"A writer of great wit and style...I've read her books to ragged shreds."-Kate Fenton, Daily Telegraph
The spirited and independent Miss Annis Wychwood is twenty-nine and well past the age for falling in love. But when Annis embroils herself in the affairs of a pretty runaway heiress, Miss Lucilla Carleton, she is destined to see a great deal of her fugitive's uncivil and high-handed guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton. Befriending the wayward girl brings unexpected consequences, among them the conflicting emotions aroused by her guardian, who is quite the rudest man Annis has ever met...
Georgette Heyer's historical novels have charmed and delighted millions of readers. Her smart, independent heroines and dashing heroes brilliantly illuminate one of the most exciting and fascinating eras of English history, when drawing rooms sparkled with well-dressed nobility, and romantic intrigues ruled the day.
"In this delectable Georgette Heyer novel, the lady of quality and her bit-of-a-rake swain are the ones on whom our eyes are fixed. They don't play us false. Miss Heyer is in top form...romantic, amusing, and full of tart-tongued comment on the mores of the time."-Publishers Weekly
"Set in Bath in the last years of the Regency, it has the authentic Heyer sparkle."-Woman's Journal
About the Author
Heyer published 56 books over the next 53 years, until her death from lung cancer in 1974. Heyer's large volume of works included Regency romances, mysteries and historical fiction. Known also as the Queen of Regency romance, Heyer was legendary for her research, historical accuracy and her extraordinary plots and characterizations. Her last book, My Lord John, was published posthumously in 1975. She was married to George Ronald Rougier, a mining engineer, and they had one son together, Richard.
Georgette Heyer's novels have charmed and delighted millions of readers for decades. English Heritage has awarded Georgette Heyer one of their prestigious Blue Plaques, designating her Wimbledon home as the residence of an important figure in British history. She was born in Wimbledon in August 1902. She wrote her first novel, The Black Moth, at the age of seventeen to amuse her convalescent brother; it was published in 1921 and became an instant success.
Heyer published 56 books over the next 53 years, until her death from lung cancer in 1974. Her last book, My Lord John, was published posthumously in 1975. A very private woman, she rarely reached out to the public to discuss her works or personal life. Her work included Regency romances, mysteries and historical fiction. Known as the Queen of Regency romance, Heyer was legendary for her research, historical accuracy and her extraordinary plots and characterizations. She was married to George Ronald Rougier, a barrister, and they had one son, Richard.
Read an Excerpt
The elegant travelling carriage which bore Miss Wychwood from her birthplace, on the border of Somerset and Wiltshire, to her home in Bath, proceeded on its way at a decorous pace. This was dictated by her coachman, an elderly autocrat, who, having known her from the day of her birth, almost thirty years before, drove her at the pace he considered proper, and turned a deaf ear to her requests to him to ‘put 'em along!' If she didn't know what was due to her consequence, as Miss Wychwood of Twynham Park, he did; and even if she was an old maid in fact, almost an ape-leader, though he would never call her one, and had turned off the impudent stable-boy who had dared to do so, after giving him a rare box on the ear he knew very well how his late master would have wished his only daughter to be driven about the country. He had a pretty good idea, too, of what Sir Thomas would have felt had he known that Miss Wychwood had set up her own establishment in Bath, a few months after his death, with only a squinny old Tough to lend her countenance. A mean bit, Miss Farlow, if ever he saw one: more like a skinned rabbit than a woman, and a regular gabble-grinder into the bargain. It was a marvel to him that Miss Wychwood was able to endure her bibble-babble, for she wasn't short of a sheet, not by any means she wasn't!
The lady thus stigmatized was seated beside Miss Wychwood in the carriage, beguiling the tedium of the journey with a stream of small talk. She was of uncertain age, but it was unkind to describe her as an old Tough; and although she was certainly very thin it was unjust to liken her to a skinned rabbit. She was a distant relation of Miss Wychwood, left by an improvident parent in indigent circumstances; and when she had received a visit from Sir Geoffrey Wychwood, and had grasped that she owed this unprecedented honour to his urgent wish to procure her services as chaperon to his sister she had seen in his unromantically stout person a Paladin sent by Providence to rescue her from a drab lodging, mean fare, and the constant dread of finding herself in debt. She was not to know that her prospective charge had fought strenuously against having her, or any other female, foisted on to her; but when she had presented herself at Twynham Park, nervously clutching her oldfashioned reticule, desperately anxious to please, and staring up into Miss Wychwood's face with frightened, pleading eyes, Miss Wychwood's heart had overcome her judgement, and she had had no other thought than to make the poor little creature welcome. Lady Wychwood, quite unable to picture meek little Miss Farlow as a companion, and far less as a chaperon, to the lively Miss Wychwood, took the earliest opportunity that offered to beg her sister-in-law not to accept Miss Farlow's services without careful consideration. ‘I am persuaded, dearest, that you will find her a dreadful bore!' she said earnestly.
