As Lady Brockenhurst’s carriage pulled up outside the house in Eaton Square, Ellis could barely contain her curiosity. Standing at the window of Mrs Trenchard’s dressing room, her breath fogging the pane, she strained to see the activity in the street below. The Countess, in an elegant plumed hat and carrying a parasol, was leaning forward to give instructions to her coachman. Next to her in the barouche, also protected from the warm sunshine by a delicate fringed parasol, was Lady Maria Grey. She wore a pale blue and white striped skirt, finished with a tight, military-style navy jacket. Her face was framed in a matching blue bonnet edged with cream lace. In short, Maria looked, as she had fully intended, ravishing. They did not climb down onto the pavement. Instead, one of the postilions advanced towards the door and rang the bell.
Ellis knew they had come to collect the mistress, and so she headed for the stairs as quickly as she could manage, carrying everything she’d need. Mrs Trenchard was already waiting in the hall.
‘Will you require me any further this morning, ma’am?’ asked the maid, holding up a green pelisse.
‘I won’t, thank you.’
‘I expect you’re going somewhere nice, ma’am.’
‘Nice enough.’ Anne was too taken up with the prospect ahead of her to pay much attention to the question. And she had, after all, managed to conceal her destination from James, so she was hardly likely to give it away to her lady’s maid.
Of course Ellis had a good idea where they were going, but she would have liked confirmation. Still, if she was frustrated, she did not show it. ‘Very good, ma’am. I hope you enjoy yourself.’
‘Thank you.’ Anne nodded to the footman, who opened the door. She also had a parasol, just in case. She was quite ready. Lady Brockenhurst and Maria both smiled as she climbed in.
Maria had moved so that she sat with her back to the horses, a real courtesy to someone of inferior rank, and Anne appreciated it. In short, nothing was going to spoil this day. Lady Brockenhurst was not her favourite companion on earth, but they had something in common – neither would deny that – and today they were, in a way, going to celebrate it.
‘Are you sure you’re quite comfortable, my dear?’ Anne nodded. ‘Then we’ll go.’ The coachman took up the reins and the carriage moved off.
Caroline Brockenhurst had decided to be pleasant with Mrs Trenchard today. Like Anne, she was looking forward to seeing the young man again, and she found that her pity for this woman whose world was on the brink of destruction was, if anything, stronger than before. She did not think it would take much longer for the story to come out, after which Edmund’s memory would be, if anything, enhanced and Sophia Trenchard’s would be ruined. It really was very sad. Even she could see that.
Anne looked at the wall of the gardens of Buckingham Palace as they drove by. How strange it was, the composition of their world. A young woman in her early twenties was the pinnacle of social ambition; to be in her presence was the very peak that men like James, clever men, talented men, high-achieving men, strove for, as a crowning glory after a lifetime of success, and yet what had she done, this girl? Nothing. Just been born. Anne was not a revolutionary. She had no desire for the country to be overturned. She didn’t like republics, and she would be content to curtsey low before the Queen should the chance ever arise, but she could still wonder at the illogic of the system that surrounded her.
‘Oh, look. She’s in London.’ Maria’s eyes were staring upward. It was true. The Royal Standard was fluttering above the roof of the Palace, at the back of the open courtyard. Anne stared at the huge, columned portico with its glazed porte- cochère, designed to shield the royal family as they clambered in and out of their coaches. It was rather public, when you thought about it. But then, they must be used to being an object of curiosity.
The carriage continued down the Mall and soon Anne was admiring the splendours of Carlton House Terrace, which still impressed her with the novelty and magnificence of its design, even ten years after it was finished.
‘I hear that Lord Palmerston has taken Number Five,’ said Maria. ‘Do you know the houses at all?’
‘I’ve never been inside one,’ said Anne.
But nothing could silence Maria. She was as excited as a child in a toyshop, and they all knew why. ‘Oh, I do like the look of the grand old Duke of York. I don’t quite know why he is commemorated so vividly, but I am so glad that he is.’ They had reached the break in the terraces, where a wide flight of steps led up to a tall column holding a statue of the second son of King George III. ‘I wonder...