by Georgette Heyer
The Egyptian Hall, which had been erected four years previously, was otherwise known as Bullock's Museum, and contained curiosities from the South Seas, from North and South America; a collection of armoury, and works of art; and had lately received, as an additional attraction, the Emperor Napoleon's travelling-carriage. Its cognomen was derived from the style of its architecture, which included inclined pilasters ornamented with hieroglyphics. It was an imposing edifice, but it had not previously tempted Mr Standen to inspect its many marvels. Nor, when he had penetrated beyond the vestibule, did he waste time in studying the exhibits tastefully arranged around the walls. The only object in which he was interested was found seated primly upon a chair, a catalogue in her gloved hands, and her gaze fixed thoughtfully upon the model of a Red Indian chief in full panoply of war. Of Lord Dolphinton there was no sign, a circumstance which caused Mr Standen to exclaim, quite contrary to his intention: "Well, if this don't beat the Dutch! First the fellow brings you to devilish place like this, and then he dashed well leaves you here!"
"Freddy!" cried Miss Charing, jumping almost out of her skin.
"And don't you say Freddy to me!" added Mr Standen severely. "I told you I wouldn't have it, Kit, and I dashed well meant it! Have the whole town talking!"
Kitty looked very much bewildered, but as it was plain that Mr Standen was filled with righteous wrath she refrained from protest, merely saying in a small, doubtful voice: "Frederick? Should I, in public, call you Mr Standen?"
"Call me Mr Standen?" said Freddy, thrown quite out of his stride. "No, of course you should not! Never heard such a silly question in my life! And it ain't a bit of use trying to turn the subject! Not one to take a pet for no reason, but this is the outside of enough, Kit!"
"I wasn't trying to turn the subject! You said I must not call you Freddy!"
Mr Standen stared at her. "Said you wasn't to call me Freddy? Nonsense!"
"But you did!" replied Kitty indignantly. "Just this moment past! I must own, I think it was very unkind in you, for I had no notion it was wrong!"
"It's my belief," said Mr Standen, with austerity, "that you're trying to fob me off, Kit! Well, it won't fadge! I saw you walk into this place on Doplh's arm! Seems to me there's something deuced havey-cavey going on between the pair of you. Time I had a word with Dolph! Where the devil is he?"
Enlightenment dawned on Miss Charing. She gave an irrepressible gurgle of mirth. "Oh, Freddy, is that what brings you here?"
"Yes, it is, and it ain't anything to laugh at!" said Freddy. "Good God, you don't suppose I'd come to a place like this for no reason, do you? I'd as lief visit Westminster Abbey again!" He levelled his glass, and swept a condemnatory glance round the room. "In fact, liefer!" he added. "I don't say those effigies weren't pretty devilish, but they weren't as devilish as this freak you was staring at when I came in. You know what? - you'll start having nightmares if you don't take care! Lord, if it ain't just like Dolph to choose a place like this for his dashed flirtations! Shows you he's queer in his attic."
"He did not bring me here to flirt with me!"
"Now, don't you tell me he wanted to look at curiosities from the South Seas!" said Freddy warningly. "I ain't a big enough bleater to swallow that one! Just a trifle too loud, Kit!"
"No, of course he did not. Oh, dear, how awkward this is! I wonder what I should do?"
"Well, I can tell you that!" said Freddy. "You can stop making a cake of me. What's more, if you let Dolph go on hanging round you for ever I'll tell everyone that our betrothal is a hum!"
"Freddy, you would not!" exclaimed Miss Charing, turning pale. "What can it signify to you, after all?"
"Does signify. Here's m'mother wanting to know what I'm about to let you go all over town with Dolph! Never felt such a flat in my life!"
"Oh, I am so sorry!" said Kitty contritely.
"Yes, I daresay, but I'm dashed if I see what your lay is! If you wanted Dolph, why the deuce didn't you accept his offer? No need to have dragged me into the business at all."
Kitty laid an impulsive hand on his arm. "Freddy, you could not think that I would ever marry poor Dolph?"
