Page 60 of The Husband Season

‘You cannot go until Mark comes for you, nor before Edward is found.’

 ‘I have been told he left London so as not to influence me in making a decision as to whom I should marry. I can’t believe that’s true.’

 ‘It could be, I suppose. Now cheer up. Ten to one Viscount Kimberley has found him.’

 ‘He would have come and told us if he had.’

 ‘No doubt we will find out tomorrow. I’ll have Bessie make up a sleeping draught for you and then you will have a good night’s rest.’

 ‘What’s left of it,’ she said, managing to smile.

 * * *

 Adam was in his room at Wyndham House, examining his face in the mirror. It looked a mess. There was a huge swelling over his right eye and the skin had split, allowing blood to run down into his eye. His lip was cut and there was a bruise on his chin. He reached up to touch it and winced as the pain in his arm reminded him it had been twisted behind his back. He could not have gone to the ball looking like that.

 He poured cold water from the jug on his night table into a bowl and wetted a facecloth to clean off the blood. It did not look quite so bad when he finished, but he certainly could not go out and about until the swelling had subsided; he would frighten the life out of the ladies. He would write a letter of apology to Mrs Malthouse in the morning. He supposed he ought to write one to Sophie, too. But what could he say? ‘I was set upon and beaten black and blue. As an investigator I am a complete failure. I am a failure as a champion of the poor, too. They do not believe me. Worse still, I cannot even conduct my personal affairs with any degree of assurance. I am leaving London forthwith before I forget who I am and what I am.’

 He had been set upon, it was true, taken by surprise in a back street and robbed of his purse, his pocket watch, his signet ring and the cravat pin Anne had given him on their first anniversary; he was madder about that than any of the other items. As to the rest, he could not write any such thing.

 The strange thing was that he was convinced the robbery was not premeditated and neither of the two ruffians had been the one who had followed him before. That man had not been interested in attacking him; he could have done so on any number of occasions. In fact, he was sure it was that he who had come to his rescue and helped him beat off his attackers.

 ‘Who are you?’ he asked after he had thanked him.

 He was a big, brawny man, handy with his fists and surprisingly nimble on his feet. ‘Names don’t matter, sir.’

 ‘Why have you been dogging my footsteps?’

 ‘Has someone been dogging your footsteps?’

 ‘Yes, and you know it.’

 ‘Let me see you safely home, sir.’

 ‘And you know where I lodge, I have no doubt.’

 ‘Yes, sir.’

 ‘I can see myself home.’

 ‘Very well.’ He’d picked up Adam’s hat and handed it to him.

 Adam would have liked to stride off, his head in the air, but his injuries had prevented that. He’d hobbled as best he could and known the man had not been far behind him. He had seen no point in trying to evade him and had made his way back to South Audley Street in the most direct way he knew.

 It had taken him through Hanover Square. The house was lit up from top to bottom and he could hear the music of a waltz. She would have been there, dancing with her admirers, pretending all was well, perhaps even enjoying herself, safe in the knowledge that he would not let her down. But he had and he felt his failure keenly. He’d passed on and the music had faded until he could not hear it any more.

 Farley was out when he’d arrived, no doubt still looking for that elusive Cavenhurst, and he had not wanted to rouse the housekeeper, so he had made his way up to his room. Without lighting a candle he’d gone to the window and looked out on the street. The man who had followed him was standing in the middle of the road, looking up at him. He’d smiled, saluted and walked away. Who was he? Why, if he meant him no harm, was he following him? He had nothing to do with Teddy Cavenhurst, because it had been happening before Teddy went missing. It had started after he’d spoken to Henry Hunt. But why would Hunt have him followed? He was desperately tired and his head ached. He would have to leave conundrums like that until the morning. He stripped off his clothes and flung himself on the bed.

 He must have been asleep, though he could not be sure, when a vision floated into his mind of Sophie dancing. She was smiling up at whoever she was dancing with, her lips slightly parted, her blue eyes shining. The vision faded and he was sitting beside Anne’s bed, watching her die. She was smiling, too. He groaned and thumped his pillow. ‘Forgive me,’ he muttered, though whether he was addressing Anne or Sophie he could not have said.