‘Yes, very likely, but I should find any chaperon a dreadful bore,' said Annis. ‘So, if I must have a chaperon not that I see the least need of one, at my age! I'd as lief have her as any other. At least she won't try to rule my house, or to dictate to me! Besides, I'm sorry for her!' She laughed suddenly, perceiving the doubtful look in Lady Wychwood's mild blue eyes. ‘Ah, you are afraid she won't exercise any control over me! You are perfectly right: she won't! But nor would anyone else, you know.'
‘But, Annis, Geoffrey says '
‘I know exactly what Geoffrey says,' interrupted Annis. ‘I've known what he would say any time these twenty years, and I find him far more of a bore than poor Maria Farlow. No, no, don't try to look shocked! I daresay no one knows better than you that he and I cannot deal together. The only time when we have been in perfect agreement was when he assured me that I should love his wife!'
‘Oh, Annis!' protested Lady Wychwood, blushing, and turning away her head. ‘You shouldn't say such things! Besides, I can't believe you mean it, when you won't continue living with me!'
‘What a rapper!' commented Annis, the laughter still dancing in her eyes. ‘I could live happily with you for the rest of my days, as well you know! It's my very worthy, starched-up, and consequential brother with whom I can't and won't live. Yes, isn't it unnatural of me?'
‘So sad!' mourned her ladyship.
‘Oh, no, why? You would have cause to say so if I did remain here. You must surely own that life would be very much more peaceful without me provoking Geoffrey a dozen times a day!'
Lady Wychwood did not deny this, but she sighed and said: ‘But you are far too young to be setting up your own establish-ment, dearest! I quite agree with dear Geoffrey about that!'
‘You always do agree with him, Amabel: indeed, you are the perfect wife for him!' interjected Annis irrepressibly.
‘I am sure I'm no such thing, though I do try to be. And as for agreeing with him, gentlemen are so much wiser than we are, and so much better able to judge of of worldly matters don't you think?'
‘But indeed Geoffrey is right when he says it will present a very odd appearance if you go to live in Bath all by yourself!'
‘Well, I shan't be all by myself, for I shall have Maria Farlow with me.'
‘Annis, I cannot persuade myself that she is the right person for you!'
‘No, but the beauty of it is that having chosen her, and foisted her on to me, Geoffrey will never acknowledge that he was in error. Depend upon it, he will soon be discovering all manner of virtues in her, and telling you that her meek disposition will have an excellent influence over me.'
Since Sir Geoffrey had already said something very like this to her, Lady Wychwood was obliged to laugh; but she shook her head as well, and said: ‘It's all very well for you to turn everything to a joke, but it won't be funny for Geoffrey or for me either! when we have people thinking that you left home because we were unkind to you!'
‘My dear, they won't think any such thing when they see that we are on terms of perfect amity. I hope you don't mean to cut my acquaintance? I expect to entertain you frequently in Camden Place, and give you fair warning that I shall always look on Twynham as my second home, and am likely to descend upon you without ceremony for long visits. You will be wishing me at Jericho, I daresay!' She saw that Lady Wychwood was looking melancholy still, and went to sit beside her, taking her hand, and saying: ‘Try to understand, Amabel! It isn't only because Geoffrey and I rub against one another that I am going to set up a home for myself. I want I want a life of my own!'
‘Oh, I do understand that!' said Lady Wychwood, in quick sympathy. ‘From the moment I set eyes on you I have felt that it was positively wicked that such a lovely girl as you should be wasting her life! If only you would accept Lord Beckenham's offer, or Mr Kilbride's well, no, perhaps not his! Geoffrey says he's a here-and-thereian, and a gamester, and I suppose that would hardly do for you, though I must confess that I thought he was excessively charming! Well, if you couldn't like Beckenham, what did you find to dislike in young Gaydon? Or '
‘Stop, stop!' begged Annis laughingly. ‘I found nothing to dis-like in any of them, but I couldn't discover in myself the smallest wish to marry any of them either. Indeed, I haven't any wish to marry anyone at all.'
