These Old Shades
by Georgette Heyer
Table, chessboard, and men went flying. Léon had sprung impetuously out of his chair, and had almost flung himself at Avon's feet, all etiquette and decorum forgotten.
Over his head Avon met Davenant's eyes.
"He is mad, of course. I beg you will calm yourself, my Léon."
Léon gave his hand a last kiss, and rose to his feet.
"Oh, Monseigneur, I have been miserable!"
"Now, I should never have suspected Mr Davenant of cruelty to infants," remarked his Grace. "How are you, Hugh?" He strolled forward, and just touched Hugh's outstretched hands with his finger-tips. "Léon, signify your delight at seeing me by picking up the chessmen." He went to the fire, and stood with his back to it, Hugh beside him.
"Have you had a pleasant time?" Hugh asked.
"A most instructive week. The roads here are remarkable. Allow me to point out to your notice, Léon, that an insignificant pawn lies under that chair. It is never wise to disregard the pawns."
Hugh looked at him.
"What may that mean?" he inquired.
"It is merely advice, my dear. I should have made an excellent father. My philosophy is almost equal to Chesterfield's."
"Chesterfield's conversation is marvellous."
"A little tedious. Yes, Léon, what now?"
"Shall I bring wine, Monseigneur?"
"Mr Davenant has certainly trained you well. No, Léon, you shall not bring wine. I trust he has been no trouble, Hugh?"
Léon cast Davenant an anxious glance. There had been one or two slight battles of will between them. Hugh smiled at him.
"His behaviour has been admirable," he said.
His Grace had seen the anxious look, and the reassuring smile.
"I am relieved. May I now have the truth?"
Léon looked up at him gravely, but volunteered no word. Hugh laid his hand on Avon's shoulder.
"We have had a few small disputes, Alastair. That is all."
"Who won?" inquired his Grace.
"We reached the end by a compromise," said Hugh solemnly.
"Very unwise. You should have insisted on utter capitulation." He took Léon's chin in his hand, and looked into the twinkling blue eyes. "Even as I should have done." He pinched the chin. "Should I not, infant?"
The hazel eyes narrowed.
"Perhaps? What is this? Are you so demoralized during this one short week?"
"No, oh no!" Léon's dimples quivered. "But I am very obstinate, Monseigneur, sometimes. Of course I will always try to make myself do as you wish."
Avon released him.
"I believe you will," he said unexpectedly, and waved one white hand to the door.
"I suppose it is useless to ask where you have been?" said Hugh, when Léon had gone.
"Or where you intend to go next?"
"No, I believe I can answer that. I am going to London."
"London?" Hugh was surprised. "I thought you intended to remain here some months?"
"Did you, Hugh? I never have intentions. That is why mothers of lovely daughters eye me askance. I am constrained to return to England." He drew from his pocket a fan of dainty chicken-skin, and spread it open.
"What constrains you?" Hugh frowned upon the Duke's fan. "Why that new affectation?"
Avon held the fan at arm's length.
"Exactly what I ask myself, dear Hugh. I found it awaiting me here. It comes from March, who begs -" He searched in his pocket for a folded sheet of paper, and, putting up his glass, read the scrawled lines aloud. "Begs - yes, here we are. `I send you this pretty trifle, which I give you my word is now become the rage here, all men who aspire to be beaux using them both in warm weather and cold, so that we rival the ladies now in this matter. I beg you will make use of it, my dear Justin; it is cunningly painted, you will agree, and was procured by me from Geronimo, expressly for you. The golden sticks should please you, as I hope they will do.'" Avon raised his eyes from the letter to observe the fan, which was painted black, with a gold design, and gold sticks and tassels. "I wonder if I do like it?" he said.
"Foppery!" answered Hugh shortly.
"Undoubtedly. Natheless it will give Paris something fresh to talk about. I shall purchase a muff for March. Of miniver, I think. You perceive that I must return to England forthwith."
"To give March a muff?"
"I perceive that you will make that an excuse. Léon goes with you?"
"As you say, Léon goes with me."
"I had meant to ask you once again to give him to me."
The duke fanned himself with an air, handling the chicken-skin like a woman.
"I really could not permit it, my dear; it would be most improper."
Hugh looked sharply up at him.
"Now, what mean you by that, Justin?"
