Two years later…
The faint strains of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik danced cheerfully through the lower levels of the Davenport London townhouse. Isabel listened, smiling. It sounded as though Colin’s most recent student, a French student living in England for the year, had finished the sonata movement and moved on at last to the rising motif.
It was late afternoon, and Colin’s music lessons had been going on all day. Isabel was not surprised. In the two years since their marriage, the ton seemed to have forgotten all the nonsense surrounding the scandal sheets and accepted Colin back into the fold as a respected music teacher. His reputation had been solidified by a friend of his brother’s, who found a musical prodigy on the continent for him to tutor. That boy had gone back to Germany already, but Colin’s gift for teaching was recognised both at home and abroad.
After their wedding, Nathan had gifted Colin a generous sum of money to purchase the townhouse in which they now lived. In a matter of months, Colin had gone from being a virtually penniless man living from lesson to lesson in his small flat to being a respected gentleman in the centre of London society.
Isabel could have cared less. She was happy to see him valued as he deserved, but beyond that she did not care about what the ton thought anymore. All she cared about was the opinion of the people she loved, and that was wholly in her and Colin’s favour.
She looked out of the window at the garden and saw two figures making their way out from under the arbour.
She turned and made for the door, walking lightly down the stairs, past the music room, and out onto the balcony beyond. Her father was there, a broad smile on his face, leaning down to look at the tiny child holding his hand.
“Now, now, Jenny,” he was saying cheerfully. “You mustn’t eat the flowers. They are for looking only, not food.”
“Genevieve,” Isabel scolded her daughter gently. “If you’re hungry, we may run inside and fetch something out of the larder.”
Genevieve looked up at her, blond curls tumbling into her face just as Colin’s did sometimes. She was wearing a poofy white dress over lace pantaloons, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. In one hand, she had her grandfather wholly in thrall. In the other, she held a crushed lily that she was slowly pulling towards her rosebud lips.
“Jenny.” Isabel said, a note of warning in her voice.
Genevieve smiled broadly, showing a few pearly teeth, and dropped the crumpled flower onto the ground, releasing Philip’s hand to reach both hands up towards Isabel.
“Mama!” she cried, toddling forward.
Isabel caught her before she fell, picking her up into a warm embrace and smiling at her father. “How was your afternoon walk?” she asked.
Philip, who came daily to visit now, grinned in response. “It was a bit quicker than it was last time,” he said, “but I will confess she convinced me more than once to carry her.”
“Well, she’s only just got her sea legs, hasn’t she?” Isabel asked with a smile.
The two walked towards the house. As they did so, Isabel snuck a look at her father. In the years since her illness, he had changed more and more with every day. At first, he just relaxed little by little, as though allowing himself the chance to be happy again. Then, after the birth of Genevieve, it was as though he was fully himself again.
He seemed to glow with happiness and spent as much time as possible around Isabel and her family. He was a restored man, and Isabel knew that if her mother could see him, she would have been proud and pleased.
“Have you been to see your Aunt Helena lately?” he asked after a moment.
“No,” Isabel said. “I believe the months of her confinement are not yet concluded. Have you heard anything about her well-being?”
Helena, over thirty years old and on to her second marriage, had miraculously become pregnant eleven months before. Isabel had been anxious about her aunt’s health with the pregnancy. It was uncommon for a woman of Helena’s age to survive childbirth, and the whole family had been concerned.
Then, two months ago, the family had received word that Helena had given birth to a healthy baby boy, and both mother and son were alive and well. Her recovery time precluded guests, but Isabel was happy to wait as long as Helena was happy and healthy when she had at last recovered.
She noticed now that her father seemed to be hiding a smile.
“What secret are you harbouring?” she asked. “Is there something I should know about my dear aunt?”
“If there is,” he said coyly, “then I’m sure you can ask her yourself.” He nodded towards the back terrace of the townhouse, and Isabel realised with a start that her aunt was standing there, Edward at her side, a bundle in her hands.
“Aunt Helena!” Isabel cried, hurrying in that direction. “I had no idea you would be coming today.”
Philip lengthened his stride to keep up with her. “That is why I came today,” he said with a smile. “I wanted to see your reaction.”
“Hush, Father,” Isabel tossed lightly over her shoulder. “You come every day, so how was I to know anything was out of the ordinary?” She carried Genevieve up the stairs to the terrace whilst her aunt and family looked down upon her from above, and when she reached the top, she embraced Helena with tenderness. “How good it is to see you.”
Helena was positively glowing. Her brilliant hair was in a loose tie at the base of her neck, tendrils curling forth around her face, and her loose recovery gown brought out the colour in her eyes. In her arms, her little boy slept peacefully. She, however, was examining Isabel with interest.
