Read Lord Harry's Folly Online

Authors: Catherine Coulter

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Lord Harry's Folly (9 page)

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

How very handsome he is, she thought, admiring his still smooth forehead topped by thick silver hair, handsome and distinguished. His sparkling blue eyes must inspire trust and confidence. The fact that his eyes normally became markedly vague when he gazed upon her didn’t overly disturb her, for, she thought philosophically, she was of no concern to his electorate.

To Hetty’s surprise, Sir Archibald’s gaze did not, this time, become vague, nor did he seem preoccupied. He said exuberantly, thrusting aside his paper, “Hetty, my dear, we have got those damned Whigs by their radical collars this time. In two borough elections, two, mind you, our Tories ousted the incumbents by a great margin! What do you think of that?”

“It’s marvelous news, Father,” Hetty said, preparing herself for a complete account of the brilliant strategies executed by the Tories. To her further surprise, Sir Archibald showed no disposition to favor her with the details of the triumph. Instead, he said, “Come, child, do sit down, and let us have our lunch. There is much I have yet to do this afternoon. And,” he added in a conspiratorial manner that set her antenna aquiver, “I have a surprise for you.”

He’d never before in his life had a surprise for her.

Finally, convinced that he’d had a fit of some sort, she said, “Father, you have a surprise for me?”

“Surprise? Certainly, my dear child. Lady Melberry has invited you to attend a musical soiree this evening. Nothing fancy, of course, just some squawking Italian soprano to give you a headache. But I fancied it would be just the thing for you. I accepted her invitation on your behalf.”

Hetty went pale. She’d realized that sooner or later Miss Henrietta Rolland must make her entry into London society. She had optimistically hoped it would be much later, perhaps even after she had dealt with Lord Oberlon. If both Miss Henrietta Rolland and Lord Harry Monteith appeared at social gatherings, it wouldn’t be long before someone noticed the marked resemblance between them. “This evening, Father?”

Sir Archibald regarded his daughter over the top of his spoon. “I know, Henrietta, that you are still in mourning for your brother. But I didn’t think you would mind a small informal gathering. I told Lady Melberry that you were a quiet girl, with no racketty notions at all.” As his daughter didn’t say a single word, he continued in a stern voice, “You stay too much at home, Henrietta. You must not be concerned that you won’t conduct yourself as befits your station. I will, myself, conduct you to Melberry House. I cannot stay, of course, but no matter. Lady Melberry assured me that she would personally make sure that you are seen safely home.” Thus having dispatched any argument that in his view would be of concern, he returned, quite satisfied, to his lunch.

She didn’t suppose there was any hope for it. She said, “It’s kind of Lady Melberry, Father. I shall be delighted to attend her gathering, but just this once.”

She doubted Sir Archibald was listening to her, and she was right.

 

After dispatching a message to Pottson through Millie to inform Sir Harry and Mr. Scuddimore that she wouldn’t be joining them at Blair House for the evening, Hetty curled up in front of the fireplace in her bedchamber. She cupped her chin in her hand and tried to think of a way out of this current mess. Regardless of the fact that Lord Melberry was one of Sir Archibald’s cronies, this soiree was to be a social gathering, not a political one, and as such, the guests would undoubtedly include some of those gentlemen and ladies who Lord Harry Monteith had met over the past four months.

She was nearly at the groaning stage when she looked up to see Millie directing Doby, the footman, who was carrying two buckets of hot water for her bath. She sat in the copper tub for some time, thinking and thinking. “I don’t know what to do,” she said to Millie who was arranging towels. “I have nothing to wear, for all my old gowns haven’t grown as I have.” She stepped out of the tub and Millie handed her a towel.

Millie said matter-of-factly, “You tell me that Lord Harry is cool and calm in all circumstances. I fail to see why Miss Hetty cannot be the same.” She paused a moment and gazed down at the fluffy cluster of blond curls atop her mistress’s head. “You know, Miss Hetty, Lord Harry wears a disguise, even pomades down his hair. What would you say if all the high and mighty ladies and gentlemen did not proclaim Miss Henrietta Rolland to be a diamond of the first water?”

Just before eight o’clock that evening, Hetty grinned a final time at her image in the mirror, wanting very much to laugh aloud. She looked a fright. A large, lacy alexandrine cap of pale green covered her blond curls, leaving only the vaguest suggestion that the head beneath the cap was indeed endowed with hair. A pair of spectacles, borrowed from Cook, sat precariously on the bridge of her nose, the narrow prisms dimming the brilliant blue of her eyes. If the cap and spectacles weren’t enough to convince even the most tolerant that Miss Rolland had neither taste nor style, her ill-fitting gown of pea green just one sickening shade darker than the cap would certainly put the polish on the boots.

