Authors: Kate Dolan
He was right in one sense, at least. The family reputation was indeed well known back home.
“By contrast, you have only seen Miss Eugenia Bayles and her family on one other occasion since leaving school. Who knows what could have happened to them in the interim?”
Geoffrey was starting to sound as though he were preparing for a career in criminal prosecution. With a shudder at the memory of how he had sought to shortcut his start into the legal profession, Lucia decided it would be best to steer him away from this path and back onto the subject of driving a coach. After all, how much harm could he cause in the dense London traffic? She raised her voice. “Does anyone know how far we shall have to drive to get to the theater this evening?”
Mr. Bayles looked up from his newspaper. “I believe it is no more than a mile, all told.”
Geoffrey seated himself at the table and swept a napkin into his lap. “How long does it customarily take you to make the journey?”
Mr. Bayles looked up for a moment, as if the answer were spelled out on the ceiling. “Half an hour? It depends on the traffic, of course.”
“What is the shortest amount of time in which you’ve traveled the route?” Geoffrey pressed him.
Mr. Bayles pursed his lips. “Perhaps twenty minutes?”
Geoffrey rubbed his hands together with anticipation.
“Do not even entertain the thought,” Lucia warned him in a low voice. “You will sit beside Helen in the carriage tonight.”
“I do not believe that’s strictly necessary.” Geoffrey dumped copious amounts of salt on his egg.
“It is, in fact.” Lucia replied. “You are the tallest among us and best able to block her view of the street.”
“But,” Geoffrey waved his fork for emphasis, “she was able to travel the way here perfectly well with the road in sight the better part of the time.”
“Was she?” Lucia smiled at her sister. “That’s wonderful. I’m so pleased to see you making progress.” It seemed as though Helen had outgrown her fear of traveling by coach. Perhaps she might yet outgrow some of her other eccentricities.
Helen wrinkled her nose as she looked up from her meticulous dissection of the egg on her plate. “What do you mean, ‘progress’?”
“Never mind.” Lucia seated herself at the table, then tasted a bite of her poached egg. “Mmm. This egg is delicious.”
Geoffrey eyed her disdainfully. “They’re stone cold.”
“Whst.” Lucia waved toward Mr. Bayles, who had once again buried his nose in the newspaper. “It is still good. Even cold.”
Helen burst into tears.
Lucia turned to her with concern. “Why, Helen, whatever is the matter?”
“It’s ruined, totally ruined. I’ll never be able to get it right, now.” Head bowed, Helen appeared the picture of total dejection.
Mr. Bayles laid down his paper and focused a kindly smile on the sobbing young lady. “What is ruined, my dear?”
“Her egg,” Geoffrey replied without looking up from his own plate. “It usually takes her at least three attempts to get it separated correctly.”
Lucia smothered a laugh so that it came out as a muffled gagging noise, which no one appeared to notice.
“Indeed?” Mr. Bayles peered across the table. “How does one properly separate an egg with a runny center?”
“You see the difficulty, then?” Geoffrey nodded in a rare display of commiseration with his sister. “Lu, you’re the closest. Why don’t you fetch her another egg?”
Glancing around, Lucia saw no sign of Allen or any other servants. “Yes, very well.” Still working to keep a straight face, she took a clean plate, ladled an egg into what she hoped was the geometric midpoint of the circular surface and took it to her sister, whose sobs had quickly subsided into a case of hiccupping sniffles. The other plate, splattered with rivers of egg yolk, she removed, looking around for a place where it could be secreted out of sight.
On her way back to her seat, she leaned over to whisper to Geoffrey. “When did she form this obsession with eggs?”
“Three mornings ago.”
Lucia nodded. She had been away from the twins for less than four days. In that time, Geoffrey had flirted with one new profession—poaching—and started on a second. Helen had apparently lost her fear of viewing the street while riding in a moving vehicle but had taken up the habit of dissecting eggs at breakfast.
And it could have been worse.
She could never leave them for that long again. Ever.
* * * * *
Lady Rutherford stepped in front of her son to prevent his progress toward the door. “Do you really think you are well enough go out tonight?” She peered up intently into his eyes.
“Stop that, Mother. It is very disconcerting to have you stare in my face all day as if I were a museum exhibit.”
“I’m sorry. I
worried about you, that is all.”
“You are welcome to accompany me tonight, if you wish.”
“Would you mind?”
“Not at all.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them.
“You shall have to wait while I dress.”
“That will be fine. The opera does not start until eight o’clock. I believe you have sufficient time yet.” But now he would not have time to stop in at the club beforehand as he had planned.
“Thank you.” His mother smiled as she whirled away toward the stairs.
Edmund removed his hat and cloak with a sigh. If he did not have time to visit Whites in search of a confidant, he would have to seek one out during the opera—a dicey proposition at best.
His mother descended the stairs after a reasonable interval, which time Edmund had consumed primarily by pacing back and forth in his study considering possible confidants.
It would really all depend on who was in attendance tonight anyway, unless he waited for a future opportunity.
After settling into the carriage, Edmund and Lady Rutherford exchanged smiles, nervous at first, but gradually growing more relaxed.
“I’m so glad you are well tonight, Edmund. I know Mercet is one of your favorite composers.”
“Indeed, a most charming and witty fellow. His music may not be the most original, but he always chooses a very entertaining libretto.”
“And it is early enough in the season that there won’t be too much conversation to drown the sound of the performers.”
“One hopes, anyway.”
