"My dear Kitty! I simply must speak with you!"
Lady Legerwood descended with no small amount of flurry upon an alarmed Miss Charing in her bedroom, looking much harassed.
"Kitty, you know that I have always wished the best for my children, and that I always have their best interests at heart—after all, it is why I had insisted you and dear Freddy postpone the wedding a little longer, to ensure that little Edmund convalesces, for he has always been so delicate, forever taking ill—but I have always wanted the best for my children, and as you are Freddy's betrothed I quite consider you as one of my own, as dear as Meg, and I find it incumbent upon me to make known to you what every wife must know, for you have no mother to explain such an event to you, my child, and I doubt that my uncle would have provided you with a proper governess—not that Miss Fishguard is lacking, of course, but while you were at Arnside she was still unmarried—and I did intend to speak with you before now, dear Kitty, for to learn this a mere two days before one's wedding is frightening, but I am afraid that I have been horrendously busy, and I do hope you will forgive me for the oversight."
Miss Charing, following the course of Lady Legerwood's speech with a great deal of confusion, merely blinked.
"I…There is nothing to forgive, ma'am," she said, a little uncertainly. "We have all been busy lately."
"Indeed, my child, you are the sweetest creature!" exclaimed Lady Legerwood, her hands at her heart. "But come"—she took Kitty's hand—"let us sit upon the divan."
Kitty obeyed, seating herself with an odd sense of foreboding. Lady Legerwood sighed and smiled, and, for a startling moment, more resembled her eldest daughter than the mother and prospective grandmother that she currently was. She opened her mouth, presumably to embark on another involved address, when the door opened and Lady Buckhaven tripped inside.
"Oh, there you are, Kitty!" she cried, surprised. "I have been searching everywhere!"
Kitty, keeping to herself the observation that one's bedroom ought to be the first place to look, graciously offered Meg her seat; Meg declined in favour of the bed. Lady Legerwood, at first admonishing her daughter for choosing such an unstable post in her condition, noticed Meg's gown and gave a little gasp.
"Yes, Mama?" asked Meg innocently.
"Meg, how often must Miss Mallow—must I—tell you that it is positively unthinkable for a fair woman to wear amber?"
"But Mama!" Meg protested. "It is such a lovely colour!"
"Lovely!" repeated Lady Legerwood disdainfully, sounding, in that single word, remarkably like her eldest son. "Lovely, my dear child, if one has dusky curls and a sturdy figure! You had better give that gown to Kitty, my dear, and purchase another one cut in the same fashion, for I own the style is quite flattering, and reminds me of a gown that I wore myself, once, when your dear father and I became betrothed—only perhaps you ought to have a blue one."
"Blue is all I wear!" Meg said despairingly, moving to drape her legs over the edge of the bed. "I am so tired of blue!"
"Freddy says I wear pink too often," said Meg tragically, kicking an unladylike heel against the bedpost.
"Oh, Meg, do not fiddle so with your feet, it is not good for your condition," implored Lady Legerwood, distracted. She turned to Miss Charing. "Furthermore, I declare Meg has quite driven me from my point. I came to enlighten you, dear Kitty, on the matters of the bedchamber."
Miss Charing, whose experience with such matters was limited to gothic romances and Miss Fishguard's vague, poetry-infused rambling (for, despite the governess's unwed state, she had—to use the Fish's term—heard things, such improper things that are certainly not what a maiden ought to hear, least of all "fair Ellen of Arnside!"), felt a blush rise to her cheeks.
"Don't be so missish, Kitty!" Meg said, giggling at her friend's embarrassment. "Mama has not even said anything yet!"
"Meg is quite right," said Lady Legerwood, with a motherly pat of Kitty's hand, which she had retained. "There is nothing shameful about it, though a little shyness is natural. Why, I nearly fainted when Lord Legerwood and I were alone—not that he was unkind, of course, for he was and is a perfect gentleman—and I am fully assured in telling you, Kitty, that Freddy will care for you in just as fine a manner as Lord Legerwood has for me."
"I know," said Miss Charing sincerely. "He has already been so very good to me."
"I do think he has turned out nicely," said Lady Legerwood serenely. "And one cannot help but be pleased at his sense of dress."
Kitty, valiantly ignoring Meg's barely-muffled snort of laughter, carefully returned Lady Legerwood to the subject at hand with a tentative question; my lady, with many interjections from Meg, managed to convey to Miss Charing what she ought to expect, and after a half-hour's worth of blushes from Kitty, giggles from Meg, and wistful sighs from Lady Legerwood, the ladies were finished.