‘But, Annis, every woman must wish to be married!' cried Lady Wychwood, quite shocked.
‘Now that provides the answer to what people will think when they see me living in my own house instead of at Twynham!' exclaimed Annis. ‘They will think me an Eccentric! Ten to one, I shall become one of the Sights of Bath, like old General Preston or that weird creature who goes about in a hoop, and feathers! I shall be pointed out as '
‘If you don't stop talking such nonsense I shall be strongly tempted to slap you!' interrupted Lady Wychwood. ‘I don't doubt you'll be pointed out, but it won't be as an Eccentric!'
In the event, both were proved to be right. Annis had acquaintances amongst the Bath residents, and several close friends living in the vicinity of Bath, with whom she had frequently stayed, so that she did not come to Bath as a stranger. It was thought to be a trifle eccentric of her to leave the shelter of her brother's house, but she was well-known to be a very independent young woman, and as she was, at that date, six and twenty years of age, long past her girlhood, only the stiffest and most censorious persons saw anything to condemn in her conduct. She was possessed of a considerable independence, and it was not to be wondered at that she should avail herself of its advantages. The only wonder was that she hadn't been snapped up in her first London Season by some gentleman on the look out for a bride in whom birth and beauty were accompanied by a handsome fortune.
No one knew the size of her fortune, but it was obviously large: her family had owned Twynham Park for generations; and her beauty was remarkable. If there were those who considered her too tall, and others who could only see beauty in brunettes, these critics were few in number. Her admirers and she had a host of them declared her to be a piece of perfection, and from the top of her guinea-gold curls to the soles of her slender feet they could detect no flaw in her. Her eyes were particularly fine, being of a deep blue, and so full of light that one infatuated gentleman, of a poetic turn of mind, said that their brilliance put the stars to shame. They were smiling eyes, set under delicate, arched brows; and her generous mouth seemed to be made for laughter. For the rest, she had an elegant figure, moved gracefully, dressed herself with exquisite taste, and had charming manners, which endeared her to such elderly sticklers as old Mrs Mandeville, who pronounced her to be ‘a very nice gal: none of your simpering misses! I can't think why she ain't married!'
Those who had been acquainted with her father knew that he had been dotingly fond of her, and supposed that that might have been why she had accepted none of the offers made her. No doubt, said the wiseacres, that was also why she had come to live in Bath now that he was dead: she meant to marry at last, and what chance of meeting an eligible gentleman could there be in the wilds of the country? Only one lady saw any impropriety in it, and as she was notoriously spiteful, and had two rather plain daughters of marriageable age on her hands, no one paid any heed to her. Besides, Miss Wychwood had an elderly cousin living with her, and what could be more proper than that?
So Sir Geoffrey was right too, and was able to plume himself on his wisdom. He very soon became reconciled to the situation, and found himself more in charity with his sister than he had ever been before. As for Miss Farlow, she had never been so happy in all her life, or enjoyed so much comfort, and she felt that she could never be sufficiently grateful to dear Annis, who not only paid her a very generous wage, but who showered every sort of luxury on her, from a fire in her bedroom to the right to order the carriage whenever she wished to go beyond walking-distance. Not that she ever did avail herself of this permission, for that, in her opinion, would be a sadly encroaching thing to do. Unfortunately, her overflowing gratitude caused her to irritate Miss Wychwood almost beyond bearing by fussing over her incessantly, running quite unnecessary errands for her (much to the jealous wrath of Miss Jurby, Annis's devoted dresser), and entertaining her (she hoped) with an inexhaustible flow of what Annis called nothing-sayings.
She was doing that on the journey back to Bath from Twynham Park. The fact that she received only mechanical responses from Miss Wychwood did not offend her, or cause her to abate her cheerful chatter. Rather she increased it, for she could see that her dear Miss Wychwood was a trifle in the dumps, and considered it to be her duty to divert her mind. No doubt she was sad to be leaving Twynham: Miss Farlow could well understand that, for she was feeling rather sad herself: it had been such an agreeable week!
‘So very kind as Lady Wychwood is!' she said brightly. ‘I declare it makes one sorry to be going away, not but what home is best, isn't it? We must look forward now to Easter, when we shall have them all to stay in Camden Place. We shan't know how to make enough of those sweet children, shall we, Annis?'
