Bounders and bolters, the Houpton-Houptons were also aristocratic. Although there was something to be said for being gentry, Cuthbert couldn’t immediately think what it was. That evening, he had other things on his mind. Squaring his shoulders to disguise their sloping nature, he was ready. Before him lay both his future and Kate Middleton. They were not the same.
Resting against a pile of cushions, Kate was studying a copy of her favourite magazine, Toff. Cuthbert couldn’t fault her eager research into how the Upper Class lived. The magazine lay open at a forensically-illustrated story informing readers the Brazilian was old school, and that well-bred young ladies seeking topiary below the belly button were choosing recreations of great British battles done in silhouette. The Defence of Rorke's Drift and the Relief of Mafeking were particularly popular.
Cuthbert gave a small cough. “Midsie, you’re a brick.’
Kate tossed her big hair, knocking an Edwardian lamp off a side table. “Gosh, thank you, Cuthie.”
“So,” continued Cuthbert, letting his shoulders droop slightly, “I know you’ll take it well when I tell that I’ve decided to call off …”
The final words were drowned out by an alarm from Kate’s iPhone. The polyphonic ring tone played: “Here Comes The Bride.”
Kate swung her coltish legs off the divan. “It’ll have to wait, Cuthie, because the Windsors won’t.”
Half an hour later, Kate and Cuthbert stood with rapidly warming Kenyan Riesling in their glasses while the Windsor brothers worked their way around the cocktail party, greeting guests. Prince Harry was kitted out as a Khmer Rouge Death Squad commander.
Tilting her head sideways just enough to sweep four glasses off the tray of a passing butler, Kate studied Harry. “I didn’t know it was fancy dress,” she said.
“It’s not,” said Cuthbert, emptying his glass and grasping for another.
In a far corner, Harry’s brother William broke free from a scrum of young women with prominent teeth and needy eyes.
Waving to Cuthbert, William loped across the room. “Super of you to come, Hopeless Squared.” It was a nickname William had given Cuthbert at prep school and it’d stuck. Cuthbert still hated it.
“Such fun,” responded Cuthbert and swallowed more wine.
William tipped his head forward, gazing at Kate through his eyelashes, an affectation he’d learnt from his mother. Cuthbert loathed that too.
“I say, Hopeless Squared, who’s the totty?’
Cuthbert twisted around to see who William was referring to, then he sighed. “Oh, this is Kate Middleton.”
William whispered in Cuthbert’s ear something which sounded like “Scorchio!” before bending to kiss Kate’s hand.
How easy it would be, thought Cuthbert, to give His Royal Highness a boot in the botty. Instead, he paused. That moment was long enough to hatch a plan.
Dropping Kate’s hand, William straightened. “We’re putting together a rather interesting table for Saturday evening at Madame Dita’s. Care to join us?”
Cuthbert brightened. “Is that the club where you can drink champagne from a burlesque dancer’s navel?”
“Actually, it’s a Bridge Club.”
Kate appeared puzzled. “Suspension, Cantilever or Arch?”
William peered through his eyelashes. “Cards.”
“Such fun,” said Kate.
She was a blank slate, thought Cuthbert. It was a shame he didn’t have the chalk to take advantage of it. A regrettable incident the previous year with a bar of saddle soap, a mare and the regimental nurse had seen him cashiered from the 7th Royal Dragoon Guards. Ever since, he couldn’t face tupping women with horsey legs.
Thumping sounds from under a nearby table distracted the heir (once removed) to the British throne. William rushed off. Beneath the table, Prince Harry was wrestling with what at first glance appeared to be an inverted mop with two balloons tied to it. Cuthbert recognised the skeletal figure of the Hon. Amanda Frogmorton.
Taking Kate by the elbow, Cuthbert led her onto the balcony. A gentleman would be subtle and let her down gently. Cuthbert braced himself. “We’re finished,” he told her. “I’m off.”
Kate shook her head vigorously, entangling her tresses in a climbing rose, trapping her against the thorns.
Cuthbert did something his ancestors would have applauded. Stepping forward, he vaulted over the edge of the balcony and landed on all fours in the garden bed.
Looking up, he saw that His Royal Highness Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales, Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter had come to Kate’s rescue.
Dusting off his suit, Cuthbert made his way to the front gates – and freedom.
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Copyright © 2011 GREG FLYNN