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A Close Call

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Where is he? Alfred thought to himself with natural fear in his stomach.

It was most unlike Edward to be late, let alone from Alfred’s birthday dinner that he helped his Papa and Mama organise!

Really, Edward saw Alfred’s own parents more in the past week than Alfred had in a whole month! Not that Alfred was displeased with this, on the contrary, but this meant that Lord and Lady Anglesey were just as receptive of Edward’s lateness as Alfred was.

Lady Anglesey came up to Alfred by the window, where he was staring intently at the street outside for signs of Edward’s carriage.

‘Everyone’s starving, pumpkin,’ she remarked, not unkindly, but Alfred could see for himself as well that their guests were starting to get impatient for this magnificent dinner promised indeed.

Just as Alfred was about to agree to begin without Edward, horses’ hooves sounded on the cobblestones and indeed it they could see it was Drummond arriving at last!

‘A thousand apologies, Lady Anglesey,’ Edward was the first to say, as soon as he was shown into the drawing room.

‘Drummond! At last, I would have gobbled up the flowers in this vase if we had to wait a minute more!’ Birdie, Alfred’s robust friend from their cavalry academy days, remarked, indeed eyeing the bouquet with hunger, until his wife elbowed him in the side to behave.

‘Just as long as I get the roses left!’ Lord Septimus added.

‘Oh, Sept, we all know you would rather starve and use those roses for a different purpose than your culinary needs,’ Adelaide commented cheekily, his and Alfred’s 17-year old sister who was currently playing with a poodle as fluffy and frilly as her dress and ringlets. ‘Particularly when that purpose is under an unmarried lady’s petticoats…’

‘Now, now, enough!’ Lord Anglesey intervened. Really, his daughters were worse than his sons sometimes!

‘I’m sorry, Papa,’ she said innocently. ‘… I was wrong to say unmarried, Sept isn’t that picky.’

‘Adelaide!’ Septimus scolded her, knowing full well she wasn’t wrong, but one of Alfred’s guests was the enchantingly beautiful and very easy to bring to a blush Duchess of Monmouth from the court. He wouldn’t want Adelaide to ruin his chances.

While the handful of other guests, including Birdie’s wife, were clutching their pearls at the Paget family’s ways, Lady Anglesey squeezed Edward’s hand as a kind of motherly reassurance.

‘Not to worry, Mr Drummond,’ she said. ‘You have come precisely on time! Let us go in, shall we?’

The guests stood and filed into the dining room in an orderly fashion following Lady Anglesey’s call. But Alfred got Edward to hang back a step.

‘What is the meaning of this?’ he whispered to Edward very discreetly. ‘You're wearing my tie...! But you look most dishevelled and… so very tense.’

‘That’s one word for it,’ Edward replied darkly. He really felt as if he had received an ice cold shower at home but he had to pretend everything was fine and dandy for the sake of the dinner. ‘We must talk,’ he added quietly before they reached the dining room, though.

‘But we must take our seats now.’

‘Of course. Not now. But later, we must.’

‘Edward, what is the matter? You are scaring me.’

‘Later,’ Edward insisted.

And there was no time left to talk for now, as everyone took their seats around the splendidly laid dining table. And though Alfred caught a bit of Edward’s tenseness after this highly unusual entrance and the worrying prospect of a talk about God knew what did not get him in the birthday spirit, the first course was being served and they had to persevere through dinner before he could get to the bottom of it.

 

 

Meanwhile in Bryanston, Dorset, Lady Portman’s carriage pulled to a stop on the gravel of her and her husband’s imposing country house. The groom opened the door and helped her out, and a footman from the house was quick with an umbrella to protect her from the light rain. The footman only had to assist the Baroness halfway to the front door, as Lord Portman appeared by her side, holding his own umbrella over her bonnet very gallantly.

‘Hello, dear!’ Lady Portman greeted him cheerily. It was indeed easy to seem glad of everything, despite the tiring journey, despite the rain, despite her need to connive this way, because the purpose of her visit was to be a joyous one indeed.

In a few days.

But first, she had to do her duties as Baroness Portman, a respectable country lady, wife, and mother.

‘Emma, my dearest!’ the Baron’s deep, warm voice sounded in reply and he gave her a polite kiss on the cheek, tickling her skin with his jolly sideburns that needed a trimming. He was always prone to be so lost in his own studies and whimsies that he forgot to take care of such small things as grooming, though he did seem to have made an effort to wear matching clothes for once for his wife. ‘I am so very glad you are here. How was the journey?’

