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"Sit up straight, Madeline. And can you not at least attempt to look as if you're enjoying the play?"
"Yes, Mama." Madeline Langley straightened her back. "The actors are very good, and the play is indeed interesting. It's just Lord Farquharson" She dropped her voice to an even lower whisper. "He keeps leaning too close and"
"The noise in here is fit to raise the roof. It's little wonder that Lord Farquharson is having trouble hearing what you have to say," said Mrs Langley.
"But, Mama, it is not his hearing that is at fault." Madeline looked at her mama. "He makes me feel uncomfortable."
Mrs Langley wrinkled her nose. "Do not be so tiresome, child. Lord Farquharson is expressing an interest in you and we must encourage him as best we can. He will never offer for you if you keep casting him such black looks. Look at Angelinacan you not try to be a little more like her? No scowls mar her face." Mrs Langley bestowed upon her younger, and by far prettier, daughter, a radiant smile.
Angelina threw her sister a long-suffering expression. "That is because Angelina does not have to sit beside Lord Farquharson," muttered Madeline beneath her breath.
Angelina gave a giggle.
Fortunately Mrs Langley did not hear Madeline's comment. "Shh, girls, he's coming back,'she whispered excitedly. Amelia Langley straightened and smiled most encouragingly at the gentleman who was entering the theatre box with a tray containing three drinks glasses balanced between his hands.
"Oh, Lord Farquharson, how very kind you are to think of my girls." She fluttered her eyelashes unbecomingly.
"And of you too, of course, my dear Mrs Langley." He passed her a glass of lemonade. "I wouldn't want you, or your lovely daughters, becoming thirsty, and it is so very hot in here."
Mrs Langley tittered. "La, Lord Farquharson. It could never be too hot in such a superior and well-positioned theatre box. How thoughtful of you to invite us here. My girls do so love the theatre. They have such an appreciation of the arts, you know, just like their mama."
Lord Farquharson revealed his teeth to Miss Angelina Langley in the vestige of a smile. "I'm sure that's not the only attribute that they share with their mama." The smile intensified as he pressed the glass into Angelina's hand.
"So good of you, my lord, to fight your way through the crowd to fetch us our lemonades," Mrs Langley cooed.
"For such fair damsels I would face much worse," said Lord Farquharson in a heroic tone.
Mrs Langley simpered at his words.
Madeline and Angelina exchanged a look. Lord Farquharson's fingers stumbled over Madeline's in the act of transferring the lemonade. The glass was smooth and cool beneath her touch. Lord Farquharson's skin was warm and moist. "Last, but certainly not least," he said and gazed meaningfully into Madeline's eyes.
Madeline suppressed a shudder. "Thank you, my lord," she said and practically wrenched her hand free from his.
Lord Farquharson smiled at her response and sat down. Madeline turned to face the stage again and tried to ignore Cyril Farquharson's presence by her side. It was not an easy matter, especially as he leaned in close to enquire, "Is the lemonade to your taste, Miss Langley?"
"It is delicious, thank you, my lord." The brandy on his breath vied with the strange, heavy, spicy smell that hung about him. He was so close that she could feel heat emanating from his lithe frame.
"Delicious," he said, and it seemed to Madeline that a slight hiss hung about the word as he touched her hand again in an overly familiar manner.
Madeline suddenly discovered that drinking lemonade was a rather tricky task and required both of her hands to be engaged in the process.
Thankfully the lights dimmed and the music set up again to announce the resumption of Coriolanus. Mr Kemble returned to the stage to uproarious applause and shouts from the pit.
"He's a splendid actor, is he not?" said Lord Farquharson in a silky tone to Mrs Langley. "They say that Friday is to see his last performance."
"Oh, indeed, Lord Farquharson. It will be such a loss. I've always been a staunch admirer of Mr Kemble's work."
Madeline slid a glance in her mother's direction. Only that afternoon Mrs Langley had made her feelings regarding John Philip Kemble known, and admiration was not the underlying sentiment.
The second half of the play had not long started when Lord Farquharson proclaimed he was suffering with a cramp in his left leg and proceeded to manoeuvre his chair. "It's a souvenir from Salamanca. I took a blade in the leg," he said to Mrs Langley. "I'm afraid it plays up a bit from time to time." He grimaced, and then stretched out his leg so that it brushed against Madeline's skirts.
Quite how her mother failed to notice Lord Farquharson's blatant action, especially given that she was seated on her elder daughter's left-hand side, while his lordship was situated a few feet away on Madeline's right, Madeline did not know. She threw her mother a look of desperation.
Mrs Langley affected not to notice. "Such bravery, Lord Farquharson."
Lord Farquharson smiled and touched his foot against Madeline's slipper.
"Mama." Madeline sought to catch her mother's eye. "Yes, dear?" said Mrs Langley, never taking her eyes from the stage.
"Mama," said Madeline a little more forcefully.
Lord Farquharson leered down at her, a knowing look upon his face. "Is something wrong, Miss Langley?"
"I'm feeling a little unwell. It is, as you have already observed, a trifle hot in here." She fanned herself with increasing vigour.
"My dear Miss Langley," said Lord Farquharson, mock-concern dripping from every word as he attempted to squeeze her hand.
Madeline pulled back. "A little air and I shall be fine." She rose and made for the back of the box.
Mrs Langley could scarcely keep the look of utter exasperation from her face. "Can you not wait a little? Angelina and I are enjoying the play. Oh dear, it really is too bad."
Lord Farquharson saw opportunity loom before his eyes. "It seems such a shame for all three of you charming ladies to miss the play, and just when Coriolanus is about to deliver his soliloquy."