"Wait!" Meg cried, as her mother and Kitty rose. "There is something you must remember, Kitty, above all else! It is of the utmost importance!"
Lady Legerwood's brow crinkled. "Have we forgotten something? I quite thought we had told Kitty everything there is that is essential, Meg, and you must allow for some discovery—I declare Legerwood surprised me in many ways—"
"Very important!" Meg interrupted hastily, correctly interpreting Kitty's sudden colour and wisely ending her mother's increasingly dangerous sentence. "For it is quite mortifying if you forget it, Kitty." She paused, for added effect, and then said, as though imparting a great secret, "You must remember your stockings."
Miss Charing, who had been expecting something much more dramatic, merely blinked.
"My…stockings?" she echoed, bewildered. She glanced at Lady Legerwood, who seemed equally at a loss.
"Your stockings!" Meg confirmed. "I quite forgot mine, you know, and while Lord Buckhaven was quite kind about it—indeed, he was the utmost gentleman, which was rather surprising, considering his reputation before our marriage—but it was shockingly embarrassing to be undressed and still have my stockings on!"
Kitty agreed that the situation would bring one to the blush and thanked Meg for the advice; however, as she rather thought that Freddy was the sort of person to forget his own footwear on such an occasion, she could not bring herself to fret over it as much as Meg did, and allowed the discomfiting discussion to come to an end.
"Well," said Mr Standen, as the door finally swung shut. "Glad all that to-do is over."
He looked over at the newly-named Mrs Standen, who had mistakenly come into his room first and now hovered by the connecting door, still dressed in her wedding gown and twisting her fingers in a most distressing fashion.
"Ought not to do that, Kit," he chided, far too bluntly for her to cherish any romantic notions that he nursed a particular regard for her little limbs. "Might hurt yourself."
"Oh—" Kitty glanced down at her fingers, surprised to find them so tightly wound together. "Oh, I hardly noticed." She unwove them and let her hands drop to rest awkwardly at her sides, then shifted to clasp them before her. "I—I suppose I am a little restive. It has been a rather long day."
"Dashed long," agreed Freddy, rubbing his nose. "What with Aunt Augusta and Lady Dolphinton—the new one, I mean—having to sit side-by-side, and Jack wearing that dratted neckcloth…"
"Yes, I thought puce was a rather odd choice for a wedding," said Kitty, wrinkling her nose a little. "He seemed a bit out of sorts."
"'Course he was," said Freddy, with an uncharacteristic twinkle in his eye that reminded Kitty of Lord Legerwood. "He expected to be the one getting leg-shackled, didn't he? Reckon he didn't like sitting by Dolph at the dinner, either."
"That was also peculiar," Kitty frowned, "because I was so certain that your mama—well, my mama, now, I suppose—had planned for Jack to sit by your—my—papa."
The twinkle flashed again, and Kitty gasped.
"Freddy! You did not—you did not change the plan, did you? Just so Jack would be vexed?"
"Think you ought to get ready for bed," said Mr Standen imperturbably. "Been a long day, as you said."
"But Freddy, this is almost worse than knocking down Jack!" cried Kitty, though secretly she held that memorable event in high esteem. "You know how much Jack holds poor Dolph in contempt, and to have them sit together—"
"They got through all right, though," protested Freddy, a little offended by Mrs Standen's reference to an event that he, personally, would like to forget entirely, as it embarrassed him to think that he had not gone for another round. "Lady Dolphinton was right by Dolph, and she gave Jack a set-down for laughing when Dolph tripped over m'mother's chair."
"Yes, but…" Kitty sighed and gave it up. "Never mind that; I'm sure it isn't of any use to dwell on it. I think you are right, we ought to sleep now."
Despite the congruence of their wishes neither one of them moved, and a lengthy silence ensued. Mr Standen, feeling uncomfortably warm all of a sudden, coughed and nodded toward the door behind Kitty.
"Your room," he suggested, resisting the urge to tug at his neckcloth. "You might want to change before bed. It wouldn't do to sleep in your wedding gown. Reckon it would be dashed stiff."
In spite of her sudden nervousness, Kitty had to swallow a giggle. "Of course, I just…" She blushed. "Ought I to come back after I'm done?"
Mr Standen blinked, swallowed, and wondered why the room was so dashed warm. "Ah…yes. S'pose you ought to. Come back, I mean. Only knock first, since it wouldn't do to come in if I'm not changed yet. Might be awkward."
