Chapter 3

Anna really did not spend a great deal of time thinking about her parents, and when she did, it was merely with a sort of detached curiosity. She couldn't really say she missed them, because she didn't remember them, and she had never lacked for anything living with Aunt Eugenia and Uncle George. The few times it had occurred to her to ask about them, Aunt Eugenia would usually say something about God's will. Meg, who had been with the family for ages, sometimes talked about when her father and Aunt Eugenia had been children, but never spoke about when he'd been older, or married, or the short time he'd lived after Anna was born.

The Dowager's comment made her wonder, and before she went to bed that night, she paused for awhile in front of the mirror that hung in her room. Meg had said a few times, in passing, that she favored her mother's family. There was a portrait of her father done just before Aunt Eugenia's wedding, and like all of his family, he was blond and fair.

Harry and Teddy (and her little cousins, too) treated her like a sister, so it had never bothered her very much that she looked nothing like them. Her hair was reddish brown, and wildly curly in contrast to her cousins' pin-straight blond. Her cousin Victoria, though only nine, often lamented that she slept in rags every night and still her hair wouldn't hold a curl, but Anna hated that hers would never look neat…Aunt Eugenia and Meg had been forever telling her to tidy it. Her eyes, in contrast to her cousins' bright blue, were brown and in her opinion not nearly as pretty as blue, though people often commented on them when she was little. And while her cousins had clear, porcelain skin like Aunt Eugenia, she was cursed with freckles.

She had always assumed her coloring must be from her mother, but she had never seen a picture of her. Surely there must be one? A wedding portrait must have been done, at the very least, but obviously it had never been displayed at Ashby Hall, and no one thought to show it to her. She wondered now if her mother had been pretty. Meg had said a few times that she might be pretty when she grew up, but considering it in the mirror at Lady Cairne's, she wasn't sure.

She sighed, and turned out the light, making up her mind to ask Meg the next time she was home if there were any pictures of her mother.

*

They settled in very comfortably at the Cairne's home. Teddy began his work at the bank the next week, and though he claimed it was terribly dull, he admitted they kept him busy enough that the days passed quickly, and there were other young men with unreasonable fathers with whom he could commiserate. Unlike at Ashby Hall, Anna did not find herself bored when he was gone.

Lord Cairne was a pleasant sort of man, though very quiet, so with his very talkative wife, he rarely had to say a word for himself. He seemed pleased to have them there, and though he worked long hours, did not often travel, so he was usually home in the evenings. On the nights they did not have guests, he was inclined to ask one of them to play chess or cards, and both Anna and Teddy became very fond of him. He did not often speak, but his occasional comments were always funny and observant.

Lady Cairne proved a lively companion, with a busy social schedule. She had a great interest in museums and cultural events, and had involved herself in charity work since her children had grown, and so was rarely idle, and always invited Anna to accompany her. Lady Penshaw had apparently decided that a girl in Lady Cairne's care must be proper, and so Hilary had been allowed to ride or walk with her in the park a few times. Without Teddy's presence and getting to know her a bit more, Hilary seemed less shy, though she still froze any time someone else approached them. Even on days when she was not occupied, the Cairnes had a vast library, and the books in it were far more interesting than those they'd had at Ashby Hall.

A few weeks after they arrived, once she felt quite at home there, she woke up one morning with the realization they had absolutely nothing planned for the day, but then realized that was ideal, because she'd started a wonderful book the night before and was keen to keep reading.

When she came into the breakfast room, she was surprised, and a little annoyed, to find a guest. A young gentleman (or so she assumed by his attire) was sipping tea and looking quite comfortable. She looked around the room, but Lady Cairne was nowhere to be found. The man noticed her, and rose, setting down his teacup with a clatter of china.

"Good morning?" she said, and it came out as a question, for she had no idea what he was doing there, and was shocked Lady Cairne would ever leave a guest alone.

"Good Morning," he said pleasantly, hands in his pockets in a casual pose.

"Are you here to visit Lady Cairne?" she asked.

"No, I was looking for Edward."

She knew Teddy had already left for the bank, and so it seemed strange Graham would not have told him that.

"He's not here, he's already gone to work. Didn't Graham tell you?"

"Ah, so I've missed him. I suppose I did not warn him I might call…"

"The footman…who opened the door…should have said…"

"No one opened the door, Miss. I was forced to let myself in. You should speak to Graham about that."

She stared. Whoever he was, he had some nerve. He had simply walked into the house?

"But…you can't merely walk in to someone's house!"

"No one answered to my knock. How else was I to speak to Edward?" He shrugged. "But pity he is not here. You would be…his sister?"

"No," she said irritably.

"Well, you're not a maid, unless you're a very insolent one, but as you wish." He withdrew an envelope from his breast pocket, and handed it to her. Too surprised to do anything else, she accepted it. "Give that to Edward, if you'd be so kind. Good day, Miss."

"But-" she started to protest, but was merely protesting to the door closing behind him. She stared after him, thinking the whole encounter had been entirely bizarre. Curious, and not feeling at all guilty that it was addressed to Teddy, she opened the envelope. There was a great deal of money in it, and a note that merely said "Well played, Chase. –Everton"

She placed it in the back of her book…Teddy was certainly going to explain that as soon as he got home.

*

Given the choice, Anna would have preferred to ride every day, but Hilary's mother often insisted that Hilary must walk, so that she could greet people. To Lady Penshaw, their outings in the park were not for exercise or enjoyment, but so that people might start to see Hilary (in a proper and polite setting) before her coming out next year.

