had since the last coin had been pressed into my hand by a kindly uncle, and the first money I should have earned in my entire life. Daisy had tossed it casually towards me as though not only was the sum negligible but also the fact of her having it, to do as she pleased with it, was nothing out of the usual way.
Giving up on breakfast at last, I began to dress. Tweed, of course, but I always make sure to have some rather pretty tweed, such is the amount of time one spends in it when one is married to a Scotsman. Today’s were a heathery colour flecked with amethyst, which looked quite acceptable with those purple-fawn stockings in the shade I think of as ‘alcoholic nose’. I have countless other tweed garments, all heathery at heart, but flecked with any number of greens, blues, pinks, yellows even. On one point I am immovable, though: country life is bad enough without wearing brown.
By half-past ten, recovered from my excitement, heathery and flecked, I sat down beside Lena Duffy in the hall. She was installed at the comfortable end of a chaise from where she could keep an eye on Cara and Alec, who were sitting in another corner of the room. (Alec, as an engaged person, was clearly exempt from the day’s sport.) Lena did not exactly welcome me, issuing no more than a curt nod, but she did not actually scowl, so I guessed that matters between us were as we had left them, frosty – no overnight thaw – but at the sorbet rather than the iceberg end of the scale. Besides, although she was reading Vanity Fair she very selfishly had the Tatler, Bystander and Graphic on her lap too, saving them for later. This left only the dreary old Spectator for my amusement and so I swallowed my qualms at disturbing her.
‘They seem very contented,’ I said, nodding towards the corner. This was harmless enough I thought, but Mrs Duffy’s mouth puckered for a second and she did not answer. Either she disliked me, ladies, people in general, or I had already managed to say something displeasing. I wondered if, despite appearances, there was something unsatisfactory about Alec Osborne. If I could soften her up with enough sympathetic clucking on this point we might switch topics with the greatest of ease. ‘A thoroughly satisfactory young man,’ I continued. ‘Well done, Cara, for bringing him to all of our notice, I say. Where was he hiding until now?’
‘Dorset,’ said Mrs Duffy. ‘He’s a distant connection of my husband’s.’
So that could not be the problem. Was it the Dorset angle that was troubling her?
‘And will they settle there?’ I asked. ‘Rather a wrench for you.’
‘They will be living here,’ she said. I imagined that by here, she meant Perthshire, or Scotland, at any rate not Dorset.
I gulped, and wished that Daisy would bring the Mrs Bankers into the hall and save me. Of course I knew there was no hope of that; Daisy would be keeping them scrupulously out of the way to give me a clear run and the only other person who might well appear would be Clemence – it was odd for her to be parted from her mother for even ten minutes – and that would be no help.
We watched in silence. Alec and Cara were sitting together at a table bent over some illustrated brochure or other. I supposed they might be choosing honeymoon excursions but they were making rather a solemn affair out of it if so, Cara seeming just as unlike her usual buoyant self as she had the evening before. She was turning pages idly and as she did so her engagement ring winked in the sunlight pouring through the window, making a little burst of reflected light dance over the staircase opposite.
‘I used to do just that with my own rings when the boys were tiny and I went to tuck them in,’ I said. ‘“Make Tinkerbell, Mummy,” they would say. Did you play those games with your two?’ Silence. Realization spread through me like an inkblot. ‘Oh God,’ I said. ‘I am sorry. Oh, I could just kick myself sometimes, really. Going on