“I’m sorry,” Honoria said. It was difficult to sound truly sympathetic when she herself was so brimming with joy, but she tried.
“The worst is Daisy,” Iris said malevolently. “She’s been prancing around like – I say, is that blood on your sleeve?”
“What?” Honoria twisted her neck to take a look. There was a penny-sized splotch on the puffy part of her sleeve. Heaven only knew which man it belonged to; they’d both been bleeding by the time she’d left. “Oh. Er, no, I don’t know what that is.”
Iris frowned and looked closer. “I think it’s blood.”
“I can tell you for a fact that it’s not,” Honoria lied.
“Well, then what is – ”
“What did Daisy do?” Honoria cut in quickly. And when Iris just blinked at her, she said, “You said she was the worst.”
“Well, she is,” Iris declared fervently. “She needn’t do anything specific. She just – ”
She was cut off by a loud trill of laughter. Coming from Daisy.
“I may cry,” Iris announced.
“No, Iris, you – ”
“Allow me my misery,” Iris cut in.
“Sorry,” Honoria murmured contritely.
“This was the single most humiliating day of my life.” Iris shook her head, her expression almost dazed. “I cannot do this again, Honoria. I tell you, I cannot. I don’t care if there’s no other cellist waiting to take my spot. I cannot do it.”
“If you marry . . .”
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Iris nearly snapped. “Don’t think it did not cross my mind last year. I almost accepted Lord Venable just to get out of having to join the quartet.”
Honoria winced. Lord Venable was old enough to be their grandfather. And then some.
“Just please don’t disappear again,” Iris said, the choke in her voice almost breaking through into a sob. “I can’t manage when people come up to compliment me on the performance. I don’t know what to say.”
“Of course,” Honoria said, taking her cousin’s hand.
“Honoria, there you are!” It was her mother, hurrying over. “Where have you been?”
Honoria cleared her throat. “I went upstairs to lie down for a few minutes. I was suddenly exhausted.”
“Yes, well, it was a long day,” her mother said with a nod.
“I don’t know where the time went. I must have fallen asleep,” Honoria said apologetically. Who knew she was such a good liar? First the blood and now this.
“It is of no consequence,” her mother said before turning to Iris. “Have you seen Miss Wynter?”
Iris shook her head.
“Charlotte is ready to go home and can’t find her anywhere.”
“Perhaps she went to the retiring room?” Iris suggested.
Lady Winstead looked dubious. “She’s been gone quite a long time for that.”
“Er, Mother,” Honoria said, thinking of Daniel back in the corridor, “if I might have a word with you.”
“It will have to wait,” Lady Winstead said, shaking her head. “I’m beginning to grow worried about Miss Wynter.”
“Perhaps she needed a lie down as well,” Honoria suggested.
“I suppose. I do hope Charlotte thinks to give her an extra day off this week.” Lady Winstead gave a little nod, as if agreeing with herself. “I believe I will go find her right now and make that suggestion. It is the least we can do. Miss Wynter truly saved the day.”
Honoria and Iris watched her leave, then Iris said, “I suppose it depends upon your definition of the word ‘saved.’ “
Honoria let out a little giggle and looped her arm through her cousin’s. “Come with me,” she said. “We shall take a turn about the room and look happy and proud while we’re doing it.”
“Happy and proud is beyond my capabilities, but – ”
Iris was interrupted by a resounding crash. Or not exactly a crash. More like a splintering sound. With a few pops. And twangs.
“What was that?” Iris asked.
“I don’t know.” Honoria craned her neck. “It sounded like – ”
“Oh, Honoria!” they heard Daisy shriek. “Your violin!”
“What?” Honoria walked slowly toward the commotion, not quite able to put two and two together.
“Oh, my heavens,” Iris said abruptly, her hand coming to her mouth. She lay a restraining hand on Honoria, as if to say – It’s better if you don’t look.
“What is going on? I – ” Honoria’s jaw went slack.
“Lady Honoria!” Lady Danbury barked. “So sorry about your violin.”
Honoria only blinked, staring down at the mangled remains of her instrument. “What? How . . . ?”
Lady Danbury shook her head with what Honoria suspected was exaggerated regret. “I have no idea. The cane, you know. I must have knocked it off the table.”
Honoria felt her mouth opening and closing, but no sound was emerging. Her violin didn’t look as if it had been knocked off a table. Honestly, Honoria was at a loss as to how it could have got into such a state. It was absolutely wrecked. Every string had snapped, pieces of wood were completely detached, and the chin rest was nowhere to be seen.
Clearly, it had been trampled by an elephant.
“I insist upon buying you a new one,” Lady Danbury announced.
“Oh. No,” Honoria said, with a strange lack of inflection. “It’s not necessary.”