|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
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It would be a long time before Honoria Honeyford, Honey to her family and friends, could forgive Amy Wetherall. Up until the day Amy and her family arrived to take up residence in the town of Kelidon, Honey had ruled the roost.
All the gentlemen of the neighborhood called on Honey and seemed to enjoy her easy, informal company. Honey had not had to endure any of the boring social training of a future debutante. Instead of studying the use of the globes, the Italian language, watercolor painting, music, and how to handle a fan, she learned Greek and Latin, mathematics and science, and read the works of every radical writer she could get her hands on. Her favorite book was Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women. She insisted in conversing with men on equal terms, and in wearing comfortable, mannish clothes. Her hair was cut as short as Caroline Lamb's, and the townspeople prophesied that the beautiful Miss Honeyford would soon become just another country eccentric.
For Honey was beautiful. What she had of her hair after her ruthless shearing was thick and shiny, a rich chestnut color highlighted with threads of gold. She had a trim figure, and a small, elfin face with wide hazel eyes and thick black lashes.
Had her mother been alive, things might have been different, but widower Sir Edmond Honeyford spoiled his headstrong daughter, and, perhaps, was just a little guilty of trying to turn her into the son he had always wanted. Honey was an expert shot, skilled in the use of the small sword, and upset the local hunt by riding to hounds and cheerfully copying the language of the lowest of the grooms.
Honeywas amused and curious when she first heard of Amy Wetherall's arrival in the district. Sir Edmund laughed and said Amy must be a diamond of the first water because all the young fellows professed themselves shot by Cupid's arrow. Being curious to see the fair Amy himself, he accepted invitations to a musical soirée at the Wetherall home for himself and Honey.
The Honeyfords lived in a large, square barracks of a mansion on the outskirts of Kelidon. The servants were all men and Honey scorned the services of a lady's maid, so the house looked more like a gentlemen's club and smelled of brandy and woodsmoke and the cheroots that Honey and her father smoked when they were conversing of an evening.
When they set out for the Wetheralls', Sir Edmund was neatly if unfashionably dressed in an old chintz coat and knee breeches. Honey was wearing a round gown in a depressing shade of mud brown. Her only ornament was an enormous cameo brooch that showed a heavy-featured Roman matron who looked as if she had just seen another Christian thrown to the lions.
The spring night was cold and so Honey wore a heavy, many-caped garrick over her gown. She paused for a moment before putting it on, because her two pet foxhounds, who were allowed the run of the house, had been using it for a bed and it smelled abominably of damp dog, but she reassured herself with the thought that she would not be wearing the garrick during the soirée. Her gown was unfashionably long and reached the floor, so it seemed silly to wear thin silk slippers on such a cold night and Honey pulled on a comfortable pair of half boots.
The Wetheralls had taken the late squire's estate on the other side of Kelidon. They drove through the market town, both of them sitting up on the box. Honey was driving the team of four horses and she set too fast a pace through the town for safety, but Sir Edmund enjoyed his daughter's skill with the reins, and was proud of saying that she could drive to an inch, and so he hung tightly onto the side, and happily watched the shops and houses whizzing by. He was a small, plump man who still wore his hair powdered despite the iniquitous flour tax. He had always been considered the real squire of Kelidon, even when Mr. Pembroke, the old squire, had been alive, for Mr. Pembroke had been a thin, scholarly man, quite the opposite of the jolly, sports-loving Sir Edmund.
Sir Edmund had indulged Honey's every whim. He often fondly remembered the day she had rebelled against her governess, demanding a "real" tutor instead. Not a bookish man himself, Sir Edmund nonetheless admired his daughter's capacity for devouring literature. Lady Honeyford had died when Honey was only six and so there had been no feminine restraint on Honey's eccentric upbringing.
So there they were on a fine spring evening with the new leaves turning the trees into clouds of black lace in the moonlight, as contented and happy a father and daughter as could be found in the whole of England in this year of 1812. But that was before they met Amy Wetherall.
The squire's house had been a rambling, ivy-covered building, famous for its wilderness of garden, its bad drains, and its gloomy rooms. As they approached it up the now-well-tended drive, both noticed that the ivy had been stripped off, the bricks repointed, and that a smart new portico had been built over the entrance.
Lights blazed from every window and all the curtains had been drawn back as was the fashion in faraway London when someone was having a rout.
Honey found herself hoping that she could divest herself of her garrick before anyone other than the butler saw it.
But other guests were arriving at the same time, and as Honey entered the hall, one young miss said loudly, "I did not think the Wetheralls kept dogs indoors. There is the most monstrous smell of damp hound."
