‘There’s nothing I like better than beginning the Christmas festivities with your Ball here in Turnham House, Leonora. The whole setting is so beautifully unspoilt Tudor and yet the rest of the year you spend so little time here, I can’t understand why.’
‘My dear Juliana, this place is dead. The neighbours are boorish farmers or these new industrialists playing at being country gentlemen, who have the money but no style to go with it, and what’s more without a brain between them. Tristan loves it, well he’s welcome. Give me London any day, at least something happens there, even if it is only gossip.’
‘You’ve invited some interesting guests this year. Even that arrogant, stern-faced, stiff-necked Major Gurney’s come, but that face! Wouldn’t want to see that on the pillow every morning.’
‘My dear Juliana, I don’t think it’s his face all the girls find fascinating, they line up to sleep in his bed, and he’s more than willing to oblige.’
Juliana reproved her cousin. ‘You are indelicate, cousin. I see Tristan’s around, I must remember to have a word.’
‘Is he? We came separately, he’s been here two weeks already.’
‘Didn’t you know? You should, after all he’s your husband!’ Juliana returned to surveying the guests. ‘I say! You know Major Gurney? He’s watching someone. Well. . . . .his face has. . . well, it’s changed completely, he looks nothing like as severe as he did. He’s smiling, my dear, at someone, but there’s such a crowd I can’t tell who he’s smiling at. Ohh! I don’t believe this! Why! Heaven’s above, it’s your Charlotte! He’s smiling at your Charlotte. I say!’
‘That old spinster bluestocking daughter of mine doesn’t get a smile from any man living. You’re mistaken.’ And Leonora dismissed her cousin’s observations as not worth even thinking about for another second.
‘I’m not mistaken! They’re walking towards each other. . .and. . . .his hand’s outstretched. . . .she’s smiling, why she’s transformed!’
‘I doubt it. It can’t be Charlotte. Definitely not. She’s not his sort at all. Believe me. It’s not a woman’s brain he’s interested in and that’s all she is. A brain.’ Leonora laughed at her own wit.
‘No, no, he’s smiling with such. . . . .well, such. . . . . .delight. They’ve obviously met before.’
‘Now you are being ridiculous, more likely he’s looking as though he’s sucked a lemon once he’s seen her face. No man this side of the Thames would smile with delight at her, believe me. Come to think of it no man would smile with delight at Charlotte no matter where he lived.’ Leonora, small in stature, couldn’t see, but as it couldn’t possibly be her daughter she ignored her cousin’s enthusiasm yet again.
‘Why, he’s taken hold of her hand and kissed it.’
‘Kissed it! Now I do know it’s not Charlotte!’
‘Now. . . .he’s turned her hand over and. . . . .yes. . . . .he’s kissing the palm of her hand with what I can only, oh! my! describe as. . . well as lingering kisses. He doesn’t seem to care that the whole world is watching. They’re all looking at him!’