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Authors: Mary Chase Comstock

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Before Cat could further reply, she was gathered in by Felicia who had been keeping watch, and rushed upstairs. The maid, a great respecter of her mistress's moods, asked no questions, but wrapped her up in quilts and set her in front of the fire. The rains resumed, and Cat took what comfort she could from tea and toast, avoiding as best she could an analysis of her overwrought emotions. None of them, she concluded, bore close scrutiny.


Some short time had passed when Eveline tapped lightly at the door and entered Cat's
chamber smiling mildly. “It seems our situation here will not be what we expected, Cat. Mr. Bagsmith took the liberty of informing us of the conditions governing your inheritance. I am sorry this will be so difficult for you.”

And for you as well, Eveline, for this involves you as closely as me. I know you envisioned a quiet life at Sparrowell, and it is clear that the future can offer you nothing but annoyance from me.” Cat paused to wipe another self-pitying tear from her cheek. Then she took a deep breath, “I am prepared to release you from your commitment, if you wish, Eveline.”

I wouldn't desert you now, Cat, although I admit I find these strictures somewhat trying myself. Nevertheless, there it is. What can we do about it?”

Cat shrugged.
“Very little it seems. I suppose we must take what time we have to prepare for this trial, for I can see no hope but to become one of the mob of husband seekers. I can face many things in life, but the loss of my dear Sparrowell is not among them. Tomorrow, perhaps, you will start by drilling me in deportment again, distressing as I am sure we both find that endeavor. But I assure you, I shall strive to be a far more attentive pupil than I was some years ago.”

We shall begin with the question of whether it is seemly to have a man's coat draped across your bed!” Eveline observed as she held up the damp and rumpled garment. “It was most kind of Mr. Hazelforth to fetch you in. Your uncle would have gone, but he's of an age where he must avoid risking his health and we could not send a servant for fear of gossip when you can least afford it. Tell me, Cat. Mr. Hazelforth has paid you some marked attention of late, I understand. He seems an agreeable sort. Could it be that he would make an offer for you and solve your problems quickly?”

Cat looked down abashed.
“We are friends, Eveline, that is all. Moreover, he has had the misfortune to see me at my worst on more than one occasion. In any case, Cecily has informed me he is a confirmed bachelor.”

Eveline shrugged resignedly.
“I suppose you know best, Cat, if his attentions are mere friendship. Now, if you are feeling somewhat recovered, your aunt and uncle are concerned. They are debating whether they should postpone their journey and stay here with you a while.”

Oh dear! I have been terribly selfish, haven't I? I had best get dressed and reassure them. They've spent enough of their lives on my business and I know they are anxious to return home.”

Cat turned quickly to repairing her toilette, her good humor returning somewhat, for while her emotions were volatile, it was one of the great strengths of Cat's personality that she could not remain angry or distressed for long. Already, she was thinking ahead to London.

Chapter Four


Cat awakened late the next day weighed down by the heavy feather comforter Felicia had piled on her as a precaution against taking a chill. Caesar and Brutus had climbed up during the night and were burrowed deeply into the feather cover, their little black noses resting boldly on Cat's eyelet
pillowcases. “I'm not the only one around here in need of discipline,” she yawned, prodding the protesting pair noisily onto the floor. She then rang for Felicia who soon appeared bearing a tray of steaming tea, scones, and marmalade.

You'd best stay snug in bed today, Miss Cat. It's wretched gray weather anyway, pouring down tubs and buckets it is, and I won't have you racing about and taking ill. Out of my way, you corrupt blackguards!” Felicia muttered darkly, kicking as best she could at the bouncing terriers without upsetting her tray. “These scapegrace beasts will cause no end of trouble in London, mark my word, for I've not the least doubt you plan to take them with you.”

So,” Cat sighed resignedly, “you already know I plan to go to London, do you?”

Well, Miss Cat,” Felicia shrugged as she finally set down her tray, “we servants can't help having ears, you know, for all the gentry treats us like we're deaf and dumb. Your aunt was that upset yesterday, keening and wailing that she'd never see her home again. It was right of you to send them along their way, no doubt about it.”

I am glad of your approval, Felicia,” Cat sniffed. “Pray what else of my affairs do you know?”

Only that this is not your doing,” the maid continued, unabashed. “We talked it up and down in the servants' hall over tea last evening and we all decided it must have something to do with that Mr. Bagsmith's visit yesterday, for things was nice as ever you please when, all the sudden, out into the storm you run, up starts the wailing, and now we're off to London when you said you'd never.” Felicia paused for a breath long enough to take two biscuits from her apron pocket and toss them out the door to the hallway. Then she speedily closed the door behind Caesar and Brutus who were after the unexpected treats like a shot.

Now p’raps you can have your breakfast in peace,” the maid continued. “Anyway, I starts thinking to myself, the only reason for a young lady to go off to London this time of year is to find a husband. I wouldn't breathe a word of this to them other vile gossips, you may well trust, but tell me if I'm not right.”

Unfortunately, you are, Felicia. I just hope word of this won't get around, or I'll be the subject of a scandal before I even have a chance to try to conduct myself with proper decorum.” Cat bit grumpily into a scone.

Decorum!” Felicia snorted in scornful disbelief. “When was you ever concerned with decorum?”

So it was that Cat found herself confiding the ef
fect of her grandmother's letter to Felicia, who listened, eyes wide and jaw agape with rapt attention.

Oh, Miss Cat, was there ever anything so exciting? Just like in the penny novels I get from Cook! The lady of beauty and fortune compelled to marry against her wishes! Oh, my dear heart!”

