you to keep watch over him and not let him fall into any of his distempered freaks.” She lowered her voice awfully. “But perhaps I am mistaken.”
“No, your ladyship. I have done my best, but Master Tom doesn't heed me any longer.”
“Iâ¦I couldn't say, your ladyship.”
“No? Well. I can venture a guess. You always indulged Tom shockingly, given half a chance, and I daresay you have done so again.” She glared around the room. “You have
done so. And I am here to put an end to it, Chivers! Where is Tom?”
The little man had jumped at his name, and now he seemed to shrink into himself. “I don't know, your ladyship.”
Chivers quailed. “No, ma'am. He went out in his town dress.”
“Were you not instructed to monitor Tom's activities in London and keep us informed?”
“Yes, your ladyship, butâ”
“But of course he could not,” snapped Katharine. “A man's valet cannot be spying after him all the time. And you should not have asked it, Lady Agnes.”
Tom's mother spun to face her. “I do not see that this is any concern of yours, Katharine. I think it would be best if you returned home. The Marchingtons can deal with their own problems.”
“Can they? I have seen very little evidence of it.” Katharine put her hands on her hips and faced Lady Agnes, in spite of Elinor's inarticulate whimper behind her. “I must say I think Elinor is right,” she continued. “I was of the opinion that Tom needed a sound rating, but if you speak to him as you have been here, you will do nothing but drive him to greater excesses. Any man would rebel at that sort of language.”
“You know nothing whatsoever about the matter,” snapped Lady Agnes. “I am a plain woman, and I have always spoken plainly to my son. And,” she added triumphantly, “he has always done as I told him.”
“Precisely. And that is why he is behaving like an idiot. He has never had the chance to try his own wings. You kept him so hemmed about with rules and orders that he was bound to break out. And now that he is doing so, a thundering scold will simply inflame him.”
“Young woman! I am at least twenty years your senior, and I believe I know rather more about how to handle my son than an impertinent chit who has not even managed to get herself a husband, though well past the age for it. Kindly refrain from interfering. If you won't go home, sit down and hold your tongue.”
Katharine's eyes had snapped with anger at the beginning of this speech, but as it went on, amusement struggled with outrage in her face, and by the time Lady Agnes finished, she was manfully battling a giggle. Seeing that she could do nothing to alter the woman's behavior, she turned away to hide her smile and, obediently, sat down.
“Good,” responded Lady Agnes with a sharp nod. “Now, then. Chivers!”
But before the little man could answer, the door opened and Tom Marchington walked into the drawing room.
Katharine thought her cousin's husband looked distinctly the worse for wear. He was no longer the cheerful ruddy country squire he had been on his arrival in town. His blue eyes were bloodshot, his round face thinner, and his sensible, serviceable garments exchanged for a costume that reflected some of the worst excesses of the dandy set. Moreover, when the young man saw his mother, he went utterly ashen and his mouth dropped open in appalled astonishment. Lady Agnes's reaction to his entrance did nothing to increase his composure. She fixed him with a baleful eye and cried, “Aha! So here you are at last.”
“M-Mama!” Tom cast an anguished eye in Elinor's direction.
“I didn't send for her, Tom,” the girl cried. “I didn't!”
“Silence.” Lady Agnes looked them both up and down; Tom and Elinor instinctively moved closer together. “You have both, as far as I can see, acted like complete ninnyhammers. You are coming home with me today.” She turned to Tom. “You are most at fault, of course, and I shall see to it that you regret your foolishness to the utmost.”
Tom had quailed at the beginning of this speech, but now he straightened. “You can't make me go home, Mama, and I don't mean to. I'm tired of being treated like a child. A man must have a bit of freedom, a chance to look about him. I'll settle down as happily as the nextâ”
“You dare!” interrupted his mother. “You dare to speak so to me?”
Katharine saw Tom's hands tremble a little, but he said, “Yes, Mama. You may as well go back home yourself. I intend to stay here for the rest of the season.” His jaw hardened. “And then go to Brighton, perhaps, for a while. Elinor may go with you if she likes.”
“Tom!” exclaimed his wife, outraged by this betrayal.
“Or she may come with me, of course,” he added hurriedly.
“I see,” replied Lady Agnes in menacing tones. “You still have some interest in your wife, then, despite your carryings-on with this Standen woman?”
Tom, avoiding her eye, looked around the room. His gaze passed over Katharine with mild surprise and lighted on Chivers. “What are you doing here?” he roared.
Chivers began backing toward the door. “Her ladyshipâ”
“Get out!” The valet scurried from the room, and Tom turned back to his mother, seemingly refreshed by his victory in at least one area.
“Did you hear me, Tom?” said Lady Agnes.
“Yes, Mama. And I would like to say that I do not believe this is a proper subject for public conversation.”
