The Unknown Ajax
by Georgette Heyer
"Eh, lass, what nonsense it is! All this uproar about Richmond's going to watch a prize-fight, as though he were eight years old instead of past eighteen! There's not one lad in a hundred would have thought he must have his grandfather's permission, and none at all that would have breathed a word about it to his mother! Lord, by the time I was Richmond's age I'd fought my first campaign in South America, and was on my way to Sweden, with Sir John Moore! I wasn't thought to be so very young when I joined, either."
She looked up into his face, her eyes searching it rather anxiously. "It is unnatural, isn't it, the life Richmond leads? I didn't question it at first: you see, I know very little about the world! Except for one Season in London, and going to stay now and then with one or other of my aunts, I've hardly ever been away from this place. Of course I knew that Oliver wasn't brought up as Richmond has been, but that only made me think how fortunate it was that Grandpapa loved Richmond to much to part with him, because Oliver was for ever getting into trouble! I don't know what he did, except that it was always very expensive, and put my Uncle Granville into a passion, as well as Grandpapa, but I do know that he was a loose fish, because I once heard my uncle tell him so, and I daresay you know what that means!"
"Yes, love," said Hugo, smiling very kindly at her. "I know right enough, but happen you'd better not say it!"
"Oh, no! It sounds most improper! I wouldn't say it to anyone but - Hugo, how dare you call me love?"
"Did I do that?" he asked incredulously.
"You know very well you did! What is more, it is by far more improper than anything I said!"
"It must have slipped out," said Hugo feebly. "It's a common expression in the North!"
"Like lass, no doubt! And if you think, sir, that just because I grew fagged to death with telling you not to call me that, you are at liberty to call me anything else that comes into your head -"
"No, ma'am!" he intervened hastily. He shook his head in self-condemnation. "I wasn't minding my tongue. The instant our Claud's not by to give me a nudge it's down with my applecart again! Eh, but it's downright disheartening!"
"And d-don't call me m-ma'am either!" said Anthea, in a hopelessly unsteady voice.
He heaved a disconsolate sigh. "I thought it would please you - Cousin Anthea!"
"You did not! You are an abominable person, Hugo! You've done nothing but make a May-game of us all ever since you set foot inside the house, while as for the whiskers you tell! --"
"Not whiskers, Cousin Anthea!" he pleaded.
"Whiskers!" she repeated firmly. "Besides acting the dunce --"
"Nay, I was always a terrible gawky!"
"-- and talking broad Yorkshire on the least provocation!"
"But I told you how it is with me!"
"You did! You said you couldn't help but do so whenever you are scared, and if that wasn't a whisker I never heard one! Well! If you spent your time hoaxing them all in your regiment I shouldn't wonder at it if you were compelled to sell out!" said Anthea, nodding darkly.
"Worse!" said the woebegone sinner before her. "I was hoping you wouldn't discover it, but there! I might have known --"
"Hugo! -- You - you --"
He laughed. "Yes, Cousin Anthea?"
"Where did you go to school?" demanded Anthea sternly.
"That's a long time ago," he objected. "There's so much has happened to me since then -"
"More whiskers!" said Anthea, casting up her eyes.
"Well, it was - it was a school not so very far from London," he disclosed, looking sheepish.
"Nay, lass!" he exclaimed shocked. "What would I have been doing in a place like that?"
"Wearing your tutor to death, I should think. But now I come to think of it I know you can't have been at Eton, for you must have met Vincent there. Harrow?"
He looked at her for a moment, and then grinned, and nodded.
"And why have you told no one that you were there?"
"Well, no one asked me," he replied. "If it comes to that, Claud hasn't told me he was at Eton!"
"No, but he hasn't done his best to make you think he was educated at a charity school!"
"Now, what have I every said --"
"Hugo, you deliberately tried to talk like your groom! They cannot have allowed you to do so at Harrow!"
He smiled. "No, but I was very broad in my speech before I went there, and I had it in my ears in the holidays, so that I've never really lost it. My grandfather - not this one! -"
"I know!" she interpolated. "T'gaffer!"
There was an appreciative twinkle in his eye. "Ay, t'gaffer! Well, he spoke good Yorkshire all his life, but I got skelped for doing it - being Quality-make! But I do use Yorkshire expressions now-and-now - when the occasion calls for them! And in the regiment - cutting a joke, you know!"
"Yes, I understand that! Like Richmond saying things in the broadest Sussex - he does it beautifully, and so did Oliver! Only Grandpapa disliked it, and made them stop doing it. He said it would get to be a habit, and I must own it became very tedious. But you, Hugo, talked Yorkshire to hoax us!"
"It wasn't exactly that," he said. "I'd no notion of hoaxing anybody when I came here, but when I saw the way you were all of you pretty well expecting me to eat with my knife - eh, lass, I couldn't resist!"
"How anyone who looks as you do can be so mad-brained! --" she marvelled. "If ever I hear of you in Newgate I shall know you owed your downfall to a prank you couldn't resist going into full-fling!"
"I'll be lucky if it's not worse," he said pessimistically. "Granddad was used to say I'd end on the gallows, all for the sake of cutting a joke. Mind you, I didn't think to find myself in the suds over this, because I hadn't been in the house above an hour before I was wondering how soon I could escape! I'd no more notion of remaining here than of flying to the moon."
"What will you do?" she asked.
"Oh, I'll bring myself home!" he said cheerfully.
"You do mean to remain, then?"
"If I get what I want."
"The Dower House?"
"Nay, that's a small matter! I'll tell you what it is one of these days, but I'm not so very sure I can get it yet, so happen I'll do best to keep it to myself."
"Well, I wouldn't tell anyone!" she exclaimed.
"The thing is you might say I'd no hope of getting it," he explained. An odd little smile came into his eyes as he saw her puzzled frown. "I'd be all dashed down in a minute," he said, shaking his head. "That would never do!"