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Authors: Mary Williams

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Historical Fiction, #Historical Romance

The Velvet Glove (4 page)

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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She shook her head.

‘Nothing’s clear tonight. I’m just – can’t we talk about something else instead of
feelings
?’

He laughed.
‘Of
course
. Choose the subject. I’ll listen.’

She pulled herself together.
‘It would be nice to go for a walk – a
real
walk, but of course, it would be stupid, wouldn’t it – dressed like this? I mean—’


Slightly. We could share my coat, of course. But if you don’t like tongue-wagging it would be better not. Come along now; we’d better get back. Take a good sniff of fresh air then we’ll brave the crowd again.’

She stood for a moment, turned her head and stared into the soft damp dusk.
‘I expect Beacon Hill’s that way. You could see it I expect from the tump where the gazebo is.’


Yes.’


And your home is at Woodgate, quite near here. Near the Beacon, I mean. Ours is—’


Why the geography lesson?’

She shrugged, and gave a short laugh.
‘Oh, I don’t know. I just – think we’re very lucky to live round here.’


There are more spectacular parts of the country.’


But not like this. This is different, mysterious – secret somehow – perhaps because it’s so old. Funny, isn’t it, to think that all the rocky tumps of hills were once great volcanic mountains. Fancy! and right in the middle of England. They say it became King Lear’s land. Did you know that?’


My dear young lady! – enough of history. There’s another waltz starting. Listen!’ From within, above the confused murmur of movement and voices, the rhythmical sounds of Strauss beckoned. ‘And I’ve a fancy to have my arm round your waist.’

His fancy took over almost immediately and minutes later when Kate had tidied her hair they were entering the ballroom.

The birthday event continued until two in the morning, and during the remaining hours Kate, for the sake of appearances, danced twice with Jon. It was quite clear to her that his thoughts were elsewhere; at moments his eyes strayed from her searching for – well, of course, for Cassandra – Kate told herself bitterly – pale, colourless Cassie who’d been invited to Charnbrook only from a sense of duty, and wearing
her
dress.
Hers
. Perhaps Kate’s figure stiffened. Jon suddenly forced his attention upon her. ‘It was jolly of you both to come,’ he said with a slight inflection on the ‘both’, ‘your cousin’s a top-hole little dancer. I hear her mama has a dressmaking establishment.’ Kate had a desire to scream
establishment
? –
it’
s
nothing
. She helps her mother – her
adopted
mother – in a back room of a dreary house in a big dirty town, and that dress she’s wearing is one of my cast-offs. Don’t you remember – it was
me
you saw in it first?

But she kept the flow of words back. She must retain her dignity at all costs. And anyway there was no point in trying to carry on any conversation against a background of music and dancing.

She and Rick spent most of the remaining hours together, either dancing, relaxing in the conservatory, or at the buffet. Nearing the end of the evening, when she accidentally dropped one of her white velvet gloves, he picked it up and said, ‘I will keep this as a memento,’ and put it in his pocket.

But at the finale, when the bars of the last waltz faded, she felt she really knew him little better than at the beginning of the party.

Her father’s Daimler was waiting in the drive below the front terrace steps, with Adam standing by to open the doors of the car for the two girls.

Ferris took Kate
’s hand and pressed it lightly before saying, ‘Au revoir. Be good.’ She didn’t look at his face, just nodded, and with her cloak pulled to her chin hurried to the car. She glanced back impatiently for Cassie, and saw her at the top of the steps, just out of the door with Jon trying to retain her attention, obviously whispering some endearment. Rick had disappeared. Cassandra tore herself away, and a minute later was seated by Kate on the lush back seat of the car while Adam cranked the engine.

Presently they were moving through the gates of the grounds and had turned past the lodge into the lane towards the main road.

Adam drove cautiously, never motoring above twenty miles an hour which was considered by most people quite fast for such a large car, especially at night.

Nothing to Kate seemed quite real any more. The rocky tumps of Burnwood Hills
emerged fitfully against the landscape of trees and misted moonlight as they passed down the thread of roadway. The excitement and tension of the evening had left her exhausted emotionally, and it didn’t help matters when Cassandra said softly, ‘He’s nice, isn’t he?’


Who?’ Crossly, although she knew.


Jon.’


He’s all right. I told you you’d be looked after. The Wentworths know how to behave.’


He didn’t make me
feel
only like that though.’

Kate
’s head gave a jerk round. She hadn’t
meant
to look at Cassie; she didn’t want to. But something in the quiet voice, a certain smug sweetness, was too much for her.

Cassandra was staring ahead as though hypnotized, spell-bound, by some image or memory withheld from Kate. In the changing play of shadows reflected through the windows, of course, it was impossible actually to
see
her expression, but the stillness of the slim form swallowed in the blue velvet – the confident assertion and atmosphere only emphasized Kate’s conviction that Cassandra had somehow managed to inveigle herself into Jon’s affection and esteem. And it was ridiculous; she had no looks, no background, nothing at all in keeping with the Wentworth’s world. How had she managed it? Pity, perhaps, and a certain slyness that had played up to a sympathetic strain in Jon’s nature.

It must be that. Yes, Cassie had been sly. A real sly puss.

In spite of her tiredness Kate had a sudden desire to slap her cousin sharply across the cool pale cheek conveniently next to her.

But she again restrained herself.

One didn’t, after all, resort to vulgar brawls in a Daimler in the early hours of the morning. All the same – I detest her, she thought in a rising wave of anger. Yes, I do.