“You have made it a subject of public scandal. I don't see why I shouldn't talk about it.”
Her son's face reddened slightly, and he clenched his fists.
“I am simply enjoying a bit of flirtation,” he burst out, goaded. “No more than any man might do. Of course I am interested in my wife and family. I shall settle down quite happily when we go home. Why can no one understand that?”
“You are a married man, Tom. This sort of behavior, if it
occur, should cease upon marriage.”
“I know that,” shouted her son. “But you and Papa never let me out of your sight. I had no chance to see anything of the world before I married, and by God, I mean to do it now. No one shall stop me!”
“You think not? If you refuse to listen to me, Thomas, I shall tell your father the whole. We shall see what you say then.”
Though Tom looked apprehensive at this threat, he retorted, “Go ahead. Do what you like. Only leave me alone!”
Lady Agnes appeared astonished at his obstinacy. It was obvious that Tom had never defied her before. But rather than moderating her position, she unwisely became even angrier. “We will cut you off without a shilling,” she said. “See how your countess feels about you then. You will have to come home.”
Tom scowled alarmingly, and Katharine shook her head. And Lady Agnes had accused
of botching things! “Do whatever you like,” retorted Tom. “I can't stop you. But I'm damned if I'll come home, now or ever!” And he turned his back on his mother and slammed out of the room.
“Ohhh,” murmured Elinor from the corner.
Lady Agnes stood rigid for a long moment, then said, “I shall return home immediately. My husband must hear of this as soon as possible.” And she too walked out.
Elinor put her face in her hands. Katharine went over to sit on the sofa beside her, though she could think of no comforting words to offer.
“What do you think Tom will do?” asked the younger girl in a muffled voice.
“I don't know. I hope he has gone somewhere to calm down.”
“No. He always rushes out to
something after a quarrel. It relieves his feelings.”
“Do you think I should go after him?”
“You wouldn't find him, Elinor.”
“I know.” She sighed. “If only Lady Agnes had listened to me.”
“She isn't the sort of person who listens to anyone, I fancy,” replied Katharine dryly. “None of this is your fault, Elinor.”
“I know. But sometimes I can't help feeling that it must be.”
“Well, it isn't, so put that out of your head.”
Elinor sighed again and straightened. “What should I do now, Cousin Katharine?”
Their eyes met, and Katharine shook her head. “We must simply wait and hope that Tom does nothing
The younger girl slumped. “I wish we had never come to London.”
Lady Agnes accordingly departed. Katharine stayed with Elinor for some time, finally succeeding in calming her a bit. Tom did not return. And when Katharine at last went home in the early evening, she and Mary discussed Elinor's situation with great concern, but without discovering any solution. They were preparing to go upstairs to bed when the bell pealed violently in the ball, heralding a late visitor, and they looked at one another anxiously.
“It must be Elinor,” said Mary. “Oh, I hope nothing is wrong.”
But when the caller came hurrying into the drawing room, it was not Elinor, but Tony Tillston. He looked harried. “Thank God you're still up,” he said. “Your idiot cousin has done something disastrous.”
“The very same. He has challenged Oliver Stonenden to a duel.”
Katharine had trouble drawing her breath for a moment, then she gasped, “He accepted?”
“He had to. Marchington knocked him down in one of the card rooms at White's. The man must be mad!”
“Yes, I tell you. Completely mad.”
Katharine gathered her wits. “What happened, exactly? Were you there?”
“I should say I was. I was playing piquet with some friends. Stonenden and his party were at the next table but one. Everything was peaceful, when suddenly Marchington came roaring in. He wasn't even foxed. He began shouting insults at Stonenden, saying the crudest things. No other man would have stood it for a moment, but Stonenden is such a fine shot that no one could think him afraid. But then that young fool actually went over to the table and hauled at Stonenden's arm, pulled him out of his chair. There was nothing for it then, but Stonenden was so startled that Marchington got in the first blow. He never would have done so if he hadn't taken him by surprise; Stonenden's remarkably handy with his fives. However, the idiot knocked him flat, in front of everyone, and then challenged him. Stonenden had to accept.”
“Indeed? If he is so good with his âfives,' why could he not just thrash Tom and leave it at that?” Katharine looked both angry and apprehensive.
“This was at
, Katharine. That would have been more insulting than you can imagine.”
“Insulting! Well, I should by far rather Tom were insulted than killed.”
“Oh, Stonenden won't kill him. He's a superb shot. No, I'm more worried about him than about Marchington.”
“What do you mean?”
“Marchington is behaving like a madman. He might very well kill Stonenden. Is he good with a pistol, do you know?”
Katharine obviously had not thought of this; she went white. “Kill Stonenden? Butâ¦”
“Yes, and have the law after him and create an even greater scandal. He'd have to flee the country, of course.”
“Tony, we must stop him!”