‘I don't think I shall find it difficult,' said Annis, with a faint smile. ‘And I fancy Jurby won't either!' she added, twinkling across at her dresser, who was sitting on the forward seat, holding her mistress's jewel-box on her angular knees. ‘Little Tom's last encounter with Jurby was a very near-run thing, I promise you, Maria! Indeed, I am persuaded that had I not chanced to come into the room at that moment she'd have spanked him as well he deserved! Wouldn't you, Jurby?'
Her dresser replied austerely: ‘Tempted I may have been, Miss Annis, but the Lord gave me strength to resist the promptings of the Evil One.'
‘Oh, no, was it the Lord who gave you that strength?' said Annis, quizzing her. ‘I had thought it was my intervention that saved him!'
‘Poor little fellow!' said Miss Farlow charitably. ‘So high-spirited! Such quaint things as he says! I'm sure I never saw such a forward child. Your sweet little goddaughter, too, Annis!'
‘I fear it's useless to ask me to go into raptures over infants in arms,' said Annis apologetically. ‘I daresay I shall like both children well enough when they are older. In the meantime I must leave it to their mama, and to you, to dote on them.'
Miss Farlow realized that dear Annis had the headache, which was the only possible explanation for her want of enthusiasm over her nephew and niece. She said: ‘Now, why do you let me rattle on when I am persuaded you have the headache? That is not treating me as you should, or as I wish you to! There is nothing so irritating to the nerves as being obliged to attend to fireside chatter not that this is the fireside, of course, though the hot brick I have under my feet keeps me as warm as toast when one is not feeling in good point. And it wouldn't surprise me, my love, if it is the weather which has made your head ache, for a cold wind frequently gives me a sort of tic, and the wind is very sharp today not that we are conscious of it in the carriage, which I am sure is the most comfortable one imaginable, but there is bound to be a draught, and we mustn't forget that you stood talking to Sir Geoffrey for several minutes before you got into it. That was what started the mischief depend upon it! I expect it will go off when you are safely home again, and in the meantime I shan't tease you by talking to you. Are you sure you are warm enough? Let me give you my shawl, to put round your head! Jurby will hold your hat, or I will. Now, where did I put my smelling-salts? They should be in my reticule, for I always put them there when I go on a journey, because one never knows when one may need them, does one? But they don't seem to be Oh, yes, here they are! They had slipped down to the bottom, and were under my handkerchief, though goodness knows how they can have got under it, for I distinctly recall putting them on top of everything else, so that they would be handy. I often think how extraordinary it is that things move by themselves, which no one can deny they do!'
She continued in this way for several minutes, and when Annis declined the shawl and the smelling-salts, wished that they had thought to bring a pillow to put behind Annis's head, or that it were possible to make her a tisane. In desperation, Annis shut her eyes, and after drawing Miss Jurby's attention to this, and telling her that they must be as quiet as mice, because Miss Annis was just dropping off to sleep, she at last subsided.
Annis had no headache, nor was she depressed at leaving Twynham Park. She was bored. Possibly the bleak weather, though it hadn't made her head ache, had affected her spirits, making her feel, most unusually, that the future was as gray and as unpromising as the sky. Lady Wychwood had tried to keep her at Twynham for a few more days, prophesying that it was going to snow, but Annis could not be persuaded to extend her visit, even if it was going to snow, which she thought extremely unlikely. Appealed to, Sir Geoffrey said: ‘Snow? Pooh! Nonsense, my love! Far too much wind for that, and nothing like cold enough! Naturally we should be happy to keep Annis with us, but if she has engagements in Bath we should neither of us wish to deter her from keeping them. What's more, if it did snow she will be perfectly safe with Twitcham on the box.'
So Annis had been allowed to set forth without further hindrance from her anxious sister-in-law, privately thinking that if it really did snow she would be better off in her own house in Bath than immured at Twynham Park. No snow fell, but no gleam of sunlight broke through the clouds to enliven the gloom of a sodden landscape; and a north-easterly wind did nothing to alleviate the discomforts of a March day. Her spirits were understandably depressed, and she was only roused from a melancholy vision of her probable future when, some eight miles short of Bath, Miss Farlow cried: ‘Oh, goodness me, has there been an accident? Ought we to stop? Do look, dear Annis!'
