Chapter Fifteen

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Dear Toad,

Today's letter must perforce be short, for we were delayed at a dress fitting. Now that we are home, Mama has sent for me to come to meet my callers, which I will not do until I have penned a quick note to my dearest friend.

Sally was tempted to underline the last three words, since her father would read this letter before Toad ever saw it. But she would not give Toad the satisfaction. She had overheard her parents and cousins talking about his exploits at different times—and in very different tones—though they all hushed the moment they knew she was listening. She had heard frustratingly little, but it seemed he had lost no time in seeking his own pleasures among the artists and dancers of Paris.

But in his first letter, handed over by her father just this morning, he had suggested she might wish to decorate his home and be hostess in it. Didn't that mean he still wanted to marry her? Was he speaking in a code of sorts to her, or was he merely trying to annoy her father?

What did he mean, then, by giving her advice on who to marry and how long to wait? Was he trying to say she should wait for him, or was he only acting the older brother and warning her against fortune hunters and rakes? As if he had any sort of authority to advise her on avoiding rogues who might steal her virtue.

How dare he give her instructions about finding a husband! It would serve him right if she did secure 'the greatest match in all of Christendom.' She could do it, too. How frustrating not to know whether he would care.

Sally wished she had more time to ponder his letter and her reply. But she expected afternoon callers to start arriving, and had promised to go driving with Elfingham later in the afternoon. It would be rude to put him off, and tonight, they had guests to dinner, then the theatre, and finally a soirée. Tomorrow would be even busier, with a special celebration planned for Papa's birthday, and the following week would be no more peaceful. The Season was in full swing, and the Haverfords much in demand.

A fortnight after my ball, I think I am safe in saying your predictions have proved true. Your childhood playmate is an acknowledged success, with callers and suitors and even cards in the print shop windows (so my maid tells me). I have instructed her to purchase a set and will send you a copy of mine when next I write. They are called The Season's Beauties and have captions rather than names, but everyone knows who the six ladies are. My caption says 'The Duke's Delightful Daughter.'

As if her illustrious parentage and attractively arranged features were her only assets. None of the men who offered for her hand showed any interest in the mind that came with it.

I wonder how many of the gentlemen who swamp this house with flowers and poorly written poems would bother were I not Their Graces of Haverford's daughter? I daresay, too, my substantial dowry is well known to those who seek to marry me. Certainly better known than my personality or interests, which few have bothered to investigate.

Papa had received fourteen applications for permission to court Sally, all from men who barely knew her. They had stood up with her for a dance at a ball or sat with her at a musical evening or been assigned to the place next to her for the length of a dinner party. How could they possibly make a decision affecting their whole future—her whole future—on such slender information?

Papa had been true to his word and turned them away, saying his daughter would not be permitted to choose a suitor during her first Season. Some of the rejected swains had taken that as licence to haunt the house, and Sally had needed to be very firm when deflating their extravagant compliments and flirting.

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