Patricia Veryan - [Sanguinet Saga 06] - The Noblest Frailty

BOOK: Patricia Veryan - [Sanguinet Saga 06] - The Noblest Frailty
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Chapter 1

Miss Yolande Drummond was almost two and twenty. She was a
remarkably pretty girl, with abundant hair of that rich shade known as
chestnut, wide green eyes, and a very fair complexion that, so long as
she guarded it from the destructive rays of the sun, seldom threw out a
freckle. Her features were dainty, her voice had a husky quality the
gentlemen found enchanting, her figure was slender but nicely curved,
and she was blessed with a gentle and conformable disposition. She was
widely held to be a Fair, and might well have been an accredited Toast
save for the fact that before she was out of leading strings it had
been decided she should wed her distant cousin, Alain Devenish. Mr.
Devenish being possessed of a singularly jealous nature, a fiery
temperament, and breath-taking good looks, the gentlemen were given
pause by the two former qualities, plunged into despair by the latter,
and reluctantly decided that anything more serious than a mild
flirtation with the delectable Yolande was a waste of time.

That Miss Drummond had reached so perilous an age without
having married surprised a few people who were not well acquainted with
her prospective bridegroom. Close friends shrugged off this
circumstance, however. Alain Devenish was, they pointed out, a bit of a
rascal. Although barely three years Yolande's senior, he had racked up
the dubious distinction of having been expelled from Harrow, sent down
from Cambridge, asked to resign his regiment and, more recently, been
involved in some kind of very unsavoury affair concerning the powerful
Monsieur Claude Sanguinet, as a result of which he had barely escaped
France with his life. Only the fact that his birth was impeccable, his
charm infectious, and his kindness legendary had saved him from social
ostracism, but however popular he might be, few blamed Miss Drummond
for waiting until her tempestuous beau settled down a trifle.

On a bright morning in early May, Miss Drummond presented a
picture to gladden the heart of any man as she stood on the rear
terrace of Park Parapine, gazing out over the pleasure gardens and park
of her ancestral home. She was clad in a pearl-grey riding habit that
fitted her slim shapeliness to perfection. White lace foamed at her
throat, and white velvet ribbons were tied in a large bow at the back
of her saucy little grey hat. The prospect she viewed was also fair:
Beyond the sweep of lawns and flower gardens, the Home Wood presented a
verdant border ranging from the tender yellow tints of new leaves to
the dark stateliness of evergreens. The air was sweet with the
fragrance of blossoms; here and there chestnut trees flaunted their
colourful gowns to mingle with the shyer blooms of apple and plums, and
lilacs rose richly against a cloudless sky.

Yet, despite all this beauty, Miss Drummond's smooth brow was
marred by the suggestion of a pucker, and her lovely eyes were
troubled. The sense that she was no longer alone caused her to turn
enquiringly, and she discovered that her mother stood watching her.

"Good morning, my love." Lady Louisa smiled, offering a smooth
cheek for her daughter's kiss. "Had you a nice ride? A foolish
question, no? On such a glorious morning, how could it have been
otherwise?"

Yolande loved her mother deeply, but that charming lady's
ability to read her thoughts was sometimes alarming, and now she said
evasively, "Glorious indeed, especially after so much rain. How pretty
you look, Mama. A new dress? That shade of rose so becomes you."

"Besides which, it is a colour you dare not wear," her mother
replied, "so I need not fear to discover you have 'borrowed' it."

Yolande laughed. "If I do—very occasionally—borrow your gowns,
you have no one to blame but yourself, dearest. What other girl has a
mother so youthful and slender she might well be taken for a sister?"

The compliment was well-founded. Lady Louisa had never been a
beauty, but had, in her youth, been said to possess "a pleasing
countenance," her appeal springing from an innate kindness, rather than
from her looks. At five and forty, however, she outshone many a former
Toast, for her hair, although an indeterminate shade of brown, had not
begun to grey, her skin was clear and unwrinkled, and her merry
disposition kept her as young in heart as in appearance. She was also a
shrewd woman and, suspecting that she was being guided from an unwanted
subject, said mischievously, "Oh, what a rasper! I must beware, for
such tactics usually presage an outlandish plea I cannot then resist.
What is it, my love? Are you going to tell me you have thrown dear
Alain over in favour of some wholly ineligible young man?"

