* * *
Refreshments were served during the intermission and Adam had perforce to escort his uncommunicative ladies to the dining room, where they were joined by Mr and Mrs Malthouse and Cassandra, and Lord and Lady Martindale with Lucinda.
It was immediately apparent that Miss Sophie Cavenhurst was not normally taciturn, because she entered into a lively exchange with Cassandra and Lucinda about the merits of the music and the audience and their dress.
‘Your gown is exquisite,’ Cassandra said to Sophie. ‘Where did you find that lovely fabric? That green reminds me of sage shot through with silver.’
‘My sister found it for me. It might have come from India. Both my brother and brother-in-law spent some time out there. They may have brought it back.’
‘And the style is so elegant. Don’t you think so, my lord?’
Thus appealed to, Adam turned towards Sophie as if to study her sage-green gown, although he had already decided he had rarely seen anything so becoming. It was exquisitely made and fitted the young lady’s figure beautifully. ‘Most certainly,’ he said. ‘But your own gown, Miss Malthouse, is a match for it. It suits its wearer to perfection.’
Cassandra blushed crimson. ‘You are too kind, my lord.’
‘You must not leave Miss Martindale out of your praises,’ Sophie said, smiling at her old friend. ‘I think that pale pink is just right for her colouring.’
‘I had no intention of leaving the young lady out,’ he said. ‘You are all three beauties of the first order. I am at a loss to choose between you and you must therefore excuse me.’ He bowed to each in turn and made his escape.
He joined Mark, who was standing a little to one side, making sure everyone was being looked after, ready to send for more dishes of food as those on the table emptied.
‘You haven’t lost your touch, I see,’ Mark said, looking towards the trio. ‘Three young ladies hanging on your every word. I fancy there will be three handkerchiefs thrown down ere long.’
‘I shall not stoop to pick them up, Mark. I collect I told you, I have no intention of marrying again.’
* * *
‘I wonder how long he will be in town,’ Cassandra mused. ‘Do you think he will come to my ball if I invite him?’
‘Oh, so you are going to set your cap at him, are you?’ Sophie said.
‘Why not? He is not unhandsome and he has a title.’
‘And wealth,’ Lucinda put in.
‘How do you know that?’ Sophie demanded.
‘I asked Papa and he said he has a vast estate in Yorkshire and owns a woollen mill, as well.’
‘Yorkshire. I am sure I should never want to live there,’ Sophie said.
‘No doubt he would bring his wife to town as often as she wanted to come,’ Lucinda said.
‘You, too, Lucy?’ Sophie queried.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Both of you bowled over by a handsome face and a few compliments.’
‘Oh, so you are not, I suppose,’ Cassandra said.
‘Of course not. Anyone can learn to pay compliments. Besides he is too old and a widower and I will not play second fiddle to a dead wife.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ Lucinda said.
‘What does it matter?’ Cassandra was not to be put off. ‘She can’t hurt anyone, can she? I am going to ask Mama to invite him to my come-out ball. He will be duty bound to stand up with me.’
‘Then, I wish you joy of him,’ Sophie said.
She knew she was being silly, but Viscount Kimberley disturbed her more than she was willing to admit. Her embarrassment at finding the man who had rescued her from the soldiers was her brother-in-law’s cousin was profound. She could not treat him like a stranger, could not dismiss the whole incident with a shrug of her shoulders, especially as he had afterwards seen her with Reggie in his phaeton. How much of that would he tell Mark? Mark might tell Jane and she would be fetched home in disgrace. If only tonight had been their first meeting, then she might have felt the same way as her two friends. She envied them. He was not laughing at them.
She left them to mingle with Mark’s guests and talk to them about the Hadlea Home, praising the work her sister and brother-in-law were doing and holding out the velvet bag Mark had provided to contain donations. Her enthusiasm was catching, and resulted in people perhaps giving more than they intended. Adam noticed it and liked her for it. There was more to Miss Sophie Cavenhurst than met the eye.