Let it be said, Marcus thought dryly, that nothing cooled a man’s ardor like the Crusades. Still . . .
He looked at her questioningly. “Norwegians?”
“A little-known crusade at the beginning,” she said, waving aside what was probably a good decade of history with a flick of her wrist. “Hardly anyone ever talks about it.” She looked over at him and saw what must have been an expression of complete amazement. “I like the Crusades,” she said with a shrug.
“That’s . . . excellent.”
“How about The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey?” she asked, holding up another book. “No? I also have History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution.”
“You really do think I’m dull,” he said to her.
She looked at him accusingly. “The Crusades are not dull.”
“But you brought only Volume Two,” he reminded her.
“I can certainly go back and look for the first volume.”
He decided to interpret that as a threat.
“Oh, here we are. Look at this.” She held up a very slim, pocket-sized book with a triumphant expression. “I have one by Byron. The least dull man in existence. Or so I’m told. I have never met him myself.” She opened the book to the title page. “Have you read The Corsair?”
“On the day it was published.”
“Oh.” She frowned. “Here is another by Sir Walter Scott. Peveril of the Peak. It’s rather lengthy. It should keep you busy for some time.”
“I believe I will stick with Miss Butterworth.”
“If you wish.” She gave him a look as if to say, There is no way you are going to like it. “It belongs to my mother. Although she did say you may keep it.”
“If nothing else, I’m sure it will rekindle my love of pigeon pie.”
She laughed. “I’ll tell Cook to prepare it for you after we leave tomorrow.” She looked up suddenly. “You did know that we depart for London tomorrow?”
“Yes, your mother told me.”
“We wouldn’t go unless we were certain you were recovering,” she assured him.
“I know. I’m sure you have much to attend to in town.”
She grimaced. “Rehearsals, actually.”
“For the – ”
” – musicale.”
The Smythe-Smith musicale. It finished off what the Crusades had begun. There wasn’t a man alive who could maintain a romantic thought when faced with the memory – or the threat – of a Smythe-Smith musicale.
“You’re still playing the violin?” he asked politely.
She gave him a funny look. “I’ve hardly taken up the cello since last year.”
“No, no, of course not.” It had been a silly thing to ask. But quite possibly the only polite question he might have come up with. “Er, do you know yet when the musicale is scheduled for this year?”
“The fourteenth of April. It’s not so very far off. Only a bit more than two weeks.”
Marcus took another piece of treacle tart and chewed, trying to calculate how long he might need to recuperate. Three weeks seemed exactly the right length of time. “I’m sorry I’ll miss it,” he said.
“Really?” She sounded positively disbelieving. He was not sure how to interpret this.
“Well, of course,” he said, stammering slightly. He’d never been a terrifically good liar. “I haven’t missed it for years.”
“I know,” she said, shaking her head. “It has been a magnificent effort on your part.”
He looked at her.
She looked at him.
He looked at her more closely. “What are you saying?” he asked carefully.
Her cheeks turned ever so slightly pink. “Well,” she said, glancing off toward a perfectly blank wall, “I realize that we’re not the most . . . er . . .” She cleared her throat. “Is there an antonym for discordant?”
He stared at her in disbelief. “Are you saying you know. . . . ehrm, that is to say – ”
“That we’re awful?” she finished for him. “Of course I know. Did you think me an idiot? Or deaf?”
“No,” he said, drawing out the syllable in order to give himself time to think. Although what good that was going to do him, he had no idea. “I just thought . . .”
He left it at that.
“We’re terrible,” Honoria said with a shrug of her shoulders. “But there is no point in histrionics or sulking. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“Practice?” he suggested, but very carefully.
He wouldn’t have thought a person could be both disdainful and amused, but if Honoria’s expression was any indication, she had managed it. “If I thought that practice might actually make us better,” she said, her lip curling ever so slightly even as her eyes danced with laughter, “believe me, I would be the most diligent violin student the world has ever seen.”
“Perhaps, if – ”
“No,” she said, quite firmly. “We’re awful. That’s all there is to it. We haven’t a musical bone in our bodies, and especially none in our ears.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He’d been to so many Smythe-Smith musicales it was a wonder he could still appreciate music. And last year, when Honoria had made her debut on the violin, she had looked positively radiant, performing her part with a smile so wide one could only assume she’d been lost in a rapture.