The Fortune Hunter

The Fortune Hunter

4.2 56
by Daisy Goodwin
     
 

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Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on

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Overview

Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.

Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National--until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.

The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/05/2014
Goodwin’s second novel (after The American Heiress) travels the difficult protocols of Victorian-era fox hunting, as well as the even more complicated protocols of love and marriage in the era, especially for an intelligent young woman with a fortune. England, 1875: Charlotte Baird is the eligible heiress to “the Lennox Fortune.” Her lovely, reckless mother was her father’s second wife, and she died young in a hunting accident, leaving her fortune to Charlotte. Charlotte’s brother, Fred, is engaged to Augusta Crewe, an ambitious woman from a good family who’d rather settle for Fred than stay unmarried (and she covets the Lennox diamonds). Charlotte is more interested in photography—especially composing unusual portraits and developing the plates and prints herself. When Bay Middleton, an expert horseman and friend of Fred, arrives for hunting season at Melton, Augusta’s family home, he and Charlotte form an unlikely alliance that turns into love. Fred and Augusta believe Charlotte can do better. Further confusing matters is the arrival of the Empress of Austria, who comes to a nearby estate and appoints Bay as her “pilot” for the hunts; she later decides that Bay can provide her happiness beyond horseback. Charlotte and Bay are faced with listening to their hearts, or falling victim to the machinations and customs surrounding them. Goodwin manages to take the reader deep inside the characters’ longings and flaws in a way that makes the reader root for them. An enchanting, beautifully written page-turner. First printing of 150,000 copies. (July)
From the Publisher

“Goodwin uses finely drawn characters and intriguing plot lines to create numerous memorable scenes such as when the empress, accompanied by Bay, visits and exchanges polite but pointed barbs with Queen Victoria. Although readers who enjoyed The American Heiress will be first in line to savor Goodwin's new novel, they will be followed quickly by others who appreciate engaging and thoughtful historical fiction.” —Library Journal (starred review)

"Goodwin manages to take the reader deep inside the characters’ longings and flaws in a way that makes the reader root for them. An enchanting, beautifully written page-turner." —Publishers Weekly

"Goodwin’s second novel is a luxurious indulgence for romantically inclined readers....Mingling historical fact with imaginative fiction, Goodwin writes with effortless grace, and her dialogue’s subtle wit is delightful. Each of her three protagonists commands attention and sympathy, which heightens the story’s poignancy. Charlotte’s levelheaded personality remains unaffected by her wealth or her relatives’ dependence on it, and Bay is movingly torn between duty and his sense of self-worth. Finally, despite her outlandish regimen for maintaining her complexion and ankle-length chestnut tresses, Elizabeth is never less than beguiling." —Booklist

"With its witty dialogue, intriguing research and cameo appearances by Queen Victoria and other royals, Goodwin’s latest is a pleasurable excursion into Downton-land complete with high-society weddings, lavish balls and an exciting, all-or-nothing horse-racing finale." —Kirkus Reviews

 

“A sumptuous, scrumptious confection, with country houses, Austrian Empresses and Victorian glamour galore.” —Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces

"Daisy Goodwin has triumphed again. In The Fortune Hunter she weaves a rich and textured tale of desire and ambition. Sizzling with energy and passion on every page, Goodwin's characters compel the reader to fall in love with them." —Amanda Foreman, author of the New York Times bestsellers Georgiana and A World on Fire

Praise for THE AMERICAN HEIRESS:

"Anyone suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms will find an instant tonic in Goodwin's deliciously evocative novel."

—Allison Pearson, author of New York Times bestseller I Don't Know How She Does It

"Goodwin...writes deliciously."

—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Top-notch writing brings to life the world of wealth on both sides of the Atlantic. This debut's strong character development and sense of place will please fans of historical romance, including book club members."

—Library Journal (starred)

"A shrewd, spirited historical romance…Superior entertainment."

