She grimaced. “It did make an awful sound when I twisted it on the step. Rather like something tearing.”
“Oh, that’s dreadful,” Iris said with a shudder. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Sarah just shrugged, and Hugh said, “That’s not a good sign, I’m afraid. It’s certainly nothing permanent, but it does indicate that the injury may be deeper than originally thought.”
Sarah let out a dramatic sigh. “I suppose I shall have to learn to grant audiences in my boudoir like a French queen.”
Iris looked at Hugh. “I warn you, she’s serious.”
He did not doubt it.
“Or,” Sarah continued, her eyes taking on a dangerous sparkle, “I could have someone arrange a litter to carry me about.”
Hugh chuckled at her flamboyance. It was just the sort of thing that a mere week ago would have set his teeth on edge. But now that he knew her better, he could not help but be amused. She had a rather unique way of setting people at ease. He had meant it when he had said it before: it was a talent.
“Shall we feed you grapes from a golden chalice?” Iris teased.
“But of course,” Sarah replied, holding her haughty expression for about two seconds before she broke into a grin.
They all laughed then, which was probably why none of them noticed Daisy Smythe-Smith until she was practically upon them.
“Sarah,” she said rather officiously, “might I have a word?”
Hugh rose to his feet. He hadn’t had a chance to talk with this particular Smythe-Smith yet. She looked young, still in the schoolroom but old enough to come down to supper at a family event.
“Daisy,” Sarah said in greeting. “Good evening. Have you been introduced to Lord Hugh Prentice? Lord Hugh, this is Miss Daisy Smythe-Smith. She is Iris’s sister.”
Of course. He’d heard of this family. The Smythe-Smith Bouquet, someone had once called them. He could not remember all of their names. Daisy, Iris, probably a Rosehip and Marigold. He dearly hoped none were named Crocus.
Daisy bobbed a quick curtsy, but she clearly had no interest in him, for she immediately turned her curly blond head back to Sarah. “Since you cannot dance tonight,” she said bluntly, “my mother has decided that we shall play.”
Sarah blanched, and Hugh suddenly recalled that first night at Fensmore, when she had started to tell him something about her family’s musicales. She had been cut off before she could finish. He never did learn what she was going to say.
“Iris won’t be able to join us,” Daisy continued, oblivious to Sarah’s reaction. “We have no cello, and Lady Edith wasn’t invited to this wedding, not that that would have done us any good,” she said with an affronted sniff. “It was very unkind of her not to let us borrow her cello at Fensmore.”
Hugh watched as Sarah threw a desperate glance at Iris. Iris, he noted, responded with nothing but sympathy. And horror.
“But the pianoforte is perfectly tuned,” Daisy said, “and of course I brought my violin, so we shall make a duet of it.”
Iris returned Sarah’s expression with one of her own. They were having another one of those silent conversations, Hugh thought, untranslatable by anyone of the male sex.
Daisy soldiered on. “The only question is what to play. I propose Mozart’s Quartet no. 1, since we do not have time to practice.” She turned to Hugh. “We performed that earlier this year.”
Sarah made a choking sound. “But—”
But Daisy was brooking no interruptions. “I assume you remember your part?”
“No! I don’t. Daisy, I—”
“I do realize,” Daisy continued, “that there are only two of us, but I don’t think that will make a difference.”
“You don’t?” Iris asked, looking vaguely ill.
Daisy spared her sister a fleeting glance. A fleeting glance, Hugh noted, that still managed to imbue itself with an astonishing degree of condescension and annoyance.
“We shall simply go forward without the cello or second violin,” she announced.
“You play the second violin,” Sarah said.
“Not when there is only one violinist,” Daisy replied.
“That makes absolutely no sense,” Iris put in.
Daisy let out a highly aggravated puff of air. “Even if I play the second part, as I did last spring, I will still be the only violinist.” She waited for affirmation, then plowed on anyway. “Which therefore will make me the first violin.”
Even Hugh knew it did not work that way.
“You cannot have a second violin without a first,” Daisy said impatiently. “It is numerically impossible.”
Oh no, Hugh thought, she is not going to bring numbers into this.
“I can’t play tonight, Daisy,” Sarah said, with a slow, horrified shake of her head.
Daisy’s lips pinched. “Your mother said you would.”
“What Lady Sarah means to say,” Hugh cut in smoothly, “is that she has already promised her evening to me.”
It seemed he was developing a taste for playing the hero. Even to ladies who were not eleven years old and infatuated with unicorns.
Daisy looked at him as if he were speaking another language. “I don’t understand.”
From the expression on Sarah’s face, she didn’t either. Hugh offered his blandest smile and said, “I, too, cannot dance. Lady Sarah has offered to sit with me throughout the evening.”