“My, my,” she scolded. “You’ve been without me for only a few months, and you’re already skipping up staircases with your child haphazardly in your arms.” A teasing smile lurked in her eyes. “I shall have to resume my position of instruction at your side immediately.”
Isabel rolled her eyes. “You would be amazed at how ladylike I’ve been in your absence, Aunt. Here, look at young Jenny. Isn’t she growing at a positively alarming rate?”
Helena’s eyes lit at the sight of the small child. “Yes, dear. You are a beautiful thing!” She looked up at Isabel in amazement. “It seems she’s a grown child since I last saw her. Are you going to be bringing her out at the next Season?”
Isabel looked past the curve of the blanket at the baby’s face. “And your Felix seems to be quite happy and healthy as well. How are you feeling?”
“Heavens,” Philip said. “I know it isn’t my townhouse, but couldn’t we all move inside for a spot of tea before we get into the weeds of this conversation? It seems it is getting a bit away from us, gentlemen.” He exchanged a friendly glance with Edward. The two had been spending more time in each other’s company after Helena’s marriage, and the camaraderie between them was evident.
“Yes,” Edward agreed. “I would not say no to a spot of tea.”
“Of course!” Isabel blushed. “I was just so taken up with the arrival of guests that I overlooked the need to be a proper hostess.”
She led the way inside, pausing in the library to hand Genevieve off to Nanny for a bath and dinner, then turned on to ring for tea. The drawing room was quiet, signalling that Colin’s last guest of the day had at last departed. This was confirmed when Colin himself joined them in the parlour, grinning widely at the sight of their guests.
“What a delightful surprise!” he said, coming to sit beside Isabel and peering at the baby. “Both baby and mother are well?”
“I should say so,” Edward said drily, “or I would not have permitted either to leave the home on a social call.”
“Dear,” Helena retorted, the light of love very much alive in her eyes, “I am not sure you’ve ever been particularly adept at ‘permitting’ me to do anything.”
“And I do not expect to have any more luck with our little lad,” he answered cheerfully. He turned his attention to Colin. “How are your lessons progressing?”
“Well, as always.” Colin hesitated a moment, and then added, “I would like to ask you a few questions about investment when you have a chance, Lord Cedarbrook. I know that you have a few ships en route to the East Indies and wonder if I might join you in such a scheme.”
Edward looked surprised, as did Helena. Isabel did not blame them. It was uncommon for gentlemen to have enough capital to begin expanding through investment, and Colin certainly did not have the profession of a man given to excess coin. Still, Isabel knew what they did not. Colin had been wise with his finances, and the growth in his business had resulted in savings that he now wanted to invest wisely. He was expanding their fortunes by the day.
“We do not enter for anything less than 500 pounds,” Edward said, almost apologetically.
“As I said,” Colin responded without hesitation, “we may certainly speak about this in private at a later time, but I am unconcerned with such a reasonable entrance limit. I have more than that that needs judicious handling at present.”
Isabel saw her father smile. “It gives me peace to know that my daughter is being cared for so well,” Philip said. “I know that I was not initially enthusiastic about your mutual interest in each other.”
“If memory serves,” Helena interjected, “you were practically hostile.”
Philip waved his hand dismissively and continued, “but I have since learned that a title and wealth do not guarantee a good match, whereas a man that looks as though he has nothing to his name can in fact prove himself a good steward of wealth and resources.”
“Indeed,” Edward added. “I wonder, sometimes, if the title can be a detriment. As many of you know, I did not have one in my younger years. I found that the lack of social standing encouraged me to try harder to make my name in the world.”
“And if we think of Lord Barington, we have an example of someone who was polluted by the wealth and circumstance of his position,” Helena said, raising her eyebrows.
Philip made a sound of disapproval at the mention of Silas’ name. “You don’t need to remind me about that wayward gentleman. I am sure his name is not welcome in this group.”
Isabel thought of Silas. She had not seen him since her illness. She suspected that her father had said something to encourage him to stay away, but even at social gatherings, he seemed to avoid balls or dinner parties where he thought she would be in attendance. It made her sad, in a way. She did not care for him, and when she learned about what he had done to ruin Colin’s reputation, it had saddened her, but she still wished he could find a brighter future than the one he had chosen for himself.
“I do not mind speaking about him,” she said quietly. “His name has no negative power here unless we let it. He is just a gentleman I almost married and didn’t.”
“He is also a gentleman that tried to cause you great harm,” Helena pointed out.
“Tried, but failed,” Colin said. He reached over and took Isabel’s hand in his. She was continually blessed by his willingness to forgive and move on from offences. “Isabel is right. Lord Barington has no power here, unless we give it to him. May we wish him a bright future, in whatever dealings he may have.”
