Sophie had only been concerned for Bessie’s comfort and had not considered the impropriety of being inside the coach alone with the viscount. She looked out of the window at the countryside through which they were passing, acutely aware of him. His broad shoulders were so close to hers, his thighs just inches from hers. He had his feet on the seat opposite and his hat tipped over his eyes. Was he pretending to sleep?
‘My lord, did you manage to complete your business?’ she queried when she could stand the silence no longer.
He pushed his hat back on his head and looked at her. ‘My business?’
‘Whatever it was that brought you to London. I hope that taking me home has not interrupted it.’
‘No, not at all. There was no more I could do in town. I had planned to return to Saddleworth soon, in any case.’
‘But you are going out of your way to take me home. I feel guilty about that.’
‘There is no need, Miss Cavenhurst. I had already promised Mark I would go to Hadlea before going home. I have yet to meet my cousin-in-law and the baby.’
‘Harry,’ she said. ‘He is a sturdy little chap, all beaming smiles and wet kisses. He will be walking soon, I think. He already crawls everywhere and is full of curiosity.’
‘Mark and Jane are fortunate to have him.’
‘You have no children?’
‘No, unfortunately. My wife died in childbirth, along with my son.’
‘I am so sorry. I did not mean to make you sad.’
‘Please do not apologise. So many people avoid mentioning her as if the subject is forbidden, almost as if she had never existed.’
‘Would you like to tell me about her?’ Why she asked she did not know; learning about his wife would not make her feel any better, but it might help her to understand him. Perhaps it would ease his pain, too.
He hesitated, and she wondered if she had overstepped the mark as she so often did, but then he seemed to gather himself to answer her. ‘I met her in Saddleworth. Her father, Silas Bamford, owned a wool mill and employed about a thousand workers, some in the mill, some as outworkers. He and Anne were out in their carriage one day, returning from a morning call when they were met by a hostile crowd of workers who threatened to overturn their carriage. Mr Bamford was not one to be intimidated and tried to stand up to them, but Anne was terrified. I had charge of the local militia and had heard about the demonstration and arrived with my men just in time to rescue them. Fortunately no one was hurt, but I escorted them home safely and, well, the rest you can imagine. I was a frequent visitor to their home after that and Anne and I married in 1816. We had just a year together before she was taken from me.’
‘It must have been dreadful for you,’ she murmured, noticing the faraway look in his eyes, as if he were in some other time, some other place.
‘It was. She was so beautiful, so full of life, so affectionate, it seemed cruel of God to take her so young. The baby was beautiful, too.’
‘I cannot begin to think what that must have been like.’
‘I pray you never need to.’
‘You could marry again and still have children.’
He looked sharply at her as if she had gone a step too far. ‘So I could, but I could not bear to go through that again.’
‘Is that why you were not at Mark and Jane’s wedding?’
‘Yes. I was not in a fit state to rejoice at anyone else’s happiness.’ He smiled suddenly. ‘But now I go to meet my cousin-in-law and make the acquaintance of young Harry.’
‘And then you will go home to Yorkshire?’
‘Not back to London?’
‘No, did you think I would?’
‘I wondered. I thought perhaps Miss Malthouse...’
‘Oh, so this is what the quizzing is about? You would divine my intentions so that you can relay them to your friend. You may tell Miss Malthouse that Adam Trent is not interested in marrying again, not to her, not to anyone.’
‘No, no, you misunderstand me,’ she said quickly.
‘Then, please explain yourself.’
But she could not, could not tell him the real reason she wanted to know more about him, and now she felt mortified and wished she had remained silent and let him go to sleep if he wanted to. ‘I was just making idle conversation.’
‘Then I would hate to be the object of a real interrogation from you, Miss Cavenhurst.’ He paused. ‘Shall I quiz you now?’
‘I am not very interesting.’