The Rake's Ruined Lady - Page 23

Beatrice was seated on her sister’s high four-poster bed, watching the maid put the finishing touches to Elise’s coiffure. At breakfast that morning Alex had seemed very composed, despite it being the day of his beloved mother’s funeral. It was the late dowager’s daughter-in-law who was having difficulty turning off the waterworks.

As Elise stood up from the dressing stool, pulling on her black gloves, Beatrice relinquished her soft perch and embraced her sniffling sister. ‘Alex has you to comfort him, my dear...and I’ll wager he’s told you already that’s enough family for him.’

Elise nodded, wiping her eyes. ‘Susannah wouldn’t want any wailing; she said so before falling into a deep sleep. Of course she knew the end was near, but she slipped away peacefully.’ Elise suddenly crushed Bea in a hug. ‘Thank you for coming.’

‘Did you honestly think I would not?’ Beatrice asked gently.

Elise shook her head. ‘I knew you would not let me down.’

‘You have never let me down, have you?’ Bea stated truthfully, remembering a time when Elise had been unstintingly loyal. Elise, though exasperated with her, had continued risking censure despite Bea’s shockingly selfish and daft actions. To her shame, Bea knew her behaviour had been at its worst during her infatuation with Hugh Kendrick. She’d made quite a fool of herself over him, much to Elise’s dismay. But today Bea was determined to banish thoughts of her own upset from her head. And that was not an easy task as Elise had let on that Hugh Kendrick was due to attend the funeral if he could escape his commitments in London.

‘Come...dry your eyes again,’ Bea prompted gently. ‘If we are to visit the nursery before we go downstairs Adam will not want to see his mama blubbing.’

Having left the darling baby in the care of his nurse, the ladies joined the other mourners. A hum of conversation, interspersed by muted laughter, met the sisters on entering the Blackthornes’ vast drawing room. It was crowded with people and Beatrice was glad that the atmosphere seemed relaxed despite the sombre occasion. They headed towards their papa, who was standing by the wide, open fire. Walter was alternately warming his palms on his hot toddy and on the leaping flames in the grate. It was mid-May, but the weather was cool for the time of the year.

‘I hope the showers hold off,’ Alex said, turning from his father-in-law to greet his wife and sister-in-law.

Elise slipped a hand to her husband’s arm, giving it an encouraging squeeze.

‘Are you warm enough, Papa?’ Bea asked. ‘Would you like a chair brought closer to the fire so you may be seated?’

‘I’m doing very well just where I am, thank you, my dear. My old pins and my stick will keep me upright for a while longer.’

‘You must sit by me in the coach when we follow the hearse to the chapel—’ Elise broke off to exclaim, ‘Ah, good! Hugh has arrived; he’s left it to the last minute, though.’

Beatrice felt her stomach lurch despite the fact she had discreetly been scouring the room for a sight of him from the moment she’d entered it. Casually she glanced at the doorway and felt the tension within increase. He looked very distinguished in his impeccably tailored black clothes, and she noticed that several people had turned to acknowledge his arrival.

‘Has it started to rain?’

Alex had noticed the glistening mist on his friend’s sleeve as Hugh approached.

‘It’s only light drizzle, and the sun’s trying to break through the clouds.’

Hugh’s bow encompassed them all, but Bea felt his eyes lingering on her so gave him a short sharp smile.

‘Come, my dear...’ Alex turned to Elise, having noticed a servant discreetly signalling to him. ‘The carriages are ready and it’s time we were off.’

The couple moved ahead and Beatrice took her father’s arm to assist him. Hugh fell into a slow step beside them, remaining quiet as they filed out into the hallway.

‘You must get in the coach with Elise, Papa.’

‘And you will come too?’ Walter fretted.

‘If there is sufficient room I will; but you must ride with Elise in any case.’

Beatrice was used to walking. Living in the country, she often rambled many miles in one day, especially in the summer. She walked to the vicarage to take tea with Mrs Callan and her daughter when no immediate excuse to refuse their invitation sprang to mind. She’d also hiked the four miles into St Albans when the little trap they owned for such outings had had a broken axle and no soul passed by in a cart and offered her a lift. A march to the chapel at Blackthorne Hall was an easy distance to cover for someone of her age and stamina. But her father would struggle to keep his footing on the uneven, uphill ground.