After dessert and Madeira, the evening hushed into night. The players gathered across the hall on the prolific settees, and the colonel read from his little leather-bound book. He’d begun to adopt a cockney accent for the housekeeper, which required Charlotte to concentrate on his every word.
And Issy told him the story – missing out the sleeping-with-her-boss bits, and reshaping it more as a lifelong ambition, with lots of hard financial analysis backing it up. The more she told the story, she realized, the more real and plausible it sounded, like a creative visualization. She felt she was making it come true.‘I brought you some cake,’ she added as she finished. Austin waved it away.
‘Sorry, I can’t take that. Could be seen as …’‘Me bribing you with cake?’ asked Issy in surprise.‘Well, yes, cake, tools, wine, whatever, really.’
‘Gosh.’ Issy stared at the tin in her lap. ‘I really hadn’t thought of it like that.’‘What, you didn’t bring me cakes to bribe me?’
‘Well, yes, obviously I did, now you mention it.’
They smiled at one another. Austin rubbed his unruly hair. ‘Pear Tree Court … remind me, but isn’t that the tiny tucked-away place off the Albion Road?’Any further awkwardness was cut off by the sound of an approaching carriage. Jane stepped out the front door for the last time, and she and Amelia, gratefully and mournfully, took their leave. Aunt Saffronia stood by the door, waving her handkerchief and shedding rather impressive tears. Colonel Andrews strolled out to wave good-bye with the stately line of house servants in their white caps and white wigs. Captain East smiled knowingly, his eyes earnest with whatever fake promises he and Amelia had made. Mr. Nobley didn’t bother to join the farewell.
Jane looked for Martin, but he was absent. No matter. After the driver left her at Heathrow, she was to change her ticket and meet him at a certain pub.As their carriage pulled away, two men Jane had never seen before emerged from the house—one young and handsome enough to be fresh meat for the new girls, and the other a portly, red-faced gentleman who looked mildly sloshed. The new Sir Templeton, she realized, and felt oddly delighted that without her the story would still go on.
Amelia cast off her bonnet, leaned back, and snuggled against Jane’s arm.What a time! she said in an American accent. The best so far.