Chapter 3

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[RECAP: The St Clair sisters, now rich, are enjoying the social scene in Bath. Among the people pointed out to them is the devastatingly handsome and rich Duke of Eastleigh...]

The following morning Diana accompanied Mrs Harcourt on an errand in town. Her sisters, claiming exhaustion from the dancing the previous night, had not yet risen.

It had rained earlier but the sun had now broken through, and the streets of Bath were bright and bathed with gold. The milliner's shop where Mrs Harcourt was purchasing gloves was crowded with people, so Diana remained outside. As she waited, she caught sight of a familiar face.

"Mary Elford!"

"Miss Diana!"

The two young women greeted one another in delight. Mary Elford was the daughter of the vicar in the village where the St Clairs had formerly resided. Only a year older than Maria, she had been engaged as their governess, though even her meagre wage had been a strain on the family's purse. Eventually, when Maria and Henrietta outgrew the schoolroom, Mrs St Clair had been forced to let Mary go.

Diana had missed her most of all. Despite the gap in years between the two girls, Mary had been as a sister to her. More so than her actual sisters, for she and Mary had shared a love of nature, of reading and of history.

"But how you are grown! And become so lovely!" Mary laughed. "I dare say I make myself sound very elderly, saying such. But I am an old married woman myself now." The merry twinkle in her eye and the healthy glow in her cheeks bore strong witness against such a description.

"Of course! I had forgotten that you are married," Diana said.

"Yes. I am no longer Mary Elford, the Reverend Elford's daughter, but Mrs Matthew Hollis. And we have a son, William, just past his first birthday."

Diana expressed congratulations and said how very happy they had all been to hear the news. "We were so sorry to part company with you." She remembered the time when Mary had departed. It had followed a bitterly cold winter where Mrs St Clair had struggled to buy enough firewood to keep their cottage warm. The damp had seeped into all their bones and there had been doctors' bills to pay. A terrible influenza had swept the village and taken several of the elderly and frail. Mrs St Clair herself had been much weakened by it.

Both were silent for a moment, remembering that difficult time.

"But I understand you have recently come into much happier circumstances?" Mary said. "My father wrote to tell me. I am so very glad for you all. How is your mother's health?"

"I believe it is already improved," Diana said. "I am hopeful that the better air of our new house will do much to restore her. Did you hear that we are now the guardians of a flock of rare sheep?"

Mary had heard this. "With golden fleeces, according to rumours in the parish."

Diana laughed. "With shaggy and unkempt fleeces, but I dare say they will be washed to snow white at spinning time. Tell me more of your marriage and your husband."

Blushing, Mary began a glowing description of her husband, before hesitating. "He is in trade, of course..." She trailed off, embarrassed.

"What is the problem with that?" Diana asked.

Mary tried to explain. "It is not of the station of your sisters and yourself, of course." Marriage to a man in business had cemented her rank as below that that of the St Clairs.

Diana dismissed this qualm. "But he is a good man, and his work his honest?" she asked, to which her friend nodded. "Then I do not see the problem. I would far rather take an honest tradesman as husband than" - Diana cast around for some antithesis to this - "an arrogant Duke."

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