"Is it possible that you have been hoodwinked? Dear, dear!"
"You'll explain, if you please!"
"I had come to think you omniscient," sighed his Grace. "You have had Léon in your care for eight days, and you are as innocent of his deception as you were when I first introduced him to your notice."
"I mean, my dear, that Léon is Léonie."
Davenant threw up his hands.
"You knew, then!"
His Grace stopped fanning himself.
"I knew? I knew from the first. But you?"
"Perhaps a week after he came here. I hoped that you knew nothing."
"Oh, my dear Hugh!" Avon shook with gentle laughter. "You thought me guileless! I forgive you only because you have restored my faith in your omniscience."
"I never dreamed that you suspected!" Hugh took a few quick steps across the room and back again. "You've hidden it well!"
"So also have you, my dear." Avon resumed his fanning.
"What was your object in allowing the deception to go on?"
"What was yours, oh worthy Hugh?"
"I dreaded lest you should discover the truth! I wanted to take the child away from you."
His Grace smiled slowly, eyes nearly shut.
"The fan expresses my emotions. I must kiss March's hands and feet. Metaphorically speaking." He waved the hand gently to and fro.
Davenant glared at him for a moment, annoyed at his nonchalance. Then an unwilling laugh broke from him.
"Justin, pray put that fan away! If you know that Léon is a girl what will you do? I beg that you will give her to me -"
"My dear Hugh! Bethink you, you are but thirty-five - quite a child still. It would be most improper. Now, I - I am over forty. A veteran, and therefore harmless."
"Justin -" Hugh came to him, and laid a hand on his arm. "Will you sit down, and talk this over - quietly and reasonably?"
The fan paused.
"Quietly? But did you imagine that I wished to bawl at you?"
"No. Don't be flippant, Justin. Sit down."
Avon went to a chair, and sat upon its arm.
"When you become excited, my dear, you remind me of an agitated sheep. Quite irresistible, believe me."
Hugh controlled a quivering lip, and seated himself opposite the Duke. Avon stretched out his hand to where a small spindle-legged table stood and pulled it into place between himself and Davenant.
"So. I am now reasonably safe. Continue, Hugh."
"Justin, I am not jesting -"
"Oh, my dear Hugh!"
"- and I want you also to be serious. Put away that damned fan!"
"It incites you to wrath? If you assault me I shall summon assistance." But he shut the fan, and held it so, between his hands. "I am all attention, beloved."
"Justin, you and I are friends, are we not? Let us have for once plain speaking!"
"But you always speak plainly, dear Hugh," murmured his Grace.
"You've always been kind - ay, I admit that - to little Léon; you've permitted him to take many liberties with you. At times I've hardly recognised you with him. I thought - well, never mind that. And all the while you knew he was a girl."
"You are becoming rather involved," remarked Avon.
"She, then. You knew she was a girl. Why have you allowed her to keep up the pretence? What do you mean by her?"
"Hugh -" Avon tapped the table with his fan. "Your painful anxiety impels me to inquire - what do you mean by her?"
Davenant looked his disgust.
"My God, do you think you are amusing? I mean this: That I will have her away from you if it costs me my life."
"This becomes interesting," said Avon. "How will you have her away from me, and why?"
"You can ask that? I never thought you were a hypocrite, Justin."
Avon unfurled his fan.
"If you were to ask me, Hugh, why I permit myself to bear with you I could not tell you."
"My manners are atrocious. I know it. But I've an affection for Léon, and if I allowed you to take her, innocent as he is -"
"Careful, Hugh, careful!"
"Oh, she, then! If I allowed that-I--"
"Calm yourself, my dear. If I did not fear that you would mutilate it I would lend you my fan. May I make known mine intentions."
"It's what I want!"
"I should not have guessed that, somehow. Strange how one may be mistaken. Or even how two may be mistaken. It will surprise you to hear that I am fond of Léon."
"No. She will make a beautiful girl."
"Remind me one day to teach you how to achieve a sneer, Hugh. Yours is too pronounced, and thus but a grimace. It should be but a faint curl of the lips. So. But to resume. You will at least be surprised to hear that I had not thought of Léonie in the light of a beautiful girl."
"It amazes me."
"That is much better, my dear. You are an apt pupil."
"Justin, you are impossible. This is no laughing matter!"