He gave her a look. He didn’t quite roll his eyes, but he glanced heavenward, as if in silent supplication.
“Very well, then,” she said. “If that won’t wash, I’ll be brave as an ostrich. The instant I see something frightening, I’ll stick my head in the sand.”
This brought her only a sorry shake of his head. “My dear,” he said, “ostriches don’t put their heads in the sand. That’s a myth.”
“Oh?” On the other side of the room, her mother was talking to a group of ladies. Lady Stockhurst seemed to be quite excited, Elaine guessed by her exaggerated gesticulations.
Westfeld lectured on. “An ostrich weighs upward of fifteen stone. It can outrun a horse. What need has it for cowardice?”
The ladies who spoke with her mother waved fans. She could not make out their faces, but Elaine could imagine them biting back cruel smiles.
“Very well,” Elaine said. “I promise you, when I weigh fifteen stone I shall relinquish all fear.”
The crowd shifted, and in that moment Elaine saw that the woman standing closest to her mother was Lady Cosgrove. Over all these months, Elaine had begun to relax. But her mother was still her vulnerable heart. She had no protection of her own, and Westfeld couldn’t save her. Without waiting for another word, she started across the room.
“Elaine,” Westfeld hissed, following along beside her. But he’d seen it, too.
They’d talked of a great many things since they had become friends—Parliament and fashion, agriculture and the latest serial from Dickens.
They had not mentioned Westfeld’s friendship with Lady Cosgrove. The woman had kept her distance since the Season started, but Elaine had seen her all too often. It was impossible to escape her; she lived just across the street, after all. Elaine had often wished that it was Lady Cosgrove who was absent, instead of her never-seen husband.
“You know what she’ll do,” Elaine said.
“I know what I won’t let her do.” They were his last words before they joined the group.
“Why, Lady Elaine.” Lady Cosgrove smiled at Elaine while somehow avoiding her cousin’s gaze altogether. “Your mother has just agreed to speak for us a few weeks from now.”
“A lecture?” Elaine tapped her fingers against her skirts. A lecture wouldn’t be so awful. Not many would come, and her mother would enjoy it.
“Better!” her mother exclaimed. “In three weeks’ time, Lady Cosgrove is holding a gala at Hanover Square. There will be music, and hundreds of people, all interested in—”
“Mama,” Elaine interrupted blandly, “they’ve thrown tomatoes at some of the larger entertainments.” Remember. Remember. Lady Cosgrove doesn’t wish us well.
Behind Lady Stockhurst, Lady Cosgrove bit back a smile.
And, it seemed, this wouldn’t be one of the days when her mother recalled such things. “Why would they do that?” her mother mused. “I can’t account for it. Even the lower orders have better things to do with a perfectly good tomato. And genteel society…”
“They throw rotten vegetables to express displeasure.”
“Or boredom,” Lady Cosgrove put in. “But, then, Lady Elaine, you don’t believe your own mother is boring, do you?”
“This is all nonsense,” Lady Stockhurst proclaimed. “I don’t know what you’re speaking of, Elaine. The tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable.”
By Elaine’s side, Westfeld took her arm. “It will be well,” he said quietly. “It will be well.”
Lady Cosgrove’s lips pinched together.
“How can it be?” Elaine whispered. “I’ve seen how these things go. To expose her to more people, more indignity… How can it be well? I know you will be kind, but you cannot control how two dozen people will respond—and there could be as many as a thousand present.”
Westfeld simply shrugged. “What did Archimedes say? If you want to move the world, all you need is a long enough lever. It will be well.”
She huffed. “You also need a fulcrum on which to rest your lever, I believe.”
He smiled at that—an expression as arrogant and certain as any she could remember seeing on him.
“Well.” His deep drawl seemed to resonate with some deep part of her. “If ever you need to…rest your lever, here I am.”
She glanced up at him. He was watching her, and she felt as if she might burst into flame. She snatched her arm from his before he could notice. “Do be serious, Westfeld.”
He gave a resigned shake of his head. “And here I thought I was.”
Over the next weeks, Evan tried to make jokes to lift Elaine’s distress. None of them worked, and finally he stopped jesting altogether. But despite every attempt he made to make her smile, he still held back the truth of what he was doing.
The truth was deadly earnest. By the time he’d found a seat in the hall at Hanover Square before Lady Stockhurst’s lecture, he was feeling the cost of the last two weeks of frantic work. He’d written letters, found couriers, and gone in person to speak to more than half a dozen men.
He’d had to. He understood too well how Diana operated. His cousin had planned for her evening of entertainment to be a stunning success. It started with a scene from the Pickwick Papers, performed by the Adelphi Theater. The acting was crisp and believable, the characters expertly portrayed. There followed a concerto by Mendelssohn for piano and violin, and a short intermission for light refreshment. It would end with a performance by the famed soprano, Giulia Grisi.
Lady Stockhurst, sandwiched between these shining lights, seemed to serve all too clear a purpose: she was to be the comic interlude. As she started, she did seem to fit that role. She’d had great star-charts made, showing the course of the planets and the placement of her comet in the night sky. She spoke with great animation; her exuberance overcame all ladylike boundaries. She ended her talk with an impassioned speech on the course of the stars, predicting a return of the heavenly visitation in twelve years’ time.
One either had to laugh or applaud…and when she finished, no applause was forthcoming. Instead, when she asked for questions, the audience sat in near-silence as if not sure how to react. The next few seconds would be crucial.
“Lady Stockhurst,” a woman said in the front. “I could not help but notice that your presentation included calculations that are traditionally left to gentlemen. As a lady, have you ever considered that perhaps you are unsuited to such work?”
It could have been worse. Still, across the hall from him, Evan could see Elaine tense. Her chin lifted, as if she were daring the world to speak ill of her mother. He felt his own heart contract, as if he were flinching from the pain she might receive.
Lady Stockhurst, however, simply frowned at the woman in confusion. “No,” she said tersely. “Next?”
A low titter swept the room. Evan had himself prepared a few queries. But he’d hoped that he wouldn’t have to intervene. After all, if the rest of his plans did not come to fruition, his solitary efforts could hardly sway a crowd this large.
He couldn’t pinpoint when he had started feeling this way, but now that it had been going on for these many months, he would personally take on every man and woman in the room just to win a smile from Elaine. It was stupid and pointless…and utterly inevitable. It had nothing to do with making amends any longer. He didn’t want her hurt; it was that simple. At his side, his hand curled into an involuntary fist.
“Lady Stockhurst?” A man stood in the back of the room. Evan had never seen him before—at least, not in person. But he’d seen a portrait of the fellow. Slowly, his hand unclenched.
The man was older, perhaps of an age with Lady Stockhurst herself. His face was thin and framed by short, unkempt hair that was beginning to go gray.
Lady Stockhurst beamed.
He fumbled with some papers in his hand, unfolding them, and then looked about the room. “I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading your work myself, Lady Stockhurst, but my aunt saw an early copy of your monograph, and asked me to convey t
o you her appreciation for your meticulous work.”
“Oh.” Lady Stockhurst rubbed her nose in puzzlement. “But I’ve not given copies of my work to anyone, not except…” Her eyes darted to the left and fell on Evan. Evan tried not to smile.
Two rows away, Diana stirred. Over the last months, they’d continued to talk—but their relationship had become strained. She wouldn’t talk with Lady Elaine, she wouldn’t apologize—and he half suspected that she’d designed Lady Stockhurst’s part in this evening’s entertainment as a way to prove to Evan that she wouldn’t change her mind.
“Nonetheless,” the older gentleman was saying. “I have some correspondence from her.”