"You are leaving Venice? I thought you were going to stay for another week?" Beauchamp asked Edward the next morning. Edward had called on him early to inform him of his plans.
"This was our original intention, but in view of recent events I felt it was better if we left sooner," Edward replied. "My wife dislikes the notion of remaining in Venice for a moment longer than she has to."
At least this was the impression he had got. Amelia had refused to talk to him the night before, and she had also made it very clear to him that she did not want him to come to her bed. She had not exactly refused him entry to her bedroom, but the moment he had entered it he had realised that she did not want him to be there, and so he'd left, feeling he'd better not press her.
He did not blame Amelia. She was fully convinced that he had come back to her after spending half the night in a brothel, and in view of that her feelings of disgust and disappointment were hardly surprising. While it hurt him that Amelia did not trust him enough to believe his explanation, he was fair-minded enough to admit that the damning evidence was overwhelming. If the situation had been similar if, say, he'd found a half-dressed man leaving Amelia's bedroom he doubted he would have believed her explanations that nothing of an untoward nature had ever happened. His story, however true, did sound like a weak excuse it was not Amelia's fault that the truth was quite incredible. He blamed himself for having been so foolish as to not realise what Beauchamp had been up to. He'd probably been bent on creating mischief between them right from the start, though why he should have had such intentions Edward could not fathom. Had he meant to do them real harm, or had he just meant it as a prank, not taking into account that it might have serious consequences?
"Oho! Did her ladyship object to your getting home late?" Beauchamp laughed.
"No, but she objected to the rumour that I was seen leaving that brothel. A rumour I could not refute."
"She objects to your leaving the place? Perhaps you should have stayed after all." It was evident that Beauchamp was amusing himself at Edward's expense, and Edward wished he could call him to book for it. But making a scene would not help anyone.
"She objects to my having been there, and rightly so," he merely replied, making an effort to sound calm.
"Nonsense. How can she? You didn't even stay for long enough to have a drink."
"Unfortunately there are no witnesses who saw me enter the place and leave it five minutes later," Edward pointed out. "And you must admit that the story sounds pretty unbelievable. My wife does not believe it."
"You have much to learn yet," Beauchamp said. "Both you and your wife."
"Probably, but I am not depending on you for instruction," Edward retorted, his temper almost getting the better of him; an experience that was rather new to him.
"I had rather not, thank you all the same. I do not want my marriage to become like yours."
"I have no complaint to make about my marriage," Beauchamp said with a laugh.
"Probably not. Would your wife say the same thing, if asked? Or if she did, would she mean it?"
Beauchamp shrugged. "I never think about her for long enough to be a judge," he said. "I find it is the best thing for a husband to do."
"A marriage ΰ la mode. I quite understand," Edward said disdainfully. "But it is a fashion I do not wish to adopt. I did not get married to share a house with a female for whom I care little and who cares even less for me. This is not what marriage is all about."
"To everyone his own. The arrangement suits me perfectly, and I have no intention of making any changes," Beauchamp replied. "Well, if you are bent on leaving, there is nothing I can do to hold you back. My wife will be sorry to see you go she has grown quite attached to her ladyship."
"I am sure my wife will write to her often. We will certainly call on Mrs Beauchamp to take our leave and thank her for her kind hospitality before we leave Venice. It is only proper; after all the things she has done for us."
Perfunctorily, Beauchamp expressed his regrets that the Asterbys were going to leave Venice so soon, when they had only just become acquainted with the place, but hoped that they would return one day a hope which Edward privately thought was not going to be fulfilled. The place held painful memories for both him and Amelia, and as far as he was concerned the city was welcome to be swallowed up by the sea the moment they had left it. Including Beauchamp.
Naturally he did not say so, but instead thanked Beauchamp for everything he had done for him, and made his way back to their lodgings. Upon inquiry, Amelia's maid informed him that her ladyship was still in bed.
"How so?" Edward asked, slightly taken aback. "It is not her customary time for being abed still. Is she ill?"
"I believe my lady is feeling slightly unwell," Martha said stiffly. The expression in her face told Edward that he ranked somewhere below clothes moths and cockroaches in her esteem at the moment, though maybe a little above a child-murderer. Not much, Edward feared.
"Is her ladyship too ill to travel, or do you think she will be able to board that boat to Ferrara tomorrow evening?" he asked, trying hard to hide his concern. Maybe Amelia had just thought of that excuse to make him stay away from her, and she was not ill at all. Maybe, though, she had not, and needed help.
"I will ask her ladyship," Martha sniffed, favouring him with an ice-cold stare.
"Pack up her things, will you?" Edward said curtly. Things had come to a pretty pass if he allowed his wife's maid to treat him like a criminal.
"Certainly, my lord if her ladyship feels up to making the journey," Martha said, thus informing him that she was not going to take any orders from anyone but her ladyship, not even her ladyship's husband; and went off upstairs to Amelia's room.
Edward waited for a few minutes to make sure that she could no longer see him, before he darted up the stairs after her. If Amelia was truly ill, she might need him. At least he hoped she would allow him to come near her.
"His lordship wishes to know whether you will be able to travel to Ferrara tomorrow, my lady," Martha said to Amelia as she came into the room, carrying a tray for her. Amelia was still in bed she'd felt miserable all morning, and hadn't found the strength to get out of bed.
"The sooner I get away from Venice the better it will be," Amelia replied.
"His lordship wishes to go by boat."
"I know. He told me so before," Amelia said. "I wonder why he is in such a hurry to get away from here."
"I am sure I could not say, my lady," Martha said, placing the tray on the table and getting Amelia's slippers ready for her.
