Page 24 of The Husband Season

                       Chapter Four

In the coming days, Sophie was half afraid to go out riding or in the carriage for fear of encountering Viscount Kimberley again. On the other hand, when she did go out and did not see him, she returned to Mount Street feeling a little jaded, though not for the world would she have admitted it had anything to do with that gentleman.

 She was spared the whist, but went with her aunt to tea parties and drawing-room gatherings, and Lady Cartrose hosted some herself, which Lady Martindale and Mrs Malthouse attended, along with others of her acquaintance. Sophie, Lucinda and Cassandra made a coterie of three who talked for hours and planned their social events in meticulous detail down to the last ribbon for their gowns and how they intended to purport themselves, confiding the hopes they had of the outcome. Cassie was determined to catch the eye of Viscount Kimberley and was deciding on her strategy.

 ‘I shall drop my fan or twist my ankle or something to make him come to my rescue,’ she said one day when the girls were sitting in the garden of Cartrose House enjoying the sun. The weather had at last warmed up and they were wearing muslin dresses and wide-brimmed bonnets. ‘Then I shall engage him in conversation and flirt a little.’

 Sophie laughed. ‘Do you know how to flirt, Cassie? I’ll wager he is master of it.’

 ‘What do you know of it?’ her friend asked.

 ‘Enough to know it is not the way to go about attracting a man like Viscount Kimberley.’

 ‘You have a head start,’ Cassie said. ‘You are related to him by marriage and can be more informal with him.’

 ‘I don’t want a head start,’ Sophie said. ‘I have no interest in the gentleman. His superior attitude annoys me. He has a way of looking down on you as if he would like to crush you underfoot, and when he’s not doing that, he is laughing at you.’

 ‘I have never noticed that about him,’ Lucy said.

 ‘Nor I,’ added Cassie. ‘He has always behaved like a perfect gentleman. Perhaps you have done or said something to make him like that towards you.’

 ‘Of course I haven’t.’ Sophie was adamant. ‘I was only introduced to him on the same evening you were. In any case he is a widower and by all accounts adored his wife. I have no wish to be a convenient replacement, even if he offers for me, which I am sure he will not.’

 ‘If you are not interested in him, who are you interested in?’ Lucy wanted to know. ‘Sir Reginald Swayle? Or Mr Fanshawe? I heard he was in town, too.’

 ‘You know very well, Lucy, that I rejected both of them, along with Lord Gorange. I told you so at the time. If he turns up as well, I shall wonder if there is some conspiracy afoot.’

 ‘Conspiracy?’ Cassie echoed. ‘What can you mean?’

 ‘I don’t know, do I? But I will swear not one of them has the least affection for me, and I certainly have none for them. Now can we drop the subject? I find it prodigiously boring.’ It was easier to pretend to be bored than to admit she was worried.

 They went on to talk about the subscription dance and whether they would be permitted to dance the waltz. ‘I don’t see why not,’ Sophie said. ‘I am told everyone is dancing it these days, and it is even permitted at Almack’s.’ The ladies who ruled the dances at Almack’s were sticklers for propriety and for a long time would not sanction the dance, deeming it improper. But when other notable hostesses were allowing it, they had given in.

 ‘Yes, but we are not yet out,’ Cassie said. ‘If Lady Rowland allows the orchestra to play for it, I do hope Mama won’t be difficult.’

 ‘I shall ask Papa,’ Lucy said. ‘He is always more indulgent than Mama.’

 ‘Aunt Emmeline is very easy-going and so is my brother,’ Sophie said. ‘He has been teaching me the steps.’

 ‘Dancing with one’s brother is very different from having another man put his arm about you,’ Lucy said.

 ‘Looking down your dress and breathing in your face,’ Cassie added, setting them all laughing.

 ‘Is your brother going to be there?’ Lucy asked Sophie when they recovered.

 ‘Naturally. He is my escort.’

 ‘I have always liked him,’ her friend went on. ‘Ever since we were children.’

 ‘Oh, so he is to be preferred to Viscount Kimberley, is he?’

 ‘At least he is easy to talk to. I shake all over when his lordship speaks to me.’

 ‘Silly! He is only a man, flesh and blood, the same as all the others.’