‘Has Lady Cartrose ordered the carriage this morning?’
‘Yes, but not for me. She is going to fulfil a long-standing engagement with some old friends and I am not required to go with her. Goodness knows where Teddy is. You will come with me, won’t you? We can walk.’
‘Yes, of course I will come.’
As soon as Lady Cartrose had left, Sophie and Bessie set out on foot for Bond Street. It was no longer so cold, but it had rained again and the streets were wet and muddy, and they were obliged to lift their skirts a little and watch carefully where they were putting their feet. Bessie would rather have postponed the outing, but Sophie would not hear of it. ‘Don’t be so poor-spirited, Bessie,’ she said. ‘It is not so bad.’
They were walking down the busy shopping street when a high-perch phaeton sped past them, spraying Sophie, who was walking a little ahead of Bessie, with filthy water. ‘Of all the inconsiderate muckworms,’ she said, staring after it, fury on every line of her face. ‘Now look at my gown. I shall have to go back and change.’ She was turning to go back the way they had come when she realised the vehicle had stopped and its driver was descending with the intention of coming back to them.
Bessie pulled on her arm. ‘Do not speak to him, I beg of you.’
‘Why not? I mean to tell him just what I think of him.’
It was only when he turned towards her and she could see his face that she recognised Sir Reginald Swayle, one of her erstwhile suitors. ‘Oh, lord, it’s that dandy, Reggie,’ she murmured.
He wore a double-breasted long-tailed coat in dark blue superfine, a flamboyantly tied cravat, yellow pantaloon trousers and a tall hat with a narrow brim, which he doffed on approaching her. ‘A thousand pardons, Miss Cavenhurst. If I had known it was you, I would have stopped and taken you up.’
‘Meaning, I suppose, that if it had been anyone else you would not have stopped at all,’ she said. ‘Very chivalrous of you, I am sure. It is too bad of you, sir. Driving like a lunatic down these busy streets is the height of folly and inconsiderate of pedestrians.’
‘I was not driving like a lunatic. And ladies should know better than to walk down streets wet after rain.’
‘Oh, so it is my fault my dress is ruined and instead of going shopping, I am now obliged to return to my aunt’s to change.’
‘No, I am not blaming you and I have said I am sorry. Allow me take you back to change your dress and then I will take you to buy a new one.’
‘That will not be necessary.’
‘Oh, but it is. Come, let me help you into my carriage.’
‘There is no room for my maid.’
‘She can walk.’
‘Don’t go, Miss Sophie, I beg of you,’ Bessie said. ‘If we walk quickly, we shall be back in Mount Street in no time.’
‘I don’t care to walk through the streets looking like a dish mop,’ Sophie told her. ‘It is not as if Reggie is a stranger.’
‘No, indeed,’ he said, offering her his arm to escort her to the carriage.
She took it, while addressing Bessie over her shoulder. ‘I will see you back at Cartrose House.’
He helped her up into the extraordinary vehicle, climbed up himself and picked up the reins. ‘I shall have to go a little farther along the road before I can turn round,’ he said. ‘But it should not cause more than a few minutes’ delay.’
She was sitting almost at first-floor level and had to admit, if only to herself, that it was exciting to be so high, looking down on lesser mortals. ‘When did you acquire this monstrous vehicle?’ she asked.
‘It is not monstrous. It is all the rage and it is fast.’
‘So I observed. Too fast for city streets.’
‘It cuts quite a dash in the park. I was on my way there. Should you like to try it? I cannot conveniently turn round before we reach Piccadilly and we would be almost at the park before we could turn up Park Lane. I collect your maid mentioned Mount Street.’
Unfamiliar with the side streets of the city, she accepted this explanation. ‘I do not think that would be altogether proper,’ she said. ‘And my dress is all muddy.’
‘No one can see it,’ he said, turning to look at her. ‘The top half is not affected. You look very fetching.’
‘Is this a ploy to make me change my mind about turning down your proposal?’
‘Would it succeed?’
‘No. What are you doing in London? Did you hear that I was here?’