Page 11 of The Husband Season

Sophie disliked the way her aunt was begging on her behalf and would as lief forgo the dance as to be invited out of charity. ‘Aunt, we should not put Mrs Malthouse to the inconvenience,’ she said. ‘Doubtless there will be other invitations.’

 ‘It is a public subscription dance,’ Cassandra put in. ‘It is only being held at the Rowlands’ because they have a large ballroom. You have only to buy a ticket. I think it costs five guineas.’

 ‘That is a prodigious amount,’ Emmeline said.

 ‘It is so high as to keep out the undesirables,’ Mrs Malthouse put in. ‘And because it is to raise money for a suitable gift for the new princess. She is to be christened Alexandrina Victoria, though I believe she is to be known as Princess Victoria.’

 ‘In that case I shall naturally obtain tickets for Teddy and Sophie,’ Emmeline said. ‘I shall not go.’

 ‘If Sophie is in need of company,’ Mrs Malthouse added, ‘then she and her brother are welcome to join our party.’

 ‘Thank you, Augusta. I knew you would help,’ Emmeline said.

 Sophie added her gratitude while wondering who was to pay for the tickets. The pin money she had been given would not stretch to it. Her aunt seemed unconcerned, so perhaps she expected Mark to put his hand in his pocket yet again, but Mark might judge ten guineas for two tickets a monstrous imposition and refuse to pay. It would be a bitter disappointment if she could not go.

 ‘Shall we take a turn in the garden?’ Cassandra suggested to Sophie. ‘We can leave Mama and Lady Cartrose to their gossip.’

 She readily agreed and the two young ladies left the house by the conservatory. The sun had come out and chased off the frost, and the garden was secluded and sheltered. It was pleasant strolling about an immaculately tended garden and talking. ‘Have you been to London before?’ Cassandra asked her.

 ‘No, never, though my sisters have. They are older than me and both married. Jane is married to Lord Wyndham, and Isabel to Sir Andrew Ashton, who owns a fast clipper and takes her all over the world on it. My brother is in town with me. He is older than Issie and younger than Jane.’

 ‘Yes, I have heard Lady Cartrose talk of your sisters. Your father has a substantial estate in Norfolk, I believe.’

 ‘It is fairly extensive. It is mostly arable land and grazing. I have often heard Papa say the land is very fertile, but I know nothing of agriculture so cannot vouch for it.’

 ‘We don’t have a country estate. It is not that we could not afford it, but that Papa’s business as a top lawyer in constant demand keeps him in town all the year round and we would hardly ever use it. Sometimes I go and stay with my uncle and aunt in the country, but I miss the entertainments and the shops and meeting my friends, so I am always thankful to come back home.’

 ‘I can quite see that. I should, too, I am sure.’

 ‘You are very pretty and I do admire your dress,’ Cassandra said, looking at Sophie’s yellow sarcenet gown with its high waist and puffed sleeves, over which she was wearing a matching silk shawl. ‘It must have been made by the finest mantua maker.’

 ‘Indeed it was,’ Sophie said. ‘Just because I live in the country does not mean I am ignorant of fashion, or unable to procure the best.’ This was all dreadfully boastful and not exactly accurate, but she couldn’t bear to be thought of as a country yokel. Besides, Jane’s needlework was up to anything a London mantua maker could produce.

 ‘I am so pleased to hear it, Miss Cavenhurst. I can think of nothing worse than having to stint. We are fortunate not to have to think of it.’

 Sophie had only intended to praise Jane’s work, but her aunt had already told everyone she was well connected and she felt she could not contradict her, so she let it go. ‘If we are to be friends, please call me Sophie.’

 ‘Of course we shall be friends, so Sophie it shall be. You may call me Cassie. Everyone does except Mama and Papa and my grandparents.’

 ‘Cassie, do you have a beau?’

 ‘No, Mama would never tolerate it before I come out, but this year I hope to find a husband. What about you? Do you expect to find one while you are in town?’

 ‘That is the idea of a Season, is it not?’

 ‘Indeed it is. Have you anyone in mind?’

 ‘No one. My brother says I am too particular, but I will not marry just for the sake of it. I have already turned down three offers.’

 ‘Three!’ exclaimed Cassandra. ‘You cannot mean it.’