Outside, the rain was falling steadily from a leaden sky and the hills had disappeared into the greyness. Constance sighed, then went over to rearrange her setting for a still-life painting. A book, an apple, a blue and white pitcher all sitting on a slither of vivid yellow silk.She sighed, remembering what Mr Scoular had told her class about paintings in general.“A painting should welcome in the observer, should always tell a story. It should make those who look at it imagine!”She sniffed.“If I ever finish this picture, I’ll call it ‘Boredom’!”It was also an apt title for the week she’d just spent, cooped up with house-guests who were trapped by the bad weather. Coming to paint in the orangery had become her only escape from innumerable rambling conversations and card games. There was no natural light to speak of, but it had let her escape from her mama’s too obvious attempts at matchmaking with Simon, heir to a large estate in Fife. Simon was solid, silent and constantly attentive to his mother and elderly aunt. His father went for long walks, returning only to eat and to nod off by the fire. Simon’s mother and aunt were both delicate and prone to colds.There was a tap at the door leading into the house, and Kirsty popped her head in.“I’m juist away ower to the village for ma afternoon off, Miss Constance. Ony messages for Adam an’ Josh?”Constance sighed.“Just that I’m trapped here with the house-guests and the bad weather, Kirsty. I suppose it’s no better for them.”“Kirsty, l’m glad I caught you. Would you take this note to Josh for me?” Mrs Tarrant-Smyth came up behind Kirsty and made her jump.“Yes, Mrs Tarrant-Smyth, ma’am. I’m goin’ right this minute.”Louisa Tarrant-Smyth came into the orangery and sat down, smiling.“I had thought we might make up for the miserable week this has been by giving a special dinner for our guests before they leave. I’ll invite Letty, and I’ve just written to your artist friends to ask them as well.”Constance stared disbelievingly at her mother.“Josh and Adam?”Her mama simpered.“I’ve been telling our guests about my planned sittings for a formal portrait. We can discuss details over dinner, and, of course, your friends will be company for poor dear Simon who, I notice, has been left to his own devices this week.”Mama’s usual “sting in the tail”, Constance reflected. But she felt excitement bubbling up in her.“What a splendid idea, Mama. I hope it won’t be too formal an occasion. It would not be appropriate.”“Why not?”“Because you wish to be seen as a patron of the arts. Your guests will include artists bohemians. So this event ought to be . . .” She hesitated. “Different.”“I’ve chosen Friday evening. It will be up to your friends to decide whether or not to accept the invitation. Now, I shall go and see Mrs Butchart about the menu. We must make a good impression, mustn’t we?”After her mother had gone, Constance sat deep in thought. Why was Mama being so hospitable to Josh and Adam? Was it just some form of social one-upmanship, an attempt to boast that she presided over a “salon” for young artists? Or was it an attempt to find out what was going on between her and Adam? She shivered as she imagined what would happen if she and Adam gave any hint of their feelings for each other.Mrs Tarrant-Smyth had left only three days in which to prepare a formal dinner for her guests. She was regretting her first-flush of enthusiasm as the weather improved and her time was of necessity spent in arranging outings for her lady house-guests. “It would be rude of me to stay here to supervise the arrangements for Friday,” she confided in her daughter. “Our neighbour, Mr Lochan, has offered to show Simon and his father round his estate, but I must take carriage drives with the ladies today and tomorrow, now that weather permits. I’m afraid Mrs Butchart is not best pleased.”Constance seized her opportunity.“You go on your drives, Mama, and I will instruct Mrs Butchart. Perhaps we could borrow Aunt Letty’s maidservant for the day to help Kirsty, too.”Louisa beamed.“If you’re sure, it would be a great weight lifted from my shoulders. And I think we must include Mr Lochan in the guest list. He has been very neighbourly of late, and is a pleasant man.”Constance returned her mama’s smile, relieved that Mrs Tarrant-Smyth was beginning to enter into the spirit of things.