Jerked out of her unprofitable meditations, Miss Wychwood opened her eyes. No sooner did they alight on the cause of Miss Farlow's sudden exclamation that she tugged the check-string, and, as Twitcham pulled up his horses, said: ‘Oh, poor things! Of course we must stop, Maria, and try what we can do to rescue them from such a horrid plight!'
While her footman jumped down to open the carriage-door, and to let down the steps, she had time to assimilate the details of the mishap which had befallen two fellow-travellers. A gig, with one wheel missing, was lying at a drunken angle at the side of the road, and beside it were standing two people: a female, huddled in a cloak, and a fair young man, who was feeling the knees of the sturdy cob which he had drawn out from between the shafts of the gig, and who said, just as James, the footman, pulled open the door of Miss Wychwood's carriage: ‘Well, thank God, at least this bone-setter is none the worse!'
His companion, whom Miss Wychwood perceived to be a very young, and a very pretty girl, replied, with some asperity: ‘I don't see much to be thankful for in that!'
‘I daresay you don't!' retorted the young gentleman. ‘You won't be called upon to pay for ' He broke off, as he became aware that the slap-up equipage which had just swept round a bend in the road had come to a halt, and that its occupant, a dazzlingly lovely lady, was preparing to descend from it. He gave a gasp, pulled off his modish beaver, and stammered: ‘Oh! I didn't see I mean, I didn't think that is to say '
Miss Wychwood laughed, and relieved him from his embarrassment, saying, as she alighted from her carriage: ‘Did you suppose anyone could be so odiously selfish as not to stop? Not I, I promise you! The same thing happened to me once, and I know just how helpless it makes one feel when one loses a wheel! Now, what can I do to rescue you from this horrid predicament?'
The girl, eyeing her warily, said nothing; but the gentleman bowed, and said: ‘Thank you! It is excessively good of you, ma'am! I shall be very much obliged to you if you will direct them, at the next posting-house, to send a chaise here, to carry us to Bath. I am not familiar with this part of the country, so I don't know And then there is the horse! I can't leave him here, can I? Perhaps Only I don't like to ask you to find a wheelwright, ma'am, though I think a wheelwright is what is chiefly needed!'
At this, his companion intervened, announcing that a wheelwright was not what she needed. ‘Ten to one he wouldn't come at all, and even if he did come, whoever heard of a wheelwright mending a wheel on the road? Particularly a wheel that has two broken spokes! It would be hours before we reached Bath, and you must know that it is of the first importance that I should be there not a moment later than five o'clock! I might have known how it would be when you meddled in what is quite my own affair, for of all the mutton-headed people I ever was acquainted with you are the most mutton-headed, Ninian!' she said indignantly.
‘Let me remind you, Lucy,' retorted the gentleman, flushing up to the roots of his fair hair, ‘that the accident was no fault of mine! And, further, that if I had not meddled, as you choose to call it, in your affair you would have found yourself at this moment stranded miles from Bath! And if we are to talk of muttonheads !' He broke off, controlling himself with a visible effort, set his teeth, and said in the icy voice of one determined not to allow his anger to get the better of him: ‘I shall not do so, however!'
‘No, don't!' said Annis, considerably amused by this inter-change. ‘You really have no time to indulge in recriminations at just this moment, have you? If it is a matter of importance to you to reach Bath before five o'clock, Miss ?'
She left a pause, her brows raised questioningly, but the youthful lady before her did not seem to be very willing to fill it. After hesitating for a few moments, she stammered: ‘If you please, ma'am, will you just call me Lucilla? I I have a very particular reason for not wishing anyone to know my surname in case they come in search of me!'
‘They?' enquired Miss Wychwood, wondering what kind of an adventure she had stumbled on.
‘My aunt, and his father,' said Lucilla, nodding towards her escort. ‘And very likely my uncle too, if he can be persuaded to bestir himself!' she added.
‘Good God!' exclaimed Miss Wychwood, her eyes dancing. ‘Can it be that I am assisting in an elopement?'
The haste with which both the lady and the gentleman repudiated this suggestion was attended by so much vehemence, and with so much loathing, that Miss Wychwood was hard put to it not to burst out laughing. She managed to keep her countenance, and said, with only a tiny tremor in her voice: ‘I beg your pardon! Indeed, I can't think how I came to say anything so shatter-brained, for something seemed to tell me at the outset that it was not an elopement!'