‘Oh, as it always is, it shook me up a little but we’re here in one piece.’

‘I must say your letter was sudden and ever so cryptic. How come you have thought to visit now?’

‘It might shock you to say, Teddy, but I do miss you sometimes.’

‘Sometimes?’

‘You know what I mean, oh you…’ Emma added jokingly, feeling guilty about the honesty of her remark all the same. ‘I felt I ought to take the chance now. Her Majesty’s duties are not so numerous now it’s summer, but she is to travel to Scotland once Parliament goes into recess. So I’m afraid it’s either now or after Christmas, really.’

‘Well, I am very glad indeed.’

‘I hear Edwin was here last month?’

‘You heard well, he was ever so kind to keep me company while I was ordered to bedrest.’

‘Teddy, have you been ill?’

‘No, no, just a bit of a cold or some such thing, you know how Doctor Kenny seems to overreact everything.’

‘Yes, but you must look after yourself better.’

‘Now, now, nothing happened. I’m perfectly fine. Now, do come in, a warm cup of tea would do us both good, I believe. I wouldn’t want your journey to be wasted on standing in the rain.’

‘I’m sure it won’t.’

Emma smiled at the kindly but oblivious man her husband was. They instructed the groom and the maid Abigail that Emma brought from the Palace, and went inside to get dry and comfortable.

 

 

‘Leave room for dessert, everyone,’ Lord Anglesey told the dinner party after well wishes for Alfred, some talk about his and Edward’s plan to travel to France the very next day, and after a lot of wine, champagne, and splendid courses had been consumed. ‘We shall have ice cream in the garden afterwards!’

‘Ice cream, Mama?’ Adelaide asked in awe at the prospect!

‘Indeed, shall we go outside, then? While the sun is still out!’ Edward asked everyone with a winning smile. He was in a hurry to get the party to move into a more lax phase of the night so he could catch a moment alone with Alfred at last for a private word.

A few minutes later, they were all scattered around on benches and blankets in Lady Anglesey’s beautifully cultivated garden blooming with all sorts of flowers.

‘May I join you, gents?’ Septimus said, inserting himself between Alfred and Edward.

‘Of course,’ Alfred muttered, somewhat displeased. He wanted Edward to himself, to talk privately. ‘Drummond, this is Lord Septimus Paget, my brother, I don’t believe you’ve been introduced?’

‘No, we have not,’ Edward replied and offered his hand to Septimus but the Paget brother did not notice it, for he was currently craning his neck and looking at somewhere else entirely.

‘What are you doing?’ Alfred asked suspiciously.

‘I want to see if the Duchess still only has eyes for me even if I am standing next to the dashingly handsome Drummond here. She has been carrying her fan in her left hand all evening, if you know what I mean… ah and she opened it at last! Sorry, gents, my company is desired elsewhere,’ Septimus said and left to entertain the Duchess.

‘I do not know what to name him yet!’ Adelaide lamented, trying to keep her lively little poodle at bay. ‘Alfred! Alfred, what do you think I should name him?’

Alfred gave Edward an apologetic look and walked over to his little sister to humour her. It was going to be impossible to talk discreetly even for five minutes at this party, especially that it was thrown for him and therefore he was the guest most in demand. Besides, it was his birthday after all, so he might as well enjoy it.

Meanwhile, Henry took the opportunity to step over to Edward.

‘So, Mr Drummond, I hope the evening is everything you hoped it would be.’

Edward assumed an air of neutral politeness, hiding his ceaseless underlying nervousness.

‘Yes, Lord Anglesey, I believe the dinner is a success. Thank you for hosting it, especially on the eve of our journey. Lord Alfred is lucky to have a family such as yours.’

Henry followed Edward’s gaze to Alfred and Adelaide playing with the little poodle while trying to come up with names. That poor puppy was not going to come out of this with a respectable name, no chance.

Henry saw longing in Edward’s eyes.

‘Still no news about your sister, Drummond?’ he asked.

Edward’s nerves were not soothed by that thought on top of everything else weighing on his mind.

‘Well… it might be nothing,’ he said secretively. He had learned to feign his feelings somewhat, since having loved Alfred, but he still struggled to flat out lie. ‘But we remain hopeful of her wellbeing.’

Henry sought out his wife with his eyes, glad to see she was entertaining guests on the other side of the garden.

‘I shouldn’t tell you, Drummond, but we have come to know that Alfred proposed to your sister. Is that really true?’

Edward bit his lip. Alfred warned him this might come up sooner or later. Again, he could not lie. But it wasn’t exactly the truth he could say.

