* * *
Adam had had to put all that aside in order to attend Mark’s concert. He could hardly fail to do so considering the house was in an uproar of preparation and Mark distracted. The house was large, airy and well furnished, if a little old-fashioned, not that such a thing would have put off his guests; the Wyndhams were known and respected in town as well as at Hadlea, and he did not for a moment share Mark’s doubts that no one would turn up. All was ready on the night, and after a light repast with Mark at six o’clock, he went up to his room to change.
He had long given up the exaggerated dress he had adopted in his youth and now favoured simplicity, but it was an elegant simplicity that set off his splendid physique and spoke volumes for his tailor, not to mention Farley, who had learned to make sure his cravats were starched to exactly the right stiffness, enough to maintain their folds, but not enough to cause him discomfort. Tonight he favoured a dark blue tailcoat in superfine that he had been assured was called midnight blue, matching pantaloons and a white brocade waistcoat with silver buttons. Never one to be fussy about his hair, which had a natural curl, he succumbed to Farley brushing it and combing into some semblance of style.
He could hear people arriving as he left his room to go down to the first floor, where he found his cousin standing sentinel at the ballroom door that had been furnished with a small stage and rows of chairs.
‘How goes it?’ Adam asked, standing beside him.
‘Well, I think. The chairs are filling up.’
‘So I should hope, considering you have the cream of the musical world to entertain everyone.’
They heard voices down in the hall as more guests arrived, and in a few moments, a party came up, led by a matronly woman in a hideous purple gown and a turban with a long feather, escorted by young Cavenhurst, but he hardly had eyes for them because they were accompanied by a young lady who caused him to catch his breath.
‘Lady Cartrose, how do you do,’ Mark said, while Adam endeavoured not to allow his twitching lips to become a broad grin. ‘May I present my cousin, Lord Kimberley.’
Pulling himself together, Adam bowed. ‘Your servant, my lady.’
‘And this is my sister-in-law, Miss Sophie Cavenhurst,’ Mark went on, unaware of the unspoken message going from Sophie to Adam, though that gentleman was fully cognisant of the appeal in her blue eyes.
‘Miss Cavenhurst, your obedient servant,’ he said, bowing.
There were more people coming up the stairs, and Mark was obliged to turn to greet them. ‘Adam, will you take Lady Cartrose and Miss Cavenhurst to find good seats before they are all taken up? I will join you later.’
‘With the greatest of pleasure,’ he said, offering them an arm each and smiling to himself when Sophie hesitated before taking it.
They found four seats in the middle of the room, and he found himself seated between Sophie and her aunt. He had a little time to study her while she perused the programme she had found on her chair. She was lovely, there was no doubting that, with her fresh complexion, fair curls and expressive blue eyes, which he could not see because she was determined not to look in his direction. He could hardly believe she was the same girl he had rescued from the soldiers, nor the one he had seen flaunting herself in that high-perch phaeton with that coxcomb, Sir Reginald Swayle. He hadn’t known his name at the time, only having been introduced to him at White’s.
‘Are you enjoying your stay in London?’ he asked her.
‘So far,’ she said, without looking at him.
‘Only so far?’
‘Well, one never knows what is around the corner, does one?’
‘No, nor whom one might meet,’ he added.
‘Very true, and sometimes they are not the people one would wish to meet.’
‘I am sorry if that has happened to you,’ he said, assuming she meant him. ‘But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where it cannot be avoided.’
There was a long silence after this. She was evidently not in the mood to explain herself and as the seats were filling up and the musicians tuning their instruments ready to begin, he gave up trying. Instead, he turned to Lady Cartrose, but as she could not hear what he was saying above the noise of the orchestra and people talking round them, he gave that up, too.
Mark came in to introduce the quartet that was going to provide the opening music and everyone ceased chatting and turned towards the front.
The seats were so close together, Adam was very aware of the girl beside him; he had only to lean a little sideways and their arms and heads would touch. She appeared engrossed in the music, but there was a tension in the air around her that told him she was not unmindful of his proximity. What was she thinking? Was she wishing him anywhere but where he was? He ought to reassure her he would not speak of the episode with the soldiers, or her indiscretion in riding in the phaeton; it would not be the action of a gentleman. But perhaps it would be better to remain silent.