Godfrey reached for the sideboard and the bottle of wine, but Isidore gave him a minatory look and his arm dropped. He picked up his fork, but a moment later Simeon poured wine into all three of their glasses.
“I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me how you and your aunt were reduced to busking at fairs, given your birth, not to mention our marriage,” Simeon said, his voice rather chilly. Apparently, it was her fault that at twelve years old she had failed to voluntarily enter a nunnery while waiting for his return.
“Some say my aunt is one of the greatest violinists ever born,” Isidore said. Godfrey had finished his chicken and looked a little dazed.
“She must have been better than Mr. McGurdy, then,” Godfrey mumbled. “Though he played a tambourine with his right foot at the same time.”
“My aunt played only the violin.”
Simeon put down his fork again. “I have felt as if I were living in two worlds for the past week or so, and this only confirms it. Are you saying that your aunt was in great demand, and you did not travel fairs?”
“No, we did not,” Isidore said. “She had a long-standing arrangement to join the French court for the Easter season; Queen Marie Antoinette is quite fond of music, you know. My aunt would play solos for her in gardens of Versailles. Sometimes my aunt would steal into the great maze, and then begin to play. The ladies would wander into the labyrinth until they were able to find her by following the sound of her music.”
“I’d love to see that,” Godfrey said.
“I should like to play a musical instrument,” Simeon said. “Once I was in an Indian bazaar and heard an old gentleman play a sort of violin-like instrument so beautifully that I began to weep.”
“To weep?” Godfrey said, his voice breaking in a high little squeal. “You cried, where anyone could see you?”
Simeon smiled at him. “There’s no shame in a man crying.”
Nor in being a virgin either, Isidore thought sourly.
“I think it’s shameful,” Godfrey said. “And do you know, Brother, I think it’s a bit shameful that you’re sitting down to supper without a cravat. Or a waistcoat. Her Grace—” he stumbled a little and slurred it together—“Her Grace is a duchess, you know. You’re not paying respect to her. Or you’re not respectful of her.” He looked a little confused, but stubborn.
Simeon looked over at Isidore in an inquiring kind of way. “Do you agree with my brother that the size or existence of a cravat determines the respect due a woman?”
“It would be a start,” she said sweetly. “After that would have to come respect for a woman’s opinions, of course.”
She had to admit: he was intelligent. He knew instantly what she was talking about. “It’s not that I won’t respect my wife’s opinions—”
“She is your wife,” Godfrey intervened.
“But that when it comes to an emergency, one person has to assume responsibility.”
“An emergency,” Isidore said, ladling a generous dollop of scorn into her voice. “What sort of emergency are you thinking of?”
“All sorts.” He raised his glass, his eyes dark and somber over the rim. “I have been in enough difficult spots, Isidore, to know that dangers flock from every direction.”
“Were you ever attacked by a lion?” Godfrey asked. He was definitely slurring his words. He looked terribly sleepy and slightly nauseated.
“Not lately,” Simeon said.
“Godfrey, would you like to retire to my armchair for a moment?” Isidore asked.
He just stared at her, until Simeon said, “Godfrey.” His voice was quiet, but the authority inherent there was absolute.
Godfrey stumbled to the chair and sat down, his eyes closing immediately.
“Is that your example?” Isidore asked.
“I suppose it could be.”
“The situation also could have been avoided had you paid attention. The third glass of wine was too much.”
“It was a matter of male pride. I believe this is probably Godfrey’s first dinner in which he was offered sufficient wine to make himself ill. It is far better that he overindulge tonight and learn from it, than that he do so on a more public occasion.”
“I don’t agree with you that there must be a general in every marriage,” Isidore said.
“The commonly accepted idea of marriage,” Simeon said, “is that the man has to be that leader. I have seen a few successful marriages in which the reverse was true. One of the two people must be accepted as such.”
Across the room, Godfrey was making a heavy breathing sound. She would rather assay her first seduction without a drunken thirteen-year-old in the corner.
But Simeon really meant it when he said that they would wait until the night of their wedding. He truly would walk away from her. She had to try something.
She leaned toward him so that the lush weight of her breasts hung forward. “Would you tell the footman outside the door that Godfrey has fallen asleep?” she said. “Perhaps Honeydew should escort him to his bed chamber.”
“And clear away these dishes,” Simeon said. He sounded as if she were a remote acquaintance, who had offered him a boiled sweet. She’d heard that voice before. He had a way of growing even more calm, more distant. She’d seen it before…
It meant he felt threatened.
She leaned back, thinking that her breasts had done their job. “Please,” she added.
He rose, opened the door to the outside and had a brief word with the footman. A moment later Godfrey walked unsteadily from the room, looking rather greenish.
“He’s going to cast up his accounts in the bushes,” Simeon said.
The little house drew around them again, sheltering, sweet, romantic. Then the door opened and Honeydew swept in with dishes of pear stewed in port. He was gone in a moment, leaving them with glasses of sparkling wine.
Isidore had been flirting for years. She let her eyelids droop and threw Simeon a sleepy glance from under her lashes.
He was busy cutting up his pear and didn’t notice. She waited a moment but he seemed as concentrated on the pear as if he were boning a pheasant. Fine. She turned to her own pear, trying desperately to think of a seductive topic. Nothing came to mind, so she found herself saying the least romantic thing possible: “When do you think that the water closets will be repaired?”
“Honeydew and I investigated the pipes today,” Simeon said, looking up. “They are completely rotted. If you can believe it, the original piping was done in wood. Naturally the water rotted them through within the year.”
“Your father must have been one of the first to install a water closet at all,” Isidore said. “That was rather progressive of him.”
“It appears from the correspondence I found that he was offered the water closets for a pittance,” Simeon said bluntly. “He was supposed to allow the fabricators to use his name and express his approval. I think they probably discarded this idea when he refused to pay that pittance, saying that the pipes didn’t work sufficiently. After that, the pipes rotted and there was no one to fix them.”
Isidore finished her bite. “It must be quite difficult to be in a position to judge one’s parents as an adult,” she offered. “Since mine died when I was very young, I knew them only as parents, never as people.”