Read an Excerpt
The Grand Sophy
By Georgette Heyer
Harlequin Enterprises Limited Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter One The butler, recognizing her ladyship's only surviving brother at a glance, as he afterwards informed his less percipient subordinates, favoured Sir Horace with a low bow, and took it upon himself to say that my lady, although not at home to less nearly-connected persons, would be happy to see him. Sir Horace, unimpressed by this condescension, handed his caped-greatcoat to one footman, his hat and cane to the other, tossed his gloves on to the marble-topped table, and said that he had no doubt of that, and how was Dassett keeping these days? The butler, torn between gratification at having his name remembered and disapproval of Sir Horace's free and easy ways, said that he was as well as could be expected, and happy (if he might venture to say so) to see Sir Horace looking not a day older than when he had last had the pleasure of announcing him to her ladyship. He then led the way, in a very stately manner, up the imposing stairway to the Blue Saloon, where Lady Ombersley was dozing gently on a sofa by the fire, a Paisley shawl spread over her feet, and her cap decidedly askew. Mr Dassett, observing these details, coughed, and made his announcement in commanding accents: "Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, my lady!"
Lady Ombersley awoke with a start, stared for an uncomprehending moment, made an ineffective clutch at her cap, and uttered a faint shriek. "Horace!"
"Hallo, Lizzie, how are you?" said Sir Horace, walking across the room, and bestowing an invigorating buffet upon her shoulder.
"Good heavens, what a fright you gave me!" exclaimed her ladyship, uncorking the vinaigrette which was never out of her reach.
The butler, having tolerantly observed these transports, closed the door upon the reunited brother and sister, and went away to disclose to his underlings that Sir Horace was a gentleman as lived much abroad, being, as he was informed, employed by the Government on Diplomatic Business too delicate for their understanding.
The diplomatist, meanwhile, warming his coat-tails by the fire, refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff and told his sister that she was putting on weight. "Not growing any younger, either of us," he added handsomely. "Not but what I can give you five years, Lizzie, unless my memory's at fault, which I don't think it is."
There was a large gilded mirror on the wall opposite to the fireplace, and as he spoke Sir Horace allowed his gaze to rest upon his own image, not in a conceited spirit, but with critical approval. His forty-five years had treated him kindly. If his outline had thickened a little, his height, which was well above six foot, made a slight portliness negligible. He was a very fine figure of a man, and had, besides a large and well-proportioned frame, a handsome countenance, topped by luxuriant brown locks as yet unmarred by silver streaks. He was always dressed with elegance, but was by far too wise a man to adopt such extravagances of fashion as could only show up the imperfections of a middle-aged figure. "Take a look at poor Prinny!" said Sir Horace to less discriminating cronies. "He's a lesson to us all!"
His sister accepted the implied criticism unresentfully. Twenty-seven years of wedlock had left their mark upon her; and the dutiful presentation to her erratic and far from grateful spouse of eight pledges of her affection had long since destroyed any pretensions to beauty in her. Her health was indifferent, her disposition compliant, and she was fond of saying that when one was a grandmother it was time to be done with thinking of one's appearance.
"How's Ombersley?" asked Sir Horace, with more civility than interest.
"He feels his gout a little, but considering everything he is remarkably well," she responded.
Sir Horace took a mere figure of speech in an undesirably literal spirit, saying, with a nod: "Always did drink too much. Still, he must be going on for sixty now, and I don't suppose you have so much of the other trouble, do you?"
"No, no!" said his sister hastily. Lord Ombersley's infidelities, though mortifying when conducted, as they too often were, in the full glare of publicity, had never greatly troubled her, but she had no desire to discuss them with her outspoken relative, and gave the conversation an abrupt turn by asking where he had come from.
"Lisbon," he replied, taking another pinch of snuff.
Lady Ombersley was vaguely surprised. It was now two years since the close of the long Peninsular War, and she rather thought that, when last heard of, Sir Horace had been in Vienna, no doubt taking mysterious part in the Congress, which had been so rudely interrupted by the escape of that dreadful Monster from Elba. "Oh!" she said, a little blankly. "Of course, you have a house there! I was forgetting! And how is dear Sophia?"
"As a matter of fact," said Sir Horace, shutting his snuff-box, and restoring it to his pocket, "it's about Sophy that I've come to see you."
Sir Horace had been a widower for fifteen years, during which period he had neither requested his sister's help in rearing his daughter nor paid the least heed to her unsolicited advice, but at these words an uneasy feeling stole over her. She said: "Yes, Horace? Dear little Sophia! It must be four years or more since I saw her. How old is she now? I suppose she must be almost out?"
"Been out for years," responded Sir Horace. "Never anything else really. She's twenty."
"Twenty!" exclaimed Lady Ombersley. She applied her mind to arithmetic, and said: "Yes, she must be, for my own Cecilia is just turned nineteen, and I remember that your Sophia was born almost a year before. Dear me, yes! Poor Marianne! What a lovely creature she was, to be sure!"
With a slight effort Sir Horace conjured up the vision of his dead wife. "Yes, so she was," he agreed. "One forgets, you know. Sophy's not much like her: favours me!"
"I know what a comfort she must have been to you," sighed Lady Ombersley. "And I'm sure, dear Horace, that nothing could be more affecting than your devotion to the child!"
"I wasn't in the least devoted," interrupted Sir Horace. "I shouldn't have kept her with me if she'd been troublesome. Never was: good little thing, Sophy!"
"Yes, my dear, no doubt, but to be dragging a little girl all over Spain and Portugal, when she would have been far better in a select school -"
"Not she! She'd have learnt to be missish," said Sir Horace cynically. "Besides, no use to prose to me now on that head: it's too late! The thing is, Lizzie, I'm in something of a fix. I want you to take care of Sophy while I'm in South America."
"South America?" gasped Lady Ombersley.
"Brazil. I don't expect to be away very long, but I can't take my little Sophy, and I can't leave her with Tilly, because Tilly's dead. Died in Vienna, couple of years ago. A devilish inconvenient thing to do, but I daresay she didn't mean it."
"Tilly?" said Lady Ombersley, all at sea.
"Lord, Elizabeth, don't keep on repeating everything I say! Shocking bad habit! Miss Tillingham, Sophy's governess!"
"Good heavens! Do you mean to tell me that the child has no governess now?"
"Of course she has not! She don't need a governess. I always found plenty of chaperons for her when we were in Paris, and in Lisbon it don't signify. But I can't leave her alone in England."
Excerpted from The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.