Honey found that she was expected to leave her garrick in a room set aside for the ladies' cloaks. She quickly got rid of it by tossing it behind a screen. Other ladies were primping in front of the looking glass. Honey knew them all, but none of them greeted her with any warmth for Honey preferred the company of men and had been unwittingly very rude to all these local ladies in the past. She noticed how finely dressed they all were that evening. Her own reflection gazed back at her, a drab figure set against all the pretty pastel muslins and silks. When the old squire had entertained, the house had been dreadfully cold, but that night it was warm. It was not only the heat from the fires which had been lit in every room--not wood fires either but great, blazing conflagrations of sea coal--but also the heat from hundreds of the finest beeswax candles.
In the squire's day, the rooms had been shadowy and dim. Now Honey felt as if she were standing on a stage. She saw dog hairs clinging to the wool of her gown and nervously brushed them off. Perhaps sensing that his daughter might find herself uneasy in such new, tonnish surroundings, Sir Edmund had waited for her in the hall.
He blinked a little as she emerged from the cloakroom, seeing her clearly for the first time, seeing the short, short hair and the dowdy gown. Her hem caught against a chair, and before she pulled it down, Honey had shown her father and the company that she was wearing cracked half boots and darned green stockings.
Sir Edmund tugged at the lapels of his chintz coat and wished for the first time in his life that he had gone to the trouble of having a new evening coat made.
A music room had been built onto the back of the house, and a famous soprano called Madame Venuti was to entertain them. No one had heard of her before, but the magnificence of the Wetherall home went a long way toward persuading them that they must have read about her some time or another.
Mrs. Wetherall was waiting at the door of the music room to receive her guests. She was a thin, spare woman with iron-gray hair confined under a lace cap. She had pale, rather protruding gray eyes and strong yellow teeth which she displayed as much as possible.
Mr. Wetherall was a large, sagging man with a sallow face, who, it was rumored, had made his money in India.
And then there was Amy Wetherall.
Honey was slim and slight in stature, but Amy Wetherall made her feel like a great lumering ox, for Amy was positively ethereal in a gold tissue gown. Her brown hair was artistically dressed in disarrayed curls, and their shine owed all to good health and nothing to pomatum. She had very large, pansy-brown eyes, a rosebud mouth, and a neat, straight nose. Her gown was cut low at the bosom and a double row of pearls shone against the whiteness of her neck.
Honey curtsied to all the Wetheralls, trying by the elegance of her curtsy to offset the dowdiness of her gown. The music room was only a few yards away, but it seemed like miles to the self-conscious Honey. She was grateful to sink down in a chair at the back, next to her father, and feel the embarrassed flush beginning to die out of her cheeks. The musical performance was agony for Honey. The soprano had a shrill, penetrating voice and sang slightly off-key, but was warmly applauded by the other guests, who equated culture with excrutiating agony and, therefore, considered Madame Venuti a diamond of the first water.
Following the concert, everyone moved into a pretty flower-bedecked saloon for supper, and there was a great deal of laughing and jostling as the men vied with each other for a place next to Amy. Honey watched Amy covertly from under her lashes. Amy flirted to a nicety, waving her fan with delicate little motions of her wrist, and laughing a silvery, tinkling laugh.
Can't they see everything she does is an act? thought Honey. I shall never become like that. I treat all men as equals. She looked about for some man to treat as an equal but, old and young, they were all clustered about Amy.
"I hear you are going to London, Miss Wetherall," said a young officer. "You will break all hearts there as you have done here."
Amy peeped up at him over the barrier of her fan. "Captain Jocelyn, I cannot believe the gentlemen of London will be any more charming than the gentlemen of Kelidon. Faith! Can you see me in Hyde Park on the arm of some Bond Street fribble?" Amy put down her fan, felt at the side of her face as if feeling side whiskers, and said in a gruff voice, "Pon rep, Miss Weatherall, your gown is almost as well cut as my coat, and, damme, if your reticule does not match my waistcoat!"
There was a great burst of hearty masculine laughter. Honey saw to her amazement that one of the gentlemen laughing the loudest was her father, and yet she felt Amy had said nothing that was witty, clever, or even funny.
One gallant finally succeeded in being favored with a seat next to Amy, and the rest of the gentlemen dispersed to find other seats. Captain Jocelyn sat down beside Honey in an absent-minded way, his eyes still on Amy.
At last he reluctantly turned his attention to Honey. "Ah, Miss Honeyford," he said, "you must forgive me. My thoughts were elsewhere."
Captain Jocelyn was a very handsome man with a strong, tanned face and steady gray eyes, home on leave from the Peninsular Wars. Honey had already met him on the hunting field and considered him a very superior sort of gentleman.
All at once, Honey wanted him to listen to her as intently as he had been listening to Amy.
"Captain Jocelyn," she began, "I would like your opinion on the Regent's wider powers. Do you think he will make a coalition government? He has suggested the idea to the Chief of Whigs, but it is said that Percival does not care for the idea of a coalition. Do you think it a good thing?"
