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Authors: Clare Darcy

Cressida

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CRESSIDA

by

Clare Darcy

WALKER AND COMPANY New York

Fic.

Darcy,Clare

Copyright © 1977 by Walker and Company

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electric or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Publisher.

All the characters and events portrayed in this story are fictitious.

First published in the United States of America in 1977 by the Walker Publishing Company, Inc.

Published simultaneously in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Limited, Toronto.

ISBN: 0-8027-0575-8

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 77-73662 Printed in the United States of America 10 987654321

CRESSIDA

Also by Clare Darcy:

Eugenia

Elyza

Regina

Lady Pamela

Georgina

Cecily

Lydia

Victoire

Allegra

CHAPTER 1

The two occupants of the charming breakfast-parlour of the house in Mount Street had each her head bent over her correspondence on this fine morning in early May, Miss Calverton dealing rapidly with the little heap of cream-laid cards of invitation, letters, and household bills that Harbage, the butler, had placed beside her plate, and Lady Constance Havener brooding over a single missive, very prettily written in a round, firm hand, that appeared to have taken her attention to the exclusion of the rest of her correspondence.

Miss Calverton, who was approaching her six-and-twentieth birthday, looked, as she always did in the morning before Moodle, her dresser, had had her innings and transformed her into an elegant creature with a deserved reputation in the
ton
for the highest degree of dashing a la modality, rather like a schoolgirl, with her tawny curls tied up with a ribbon and her lower lip caught between her even white teeth in the concentration of her task. Lady Constance, who was four-and-fifty , looked what she was—a handsome, slightly eccentric lady of fashion whose ambitions to appear younger than she was expressed themselves in an exuberantly modish negligee and a head of jet-black hair that was cropped behind and crimped wildly into curls in front, and whose statuesque form and uncompromising prominence of nose she attributed with pride to Plantagenet ancestry.

Her ancestry had not protected her, however, from what she was wont to term, in a voice of a dramatic colouring that might well have fitted it for the theatre, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and, having been left, some half-dozen years before, a widow with a quite inadequate jointure by the late Mr. Jeremy Havener, who had had little to recommend himself as a husband beyond being the handsomest man in London of his time, she had been very glad to lend the somewhat erratic dignity of her presence to the orphaned Miss Calverton’s household.

“I
do
think,” she said now, still frowning over her letter as she broke the silence at last, “that people who wish one to do things for them ought not make one feel very wormlike for
not
doing them. Without saying a single word of reproach, that is. Or rather, I mean, without writing it, for after all this
is
a letter. ”

Miss Calverton, who was used to Lady Constance, glanced across the table at her briefly, quite unmoved by the darkly impressive manner in which this speech had been uttered, and, smiling in a way that enhanced the schoolgirl image, enquired who was making her feel like a worm.

“It is a girl I scarcely know,” Lady Constance said. “Kitty Chenevix—my cousin Emily Mortmain’s daughter. Emily married a Chenevix, you know, and they were horridly poor because he died almost at once and poor Emily was obliged to go and live in Devonshire. And now Kitty is nineteen and it is high time that someone brought her out, only her aunt Mills, who was to have done so, has been taken ill, and so she wonders if I might do it instead. All in the most unencroaching way, you see, she continued, glancing once more at the letter with a look of dissatisfaction upon her face, “merely hinting at the possibility in the most heart-rendingly timid manner, so that I shall feel the greatest beast in nature to refuse her—

“Then why refuse her?” Miss Calverton asked practically, still with the greater part of her attention fastened upon her own letters.

“But, my dear Cressy—!’

Lady Constance became voluble. She hoped she knew better, she declared, than to invite any of her relations to stay in a house that was not her own, and, what was even worse, to foist a totally unknown young girl upon Cressida for an entire Season. There would be the nuisance of chaperoning her about to the Subscription Balls at Almack’s, which were apt to be sadly flat for anyone who was not a debutante, a fond mama bent upon firing her daughter off into Society, or a gentleman interested in looking over the latest wares upon the Marriage Mart. And if the girl, by rare good fortune, turned out to be a belle instead of a Homely Joan for whom it would be quite impossible to find a husband, there would be young men plying the knocker at all hours of the day, and cluttering up the drawing room just when one most wished for peace and quiet.

“Not,” Lady Constance, suddenly self-convicted of a lack of tact, hastened to add, “that
you
are not thoroughly accustomed to that upon your own account, my dearest Cressy, for I am sure the house is
besieged
by your admirers whenever you are in town—”

Cressida, who had been attending with only half an ear to her companion’s protestations, at this point smiled mischievously and said in her crisp, warm voice, with its oddly offhand intonations, “Nonsense! Are
you
offering me Spanish coin, Lady Con? You know I am at my last prayers!”