Hetty turned from the mirror and pulled the spectacles from her nose. “Since my eyesight is nearly as perfect as my health, I had best not don Cook’s glasses until after I leave Sir Archibald. I vow, Millie, that I shall be declared an ape leader before the night is over. Isn’t that marvelous?”

Although Sir Archibald would never connect such a vulgar term as ape leader with his daughter, he did think it odd of Henrietta to wear such an overpowering cap. Was she not a bit young for such a thing? Hetty replied with composure that such a cap was all the crack this season. Sir Archibald was a trifle daunted by her absolute assurance. He said, “Well, no matter, Henrietta, you will outshine all the other young ladies. Oh, yes, child, Lord Melberry informed me this afternoon that your ears would not be offended by that squawking soprano I told you about it’s to be a small card party. Just the thing to help you learn your way about.”

If she could have boxed her father’s ears, she would have. Oh dear, another new set of problems. She would have infinitely preferred the squawking soprano, for it would have meant that all attention would be diverted away from her. As John coachman assisted her into the carriage, she muttered a quiet wish that Lady Melberry’s soiree be a very small one, with no persons of particular consequence in attendance. Or, at least, all politicians, for they would never demean themselves by chatting away social nonsense. She sighed, knowing this wouldn’t be the case at all.

Hetty alighted from the carriage at the Melberry townhouse with the air of a young lady readying for an evening’s pleasure. She waited a moment on the front steps until her father’s carriage had bowled away down the cobblestone street. Then she carefully pulled the spectacles from her reticule and balanced them at a most awkward angle on her nose.

She took a deep breath, affected a very noticeable squint, and soundly thwacked the knocker.

The Melberry butler, Higgins, a man of discriminating taste and the keenest of eyes, answered the summons. Although his nose quivered in distaste at the homely looking female on the front doorsteps, his tone was smoothly impassive.

“I say, yes, ma’am?”

An excellent beginning, Hetty thought, noticing the quivering nostrils. If I’ve offended the butler’s sensibilities, perhaps I shall pull through this evening without a second glance from anyone. “I’m Miss Henrietta Rolland,” she said, glorying in the high nasal twang. It sounded pleasingly obnoxious to her own ears.

Higgins blanched visibly at the pea green gown. It came to him suddenly that she must be the daughter of Sir Archibald, a most distinguished man and ardent political crony of Sir Mortimer’s. He was profoundly shocked. Such an ill-appearing offspring could scarce do credit to Sir Archibald’s political career. No wonder his lordship scarcely ever entertained at Grosvenor Square.

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

 

Lady Corinna Melberry gazed about her overflowing drawing room, and smiled with the contentment of a successful hostess. Sir Mortimer had obligingly removed himself and the majority of the more somberly clad, serious gentlemen of his political persuasion. The few who remained were clustered austerely apart from the gaily chattering ladies and gentlemen of the ton. In a few moments, when she was certain that most of her guests had arrived, she would signal to the orchestra to strike up a waltz. That fast German music would rout the politicians.

She was still smiling when she looked up to see Higgins standing with a pained expression on his face next to a tall, abominably gowned young lady. That wretched green cap and those awful spectacles. Good heavens, she thought with a start, whoever could that be? Perhaps she was at the wrong address. She planted a smile on her lips and moved gracefully forward.

“Miss Henrietta Rolland, my lady.”

Goodness, Lady Corinna thought, it was Sir Archibald’s daughter. After another glance at Henrietta, Lady Corinna felt the arousal of her motherly instincts. She remembered that Sir Archibald’s wife had died many years before, and she saw his poor daughter as a neglected, orphaned waif.

“Ah, my dear Henrietta, how very kind of you to come this evening. Do not tarry, child, I would introduce you to all my friends. You are new to London?” Before Hetty could form two words together, Lady Corinna had clasped her gloved hand tightly in hers and drawn her toward a knot of ladies and gentlemen.

Taken aback by her unwanted warm reception, Hetty finally managed to say, “No, ma’am, I’ve been in London many months. I’m in mourning for my brother.”