Kirkus Reviews (starred)

UK The Times

Public Service Announcement. . . this gorgeous novel is the perfect storm of escapism, suspense, romance and superb historical research.
Booklist

Goodwin's second novel is a luxurious indulgences....Goodwin writes with effortless grace, and her dialogue's subtle wit is delightful. Each of her three protagonists commands attention and sympathy, which heightens the story's poignancy. Charlotte's levelheaded personality remains unaffected by her wealth or her relatives' dependence on it, and Bay is movingly torn between duty and his sense of self-worth. Finally, despite her outlandish regimen for maintaining her complexion and ankle-length chestnut tresses, Elizabeth is never less than beguiling.
Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces Lucy Worsley

A sumptuous, scrumptious confection, with country houses, Austrian Empresses and Victorian glamour galore.
author of the New York Times bestsellers Georgiana Amanda Foreman

Daisy Goodwin has triumphed again. In The Fortune Hunter she weaves a rich and textured tale of desire and ambition. Sizzling with energy and passion on every page, Goodwin's characters compel the reader to fall in love with them.
author of New York Times bestseller I Don't Know Allison Pearson

Anyone suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms will find an instant tonic in Goodwin's deliciously evocative novel.
The New York Times Janet Maslin

Goodwin...writes deliciously.
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-15
The love triangle created by an heiress, an empress and an “Adonis on horseback” is delightfully dissected in the second historical romance (The American Heiress, 2011) from a best-selling British novelist.Described variously as shallow, unsuitable, a man with a past but without character, cavalry officer Capt. Bay Middleton is hardly ideal fiance material for a wealthy underage debutante in Victorian England. But he’s the one man to have captured the heart of Charlotte Baird, the shrewd, 20-year-old heir to the Lennox fortune who accepts his proposal after a handful of kisses and despite his bad reputation and inferior social position. Bay’s feelings for Charlotte are true—and unmercenary—but the captain also knows himself to be “unsteady,” which is why he asks Charlotte to elope with him instantly rather than wait a few months until she can marry without her brother’s approval. Charlotte’s refusal to behave improperly leaves Bay open to temptation, which arrives in the epic form of “the modern Helen of Troy,” Empress Elizabeth of Austria, holidaying incognito in England to escape the boredom of life at the Viennese court. Elizabeth, known as Sisi, is a spectacular (if aging) beauty with ankle-length hair whose fearless appetite for fox hunting is matched only by Bay’s. Forced to act as Sisi’s guide while hunting, Bay soon finds himself her lover too, a “secret” which sends ripples of gossip through the upper end of English society. With its witty dialogue, intriguing research and cameo appearances by Queen Victoria and other royals, Goodwin’s latest is a pleasurable excursion intoDownton-land complete with high-society weddings, lavish balls and an exciting, all-or-nothing horse-racing finale.Goodwin has hit on a winning formula—a sophisticated blend of money, class, history, misunderstandings among lovers, spirited women, and unpredictable but irresistible men—and is sticking with it.
The Washington Post

Ketherine Kellgren, a truly accomplished voice actress, affects a la-di-da intercontinental accent for the narration of this puree of Edith Wharton, 'Downtown Abbey' and pulp romance.
Star-Telegram

This audiobook is full of historical detail about the lives of the rich and famous at the turn of the last century, from fashion and food to living spaces and manners. I think I listened to the descriptions of Cora's Parisian-made trousseau about five or six times so that I could picture each sumptuous, amazing gown clearly in my mind.
BookPage

This audio presentation, narrated by Katherine Kellgren, who moves with effortless authenticity from the haughty Mayfair drawl of the Prince of Wales to the self-important, Southern tinged cadences of a rich American society matron, is bound to top the list of super-summer-beach listens.
The Winston-Salem Journal

From the first plummy tones of Katherine Kellgren's voice, you know you're in for a guilty pleasure…This is 'Upstairs/Downstairs,' 'The Age of Innocence' and 'Downton Abbey' rolled into one.
The Washington Post on the Audiobook Edition of The American Heiress

Ketherine Kellgren, a truly accomplished voice actress, affects a la-di-da intercontinental accent for the narration of this puree of Edith Wharton, 'Downtown Abbey' and pulp romance.
Star-Telegram on the Audiobook Edition of The American Heiress

This audiobook is full of historical detail about the lives of the rich and famous at the turn of the last century, from fashion and food to living spaces and manners. I think I listened to the descriptions of Cora's Parisian-made trousseau about five or six times so that I could picture each sumptuous, amazing gown clearly in my mind.
The Winston-Salem Journal on the Audiobook Edition of The American Heiress

