Authors: Shirley Kennedy
|The Rebellious Twin|
Seated at his massive mahogany desk, stern-faced John, Lord Capelle, Earl of Carstairs, heaved a frustrated sigh as he gazed up at his daughter with hardened eyes.
“You are a severe disappointment to us, Clarinda. Refusing to dress like your twin, and now this latest — refusing even to consider Lord Sufton. I shall no longer tolerate such conduct.”
“Nor shall I,” echoed Lady Edwina Capelle who stood beside her husband, thin as a stick and ramrod straight. Her hand, firmly gripping his shoulder, was a clear indication of her support. She regarded her daughter with unmitigated disgust. “I do not appreciate being called away from London, missing Lady Ponsonby’s ball, by the way, and all because of you. Your conduct has gone from bad to worse.” She bobbed her sharp chin for emphasis.
The willowy, blonde young woman who stood before her parents felt like an accused prisoner in the docks. Tears brimmed in her cornflower blue eyes, but she fought them back. Her rosy cheeks had paled. Her full red mouth, which ordinarily was curved into a pleasant smile, was tight and grim. Beneath her muddied riding gown, her knees were shaking. She had been in trouble many a time, but never had her parents displayed such wrath.
Silently she gazed about the spacious library, ordinarily her favorite room. In happier moments, it provided a cozy retreat, with its dark paneled walls, ormolu and rock crystal chandeliers, recessed velvet window seat where she spent many an enjoyable hour curled up with a good book. Occasionally she would pause to rest her eyes, never failing to find pleasure in gazing through the arched Venetian window at the beautiful gardens of Graystone Hall that stretched beyond.
It was no cozy retreat today. Clarinda drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Papa, Mama, I am truly sorry if I displeased you. It’s just that I am twenty now, and I want — “
“Want? Ha!” Papa, sniffed his arched, aristocratic nose in disdain. “I do not care if you are twenty or a hundred-and-twenty, you are under my roof, you will do as I say.”
Mama’s always humorless eyes narrowed. “‘Tis time you put aside your rebellious thoughts. In truth, you have given us grief from the day you were born, so unlike Clarissa. Well, I am sick of it. You will dress like your twin. You will give your most serious consideration to Lord Sufton as your suitor.” She addressed her husband. “The perfect match, m’lord. Twins marrying twins. What could be more suitable? Lawrence shall wed Rissa, and Larimore — ” her eyes bored into Clarinda’s ” — shall marry you, my dear, whether it suits your selfish pleasure or not.”
“Selfish pleasure, indeed,” echoed Papa. “How many of your Seasons did I pay for, and all for naught? You rejected suitors right and left, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. Well, this is the end. ‘Tis time you were married, and soon.”
How it twisted her heart that she could never please Papa! “But in London they were all fops and dandies. So frivolous and self-centered. I — “
“Think of the wealth those two possess,” interrupted Mama, not about to be distracted from the fortune of the Sufton twins. You would live in Bolton Hall, which, as you very well know, is one of the finest estates in all England.”
Clarinda could not contain herself. “But they are both such prigs. You could fit their brains into a thimble. They spend most of their time in London where all they care about is how their cravat is tied and which snuff box to carry.” She made a face, wrinkling her nose. “Larimore agrees with everything I say. So utterly boring.”
Mama took an outraged breath, her chest expanding beneath her fashionable green muslin tea gown. “Your personal opinion is of no import. Oh, why cannot you be more like your sister?”
“She’s not married, either, Mama.”
Her mother looked as if she was about to burst. In a voice trembling with anger, she said, “You know full well your dear sister would be married now, had not Jeffrey died at Trafalgar.”
Jeffrey. The very mention of his name brought a pang to Clarinda’s heart. But no one must ever know her sorrow the day she heard that Jeffrey, Lord Lansdale, Captain in the Royal Navy, had died of his wounds on the very deck where Lord Nelson had perished. “…and any good daughter,” Mama was saying, “would be delighted she and her sister could marry into wealth, thus helping her poor, impoverished family.”
“Impoverished?” Clarinda asked, surprised. “Us?”
Papa replied, “Certain debts have been incurred which must be paid.” He flicked a sharp glance at his wife. “That’s all you need know.”
Mama’s been gambling again, thought Clarinda. How galling that must be for Papa, who, rich as he was, hated to part with as much as a farthing.
Mama wasn’t through. “Look at the bright side, Clarinda, if you and Rissa marry the Suftons, you could live together at Bolton Hall the rest of your lives. Twins should always be together.”
If you only knew, thought Clarinda, her stomach wrenching at the thought. “If Rissa wants to marry Lawrence, that’s fine, but I could not endure spending a lifetime with that foppish fool, Larimore.”
“Enough! You are too impudent by half.” His face reddening, Papa arose swiftly from his chair, reminding Clarinda of a volcano about to erupt. With a disdainful wave he indicated her less-than-impeccable appearance. “Mud on your skirt — your hair disheveled — you’ve been riding recklessly again, haven’t you?”
Clarinda reached for her hair, which she knew had been tousled from her recent gallop on Donegal. She started to speak, but Mama interjected, “And from what I hear, not upon your sidesaddle.”
Caught. Desperately Clarinda sought excuses to defend herself, but mercifully, Papa ignored the comment and continued on. “…all totally unacceptable. In the future, you will dress like your sister. You will wear your hair like your sister. You will attend the same social events.” He looked towards his wife. “Anything else?”
“She must get rid of that disreputable riding dress she’s wearing now. In future, if she wants to go riding she can wear the riding habit I had made for her.” Mama slanted a glance at Papa. “It’s black and green, m’lord, ornamented down the front, embroidered at the cuffs a-la-militaire. I cannot understand why she won’t wear a handsome habit that is the absolute height of fashion.”