“Oh yes, how very dreadful for you.” Lady Corinna had forgotten about Sir Archibald’s handsome son who’d lost his life at Waterloo. Had this poor child been immured all these months with only the occasional company of her father to bolster her spirits? That in itself was an appalling thought, for Lady Corinna assumed that Sir Archibald, like Sir Mortimer, secreted a limitless array of parental shortcomings. With grace born of long dealings in society, she drew Hetty forward to meet a fat dowager, who was in fact, her very closest friend. “Eve, do allow me to present Miss Henrietta Rolland. She is Sir Archibald’s daughter, you know. We must make her welcome in her come-out, if you quite understand my meaning.”

Lady Eve Langley, a quite good-natured woman who had not an unkind thought in her head, turned and smiled at Hetty. “So pleased, Miss Rolland.” She saw nothing amiss with Hetty’s appearance, only wondered at the cap, for only dowagers and proclaimed spinsters donned this proof of their status in society. “You must allow me to present you to my daughters, Maude and Caroline.”

Hetty hadn’t expected such kindness and was at a loss to explain it. She wondered if, contrary to her common sense, she had sorely misjudged London society.

Hetty was hard pressed to preserve a straight face as she approached one of the young ladies in question. She had seen her at Drury Lane, simpering and smiling enticingly at all the young gentlemen. Lord Harry Monteith had appeared to be much to her taste when he had chanced to gaze up at her box.

Miss Maude Langley, a rather narrow-faced, scrawny-bosomed young lady in her second season, willingly looked away from her younger sister, who was the center of attention of several gentlemen, at the sight of a young lady who was homely enough to make Miss Maude appear a celestial angel by comparison. She smiled down from her thin, long nose. She was delighted. “How famous. A new arrival in London. But surely, Miss Rolland, this cannot be your first season?” She eyed the green cap with glee. The spectacles were icing on the cake.

Hetty restrained a smile and said shyly, “Yes, indeed, it is, Miss Langley. You see, I have spent many years in the country.” If Miss Langley wished to think her a maiden beyond her years, it was fine with Hetty. Lady Corinna saw that her dear friend, Lady Eve, didn’t have the wherewithal to see that her daughter a most irritating girl was being rude to Miss Rolland. She nodded dismissal at Miss Maude and drew Hetty away to meet Miss Caroline Langley. Hetty had also seen Miss Caroline at Drury Lane, and was forced to admit upon closer inspection that this sister confirmed Lord Harry Monteith’s initial impressions. Miss Caroline was a beauty, her dark, flashing brown eyes set beneath perfectly arched dark brows. Her black hair, all the rage this season, was a cascade of thick curls, bound only by a blue velvet ribbon over her left ear. She was petite, trim of figure, her full bosom covered modestly by order from her mama, no doubt by the most exquisite Brussels lace. Miss Caroline wore a petulant expression. Hetty wanted to tell her it diminished her beauty. Her lovely eyes darted restlessly about the room. What was she looking for or who?

In truth, Miss Caroline was not only peeved, she was bored. She realized that it was highly unlikely that the man she had wanted so badly to see would present himself. The heady experience of being sought out by every young gentleman had paled over the past several weeks, and she refused to consider the thought of bestowing her beauty on any of those worshiping young puppies, as society expected her to do at the end of the season. Of course, she didn’t wish to end up like poor Maude, still sitting at the rear of the shelf at the end of her second season. But to wed any of the gentlemen so far presented to her made her want to spit, something that would make her dear mama faint. No, she wanted to attach an older man, a man with experience, a man who wouldn’t languish at her feet composing ridiculous lines of poetry that praised her slender swan’s neck. She had seen such a man, and the thought that he might be in attendance this evening had brought a delicious flush over her cheeks.

She looked up to see Lady Melberry leading over one of the sorriest excuses for a female that Caroline had ever seen. She shuddered in distaste, then planted a firm smile. After all, one shouldn’t ever appear a sour apple, like poor Maude.

“My dear Caroline, I would like you to meet Miss Henrietta Rolland, the daughter of a very dear friend of Lord Melberry’s.”

Caroline inclined her graceful neck in Miss Rolland’s direction. “Charmed,” she said, managing not to shudder at the sight, though it took great inner strength not to do so.

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell
The Sicilian's Wife by Kate Walker
I'm Not Julia Roberts by Laura Ruby
Stay a Little Longer by Dorothy Garlock
Taking a Shot by Catherine Gayle
A Hire Love by Candice Dow
Voices in the Dark by Andrew Coburn
Vital Parts by Thomas Berger
The Outsider by Rosalyn West
Beach House No. 9 by Ridgway, Christie