Neither did Walter, it seemed. Bea’s father left untouched the pile of post and continued sighing and polishing his glasses with his handkerchief.
‘Are you sure the journey will not excessively tire you?’ Beatrice rephrased her question in an attempt to draw her father’s attention.
‘I will bear a few discomforts to pay my respects to Susannah Blackthorne.’ Walter dabbed a handkerchief at his watering eyes. He put his glasses on, then held up Alex’s letter so he might again scan the sad news that his son-in-law’s mother had passed away. The funeral was to be held in a few days’ time and Alex had offered to send his coach for Walter and Beatrice so they might join the mourners at Blackthorne Hall. He had added that he hoped very much they would attend as his mother had enquired after the two of them only recently.
‘You will come as well, my dear, won’t you? I should not like to travel alone.’ Walter raised hopeful eyes to his daughter.
‘Of course I shall come with you, Papa!’ Beatrice replied. ‘I would not want to miss it.’
Walter nodded, content. ‘I shall write a reply and get Norman to quickly despatch it to Berkshire. I don’t like imposing on the viscount’s generosity but we must accept the use of his transport.’
‘Alex will be cross if you do not! I expect he and Elise are feeling very low and will be glad to see us as soon as maybe.’
‘As a family we lately seem to be in the doldrums more often than not.’ Walter dropped the letter to the desk, drawing forward his quill and a plain parchment. ‘Susannah was a very vivacious woman...and more than ten years my junior.’ He dipped the pen into ink. ‘I’m getting quite ancient now...’
‘Don’t be so maudlin, Papa!’ Beatrice dropped a light kiss on the top of her father’s sparsely covered crown. ‘You are a mere spring chicken.’
She could tell he was feeling quite depressed at the news of the dowager’s death. Bea had noticed that as he aged her father acted increasingly sentimental when hearing about sad or happy events.
As Walter’s quill began scratching on paper she turned for the door, informing him, ‘I’ll start to pack a few things.’
Beatrice took down her carpetbag from the top of the clothes press. She blew dust off it and set it on her bed’s coverlet. It seemed she would be taking a trip to stay with her sister after all, but glumly wished something nicer had prompted it.
* * *
As the viscount’s well-sprung travelling coach bounced over a rut the letter in Bea’s hand fluttered from her fingers to the hide seat. She retrieved it and recommenced reading. It had arrived that morning, before she and her papa had set on the road for Berkshire, and had been sent by Fiona Chapman. Bea had known the identity of the sender as soon as she spied her name written in elegant sloping script. But it had only been moments ago when her papa, seated opposite, ceased chattering and started dozing that she’d drawn her friend’s note from her reticule and unsealed it.
As expected, the message bore very kind and sincere wishes to boost her morale following her jilting. Bea had already received fulsome sympathy from Aunt Dolly and Fiona’s father. Walter had shown to her the letter from Mr Chapman and Bea had had to smile at Anthony’s robust defence of her reputation. In his honest opinion Walter’s daughter was too good for the physician in any case, and the whole matter was a blessing in disguise for Beatrice. Anthony had emphasised that observation with a very large and forceful exclamation mark that had punctured the paper.
‘My sentiments exactly,’ Walter had barked, perking up on reading it. Then he’d promptly helped himself to port from the decanter on the edge of his desk.
But now, as Beatrice’s blue gaze landed on the final paragraph of Fiona’s letter, she gasped at the startling news it contained. Mr Kendrick, Fiona wrote, had put a flea in Colin Burnett’s ear over vulgarly flaunting his new fiancée before anybody in town had been given the news that he’d jilted his former bride-to-be. Bea’s eyes sped on over the paper. The clash had taken place at her sister Verity’s home, Fiona informed her, and Mr Kendrick had threatened, very discreetly—Fiona had underlined those two words—to throw the doctor out if he didn’t go before people started asking awkward questions. Colin had bowed to Mr Kendrick’s dictate and slunk off with his tail between his legs, Fiona penned in conclusion, before signing off with affection and good wishes.
Beatrice felt her heart thudding in consternation and her cheeks glowing despite the breeze from the window. The last thing she’d wanted was any fuss about the affair, because it would be sure to give an impression that she was bitter and jealous over it all. And whereas for a short while those emotions had overtaken her, they had now faded away. Or so she’d thought...