Ugh! thought Clarinda.
“Anything else?” Papa asked.
“I do not want her spending time at Hollyridge Manor.”
“Old Lord Westerlynn’s estate?” Papa asked. “What the devil does she do there?”
“She rides Donegal over there nearly every day, and meets with that unsuitable girl, Sara Sophia. They can usually be found in Lord Westerlynn’s stables. From what I hear, they wash and brush the horses and clean the stalls. Mama sniffed contemptuously. “Chores more suited to the stable boys than a lady of leisure.”
Lord Capelle glared at his daughter. “Is this true?”
“Yes, Papa.” Clarinda raised her chin defiantly. “You know Lord Westerlynn now lives in London most of the time, yet he still keeps a considerable number of horses.”
“Indeed, I have been to many of his fox hunts,” said Papa. “He had ten hunters, I believe, at last count, and a few Arabians. Beautiful mounts, all of them. And then, of course, there are the carriage horses.”
Clarinda nodded in a agreement. “But there’s hardly anyone to care for them anymore, except Sara Sophia and me.”
“That’s strange,” mused Papa. “Westerlynn is so rich he could employ an army of grooms and stable boys.”
“But he doesn’t, perhaps because he’s getting so old and senile he doesn’t realize. Have you seen Hollyridge Manor lately? It’s getting all run down. There are hardly enough servants to care for the house anymore, let alone the horses.” Clarinda gazed at her father imploringly. “So that’s the reason Sara Sophia and I — “
“There you have it, m’lord,” interrupted Lady Capelle. “Do you see how your very own daughter chooses to run with a little squab of a female? On-dit has it she’s merry-begotten, and by old Westerlynn himself, so the story goes. Sara Sophia has no social standing whatsoever. In my opinion, Clarinda should not be allowed to even speak to her.”
Clarinda was hard-put to control her flare of anger. “Sara Sophia Clarmonte is a saint. She’s the sweetest, the smartest, the most — “
“Enough,” said Lord Capelle, not loudly, but in his low, ominous voice, the one that signaled deep anger. “Suffice to say, you will obey.”
Clarinda clenched her fists. “And if I do not?”
“Donegal,” said Mama, the one word rolling with ease from her lips, almost as if she had planned it and could hardly wait to say it.
At mention of her beloved horse, fear struck Clarinda’s heart. “Donegal? You wouldn’t — “
“In an instant,” declared Papa. He looked toward his wife again, as if making sure he was following her wishes.
Please, Papa, stand up for me, Clarinda silently cried. In the past, Papa, stern as he was, had often sided with her, and stood in the way of Mama’s harshest punishments. But apparently not this time.
“Either you obey,” he said, “or I shall sell Donegal.”
Mama declared, “And while we are on the subject of your obeying, you must never forget you are a twin. What you don’t seem to realize, Clarinda, is that if ever there was an example of female perfection, it’s Rissa, who is the very soul of sweetness and refinement. Try to emulate your twin at all times. You’ll be a better person for it.” She eyed Papa. “Am I not right, m’lord?”
“Indeed. Now let this be an end to it.” Papa appeared to be increasingly impatient to finish this unpleasant task.
Clarinda had to fight the urge to rush from the room. She could not stand much more of this. “So if I don’t marry Lord Sufton you will take Donegal away from me?” she asked over a huge lump in her throat.
“Well, as for your marrying Sufton…” Papa hesitated.
“Yes!” said Mama, quickly jumping in. “You shall marry Lord Sufton.”
Papa cast a dubious at Mama. “Let’s not be hasty, Edwina, we cannot force the girl.” Clarinda was surprised. She knew if Papa alone were in charge of discipline, he would be more lenient, but, alas, in matters of the family he always deferred to her mother.
His expression slightly softened, Papa went on, “Suffice to say, Clarinda, you will give Lord Sufton your most serious consideration.”
Mama added, “Not only that, if your poor behavior persists, I promise you, you will be sent to live with your grandfather.”
Ah, the old warning again. It seemed as if Clarinda had spent her entire childhood under the threat of being sent to Grandfather Montagu’s cold, drafty castle located in the farthest, loneliest corner of North Wales. The thought had always frightened her, often curbing her tendency toward wild behavior.
“Well?” demanded Mama, “is it agreed that in future you will model yourself after your twin?”
Clarinda briefly closed her eyes, trying to shut out the dismaying spectacle of her fashionable, mother, who usually remained so aloof, raising her voice, her face all twisted, ugly with anger. Clarinda stretched out her palms. “Can you not understand how tired I am of being a twin?”
“But you are a twin.” Mama cast an outraged glance at her husband. “There’s gratitude for you. To what lengths have I not gone to dress the girls exactly alike? To ensure their hair is fixed the same? That they curtsey the same? That they — “
“But that’s the point,” cried Clarinda. “I am tired of feeling only one half of a whole.”
“Half of a whole? I am shocked!” Mama struck her hand to her bosom in amazement. “Why, I have sacrificed my life to you and Rissa. How could you show such ingratitude after all I have done?”
Clarissa bit her tongue, trying to quell her growing resentment. Clarinda and Clarissa, she thought with irony, Mama’s darling, adorable twins. Same names, same gowns, same hair, same everything. Even Donegal and Dublin, their chestnut Irish Hunters, looked exactly the same. Only two people in the whole world could tell Clarinda and Clarissa apart: Alexander, their little brother, and Estelle, their lady’s maid. Surely not Mama and Papa, who had spent much of their time in London when she and Rissa were growing up, allowing them to be raised by a series of nannies and governesses. Clarinda longed to say, We are the same in appearance, Mama, but oh how different we are inside! Such a protest would get her nowhere, though, and only increase her mother’s enmity. “It appears I have no choice.”