From the first plummy tones of Katherine Kellgren's voice, you know you're in for a guilty pleasure…This is 'Upstairs/Downstairs,' 'The Age of Innocence' and 'Downton Abbey' rolled into one.
Library Journal
02/15/2014
Goodwin, who charged onto the course with The American Heiress, a New York Times best seller with 300,000 books in print, returns with a second novel featuring a dramatic love triangle. Restless in her marriage and her royal duties, the Empress Elizabeth of Austria lives to ride. So does Capt. Bay Middleton, charming but too poor to buy a horse of the quality to win the Grand National. He's lucky to meet independent-minded heiress Charlotte Baird, but their budding relationship is disrupted when Bay is asked to guide the empress on the course set for a hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England. With a national laydown on July 29.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250043894
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/29/2014
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
61,665
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

DAISY GOODWIN, a Harkness scholar who attended Columbia University's film school after earning a degree in history at Cambridge University, is a leading television producer in the U.K. Her poetry anthologies, including 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life, have introduced many new readers to the pleasures of poetry, and she was Chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. She and her husband, an ABC TV executive, have two daughters and live in London. The American Heiress was her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

THE SPENCER BALL

THE BALL WAS AT ITS HEIGHT. IT WAS AT THE POINT where the women were rosy from the dancing, but before the moment when coiffures began to slip – carefully curled fringes flattening in the heat. The guests, who had been delaying their arrival so that it would appear that they had been dining at one of the more fashionable houses before the ball, had finally dared to make their appearance. The parliamentary lobbies on the Suez bill had closed and the ballroom was spotted with MPs and ministers. It was the last event of the season before people disappeared to the country for the summer, so there was an energy to the occasion as the guests tried to make the most of this last opportunity to squeeze what they wanted from the world: a promotion, a liaison, a husband, a mistress, a loan, or simply a piece of delicious gossip. No one wanted to miss this party; it was the final opportunity to acquire the baubles of hope and intrigue that would make the arid summer months bearable before the fashionable world reassembled in the autumn.

As Bay Middleton made his way up the double staircase, he saw that Earl Spencer, the Red Earl as he was known, was still standing by the door to welcome his guests. The last time Bay had seen Earl Spencer in evening dress had been in Dublin at the Vice Regal lodge. There he had been the Queen’s representative, and with his great height and golden red beard he had looked the part. But now

the political wind had changed, the Whigs had been ousted by the Tories under Disraeli, and Spencer looked a little less burnished. His kingdom was on the hunting field, not here under the chandeliers. But he had daughters to bring out and a Party anxious to manoeuvre itself back into power, so there was no help for it. Still, he hovered on the edge of the festivities as if ready to follow more promising sport at any moment.

Spencer caught sight of Bay at the bottom of the stairs and called to him before the footman could announce him.

‘Middleton, my dear fellow. I am uncommon glad to see you here.’ He squeezed Bay’s hand in his great freckled paw.

‘It’s not the same as Dublin, eh?’ Spencer’s pale blue eyes clouded. ‘Still, we have royalty tonight. The Queen of Naples, no less, or should I say the former Queen. Very grand, like all these deposed monarchs, but lively enough.’ He pointed a stubby finger at Bay. ‘I shall rely on you to entertain her. She speaks perfect English but she has a way of sighing that is altogether foreign. I believe the King is not altogether to her taste. No doubt you could bring a smile to those handsome lips.’

Bay smiled. ‘I don’t think a queen would have much time for a mere cavalry captain, My Lord. But I am at your service as always.’

Spencer laughed and put his arm around his shoulders.

‘They were high times in Ireland, eh Middleton? Best hunting in the world. Still, who knows? Disraeli can’t last for ever and then we will be back with a vengeance.’

He propelled Bay into the ballroom where the orchestra was playing a polka.

‘There she is, Queen Maria, the heroine of Gaeta. They say she took command of the garrison and fought against Garibaldi and the Risorgimento while her husband the little king locked himself in his bedroom.’ Spencer pointed to a tall dark woman dressed in white who stood surrounded by a group of men in uniform.

‘It appears that she is still in command of her troops.’ Bay thought that the Queen looked as if she was posing for a portrait, her arms positioned in a perfect oval and her head turned slightly so that everyone could admire her clear profile and the long curve of her neck. She wore a small tiara that sparkled against her dark hair.

‘At least she looks the part,’ said Spencer. ‘Not like the Widow of Windsor. And a horsewoman too. She came out with the Pytchley last year, led the pack all the way. I suppose a day out with the Pytchley is compensation for losing a kingdom, eh?’ But Bay was no longer looking at the Queen in her frame of courtiers. He had seen Blanche’s blond head and he could not help following it as it tacked across the dance floor. Spencer followed his gaze and made a small tutting noise.