At that moment, Amy's silvery laugh rang out. She leaned forward and said something to her partner. Captain Jocelyn bent a little way away from Honey, straining his ears, obviously hoping to catch what Amy was saying.
At last he turned back to Honey with an obvious effort. "I am sorry, Miss Honeyford," he said. "You were saying... "
Blushing slightly, Honey repeated the question. Captain Jocelyn had always been eager to discuss politics with her before. Now he said, "I do not know, Miss Honeyford. The deuce! Have you ever seen such eyes?"
Now this was no doubt the kind of remark he would have made had he been talking on equal terms with another man, but Honey felt piqued. "Miss Wetherall is very beautiful, is she not?" she remarked, trying for a free and easy manner.
"Very beautiful," said Captain Jocelyn dreamily. "You're a good sort of chap, Miss Honeyford. You know what I mean. Only see the delicate turn of her wrist and the sparkle in her eyes. She makes a fellow feel ten feet tall."
Honey winced at that "good chap," forgetting that before this evening she would have considered it a very fine compliment. "I hope Miss Wetherall has an informed mind to match her beauty," said Honey.
"Oh, Miss Wetherall is extremely clever," said the captain. "She drew a picture of Lady Jenkins' cocker spaniel and it was that dog to the life. She embroiders exquisitely, and her voice! She sings like an angel."
Honey felt at a loss. She wanted to jump up and down, and say, "Look at me! I'm a woman."
"Does Miss Wetherall hunt?" she asked desperately.
"Gad, no! Too much of a lady to do that. I shudder to think of such a delicate angel riding out with us coarse fellows. It don't bear thinking of."
"I hunt, as you very well know, Captain Jocelyn," said Honey crossly.
He appeared to see her for the first time that evening. As he glanced at her, Honey became aware again of the dowdiness of her gown, and put a nervous hand up to her cropped curls.
"So you do," he said indulgently, "but one don't think of you as a lady, Miss Honeyford. I mean to say, don't notice the difference on the hunting field. Lord, it made me laugh t'other day when old Harry Blenkinsop said you swore worse than his head groom." Captain Jocelyn laughed heartily.
Honey felt herself diminishing in size before his loud laughter. She felt if she became any smaller then she might disappear altogether.
The supper room was very hot and very scented. The other ladies were wearing the thinnest of muslins. Honey's gown felt scratchy and prickly against her skin.
After supper was finally over, Honey looked to her father, hoping he would say it was time to go home. But Mrs. Wetherall announced that the chairs had been cleared in the music room and that they were going to have an impromptu dance. Everyone, except Honey, hailed the news with delight. Gloomily, she watched Captain Jocelyn dashing off without even a fairwell to see if he could persuade Amy to dance with him.
Bleakly, Honey sat with the dowagers in the music room while couples began to form sets for a country dance. She felt very much the wallflower and moved away to sit behind a pillar.
"I'd better find someone to dance with," came a man's voice from the other side of the pillar. "John Anderson," thought Honey. John and she were great friends. If she stood up and walked around the pillar, surely he would ask her to dance.
"Too late to get the fair Amy," said another voice. "I saw your friend Miss Honeyford a moment ago. Why not ask her?"
A tremulous smile on her lips, Honey half rose from her seat. "Oh, not her," said Mr. Anderson with dreadful clarity. "Fact is, she goes on like a man and, damme, she would probably lead. Good sort but hardly ... well, you know."
Their voices faded as they moved away.
Honey sat like a stone. She hated Amy Wetherall. These men had been her friends. She had enjoyed the warmth of their companionship. Now Amy, with her silly, flirty ways, had spoiled it all.
The music room disappeared momentarily in a blur of tears. Then Honey blinked them furiously away. Amy would shortly be leaving for London and then things could return to normal again. Would her father never come? It was unlike him to want to stay anywhere so late. But it was two in the morning before Honey was able to climb up into her father's carriage and take the reins.
Sir Edmund seemed abstracted and did not say anything on the road home.
All Honey wanted to do was to put her aching, humiliated head down on the pillow and go to sleep. But no sooner were they indoors than Sir Edmund said, "I would like to talk to you about something important, Honoria, before you go to bed."
Honey's heart sank. He only used her proper name when he was worried or angry.
Then she brightened a little. To sit in front of the fire and drink brandy and smoke cheroots would take some of the bad taste of the evening out of her mouth.
But the first sign that tonight was not going to be as other nights started when Sir Edmund asked for the tea tray to be sent into the drawing room instead of the brandy decanter. He waited, motioning Honey to silence, until tea was served.
He looked at her long and gravely, and then he said, "I have made a sad mull of your upbringing. I would that your dear mama were alive."
"I have no complaints, Papa," said Honey, alarmed and anxious.
"No? Well, more's the pity. It should have been you tonight with all the gentlemen clustering around. It broke my heart to see you look ... such a ... frump."
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