Lucilla said, with dignity: ‘I may be a sad romp, I may be a little gypsy, and my want of conduct may give people a disgust of me, but I am not lost to all sense of propriety, whatever my aunt says, and nothing could prevail on me to elope with anyone! Not even if I were madly in love, which I'm not! As for eloping with Ninian, that would be a nonsensical thing to do, because '
‘I wish you will keep your tongue, Lucy!' interrupted Ninian, looking very much vexed. ‘You rattle on like a regular bagpipe, and see what comes of it!' He turned towards Annis, saying stiffly: ‘I cannot wonder at it that you were misled into supposing that we are eloping. The case is far otherwise.'
‘Yes, it is,' corroborated Lucilla. ‘Far, far otherwise! The truth is that I am escaping from Ninian!'
‘I see!' said Annis sympathetically. ‘And he is helping you to do it!'
‘Well, yes in a way he is,' Lucilla admitted. ‘Not that I wished him to help me, but but the circumstances made it very difficult for me to stop him. It it is all rather complicated, I'm afraid.'
‘It does seem to be,' agreed Annis. ‘And if you are going to explain it to me not that I wish to be vulgarly inquisitive! how would it be if you were to get into my carriage, and allow me to convey you to wherever it is in Bath that you wish to go?'
Lucilla cast a somewhat longing look at the carriage, but shook a resolute head. ‘No. It is very kind of you, but it would be too shabby of me to leave Ninian behind, and I won't do it!'
‘Yes, you will!' said Ninian. ‘I have been wondering how to get you to Bath before you are quite frozen, and if this lady will take you there I shall be very much obliged to her.'
‘I will certainly take her there,' said Annis, smiling at him. ‘My name, by the way, is Wychwood Miss Annis Wychwood.'
‘And mine, ma'am, is Elmore Ninian Elmore, entirely at your service!' he responded, with great gallantry, ‘And this is '
‘Ninian, no!' cried Lucilla, much flustered. ‘If she were to tell my aunt where I am '
‘Oh, don't be afraid of that!' said Annis cheerfully. ‘Never shall it be said of me that I'm an addle-plot, I promise you! I collect that you are going to visit a friend, or perhaps a relation?'
‘Well, well not precisely! In fact, I haven't met her yet!' disclosed Lucilla, in a rush of confidence. ‘The thing is, ma'am, I am going to apply for the post of companion to her. She says I have brought the notice I saw in the Morning Post with me, but most foolishly packed it in my portmanteau, so that I can't immediately show it to you but she says she requires an active and genteel young lady of willing disposition, and that applicants must call at her residence in North Parade between the hours of '
‘North Parade!' exclaimed Annis. ‘My poor child, can it be that you are going to visit Mrs Nibley?'
‘Yes,' faltered Lucilla, dismayed by Miss Wychwood's very obvious pity. ‘The Honourable Mrs Nibley, which made me think she must be a perfectly respectable person. Isn't she, ma'am?'
‘Oh, yes! A pattern-card of respectability!' answered Annis. ‘Renowned in Bath as the town's worst archwife! She has had I don't know how many active and genteel ladies to wait on her hand and foot during the three years I've been acquainted with her. Either they leave her house in strong hysterics, or she turns them off because they have not been sufficiently active or willing! My dear, do believe me when I tell you that the post she offers would not do for you!'
‘I guessed as much!' interpolated Mr Elmore, not without satisfaction.
Lucilla bore all the appearance of having sustained a stunning blow, but at this her spirit flickered up in a brief revival, and she said: ‘No, you didn't! Pray, how could you have guessed anything of the sort?'
‘Well, at all events, I guessed no good would come of such a bird-witted start, and I said so at the time! You can't deny that! Now what do you mean to do?'
‘I don't know,' said Lucilla, her lips trembling. ‘I shall have to think of something.'
‘There's only one thing you can do, and that is to return to Mrs Amber,' he said.
‘Oh, no, no, no!' she cried passionately. ‘I would rather hire myself out as a cook-maid than go back to be scolded, and reproached, and told I had made my aunt ill, and forced to marry you, which is what would happen, on account of my having run away with you! And it wouldn't be the least use to tell my aunt, or your papa, that I didn't run away with you, but away from you, because even if they believed me they would think it worse, and say we must be married!'