I sincerely wish it were a novel, Felicia, for it is going to put a crimp in my style and no mistake. Do you realize what it means to be constrained by decorum? You and I could never have this manner of conversation, except that we do so on the sly. Ladies of
do not converse with their maids so freely. I must act mild, demure, cast down my eyes, defer to elders, simper about men, and, worst of all, cut cold those people who act as I so often do. It's beastly, Felicia. But there's no avoiding it, so I'd best be up and about. I review my deportment lessons starting today.”

Oh, Miss Cat! I almost forgot. That Mr. Hazelforth was by already, but had to be off in good time this morning, he told Chumley. Said he just called to pay his compliments and inquire after your health, he said.”

How long ago was this?”

Oh, an hour and more.”

What on earth is the time?” Cat cried, leaping from her bed and heading for her vanity table.

After eleven, I should think. You did sleep well and I thought it best to let you be.”

Cat felt her spirits dampen unreasonably on hear
ing that she had missed her morning visitor. Mr. Hazelforth had proved to be far more agreeable than she had originally anticipated, and she was beginning to value his friendship a good deal more than she would ever have thought possible. She had not realized how starved she was for intelligent conversation. That must surely be the reason her heart fluttered a little when she saw him, she told herself. Besides, he had been so kind and understanding and circumspect yesterday. Her emotions were too ruffled just now to bear closer examination, but she did wish she had been able to thank him for his kindness. That was all, wasn't it?

Completing her toilette with amazing rapidity, Cat proceeded to the drawing room where she found Eveline already busily drawing up a plan of study.

“You will be glad to find, Cat dear, that our chore will not prove so taxing as you feared. Your dancing was always quite good, I recall. Your manners at table, as well, as long as you remember to have a good meal before you leave the house so you can pick daintily at your food in public. I am a little afraid your healthy appetite wouldn't bear close examination.”

Well, I'll have a chop or two and a tart in my chamber before dinner. That should do the trick,” Cat pronounced. “Go on now, Eveline. I know the worst is coming.”

It's your conversation, I'm afraid, that requires the most attention,” Eveline told her with a rueful glance. “I believe you know the rules as well as any. You have merely determined to flout them and it's become habit now. What I propose is that we concoct some sort of practice—exercises, if you will. I shall compose a list of hypothetical situations for us to work from. Then I shall play a role and you will respond to me. Together, I believe we can contrive a host of polite scripts. What say you, Cat?”

I suppose it cannot hurt,” Cat mused. “You are quite correct about my conversation. I do find that the most shocking comments rise to my lips almost of their own accord. Perhaps practice would be the very thing for me. Indeed, you make it sound almost diverting, Eveline—like playacting.”

Well, so it is. You remember Shakespeare said, 'I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano. A stage where every man must play his part …'”

‘…and mine a sad one,' “ Cat finished the quote in dramatic tones. “When shall we begin?”

As soon as I have made up a list of possible scenarios. In the meantime, I think that you might spend your time considering some of the particulars of this adventure. You must contact Mr. Bagsmith about letting an appropriate house in London and engaging a staff. I suspect that he will already have begun that endeavor. I'm also afraid that you will need someone to act as your sponsor in London. I can serve adequately as companion and chaperon, but I cannot hope to introduce you to society and contrive invitations for you. What you need is an established member of the
Can you think of any relative or acquaintance in London who could serve in that role?”

No relation, of that I am sure,” Cat reflected. “Uncle Martin is no help — he has always been a simple country squire and is just released from duty as it is. I have no other blood relations.”

What of Cecily's new family? Surely they would be happy to see to you. And you are such good friends with Hazelforth …”

Heavens, no!” Cat responded with such sudden vehemence that Eveline was forced to look quite narrowly at her. “John's family wouldn't do at all — I can hardly claim any intimacy there. Besides, Cecily and John are away on their wedding trip and they will be gone for some time yet. I really could not bring myself to broach this subject without them.”

I suppose you're right, Cat,” Eveline agreed disconsolately. “Well, I must say, you are in a quandary indeed.”

Whatever am I to do then, Eveline? It must be someone I know. Some details of this wretched situation must be communicated to whomever does agree to sponsor me, yet I don't wish to introduce such a delicate subject or relate such intimate details to near strangers. Let me think a moment,” Cat continued as she paced back and forth about the room. “There is Lady Montrose, my godmother, but I have heard very little from her in recent years. She was a close friend of my grandmother—heavens! She must be at least as old as Methuselah by now! I wonder, though, if she would be up to such an undertaking?”

That sounds like the very thing. I suggest you write to her today, Cat. You needn't reveal all of your situation until you meet her and decide how much is necessary or advisable. Now, I will begin working on the conversation exercises, while you attend to the details of your business.”

As Cat made her way to the library, she thought how fortunate she was to have Eveline. Once it was clear that there was no way of circumventing her grandmother's wishes, Cat could see little value in wailing, whining or lamenting the situation. The most intelligent thing for her to do was to carry on
and be about the necessary business to achieve the most desirable end to this dilemma. In this endeavor, Eveline's calm demeanor and competent approach were more heartening to Cat than any amount of sympathy or fussing would have been.

For most of the morning,
Cat was up to her elbows in papers and correspondence. She hoped that Mr. Bagsmith would be able to find a suitable house in an acceptably fashionable neighborhood. She had decided that she would take some members of the Sparrowell staff to the city with her. It would be diverting for them and comforting for her to be surrounded by familiar faces. She knew that Felicia, for one, would look forward to the interlude away from the country, and was convinced that few others could take her place.

BOOK: An Impetuous Miss
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