"Well, no," admitted Freddy. "In fact, I'll take dashed good care you don't!"
"I don't want to! Though, I must say, Freddy, it is not in the least your affair!"
"That's just what it is," said Freddy bitterly. "No good saying I ain't responsible for you, because I am. Mind, I didn't think I should have to be at the outset -well, stands to reason I didn't! Wouldn't have let you talk me into this! - but the more I think of it the more I see that if you go and do something cork-brained there ain't a soul who won't say it was my fault for not taking better care of you."
"Oh, no, Freddy!" she cried, shocked. "How could people say such a thing?"
"Well, they would. What's more, quite true! Daresay I'd say it myself. Can't bring a girl to town like this, and then let her do something bird-witted. Not the thing!"
"I promise you I won't do anything bird-witted!" Kitty said earnestly, clasping his hand, "Indeed, Freddy, I don't mean to tease you, for I am so very much obliged to you! And I never, never meant to be such a charge on you!"
Much discomposed, Freddy made inarticulate noises. Miss Charing, still holding his hand, thought profoundly. Recovering himself, Freddy said: "No need to talk like that, Kit: happy to be of service! Fond of you! Proud of you, too."
She turned her eyes towards him, astonished. "Proud of me? Oh, no! how could you be? You're hoaxing me!"
"No, I ain't. You've got taste, Kit. Always look just the thing! Credit to me!" he paused, and added, his brow creasing: "At least, except when you wear the wrong jewels. Ought to let me give you that garnet-set! No reason why you shouldn't: the merest trumpery! Assure you!"
"There is every reason!" she responded, pressing his hand tightly, her eyes swimming. "Oh, Freddy, you are so very good to me, and I see what a Wretch I am to have put you in this fix!"
"No, no!" he said, horrified to see tears in her eyes. "Now, for the lord's sake, Kit--! Nothing to cry about! Besides, can't cry here! Have all the fools gaping at us! I ain't in a fix. Only thing is, won't have you attaching Dolph to you." He looked round the room. "Where the deuce is the fellow?" he demanded.
"In one of the other rooms. Oh, Freddy, dare I trust you?"
"Well, upon my word!" he exclaimed, affronted. "Seems to me that if you didn't know that when you made me become engaged to you, you must be as badly nicked in the nob as Dolph!"
"Yes, yes, but this is not my secret, and I promised I would betray it to no one!"
"What secret?" said Freddy, blinking.
"Well - Freddy, you are fond of Dolph, are you not?"
"No," replied Freddy. "What I mean is, sorry for the poor fellow, of course. Dash it, couldn't be fond of him!"
"No, I suppose-- At all events, you wouldn't harm him, would you, Freddy?"
"Of course I wouldn't harm him!"
"Even if you could not quite like what he meant to do?" Kitty said anxiously.
Suspicion gleamed in his mild eye. No one could have called Mr Standen quick-witted, but the possession of three sisters had considerably sharpened his instinct of self-preservation. "Depends on what that is," he said cautiously. "If it has anything to do with you, Kit--"
"No, I promise you it has not!"
"Sounds to me like a smoke," he said, by no means convinced. "Because if it hasn't anything to do with you--"
"Only that I am going to help him!"
Mr Standen thought this over, and came to the conclusion that there was only one way in which his unfortunate relative could be helped. "If you're hatching a scheme to poison Aunt Augusta, I won't have anything to do with it!" he said.
"How can you be so absurd? Of course I am not!"
"Good thing, if one could do it," said Freddy handsomely. "Thing is, bound to be a scandal. If it ain't that, what do you mean to do?"
"Let us go and find Dolph!" said Kitty. "Mind, Freddy! even though you may not approve of it, you won't breathe a word to your Aunt Augusta!"
The suggestion that he could be thought capable
either of enacting the role of informer, or of
bandying unnecessary words with Lady Dolphinton,
so much revolted Mr Standen that he was moved to
expostulate. Kitty begged pardon hastily, and
dragged him into the adjoining room.
This section was suggested by
Laurie E. Osborn