Read The Nonesuch Online

Authors: Georgette Heyer

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Historical

The Nonesuch (22 page)

BOOK: The Nonesuch
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When Lindeth called at Staples to leave compliment cards, she told him, with a provocative look under her lashes, that his cousin, learning that although she was an accomplished horse-woman in the saddle she had never found anyone capable of teaching her how to handle the reins in form, had begged to be allowed to offer his services.

He stared at her blankly. ‘Mr Calver says he will teach me to drive to an inch,’ she added, with one of her sauciest smiles.


Laurence?

he demanded, the oddest expression on his face.

‘Why not?’ she countered, lifting an eyebrow at him.

He opened his mouth, shut it again, and turned away to pick up his hat and gloves.

‘Well?’ persisted Tiffany, pleased with the success of her gambit. ‘Pray, have you any objection?’

‘No, no, not the least in the world!’ he said hastily. ‘How should I? I only – but never mind that!’

That was quite enough to confirm Tiffany in her belief that she had roused a demon of jealousy in his breast. She never knew that his lordship, whom Laurence stigmatized as a bagpipe, snatched the first opportunity that presented itself of admitting his cousin Waldo into a joke which was
much too rich to be kept to himself. ‘I don’t know how I contrived to keep my countenance!
Laurie!
Driving to an inch! Oh, lord, I shall be sick if I laugh any more!’

But Tiffany, with no suspicion that she had afforded Lindeth food for laughter, was very well satisfied. Her former suitors, who had gloomily but unresentfully watched Lindeth’s star rise, were roused to violent jealousy by Laurence; and she saw no reason to suppose that Lindeth would not be similarly stirred. For several days she was intoxicated by success, believing herself to be irresistible, and queening it over her court with ever-increasing capriciousness. And since, like Mrs Mickleby, she discarded without hesitation the ostensible reason for the Nonesuch’s daily visits, and had never for an instant suspected that he might prefer her companion to her peerless self, she was sure that he too was unable to stay away from her. This seemed so obvious that she did not pause to consider that his behaviour, when he came to Staples, was not in the least that of a man dazzled by her charms. She had always found him incalculable, and if she had thought about it at all she would have supposed that he was content merely to look at her.

Courtenay, revolted by her self-satisfaction and indignant with his friends for making such fools of themselves, told her that she was no better than a vulgar lightskirt, and prophesied that she was riding for a fall; and when she laughed said that Lord Lindeth was only the first man to become disgusted: there would be others soon enough.

‘Pooh!’

‘Mighty pot-sure, aren’t you? But it seems to me that we don’t see so much of Lindeth these days!’

‘When I want him,’ boasted Tiffany, smiling in a way which made him want to slap her, ‘I shall just lift a finger! Then you’ll see!’

That sent him off in a rage to represent to his mother the absolute necessity of curbing Tiffany’s flirtatious antics. ‘I tell you, Mama, she’s
insufferable
!’
he declared.

‘Now, Courtenay, for goodness’ sake don’t go upsetting her!’ begged Mrs Underhill, alarmed. ‘I own I wouldn’t wish to see Charlotte being so bold as she is, but she always
was
caper-witted, and it ain’t as though she was carrying on with strange gentlemen that mightn’t keep the line. If I was to interfere, she wouldn’t pay a bit of heed to me – and you know what she is when she’s crossed! There’s enough trouble in the house, with Charlotte being so poorly, without us having to bear one of Tiffany’s tantrums!’

He turned appealingly to Miss Trent, but she shook her head. ‘I’m afraid the only remedy is for her admirers to grow cool,’ she said, smiling. ‘She is too headstrong, and has been allowed to have her own way for too long to submit to restraint. What would you have me do? Lock her in her room? She would climb out of the window, and very likely break her neck. I think, with you, that her behaviour is unbecoming, but she has done nothing scandalous, you know, and I fancy she won’t – unless she is goaded to it.’

‘How Greg, and Jack, and Arthur can make such cakes of themselves – ! Lord, it puts me in such a pelter to think they should be such gudgeons that there’s no bearing it!’

‘I shouldn’t let it tease you,’ she said. ‘It’s the fashion amongst them to worship Tiffany, and fashions don’t endure for long.’

‘Well, I only hope she has a rattling fall!’ he said savagely. ‘And what have you to say to this Calver-fellow? Teaching her to drive indeed! How do we know he ain’t a loose screw?’

‘We don’t, of course, but although I should prefer her not to drive out alone with him every day I have very little apprehension of his taking advantage of her childishness.’

