It was almost ten o’clock. Anne Trenchard’s hands were trembling and her stomach was knotted with excitement. She stared at herself in the glass, silently willing Ellis to hurry up and put the finishing touches to her hair. She was wearing a tiara and she could feel some of the pins pricking her scalp.
She would have a headache before the evening was over. That much she knew.
She glanced across at the gilt clock on her chimney piece. Two rather sulky-looking cherubs held up the face between them. Belgrave Square was less than five minutes away by carriage. It would be impolite to arrive much before half past, but she wasn’t sure she could wait that long.
It was rare for Anne to feel any kind of enthusiasm when it came to social engagements. But then again, it was rarer still to meet one’s own grandson for the first time in twenty-five years. Could Lady Brockenhurst’s letter be true? Anne couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it. What would he look like, she wondered, adjusting her diamond collier de chien. He used to have pale blue eyes, just like Sophia’s, but then all babies are born with blue eyes so perhaps they’d changed. She remembered his scent, warm and sweet with milk, his sturdy little legs and dimpled knees and the strong grip of his tiny hand. She also remembered all the emotions she had gone through: the anger and the terrible, painful sadness when he had been taken from her. How one small, helpless human being could provoke such feelings was beyond understanding. She lifted Agnes from her attendant position at her mistress’s feet. There was something comforting in her unqualified love, or was it just a need to be fed that kept her faithful? Guilty at doubting her, Anne kissed the dog’s nose.
‘Are you ready?’ asked James, poking his balding head around the door. ‘Susan and Oliver are in the hall.’
‘We don’t want to be the first there.’ But Anne smiled at her husband’s ebullience; there was nothing he enjoyed more than a grand evening out, and few came more grand than an ‘At Home’ at Brockenhurst House.
‘We won’t be. There’ll have been a crowd for dinner.’ Which was true enough. They were in the second tier of invités. She knew James would have sold his soul to be on the list of the dining guests, but he was too excited to let that spoil things now. It was odd the way he appeared, in his eagerness to be received in Brockenhurst House, to have forgotten the very real connection between the families. Apparently they were to conduct themselves as if there were no link, there was no child. Of course he was in for an awakening if Charles Pope were present, but there was no point in disturbing him now. She stood. ‘Very well. Ellis, could you fetch my fan, please? The new Duvelleroy.’
Despite James’s generous allowance, Anne had little interest in fashion, but fans were one of her few extravagances. Indeed she had quite a collection. The Duvelleroy was one of the best. Hand-painted and exquisitely made, she kept it for special occasions. Ellis slipped it into her hand. It featured a painted image of the new French royal family, brought to the throne by a revolution a decade before. She stared at the plump, elderly King. How long would he hold on to that troubled, slippery crown, she wondered? But then, how long would she be able to keep her own secret? How long would they continue to enjoy fortune’s favour before it all came crashing down around their ears?
James’s impatience broke into her musings. ‘We mustn’t let the horses catch a chill.’ She nodded and, clutching the fan to her bosom, she tried to control her nerves as she followed her husband’s jaunty gait towards the staircase. How she hoped, she prayed, he might understand what she had done in breaking her silence. There had been no other choice, she told herself. Maybe, in time, he would forgive her. She had been wrong to think he had put Sophia and Bellasis out of his mind, which she realised as they reached the foot of the stair. ‘Don’t forget.’ He laid his hand lightly on her sleeve. ‘You are not to mention anything about the other business. I absolutely forbid it.’ She nodded but her heart sank. Surely at the first moment of being introduced to Mr Pope he would know that the cat was out of the bag. For the hundredth time she was torn between anger and a tingle of anticipation.
Anne noticed she wasn’t the only one who was excited. Susan was considerably more animated than usual. Her auburn hair was swept up and she wore a becoming pearl parure of necklace, bracelet and earrings. More to the point, her habitually sour mouth bore a smile. At last she had succeeded in storming the citadel, and she was clearly going to make the most of it. She’d spent three days with her dressmaker putting...