‘Yes, well… I believe they had a kind of agreement.’

‘Agreement? That makes it sound quite mutual.’

‘It was.’

‘But Alfred said Miss Drummond is reluctant to marry.’

‘She is.’

Henry didn’t even have to try to corner Drummond. It seemed the boy was doing a splendid job of it on his own.

‘I mean,’ Edward added, trying to save face. ‘She is reluctant about the idea for reasons such as her wish to study formally first,’ Edward made up on the spot, congratulating himself on his stroke of brilliance. ‘I am in full support of it. So is Alfred.’

‘And so am I. I do not know her well but she seemed a clever enough girl in Wales.’

‘She is. But that would mean waiting with marriage for a few more years, an idea to which my parents are not taking kindly.’

‘I thought Alfred was the one who urged the match.’

‘I… because… my parents… the Duke…’ Edward spluttered lamely. ‘Fife was insistent… Alfred tried to help… It’s all too early, that’s all… If Fife hadn’t… It’s… ’

‘You see,’ Henry cut in, ‘I’m asking because it surprised me that he would want to marry at all, let alone so suddenly, let alone a bride who seems reluctant. Indeed, if anyone was going to be reluctant about a marriage, I would have expected it to be Alfred.’

‘Wh-why is that, sir?’ Edward was afraid to ask.

‘I think you know why,’ Henry said quietly, dropping his pretence.

Edward felt his heart clench painfully.

He exhaled but inhaling seemed an impossibility.

Really, he felt as if all the blood had left his body.

First his valet, now Lord Anglesey?

Have they been completely foolish to think they were safe this whole time?

How many others knew about them already?!

‘Have some more ice cream, Drummond, the heat seems to have defeated you,’ Henry said, waving down a footman to serve them. ‘You seem quite faint.’

A glass of raspberry ice cream was thrust into Edward’s hand and but he seemed to have forgotten how to eat.

Henry feared he made a huge mistake with his comment that skirted on the fine line between ignorance and knowledge.

Watching Edward lose his composure, he half wanted to keep it up until he got his answers, but the poor lad seemed ready to crumble any second, something that wouldn’t do, not when they were standing in the middle of a garden party.

He changed course, therefore.

‘I think Alfred and Miss Drummond would be a perfect match, if you ask me,’ Henry continued, making sure to assume an air of nonchalance. ‘Do not worry, my son, it is not the allure of the money that many suitors would have on their minds no doubt. We’re not like that. It would benefit Alfred to be married, that I know for sure, and what could be better than a match that made brothers-in-law out of you? I’m afraid Lady Anglesey is even less thrilled to tie our families together than your own parents,’ Henry laughed to himself, ‘But all the same. What do you think, Drummond? You are clearly Alfred’s dearest friend.’

Edward could breathe again as he listened… Did Henry know? He seemed to be wondering about Alfred and his reluctance to marry, but did he know about Alfred and Edward?

What Edward didn’t know was that Henry was still trying to figure it out himself, both of them walking on thin ice.

‘I wouldn’t presume to either pressure or prevent them. But I will say,’ Edward could not miss to add, ‘Your son seems very content as he is. He is not unhappily unmarried, as far as I can tell. As indeed his dearest friend.’

‘You, too, were engaged once, were you not, Drummond?’ Henry pressed on, while they both watched Alfred, Adelaide, and the poodle playing on the grass.

‘I was, sir,’ Edward managed to reply, carefully.

‘But you broke it off in the end?’

‘Yes, everyone could see Mrs Florence Drummond was rather in love with my brother Arthur, and he with her. I had to step aside for all our sakes. Aside from you and Lady Anglesey, I have never seen a happier couple, their first child is due in September.’

‘Oh dear, but then you were left quite heartbroken, were you not?’

‘Sir… I hope we are friends but my own father would not ask me such a deeply private question,’ Edward finally found his voice and a leg to stand on, even if a shaky one.

‘Your father might not. But I am, as Alfred’s father.’

‘I saw my purpose in serving the country. God has destined me for that job, it is clear to me now.’

‘Oh? Are you a God-fearing man?’ Henry asked with surprise.

Edward grappled with his answer, as he sometimes grappled with it in his heart of hearts, too.

‘I think I must do what I believe is good.’

‘That’s more like it!’ Henry suddenly cracked up heartily. ‘Spoken like a true politician indeed!’