‘No, indeed!’ said Mrs Underhill. ‘When he asked my per-mission, and told me I could trust him to take good care of her! He’s a very civil young man, and I’m sure I don’t know why you should have taken him in dislike!’

‘Civil young man! A Bartholomew baby! It’s my belief he’s a dashed fortune-hunter!’

‘Very possibly,’ agreed Miss Trent, quite unmoved. ‘But since she’s under age we needn’t tease ourselves over that. If you imagine that Tiffany would fling her cap over the windmill for a mere commoner you can’t know her!’

Oddly enough, at that very moment, Sir Waldo, lifting an eyebrow at Laurence, was saying: ‘Having a touch at the heiress, Laurie?’

‘No, I ain’t. If you mean the Wield chit!’

‘I do. Just started in the petticoat line, I collect!’

‘Well, I haven’t.
Is
she
an heiress?’

‘So I’m given to understand. I rather think she told me so herself.’

‘Sort of thing she would do,’ said Laurie. He thought it over for a moment, and then added, ‘I don’t want to be leg-shackled: wouldn’t suit me at all! Not but what I may be forced into it.’

‘I’m reluctant to blight your hopes, Laurie, but I think it only right to warn you that I have reason to suppose that your suit won’t prosper. Miss Wield is determined to marry
into the Peerage.’

‘Exactly so!’ exclaimed Laurence. ‘I saw at a glance! She means to catch Lindeth, of course. I imagine you wouldn’t like that above half!’

‘Not as much,’ said Sir Waldo, in a voice of affable agreement.

‘No, and my aunt wouldn’t like it either!’ said Laurence. ‘What’s more, I wouldn’t blame her! No reason why
he
should make a cream-pot marriage:
he
ain’t under the hatches!’

‘I don’t think he has any such intention.’

‘I know
that
!
The silly chub was bowled out by her face. Well, you won’t cozen
me
into thinking that young Julian is not your cosset-lamb! You’d give something to see him come safe off, wouldn’t you?’

Sir Waldo, who had drawn his snuff-box from his pocket, opened it with an expert flick of one finger, and took a pinch. He looked meditatively at Laurence, amused understanding in his eyes. ‘Alas, you’ve missed your tip!’ he said.

Laurence stared at him. ‘If you’re trying to bamboozle me into believing that Julian ain’t dangling after that girl it’s you who have missed your tip, Waldo! You won’t tell me that he –’

‘The only thing I shall tell you,’ interposed Sir Waldo, ‘is that you’re after the fair! Oh, don’t look so affronted! Console yourself with the reflection that as little as I discuss Julian’s business with you do I discuss yours with him!’

He said no more, leaving Laurence puzzled and aggrieved. He had his own reasons for believing that Julian had been cured of his passing infatuation; but if Laurie, bent on detaching Tiffany, had not discovered that his young cousin now had his eyes turned towards a very different quarry so much the better, he thought, profoundly mistrusting Laurie’s mischief-making tongue. If Julian’s interest in Miss Chartley became fixed, nothing could more surely prejudice his mother against the match than to learn of it from Laurie. The first news of it must come from Julian himself; after which, he reflected wryly,
it would be his task to reconcile the widow. She would be bitterly disappointed, but she was no fool, and must already have begun to doubt whether her cherished son would gratify her ambition by offering for any one of the damsels of rank, fortune, and fashion in whose way she had thrown him. She was also a most devoted parent; and once she had recovered from her initial chagrin Sir Waldo believed that she would very soon take the gentle Patience to her bosom. A pungent description of the beautiful Miss Wield would go a long way towards settling her mind.

For himself, he was much inclined to think that after his various tentative excursions Julian had found exactly the wife to suit him. Just as Patience differed from Tiffany, so did Julian’s courtship of her differ from his eager pursuit of Tiffany. He had begun with liking; his admiration had been kindled by the Leeds episode; and he was now, in Sir Waldo’s judgment, quietly and deeply in love. From such references to Patience as he from time to time let fall, his cousin gathered that she had every amiable quality, a well-informed mind, and a remarkable readiness to meet Julian’s ideas, and to share his every sentiment. Sir Waldo guessed that he was a frequent visitor at the Rectory, but there were none of the rides, picnics, and evening parties which had attended his transitory passion for Tiffany. Probably that was why Laurence seemed not to have realized that he had suffered a change of heart; no doubt Laurie supposed him to be in his elder cousin’s company when he found him missing from Broom Hall; and was misled by the innate civility which made him continue to call at Staples into thinking him still Tiffany’s worshipper.

