Authors: Kate Dolan
Lucia stood to join him. She absolutely could not allow Geoffrey to roam the theater by himself. “I would like to join you, if I may.”
One eyebrow arched, giving Geoffrey the look of a distinguished older gentleman questioning the propriety of a young relative’s proposed venture. “Are you sure that would be appropriate, Lucia? I may go in for a smoke, you know.”
“You don’t smoke, Geoffrey.”
The eyebrow arched even higher, if that were possible. “How do you know?”
Lucia smiled. “You are right, of course. It is no business of mine what you do in the company of gentlemen after dinner.” Though she knew for a fact that Geoffrey had never smoked at home, at least. Nicholas always provided her with a summary of her brother’s activities during the interval after dinner, which he usually spent alone because they so seldom entertained guests.
“Nevertheless, I will accompany you as far as practicable.” It was indeed unfortunate that they had not room to accommodate Nicholas in the carriage—he could have at least kept watch over Geoffrey during the intermissions. As always, the duty now fell to her. She placed a hand on her brother’s arm.
“I shall go with you,” Eugenie announced from her seat behind them. “Mother, will you come sit with Helen so that she will not be lonely?”
“I am never lonely,” Helen objected sullenly.
“Nevertheless, I would appreciate the opportunity to visit with you, Miss Wright.” Mrs. Bayles stepped around to take the chair vacated by Lucia.
“Thank you!” Lucia whispered with a smile. Then she followed Geoffrey and Eugenie out into the mêlée.
It was all a little overwhelming. People clustered close together in a series of small spaces, all trying to get past one another yet avoid touching or making eye contact with those not of their acquaintance. Lucia found it easier to simply keep her eyes focused on the floor, following Geoffrey wherever he might lead.
After a few moments, Eugenie put a hand on her arm. “You cannot go in there, Lucia.”
With a start, Lucia looked up to see that they stood outside the gentleman’s smoking room, just as Geoffrey portended. She grinned with embarrassment. “You are right about that. I hope he does not stay too long.”
Eugenie spread her fan and fanned her face a few times. “It has grown rather warm in here.”
“We could step outside for a few moments.”
“It is not
warm. Why do we not look for a space that is not so crowded?”
The two strolled for a moment, then soon found a great deal of said space. The crowd parted like the Red Sea under the staff of Moses. In the center of the dry seabed was not the chariot of the Egyptians, however, but the young gentleman who demonstrated such odd behavior at the Adrington soirée.
How could she forget his name when his face and voice and manners reappeared so often in her memory?
“Lord Rutherford,” Eugenie whispered.
Lucia wondered if she had voiced her question aloud.
“We’d better keep back.” Eugenie pulled her arm.
Lucia resisted. “Why?”
“He is not dangerous,” Lucia scoffed.
how he behaved at the Adrington’s. You probably saw more than anyone else, now that I think of it. He was in that parlor with you when I came back with Peggy.”
“Yes, and his behavior posed no danger to me at all. It was only when Lord Adrington and the others arrived that he started to behave unsoundly.” As if he were putting on an act for them, but not for her.
Nonsense. His words and actions when in the room alone with her were just as unorthodox, albeit rather more appealing. He was the first gentleman to ask her to dance, and certainly the most enthusiastic.
In any case, his behavior now, as he stood speaking with an older lady who appeared to be his mother or another close relation, was beyond reproach. If the two of them realized the rest of the company avoided them like the plague, they gave no sign. Instead, the two smiled as they carried on their quiet conversation, occasionally gesturing or looking briefly about the room.
“We can have nothing to fear from this man. Come, step a few steps from the crowd and give yourself some breathing room.” Lucia walked a few steps toward the isolated couple, then turned and invited Eugenie to follow suit.
Which she did with considerable reluctance.
“You are really quite funny, Eugenie. You are afraid to step within twenty feet of a gentleman who stands quietly speaking with his mother, yet you purposefully set out yourself to bring Helen and Geoffrey to stay under your own roof.”
“I do not understand what your sister and brother have to do with this crazy man.”
“Eugenie, they are very likely as imbalanced as he. If not more so.”
“How could you say such a thing about your own brother? He has never tried to bite anyone.”
“Not yet, anyway.” Lucia had to agree with that assessment. “But I may have given him ample opportunity, leaving him alone for this long. And we did not bring Nicholas, either. Take a final breath of air, Eugenie. It is time to dive back into the crowd.” As she turned to head off in search of her brother, Lucia’s gaze landed squarely on Lord Rutherford. He had been watching her, and the realization sent a warm, tingling sensation spreading from her head to her toes. His mother followed his gaze to look at her also, and Lucia smiled, acknowledging their previous, if unusual, acquaintance.
Then he turned away as if he had not seen her at all.
Edmund wanted to howl—not as a canine, but merely as a gentleman suffering extreme frustration. He could not find anyone who would come close enough to give him the time of day, let alone allow him to confide his plan. Why had he not thought of this beforehand?
From the moment he and his mother disembarked from their carriage, the assembled company had parted before him like…
He disliked biblical analogies. People stayed away. They scurried from his presence as if he were the village tanner.
And while he enjoyed his mother’s company, he would not accomplish his objective by speaking to her all evening.
For a brief moment, it looked as though someone would, finally, end the isolation. Two figures emerged from the throng in the lobby, but his hopes faded quickly as he realized that they were ladies—moreover, ladies not of his acquaintance.