“See?” Helena said, after a pause during which the older three in the room exchanged meaningful glances, “These two have much to teach us, after all. I confess I have been indulging in some rather bitter thoughts towards Lord Barington, especially when I think of all that he did to compromise Colin’s future.” She shrugged and let out a long breath. “But I am willing to let that go if you are.”
At that moment, the butler appeared in the doorway.
“Pardon me,” he said. “But I have Lady Vivian here to see Mrs. Davenport.”
“My, my,” Isabel said, looking at the clock. It was far past visiting hours. “Show her in, of course.” As the butler left, she exchanged a quick glance with Colin. “I wonder if we shall have any other surprise visitors this afternoon.”
Before he could answer, Lady Vivian appeared in a whirl of violet silk, the feathers in her cap bobbing about as though they were filled with the same anticipation reflected on her face. When she caught sight of the full room, however, she came to a standstill. Her expression fell.
“Oh, heavens,” she said softly. “I didn’t realise so many people would be here.”
Isabel realised with a start the reason for Lady Vivian’s late arrival. Likely she had been attempting to avoid running into anyone else from the ton. While Isabel didn’t yet know the reason for all this secrecy, her heart still went out to a woman in need, and she stood quickly.
“Perhaps you could join me on the terrace, Lady Vivian,” she said kindly.
“Yes, yes. I should be only a moment,” the older woman said nervously.
The two bustled outside together, and when they reached the terrace, Lady Vivian turned to bring her need to bear at once.
“I will not mince words, Mrs. Davenport,” she said. “I know that what I am about to ask is most untoward, possibly even insulting, but I pray that you would consider my great admiration for you and your husband when I pose my request.”
“Heavens,” Isabel said with a smile. “With an introduction like that, you simply must continue. You make your mission seem quite tantalising.”
Lady Vivian took a deep breath. “My daughter, Sophie. Have you met her?”
“I have,” Isabel said. “She seems like a very sweet girl.”
“A tad quiet,” Lady Vivian said, as though this was a great sin in a girl, “but I shall break her of that, eventually. I am a woman who prides myself on speaking my mind, and I have no doubt that she will one day follow in my footsteps.” Isabel could not help wondering if it might be better for poor Sophie should she choose a path different than her mother’s. “The problem with Sophie lies in the matter of her preparation for the Season.”
“Ah.” Isabel frowned. “I have seen and spoken with Sophie on two separate occasions. She seemed to me to be quite prepared for the conversation and elegance required of her.”
“But not the music.” Lady Vivian spoke frankly. “She had a terrible tutor when she was a girl and began hating the instrument from the start. She vacillated between the harp and the pianoforte, settling on the harp only to tell me last week that she hated it. She has swung back over to the pianoforte, but no tutor in town will have her.”
“Because she changes her mind so often,” Isabel stated calmly. “I see the problem. Well, I can assure you that Mr. Davenport is an excellent teacher. He has turned even the most stubborn of minds towards a love of music, and he is quite patient. I will speak to him about his availability—”
“No, no.” Lady Vivian interjected, twisting her handkerchief in her hands. “No, it is you I came to see.”
“Yes, I heard you play at the Anderson’s last week, and it was so lovely.” Lady Vivian’s eyes were hopeful. “Sophie heard you too. She said she would like to play like you some day. I think that there is something about learning from a woman that would be easier than learning from your husband, as talented as he might be.”
Isabel could hardly believe her ears. It was astonishing to go from being so behind in music when she first met Colin to the place that she now was able to help some other girl catch the same love for the pianoforte that she had caught all those years ago.
“I would love to help Sophie,” she said. “And you needn’t feel as though you have insulted me with the suggestion.”
Lady Vivian blushed. “It is only that I know the task is usually reserved for mere tutors or governesses, not the daughter of the Earl of Kensington.”
Isabel looked over her shoulder at the drawing room. Through the window, she caught Colin looking back at her. He was so handsome, kind, and gentle. She could not wait to go to his side and whisper into his ear the entire conversation. He was the best of friends, even now, the dearest part of her heart.
“The Davenports are mere tutors,” she said with a shrug and a happy smile. “We are not above such a job description, I assure you, and I am honoured to teach your daughter.” Seeing the worry still in Lady Vivian’s eyes, she reached out and laid a hand on the older woman’s arm. “And we will make a little pact, just you and I,” she said. “I will tell no one but Colin about these lessons until your daughter is showing marked improvement. That way, there will be no rumours swirling about her preparedness for the Season.”
“You have saved me,” Lady Vivian sighed.
Isabel looked back at Colin. “Well,” she said, “a long time ago someone saved me in the same situation, and I am pleased to at last be able to return the favour.”