down to breakfast for a costume fashioned of warm merino wool in a dark green to wear for her morning walk. Following the military style, an influence of the war against Napoleon, it was embellished with epaulettes of black cording and was the most stylish ensemble Althea owned. Unfortunately, the outfit did nothing to enhance her delicate coloring.
As Althea stared into her mirror, watching Lizzy fasten the black frogging, she realized this.
“Lizzie, I look absolutely ghastly in these clothes. Look how awful this green looks on me and how grotesque these exaggerated epaulettes are. I look deformed.”
“Yes, madam ? Is that all you have to say? Lizzie, why did you not say something? I could not look more hideous if I tried.”
“It was not my place to say anything, now was it?”
Althea patted her shoulder. “No, Lizzie, I suppose not”
She went downstairs, her head spinning with turmoil, just as her mother was leaving her room. Althea presumed she was on her way to partake of a belated breakfast She noted that her mother’s eyes were free of the shadows that hers had acquired from too little sleep.
Life seems not to touch Mama in any way. Perhaps she is impervious to the vicissitudes that beset the rest of us.
She took a deep breath, deciding to broach her mother about her midnight stroll. “Good morning, Mama. I see you look well in spite of an interrupted sleep.”
In response, the older Lady Camberly merely raised a brow.
This came as no surprise to Althea, who was familiar with her mother’s habit of skirting unpleasant subjects rather than facing them head-on.
Althea took another deep breath. “I saw you roaming about the gardens last evening. It was late, and quite chilly, so naturally I was concerned about your well-being.”
“Were you?” Her words crackled with frost.
The dowager stiffened her back and seeming to grow another inch, towered over her daughter. Althea’s first instinct was to back away, but she steeled her resolve and took up the gauntlet.
“Naturally. Especially since you were so tired earlier on. I hope I did nothing to upset you.”
Her mother patted her shoulder. “Please do not fuss over me, darling. I am not a child, answerable for my every action.” She broke off for a moment, then added, “How did you come to see me? As I recall, you also claimed to be tired and could not wait to get to bed.”
Althea nodded.’ ‘I was, but for some reason could not settle down, so I decided to take a walk and that is when I happened to see you.”
Celeste responded with a tight little smile. “It would have become you better to have joined me in my walk, rather than to take it upon yourself to subject me to this distasteful interrogation.”
Althea bowed slightly. “You are quite right, of course. I did not mean to intrude upon your privacy—I worry too much, I suppose. It really would set my mind at rest if you were to confine such walks to the grounds rather than venture by the river. What if you were to trip over a tree root and fall into the estuary? You could be swept out to sea.
“I rather expect you would.”
“Prefer that I confine my walks to the grounds.”
Althea heaved a sigh of relief.’ ‘Then you agree?”
“Of course not, darling.” Her tone was incredulous. “Why should I become a prisoner of your morbid fancies?”
Althea pursued the subject no further. How could she? Her clever mother had seen to it that she would be made to feel both unreasonable and foolish.
After that skirmish, both women descended the broad staircase in silence and, on reaching the front hall, exchanged self-conscious smiles before going their separate ways.
Althea returned to the garden to inspect the path her mother had taken the previous night, hoping to find a clue, however slight, that would explain the reason for her midnight jaunt She did not believe for a moment that her frivolous parent would subject herself to the rigors of a