Page 49 of The Husband Season

Bessie was evidently not worried by Teddy’s absence and as far as Sophie could tell, knew nothing of the afternoon’s futile escapade. She dressed and went down for supper, which she ate with her aunt and Margaret. Fortunately the two ladies had plenty to gossip about and her quietness was not noted.

‘I thought Edward was going to dine with us,’ Emmeline said. ‘He was to make a fourth for whist.’

* * *

He had not returned when Mr and Mrs Malthouse arrived for their usual game, bringing Cassie with them. Since she had been able to have the viscount’s undivided attention for most of the time at Ranelagh, for which she felt grateful to Sophie, she had forgiven her and they were friends again. Margaret made up the four for the whist, so the girls were left to amuse themselves.

Cassie was bubbling over with excitement. ‘He is even more agreeable than I first thought,’ she said, referring to the viscount. ‘He listened with grave attention to what I had to say and concurred with me on almost everything. When I stumbled he took my arm to steady me. I am sure it will not be long before he speaks to Papa.’

Sophie had not the heart to disillusion her friend. But perhaps she was not under an illusion and the reality was that the viscount’s comments about Cassie being empty-headed did not count for anything. Men did not like women who were their equal in brains, she had been told. Oh, how difficult it was to tell. And what did it matter anyway? Viscount Kimberley was not for her. But she was very careful not to hint that his lordship was going to take her riding the following morning. She looked over at her aunt, who was concentrating on her cards, and hoped she would not mention it, either.

‘Cassie, I have heard you play the pianoforte beautifully,’ Sophie said, anxious to end the conversation about the viscount, which was twisting the knife into an already broken heart. ‘Would you play something for us now?’

‘Oh, I don’t know...’

‘Yes, Cassandra,’ her mother put in, proving that she, at least, had been listening to the girls’ conversation. ‘Play that piece you have been practising.’

‘Oh, do,’ Sophie said. ‘I am quite hopeless myself. Papa said it was a waste of money paying for my lessons, so I gave up.’

Cassie went over to the instrument and sat down to play. Sophie had to admit Cassandra played well, an accomplishment that Lord Kimberley would undoubtedly appreciate. What accomplishments did she have, apart from being a hoyden and having a brother for whom gambling was an addiction? Her applause and praise when the short piece came to an end was genuine. ‘Encore,’ she cried.

Cassie played until the game ended and her parents prepared to leave. It was after they had gone, her aunt mentioned Viscount Kimberley. ‘I notice you did not tell Cassandra that he was going to take you riding tomorrow,’ she said.

‘Didn’t I? I must have forgot.’

Her aunt laughed. ‘Very wise, my dear. But do you really think his lordship is about to offer for Cassandra or is she deluding herself?’

‘I don’t know what is in his lordship’s mind, Aunt.’

‘No, I do not think anyone does. But he would hardly take you riding if he has his sights set on someone else.’

‘Perhaps he wants to tell me about it himself before it becomes official.’

‘Now, why would he do that, unless he thinks you have developed a tendre for him and he needs to let you down lightly?’

‘Oh, Aunt, that is absurd.’

‘We shall see. I am going to bed. I suggest you do the same if you are to be up betimes for your ride. And do not wait up for your brother—there is no telling when he will decide to come home. I have told Cook to make him up a tray of cold food for when he comes in. Leave him a note on the tray so that he knows he is to accompany you in the morning.’

* * *

When Sophie came down next morning, dressed for riding, she found the tray and her note were untouched. She sent a footman to see if her brother was in his room, but he returned to say Teddy’s bed had not been slept in. Where was he? His anguished cry that she would find him in a back alley with his throat cut flew into her mind. Had something dreadful befallen him?

She had no time to dwell on this because Adam had arrived and was being ushered into the room. He bowed. ‘Good morning, Miss Cavenhurst. You are ready, I see.’

‘Yes, I am ready, but I am not sure...’

‘Not sure of what?’

‘Teddy is not here. He should be coming with us.’