Chapter Thirty-Six: Part 2

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Sharing a room with her two friends the night before the wedding, Sally once again had to bite down hard on her jealousy.

Antonia and Lady Tarrington had shared the duty of a mother's pre-wedding counsel to the orphaned bride, and Emma had come blushing to bed.

"For I could not tell Peter's mother that we had..."

"Emma, you haven't!" Henry sounded more intrigued than shocked.

Emma turned even redder. "We meant to wait. But I cannot believe it wrong, Henry. We love one another, and we have made our own vows."

"In Scotland, you are married just by saying you are," Sally pointed out.

"In front of witnesses, though," Henry argued, "so a man can't lie and then leave a woman ruined."

Emma was indignant. "Not Peter!"

"No, I didn't mean Peter. Not Andrew, either, I am sure. But how can we know? A seducer needs to be convincing, I should think."

Not Toad, Sally wanted to say. He didn't leave her ruined, or not by choice. But her friends were studiously not looking at her, and Henry changed the subject to ask what Emma planned to wear for her wedding night.

Emma coloured again when she displayed the frivolous negligible she pulled from her packed trunk. Pure white silk trimmed with lace and stitched tucks, it was modestly cut high in the neck and would sweep the floor when Emma wore it.. But as she held it up, Sally could see her shape through the fabric. The matching robe was no heavier. Emma would be both fully concealed and fully exposed.

"Goodness," Henry said.

"Not even slightly," Sally suggested, making the others laugh.

Henry begged the name of the maker, and Sally knew she was imagining Elf's reaction, because Sally was picturing Toad's. David's. Yes, if---no when she wore garments like these, it would be for David.

****

After the wedding, Sally was anxious to get back to Winds' Gate and Grandmama. Antonia and Henry intended to stay with the Wakefields in London for a few days before heading to their own country estate, and Papa would not let Sally travel with only her maid and a footman.

"I suppose I should be grateful that Longford and Stocke were heading North, and happy to make the detour and pay their respects to Grandmama," she wrote to Toad.

The brothers had complained about the early start and fallen asleep almost before they pulled out from Fenchurch Station, so she was free to catch up on her correspondence.

If only she could think about something light and amusing to write.

If only Toad was here with her, teasing her out of the dismals and soothing the chatter in her mind.

The maid brought her a tray of morning tea, then retreated to the servant's compartment at the end of the carriage, leaving her alone with her sleeping cousins. How could Papa possibly think she was safer with those two rakes than alone with her servants?

Though he was right, of course. They had both flirted with her; both even proposed to her, if Longford's insulting offer could be called a proposal. But she'd never detected a spark of real interest, and certainly never felt one.

Stocke was tired, but Longford looked ill. He had lost weight, and dark circles under his eyes testified to too many nights with too little sleep. Even now, he shifted restlessly, almost rousing, and she looked away, afraid that the weight of her gaze might wake him.

She reread what she had written so far, then looked out the window, as if inspiration might be engraved on the landscape. Perhaps she should tell Toad about Beckett. A letter from her great-aunt reported that the maid and her baby had arrived safely and been settled into the village. Enclosed was a brief note of thanks in a round childish hand. "You have changed my life forever," Beckett wrote. As did her seducer, indulging his lust and leaving her ruined. Clearly he didn't care; perhaps didn't even know.

Sally glared at Longford, whose mistress's baby would be born in Wingatt this side of Christmas. Was it his, and did he care? Papa's acknowledgement and sponsorship of his illicitly begotten offspring might not be unique, but Sally didn't think it was common, either. Still. In how many other families were such non-official connections known but not discussed with outsiders?

At least Papa's bastards all predated his marriage! She would swear he had been faithful to Mama, as had Uncle Nick to Aunt Bella. But Emma's mother had fled with a lover, and people gossiped behind their hands about who fathered which married lady's newest baby.

Toad had been careful not to get her with child, but how many of his lovers had quickened? Did he know? No. She wouldn't tell Toad about Beckett.

"That is a large sigh, cousin Sal."

Longford was awake, still lounging relaxed in the comfortable chair next to his brother, his lips an amused curl. How dare he patronise her, the dissolute rake. She spoke without thinking. "Is the baby yours? Did you throw her out when you found she was with child?"

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