Edward allowed himself a laugh, too… It seemed Henry wasn’t going to vet him after all. Strange… he could have sworn earlier that Alfred’s father was about to call the police on him for seducing his son! But, he remembered now, that may have been because he was still agitated from the awkwardness with his valet earlier.

‘Thank you for bringing this about before your trip - we are off to Wales next week, also. I suppose you’ll enjoy your time in France immensely now that we’re going into recess.’

‘Oh, immensely, sir,’ Drummond agreed heartily, finally tucking into his ice cream.

‘Bentinck is…’

‘Yes, he’s quite…’

But whatever Drummond’s boss was, they never got to say, as the little poodle had got free and was now climbing up on Edward’s leg, making him drop his ice cream on the grass, getting half of it on the poodle as well as his own garments.

‘Oho, look!’ Adelaide shrieked with laughter.

Alfred couldn’t help but join in, doubling over, even as he ran over to try and pry the puppy off Edward.

‘I’m so sorry, Edward,’ he said with the giggly voice of someone definitely not sorry for any of this.

Edward didn’t want to be parted from the pet yet and so raised it to eye-level.

‘Now, is that how we behave, good sir?’ Drummond asked the little puppy, who licked a drop of ice cream off Drummond’s forehead in response.

Adelaide came over, still in a fit of giggles. ‘I think I know just what to name you!’ she told the unruly poodle as she took her from Drummond. ‘Mr Curly! Like Mr Drummond here!’

Though Edward laughed along, wanted the earth to swallow him up whole, he was redder in the face than the ice cream that stained his cravat.

But the next second, Alfred forgot himself and took out his handkerchief to help to clean up the mess everywhere, dabbing at Edward’s cheek as even a wife wouldn’t in public. This did not go over Henry’s head either, Edward saw clearly, and so his smile faded and, shamefully, he swatted away Alfred’s caring hand.

Never, never had he seen such deep hurt in Alfred’s eyes caused by Edward.

This wasn’t the shock of his unannounced engagement, this wasn’t the annoyance at people inquiring about the blushing bride Florence once was to Drummond, no, this was him, this was deliberate, uncalled for, and so very hurtful.

‘Forgive me, I… I think there is no point in ruining your handkerchief, Lord Alfred,’ Edward tried to save the moment and wipe away that heartbroken look in Alfred’s eyes, wishing he could make it right properly but he could not in front of Alfred’s family and friends. ‘I ought to go upstairs and tend to it.’

‘Of course you must, Drummond, find a bathroom and a footman,’ Henry seconded.

‘I don’t know where it is’ Edward said, looking pointedly at Alfred.

‘I’ll show you,’ Alfred thankfully got the message and led the way inside.

 

 

‘… and that’s why Edwin is absolutely right in investing more in agriculture, as I am always telling him. It is never too early to prepare for the next elections.’

‘Quite,’ Emma said politely after Lord Portman had droned on and on about farming, his field of expertise, something that could not particularly hold her attention but it was in her best interests to keep the Baron happy. They barely sat down to tea but she was already eager to propose the idea of traveling north.

‘We have acres and acres of new, excellent lands near Gloucester, and—’

‘Gloucester, you said?’

‘Yes,’ the baron replied, surprised to see Emma showed inquisitiveness about his favourite topic.

‘Why you never mentioned we have land there.’

‘Newly acquired, an inheritance from my late uncle Frederick.’

‘Why I should love to see it!’

The baron nearly choked on his tea. ‘You would like to see the farmlands?’

‘Well, not just the lands – I haven’t been to Gloucester in many years. Louisa has been asking me to visit so often and I never have the time!’

‘But you have just got here, my dear.’

‘I know, but now that you said it I find I have such a longing to see my dearest sister. We could inspect the farms, spend some time with Louisa, see the old cathedral…’

‘Well, I am not sure, Emma.’

‘Oh, please, humour me, Teddy. It is not often I get to decide where I am traveling, not when He Majesty is in such constant demand of her ladies in waiting.’

Emma knew that Teddy was never going to say no to her when she was being so sweet – he had never been one to stand up to himself anyway. This was a failing of his but Emma could use it to her advantage splendidly.

The servants were shortly instructed not to even unpack her bags.

 

 

‘Thank you, Andrew, we’ll manage from here,’ Alfred told the footman with his usual courteous charm after they managed to save Edward’s garments more or less in one of the upstairs bathrooms.

Once the footman left, he pulled Edward into an antechamber once used as a dressing room but now for storing towers of towels and shelves full of soap. They had less echo from here than in the tiled bathroom, lest anyone lingered in the corridor.