‘I believe you are not listening to me, Middleton. Still, I shall leave you to your own pursuits, even if no good can come of them. It’s high time you got married. The right sort of wife would make all the difference.’ The Earl moved off towards the supper room, leaving Bay watching Blanche as she danced around the room. He was dismayed to see how very gracefully she was dancing tonight. She was coming around again and he knew that if she were to turn her head she would see him. He stood there, unable to move, and then just as they were about to come face to face, he saw a flash of white to his left and turned his head. It was Charlotte Baird – still small and dun-coloured but just then a most welcome sight.

He pulled himself around to face her. She was standing beside her aunt and another lady, whom Bay recognised as Augusta Crewe, Fred’s fiancée. Charlotte looked very small standing beside the other women. Middleton bowed to the group and moved next to her.

‘I hope you can hear the music now, Miss Baird.’

She nodded. He thought she looked less sure of herself here in the glittering expanse of the ballroom than she had in the enclosed space of the box at Covent Garden.

‘Yes, but this music is not intended to be listened to.’ She smiled her crooked smile and Bay could see that her fingers were tapping her fan.

He bowed and asked her to dance. But before Charlotte could answer, Augusta said, ‘Oh, but you are too late, Captain Middleton, Miss Baird’s dance card is quite full. Isn’t that right, Charlotte?’ Augusta blinked her sandy eyelashes at Bay.

Charlotte laughed. ‘Oh, but Augusta, I must make room for Captain Middleton. Haven’t you noticed how magnificent Fred is looking tonight? It is all the work of Captain Middleton here who sent him to his tailor. I think I should express our gratitude, don’t you?’

Augusta sniffed. ‘I can’t say that I have noticed anything in particular. Fred is always well turned out.’

‘Oh, you are just being loyal. You may have the next dance, Captain Middleton, and Augusta, perhaps you would make my excuses to Captain Hartopp.’

The band struck up a waltz. Bay held out his hand to Charlotte. He was surprised at how small and how light she was. She barely came up to his shoulder, unlike Blanche, who had always been on a level with him. She was concentrating too hard on the steps to look at him at first. He could see her biting her lip with effort. He tightened his grip on her waist and finally she raised her eyes to his and said, ‘You are a very good dancer.’

‘I have had lots of practice. In Ireland there was nothing to do except hunt and go to parties.’

‘But Captain Hartopp was in Ireland with you, was he not? He doesn’t dance as well as you.’

Bay smiled. ‘It’s true, no one could call Chicken a dancer. He can ride, though.’

‘Why do you call him Chicken, Captain Middleton? I’ve asked Fred but he won’t tell me.’

‘If your brother won’t tell you, then you can hardly expect me to, Miss Baird.’ He saw her frown and continued, ‘Don’t be cross. It is rather a sad little story and I am too fond of Chicken to repeat it.’

‘But you don’t mind taking his dancing partner away?’

Bay looked down at her, surprised. He hadn’t expected Fred’s sister to be so lively.

‘Oh, but that was your decision, not mine. Once you had accepted my invitation I could hardly turn you down.’

‘How chivalrous you are, Captain Middleton.’ She looked up at him through her lashes and Bay decided that her eyes were grey, almost the colour of the blue roan he had ridden in Ireland last summer. She was not beautiful but he found he liked looking at her face.

‘Well, I guessed that you didn’t want to dance with Chicken all night.’

‘Are you a mind reader then, Captain Middleton, as well as being the best dressed officer in the Guards?’

Bay laughed. ‘And on what basis do you call me that? Are you an expert in Guards uniforms, Miss Baird?’

‘Not at all, but my brother is. Fred doesn’t praise people very often, so I am inclined to believe him. I am only sorry you are not wearing your uniform tonight so I can see what perfection looks like.’

‘Oh, I think there are quite enough uniforms here tonight.’ Bay’s voice was dismissive. He felt there was something ostentatious about wearing uniform to every social occasion.

‘Well, I am sure your tails are the epitome of understated good taste, Captain Middleton.’

Bay could not help but glance at his impeccable tail coat with its four jet buttons on the cuff. Charlotte smiled and he checked himself. ‘You are mocking me, but I am not ashamed of taking the trouble to ensure my clothes fit properly.’

‘I envy your attention to detail. Fred is always berating me for my lack of interest in clothes. He would like me to be a fashion plate like Augusta. But I find the rigmarole of dressmaking so tedious. Standing perfectly still while people stick pins into you is not my idea of an occupation.’

