Sally had always run tame in Dalrymple House, treating it as an extension of her own home. It was a new experience to be left in an anonymous reception room while Blakeley went to see whether Aunt Bella would see her. At least Blakeley's tone was apologetic and his eyes kind.
It didn't matter. Nothing had mattered since she first felt the awful force of Mama's arguments for leaving England. Sally could lay it out like a mathematical equation.
Proposition: Toad had said he would come nearly two months ago, in February.
Fact: Toad's new company was sending ships hither and yon, according to the shipping news, giving him endless opportunities to come back to her, but he had, instead, been seen in Florence in March, socializing in the ducal Court with his friends Piero and Arturo and their beautiful and marriageable sister.
She blinked hard and took a deep breath. 'Never leap to conclusions unsupported by the evidence,' the best tutor she had ever had would say. Let the ninnies of Society draw inferences from Toad's presence in Florence. She knew him better than any of them.
Fact: She could trust Toad to do as he promised, but he had not come, nor sent a message to explain the delay.
Inescapable conclusion: Toad was delayed by circumstances beyond his control. The Toad who had written that letter at Christmas would have fought anything, overcome any obstacle, to be with her—if he could. So, it followed that he couldn't. Or that he had changed his mind and wouldn't.
His letters must be lost, by mischance or human interference. She had directly accused her father, but he denied it. He might keep the truth from her, as he had with the proposal, but he would not lie.
She had to hold on to hope, Grandmama had scolded. Look at Grandmama's first love, believed dead for more than twenty-five years, but alive all along and happily married to Grandmama for more than Sally's lifetime?
But Sally had little hope. Whether he couldn't come or wouldn't, she was still alone, lost in a cold world without him in it. She didn't want to believe the worst; held tight to the thin possibility that he was on his way, as frantic to be with her as she was to be with him.
And that was why she was here, to say her goodbyes to his parents and to leave him a letter. She had already left one with Grandmama, and another with Etcetera.
She survived within a frail shell of pride, ignoring comforters and detractors alike. But that armour would shatter when—no, if—the dreadful news finally arrived, and she was not going to splinter into a million pieces for the entertainment of England. She was going away. But first, she was going to leave Toad a letter, and hope and pray he was alive to receive it.
"Sally, my dearest girl." Bella came into the receiving room. "I am ashamed you were left here like an unwelcome guest. Come." She held out her hand. "We shall take tea in my sitting room and shut out the world."
Sally took Bella's hand, and for a moment felt the world slip into its proper shape. "Aunt Bella, I am so, so sorry for all..."
"Hush, my sweet, until we are behind closed doors."
Sally suppressed a sob and fell silent, gesturing to her maid to remain where she was. She followed Bella, obediently silent until she was safely in Aunt Bella's sitting room, where she could at last allow the tears to flow.
"Let it out, my darling," Aunt Bella murmured, holding her close. "You deserve to wallow in heartbreak for a time. It is all so unfair."
"I love him so, Aunt Bella. Why does he not come? He would come if he could. I know he would."
YOU ARE READING
Never Kiss a ToadRomance
[A Victorian romance continuing family stories begun in the various Regency books of Jude Knight and Mariana Gabrielle.] David "Toad" Northope, heir to the Duke of Wellbridge and rogue in the mold of his infamous father, knows Lady Sarah "Sal" Grenf...