“We don’t have to learn it. We’ll have the music in front of us.”
This was going to be much worse than Honoria had feared.
“I think we should do no. 1,” Daisy said emphatically. “It will be embarrassing if we perform the same piece as last year.”
It was going to be embarrassing regardless of what music they chose, but Honoria didn’t have the heart to say it to her face.
On the other hand, whichever piece they performed, they would surely butcher it past recognition. Could a difficult piece played badly be that much worse than a slightly less difficult piece played badly?
“Oh, why not?” Honoria acquiesced. “We’ll do no. 1.” She shook her head. Sarah was going to be furious. The piano part was especially difficult.
On the other hand, it wasn’t as if Sarah had deigned to take part in the selection process.
“A wise choice,” Daisy said with great conviction. “We’re doing Quartet no. 1!” she called out over her shoulder.
Honoria looked past her to Sarah and Iris, who had actually pushed the pianoforte several feet across the room.
“What are you doing?” she nearly shrieked.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Sarah said with a laugh. “We’re not really going to push it out the window.”
Iris positively collapsed on the piano stool, her entire body shaking with laughter.
“This isn’t funny,” Honoria said, even though it was. She’d love nothing more than to join her cousin in silliness, but someone had to take charge, and if she didn’t do it, Daisy would.
“We’ve chosen Mozart’s Piano Quartet no. 1,” Daisy said again.
Iris went utterly pale, which for her meant almost ghostlike. “You’re joking.”
“No,” Honoria replied, in all honesty a bit fed up. “If you had a strong opinion, you should have joined the conversation.”
“But do you know how difficult it is?”
“That’s why we want to do it!” Daisy proclaimed.
Iris looked at her sister for one moment and then turned back to Honoria, who she clearly judged to be the more sensible of the two. “Honoria,” she said, “we cannot do Quartet no. 1. It’s impossible. Have you ever heard it played?”
“Only once,” Honoria admitted, “but I don’t remember it very well.”
“It’s impossible,” Iris cried. “It’s not meant for amateurs.”
Honoria was not so pure of heart that she was not enjoying her cousin’s distress just a little bit. Iris had been complaining all afternoon.
“Listen to me,” Iris said again. “If we attempt this piece, we will be massacred.”
“By whom?” Daisy asked.
Iris just looked at her, completely unable to articulate a reply.
“By the music,” Sarah put in.
“Oh, you’ve decided to join the discussion, then,” Honoria said.
“Don’t be sarcastic,” Sarah snipped.
“Where were the two of you when I was trying to pick something out?”
“They were moving the piano.”
“Daisy!” all three of them yelled.
“What did I say?” Daisy demanded.
“Try not to be so literal,” Iris snapped.
Daisy hmmphed and started leafing through the music score.
“I have been trying to keep everyone’s spirits up,” Honoria said, planting her hands on her hips as she faced Sarah and Iris. “We have a performance to practice for, and no matter how much either of you complains, there is no getting out of it. So stop trying to make my life so difficult and do what you’re told.”
Sarah and Iris could only stare.
“Er, please,” Honoria added.
“Perhaps this would be a good time for a short break,” Sarah suggested.
Honoria groaned. “We haven’t even started.”
“I know. But we need a break.”
Honoria stood still for a moment, feeling her body deflate. This was exhausting. And Sarah was right. They did need a break. A break from doing absolutely nothing, but a break nevertheless.
“Besides,” Sarah said, giving her a sly look, “I’m parched.”
Honoria raised an eyebrow. “All this complaining has made you thirsty?”
“Precisely,” Sarah returned with a grin. “Have you any lemonade, darling cousin?”
“I don’t know,” Honoria said through a sigh, “but I suppose I could inquire.” Lemonade did sound nice. And to be perfectly honest, not practicing also sounded nice. She got up to ring for a maid and had barely sat down again when Poole, Winstead House’s longtime butler, appeared in the doorway.
“That was fast,” Sarah remarked.
“A caller for you, Lady Honoria,” Poole intoned.
Honoria’s heart thumped wildly in her chest until she realized it couldn’t possibly be Marcus. He was still confined to Fensmore. Dr. Winters had insisted.
Poole came over with his tray and held it forward so that Honoria could take the calling card.
THE EARL OF CHATTERIS
Good heavens, it was Marcus. What the devil was he doing in London? Honoria completely forgot to be mortified or angry or whatever it was she was feeling (she had not quite decided) and went straight to out-and-out fury. How dare he risk his health? She had not slaved at his bedside, braving heat, blood, and delirium only to have him collapse in London because he was too foolish to stay home where he belonged.
“Admit him at once,” she snapped, and she must have sounded rather fierce, because all three of her cousins turned to stare at her with identical expressions of shock.