He blenched visibly, and ejaculated: ‘Oh, my God, that's just what they would do! What a hobble we're in! It almost makes me wish I hadn't caught you creeping out of the house, and thought it my duty to see you came to no harm!'
‘Forgive me!' interposed Miss Wychwood. ‘May I offer a suggestion?' She smiled at Lucilla, and held out her hand. ‘If you are set on being a companion, come and be a companion to me!' She heard Miss Farlow within the carriage utter a faint, outraged clucking, and made haste to add: ‘It won't do, you know, to be putting up at an hotel, all by yourself; and it's not to be expected that Mrs Nibley even if she engaged you, which I think extremely unlikely would be prepared to do so immediately. She will require you to furnish her with the name and direction of some respectable person willing to vouch for you.'
‘Oh, goodness!' exclaimed Lucilla, dismayed. ‘I never thought of that!'
‘Most understandable that you should not!' said Annis. ‘One can't think of everything, after all! But I do feel that it is a matter which ought to be considered, and I also feel that it is quite impossible to consider anything when one is standing in the open road, with a perfectly horrid wind positively freezing one's wits! So do, pray, get into my carriage! Mr Elmore will follow us in due course, and we can discuss the matter when we have dined, and are sitting snugly beside the fire.'
‘Thank you!' Lucilla said unsteadily. ‘You are very kind, Miss Wychwood! Only only how is Ninian to manage, when he can't leave the horse?'
‘There is no need for you to fret about me,' said Mr Elmore nobly. ‘I shall lead the horse to the next hostelry, and trust to being able to hire some sort of a carriage to carry me to Bath.'
‘You might even ride the horse,' suggested Annis.
‘But I am not dressed for riding!' he said, staring at her. ‘And and even if I were, it is not a saddle-horse!'
Annis now perceived that Mr Elmore was a very correct young gentleman. She was a good deal amused, but although the ready laughter sprang to her eyes she said, with perfect gravity: ‘Very true! We must leave you to do as you think best, but I should perhaps warn you that since this is not a post-road you may find it difficult to hire a chaise at the the "next hostelry", and may even be reduced to contenting yourself with some vehicle quite beneath your touch! However, I shan't despair of seeing you in Upper Camden Place in time for dinner!' She then furnished him with her exact direction, smiled benignly upon him and pushed Lucilla to the steps of her carriage.
Propelled irresistibly by a firm hand in the small of her back, Lucilla mounted them, but paused at the top, to say, over her shoulder: ‘If I could be of the least use to you, Ninian, I wouldn't leave you in this fix, even though you wouldn't have been in it if you hadn't meddled in my affairs!'
‘You may make yourself easy on that head!' responded Mr Elmore. ‘Far from being of use to me, your presence would make everything worse! If it could be!' he added.
‘Well, of all the unjust things to say!' gasped Lucilla indignantly. She would have said more, but Miss Wychwood cut short her recriminations by thrusting her into the carriage. She then directed her interested footman to transfer her unexpected guest's baggage from the gig to the carriage, and, when this was done, herself mounted into the carriage, briskly desired Miss Farlow to make room for a third person on the back seat, pushed her own hot brick under Lucilla's feet, tucked a generous share of the fur-lined carriage-rug round her, and nodded to her footman to put up the steps. In a very few minutes the coachman had set his horses in motion, and Lucilla, snuggling between her hostess and Miss Farlow, heaved a small sigh, and, stealing a cold hand into Miss Wychwood's, whispered: ‘Oh, I do thank you, ma'am!'
Miss Wychwood chafed the little hand, saying: ‘You poor child! You are quite frozen! Never mind! We shall soon be in Bath, and we shan't discuss your problems until you are warm, and have dined, and er have the benefit of Mr Elmore's advice!'
Lucilla gave an involuntary choke of laughter, but refrained from comment. Very little conversation was exchanged during the rest of the journey, Lucilla, worn-out by the day's adventures, being on the brink of sleep, and Miss Wychwood confining her remarks to a few commonplaces addressed to Miss Farlow. For her part, Miss Farlow's usual flow of chit-chat was dried up, because (as she would presently tell her employer) her feelings had been wounded by the imputation that her own companionship did not suffice Miss Wychwood. Miss Jurby preserved a rigid silence, as befitted her position, but she too had every intention of favouring Miss Wychwood with her opinion of her latest, ill-judged start, as soon as she was alone with her and in far more forthright terms than would be used by Miss Farlow.