The man looked disgusted. “Why do you think I'm here? To gossip? I came to tell you so that you could do just that.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Katharine put a hand distractedly to her brow. “But what shall I do?”
“Talk to your cousin. Drag him out of London, if necessary.”
“He won't listen. His mother tried that today.”
“Did she? Well, what about his wife?”
“Whose wife?” said a quavering voice from the doorway. They all whirled, to find Elinor standing there. “I couldn't stay home,” the girl added. “Tom has not come in, and I was so worried. You are talking about Tom, aren't you? Oh, what has he done?”
Katharine and Tony looked at one another.
“You must tell me,” insisted Elinor. “I shall hear. And it is worse
Acknowledging the truth of this with a nod, Katharine told her what had occurred. Elinor sank into a chair with a groan. “A duel? Sir Lionel will kill him!”
A little amused by this reaction, despite the seriousness of the matter, Katharine replied, “He need not find out, Elinor.”
“Lady Agnes is bringing him to town, and someone will tell him. What are we to do?”
“You must talk to your husband,” answered Tony, leaning forward. “You must make him understand his folly.”
“But Tom will not listen to
,” said Elinor piteously. “He does not admit that I know anything about town life. Whenever I have tried to talk to him, he has only become angry with me.”
Tony looked nonplussed. “Well, then, Katharine or perhaps Miss Mary Daltry should try.”
“I have tried,” responded Katharine. “I did no good at all. And Maryâ¦” She looked at her cousin.
“I am quite willing,” said the older woman. “But I cannot think that Tom will be swayed by my opinion, when he refuses to listen to his own wife and mother.”
“No, I don't think he will,” agreed Katharine. “Oh, if there were only someone whose views he respected!” She frowned, considering, then looked up. “Tony, I know it is a great favor to ask, but could you not speak to Tom? You are known to be a man of fashion. Perhaps your arguments would have some weight with him.”
Tony looked uncomfortable. “No they wouldn't, Katharine. Not after the way I have squired his wife about. I count myself lucky he did not challenge
“No, Katharine. It wouldn't do any good, I tell you. And besidesâ¦” He paused, shifting uneasily in his chair. “Well, I think I've done enough, you know. I tried my best to help, but now, well, I've done all I can.”
Katharine looked at him for a moment, then nodded “Of course you have. I shouldn't have asked more. I'm sorry.”
Tony grimaced. “The thing is, Katharineâ”
“You need say no more. I understand.”
“You don't, actually.” Tony stood. “You don't know a thing about it. And that's the worst of it. You might have asked the world of me, but you never did. And Iâ¦” He stopped, laughed a little, then finished, “And I must take my leave now. Forgive me for bringing such unwelcome news.”
“On the contrary, we were glad to get it,” answered Katharine, standing and giving him her hand. “We are grateful for all your help.”
He laughed again, bowed slightly, and went out. Mary Daltry watched him go with compassion.
But Elinor was too engrossed in her own misery to think of Tony. She pulled at Katharine's sleeve, saying, “We must go to Lord Stonenden, Katharine. It is the only answer. We must beg him not to meet Tom. You can speak to him. You know him quite well.”
Her cousin looked down at her, aghast. “I? But I don't.”
“You painted his portrait. Everyone says you are great friends. Please, Katharine, I would do it myself, but I have hardly spoken a word to him in my life. He will listen to you!”
Katharine seemed to shudder.
“I will see him,” offered Mary. “We are not
acquainted, perhaps, but I have chatted with him several times. Indeed, he seems a pleasant, just man. I am sure he does not mean to harm Tom, only to teach him a lesson. And when he knowsâ”
“I beg your pardon, Cousin Mary, but I think it would be much better if Katharine went. She knows Lord Stonenden well.” Elinor gazed at the other girl. “You cannot refuse to do this small thing for me, Katharine. Why should you? In a quarter hour of conversation, you can relieve me of this dreadful anxiety.” She fixed her brown eyes on Katharine's face.
The object of her pleading gaze sank into an armchair and leaned back. Small thing, indeed. Elinor had no idea how difficult this small service would be. She
face Stonenden again. Katharine turned to tell Elinor so, and again met her tragic eyes. “All right,” she heard herself say. “I shall speak to him as soon as possible.”
Elinor jumped up and ran over to hug her. “Katharine! I knew you would. You are the most wonderful creature in the world. When will you see him?”
Smiling ruefully, the other glanced at the mantel clock. “Not tonight. It is too late. Tomorrow morning, first thing.”
“But what if they fight tomorrow?”
Katharine looked vexed. “How stupid we were not to ask Tony when it is to be. But tomorrow is very soon. Surely they could not arrange it so fast. No, I believe I shall be in time.”
Elinor clasped her hands before her. “You must be!”