‘So what would you rather be doing, Miss Baird?’ She didn’t answer immediately and they did a turn around the dance floor before she said rather hesitantly, ‘I like to take photographs.’

Bay did not conceal his surprise. How could this curious girl be related to stuffy old Fred? ‘Really? What sort of things do you photograph?’

‘Oh, a variety of things, landscapes, portraits, animals, whatever I think will make a good composition.’

‘Have you ever taken a picture of a horse?’

‘Not yet. Did you have one in mind?’

‘I would like very much to have a likeness of Tipsy, my hunter. She is a thing of beauty.’

‘Horse and rider would be interesting. Have you have ever had your photograph taken, Captain Middleton?’

‘Never.’

‘Has no one ever asked you for a picture? I am surprised.’

Bay was about to answer when he saw Blanche’s golden head and white face inches away from him. He lost his balance for a second and stepped out wildly, then heard a gasp and a faint tearing noise.

‘Miss Baird, I am so sorry, what have I done?’ Bay looked down and saw that he had put his foot through the flounce of her skirt, leaving a grubby rent in the white silk.

He thought for a moment that Charlotte was going to cry but she shook her head and said, ‘It doesn’t matter, but I think I should get it sewn up.’

They retreated to some seats in the corner and Middleton told a footman to fetch a maid with needle and thread.

‘Unless of course you would rather go somewhere more private like the cloakroom.’

She gave him a sideways look. ‘Oh no, I would much rather stay here and try to figure out why such an excellent dancer should lose his balance.’

He made a little flourish with his hands. ‘You could make anyone unsteady, Miss Baird.’

She did not reply for a moment, considering his remark, and then said, ‘I don’t think that was the reason, Captain Middleton.’

Bay was about to protest when the maid arrived and started to sew up the gash in her dress. Bay stood in front of Charlotte, shielding her from the room. When the girl had finished and the dress was whole again he said, ‘I daresay you won’t dance with me again, but can I take you into supper?’

Charlotte shook her head. ‘I am promised to Captain Hartopp. I can’t abandon him again.’

‘How very irritating. Let me, at least, take you back to Lady Lisle.’

He put out his arm, but she hesitated and then took a flower from the corsage at her wrist. It was a small white rosebud whose tightly furled petals were tinged with pink.

‘You’ve lost your buttonhole, Captain Middleton. Won’t you take this instead?’

He picked up the flower from her outstretched palm and put it into his lapel. It was smaller than the gardenia and there was no scent that he could detect.

‘You are very kind, Miss Baird.’

‘Hardly that. It’s just that I notice things.’

‘Even without a camera?’

She smiled. ‘Once you learn to look at things properly, you never stop.’

‘Now I feel thoroughly nervous of having my likeness taken.’

‘But I only see what is there, Captain Middleton.’

He was about to ask what she saw, but noticed Chicken Hartopp making towards them across the dance floor.

‘There you are, Miss Baird. I have come to rescue you from Middleton. I hope you haven’t forgotten that you promised to let me take you into supper.’

‘Of course not, Captain Hartopp. I was just on my way.’

‘My fault entirely, Chicken. Miss Baird here was furnishing me with a new buttonhole.’

Hartopp looked at the white rosebud on Bay’s lapel and flushed. Bay realised that somehow he had offended him. Charlotte looked embarrassed and put her hand on Hartopp’s arm.

‘I hope you don’t mind. Captain Middleton needed a new buttonhole and there are so many flowers in the beautiful corsage you gave me that I could spare one . . .’

‘Of course I don’t mind,’ said Hartopp, who clearly did. ‘We should get to the supper room before the ices are all gone.’

Bay knew that it was ignoble of him to enjoy Hartopp’s annoyance, but he could not help himself. Hartopp and Fred Baird had never concealed their amazement that despite Middleton’s inferior social position and fortune, he was not only a better rider than either of them but was also much more popular with women.

But satisfying though Chicken’s chagrin had been, Bay took even more pleasure in the fact that little Charlotte Baird had had no qualms about giving him the flower. She liked him, and though Bay was used to being liked by women, he was pleased that this particular girl had decided to favour him. She was not a girl, he guessed, who was easily pleased.