Lucilla awoke when the carriage drew up in Upper Camden Place, and was insensibly cheered by the welcoming candlelight coming through the open door of the house, and by the benevolent aspect of the elderly butler, who beamed upon his mistress, and accepted, without a blink, the unheralded arrival of a stranger in her company.
Annis handed Lucilla over to Mrs Wardlow, her housekeeper, with instructions to bestow her in the Pink bedchamber, and to direct one of the maids to wait on her; and prepared herself to deal with her affronted companion.
Waiting only until Lucilla, meekly following Mrs Wardlow up the stairs, was out of earshot, Miss Farlow said that while she trusted it would always be far from her intention to criticize any of her dear cousin's actions she felt herself bound to say that had she known that her companionship no longer satisfied dear Annis she would instantly have resigned her post.
‘Whatever the exigencies of my circumstances,' she said tearfully, ‘I should prefer to live in utter penury than to remain where I am not wanted, however comfortable this house may be, which indeed it is, not to say luxurious, for Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith! Even though I am not at all partial to herbs, except for a little parsley in a sauce, and I have never been able to understand how anyone, even a Biblical person, could possibly live on herbs. However, times change, and when one thinks of all the most peculiar things that happened in the Bible, well, it makes one positively thankful one didn't live in those days! Bushes catching fire, and ladders coming down out of the sky, and people being swallowed up by whales, and not being a penny the worse for it well, I should find that sort of thing most disconcerting! Manna, too! I've never been able to discover what kind of food that was, but I am persuaded I shouldn't like it, even if I were starving, and it was suddenly dropped on me, which I think extremely unlikely. But,' she continued, fixing Miss Wychwood with a reproachful gaze, ‘I would make a push to like it if you wish to set Another in my place!'
‘Don't be such a goosecap, Maria!' replied Miss Wychwood, in a rallying tone. ‘I haven't the least desire to set Another in your place!' Always appreciative of the ridiculous, she could not resist the impulse to say: ‘I can vouch for it that there is no hatred in this house unless Jurby hates you, but you wouldn't care for that, because you must know that she wouldn't do so if she didn't fear that you were ousting her in my regard! but the stalled ox has me in a puzzle! Where, cousin, do you suspect me of stalling an ox?'
‘I was speaking metaphorically,' answered Miss Farlow, in outraged accents. ‘It is not to be supposed that you could stall an ox anywhere in Bath, for you may depend upon it that it would contravene the regulations. I daresay you wouldn't be permitted to stall a cow, and that would be of far more use to you!'
‘So it would!' agreed Miss Wychwood, much struck.
‘Oxen and cows have nothing to do with the case!' said Miss Farlow, dissolving into tears. ‘My sensibilities have been deeply wounded, Annis! When I heard you invite that young woman to come here to be a companion to you, I suffered an an electrical shock from which I fear my nerves will never recover!'
Perceiving that her elderly cousin was very much upset, Annis applied herself to the task of soothing her lacerated feelings. It took time and patience to mollify Miss Farlow, and although she succeeded in convincing her that she stood in no danger of being dismissed she failed to reconcile her to Lucilla's presence in Camden Place. ‘I cannot like her, cousin,' she said impressively. ‘You must forgive me if I say that I am astonished that you should have offered her the hospitality of your home, for in general you have such very superior sense! Mark my words, you will live to regret it!'
‘If I do, Maria, you will have the comfort of being able to say that you told me so! But what reason could I possibly have for not rescuing that child from a very awkward predicament?'
‘It's my belief,' said Miss Farlow darkly, ‘that the story she told you was a take-in! A very hurly-burly young female I thought her! So coming quite brass-faced indeed! Such a want of delicacy, running away from her home, and in the company of a young gentleman! No doubt I am oldfashioned, but such conduct doesn't suit my sense of propriety. What is more, I am very sure dear Sir Geoffrey would disapprove quite as strongly as I do!'
‘Probably more strongly,' said Annis. ‘But I hardly think he could be so foolish as to call her either coming or brass-faced!'
Miss Farlow quailed under the sparkling look of anger in Annis's eyes, and embarked on a confused speech which incoherently mixed an apology with a great deal of self-justification. Annis cut her short, telling her that she expected her to treat Lucilla with civility. She spoke with most unusual severity, and when the afflicted Miss Farlow sought refuge in tears was wholly unmoved, merely recommending her to go upstairs and to unpack her trunk.