As soon as the door was safely closed on the crammed little room, Edward’s emotions burst to the surface.

‘Forgive me, Alfred, I am so sorry,’ he pleaded. ‘My darling,’ Edward could not help but take Alfred into his arms, overcome with his love, especially after the hell he lived through at home. ‘I didn’t mean to be so awful, I had to. Lord Anglesey… I was scared…’

Alfred, though cross with Edward and confused, hugged him back lovingly.

‘What is the matter, Edward?’ Alfred asked fearfully as he pulled away just enough to kiss Edward. ‘Tell me, my love. What happened? Why were you late?’

Edward took a deep breath and told Alfred everything word for word:

He was running late from the House – a terrible collision between two carts delayed him from arriving home as planned! As soon as he made it, he rushed to his dressing room to get clean and change.

He was in such a hurry he did not even realise he had done it all by himself until he couldn’t find his cufflinks.

The ones Alfred had given him just the month before – if he wasn’t wearing them to the birthday dinner, Alfred would surely think he had lost them!

But everything was already packed and on the ship. What if that included said cufflinks?

‘Clarke!’ Drummond shouted and pulled a lever by the door to signal downstairs. ‘Clarke!’ he called again, out to the corridor, until footsteps sounded and his valet showed up at last. ‘Clarke! Where were you?’

‘Apologies, sir. You said you did not need my assistance.’

‘What?’ Drummond asked, confused. ‘Nonsense, I certainly could have used you.’

‘When you rushed in through the door, I offered but…’

‘Never mind that, Clarke: where are the blue cufflinks?’

‘On the dresser, just over there, Mr Drummond,’ Clarke pointed to the polished mahogany top, where Drummond should have found them on his own.

‘Goodness, but I am a dastardly fool!’ Drummond cursed himself. ‘Thank you, Clarke.’

‘May I?’ the valet offered, already getting the cufflinks to help them on Mr Drummond.

‘While I am here, sir,’ Clarke began, for the dozenth time in the past few days. It seemed impossible to run the house without Mr Drummond sparing a second for his staff these days. He was always too tired, too busy, or rushing in and out with less and less concern for his household. But there was an especially pressing matter to discuss, which may be sensitive in certain ways. ‘About the wallpaper…’

‘Not now, Clarke, I am in an immense hurry,’ Drummond said, wincing as he glanced at the clock. There was no way he wasn’t going to be late from his Alfred’s birthday dinner, the one he had been working to bring about so tirelessly.

‘Sir, I’m afraid I must insist on a minute of your attention.’

‘"Insist?"’ Drummond frowned. He wasn’t terrible with his servants as Charlotte allowed herself to be but this was impertinence -  he wasn’t angry but he felt quite betrayed by his trusted valet’s tone.

‘Forgive me sir, but…’

‘Cravat, please,’ Drummond ordered coldly.

Clarke went to get the tie from the dresser with a to Drummond glacial pace, debating whether he shouldn’t just wait until later.

Now, Clarke.’

No, that was it. That did it.

Clarke stopped and stood up straight, holding the cravat hostage, and spoke quite out of turn but quite necessarily:

‘Sir, I will remind you that we are more than soulless cleaners, we guard your home and your most private life with utmost confidentiality, and as your valet I must insist, yes, insist, sir, that you listen to me for a second, for your own good, and for your guests’ safety,’ Clarke rattled, shocking Drummond to the core. ‘The green room has arsenic. The cats most certainly died from it. As you are so keen to have Lord Alfred staying over, I thought you should like to know, before signs of poisoning show on your friend. Though by the looks of it my warning is indeed superfluous, sir, as Lord Alfred seems to be in perfect health, thank the Lord, which I can only attribute to his preference of sleeping in another room without being told. God keep his good habit.’

Clarke could not handle any of this for a second more and went to storm out but had to step back in the last second.

‘Your tie, sir,’ he said awkwardly, shoving it in Drummond’s hand. ‘Or, his lordship's, isn't it... I have already arranged for the men, the wallpaper will have been changed by the time you return from the Continent.’

And with that, Clarke left, not daring to glance back at an utterly aghast and frozen with nerves Drummond.

‘And?!’ Alfred asked after listening to Edward’s account of all this in the Anglesey house’s bath storage room.

‘And?’

‘Well what did you do?!’

‘Well, the clock struck the half hour, I finished dressing and rushed here!’

Alfred’s eyes bulged even wider.

‘You just left?!’ Alfred asked in a strained whisper. He wanted to hit Edward like a stupid child who misbehaved. ‘You left that situation!?’

