The Grand Sophy
by Georgette Heyer
"Indeed! How is this?"
"You will understand that he does not like to mention the matter to you himself. He feels a certain delicacy ---"
"I thought you were talking of Charles!" interrupted Sophy. "Which cousin to do you mean?"
"I am talking of Charles."
"Nonsense! He has no delicate scruples."
"Miss Stanton-Lacy, believe me, this air of levity is not becoming!" said Miss Wraxton, losing some of her sweetness. "I do not think you can be aware of what is expected of a woman of quality! Or - forgive me! - how fatal it is to set up the backs of people, and to give rise to such gossip as must be as painful to the Rivenhalls as I am persuaded it would be to you!"
"Now, what in heaven's name comes next?" said Sophy, quite astonished. "You cannot be so Gothic as to suppose that because I drive a high-perch phaeon I give rise to gossip!"
"No, though one would have preferred to have seen you in some vehicle less sporting. But the habits of easy intercourse you are on with so many military gentlemen - rattles in scarlet coats, as Charles divertingly phrases it! - and in particular with that man I saw you conversing with a moment ago, make you appear a little fast, dear Miss Stanton-Lacy, which I know you would not wish! Sir Vincent's company cannot give you consequence, indeed, quite the reverse! A certain lady - of the first consideration! - commented to me only today upon his attaching himself to you so particularly."
"I expect she has an interest there herself," observed Sophy. "He is a shocking flirt! And did my cousin Charles desire you to warn me against all these rattles?"
"He did not precisely desire me to do so," answered Miss Wraxton scrupulously, "but he has spoken to me on this head, and I know what his sentiments are. You must know that Society will look indulgently upon mere pranks, such as driving off in Charles's curricle, for Lady Ombersley's protection must give you countenance."
"How fortunate I am!" said Sophy. "But do you think you are wise to be seen in my company?"
"Now you are quizzing, Miss Stanton-Lacy!"
"No I am only afraid that you may suffer for being seen in such a vehicle as this, and with so fast a female!"
"Hardly," Miss Wraxton said gently. "Perhaps it may be thought a little odd in me, for I do not drive myself in London, but I think my character is sufficiently well-established to make it possible for me to do - if I wished - what others might be imprudent to attempt."
They were by this time within sight of the gate by Apsley House. "Now let me understand you!" begged Sophy. "If I were to do something outrageous while in your company, would your credit be good enough to carry me off?"
"Let us say my family's credit, Miss Stanton-Lacy. I may venture to reply, without hesitation, yes."
"Capital!" said Sophy briskly, and turned her horses towards the gate. Miss Wraxton, losing some of her assurance, said sharply: "Pray, what are you about?"
"I am going to do what I have been wanting to do ever since I was told I must not, on any account!" replied Sophy. "It is with me a kind of Bluebeard's chamber."
The phaeton swung through the gateway, and turned sharply to the left, narrowly escaping collision with a ponderous lozenge-coach. Miss Wraxton uttered a stifled shriek, and clutched the side of the phaeton. "Take care! Please pull up your horses at once! I do not wish to drive through the streets! Have you taken leave of your senses?"
"No, no, do not be afraid! I am quite sane. How glad I am that you chose to drive with me! Such an opportunity as this might never else have come in my way!"
"Miss Stanton-Lacy, I do not know what you mean, and again I must beg you to pull up! I am not at all diverted by this prank, and I wish to alight from your phaeton instantly."
"What, and walk along Piccadilly unattended? You cannot mean it!"
"Stop!" commanded Miss Wraxton, in almost shrill accents.
"On no account. Dear me, what a lot of traffic! Perhaps you had better not talk to me until I have weaved my way through all these carts and carriages."
"For heaven's sake, at least slacken your pace!" Miss Wraxton besought her, in the liveliest alarm.
"I will, when we come to the turning," promised Sophy, passing between a waggon and a mail-coach, with a matter of inches to spare. A moan from her companion caused her to add kindly: "There is no need to be in a fright: Sir Horace made me drive througha gateway until I could be trusted not even to scrape the varnish."
They were now ascending the rise in Piccadilly. With a strong effort at self-control, Miss Wraxton demanded: "Tell me at once where you are taking me!"
"Down St James's Street," replied Sophy coolly.
"What?" gasped Miss Wraxton, turning quite pale. "You will do no such thing! No lady would be seen driving there! Amongst all the clubs - the object of every town-saunterer! You cannot know what would be said of you! Stop this instant!"
"No, I want to see this Bow Window I hear so much of, and all the dandies who sit there. How wretched that Mr Brummell has been obliged to go abroad! Do you know, I never saw him in my life? Are you able to point out the various clubs to me? Shall we recognise White's, or are there other houses with bow windows?"
"This is your notion of raillery, Miss Stanton-Lacy! You are not serious!"
"Yes, I am. Of course, I should not have dared to do it without you sitting beside me, to lend me credit, but you have assured me that your position is unassailable, and I see that I need have no scruple in gratifying my ambition. I daresay your consequence is great enough to make it quite a fashionable drive for ladies. We shall see!"
No argument that Miss Wraxton could advance, and she advanced many,
had the power to move her. She drove on inexorably. Wild ideas of
springing from the phaeton crossed Miss Wraxton's mind, only to be
rejected. It was too dangerous to be attempted. Had she been wearing
a veil she might have pulled it over her face, and hoped to have
escaped recognition, but her hat was a perfectly plain one, and bore
only a modest bow of ribbon. She had not even a parasol, and was
obliged to sit bolt upright, staring rigidly ahead of her the length
of that disgraceful street. She did not utter a word until the horses
swung round into Pall Mall, and then she said in a low voice, unsteady
with rage and chagrin: "I will never forgive you! never!"