Mrs Langley made a show of sighing and shaking her head. "I do not mind,'saidAngelina. But no one heeded her words. "What if?" Lord Farquharson looked at Mrs Langley hopefully, and then tapped his fingers across his mouth. "Perhaps it is an impertinence to even suggest."
"No, no, my lord. You impertinent? Never. A more trustworthy, considerate gentleman I've yet to meet."
Madeline's shoulders drooped. She had an awful suspicion of just what Lord Farquharson was about to suggest. "Mama"
"Madeline," said Mrs Langley, "it is rude to interrupt when his lordship is about to speak."
"Madeline!" her mother said a trifle too loudly, then had the audacity to peer accusingly at Madeline when a sea of nearby faces turned with curiosity.
So Madeline gave up trying and let Lord Farquharson ask what she knew he would.
"Dear Mrs Langley," said his lordship, "if I were to accompany Miss Langley out into the lobby, then both your good self and Miss Angelina could continue to watch the play uninterrupted. I give you my word that I shall guard Miss Langley with my very life." He placed a hand dramatically over his heart, the diamond rings adorning his fingers glinting even in the little light that reached up from the stage. "You know, of course, that I hold your daughter in great affection." A slit of a smile stretched across his face.
"I would be happy to accompany Madeline,'said Angelina, and received a glare from her mother for her pains.
"And miss Mr Kemble's performance when it is unnecessary for you to do so?" said Lord Farquharson. "For have I not already said that I will take care of Miss Langley?"
Mrs Langley clutched her gloved fingers together in maternal concern. "I'm not sure She is very precious to me," said Mrs Langley.
"And rightly so," said Lord Farquharson. "She would make a man a worthy wife."
Mrs Langley could not disguise the hope that blossomed on her face. "Oh, indeed she would," she agreed.
"Then I have your permission?" he coaxed, knowing full well what the answer would be.
"Very well," said Mrs Langley.
Madeline looked from her mother to Lord Farquharson and back again. "I would not wish to spoil his lordship's evening. Indeed, it would be most selfish of me to do so. I must insist that he stay to enjoy the rest of the play. I shall visit the retiring room for a little while and then return when I feel better."
"Miss Langley, I cannot allow a young lady such as yourself to wander about the Theatre Royal unguarded. It is more than my honour will permit." Lord Farquharson was at Madeline's side in an instant, his fingers pressed firm upon her arm.
She could feel the imprint of his hand through her sleeve. "There really is no need," she insisted and made to pull away.
"Madeline!" Her mother turned a steely eye upon her. "I will not have you wandering about this theatre on your own. Whatever would your papa say? You will accept Lord Farquharson's polite offer to accompany you with gratitude."
Mother and daughter locked gazes. It did not take long for Madeline to capitulate. She knew full well what would await her at home if she did not. She lowered her eyes and said in Lord Farquharson's direction, "Thank you, my lord. You are most kind."
"Come along, my dear." Lord Farquharson steered her out of the theatre box and across the landing to the staircase, and all the while Madeline could feel his tight possessive grip around her arm.
Earl Tregellas's gaze drifted between Mr Kemble's dramatic delivery upon the stage and the goings-on in Lord Farquharson's box. He watched Farquharson with an attention that belied his relaxed manner and apparent interest in the progression of Coriolanus, just as he had watched and waited for the past years. Sooner or later Farquharson would slip, and when he did Lucien Tregellas would be waiting, ready to strike.
It was not the first time that Mrs Langley and her daughters had accompanied Lord Farquharson. He had taken them up in his carriage around Hyde Park, and also to the Frost Fair with its merry-go-rounds, swings, dancing and stalls. On the last occasion, at least Mr Langley had been present. Indeed, Mrs Langley seemed to be positively encouraging the scoundrel's interest in her daughters; more accurately, in one daughter, if Lucien was being honest. And not the pretty little miss with the golden ringlets framing her peaches-and-cream complexion, as might be expected. No. She had been seated safely away from Farquharson. It was the elder and plainer of the sisters that seemed to be dangled before him. Lord Tregellas momentarily pondered as to the reason behind Farquharson's interest. Surely the younger Miss Langley was more to his taste?
Tregellas restrained the urge to curl his upper lip with disgust. Who more than he knew exactly what Farquharson's taste stretched to? He saw Farquharson move his chair closer to the Langley chit. Too close. He watched the brief touch of his hand to her arm, her hand, even her shoulder. Miss Langley, the elder, sat rigidly in position, but he could tell by the slight aversion of her face from Farquharson that she did not welcome the man's attention. Mrs Langley's headpiece was a huge feathered concoction, and obviously hid Lord Farquharson's transgressions from the lady's sight, for she raised no comment upon the gentleman's behaviour.
Miss Langley's attention was focused in a most deliberate manner upon the stage. Tregellas's gaze dropped to take in the pale plain shawl wound around her shoulders that all but hid her dress, and the fact that she seemed not to wear the trinkets of jewellery favoured by other young women. She did not have her sister's dancing curls of gold. Indeed, her hair was scraped back harshly and hidden in a tightly pinned bun at the nape of her neck. Her head was naked, unadorned by ribbons or feathers or prettily arranged flowers. It struck Lucien that, unlike most women, Miss Langley preferred the safety of blending with the background in an unnoticeable sort of way.
Lord Tregellas watched as Miss Langley rose suddenly from her seat and edged away towards the back of the box. He was still watching when Lord Farquharson moved to accompany the girl. He saw Mrs Langley's feathers nod their encouragement. Farquharson and the girl disappeared. Silently Lucien Tregellas slipped from his seat and exited his own theatre box.