It was during one of these morning visits that Julian learned that the al fresco ridotto which Tiffany had coaxed her aunt to hold in the gardens was to be postponed. Charlotte still continued to be languid and out of spirits; the doctor recommended a change of air and sea-bathing; so Mrs Underhill was going to take her to Bridlington, where she had a cousin living with his wife in retirement. She explained apologetically to Lindeth, and to Arthur Mickleby, whom Lindeth had found kicking his heels in the Green Saloon, that she hoped they wouldn’t be vexed, but she didn’t feel able for a ridotto when Charlotte was so poorly. Both young men expressed their regrets, and said everything that was polite; and Arthur reminded Mrs Underhill, in a heartening way, of how he had been taken to Bridlington after the measles, and how quickly he had plucked up there.

In the middle of this speech Tiffany came in wearing her driving-dress, and with Laurence at her heels. ‘Bridlington? Who is going to
that
stupid place?’ she demanded. She extended a careless hand to Lindeth. ‘How do you do? I haven’t seen you this age! Oh, Arthur, have you been waiting for me? Mr Calver has been teaching me how to loop a rein.
You
are not going to Bridlington, are you? It is the dullest, horridest place imaginable! Why don’t you go to Scarborough?’

‘’Tisn’t me, it’s Charlotte,’ explained Arthur. ‘I was telling Mrs Underhill, how much good it did me when I was in queer stirrups.’

‘Oh, Charlotte!
Poor
Charlotte! I daresay it will be the very thing for her. When does she go, ma’am?’

‘Well, my dear, I believe I’ll take her this week,’ said Mrs Underhill nervously. ‘There’s no sense in keeping her here, so low and dragged as she is, and Cousin Matty for ever begging me to pay her a visit, and to bring Charlotte along with me. I’ve been asking his lordship’s pardon, and Arthur’s too, for being obliged to put off the ridotto.’

‘Put off my ridotto!’ exclaimed Tiffany. ‘Oh,
no
!
You can’t mean to be so cruel, ma’am!’

‘I’m sure I’m as sorry as I can be, love, but you can’t have a party without I’m here, now, can you? It wouldn’t be seemly.’

‘But you must be here, aunt! Send Nurse with Charlotte, or Ancilla! Oh, pray do!’

‘I couldn’t be easy in my mind, letting the poor lamb go without me, and I wouldn’t have the heart for a ridotto, nor any kind of party. But there’s no need to get into a fidget, love, for I don’t mean to stay above a sennight – that is, not if Charlotte’s going on well, and don’t dislike to be left with Cousin George and Cousin Matty, which I daresay she won’t. But she made me promise her I’d go with her, and so I did. Not that I intended otherwise.’

‘How can she be so abominably selfish?’ cried Tiffany, flushing. ‘Making you go away when she knows that
I
need you! Depend upon it, she did it for spite, just to spoil my ridotto!’

Arthur looked rather startled, but it was Lindeth who inter-posed, saying: ‘It is very natural that she should wish for her mama, don’t you think?’

‘No!’ Tiffany replied crossly. ‘For she would as lief have Ancilla! Oh,
I
know! Ancilla shall be hostess in your stead, aunt! Famous! We shall do delightfully!’

But Mrs Underhill was steadfast in refusing to entertain this suggestion. Observing the rising storm signals in Tiffany’s eyes, she sought to temper the disappointment by promising to hold the ridotto as soon as she returned from Bridlington; but this only made Tiffany stamp her foot, and declare that she hated put-offs, and marvelled that her aunt should be taken in by Charlotte’s nonsense. ‘For my part, I believe she could be perfectly stout if she chose! She is putting on airs to be interesting, which I think quite odious, and so I shall tell her!’

‘Here!’ protested Arthur, shocked. ‘That’s coming it a bit strong! I beg pardon, but – but you shouldn’t say that!’ He added haltingly: ‘And although
I
should have enjoyed it, there – there are several people who don’t take to the notion. Well – Mrs Chartley won’t permit Patience to come, and, as a matter of fact – Mama won’t let my sisters either. Not to a moonlight party in the gardens!’

‘There! if I didn’t say it wasn’t the thing!’ exclaimed Mrs Underhill.

‘Who cares whether they come or not?’ said Tiffany scorn-fully. ‘If they choose to be stuffy, I promise you
I
don’t!’

Arthur reddened, and got up to take his leave. Mrs Underhill, acutely embarrassed, pressed his hand warmly, and gave him a speaking look; but Tiffany turned her shoulder on him, saying that he was quite as stuffy as his sisters.

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