‘Why wouldn’t I be safe?’ she asked sharply.
‘No reason that I know of,’ he said lightly. ‘Except you seem to attract trouble.’
‘Are you trying to frighten me?’
‘I think it would take more than a few words of caution to frighten you, Miss Cavenhurst.’
‘What am I being cautioned against?’
‘Nothing in particular, except perhaps inviting the reputation of being a hoyden.’
‘I am not a hoyden! But I don’t see why women cannot enjoy some of the things men enjoy. They are too stifled by convention.’
‘Convention is there to protect the weaker sex.’
‘It is there to make women subordinate to men,’ she retorted. ‘To feed their vanity and provide a breeding machine.’
‘Oh, dear, such cynicism in one so young. Do you think every man is like that?’
‘No, there are exceptions. Mark and Drew, for instance.’
‘Who is Drew?’
‘Sir Andrew Ashley. He is my other brother-in-law. He owns a clipper and takes his wife with him on all his adventures.’
‘So it is adventure you wish for?’
‘It might be fun.’
‘It might also be dangerous.’
‘Oh, we are back to the caution, are we?’
‘No, for I think I should be wasting my breath.’
She laughed. It was a happy sound. Sophie could not be serious for long. Richard and Reggie looked at each other, eyebrows raised. Their friendly rivalry did not include Viscount Kimberley, but neither was in a position to do anything about it. The viscount’s horse was shoulder to shoulder with Sophie’s, and her aunt’s carriage was close by on the other side. Occasionally everyone had to go in single file to accommodate the traffic as they neared the city, but the viscount soon positioned himself beside Sophie again.
The two men were not the only ones dismayed by Sophie’s monopolising of the viscount; Cassie, riding in the open carriage beside her mother, was fuming.
Blissfully unaware of this, Sophie continued to enjoy her banter with Adam. It was light-hearted and fun and when she steered him to talk about himself, he told her how he had come to inherit a vast estate and a mill employing hundreds of workers. ‘I didn’t know anything about spinning and weaving and the men were mocking me, not always behind my back.’
‘I cannot imagine anyone having the temerity to mock you, my lord,’ she murmured.
‘I think sometimes you do.’
‘Certainly not. I would not dream of it. You can quell with a look.’
‘That would not work with these men, I assure you. But I have a good manager who has worked at Bamford Mill, man and boy, and I set to work to learn from him about spinning and weaving, using wool from my own sheep. I hadn’t realised what skilful work it is, nor how hard the men have to work, but I stuck at it and gained their respect in the end, not to mention a blanket I am very proud of.’
‘There is a great deal of unrest among the mill workers, is there not, my lord?’
‘Yes. It is why I am in London. I am trying to gain a better deal for them among other mill owners, some of whom have never been inside a mill in their lives, just as there are coal owners who have never been down a mine.’
This was a side of the viscount she had not encountered before and it gave her food for thought. ‘From what I have read it is an uphill struggle.’
‘It is indeed. My own men trust me, but others do not and certainly the mill owners do not. They think my ideas will spark a rebellion. I have to win them over.’
‘Then, I wish you luck.’
‘Thank you. I think I shall need it.’
‘There are those who are sure you are in London to find a wife.’
He laughed. ‘I am not unaware of that.’
‘It amuses you?’
‘Why not? It adds a little lightness to a heavy day.’
‘Is that all?’
‘As far as I am concerned, yes.’
‘I shall not reveal that to them. They would not believe me in any case.’
He noticed the light of mischief in her eye and smiled. For the first time in years he had been beguiled by a young lady, who was totally unaware of the impact she had made. He had better watch his step.
* * *
The cavalcade dispersed when they arrived at Hyde Park Corner. He remained with the Cartrose carriage until they reached the corner of Mount Street, then he bade everyone farewell and rode on to Wyndham House. The day out had been a pleasant interlude, but he must not forget why he had come to London. He had arranged to meet a member of the Commons to see if he could gain support there, and he still had not located Henry Hunt. Amusement in the comely shape of Miss Sophie Cavenhurst must be set to one side. Did she share the belief that he was here to find a wife? Had he managed to convince her he was not? If not, he would have to find a way of disillusioning her.