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A Gentleman of Taste

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I. An Appreciation of London Bridge

"Freddy, look!"

"At what?" Mr Standen enquired with some astonishment, but obligingly motioned for the hansom to stop. His fiancée leapt out without waiting to be handed down and yelped as her ankle gave way beneath her. Recovering, she pointed out across the river.

"Look, Freddy, it's the Thames!"

"Really?" asked Freddy, with less acidity than might be justified. Though he could not quite see the romance of a river fifty times more poisonous than even any foreign stream, he accepted that Kitty had a more discerning eye in these matters. "Well, suppose it must be. Flowing in the right place, after all."

"Oh, Freddy," Kitty said, undaunted, "isn't it beautiful? Imagine how many people must have crossed this bridge over the years."

Freddy did, and looked down at the pavement with a jaundiced eye. His Hessians were so perfectly turned-out as to repel stains, but one never could be sure.

"We'd best be getting along, Kit," he said. "There'll be half a dozen carts coming up in a minute."

"I suppose," Kitty said wistfully. "And oh-h! My ankle does hurt!"

"Well, that's what you get for being so hare-brained," Mr Standen said severely, handing her up into the carriage. Kitty, naturally, paid him not the slightest attention.

"Do you remember that old nursery rhyme? London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady."

"M'father says it's no laughing matter," said Freddy darkly.

"I'm sure it isn't," said Kitty respectfully. Then, a moment later, she began to sing under her breath: "Build it up with penny loaves, penny loaves, penny loaves..."

Freddy, upon realising that no one in the area was at all likely to recognise her, breathed a sigh of relief.

II. A Fashionable Lady

"How pretty!" said Miss Charing, summoning all the diplomacy at her disposal. It was not, strictly speaking, a lie; she was merely exercising her splendid gifts of economy with regard to the truth. The riding habit was exceedingly beautiful when worn by the charming model from whom Meg had conceived the idea of buying it. On Meg, it became...

"Why would you wear that?" enquired Freddy in genuine, pained bewilderment. The Honourable Frederick Standen had attended church semi-regularly, at least when in the country; had followed the Ten Commandments more or less faithfully; had, in short, made a fairly good stab at being a Christian gentleman. Why, then, God had chosen to punish him with such a sister, he could not fathom.

"Don't you think it becoming?" Meg asked, twirling a little so that he could see the skirt flare out. Freddy shut his eyes against the sight.

"No," he said bluntly. "What happened to the blue? Much more suiting."

"I'm so tired of blue," Meg said peevishly. "You hardly ever let me wear anything else."

"That," said Mr Standen, "is because you haven't a stitch that don't make your dresser cry."

"My servants are none of your concern," said Meg tartly. "And," she added, struck by a brainwave, "Kitty wore lilac to Almack's last night!" This last was delivered with the air of one telling tales.

Slowly, Freddy turned to his fiancée. "That true, Kit?" he asked gravely.

Kitty had the grace to look guilty.

"Well, I'm dashed, I don't mind telling you." He looked so set-down by this discovery that Meg almost repented of telling him, but as it looked like she might get away with the scarlet riding habit after all, she began to manoeuvre it upstairs.

"I'm so sorry, Freddy," Kitty murmured, her lashes wet with unshed tears. "I knew it was a mistake from the moment I put it on, but there was no time to change. I was uneasy in my mind all night about it."

"Well," said Freddy nobly, "m'lady mother's always telling me that marriage means forgiving one another for mistakes."

"I am lucky," Kitty said, very seriously.

"Me, too, Kit." Without looking, he added, "I know what you're doing, Meg."

Meg sighed. "I've bought it now - "

"You'd best cut it up for the poor," Freddy said darkly. "They'll appreciate it more."

Meg huffed and made a point of marching upstairs with it. But it later appeared on the back of an impoverished debutante, so both Mr Standen and Miss Charing were well-satisfied.

III. The Perennial Problem of the Aspiring Bertram Wooster

"Got a problem," said the beleaguered Mr Standen to his father.

Lord Legerwood, who did not hold overmuch faith in his son's cognitive processes, was sympathetic. "Why don't you have a drink and tell me all about it?"

"It's Kit - Miss Charing, should say."

"I believe I am aware of my future daughter-in-law's first name," said Lord Legerwood gently.

"Dashed good of you, sir. I'd likely forget it, if I were you."

"You might well," Lord Legerwood acquiesced. "What appears to be the matter with Miss Charing?"

"Oh, it's not her. It's Aunt Augusta."

