The Masqueraders

by Georgette Heyer

Cover Picture Cover Picture The morning's ride sowed promising seeds of a new friendship. The Honourable Charles had an engaging frankness; he kept no secrets from those admitted into the circle of his acquaintance, and it seemed probable that his life might be an open book for Prudence to read if she had a mind that way. With admirable dexterity she steered all talk into channels of her own choosing. She was certainly not squeamish, but half an hour spent in the company of the expansive Mr Belfort was enough to show that the greater part of his reminiscences was calculated to bring a blush to maiden cheeks. Prudence maintained an even complexion, and had sense enough to think none the worse of him for all his lurid confidences. Sure, they were not meant for a lady's ears.

The ride at an end, it was Charles and Peter with them; they might have been blood brothers. Prudence acquiesced in it, but grimaced to herself when she reflected that it had been in her mind to lie close in London. Evidently this was not to be. But there was nothing to be feared from Mr Belfort: the disguise was deep enough to hoodwink a dozen such rattlepates.

She came back to Arlington Street to find Robin posturing above a bouquet of red roses. Robin achieved a simper. "Behold me, my Peter, in a maidenly flutter!"

Prudence put down her whip and gloves. "What's this?"

"My elderly admirer!" said Robin in an ecstasy, and gave up a note. "Read, my little one!"

Prudence gave a chuckle over the amorous note. "Robin, you rogue!"

"I was made to be a breaker of hearts," sighed Robin.

"Oh, this one was cracked many times before!"

Robin tilted his head a little; the merry devil looked out of his limpid blue eyes. "I've a mind to enthrall the mountain," he said softly.

"You won't do it. He's more like to unmask you than to worship at your shameless feet," Prudence answered.

"Oh? Here's a change of front, by my faith! Unmask me, is it? Now why?"

"John was right. The gentleman's wide awake for all we think him so dull."

"So?" Robin awaited more. She told him of the incident at cards the night before. He listened in silence, but shrugged a careless shoulder at the end. "I don't see a great deal to that. Easy enough to see your game if he stood at your elbow. Did you fleece the wolf?"

"Some fifty guineas. We may stand in need of them if this is to continue long. But Sir Anthony -------" she paused.

"You're bewitched. What now?"

"I believe we shall do well to preserve a strict guard before him."

"As you please, but I think you rate a mountain's intelligence too high. Consider, my dear, how should any man suspect what is after all the very light of improbability? Why should so wild a surmise so much as cross his brain?"

"There is that, of course. Plague take the man, he must needs load me with favours!"

Robin laughed. "He takes you to White's, eh? Some little matter of a card-party too, I think?"

"On thursday, at his house."

Robin folded pious hands. ` "I believe my sense of propriety is offended," ' he quoted maliciously.

The shot glanced off her armour. "You've none, child, rest assured."

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