“I wonder what that was all about,” I thought to myself, biting my lower lip as I often did whenever I was pensive. “Who could that mysterious ‘her’ be? And why was Lady Marguerite staring at de Grave in that way…?”
“Well, you look the very figure of contemplation! In fact, if I were a skilled artist, I should wish to draw you in such a pose and I daresay I would title it, ‘Contemplation.’”
I came out of my reverie with a start, finding Lord Windham gazing at me with a twinkle lighting up his dark eyes.
“Oh, I’m just tired. We were at another ball last night, the Joffreys’, and I’m afraid I haven’t gotten much sleep.” I feigned what I hoped was a very realistic yawn. Lord Windham, however, didn’t seem very convinced.
“Miss Beatrice Hughley,” the servant announced in a sonorous tone. I looked up, as did many guests, curious to see who the late-comer was.
A young woman stood uncertainly on the threshold. She was so pale she was almost translucent, and her hair, a red so vivid it shone through the powder, was wound in intricate plaits upon her head. Amber eyes fringed with impossibly long lashes peered out into the room, searching the tables. As her eyes fell upon our table, a tremulous smile lit up her face and she began walking towards us, the voluminous skirts of her pale pink gown whispering as she moved.
Next to me, Lord Windham stood, a ready smile upon his lips. “Dearest Betty,” he said, holding out his hands. Miss Hughley took his hands and smiled up at him.
“Geoffrey, I haven’t seen you in ages. How is your sister?”
The other guests turned their attention back to their plates, bored again, and I attempted to do the same. When I turned back to face the table, I noticed that de Grave was no longer there.
Isabelle, however, was still in her seat, chatting amiably with the elderly lady seated on her left, and seemingly unperturbed by the empty seat on her right. Before I could catch my cousin’s attention, Lord Windham began speaking to me.
“Miss Delacourt, have you met Miss Hughley?”
I smiled at Miss Hughley and was rewarded with an engaging smile in return. “No, I haven’t. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Hughley. I’m Samantha Delacourt.”
Thankfully, I was able to essay a more or less decent curtsy this time. Miss Hughley exclaimed, “What beautiful eyes you have, Miss Delacourt! They’re like emeralds.”
“Thank you, and please, do call me Samantha.”
“Only if you will call me Betty.” Miss Hughley – Betty – stopped and regarded me with a candid stare, then said, “I have a feeling we are going to become very good friends, Samantha.”
Lord Windham chuckled. “And Betty’s feelings are never wrong, are they, Betty?”
Betty reverted her attention to him. “Geoffrey, I could’ve sworn I saw de Grave. Is he here?”
Lord Windham’s smile never wavered though I noticed his eyes narrow almost imperceptibly.
“He stepped out just before you arrived, most likely gone to partake of some snuff in the gardens as he’s wont to do after the first course. You know how devilish fond he is of that rubbish.”
Betty laughed, the sound of it like a tinkling bell. “Yes, that does sound like Vincent. Well, I suppose I’ll go and surprise him. No, don’t worry, Geoffrey, I can find my way. And besides, I should go apologize to Lady Maguerite for my late arrival. She’s been staring daggers at me since I entered the room. It was a pleasure to meet you, Samantha. I’ll be in touch.”