Good food, warm sun and congenial hosts quickly soothed our travel weary nerves—and then some. Within the hour we were conversing with the Elliots as if we’d known them half our lives. Lady Elliot told humorous tales about living in India that had even Mr. Rutherford smiling. Sir Eliot, Sir Rutherford and Mr. Eliot, meanwhile, discussed London life, in particular, life associated with Old Bailey (for Sir Rutherford had once been a judge). They knew some of the same people, it turned out, and held similar opinions to each of them. It was all very wittily relayed.
All the while, the children were tossing a ball about on a grassy patch, laughing, and the dog lay to the side, panting and watching all with bemused good interest.
Mr. Percy Elliot sat between his sister and Miss Rutherford and joined in on the general conversation with the same comfort and verve as the rest of his family. I expected to hear more about his travels but when I asked him of it directly he said: ‘Oh, it was a right treat, but there’s no place like home,” and he winked.
“He’s being too modest!” exclaimed his sister, with a laugh. “It was dangerous and exhausting. Treacherous politically. Isn’t that right?”
“The Sultan is a good man. He treated me very civilly.”
“I was talking about the harem!” she teased, with a playful swat at his arm.
Everyone oohed and ahhed. Did he actually get to see the harem?
“Of course not!” he laughed. “That part of the palace is guarded more securely than than Regent’s dinner plans!”
“But you did hear stories…” prompted his sister, still with a glint in her eye.
“Yes, of course. And I’ll be presenting that along with other detail about social hierarchies and court protocol.” He turned to the rest of us, gave another wink. “Very boring, I assure you.”
“You do know he’s giving a lecture in London on Monday at the Royal Society?” his mother beamed proudly. “You are all invited. You really must come.”
Mr. Percy Elliot nodded, more serious this time.
“Please, it would be my pleasure.”
And he looked at Miss Rutherford as he said it.
She blushed—the first one I’d ever seen—and lifted her chin high: “Of course, we’d love to”—to which everyone seemed to heave a mental sigh of relief.
Well, well, I thought to myself, as I studied Mr. Percy Elliot more closely. He was, I had to admit, an altogether perfect package: tall, with an easy smile, laugh lines and smart greenish-blue eyes. For sure, he’d be devoured like a ripe peach by the Marriage Mart next Season; Miss Rutherford seemed at last to realize how fortunate she was to be having the first cast at him.
In addition to the tell-tale blush, she had been attentive to his every word…probably because he was intelligent and had lived an interesting life. He wasn’t all gambling dens and days spent eating beef at Boodles.
They would make a pretty couple.
I was supposed to be happy about that. If she found a match, her parents would be pleased and if they were pleased they’d be more inclined to persuade her to do what my Aunt wanted. Then my Aunt would finally resolved the matter of Mr. Henessy, the Rutherfords could exit stage left, and my Aunt and I could go back to our usual life.
But instead of feeling good, I felt hollow. This cozy scene made my throat tight and my stomach clench. The tarts and biscuits and apple cider were not helping as much as I’d hoped.
I asked, when there was a pause in the next round of amiable chatter, if they had any walking trails.
“Oh yes!” enthused Lady Elliot—and all the other Elliot’s chimed in. They had trails to the farms, the river, the fields. One had a golden meadow—and a marvelous view!
I thought I might be able to walk alone but the idea excited everyone’s attention.
A few more bites of plum tart; a few more sips of cider and beer. A few visits to the water closet. A few moments to gather hats and gloves and walking sticks.
Then everyone started off, languidly, the dog barking and skipping around our heels and the children dancing ahead like little fairies.
I really just wanted to be alone.