The End Of The Rainbow – Episode 70

Heads turned as Constance stood alone on the shallow steps leading down to the thronged ballroom floor. The orchestra struck up the next dance and several young men beat a path through the crowd to where she was standing. Oliver and Nigel arrived together. Ralph could be seen shooting desperate glances over the shoulder of a girl with a rather shrill laugh who was demanding his attention. Constance was suddenly aware of being stared at by a very handsome fellow. The man raised the glass in his hand as their eyes met. He seemed older than Oliver and Nigel.Constance turned her attention to them.“The two of you have sat through so many of those interminable four o’clock teas with the mamas and the eligible young ladies that you deserve at least one dance as a reward!” She laughed. “So I’ll dance half a waltz with each one of you.”She was fond of these boys, who seemed immature compared to the friends she had at art school to Josh . . . and Adam.The thought of Adam made her wince.“I say, I’m most awfully sorry, Constance. Did I tread on your toes?” Oliver was concerned.She shook her head, trying to expel Adam from her mind. He should be here, she told herself, dancing with her. He would have been, but for her foolishness in sending him away.Having finished the waltz, Constance drifted off to the gallery where cooling fruit punch was being served. At the other end Louisa, gossiping with her friends, kept a wary eye on her daughter . . .As he served her a glass of punch, the white-gloved footman treated Constance to a curious glance. Young ladies usually waited until their escorts brought refreshments for them.A hand reached over her shoulder and took the glass.“Allow me, Miss Tarrant-Smyth.”Startled, she turned and looked into the face of the handsome stranger. “You know my name?” He smiled again.“I made enquiries. After all, I couldn’t address you as ‘pretty little thing’, now, could I?”From the corner of the gallery, the mamas watched with interest.“Young Barford his father’s an earl. Just down from Oxford, very popular with the ladies. He’s the catch of the season!” Louisa’s friend whispered to her. Louisa’s heart beat just a little faster. Presentable as Josh Glenavon was, he was a long way behind this young man in eligibility. Here was old money, and a title to boot!Meanwhile, Constance directed a cool gaze at her companion.“You are?” “Robin Barford, son of . . .”She stopped him there, irritated by his intrusion. She felt patronised by his “pretty little thing” remark and almost repelled by his self-assurance.“I have noticed that people in London, on being introduced, seem to feel it necessary to recite their pedigree. A strange social custom, I’d say.”Barford was not sensitive enough to pick up the glacial tone in her voice. “Speaking of which, I’m told that you’re related to the Wiltshire Tarrants through your mother. Big landowners down there, the Tarrants. But, of course, you’re a Scots lassie, aren’t you?”Constance stared at him for a moment, rendered speechless by his arrogance. Then her voice came, so high and clear that the mamas could hear every word.“I do declare that this sort of function is very much like the Appleby Fair!”“Sorry?”“The Appleby Fair. Where the gypsies do their annual horse-trading. They come each summer and put their best horses through their paces, then sell them to the highest bidders. A bit like the Season here in London. Appleby may be less sophisticated, but the principle is the same!”Several revellers had turned to look at her. Louisa watched, her heart in her mouth.Barford threw back his head and laughed. He attempted to take her hand. Constance stepped back out of his reach.“Do not patronise me, please. Do you really think that being a man gives you the right to do so? You are very much mistaken, Mr Barford. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”She turned away and swept towards the archway leading to the outer hall. Louisa hurried after her daughter. By the time she caught up with her, Constance was collecting her wrap. She turned to her mother, her eyes bright with tears.“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean to embarrass you, but, but . . .”Louisa took her hand and studied her daughter’s flushed face for a moment.“You did not embarrass me, Constance. You gave voice to something which is obviously deeply felt. Whether I agree with your ideas or not, I commend you for having the courage of your convictions.”Nothing more was said until they alighted from their carriage.“Perhaps we should get back and give some assistance to dear Letty,” Louisa said. “We’ll start packing in the morning.”


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