Chapter twenty-two

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As October drew to a close, London was thin on company, but Sally could still go out every night if she wished. Antonia and Henry were also in town, and Elf was happy to escort the three ladies any time Papa was not available—most of the time, since he hated attending Society events without Mama, and she had still not shaken off her cold.

Just as well, for if Mama had been her usual self, she would have noticed Sally's unhappiness, and her regular refusal of invitations.

Toad was not coming home for Christmas.

"The French system is different to ours," Aunt Bella explained. "They do not have long summer holidays, or an extensive break during Christmastide, certainly not long enough to make it here and back on shipboard. David is doing very well, and we expect his examination results to be excellent, and your Uncle Wellbridge and I would love to see him. But I have written to his friend Piero's brother and asked David be allowed to spend Christmas at their estate near Florence once their exams are over, as it is much closer. Then he will go directly to Marseilles for the next part of his course and he will not be finished there for another twelve months."

Toad's latest letter was not helping Sally's mood.

The sheer number of clubs for gentlemen is astonishing (and I do not refer to the type of club about which you should not know), to say nothing of the salons and galleries and other such intellectual amusements. If I chose, I would never be forced to enter my own abode again, and could still stay entirely respectable.

Did Toad think she was entirely ignorant of the sorts of clubs and 'salons' he and his new friends frequented, and the exploits making him the talk of male society in both Paris and in London? Respectable, indeed.

Or perhaps not entirely respectable. My study club initiated a wager I dare not have noised about, lest my reputation be ruined forever.

I was required to catch six fine specimens of feline. Picture it (but do not laugh at me, I beg). I was forced to coax them out of their corners and alleyways with the kinds of treats they most enjoy, then release them in most august company. I cannot overstate the lacerations. Can you imagine if I were forced to humiliate myself so to join White's or Brooks's? I can only hope I am not blackballed from those establishments, if news of my disgrace should cross the Channel. I trust you will keep my secret.

Sally frowned over the letter for the fifteenth time. What august company? Surely he meant one of his clubs? She had overheard whispers about Toad and the ladies of the French court, but if he had taken cats into Tuileries, surely it would be the talk of both France and London.

She could picture the scene: six scrawny alley cats, indignant at their incarceration, and the ladies with their fine silks running in every direction, forgetting any lecherous designs they may have on her David. Perhaps it was not such a bad idea after all.

But I have little time for such escapades. By the time you read this, I will be sitting my examinations, and I leave immediately afterwards for Marseilles.

Of course Aunt Bella hadn't told him about her plans for his holiday. It was just like both sets of parents to interfere without asking leave.

I shall be pleased to leave Paris, Sally, but I am sad to be travelling further away from you.

He was pleased to leave Paris. Did that not mean he was not enjoying the court ladies or the models or opera dancers with whom his name had been linked?

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