Carolina was thankful that none of her family witnessed her arrival home, for she was now of a mind not to reveal her morning’s adventure to anyone. “Far better to leave well enough alone,” she muttered as she took off her pelisse and shook the dust out of its folds. “It’s a complication none of us need.”
However, her mind was still dwelling on the confrontation with Lord Pershore when Bethany approached her later that day. Aunt Evelyn had taken over the kitchen to bake some bread and Carolina was sitting in the parlor, her right foot resting on a stool covered in cold towels. A slight swelling had appeared and she had correctly surmised that at some point in defending herself that morning she must have twisted it.
So when Bethany entered and sat down, Carolina paid her scant attention, except to note that she was looking exceptionally pretty.
“I thought you were to see Letitia today,” she said, when it became apparent that Bethany had something on her mind. “Or was it yesterday? Such a pleasant young lady, and so prettily mannered.”
“I’m pleased you approve of her, Caro, for I wanted to ask you if I can go on a picnic with her tomorrow. Her…her aunt will be there and we thought that if the weather held we would be able to drive to the Gorge.” Her body was tense as she spoke, as though she expected Carolina to refuse her request, but when Carolina agreed without pressing for more information, she sprang up and hugged her enthusiastically.
“It’s no more than you deserve, Bethany,” Carolina replied, pleased by Bethany’s spontaneous gesture. “You have settled down more quickly than I expected, and you ought to be out enjoying yourself. I’m only sorry that I cannot do more for you.”
“You mustn’t worry about me, I’m going to be all right. I love Bath and…and knowing Letitia has enabled me to get about even more than I anticipated.”
There was an air of suppressed excitement about her, but Carolina, immersed in her own thoughts, failed to notice it. A minute later the door opened and Sally entered.
Bethany, anxious to make her escape before anyone noticed her ebullience, left her sister to talk and hurried to her room. She had a lot to do to prepare for her outing on the morrow.
“Can’t spend long,” Sally said, failing to notice Carolina’s injured foot, “but Mrs. Lacker insisted that I come round immediately and tell you the good news.” She paused and only then saw the compresses. “Oh! Caro, what has happened? You’ve hurt your ankle.”
Carolina laughed at this belated expression of sympathy. “A little sprain, nothing more. Now, hurry up and tell me your good news before I die of curiosity.”
“Are you sure it’s not serious?” Sally persisted. “Ought you not send for a doctor?”
“No…no, you goose. I’ll be fine by tomorrow. Now, are you going to tell me or not?”
“Mrs. Lacker has sold one of my paintings.”
“Sally. Sally!” Carolina exclaimed in pride. She pushed the towels to one side and stood up to kiss her. “How marvelous, how truly marvelous! I couldn’t be more pleased if I heard that Evan had just been nominated for a seat in Parliament.”
“And, would you believe that Mrs. Lacker persuaded her friend to part with forty guineas? See, I have it here.” She slipped her hand into her reticule and produced some coins. “Don’t they make a satisfying noise?” she continued gaily, clinking them together. “I’m so pleased, I could…I could…I swear I don’t know what I could do.”
“And I’m so proud of you,” Carolina said. “I wish I knew more people I could tell.”
“Maybe you should hire the town crier and have him impart the news to all these worthy residents. Then my name would become a household word and people would flock to buy my work.”
“And we would be wealthy again, and Bethany could have her Season, and Evan…” Carolina clapped her hands in delight at this piece of dreaming, “and Evan could enter politics.”
“And you, dear Caro, what would you do?” Brought back so abruptly to the present, Carolina stared at Sally in consternation. The appalling truth was, she didn’t know what she would do. “Become a lady of leisure, I suppose,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders. “But let us not get carried away. It’s your money, after all.”
“No, Caro. Our money,” Sally said. “And I’ve talked it over with Mrs. Lacker and she has agreed with me that you are going to take this unexpected windfall and spend it on clothes for you and Bethany. A complete new wardrobe for the pair of you.”
“I couldn’t and wouldn’t do such a thing,” Carolina declared.
“You will, because I insist,” Sally said, depositing the money on the mantelshelf. “Mrs. Lacker has made an appointment with Mrs. Arvin, her dressmaker, for you next Thursday and all you have to do is present yourself with Bethany and Mrs. Arvin will take charge.”
For a moment, Carolina allowed herself to imagine how she would look dressed in the latest fashion, but then resolutely shook her head. “No, Sally, in our present circumstances that would be a very foolish waste of money.”
“You may argue until you are blue in the face, Caro, but that is how the money is to be spent.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I shall gamble it away at one of Mrs. Lacker’s little card parties,” Sally replied firmly.
“I do believe you would,” Carolina said in subdued tones.
Sally nodded, her face wreathed in smiles. “A fait accompli. Now I must be off before Mrs. Lacker wakes.”