Then he looked again. Though he had not formally been introduced and knew neither of their names, he did feel as if he knew
, at least a little. Watching them from the carriage window had given him a sense of familiarity, as if he were closely acquainted and knew something of their lives.
One of the women he’d seen very little of at all. The shorter of the two, she had a round face with a bowed mouth, much given to dimpled smiles earlier when walking into the theater. Now, however, the bow was drawn up into a pout, as if she were worried or displeased.
The taller young lady he recognized better. Her dark eyes, fringed by black lashes, did not exhibit the sadness they had earlier, nor the concern of her companion. In fact, they danced with light, as though she were laughing privately at some joke. Her eyes had looked that way for a time, when he had tried to get her to dance.
“Do you know that young lady?” his mother asked.
He was supposed to have no memory of his time at the Adrington soirée. “No, I do not know her.” He turned away in time to receive a faint smile from one of the members of the Samaritan’s Club, Lady Silthwaite. For a brief moment, he even considered her as possible confidante, but she was so hard of hearing that any secret he might confide with her would have to be made audible to the whole room.
Intermission would soon end. Even now much of the crowd, including the young lady and her companion, began to move back toward the theater.
The young lady he had met at the Adrington’s might be his only hope. He steered his mother toward Lady Silthwaite and then hurried over to catch up with the young lady. “Excuse me, Miss…”
She paid him no attention, but her companion turned to face him with a horrorstricken gaze as if he’d approached from the grave instead of the other side of the room. She moved her mouth to speak, but no sound came forth as she clutched the arm of her friend.
“Ouch, Eugenie! You are as bad as Helen. Stop squeezing my arm so.” The young lady from the Adrington’s grabbed her companion’s hand, turning so that she could now see him.
And he could see her. Up close, for the first time since their meeting at the fateful soirée. Such expressive eyes. Filled with mirth when she had first turned to him, they now reflected the fear and concern that he was growing used to, and something more.
She waited for a moment for him to speak.
What on earth could he say to her?
“I thought we were looking for Geoffrey.” Her companion had edged around to be as far from Edmund as possible, and she now attempted to steer the pair of them back into the crowd, away from him.
How could he confess his plan to someone he did not know, someone being physically pulled from his presence by a terrified companion, someone whose sincere gaze apparently caused him to lose the power of speech?
Still she waved her companion to be silent and waited with patience for him to speak.
“Ahem.” He hoped an attempt to bring sound to his throat might bring words to his mind. “It is said that fortune favors fools.”
“Yes, I have heard that.” Her forehead creased in a thoughtful frown. “I cannot recollect where.”
“Well…” He could not believe that she continued to listen to him when all he seemed capable of was poor recitation of dramatic prologues. “What I mean to say is that if you can remember that, then I want you to remember also—”
“Ouch!” The young lady whirled around to face her companion.
“There’s Geoffrey now. We must be after him, Lucia!” The companion yanked the young lady away with sudden force.
Her face flashed an apologetic smile just before she disappeared into the crowd. Edmund slowly returned to his mother’s side.
His last chance to confess to an acquaintance, and he had thoroughly botched the matter. To be sure, the circumstances of the conversation had been less than ideal, and he could hardly consider the lady an acquaintance. He did not even know her name. But he could not shake the sense that he had lost an invaluable opportunity, that her confidence was one he could trust.
Surely there were others.
Perhaps not in the theater, where so many came only to “see and be seen”, but London was an immense city, and beyond this company, where the paste jewels outshined the sparkle of any true wit, there lay street after street filled with industrious, honest-working people. If nothing else, perhaps he could buy the trust of one. Employ the trust of one. He could hire a confidant.
Edmund and his mother slowly made their way back to their box just as the roar of conversation quieted to a mere hum and the singers took the stage. Usually, he savored this moment, anticipating the music and drama to come. But tonight he wished the players on stage might simply give up and leave. He could take no pleasure in other’s acting when he had his own to consider.
Coins clinked together. “Thank you, boy.”
Edmund turned to see an usher hold the chair next his mother steady while Mrs. Morris, Jeanne’s aunt, slowly lowered her substantial frame into it. “Good evening, Lord Rutherford,” she whispered.
Jeanne took the seat next to her, fortunately at the other end of the row in their box. Before sitting down, she flashed him a lascivious grin, showing that she had not forgotten their earlier conversation. Or, at least, her part in that earlier conversation. He hoped he had done nothing to encourage the thoughts she apparently still entertained.
He could hear his mother and Mrs. Morris exchange a few whispered words before a sudden loud interval in the music rendered all conversation momentarily inaudible. Then they started again. He could catch few of their words. However, he had a pretty good idea, from the looks cast in his and Jeanne’s direction, about the subject of the conversation.
He had failed, then. His plan to make Jeanne break the engagement had somehow only encouraged her to speed it to conclusion.
Unless he acted right away.
If he could find no one to listen to his words, he would commit them to paper. That would prove—later—that his actions had been the calculated moves of a rational thinker. More or less. He stood, offered whispered excuses to his mother and made his way to the back of the theater.
As he walked, he puzzled his next move. Who would bring paper, pen and a traveling inkwell to the opera?
No one of his acquaintance, certainly. He could send the carriage back to fetch them from home, but that would take too much time.
He gently pried open the doors leading to the lobby, heartily wishing that it were later in the season so that conversation would drown out any noise he might make. The lobby was empty, save for a young man sweeping up broken glass in a far corner. He didn’t look to be the sort to be able to write, let alone one to carry writing implements on his person.