Anne Trenchard was sitting at the breakfast table, eating scrambled eggs. She and James had been up half the night, trying to work out what they could do when Lady Brockenhurst acknowledged Charles. But in the end Anne was forced to admit that James was right. They would lose Charles the instant the Countess welcomed him into her family. They could never explain to him who they were, or how they were connected, not if they wanted to protect the memory of Sophia. It would have to be enough that James had invested in Charles’s business and been his benefactor. They must try to maintain some sort of link through that. Although they would have to be careful even there so that no one guessed the truth.
Turton leaned in. ‘Would you like some more toast, ma’am?’ ‘Not for me, but maybe for Mrs Oliver.’
He nodded and left to give the order. Anne knew that Turton shared James’s opinion that it was eccentric for married women to come down for breakfast. They would have preferred them both to have trays in their bedrooms like the other women of their kind, but there was something in the habit that struck Anne as indolent and she had never succumbed. James had given up suggesting it. She stirred the eggs on the plate without lifting the fork to her mouth. It all seemed terribly unfair, but hadn’t she brought this whole situation upon herself? Hadn’t she and James sent the child away, and kept him a secret? Wasn’t she the one who had told Lady Brockenhurst in the first place? Anne wondered, as she had countless times before, if there was more she could have done to save Sophia. Why had her beautiful girl died? What if they’d stayed in London? If they’d had a London doctor? She didn’t know whether to rage at God or at herself.
She was so full of such thoughts, thinking of things she might have done differently, that Anne barely noticed Susan enter the dining room.
‘Good morning, Mother.’
Anne looked up and nodded. ‘Good morning, my dear.’
Susan was wearing a pretty grey morning dress. Speer must have spent a good half an hour on her hair, pinning it up at the back and creating two sets of tight curls on either side of Susan’s face, offset by a straight middle parting. ‘Your hair looks very nice.’
‘Thank you,’ replied Susan. She stood before the chafing dishes, then turned and went to her seat. ‘Turton,’ she said as the butler re-entered the room. ‘I think I’ll just have some toast and a cup of coffee.’
‘The toast is on its way, ma’am.’
‘Thank you.’ She glanced at her mother-in-law with a bright smile.
Anne smiled back. ‘Busy morning?’
Susan nodded. ‘Quite busy. Shopping, then a fitting and luncheon with a friend.’ Her tone was as bright as her smile. In truth, Susan did not feel particularly bright. In fact she felt anything but bright. However, she was a good actress and she knew that until she had made some decisions, she must give away no clue as to what was worrying her.
‘He’s gone for a ride. He’s trying out that new horse of his. He left at dawn, which was rather hard on the groom. He wanted to show the beast off in the park,’ she added, before nodding at Turton who had arrived with a rack of hot toast.
‘Thank you,’ she said, and she took a piece, but she only played with it.
Anne sat and watched her daughter-in-law. ‘You seem distracted, my dear. Is it something I could help with?’
Susan shook her head playfully. ‘I don’t think so. It’s nothing. I’m just running through lists in my head. And I’m nervous about my dressmaker. The skirt was quite wrong when I went for the last fitting, and I’m praying she’s got it right this time.’ ‘Well, if that’s all it is.’ Anne smiled. And yet there was something. Anne didn’t know what, but she could see the young woman was preoccupied. As she looked at Susan, it occurred to her that there was a slight softening of the lines of her jaw, and her cheekbones were not as prominent as they had been. ‘I wonder if she’s putting on weight,’ thought Anne. That would explain her not eating. She decided to make no comment. If there is anything more tedious than being told you’ve grown heavier, she couldn’t imagine what it might be. Susan looked up, as if aware that her mother-in-law was studying her. But before she could say anything, Turton came back into the room with an envelope on a silver salver.
‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ he said, clearing his throat as he walked towards her. ‘This has just arrived for you.’
‘Thank you, Turton,’ said Anne, retrieving it from the tray. She looked at the new Penny Red stamp, so sensible an innovation, and checked...