Beatrice slowly reread that ultimate paragraph. She was irked that Colin could treat her so shabbily when less than a month ago he’d said it was her he loved and would marry if only he could. She pondered then on Stella, and whether the girl was pretty, and if Colin had quickly fallen in love with her.
In which case, Beatrice impatiently scolded herself, he is the most dishonest and fickle man alive and you should pray you never again are foolish enough to be taken in by his like.
Having mentally shaken herself, she turned her thoughts to Hugh Kendrick. So he had championed her, had he? She wondered why that was. Their recent meeting had been frosty, if civil. She stared through the coach window and twisted a smile at the passing scenery. Perhaps the aim of his gallant intervention had been to impress Fiona. Beatrice recalled that he had courted her friend a few years ago; perhaps Mr Kendrick was of a mind to do so once more as they were both still single and Fiona was a minor heiress. At her sister’s wedding reception Hugh had partnered Fiona in the ballroom and Bea recalled thinking they had looked happy together...
Bea folded the note without again looking at it, putting it back into her reticule, then rested her head against the squabs. Behind her drooping lids two couples were dancing and laughing. The gentlemen had both once professed to want her as a wife. Beatrice huffed a sigh, wishing for a nap to overcome her so she might have a respite from her irritating fantasies.
Wearily she again watched the verdant landscape flashing past, but the same thoughts were haunting her mind. Colin and Stella would be the first to get married: no long engagement for him this time, as he now had enough money to set up home immediately. If Hugh Kendrick were intending to propose to Fiona, and her friend were to accept him, Bea would make sure she was one of the first to send congratulations...
‘You are sighing louder than the wind outside.’ Walter had one eye open and was watching his daughter’s restless movements from beneath a thick wiry brow.
‘It is rather gusty...’ Bea pulled the blind across the window to protect the coach interior from draughts.
‘Have you read your letter?’
‘Mmm...’ Bea guessed her father was keen to hear what was in it.
‘I have lately shared my missives from London with you,’ Walter wheedled, giving her a twinkling smile.
Beatrice smiled, swayed by his mischievous manner. ‘Oh, very well... Fiona Chapman has written to me more or less echoing her father’s thoughts on Dr Burnett.’
‘Oh...is that it? No other news?’ Walter queried. He’d watched his daughter from between his sparse lashes while she’d been reading and had been sure he’d heard a muted cry of dismay. Not wanting to immediately pry, he’d waited till she seemed more herself before letting her know he was awake.
Walter had felt very protective of Beatrice since the doctor had broken her heart. The more she put a brave face on it, the more he desperately wanted to make it all come right for her. He’d guessed the cause of her distress was reading about some antic of Burnett’s reported in her letter.
‘I’ve just had news that Colin turned up at Verity’s house, but it was made clear he was unwelcome, so he left.’
Walter struggled to sit upright. ‘Did he, by Jove?’ Gleefully he banged his cane on the floor of the coach, grunting a laugh.
Bea nodded, suppressing a smile at her father’s delight on hearing about her erstwhile fiancé’s humiliation. ‘Miss Rawlings was there too.’
Walter thumped the cane again, in anger this time. ‘How dare he treat you like that? Damned impertinence he’s got, squiring another woman so soon. I’ve a mind to bring it to his notice.’
‘I believe Mr Kendrick has beaten you to it, Papa...’
‘So it was that fellow, was it?’ Walter nodded. ‘That’s twice he’s done us a favour in a short space of time. Hugh Kendrick has just gone up considerably in my estimation. I suppose I must find an opportunity to tell him so.’ He grimaced, remembering how rude he’d recently been to Hugh.
Beatrice settled back into the seat, niggling anxieties again assailing her. Just how much of a good deed had Mr Kendrick done her? She feared that embarrassing rumours about the jilting might even now be circulating, and would only be worsened by talk of two gentlemen—both past loves of hers—arguing in public over her.
‘Alex seems to be bearing up well.’
‘Oh, he is a stoic soul and keeps busy all the time to take his mind off things.’ Elise met her sister’s eyes in the mirror. ‘But I believe at a time like this he misses having brothers or sisters to talk to.’