* * *
Teddy was not at Cartrose House when they arrived. He had not come back by nightfall and Sophie became very worried. ‘Something must have happened to him,’ she said to her aunt after they had dined and were sitting in the drawing room. She had been straining her ears to hear sounds out in the street to tell them he had arrived. ‘He’s lying in a ditch somewhere, badly hurt. He could even be...’ She could not speak of a worse horror. ‘While I thought he must be at home, I didn’t worry, but now...’
‘Don’t get in a taking,’ her ladyship soothed. ‘If he had been waylaid on the way, we should have heard about it. There would have been talk all up and down the road. No doubt he came home and, seeing the house empty, went to his club for his supper. He will be home directly.’
* * *
They waited until half past ten. Sophie could not sit still. She kept pacing the room and then running out to open the front door and look up and down the road. There was no question of going to bed.
‘He has been out until breakfast time before and you have not worried,’ her aunt said. ‘What is so different today?’
‘He was with us and came back to look for me. Surely he would have returned to the party to tell everyone he had not found me?’
‘He can be thoughtless at times,’ Lady Cartrose said. ‘Young men are like that. He’s enjoying himself and has forgotten the time. He is not going to keep me from my bed. Nor should he you. If he has not turned up by morning, we will ask the Mr Malthouse to organise a search. No doubt Lord Martindale and the viscount will join it.’
The old lady rose and went up to her room. Bessie came to see if Sophie was going up, but she sent the maid to her bed and continued her pacing.
* * *
It was dawn and the shadows in the garden and along the street were giving way to daylight, the milkmaids were driving their cows from house to house and the servants were stirring ready for their day’s work when Sophie was roused from an uneasy slumber on the sofa by the sound of someone coming in the front door.
She flew out into the hall to see her brother putting his hat on the hall table. ‘Sophie, you are up early.’ He was swaying on his feet, obviously the worse for drink.
‘I haven’t been to bed.’ She began beating his chest with her fists, crying with a mixture or relief and anger. ‘How could you? How could you worry me so? Where have you been?’
He grabbed her hands to stop her. ‘To White’s. Met a few fellows, no need to worry...’
‘I am disgusted with you. It would be all the same if I had been left without an escort.’
‘But you had Reggie and Richard, and Aunt Emmeline. You didn’t need me.’
‘That is nothing to the point. You rode off to look for me, so everyone said. Did you look for me?’
‘Course I did. I rode all the way back to town without seeing you, so I supposed I must have missed you on the road. No point in going back again.’
‘Oh, go to bed. I am too tired to argue.’ She gave him a push towards the stairs.
He stumbled his way up and she followed. In her own room, she stripped off her gown and flung herself on her bed. Teddy was a worry. Perhaps she ought to ask him to take her home where he would not be tempted to stay out all night. What an ignominious end to her Season. No more parties, no more balls, no hope of finding a husband, and her original dilemma over Mark would not have been solved. She thumped her pillow in frustration.
It was gone midday when Sophie woke. Bessie had obviously found her asleep and left her. She rang her bell and climbed out of bed to draw back the curtains. The sun was shining and the road outside was busy. What had been planned for today? She could not remember.
‘You are awake at last,’ Bessie said, bustling into the room with a jug of warm water. ‘Whatever time did you come to bed?’
‘I don’t know. It was getting light.’
‘Did Master Edward come home?’ She emptied the water into the bowl on the nightstand.
Sophie removed her nightshift and washed herself while she talked. ‘Yes. He had been at his club. He said I didn’t need him because I had Sir Reginald and Mr Fanshawe to escort me.’
‘That is true.’
‘But I didn’t want their escort. I needed him to shield me from them.’
‘Surely they would not harm you?’
‘No, of course not, but they won’t take no for an answer. It is as if they are in competition with each other to make me change my mind and that makes me cross. While they are hanging round me, what hope have I of attracting the man I really want?’