“But Reginald, she’s American!” Lady Farrington’s brows drew together in an agonised expression, her hands twisting her lace handkerchief. “How could Bunny have let himself be snared by such a, a . . .”
“Julia, I do wish you’d call our son by his proper name. Bertrand is a grown man, after all.” The marquess leaned against the elaborately carved mantel and reread the letter.
“I had a feeling something terrible had happened. He’s been gone for such a long time; nearly seven months! We should never have allowed him to go to America in the first place. The Olympics, indeed!”
“First of all, darling, this turn of events may be quite advantageous for us all. Theodora Allbright is an heiress, let us not forget. Her father . . .”
“New money, Reginald! Her father is a self-made man, that’s just how Bunny described him in the letter. And she is coming over here, with heaven knows what sort of wardrobe. Showy, no doubt, just like so many of those other women who have planted themselves in this country! Their accents!” She shuddered. “And this is the young lady whom we must introduce as our future daughter-in-law! What do you imagine this will do to Florence’s prospects?”
“Julia, you must calm yourself. We must think clearly, and concentrate on the advantages. Now, Bertrand says he and Thea, as he calls her, will be arriving in November.”
“No doubt she will need a maid as well. Do these Americans know how to deal with servants? And I suppose we must have an engagement party. When I think of how I had always imagined it . . .”
But the marquess had tucked the letter into his breast pocket as a plan began to take shape in his mind.
“I think we should try to lure the King into inviting himself for the occasion. After all, His Majesty quite admires some of these American ladies. The way Theodora will be seen here depends, to a large extent, on his opinion of her. Suppose we put it about that the engagement party will be combined with a shooting weekend?”
The marchioness considered this, a flicker of hope beginning to shine in her eyes.
“A Christmas party, and the King, here at Farrington House! But . . .” Her face fell again. “He’s never expressed the wish to visit here, Reginald.”
“That’s just my point, Julia. Bertrand’s young lady might be just what we’ve needed. Let us draw up a guest list. And shall we make certain that we include Mrs Keppel?”
The marchioness cocked her head to one side.
“If the King does attend, and he takes to Theodora, then everything might feel quite different, I can see that. But what if he dislikes her? The whole thing could go terribly wrong!”
“I am sure it is a risk we must take, Julia. In any case, if everyone associates our son’s engagement with a visit from the King, it will help matters.”
The marchioness folded her hands in her lap as hope reasserted itself.
“As for the problem of engaging a maid for Theodora, when she arrives I shall have Emily look after her, at least until after the party. I must say that if anyone can do something to make a gaudy dress look acceptable, it is that young girl. Whoever would have guessed that? It is really quite extraordinary.”
“Jolly good. I will explain the situation to Runciman, and he will make the necessary announcements below stairs.”
The marquess lifted the silver bell. Fancy the boy finding himself an heiress! More likely, the girl was shopping for a title and saw him as an easy target. But still, the daughter of a Wall Street financier in the family! It couldn’t have happened at a better time.