‘You may be right. What can you do about it?’
‘Nothing. Teddy never listens to me. He grumbles that I want to spoil his fun.’
‘Brothers can sometimes be pests, can they not?’
‘Yes. Do you have brothers?’
‘I did have one, but he was killed at the Battle of Salamanca.’
‘I am so sorry. You seem to have had more than your share of bereavement.’
‘Yes, but we will not speak of it.’
‘I don’t mind you talking about it, if you want to. I am not a tattle-monger.’
‘No, I did not suppose you were. But we were talking about you.’
‘Were we? Then let us change the subject. Miss Malthouse has returned and is looking this way. Are you down to have another dance with her?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘But you are going to stay in town for her come-out ball, are you not?’
‘I have been invited. It is true. I assume you will be there?’
‘If I do not blot my copybook any more than I have already.’
‘Have you? Blotted your copybook, I mean.’
‘I am sure I have. Riding with Sir Reggie, for one thing—though there was a good reason for that—going out alone and allowing myself to be accosted by common soldiers, not to mention wearing this gown. There are probably more I do not even know about.’
‘What is wrong with the gown? It looks delightful to me.’
‘I am told I should not be wearing colours, since I am not officially out.’
‘Is that so? Do you care?’
She laughed. ‘Not a bit.’
The dance came to an end, he bowed, she bent her knee and he offered his arm to escort her back to Lady Cartrose.
* * *
Only later, lying sleepless in bed, did she begin to analyse their conversation, wonder what it was all about and how it made her feel. Mortified? Happy? Sad? Uncaring? Caring too much? She wasn’t at all sure.
He made her heart beat faster, even when he was teasing her, but fell short of her ideal on the grounds he was too old and a widower, but as he had never shown the slightest interest in her except to tease, she did not think she would be given the opportunity to turn him down, which, in some perverse way, made her wish for it. If anyone could rival Mark, he could. She gave herself a good talking to, thumped her pillow and lay down again, determined to put him out of her mind.
Sophie went with her aunt to visit Mrs Malthouse and Cassandra the next day to mull over the dance and comment on everything that had happened. Lady Martindale and Lucinda were there ahead of them. There was plenty to gossip about, but when they tired of that they began to look to the future. Cassie’s ball was still three weeks away and they needed something to fill in the time.
‘We could go to Ranelagh Gardens one evening when they have fireworks,’ Cassie suggested.
‘Or to Astley’s to see the performing animals and the wire walkers,’ Lucy added.
‘Bullock’s Museum is interesting, too,’ Lady Martindale put in. ‘And there’s The Marriage of Figaro at Covent Garden.’
‘But the weather is so lovely now, I would rather be out of doors,’ Sophie said.
‘In that case, what about a picnic?’ Mrs Malthouse said.
‘A picnic!’ Cassie clapped her hands. ‘What a splendid idea! Where shall we go and whom shall we invite? Do you think Viscount Kimberley would come?’
‘We will ask him, of course,’ her mother said. ‘But he may be otherwise engaged.’
‘And where will we go?’ Sophie asked.
‘Richmond Park is always pleasant at this time of year.’ Lady Cartrose was managing to keep up with the conversation by concentrating hard on whoever was speaking. ‘The men could ride and the ladies go in carriages.’
‘I would as soon ride,’ Sophie said. ‘Teddy will hire a mount for me.’
‘Do you think you can keep up?’ Mrs Malthouse asked Sophie. ‘It is several miles, you know.’
‘That is nothing. I am used to riding miles all over the countryside around Hadlea.’
‘I shall ask your brother what he thinks when I see him,’ her aunt said.
* * *
‘Oh, Sophie will be able to keep up,’ Teddy said later that day when Lady Cartrose told him about the outing and expressed her doubts about Sophie riding. ‘She is a natural in the saddle, better than her sisters and the equal of many men. I have no fear for her.’