Yolande's smile faltered. She turned back to her contemplation
of the horizon and said slowly, "No, Mama. Of course I have not. I know
how you and my father have always wished the match."

Lady Louisa's hands clasped rather tightly, and for a moment
she was silent. When she spoke, however, it was to ask in a mild way,
"Never say you have set the date at last? Devenish must be floating
back to Aspenhill!"

"I… er— Actually…" Yolande bit her lip. "Oh—we had a small
difference of—of opinion."

"I see." Lady Louisa did not see. Were she twenty-five years
younger, she thought, and Devenish had smiled her way, Sir Martin might
have had a formidable competitor for her hand. As it was, the prospect
of having such a son-in-law delighted her, and her husband's heart was
quite set on it. He and Colonel Alastair Tyndale had been bosom bows
since their schooldays, and it was well known that the Colonel's
orphaned nephew, to whom he stood guardian, was his sole heir. Tyndale
was not a man of great wealth, but the Park Parapine lands matched with
those of his Aspenhill and that the two great estates should be merged
by this marriage was the dream of both men.

Doting on her husband, Lady Louisa was in full accord with his
wishes in the matter, but she also loved her daughter and therefore
said gently, "Dearest, you
do
wish to marry
Alain?"

Yolande's lashes drooped, and the colour in the smooth cheeks
was heightened. "I—suppose I do," she answered, concentrating upon
drawing the thong of her riding whip through her gloved hand.

"You—
suppose
? Good God! Do
not
you know?"

Yolande sighed and asked rather wistfully, "Did
you
know, Mama?"

"Indeed I did! I had never met your papa, of course, although
I had seen him everywhere. I was scarce out of the schoolroom when I
was told he had offered and your grand-papa had accepted." She smiled
reminiscently, her anxieties forgotten for a moment. "I shall never
forget when I was brought into the saloon and Papa took my hand and
gave it to Sir Martin. I was so frightened, but his hand was shaking
harder than mine, and it gave me the courage to peep at him. And when I
saw the smile in his eyes…" She sighed again, then, meeting her
daughter's intent regard, imparted, "My heart was lost in that one
moment."

"Oh. And—have you never had—doubts? None at all?"

"Good gracious!" thought my lady, but said serenely, "Never.
Oh, there have been times I might cheerfully have boiled him in oil, of
course. Men can be so incredibly provoking. But he still has my heart,
and I would do anything in my power to keep him happy. You must own he
is a splendid gentleman, Yolande. And if you had but seen him when he
was a young man…"

Yolande smiled. The portrait of her father that had been
painted upon his attaining his majority still hung in the great hall of
the house, so that she had a fairly accurate idea of how he had looked
at four and twenty. He was a handsome man then, as now, although
nowhere near as good-looking as Alain. It was easy to understand why
Mama had fallen so completely in love with him. If only the same
feelings were—A soft touch on her wrist roused her from her reverie.

"Dear child," said Lady Louisa in her gentlest voice, "if you
do not love Devenish, we will tell Papa. I am sure he would not wish—"

"Oh, no, no! I would not for the world— I
do
love Dev. He is the very dearest boy. It is only… that—"

"The years have a way of slipping by rather fast, you know,
Yolande. If you love him, I would have thought—" Lady Louisa did not
finish that sentence, but added, "He is
sans reproche
in so far as Family is concerned. And a more handsome young man one
could not wish to meet."

"Very true. But—but he is so
wild
, Mama!
Only think of that fiasco at Cambridge."

"Yes. Though I vow I cannot remember why he was sent down."

"It was for putting glue on the soles of the Proctor's shoes.
The poor man took up so much rubble when they went for their morning
run, that he tripped and broke his ankle."

"Dreadful!" said my lady, sternly repressing a smile. "But
Devenish was honest enough to confess, no?"

"Oh, he is the soul of honour, who could doubt it? But—on the
other hand—consider the whole picture, Mama. Expelled from Harrow; sent
down from University; asked to resign his regiment—and then there was
that frightful business in which he became involved last year with
Tristram Leith and the Frenchman. What it was all about I have never
been able to discover, save that one has only to mention it and all the
gentlemen become like clams, so it must have been very dreadful. One
schoolboy prank after another! Do you know, I sometimes fear he will
never grow up, for he is just like a naughty little boy!"