The band started playing a tune that Bay recognised as one that he had danced to with Blanche. They had not danced together very often, as Blanche was careful of her public reputation, so Bay was able to remember each dance quite distinctly. This particular polka had been playing the night of the Londonderry Ball. They had just become lovers and there had been something intoxicating about being able to hold her in his arms in public. She had hardly looked at him, but he had seen the pulse beating in her neck. He found himself looking across the ballroom for her, wondering if she too remembered that other night, but there was no blond head among the swirling dancers. She must be at supper or perhaps she had gone home. Bay was surprised that she could have left without his noticing. He looked at his pocket watch; it was almost midnight. It was much later than he thought. He had been distracted.

There was a cough behind him. He turned to see a man wearing a dress uniform he didn’t recognise.

‘Captain Middleton?’ The man spoke with an accent, French or Italian.

Bay nodded.

‘My name is Count Cagliari. I am equerry to her Majesty, the Queen of Naples.’ Cagliari looked over to where the Queen was sitting. Bay bowed. Cagliari was tall and blond, his chest extensively be-medalled.

‘At your service.’

‘I believe you may know that Her Majesty will be hunting with the Pytchley this winter.’

Bay nodded. ‘I hear that she is an excellent horsewoman.’

‘Yes, that is the case. Her Majesty is quite without fear. But she is a queen and there is a feeling that she should have some assistance. She is after all riding with the public.’

Bay smiled. ‘I don’t think the members of the Pytchley would call themselves the public.’

Cagliari made an apologetic wave of his arm.

‘Forgive me, sir, I am aware that the Pytchley is a very superior gathering. But that is perhaps, as you say here, the point moot. The Queen, as you know, is cruelly parted from the land whose name she bears. She has not the opportunity to lead, to shine, that should be hers by birth and upbringing. So it has become very important to her that she should be distinguished, to make her mark.’ Cagliari paused, looking for the right words, then he continued.

‘The Queen wishes to make her mark on the Pytchley, Captain Middleton. And to that end she needs a guide, someone to help her to take her rightful place.’

‘The hunting field is not a court, Count.’

‘No indeed, how clumsy of me to have given that impression. It is a place of excellence, of course, but as we know, Her Majesty already is a Diana. All she needs is some direction, from someone like yourself, so that she can be the Queen of the hunting field.’

‘Direction? Are you asking me to be her pilot? To open gates and that sort of thing, tell her which way the wind is blowing, help her on her horse if she falls off?’

Cagliari beamed, not picking up on the irony in Bay’s voice.

‘Yes, precisely, Captain Middleton. A pilot. That is the mot juste.’ Bay paused.

The Count did not understand the absurdity of his request.

‘Please tell Her Majesty that, while I am aware of the honour she does me, I am sorry to say that I cannot oblige her.’

‘Oh, but Captain Middleton, you do not appreciate the situation. The Queen would be extremely grateful . . .’ He rolled his eyes as if to convey the extent of her gratitude.

‘Really, your mistress would be better off with someone who enjoys making royalty grateful. Why don’t you ask Captain Hartopp? You see him over there by the orchestra, tall chap with the whiskers? He is an excellent rider, quite as accomplished as I am and he would like nothing better than to ride out with the Queen of Naples.’

Cagliari looked over to where Hartopp was standing with Charlotte and shook his head. ‘I am sure he is an excellent fellow, but Her Majesty has asked for you in particular, Captain Middleton. She has heard so many things about your particular talents.’

‘I am flattered, of course, but I must still refuse. Even if my own Queen were to command my services as a pilot, I would decline. I love to hunt and I have no intention of spoiling one of the great pleasures in life by acting as a glorified royal nursemaid.’

Count Cagliari looked shocked, and Bay felt that perhaps he had gone too far.

‘I have offended you, Count, with my frankness. Forgive me, but you see, I am not one of life’s courtiers.’

The Count bowed. ‘Her Majesty will be disappointed. Poor lady, she has so many crosses to bear.’

Bay patted the Count on the shoulder. ‘Tell her I am rude and uncouth and quite unfit for royal company. I am sure that a man like you can make it seem like a lucky escape.’

The Count smiled wanly. ‘Well, I shall do my best, Captain Middleton.’

Bay watched him thread his way back through the dancers towards the ex-Queen. It was time to leave. As he began to walk down the great staircase he looked up and saw Charlotte Baird, closely followed by Hartopp, coming down from the supper room on the mezzanine. He wondered if she would look down and see him. He stood there for a moment until he saw her spot him. She gave him a tiny smile, and Bay touched the rose in his buttonhole. And then Hartopp took her arm and hurried her back into the ballroom.

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