Chapter 4

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[RECAP: The newly-wealthy St Clair sisters continue to enjoy themselves in Bath, with the kind Mrs Harcourt acting as chaperone...]


Maria and Henrietta had been invited out by some new friends the following evening. Diana declined to go, preferring to remain with the Harcourts and attend their dinner party. "It is only a small affair of old friends," Jocasta Harcourt had told her. "I dare say you will find them all very elderly and stuffy. But if you were to come, we will have even numbers for whist."

Diana, who could not face another night in jonquil, was more than glad to do so. She had not greatly taken to Lucy Beasley or her sister Mrs Petersham. That Mrs Harcourt welcomed her presence to make up the numbers strengthened her resolve to stay.

"I cannot think why you choose to remain behind," Maria remarked. "Miss Beasley and her sister are very well connected in Bath society. They have promised to introduce us to the very best people."

"Then you may introduce me to them once you enjoy the same acquaintance," Diana replied.

Henrietta found herself ambivalent as to her younger sister accompanying them. On one hand she felt that three sisters presented far more of a spectacle than two. But on the other hand, she had become increasingly aware that Diana had blossomed in a manner that rivalled her own attractions. Diana's hair might not curl, but it was a bright gold, and her silver-grey eyes and even features might well be regarded as beautiful.

Deciding that such competition was a disadvantage, Henrietta did not protest her sister's absence. She busied herself choosing a gown and accoutrements, and having the maid attend to her hair. This was a luxury that Henrietta revelled in, after suffering the less dextrous attempts of her sisters over the years. "We will be sure to bring you an account of anyone interesting," she promised her youngest sister.

While her sisters readied themselves Diana wrote a letter to her mother. She needed little time herself to dress for dinner. Mrs Harcourt had lent her a Spanish shawl to mask the worst of the puce gown, and Diana was hopeful that by candlelight its hue might be softened further.

Diana's letters were filled with spirit and amusing anecdotes of their time in Bath. A naturally engaging correspondent, she had the gift of turning the most mundane social event into a fascinating intrigue and making a witty caricature of the dullest of people. She was never unkind, but she was observant. If she allowed herself a little exaggeration, her conscience was assuaged by the fact that the persons in question would never read it.

As a result the Honourable Frederick Fulham became even more eager and foppish, and his noble cousin all the more stiff-lipped and haughty. "I am sure that the Duke quite disdained us at the Assembly rooms," Diana wrote, "for he would not even approach our group, but instead sent some other man to command his relative's return. I caught sight of him in the street the following day and he looked no less formidable. They say he is to marry an Earl's daughter. I can only say that I am very glad myself not to have been born to such high rank and have such a husband forced upon me."

Of the former Mary Elford, now Mrs Hollis, she wrote in glowing terms, expressing how well she looked, and passing on Mary's best wishes to her mother. "I have not yet met her husband but he sounds a fine man, and Mary is eager for me to visit them in London. They have a house near St James's Park, which is a good area of town, is it not? I hope you will have no objections, mamma, since I am keen to accept their kind invitation."

At dinner Diana found that she was to be seated between Colonel Arbuthnot, a retired military gentleman with large moustaches, and Mr Grange, a scholarly man in his late forties with a surprisingly vivacious wife. This lady was one of Mrs Harcourt's dearest friends and Diana was glad to make her acquaintance.

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