"Oh, just. I wonder you could still love the vexing fellow. He
must be sternly guided by his lady, no?"

Yolande looked up, met the smile in the kind hazel eyes, and
said with a small, wry shrug, "Perhaps. But—my fear is, Mama, that I
am, myself, not always very wise."

My lady's heart sank. Still, she persisted gently. "You have
numbered his faults, but he has much to recommend him, do you not
agree?"

"Yes, of course I do. I could say off a long list of good
points. Only, he is so very… unlover-like." Yolande slanted a shy
glance at her mother and, blushing, stammered, "You will—will fancy me
very foolish, I fear. But Alain has never once wrote me a love note, or
vowed his devotion, or—or behaved like a man deeply attached." Having
said which, she cast down her eyes in much confusion and turned her
head so that her dark blush might not be seen.

Briefly, Lady Louisa was silent. How irksome, she thought, not
to have foreseen such a development. She should have suspected it, Lord
knows, for being a loving and concerned parent she was well aware of
the many novels her elder daughter carried home from the various
lending libraries. Certainly, a girl who shed tears over the pitfalls
confronting Mrs. Radclyffe's much-tried heroines, and who had often
fallen asleep at night with Lord Byron's poems still held in her hands,
would find Devenish's breezy big-brother manner unfulfilling.

She gave her daughter a quick hug. "Of course I do not think
it foolish!" she declared staunchly. "I
do
think
it most perverse of Fate to have made Alain so extreme handsome, and
have given him so intrepid and dauntless a nature, only to then dump
him in this modern age of ours!" Yolande turned curious eyes upon her
and, encouraged, she continued, "Your cousin should rather have lived
in the days when England was overrun with bold knights. He was meant to
ride with lance in hand, and dragons lurking at every bend of his road
through life!"

"Alain?" said Yolande, awed. "Heavens! I had never thought of
him in such a light."

"Perhaps because you have grown up together. I do assure you,
however, that many other young ladies see him in
just
that light!" And wisely not belabouring the point, my lady went on, "Is
it not typical that so dashing a figure should have no slightest
vestige of the romantical in his outlook, whereas, beneath the stodgy
exterior of some dull, lumpish young man, might burn a soul ablaze with
romantic notions?"

Yolande smiled and nodded, and her gaze returned to the view,
which she saw not at all. There followed a small, companionable
silence, through which Lady Louisa watched her daughter hopefully. Her
hopes were dashed.

"If only," Yolande murmured, "he had a steadier, less volatile
temperament."

 

"Less volatile?" Sir Martin slapped one hand against his
muscular thigh and gave a crack of laughter. "When did our flighty miss
remark that, ma'am? This morning? She's known the boy all her days and
only now is discovering he is no milksop?"

Lady Louisa put down the embroidery she had taken up several
times during their conversation, and absently regarded her husband,
outlined against the window of her private parlour. A big man who
enjoyed the life of country squire and found town a dead bore, Sir
Martin carried his years well. His colouring was slightly florid since
he tended to burn in sun and wind rather than become tanned, but he was
in splendid physical condition, his auburn hair still waving
luxuriantly, the grey at the temples lending him dignity. His green
eyes were only a little less keen than they had been when he was wed,
and his countenance was so well featured that Yolande was flattered
when her resemblance to her sire was remarked upon.

Neatly folding her embroidery, my lady asked mildly, "If
Yolande was to reject Devenish, my love, should you be horribly
disappointed?"

"Not
marry
him?" He frowned, all the
laughter gone from his eyes.

"Oh, dear," murmured his lady.

"Why the deuce should she not marry him?" he demanded, a testy
edge to his voice. "They have been promised since she was in the
nursery, practically."

"True. But he has not offered. Formally, that is."

"Blast it all, why should he do so bird-witted a thing, when
it has been taken for granted these eighteen years and more!"

"Exactly so." She sighed, taking up the embroidery she had
reduced to a neat square and shaking it out once more. "Perhaps that is
the whole trouble. I should have thought of it."

BOOK: Patricia Veryan - [Sanguinet Saga 06] - The Noblest Frailty
13.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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