‘Well, I had to!’

‘By God, Edward...’ Alfred pressed the palms of his hand to his eyes in frustration.

‘What was there to do? I couldn’t run downstairs, begging for my valet’s forgiveness and discussing our sleeping arrangements with him!’

‘But he could be anywhere now, finding new employment, or worse, talking to the police!’

Edward paled. ‘No, my valet would never.’

‘Wouldn’t he? God, Edward, you are so naïve sometimes! We think our staff is loyal to us because it’s their job to make us believe so. Until they find someone who pays them more! Servants are people too, with their own bloody conscience – William learned that the hard way, remember? Think, Edward, think!’

‘I am, and I am telling you, Clarke would never do such a thing. I am not looking forward to returning home tonight, but I have no doubts I will be able to reason with him.’

‘Him, and not the constables? Edward, really, perhaps you shouldn’t return home at all.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Spend the night here. Or at the Palace. Or go straight to the yacht. I don’t want to see the sunrise there tomorrow waiting for you in vain because you have been taken in!’

‘Alfred, my own Alfred,’ Edward soothed his love, taking him into his big, warm arms. Though he had been worried out of his wits, Alfred’s downright panic seemed to compel him to be stronger, for him. ‘I am not going to be taken in by anything anytime soon other than your gorgeous blue eyes.’

Alfred would have laughed but he just clung to Edward’s body, burying his fear in the hug.

Edward held him strongly for a few minutes.

‘Perhaps it’s good that we are going to France anyway,’ Alfred muttered defeated against Edward’s raspberry stained waistcoat.

Edward stroked Alfred’s hair yet more, to soothe himself as much as Alfred.

‘I shan’t run,’ he said at last, quietly but determinedly. Alfred straightened up to look at him and listen. ‘Let Charlotte do all that. But that’s not me. I shall go back to my house and I shall talk to my valet. And in the morning, I shall see you at sunrise, when we shall set sail and spend a whole month alone, just the two of us, without prying eyes. God knows we deserve it.’

Alfred watched him from an inch away with awe. ‘Just make sure France remains the plan of a month.’

‘Fear not, my love, I fully intend to return here. I am hopeless at French, as you know.’

Despite himself, Alfred heard himself laugh. ‘I love you,’ he whispered against Edward’s lips before kissing him deeply, thirsty for relief amid their joint agitation.

‘I love you too,’ Edward moaned into their kisses, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you…’

Overcome with passion through panic, Alfred was tugging and clawing at Edward’s shirt out of his trousers without thinking, needing to touch, to feel him before he was taken from him ---

But a thumping sound outside scared them into fleeing apart even though they were quite alone.

‘What was that?’

‘Probably nothing,’ Alfred whispered, but he pushed Edward in the cover of the door while he peeked out.

The bathroom was still quite deserted. The windows, open wide, must have collided, swinging from a summer breeze.

Nevertheless, they thought it best to return to the garden before their absence became suspiciously lengthy.

They disguised their nerves behind chit-chat and croquet until it was polite for Drummond to leave and return to his own house, unsure about what would await him there.

 

 

Emma nearly skipped down the stairs in the morning, her favourite bonnet on her head, and glad to see the journey north was going to be a sunny one.

‘Edward? Teddy?’ she called, knowing just where to go to find her husband.

He was in the dining room, having breakfast. Or, Emma was pleased to see, snoring in his seat, breakfast barely touched.

She was a very perceptive woman, and a caring wife, after all. Therefore, when Lord Portman had complained of headaches due to overstressing about his agricultural research the night before, she had kindly recommended the root of valerian.

How silly of her to forget to mention that it was also a powerful sedative used to treat insomnia...

‘Shall we postpone the trip, Lady Portman?’ the maid Abigail asked from the doorway.

‘No,’ Lady Portman said at once, trying not to appear too gleeful. ‘We are already dressed, packed, and ready to go. The baron was never the keenest traveller, and he needs his well-deserved rest. But I have already written to my sister, it would be terribly rude of me not to show. Let us leave him, he won’t mind.’

‘But your ladyship, you mean to travel alone?’

‘But I will not be alone. I have you, Turner, and the groom. And this way you can sit with me inside the carriage,’ she added with a little wink as a further incentive to win the maid’s sympathy. ‘Come, I know many travel games. We shall get on just splendidly.’

Abigail did not need telling twice to grab this chance, now that she wasn’t going to have to sit on the bench next to the stern and rather grumpy groom after all.

They were in Gloucester by nightfall.