“And I believe we shall be in fine company tonight. The Ponsons are to attend, and I believe Miss Newman said she and her aunt planned to go as well.”
“Really. That is…splendid.”
Had Jeanne known that he planned to go to the opera tonight or was this merely one of those horrid coincidences that made life so deuced unpleasant at times?
Edmund could think of nothing else to say and so they rode the rest of the way in silence, with his mother peering in close from time to time, apparently to make sure he had not transmogrified into some hideous beast.
Outside the theater, the interminable wait began as carriages queued up in front of the building to dislodge their occupants with maddening sluggishness.
Despite the chill in the air, Edmund opened the window to watch the disembarkation, hoping for some entertainment from the experience.
He was not disappointed.
The sound of distant shrieks called his attention to a carriage that had just rounded the corner behind them. The cries subsided somewhat as the horses drew to a stop. A tall, gangly young fellow hopped down off the box and opened the door.
“Now I shall sit next to Helen as you wanted, Lu!” he announced before squeezing his frame inside.
The horses in the line of waiting carriages began to plod forward again as space cleared in front of the theater.
Shrieks issued forth from the carriage behind him again. Edmund ignored them this time.
The horses stopped.
The shrieks stopped.
The horses started forward.
The shrieks grew even louder. Edmund turned back to look again and saw that this time the carriage behind remained stopped. The door was open and the gangly young gentleman hoisted out a young lady. Gradually her shrieks became audible as words. “Put me down, Geoffrey! Put me down this instant!” She hit him with an umbrella.
He obediently started to lower her into a large mud puddle at the edge of the street.
“No, no, pick me up! Pick me up!”
“Set her on the sidewalk, Geoffrey, please,” called a voice from inside the carriage.
The said Geoffrey complied, then assisted two other young ladies to step down from the carriage without landing in the mud. An older gentleman followed, offering his arm to help a silver-haired lady, presumably his wife. After much straightening of gowns and cloaks (they must have been packed exceedingly close in the carriage), the party set forth toward the theater. Since they were still some way from the building, they walked alone, all other carriages not depositing their occupants until at least within the scant glow of the lanterns at the entrance.
Edmund’s carriage moved forward again so that it took another minute or so for the party to walk close enough that he could see them in detail. The young gentleman strode out well ahead of the others in an exceptionally rude display of physical prowess. One of the young ladies strolled in the company of the older lady and gentleman. At the rear of the party, somewhat lagging, was the young lady who had been dragged shrieking from the carriage at the start. Like the gangly young gentleman, she was also somewhat tall and awkward, though she hunched forward as she walked so that her height did not make much of an impression. After a moment, he realized the reason for her stooped posture—she was counting the paving stones as she walked.
At her side was another young lady who seemed to urge her to move faster and frequently gestured toward the other members of the party, now a great many feet ahead. He could not see her as clearly as her counting companion until they drew quite close to his carriage.
Then he recognized the dark eyes and sad countenance of the young lady he had encountered in the small parlor at the Adrington soirée. At this moment, she looked rather more impatient than sad, and he could well understand why. Her companion’s odd behavior, walking with mincing steps while banging out counts with a gentleman’s umbrella, was starting to attract unfavorable attention.
“Helen, please,” she urged, “you will have to stop counting now and take bigger steps.”
“Three hundred and seventy-eight…”
The young lady from Adrington’s grabbed Helen’s elbow and propelled her forward.
“You’ve ruined it!” Helen wrenched herself away. “I’ve lost count now.”
Her companion closed her eyes in a long, exasperated sigh.
Edmund admired her patience. He himself would have given up and heaved Helen back into the mud puddle long ago.
His carriage pulled several paces forward and he lost sight of both young ladies and their party amid the crowd flooding into the theater building.
What was her name?
She had given her name to Adrington during the soirée, in that ghastly little room where they had cornered him. He had only half paid attention at the time. After all, though pleasant enough, the young lady was shy, unassuming and not really the sort to attract attention or remain in the memory.
Though apparently she had remained in his.
And he had heard her name. It galled him to think he could not recall it now. The name was there, certainly, in the recesses of his mind. All he would have to do was resolve not to think of it, and the name would spring to mind while he was fully occupied with something else.
“Mother?” He turned away from the window. “Do you know any of the players for tonight’s…”
He saw that his mother had fallen asleep.
* * * * *
Mr. Bayles’ face suddenly loomed large in front of her in the dim light. “Are you enjoying the opera so far, Miss Wright?”
“Yes, very much, thank you,” Lucia answered.
Though I would enjoy it a great deal more if Helen would stop poking me.
“I find the pace rather too slow,” Geoffrey opined. “The entire first act is at an end, and they have done no more than talk to each other. Or rather, sing.”
Helen leaned in across Lucia to address her brother. “This is the opera, Geoff. That’s all they’re
to do. Though I do believe there has been entirely too much hand wringing.”
“Yes. The heroine has wrung her hands thirty-seven times so far.”
“Perhaps it is a nervous habit she affects to help her reach the high notes?”
“Perhaps.” Helen sat back.
“So there’s to be no swordplay, then?”
“In ‘The Virtuous Vicar’?” Lucia shook her head. “I’m sorry, Geoff. Some operas do indeed have a more active theme and fights of some sort. But even those you would probably find a bit droll. I believe they rather more sing about fights than actually engage in them.”
Geoffrey stood. “All this talk has made me restless. I need to take some exercise. If you will excuse me, ladies, Mr. Bayles?”