"I see," said his parent, who would have been much confused had he not been sure that the problem lay with his son. "What has her ladyship to do with Miss Charing?"

"Cross!" said Freddy briefly. "Mad as fire over Dolph. Promised Kit I wouldn't let her say a dicky-bird to her on the subject."

Lord Legerwood paused for a moment as he sorted out these entangled pronouns. Then he said, "And Lady Dolphinton is likely to, ah, say a dicky-bird?"

"Almack's," Freddy said gloomily. "Can't stop her using her voucher; Kit won't stop going, either."

"Very wise of her not to back down," said Lord Legerwood cheerfully, feeling new respect for his son's beloved.

"Not if there's a rumpus over the tea table," said Mr Standen. "Kit's dashed fond of Dolph. Might turn out to be less scared of Aunt Augusta than she thought."

"Is a rumpus on the cards?" enquired Lord Legerwood with more hopefulness than was seemly. Mr Standen looked concerned about his father's impropriety.

"Hope not," he said laconically. "Going to see Aunt Augusta now, coax her into not speaking ill of Miss Plymstock. Or Kit, for that matter."

"Frederick," said Lord Legerwood, much impressed. "I am proud of you."

His son ducked his head in deep embarrassment. "Hoped you might think so," he said, his voice much stifled by his collar.

"Have another drink for luck," urged Lord Legerwood.

"Don't mind if I do," said Freddy in relief.

IV. On Avoiding Places of Interest

"Saint Paul's Cathedral," Kitty read from her handbook, and looked up at him with wide-eyed and entirely false optimism.

"Dreary place," Freddy averred.

"It says that the curving galleries have a 'mystical ambience'," said Kitty, apparently not hearing him. "Doesn't that sound wonderful?"

"Sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to me," said Mr Standen doubtfully.

"It took thirty-one years to build," Kitty informed him, "and the last stone was placed by Sir Christopher Wren's son. Isn't that wonderful?"

"Not too shabby," Freddy allowed.

"If we go now, we can lunch at the Belle Sauvage Inn," said Kitty brightly, and began to tug on his arm.

"They'll probably serve French food," Freddy prophesied, a modern Jeremiah, but he allowed himself to be pulled towards the hansom.

V. Le Miroir de la Mode

"I don't like to say it," said Meg, not looking too sorry, "but this might be the only wedding of the year where the bridegroom outshone the bride."

"I wouldn't expect anything else," said Kitty placidly, regarding herself coolly in the looking-glass. "I do like this dress. I wish I could wear it again."

"I think Freddy and Jack are trying to outdo each other," said Meg, leaning out of the window. "Jack has an inordinate number of capelets on his greatcoat."

"Simple elegance is often the best way," said Kitty with perfect loyal faith.

"Hugh looks surprisingly well," Meg reported, craning her neck. "I suppose Freddy must have laid his clothes out for him."

"Hugh has never dressed badly," said Kitty, forcing herself to be fair. It was entirely possible, even so, that Freddy had kept a weather eye on him.

"Dolph's about as well as can be hoped, for Dolph," said Meg. "Miss - I can't be used to calling her Hannah, Kitty, I utterly cannot - she looks respectable, I must say."

"And Freddy?"

"I'm sure it's bad luck for the bride to know what the groom looks like before the wedding," said Meg reprovingly. Kitty retired, quenched.

Outside, Messrs Standen and Westruther were eyeing each other with well-concealed dislike.

"Weston, I suppose?" enquired the Honourable Frederick of Mr Westruther's coat.

"Naturally," said Mr Westruther, raising a sardonic eyebrow.

"Hmm. Not his best," said Freddy critically. "Saddens me to say it, though."

"I note, however, that you asked after the tailor," said Mr Westruther, with the air of one scoring off a point.

"Couldn't believe my eyes," said Mr Standen with honesty. "Shouldn't have thought Weston the type to palm a coat like that off on anyone, much less a downy one like you."

Mr Westruther's nostrils flared, but he controlled himself admirably. "A palpable hit, Frederick! Don't mistake it for a victory, however; remember who was your bride's first choice."

Mr Standen did not dignify this sally with a response, less because of his inability to land a punch and more to do with his desire to remain impeccably neat until after the wedding breakfast. But most of all it was to do with Miss Charing's entrance upon the scene at that moment, radiant in diaphanous white. It was one of Madame Lanchester's creations, Freddy knew; Kitty had shown him the plate.

"Not too shabby, Kit," he said, almost overcome with emotion. If Frederick Standen had ever had an ambition, it was now realised: he was one half of the best-dressed couple in London.