She had planned to tell Hilary about the man who had come to the house for Teddy- surely it would shock her and she sometimes had fun shocking Hilary. Perhaps it was unkind, but Hilary had been so sheltered she was easily shocked, and Anna figured it would be good for her that once she was out of her mother's house, she wouldn't be entirely overwhelmed.

She didn't have a chance to tell her, for they had barely walked a few steps when Hilary said "Oh look, it's Mrs. Chatham! She's ever so kind. She takes tea sometimes with Mama and she always says the nicest things to me."

Anna remembered meeting Mrs. Chatham at tea the first day they had arrived. She had been terribly nice, and Anna guessed with her mother, Hilary did not often hear compliments. Mrs. Chatham introduced her companion as Mrs. Taylor, her husband's cousin who was visiting them for a few weeks from Scotland. Mrs. Taylor seemed equally cheerful and pleased to meet them.

"Thomas will know Lord Penshaw, of course." Mrs. Chatham introduced them. "This is his older daughter Hilary. And Lord Ashford's niece, Anna Stanton."

"Stanton? She's not the one-"

Mrs. Chatham gave a sudden cough that sounded rather fake, and the woman cut off sharply, stammered a few unconnected syllables, and then Hilary quickly helped her recover with a few innocuous questions about when the Taylors had arrived, and how long they were staying, and how they were finding London.

They didn't linger very long, and soon as they had parted Anna said "What in the world was that about? What was she going to say?"

"I can't imagine," Hilary said, not very convincingly. She wasn't very good at keeping secrets and she was terrible at lying.

"You do know!" She accused. "I can tell! You must tell me Hilary!"

"You know I don't listen to gossip!" Hilary protested.

Anna knew that was nonsense- it seemed since she had arrived in London, gossip was the main activity. Everyone listened to gossip.

"And you know Mama would never tell me about anything improper!" she went on, falling into a trap of her own making- she had confirmed there was gossip about Anna, and it was something improper. Anna knew perfectly well that Lady Penshaw would never mention anything improper to her daughters, but she also knew a great deal could be learned just by overhearing.

"If there was nothing, you wouldn't know it's improper! Oh come Hilary, it's not telling gossip if it's about me! You're my friend, you're supposed to tell me!"

Hilary looked flustered. "Oh, you're only imagining it's something bad and it's not really! I heard Mama and Papa talking, and Mama was wondering if I should be allowed to go out walking and riding with you, and Papa said it must be all right, because after all you were raised by your Aunt and Uncle at Ashby Hall, and they were such very respectable people. And Mama said that perhaps he was right, but she still worried because your father was so terribly "wild" and then she shook her head, you know how she does, and said "and the girl's mother…"

Hilary trailed off, biting her lip, and then seized her hand. "Oh, now you're upset, I didn't tell it properly, for if I had you would see it was nothing at all! They didn't even know your parents, you know, they lived in France when I was born so they couldn't have. They've probably only heard some kind of silly rumor."

"But that woman, Mrs. Taylor, she was going to say something and Mrs. Chatham stopped her."

"Of course, Mrs. Chatham is far too kind and sensible to pay any mind to such nonsense, that's why! Oh, I wish I hadn't said anything, now I've upset you!"

She could see Hilary was genuinely upset, and so she tried to put it out of her mind. "No, it's all right. You haven't upset me. I just wish I knew what everyone is talking about."

*

That evening, she resolved to ask Teddy if he knew anything. He was only a year older than her, he would not remember her parents either, but perhaps because he was a boy, people would not be so reluctant to mention things around him. He knew her well enough that she did not even have to say anything, he guessed something was wrong when she came into his room.

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing really, only…you don't remember my parents, do you?"

He shook his head. "Nah, I wasn't much more than a baby when they died. I suppose Harry might remember, if…" He trailed off, shrugging, and they were both silent for a moment. A lot of things would have been different of Harry hadn't died. Teddy didn't speak of it often, and he was almost always cheerful, but she knew he missed his older brother terribly. He shook his head and went on. "Why?"

"Just I keep hearing things, and it made me wonder…"

"What things?"

"Well, Hilary said her mother said-"

"Lady Penshaw?" he scoffed, interrupting her. "She's just a dreadful old gossip! You oughtn't to listen to a single word she says."

"Not just her, though. Other people keep starting to say something and then stopping, as though they don't want me to know."

He frowned at her. "Sure you're not imagining it?"

She shook her head stubbornly. "I'm not!"

He shrugged. "Look, if it's bothering you so much, I'll as Dad. He'll say it's all nonsense, I'll bet you anything!"

"Thanks Teddy. Oh, and speaking of betting…" she hurried back to her room and grabbed the envelope the man had left for him that morning. She returned and waved it in front of his quizzical face. "What's this, then?"

"Stop waving it about and let me see," he retorted. He glanced at the note and then smirked. "Well, good to know he's an honest bloke. "

"What's it about then?" she demanded.

"This chap, Everton, was at the card game at Chester's on Thursday. Nice enough, but not a very good card player, he lost more than he had on him, so he owed me money, that's all."

"You shouldn't be gambling, Teddy."

"There's nothing wrong with it. Dad does."

"That's different."

"Why?"

"It just is!" she insisted, knowing it was a weak argument. "And anyway, not with a man like that. He wasn't "nice enough" at all, he was terribly rude!"

He shrugged. "Well, I don't suppose you'll see him again. He said he's not much in London."

"Good," she replied shortly.