by Georgette Heyer
"Certainly!" replied Deborah, rising from her chair and shaking out her full skirts.
Mr Ravenscar, meanwhile, had enjoyed only the briefest glimpse of her. This had sufficed to make him acutely aware of her headdress, but it was not until he saw her approaching the front of his box on Adrian's arm that he had the opportunity of taking in the full enormity of the green stripes, poppy-red ribbons, and crimson garnets. He was not a man who wasted much thought on female dress, but the difference between Miss Grantham's appearance tonight and her appearance on the previous two occasions when he had been in her company struck him most forcibly. He had, in fact, thought her a woman of good taste, so he was a good deal astonished at the flamboyance of her attire. Recalling that he had told his aunt that Miss Grantham was not vulgar, he touched her arm, saying somewhat grimly: "You had better be prepared to meet your future daughter-in-law, ma'am. Adrian is bringing her towards the box now."
Lady Mablethorpe looked round immediately, and stiffened in outraged dismay at the approaching vision. She had no time to do more than throw one fulminating glance at her nephew before Adrian was leaning over the front of the box to shake hands with Arabella, saying: "I am so glad to see you again! I had meant to call in Grosvenor Square this morning, but something happened to prevent me. Mama, I did not know you meant to come here tonight! I have brought Deb over to see you!"
The affronted matron bowed slightly, and said in frigid tones that she was happy to make Miss Grantham's acquaintance. Miss Grantham, to the uneasy surprise of her betrothed, simpered, and turned away her head and uttered a memorable speech.
"Oh, la, ma'am - your ladyship, I
"Indeed!" said Lady Mablethorpe icily.
"Oh, la, yes, ma'am! I made sure you was a dragon, and my knees quite knocked together when Adrian said you was here, but I vow and declare the instant I clapped eyes on you I knew I should love you as though you were my own Mama! And then the affability with which you said you was happy to meet me - la, I'm sure I never looked for such a degree of condescension in one so far above me!"
A muscle twitched at the corner of Mr Ravenscar's mouth. Nothing could exceed his dislike of Miss Grantham, but he had a sense of humour, and was hard put to it not to burst out laughing. If her object were to convince Lady Mablethorpe that no price would be too high to pay to rescue her son from such a woman as herself, it would certainly succeed, for her ladyship's face was rigid with disgust, and she could barely bring herself to answer with at least a semblance of civility.
Arabella, meanwhile, was watching Miss Grantham in the liveliest astonishment. "Good gracious, are you going to marry Adrian?" she exclaimed, with that impetuosity so much regretted by her mother. "No one said a word about it to me!"
Miss Grantham recollected Mrs Patch's arch use of a fan, and unfurled her own, and hid behind it. "Oh, I protest, Miss Ravenscar! You must spare my blushes!"
"But are you?" asked Arabella.
"That will do, child!" said her aunt.
"Of course she is going to marry me!" Adrian declared stoutly. "Won't you wish us happy?"
"Yes, indeed I do," Arabella responded, with a doubtful look at Miss Grantham. "I wish you very happy!"
"Adrian!" said his parent, in majestic tones. "I should like to talk to Miss Grantham. Do you take your cousin to dance while she sits with me for half-an-hour!"
Lord Mablethorpe, hoping that the extraordinary manners which Miss Grantham had assumed upon being presented to his mother had their origin in nervousness which would wear off as the two ladies became better acquainted, readily agreed to this suggestion, and said that he would bring Miss Grantham round to the door of the box. Miss Grantham giggled, and said that it seemed absurd to be obliged to go round to the back of the booths when she was sure she could jump over the low wall in front, if only Adrian would give her his hand. Then she said that she supposed that she would have to learn to behave respectably since she was to become a Viscountess, and consented to be led round to the back of the boxes.
When she made her entrance, in the correct manner, Mr Ravenscar left the booth. He would try a fall with her himself before very long and enjoy doing it, but it was no part of his plan to join his aunt in whatever scheme she might have in mind for the discomfiture of the minx.
He returned to the box a few minutes before Adrian led Arabella back to it. One glance at the two ladies was enough to assure him that it was not Miss Grantham who had suffered discomfiture. Lady Mablethorpe was looking crushed, and the glance she cast up at her nephew was one of pathetic entreaty.
She had sustained the most shattering half-hour of her life. She had subjected Miss Grantham to a catechism which had been intended to show that young woman how very far she stood from Adrian, and how very uncomfortable she would feel in Polite Society. It had apparently failed in this laudable object. Miss Grantham had replied with the greatest readiness, and the most appalling frankness, to all the searching questions put to her. She had remained throughout wholly oblivious of the most patent disapproval. She had been voluble, expansive, and shockingly vulgar; had confessed to a passion for all forms of gaming; described in quite imaginary detail the events of several horse-races she had said she had attended; and expressed a desire to set up a select faro-bank in Brook Street. She had also ogled several bucks who had strolled past the box, and had claimed intimate acquaintance with three of the most notorious rakes in town. Her ladyship felt herself to be passing through a nightmare, and hailed the return of her nephew with heartfelt relief. Miss Grantham assured him that she and Lady Mablethorpe were now the greatest of friends.
He received this information with raised brows, smiled slightly, and turned to address some idle remark to his aunt. Adrian and Arabella then came back to the box, and the two parties separated.
"How could you tell me she was not vulgar!" was all her ladyship could at first bring herself to say, and that in accents of bitter reproach.
"I told you the truth. She was not vulgar when I met her. Her manner tonight was certainly assumed."
"Assumed! In heaven's name why, if she wishes to win my consent to the match?"
"I am reasonably sure that she has no such wish. This is no doubt her way of trying to force up the price, ma'am."
"Whatever it is it must be paid!" said her ladyship,
in great agitation.
This section was suggested by Eileen Kendall, although it
was difficult to choose between this, my own thought and another
suggestion from Ha Tu.