As quickly as it had flared up, the hot wave of temper died, and she was momentarily ashamed. Jon had a right to dance with whom he liked; that he had chosen Cass instead of
herself proved she lacked something the other girl had.

Or was it the red dress?
Had
it been wrong, as her mother had suggested?

Sitting miserably silent for the rest of the journey back to Beechlands she knew she
’d never wear it again. She’d give it away; one of the maids could have it, or perhaps, ironically, Cassie. It had been an expensive dress to buy. Such a gift could absolve her from any guilt on her part for having felt such violent animosity against her cousin.

Cassie hadn
’t been aware of it anyway, she told herself defensively. In her quiet way she was far too concerned with her own feelings to think of anyone else.

*

It was past three before the girls got to bed, and another hour passed before Kate managed to sleep. Yet she woke at her usual early hour, dressed and went for a walk before breakfast in an effort to get her memories of the evening’s events into perspective. A dull ache of disappointment and sense of betrayal filled her. How could Jon have acted as he had?
How
? And why? And with Cassie of all people, dull colourless Cassandra? Even if the red dress
had
been a mistake if he’d possessed a shred of feeling he wouldn’t have allowed it to spoil what had promised to be friendship between them. Maybe she shouldn’t have flaunted herself quite so blatantly with Rick Ferris, or have refused to dance with him the first time he’d asked her, following his early choice of Cass. But she’d had to show him that Kate Barrington had no intention of being treated as second best.

Oh, well! –
there’d be other times. Surely there would be. Her spirits lifted a little. Cassie would be gone in a fortnight anyway.

But, as things turned out, Cassie wasn
’t. After Kate returned from her walk that day a letter came from Cassie’s mother urging her to stay a little longer at Beechlands, and this was agreed.

The autumn was a golden one that year, and comparatively mild. Never had the forest area looked more beautiful.

In the early mornings the trees emerged orange and brown through thin veils of silvered mist, and the tip of Beacon Hill shone bright in the rising sunlight beyond Woodgate where Rick Ferris had his home. Occasionally Kate rode her mare, Beth, in that direction and cantered up the slope to the summit. The atmosphere never failed to stir her imagination and senses. There, in the far past, prehistoric man had built earthworks, and millions of years before that the range of Burnwood Hills had erupted and risen as great volcanic mountains. In the centuries of recent times religious orders had thrived in peace and built sanctuaries. Travellers of Romany blood in bright caravans still wended their ways through shadowed secret lanes leading from Larchborough to Lynchester, tethering their horses and making camp
en
route
before joining fairs or doing business in the towns selling brooms and posies from door to door.

During the days immediately following Cassandra
’s decision to spend a further indefinite period at Beechlands, Kate acquired a regular habit of riding Woodgate way, hoping she might encounter Ferris – not because she felt consciously attracted, but to captivate once again and retain the balm he’d given her hurt pride at Isabella’s dance. She had an uneasy feeling that Cassie and Jon had made some kind of pact to meet again, and the thought not only hurt but irritated her, making her increasingly restless and anxious for an outlet to her repressed emotions. Kate was unlucky, however, in any idea she had at that time of a chance encounter with Ferris. Being an astute business man embroiled, among other things, in producing a new newspaper,
The
Lynchester
Monitor
, he was off in the early hours to the town, and frequently did not return to Woodgate until a late hour, or perhaps not at all when he took the train to London for some meeting or other with business colleagues or rivals.

So Kate was left frustrated and bitter, pondering again on the annoying situation concerning Cassandra and Jon.

The growing rift between the two girls had widened, though neither spoke of it. Kate was too proud to enquire where Cassie was going when she set off with her pad and paint-box, presumably for a session of sketching, or to suggest accompanying her. She had never done so in the past, and it would be
too
humiliating to show curiosity now. She didn’t think much of Cassie’s delicate watercolours anyway. All the same, there was a difference in Cass these days, not only in looks which had a kind of ethereal secretive quality about them that was tantalizing, but in behaviour.

Before the occasion of the dance the timetable of her days had been fairly predictable; she
’d either spend the mornings wandering about the expansive Beechlands gardens making pencil sketches of flowers and wildlife, or take a certain ramble to the nearby copse, returning early for lunch, then, in the afternoon mooning – Kate’s expression – in the library with a book. Occasionally they went together with Emily on a shopping expedition to Lynchester. Now her routine had changed; in fact there was no definite routine at all. One moment Cass would be in the conservatory perhaps, or arranging flowers in the lounge, the next she’d have slipped off, and if wanted casually for some reason, was nowhere to be found.

And her disappearances were so quietly and effectively contrived that Kate was disturbed, suspecting the reason.

‘I think she’s meeting someone,’ she said to her mother one day, when her cousin couldn’t be located. ‘Haven’t you noticed how – odd – she’s been lately? Always slinking off by herself, and sort of – well, self-satisfied.’

Emily laughed the question off.
‘My dear girl, Cassandra’s always been the quiet sort. She likes her own company, especially when she’s got immersed in some idea for a new painting—’


Pooh! I don’t believe it’s a painting at all.’

Emily looked mildly surprised.
‘It’s not like you to be so bothered about Cassie,’ she remarked quietly. ‘Why is it Kate?’

Recovering herself, Kate answered,
‘Oh, nothing really. Yes, I suppose you’re right. It was just – well, there are gypsies about. You wouldn’t want her getting entangled with any of those, would you?’

But it wasn
’t gypsies she was thinking of, it was Jon.


No, I wouldn’t, and I’m certainly not at all bothered about such a thing,’ Emily replied firmly. ‘I’m quite sure Cassandra has far more sense.’

BOOK: The Velvet Glove
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