The Marchington Scandal

By: Jane Ashford

One



“But, my dear, you must come to my ball,” said Lady Eliza Burnham emphatically. “All London will be there. And you cannot stay shut up brooding here forever, after all.”

Katharine Daltry smiled. “Eliza! You know I never brood.”

“Well, whatever you are doing, then. It can’t go on.”

“Can it not?”

“No,” said the older woman, exasperated. “You must go out. Why, you are nothing but a girl still. And Robert has been dead these four years.” Seeing a shadow pass over her friend’s face, she added, “I don’t mean to sound heartless, Katharine, but it is the truth. I know you loved him dearly; indeed, you made that only too plain when you went off to India in that amazing way, in spite of everyone’s warnings. I have never understood why your father agreed to take you along.”

Miss Daltry’s lips curved upward again. “I told him I was in love. And his and Robert’s regiment was posted to India for three years. We should never have been married if I stayed behind.”

“Well, you weren’t married in any case,” replied her ladyship practically. “And why the general did not send you home directly Robert was so unfortunately killed, I don’t know. But he always indulged you shockingly.”

This time, the sadness in Katharine’s face was sharper. “I suppose he did. I told him I couldn’t bear to be away from him just then, and he understood. And then, time simply…passed. It did not seem at all like four years. And now Father is gone, too.”

“And I am the greatest beast in nature to have mentioned him in that callous way. How can you bear me, Katharine? I’m sure I didn’t mean to remind you of your bereavement.”

The younger woman smiled again. Eliza Burnham did indeed chatter heedlessly at times, leading strangers to conclude that she was as empty-headed as she was fashionable. But she had been a close friend of the mother Katharine had lost when she was barely nine years old, and she had to some extent taken Mrs. Daltry’s place during Katharine’s adolescence, when General Daltry had been much occupied with the war in Spain. Thus, Katharine knew rather more about her, including her extensive charitable works, and had long since judged her kindhearted and well-meaning. “It is all right, Eliza. I’m not still mourning Father. I got over that on the voyage home. And it has been eight months. I shall always miss him terribly, of course, but I am…well, reconciled to it, I suppose.”

“Poor darling. But if that is true, there is no reason at all why you should not begin to go out. Of course, you may not wish to dance or anything of that sort for a while, but…”

Miss Daltry shrugged. “My scruples are not so delicate, Eliza. If I wished to go to parties, I should. But I don’t wish it. Father left me well provided for, and for the first time in my life I need consider no one but myself. It may be monstrously selfish of me, but that is precisely what I mean to do.” She dimpled. “Think of me as a disagreeable old cat, disappointed in love and left on the shelf.”

Lady Eliza looked at her despairingly. No one, she thought to herself, could possibly look less like an old cat than Katharine. She barely looked her twenty-seven years, and in any case, she was one of those women who merely become more beautiful with maturity. Her once-too-slender figure had filled out to perfection during her stay in India, and her piquant triangular face had softened. Her dark brown hair was as silken as ever, her skin had warmed to honey brown, and her sparkling amber eyes now held compassionate wisdom as well as spirit. Meeting those curious, almost golden eyes now, Lady Eliza saw a very characteristic glint of mischief. “Oh, I have no patience with you,” she exclaimed. “I give it up.”

“Good,” laughed the other. “Then we may leave this tedious subject and have a comfortable coze. Tell me all your news. How does Andrew like Cambridge?”

“But, Katharine,” wailed her friend, “what will you do? How will you live? You can’t stay hemmed up here all alone.”

“Alone? Have you forgotten Cousin Mary?”

“That poor little woman is completely under your thumb.”

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