by Georgette Heyer
"Are you having the effrontery to suggest that I - I, Nell Stornaway! - should encourage the advances of Coate?" she demanded. "Perhaps you think he would make a suitable match for me?"
"Oh, well!" he muttered, his eyes shifting from hers. "You might do worse, and you're not likely to do better. I don't say - I never spoke of marriage, after all! All I care for is that you should make his visit agreeable. You don't give a fig for the awkwardness of my position! If you open your mouth at the dinner-table, ten to one it is only to say something cutting to Nat --"
"Yes, indeed! You would fancy that he must be sensible by now, would you not, that his presence at Kellands is only less distasteful to me than the extremely improper style of his advances? But, no!"
"A woman of address would know how to turn it off without flying into a miff!"
"Yes, and some women, no doubt, are more fortunate than I in those male relatives whose duty it might be thought to guard them from such unwanted attentions!"
He coloured, and shot her a resentful glance. "What a piece of work you make about a trifle! I suppose you expect Nat to toad-eat you, though how you should when you wear a gown with a darn in it - the shabbiest thing! puts me to the blush, I can tell you! - and serve such plain dinners - only one course, and that ill-dressed! And then, to crown all, go off afterwards, and never come into the drawing-room, as you should! No tea-tray brought in: nothing as it should be! - 'pon my soul, I don't know why you should look to be treated with extraordinary civility!"
"Good gracious, does Mr Coate desire tea in the evening?" she exclaimed. "I thought it was the brandy he wanted! I will not fail to tell Huby that between us we have quite mistaken the matter; and a tray shall be brought to you. My presence, however, you must dispense with: I sit every evening with my grandfather."
"Yes! If Nat had the good fortune to please you, you wouldn't choose to spend your time with an old dotard who's had his notice to quit!"
She took a swift step towards him. He shrank back instinctively, but not quickly enough to escape a swinging box on the ear, which made him stagger. "You will speak of my grandfather with respect in this house, Henry! Understand that!"
A burst of hearty laughter, coming from the direction of the front door, made her turn, at once startled and mortified. Nathaniel Coate stood upon the threshold, laughing, and waving his hat like a huntsman capping hounds to a scent. "Bravo, bravo! That was a wisty one, by God! It's bellows to mend with you, Henry: she'll give you pepper, by God, she will!" He tossed his hat and his whip on to a chair, and came forward saying: "What have you been about, you stupid fellow? Why don't you take that Friday-face of yours away before Miss Nell slaps it again?"
Henry, taking this broad hint, retired again into the library, shutting the door behind him with a vicious slam, which made his friend give another of his loud laughs, and say: "Silly ninny hammer! Now we shall have him in the sullens! Ah, don't be in a hurry to slip off, Miss Nell! Damme if this ain't the first time I've laid eyes on you today!"
Since he contrived to step between her and the staircase she was unable to slip off. He was looking her over in a way that gave her the unpleasant sensation of having been stripped of her clothing; and although she was not at all afraid of him she would have been glad to have been able to escape. She said coolly: "You might have seen me at the breakfast-table, but you are not an early riser. Now, if you please, I must go to my grandfather!"
He did not move from the stairs. "Ah, that's a slap for me, ain't it? I shall have to mend my ways, shan't I? Why don't you take me in hand, eh? Blister me if I wouldn't enjoy being schooled by you! I don't know when I've taken such a fancy to a girl as I have to you, and that's the truth! Ay, you may look down that high-bred nose of yours, lass, and try to bam me you're a stone statue, but I know better! Full of spirit, you are, and that's how I like women to be - women and horses, and devilish alike they are! You're a beautiful stepper, and a ginger besides, and that's the metal for my money!"
"If we are to employ the language of the stables, Mr Coate," she replied, rigid with wrath, "I will inform you that having lived all my life with a nonpareil I have nothing but contempt for mere whipsters! Now, if you will be so obliging as to permit me to pass --!"
She had the momentary satisfaction of knowing that she had touched him on the raw, for he flushed darkly, but she regretted it an instant later. He strode up to her, an ugly look in his face, and said in a thickened voice: "Contempt, eh? We'll see that!" He flung his arms round her before she could evade him, chuckling deep in his chest.
She was a strong woman, and as tall as he, but found herself helpless. He was immensely powerful, and seemed to control her struggles without any particular effort. "Kiss and be friends, now!" he said, his breath hot on her face.
A dry cough sounded from the staircase; a voice devoid of all expression said: "I beg pardon, miss: might I have a word with you, if convenient?"
Coate swore, and released Nell. For a moment she
confronted him, still unafraid, but white with anger,
her eyes blazing. Then she swept past him, and went
up the stairs to where her grandfather's valet stood
awaiting her. He stepped aside, bowing politely,
and followed her to the gallery off which her own and
her grandfather's apartments were situated.
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