Walter glanced at his jilted daughter. He’d been right to call Elise home, he realised; just a few days ago Beatrice’s low spirits had worried him. Now, with her sister close by, she was recovering far better than Walter had dared hope. It had always been a great comfort to him that his girls were good friends as well as close kin. He knew of families where siblings resented one another—especially when one child did better than the other. But Beatrice had only been happy for her younger sister when she had caught herself a handsome aristocrat to wed, and Elise with her open, sweet nature never attempted to lord it over her less fortunate sibling.
‘It’s a shame Edith didn’t pop off a few years ago,’ Walter said. ‘Her rogue of a nephew would have received his bequest earlier and been in a position to call on me for your hand.’
‘Papa!’ Beatrice cried, half-amused, half-outraged. ‘Poor Edith! I am sad to hear of her demise no matter what benefits it turned up.’ She gestured airily. ‘Besides, it all turned out for the best; after that little sojourn in London ended, and with it my friendship with Mr Kendrick, I had only been home a few days before I was feeling relieved that he’d thrown me over.’ She tickled Adam, making him giggle, while adding self-mockingly, ‘I quickly met Colin and fell in love all over again.’
‘On the rebound,’ Walter muttered darkly. ‘And look where that got you.’
‘Hugh is still a bachelor,’ Elise piped up, subtly siding with her father.
She had also thought at the time that her sister had transferred her affection to Dr Burnett far too quickly after Hugh’s rejection. Not that Hugh had carelessly withdrawn his suit; at the time he had confided in Alex to feeling mortified at not being in a position to propose to Bea. Elise had thought him brutal in making a clean break with her sister, yet had come to realise it had been the decent thing to do. The couple’s mutual affection had started stirring gossip, and the town tabbies loved nothing better than to amuse themselves shredding an innocent’s reputation.
A girl who too obviously set her cap at a gentleman, then failed to get him to put a ring on her finger, invited opprobrium. Worse still, if it had been discovered that Beatrice had advertised for a husband in a gazette, like a vulgar hussy, the Dewey sisters would have been hounded out of town during the season they’d been house guests of the Chapmans. In the event a scandal had broken, but Elise and Alex had been the butt of it and it had quickly died away when Elise received Alex’s marriage proposal.
‘I understood Hugh Kendrick had set his sights on Fiona Chapman’s inheritance.’ Walter had been reflecting, as had his daughters, on the drama of three years ago.
‘Fiona deterred him from proposing, I believe, knowing as she did that his heart wasn’t in it.’ Elise glanced at Beatrice, who seemed oblivious to the hint and continued playing pat-a-cake with Adam.
‘That young woman must have been kicking herself ever since.’ Walter growled a laugh. ‘I expect she has had the scolding of her life from Maude.’ He mentioned Fiona’s mother with obvious fondness. The Chapmans were good people and had remained loyal to the Deweys through good and bad times over the decades.
‘Verity is increasing with her first child.’ Verity Clemence, née Chapman, was a very dear friend of Elise’s. ‘I have only just found out!’ She answered Bea’s unspoken question, flashed by a pair of expressive blue eyes. ‘I believe the babe is not due till late autumn.’
‘She must be thrilled, and so must be Mr and Mrs Chapman.’ Beatrice sounded wistful. ‘It will be their first grandchild...’
A bang on the door caused the room’s occupants to abruptly cease their lively conversation and look at one another in surprise. Elise jumped up to peer discreetly out of the square-paned window. ‘We are on the point of having a visit from Mrs Callan and Victoria,’ she groaned.
‘The grapevine has done its work, then,’ Beatrice acknowledged wryly.
‘Would you sooner I sent them away?’ Elise feared that her sister was right: the vicar’s wife and daughter had come to pry about the broken engagement rather than politely socialise.
‘Everybody will know sooner or later, so I must get used to the idea of facing down the stares and whispers.’ Bea stood up, handing Adam to his mother. ‘Let’s get it over with now, while I’m feeling ready to deflect any amount of sly comments.’
Elise’s smile combined admiration and encouragement for Bea. ‘I’ll tell Betty to show them in.’
A few minutes later Elise was back with her family in the front parlour, exchanging a resigned smile with Bea as they heard voices in the hallway heralding their visitors’ imminent appearance.