Katharine slept very poorly that night. Elinor could not be persuaded to leave them until very late, and when the Daltrys did finally get to bed, all the worries and awkwardness of her situation kept Katharine tossing and turning for hours. Repeatedly she cursed Tom Marchington and wished him at the other end of the earth. Then she wished that she herself had never come to London. She wondered how she could possibly face Lord Stonenden on the morrow, and at that point she realized that she had made no plan as to how this was to be accomplished. Under normal circumstances, if she wished to speak to a gentleman of her acquaintance, she would have written a note asking him to call on her. But somehow, she did not want to write Oliver Stonenden; it would only prolong her embarrassment.
Katharine sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes wearily. If only it were possible to encounter him as if by accident, quickly speak, and then escape. But this could not happen in time. She would have to seek him out, either by letter or in person. She squared her shoulders; she would call upon
, unconventional as that would be. It seemed infinitely easier to take action than to wait at home for a reply to a letter.
This decided, she lay back once more and tried to think what she would say. Nothing sensible occurred to her. She could ask him, of course, to withdraw from the duel. Perhaps he would do so. But then she would be obliged to him yet again, an intolerable position. She did not want to owe Oliver Stonenden anything. Why had she succumbed to Elinor's pleas? At this point, sleep finally overcame her, and thus Katharine still had no idea what she would say when she awoke at eight the following morning.
As she dressed and tried to eat her breakfast, she continued to frame and reject various sentences in her mind. Nothing sounded right. And as she rode in her town carriage toward Lord Stonenden's house, she was still unprepared. She would trust to the pressure of the moment, she decided, to bring phrases to her lips.
It was not a lengthy journey. Long before she wished to be, Katharine was climbing down in front of the house, her footman knocking on the door. Almost before he finishing rapping, it was flung open. But instead of the servant she expected, Katharine found herself facing the Countess Standen, magnificently arrayed in a walking dress of pale green cloth and a towering hat trimmed with peacock feathers.
The countess seemed equally taken aback for a moment; then she smiled lazily and walked down the two steps to the street, shutting the door behind her. She stopped directly before Katharine and looked her up and down. Katharine immediately wished she had not worn her old gray morning gown.
“Why, Miss Daltry,” said the countess. “What a
odd place to meet you.”
Katharine was too shaken by the other woman's open exit from Stonenden's house at this early hour to answer her.
“Do you visit Oliver?” continued the other. “I fear he does not rise so early. You may have to wait.” She smiled again, so insolently that Katharine nearly slapped her. But the intimate implication of her words had frozen her in one spot.
“Perhaps,” continued Elise Standen, “you might even wish to reconsider your visit. Oliver is never in the best of tempers at this hour, and in any case, I'm not certain he is eager to see
.” She looked sidelong at Katharine. “Have you come about your amusing painting? That was a clever ploy, really, but I fear Oliver was not overpleased by the gossip it caused. Sally Jersey does have a malicious tongue, doesn't she, the naughty creature.”
“And a false one,” Katharine managed.
“Oh, yes. But many others said the same. You know, Miss Daltry, it is always a mistake to pursue a man publicly. They hate it so, poor dears. And Stonenden more than most. You must hit upon a more subtle scheme if you want to take
in. Indeed, I don't know if that is possible.”
Katharine was by this time trembling with rage. That anyone, and most of all the countess, should think her portrait had been an effort to captivate Stonenden was monstrous. And if, as the countess suggested, Stonenden himself now thought so, she had nothing but bitter contempt for the man.
“But I am keeping you,” purred the other woman, moving a little aside. “I beg your pardon.” Katharine was too angry to notice the subtly uneasy calculation in her green eyes as she spoke.
“Not at all,” she choked. “Iâ¦I was mistaken. My business is not urgent. Pray excuse me.” And she turned and ran blindly back to her waiting carriage.
Elise Standen, watching her with a complacent smile, thought how stupid young women were. The girl had never thought to question her statements; she had believed every word, including the suggestion that the countess had left Lord Stonenden in his bedchamber. As if she would be so indiscreet! In fact, she had not found him home; he had gone off to an early race meeting outside London. She had been able only to leave a note and depart again. Still smiling, Elise Standen turned away, blessing yet again the luck which, since childhood, had helped her out of innumerable scrapes. If she had not been coming out the door at the very instant that knock soundedâ¦ She shrugged and hailed a passing hack.
In her own carriage, Katharine was struggling with tears and raging at herself for it. She would not cry, she insisted, over a man like Oliver Stonenden. If he was besotted by the Countess Standen, let him be! It was no concern of hers; she didn't care a rap. Indeed, her only wish was never to see him again as long as she lived.
It was at this point that she remembered Tom Marchington and the duel. Her encounter with Elise Standen had driven it right out of her head, but now her promise to Elinor resurfaced. How could she keep it?