Lady Constance bridled. “Well, I am sure there is no need for you to be saying such a thing!” she observed tartly. “No one would take you for more than one-and-twenty if you did not make a point of telling them, and as for being at your last prayers—poh!
I
know you refused an offer no longer than two months ago from poor Gerard de Levalle—and
why
you must continue doing so, ” she added tragically, “I mean refusing offers from perfectly eligible men year after year, I cannot think. I am sure it never entered my head, when your great-aunt Estella died and I brought you to London for your first Season, that you would still be
Miss Calverton
half a dozen years later. She brightened suddenly. “But perhaps it will turn out to be all for the best in the end, with Langmere grown so
very
attentive since you have broken off with poor Gerard, for I cannot but think that it would be far more satisfactory to marry an English marquis than a French comte—
so
confusing with that monster Bonaparte going about creating all those extraordinary new titles, though of course
now
it is all quite as it was before the Revolution, with a Bourbon back at last upon the throne. But you really behaved quite shockingly to Gerard, you know, ” she continued, returning to her original grievance, “for I am sure you gave him every reason to expect that his suit would be successful—though not 
quite
so badly as you did to poor Lord Mennin, crying off from your engagement to him
after
the notice had appeared in the
Morning Post
—”

Cressida looked rueful. She was not a Beauty in the accepted sense of the word, for, though she was fashionably tall and slim, she was not dark—the current mode— and her features were far from being cast in the classical mould. But there was something in that intensely alive face, with its hazel-green eyes and what one of her more poetical-minded admirers had called her
ripe-red, mocking, bitter-sweet mouth,
that made it quite apparent why she had never lacked for suitors since she had come to the notice of the
ton
six years before.

“Oh, dear!” she said. “You
do
make me sound a dreadful flirt, Lady Con! But I don’t mean to be! Heaven knows, I had every intention of marrying Jack Mennin— only when it came to the sticking point—”

“You stuck!” Lady Constance finished it for her severely. “But you really
must
break yourself of that habit, my dear, before it becomes ingrained and you end up as an ape-leader—which is
never
an agreeable thing to be, no matter how extravagantly wealthy one is. It appears to me, in fact, that it might have been better for you if your great-aunt had
not
left you that huge fortune, for then you must have been obliged, like any genteel young female without expectations, to accept the first eligible offer that was made to you.

Cressida laughed. “Well, there is no use in thinking of that now, because she did leave it me,” she said. “And if you are so bent on matchmaking this Season, Lady Con, I wish you
will
ask your young cousin to come to us; your energies in that direction will be far better expended on her behalf than on mine!”

She had finished with her letters now and took up the
Morning Post,
which lay beside her plate, and which, after a glance at what appeared to be a singularly dull budget of news upon foreign and domestic political matters, she turned to the page devoted to social intelligence. A notice of a
ton
engagement between the very plain middle-aged daughter of an earl and one of the many foreign fortune-hunters who seemed to have been loosed upon the town by the Peace elicited an amused comment from her, after which silence reigned until Lady Constance, who had gone back to pondering whether she really should accept Cressida’s offer and invite Kitty Chenevix to Mount Street for the Season, was suddenly startled to hear an abrupt exclamation from her companion.

She looked enquiringly across the table. “What is it, my dear? Bad news?” she asked solicitously. “I do hope no one of our acquaintance is dead?”

“Dead? No! Resurrected, rather, I should say!” remarked Cressida, who appeared, now that Lady Constance observed her, to be suffering rather from a cool sense of distaste than from any grief of even the most minor nature. She flicked the open page of the journal before her. “It is only Dev Rossiter,’ she said. He has returned from abroad and is visiting the Duke of York at Oatlands, with every intention, it seems, of coming up to town very shortly and ‘doing’ the Season. How highly respectable money
does
make one, to be sure!”

She folded the journal and put it aside rather sharply, while Lady Constance sat gazing at her with a rather puzzled expression upon her face.

“Rossiter?” she said after a moment. “I don’t believe I—”

“Good heavens, Lady Con, of course you do!” Cressida said impatiently, without allowing her to finish her sentence. “He was one of the
on-dits
of the town last year. It was said, you know, that Rothschild, the financier, was the only man in England who knew the day after Waterloo that Wellington had not been defeated there, since he was actually in Brussels on the day of the battle and sailed across the Channel, as soon as he realised Bonaparte had been romped, to put his knowledge to good use here. He made a million pounds on Change by buying into the Funds at a time when everyone else was selling in a panic on the false intelligence that Bonaparte had already entered Brussels—but he was not the only man in England to accomplish such a 
coup.
Rossiter duplicated the feat: he was in Brussels, too, on the day of Waterloo, and sailed across the Channel in an open boat in foul weather, only a few hours behind Rothschild, to make his own fortune by his dealings on ‘Change. Surely you must have heard that gossip!”

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