Page 20 of The Husband Season

‘Let us hope you are right. I have Reggie’s word he will not speak of it. When Papa gave you into my care, I had no idea what an onerous task it would be. I beg you, Sophie, try not to get into any more scrapes.’

 * * *

 It was after dinner when Sophie and Lady Cartrose retired to the drawing room for tea that Sophie began diffidently to tell her aunt of the morning’s episode. It was a tortuous business, her aunt being so deaf she had to shout what she would rather have whispered in shame, but she got through it at last and waited for her aunt’s reaction.

 ‘To be sure I have seen those high-perch phaetons about,’ she said. ‘They look extremely dangerous to me. It is a wonder you were not upset and killed.’

 Sophie had been expecting to have a peel rung over her. This calm acceptance that all that mattered was that she was not hurt took her by surprise. ‘You are not angry with me?’

 ‘No, child. I did far worse things when I was your age and it never did me any harm, but it is to be hoped the young gentleman will not boast of it.’

 ‘He has promised Teddy he would not. Teddy trusts him. They have been friends since their schooldays. That’s how I met him.’

 ‘Then, there is no more to be said. Thankfully I have no more engagements to take me out without you, so I will be able to accompany you in future. Tomorrow we will take one or two afternoon calls and we will shop and buy that ribbon you are so set on. We can play a hand or two of whist in the evening. Mr and Mrs Frederick Malthouse usually come to me on a Thursday evening and Margaret makes up a four, but she will forgo it so that you may take her place.’

 ‘But, Aunt, I do not excel at cards,’ Sophie protested. ‘In fact, I am the world’s worst at whist. Teddy is the card player in our family.’

 Teddy joined them at this point and heard Sophie’s last remark. ‘Not me,’ he said. ‘I have forsworn gambling, as Sophie well knows.’

 ‘I am glad to hear it,’ Emmeline said, giving him a beaming smile. ‘But a little game among family and friends is perfectly in order. You may join us if Sophie does not care for it.’

 He had a cup of tea with them and, hating the idea of spending the whole evening indoors with them struggling to converse, he made his excuses and took his leave. If Sophie wondered where he was off to, she dismissed it as none of her business, and she really had no right to haul him over the coals when her behaviour had hardly been exemplary.

 * * *

 ‘Mark, you have been closeted in this room long enough,’ Adam said. ‘Leave all that paper and come out and have dinner with me at White’s.’

 ‘It is this concert,’ Mark said. ‘You have no idea how much preparation is involved. Musicians, singers, all of them temperamental in their demands, have to be appeased, the programme decided on and the order of all the items arranged so as not to offend any of them. Refreshments and the moving of the furniture must be organised, besides deciding how the donations are to be accepted, on a tray, in a bag, during the interval or at the end. That is, if I have any. If I don’t, it will all have been a dreadful waste of time and effort, not to say money, and Jane will be very disappointed.’

 ‘Don’t you have a secretary to do that sort of thing?’

 ‘I left him behind at Broadacres. I thought he would be more useful there.’

 ‘There is still a week to go, Mark. You can afford to take one evening off, surely? Who was it said to me, not two days ago, that all work and no play is not good for a man?’

 Mark laughed and stood up. ‘You are right. Let us go out.’

 They could have used Mark’s town carriage or hired chairs but decided to walk. The rain had gone, the night was fine and balmy and Mark said he needed some fresh air. ‘How have you been amusing yourself?’ he asked as they walked.

 ‘I would hardly call it amusement. I have been endeavouring to track down Henry Hunt to find out his intentions but no one will tell me where to find him. I think he is avoiding me.’

 ‘I am not surprised. You represent the enemy, the hated oppressors of the poor.’

 ‘But I do not.’

 ‘They don’t know that, do they? I am sure if you were to infiltrate his meetings you would be looked on as an agent provocateur and quickly bundled out of it.’

 ‘You are probably right. I shall have to rely on my speech. Perhaps after that, they will see I am on their side.’

 ‘How is the speech coming along?’

 ‘Slowly. I begin to wonder if I did right to come to London and might have fared better staying in Saddleworth.’