‘How far down the line is she?’ Sophie asked.
‘Well, there’s the Prince Regent, then his brothers, all six of them,’ Mark said. ‘The new princess is presently the only legitimate child of any of them, but who is to say that won’t change, especially if the prince manages to divorce his wife and produce another child of his own.’
‘Who would want to marry him?’ Sophie said, with a shudder.
‘Almost anyone, I should think,’ Teddy said. ‘To be Queen of England must surely be a great lure.’
‘Well, I shouldn’t be lured by it.’
‘You are hardly likely to be given the opportunity,’ Teddy said. ‘You will have to satisfy yourself with a lesser title or perhaps none at all.’
‘It is not the title I’m concerned with, but the man.’
‘Well said, Sophie.’ Mark laughed. ‘Now I must take my leave. I have a cousin staying with me at Wyndham House and I have been shamefully neglecting him.’ He rose, bowed to Lady Cartrose and thanked her for her hospitality, kissed Sophie’s hand and was gone. This seemed to be the signal for Lady Cartrose to retire and left brother and sister to amuse themselves.
‘Which cousin can Mark mean?’ Sophie asked. ‘I collect there were several at his father’s funeral and at the wedding. I do not recall their names.’
‘No doubt we will find out when we go to the concert.’
‘Teddy,’ she said, ‘am I to rely on a concert that will be boring and attended by old people and dull married couples for some excitement?’
‘There is the Rowlands’ dance.’
‘But that’s a whole week away.’
‘What do you want me to do about it? I cannot conjure up excitement for you.’
‘You can take me riding. I do miss my daily rides in Hadlea. We could go to Hyde Park. That is where everyone goes, is it not?’
‘And what do we do for mounts?’
‘You can hire them. Jane made me a splendid habit in forest-green grosgrain taffeta and I can’t show it off if you will not take me riding, can I? You cannot expect Aunt Emmeline to do so.’
He laughed. ‘No, it would break the poor beast’s back, even supposing she could be got up on it.’
‘Then you will? Tomorrow morning early. You haven’t anything more pressing to do, have you?’
‘Oh, very well. But I had better go now and see about mounts, otherwise the good ones will be gone and we will be left with the rejects.’ He rose to leave her. ‘Don’t wait up for me.’
Left alone, she picked up her aunt’s latest library book, but it was not one that interested her and she decided to go early to bed so as to be up betimes the following morning.
* * *
Bessie had been unable to see anything improper about Sophie going riding with her brother and so she woke her early as instructed, bringing her breakfast on a tray. Afterwards she helped her into the riding habit. It had a very full skirt and a fitted jacket in military style with epaulettes and frogging. A white silk shirt, frilled at the neck and the wrist, and a black beaver with a curled brim and a tiny veil completed the ensemble. ‘There, Miss Sophie, you look a picture,’ she said. ‘But I hope you will ride sedately and not attempt to gallop.’
‘Oh, no, Bessie. I want to be seen at my best and that won’t happen if I dash off at a gallop, will it?’
She sat to put on her boots, then picked up her crop and went downstairs, expecting her brother to be already there. But he was not. Vexed with him, she sent a servant to wake him.
* * *
He came down half an hour later, dressed for riding.
‘Teddy, you are too bad. I have been waiting this age and you not even out of your bed.’
He yawned. ‘Sorry, sis, overslept.’
‘Why? What time did you go to bed?’
‘I disremember. Some time after midnight.’
‘Well, you are here now. Are you ready to go?’
‘Not until I’ve had some breakfast. You wouldn’t want a fellow to ride on an empty stomach, would you?’
She had to rein in her impatience while he ate, but she did think of sending a manservant to the mews to bring the horses round so that they might set off the minute Teddy had finished eating.
* * *
An hour and a half later than she had intended, they were riding through the gates of the park. It was too early for ladies in carriages, but the Row was full of riders, most of them men, but some were ladies riding with their escorts as she was doing. She was so pleased with life she beamed at everyone, turning now and again to speak excitedly to her brother. ‘Oh, this is capital. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and everyone is smiling.’