Elswita’s heart had been broken, but for some unfathomable reason it was starting to mend. Was it her friendship with Christian? Maybe. More likely it was the way she felt about George. He was kind and protective, just like her intended used to be.
The feelings she had for him were impossible, weren’t they? How could she have feelings for a man when she was still feeling the pain from another? She dashed her emotions away inside her. She was being ridiculous.
That night Elswita tried to study and found it difficult. Her mind kept drifting back to the horrible incident with Edward. Why had he looked so scared?
She was about to get undressed when there was a knock on her bedroom door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me,” the landlady, Mrs Gibbs, said. “You have a visitor.”
“A very important visitor by the looks of it. Hurry up. She’s waiting in the parlour.”
When Elswita opened the parlour door she immediately knew who the woman was. Mrs Gibbs’s pretty parlour seemed almost shabby with her in it.
She was dressed smartly. She wore one of the biggest and most sophisticated hats Elswita had ever seen, with numerous bird feathers a foot long. Most of all, the woman had Christian’s blue eyes, his pale skin. And finally, a smile so like her son’s.
She stood up when Elswita entered.
“My dear girl,” she said. “At last I get to meet the young woman who saved my son’s life.”
“You’re Christian’s mother?” Elswita said. She was a little overwhelmed by this smart and beautiful lady.
“Yes, I am. I wanted to thank you personally.”
“I only . . .”
She put up a hand to stop Elswita’s protest.
“Your quick actions saved my only child. Christian told me what you did.”
“I did what anyone would have done.”
Lady Grenfell-Darling eased herself into Mrs Gibbs’s stuffed sofa, then smiled and indicated the chair facing her.
“Come, let’s talk a little.”
Elswita did as she was told and sat opposite.
“My dear, you cannot understand what this means to Christian’s father and me. As I said, he is our only child. We know Christian can be, shall we say, a bit of a tearaway. Believe me, we have had our fair share of trouble with him.
“But he is a good boy. Once he settles down we are certain he will take up his family responsibilities with gusto. Our wish is that he completes his degree, marries and has children, so that he can carry on the family name.
“I have just come from seeing Edward. Do you know him?”
“The poor boy is at his wits’ end. He is horrified by what has happened. I fear he is losing his mind. He and Christian grew up together, you know, and he adores Christian and looks up to him. Whilst he is the next in line, he wouldn’t want to see anything happen to his cousin.”
Elswita’s ear pricked up and she was surprised that Lady Grenfell-Darling would speak so openly to a stranger. Mrs Grenfell-Darling sat up straighter and began to place her kid gloves on her delicate hands.
“Christian says you are a friend?”
This came out of the blue. The way it was said, Elswita took her meaning. The emphasis was on the word “friend”.
“Yes, I am his friend.”
“You must know why I ask?” she said.
“I understand,” Elswita said. She stood up. She felt insulted. “But I can assure you, Mrs Grenfell-Darling, that I do not have an eye on Christian.” And then she thought, so what if I did?
Mrs Grenfell-Darling stood up, too, smiling warmly at Elswita and ignoring her comment.
“I assume this conversation will not be discussed with Christian?”
“I will not make him aware of your feelings on the matter, if that’s what you mean.”
“Good. Well, thank you. And if there is anything that you should need . . .”
Elswita didn’t answer except to say goodbye.
When Elswita returned to her room she felt deeply sorry for Christian. It was clear he had been born into the wrong class. With parents still so steeped in the rules and practices of the aristocracy, he didn’t stand a chance trying to rally against it.
It was a cold way to live. Very cold. She certainly didn’t have the temperament for it and from what she knew of Christian, nor did he.
Still, Mrs Grenfell-Darling had disclosed information that made Elswita’s heart race and turned her suspicions back to Edward. Her grandmother often said hard times make people do strange things, and she wondered if Edward was suffering some crisis.
She decided she would find George first thing in the morning and speak to him about this new information about Edward being “next in line”.