"All right," agreed Mrs Standen, muffling another laugh. "Well—I shall see you in a few minutes, Freddy."
Twenty minutes later, the Honourable and Mrs Frederick Standen stood before each other in the former's room, clad respectively in nightshirt and nightgown, and both rather red in the face.
"That's a very pretty gown, Kit," said Freddy, rather unexpectedly. "Suits you."
Kitty peeped up at him through her lashes. "Th—thank you," she stammered, made rather shy by the unusual sight of Freddy en deshabille. At least she was not ready to faint, like Lady Legerwood had nearly done, and she took comfort in that. She took further comfort when Freddy took her hands in his, holding them tightly, and felt gratified to know that his palms were as sweaty as her own.
For a moment they remained quiet, and then Freddy spoke.
"No use," he declared with a sigh. "Might as well admit it, Kit. Haven't much experience with this—well, haven't any experience," he amended, reddening slightly. "I told you I'd never been in the petticoat line."
"Oh." She looked at their entwined hands, then, for the first time, properly up at him. "But I thought all men did such things."
"'Course not! Other men, but…the way I see it is, Kit, wouldn't like you to—you know. Would like you to be mine, and that's it," he said awkwardly, colouring. "Daresay it ain't really fair if I wasn't yours, and that's it. Stands to reason."
"Oh, Freddy!" she exclaimed, flushing with pleasure. A thought occurred to her. "But you do know what to do?" she asked anxiously.
"'Course I know what to do!" he exclaimed, outraged. "What sort of flat do you take me for, anyway? And it was a dashed cake of a conversation, you know, with m'father!"
She had to swallow another giggle. The idea of the Honourable Frederick Standen and his father talking of marital duties was a sight she would have loved to have seen, had not the mere thought of listening in made her own cheeks quite rosy.
"Like when you blush, Kit," said Freddy, again unpredictably. "Makes me a bit cork-brained, but I like it." His thumb stroked along her palm. "You wouldn't mind if I kissed you, Kit? Been wanting to all evening."
Kitty, who did not mind in the least bit, tilted up her head to further this ambition, and afterward found, to her delight, that Lady Legerwood had been quite right about how well Freddy would care for her.
Upon return from their honeymoon in Paris, the Honourable and Mrs Frederick Standen found themselves cosily ensconced in the drawing room of his rooms in Ryder Street, sharing a touchingly domestic scene that involved the destruction of a magnificently folded neckcloth and the disarrangement of Kitty's curls. This agreeable episode came to an abrupt end when Lady Buckhaven's presence was announced.
"Dash it, Kit!" Freddy scowled. "I like Meg, but couldn't she have come another time? Tell her we aren't in, Icklesham! Fob her off!"
"Freddy," said Kitty reproachfully, tucking her hair back into place. "We shall do no such thing."
Freddy, his momentary exasperation overcome by his general amiability, surrendered and bade Icklesham show in Lady Buckhaven, who entered to find her sister seated alone upon the sofa and her brother by the looking-glass, straightening his cravat with more than his usual fastidiousness. Another glance at a pink-faced Kitty confirmed her suspicion as to what she had interrupted, and she was forced to suppress a fit of giggles.
"I suppose you did a lot of shopping in Paris," said Meg, once each had asked after the other's health.
"Oh yes!" said Kitty. "Freddy bought me the most beautiful rubies. Would you like to see them?"
Meg agreed and the two women went to Kitty's room, leaving a slightly disgruntled Mr Standen to sit upon the sofa and wait until he could again devastate his lady's appearance.
"Well!" said Meg, once she and Kitty had entered the latter's room. "How was it?"
"Perfectly lovely," sighed Kitty, as she went to her jewel-box. "Paris in spring is the most wonderful—"
"Not Paris!" interjected Meg impatiently. "I could hear about Paris from any old dowdy! No, what I meant is—how was it?"
"Oh!" Colour flooded Kitty's cheeks. "Well, it…it was also perfectly lovely."
"I knew it!" Meg crowed. "Did you do everything Mama and I told you?"
"Oh yes, Meg, indeed I did, only…" She blushed again. "Truly, Meg, I quite neglected to remove my stockings!"
Meg's triumphant expression dimmed. "Kitty! When I expressly told you to remember!"
"I did try!" Kitty protested, her colour deepening. "But Meg, it did not signify whether I remembered or not, for Freddy forgot his own stockings as well, and neither of us even noticed until we were finished!"
Meg stared at her, astonished, and then, struck by a sudden vision of her brother in nothing but his nightshirt and stockings, bent her head and gave way to mirth.