For the first time in days Beatrice chuckled with genuine amusement. ‘Papa’s right: I might be on the shelf...’ she pulled a little face ‘...but I’m not sure it worries me; at present I’m fed up with gentlemen and romance.’
‘That will pass.’ Walter flapped a hand. ‘Every young lady craves her own home and family.’
‘Are you trying to get rid of me, Papa?’ Beatrice teased her father.
‘You know I am not! You may stay with your old papa for as long as you wish...but to tell the truth I was looking forward to walking you down the aisle before these old legs finally give out on me.’
‘And so you shall, Papa,’ Elise reassured him, getting up from her place by her sister’s chair. Having tested the tea that she’d abandoned in the pot, Elise found it now unpalatably lukewarm.
‘Your Aunt Dolly will be very sad to have this news,’ Walter muttered, sinking into a seat.
‘She loves a wedding,’ Elise reflected, settling by her papa on the sofa.
‘She travelled here to attend your nuptials uninvited, as I recall.’ Walter dredged up a chuckle at the memory of his widowed sister turning up out of the blue on the eve of the wedding, expecting to be housed and fed.
‘And Mrs Vickers accompanied her,’ Elise chipped in, fondly dwelling on her countryside wedding at the local church. It had been a quiet, yet wonderful occasion, with just her family about her. She glanced at her sister, wondering if Bea was musing sadly on the fact that Colin Burnett had acted as Alex’s groomsman that fine afternoon.
‘I rather liked Edith Vickers,’ Beatrice remarked brightly. She had indeed been thinking of Colin’s role in her sister’s happy day and pounced on the first thing that came into her head to chase memories of him from her mind. ‘How is Mrs Vickers? Do you ever see her?’
‘Oh...of course...you would not know for I’ve not had a reason to mention it.’ Elise frowned. ‘Sadly, Mrs Vickers passed away.’ She leaned forward to impart an exciting titbit. ‘There was quite a brouhaha when it came to light that she had not been as hard up as she’d believed herself to be. When Edith’s husband died his creditors pounced and left her in very reduced circumstances. But they left alone the deeds to a strip of land in India because it was deemed to be barren. Mrs Vickers bequeathed it to her nephew, Hugh.’
‘Hugh Kendrick?’ Walter snarled.
He recalled that name. When Beatrice had gone with her sister to London several years ago Mrs Vickers’s nephew had shown undue interest in Beatrice, raising her hopes that he might propose. Walter had been enraged to know the fellow hadn’t the wherewithal to take on a wife so must fortune-hunt for a bride. He’d been angry at himself, too, knowing that if only he had put by a dowry for his daughters his elder child might have been settled before the younger, as was the proper way of things.
‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear of her passing.’ Beatrice wiped dribble from her nephew’s mouth with her hanky. ‘I expect Aunt Dolly misses Edith. They were good friends, weren’t they?’
‘So...the land was not worthless?’ Walter guessed, returning to the crux of the matter.
‘It was not,’ Elise confirmed, clapping her hands in glee. ‘Alex was delighted for his friend when he found out about his good fortune. Of course there were many green-eyed people not so pleased at the turn of events, and Sir Toby Kendrick led the pack—’
‘What happened?’ Walter butted in impatiently, his gnarled hand clutching tightly at his stick, turning the knuckles white. Walter loved a good tale of Lady Luck turning up unexpectedly. Many a time over the years he had wished that elusive minx would smile on him when his marriage and his business had crumbled, leaving him desolate with two teenage girls to bring up alone.
‘The strip of land contained some mines, long ago abandoned as dry. Hugh went to India and had them reinvestigated from curiosity and they turned up a seam of fine diamonds. So now Hugh Kendrick is very rich, and I for one am overjoyed for him.’
Beatrice blinked in astonishment at her past love’s extraordinary stroke of luck. ‘Yes...good for him...’ she said quietly.
‘Good for him?’ Walter barked. ‘Another fellow who broke your heart, as I recall.’
‘I do seem to attract rogues.’ Beatrice’s tone was rueful rather than bitter. ‘I’m sure it’s my own fault,’ she added with a twinkling smile. ‘You have warned me not to be so impetuous, haven’t you, Papa?’ Bea knew that in the past, especially in her pursuit of Hugh Kendrick, she’d been not only impetuous but foolhardy.