"Is your headache better, my lady?"
"A little, but I am still feeling sick," Amelia replied, eyeing her breakfast with acute distaste. "I suppose I must eat something."
"You should really make an effort, my lady," Martha agreed. "The journey will demand a great deal of strength of you, I am afraid. Maybe it was not a good idea to travel so far away from home."
"If I want your opinion I will ask you for it," Amelia said sharply.
"Certainly, my lady. I beg your pardon; I am sure it is not my place to criticise."
There was a tentative knock at the door. Amelia, who had just sat down at the table, sighed.
"Come in," she said. She had decided for herself that while she would not deny her husband his marital rights, she was not going to encourage him to exercise them. Still, if he wanted to see her she supposed she must allow it. To say the truth, she wanted to see him, too and as long as he was with her at least he was with no one else.
Edward came in and, Amelia suspected, heaved a sigh of relief when he saw her sitting at the table.
"How are you, my dear?" he asked, throwing a glance at Martha, who was already sorting Amelia's linen into those items that could be packed into Amelia's trunks and sent ahead to Rome and those that Amelia would need on the way.
"Fine," Amelia said, and turned to Martha. "Leave us alone for a moment," she said. "You may come back later."
With a curtsey, Martha left the room.
"Your maid said you were feeling unwell."
"I had a headache this morning," Amelia admitted. "My stomach still feels a trifle upset, but I am sure it is nothing that will not be sorted out by tomorrow. Martha said you were planning to leave tomorrow?"
"There is a boat to Ferrara in the evening," Edward told her. "I thought we could catch that one."
At least they could still discuss everyday matters, Amelia reflected. That was a relief especially since there would often be occasions for them to talk about them. They would have to sort out many everyday problems between them, and it would have been a dreadful thing if they had no longer been able to sit and talk things over amicably.
"If if you are feeling well enough to travel that is," Edward continued. "You've only got to say the word and we will stay."
"Oh no no. I'd rather move on to Rome," Amelia replied. "We will need to do something about our bills, however there are those glasses and things I bought in Murano yesterday, and other things."
"I am certain Beauchamp will be happy to forward anything to us that may still arrive," Edward said. "As for the bills, I will arrange for them to be taken to the bank and settled there. There is no need for us to remain in Venice - unless you prefer to do so?"
"I do not," Amelia said. "It suits me very well to leave."
Amelia looked at her plate with loathing. "I think I have had enough," she decided.
"You have hardly eaten anything," Edward observed.
"I do not feel like eating today," Amelia said.
"Maybe we had better travel on the road," Edward suggested. "If you are already suffering from an upset stomach, travelling by boat does not appear like a good idea to me. Remember our channel crossing."
Amelia put down her cup of hot chocolate. "I am fine, Edward. I am sure I will be even better tomorrow. Don't worry; our journey to Rome will not do me any harm. It is nothing that fresh air and exercise cannot cure."
"What about going to the Lido then?" Edward suggested.
Amelia would have preferred to meet up with Mrs Beauchamp and have a chat with her, but supposed that she could still do so the next day. She understood that Edward was making an effort to make up for what he had done. She was by no means certain that it would work, but one did not give up on one's marriage because of one difficulty especially if one still loved one's husband in spite of what he'd done. Her self-esteem had suffered extremely, as had her confidence in her husband. But she owed it to herself and their marriage to give him a chance to make up. She was not going to take the blame if their marriage no longer worked.
"If you will give me some half an hour to get dressed," she therefore said.
Edward nodded, and rose. "I will meet you downstairs," he said, and left the room. Amelia noted that he had not tried to kiss her, and was uncertain whether she should be glad or offended.
Later, as Edward was walking with his wife holding on to his arm, he said, "I am glad we are on speaking terms again, Amelia."
"It would be foolish in the highest degree if I refused to speak to you," Amelia replied. There was still a certain listlessness about her, and Edward was well aware that she had not forgiven him yet.
"Amelia, there is no one who knows better than I that my explanation of what happened the other night sounded pretty far-fetched. Nevertheless it was the truth."
"Please," Amelia said coldly. "Try not to make matters worse by underrating my intelligence."
"I am not underrating your intelligence, my love. I know you are a clever woman, and I respect you for it. But being the clever woman that you are you might understand that sometimes things are not as they seem."
"Why did you not tell me yourself if that was all that happened?" Amelia asked. "Why did I have to find out by overhearing other people talking about you?"
"I meant to tell you in the morning, when you asked me about the card party but then I could not because Mrs Beauchamp came in. When you got back you were no longer willing to speak to me," Edward explained. "I have never been in the habit of frequenting such places, Amelia, not even before I knew you. I know some men who are, but somehow I never developed a taste for this kind of entertainment. Call me fastidious, but I never relished the thought of sharing a bed with a woman whom everyone could have for tuppence."
"Tuppence?" In spite of herself, Amelia had to smile. "I had no idea the services those women had on offer were so reasonably-priced."
Edward laughed. "I was talking about the principle of the thing. In that particular field I dislike being one customer among many, if you understand what I mean."
"Oh." Amelia blushed. She hadn't been married for long enough to be comfortable with such a conversation.
"I am sorry if I have embarrassed you, but I felt frankness was in order," Edward said. "I realise you do not trust me at the moment; that you still doubt me it doesn't matter. That is to say, it does matter in fact it hurts me that you should doubt my integrity, but even so I can understand why you do. I have succeeded in gaining your trust once, and I am fairly confident that I will be able to do it again, given time and patience. Only tell me that you will permit me to try."
"There is no sense in not permitting it," Amelia replied. "Seeing as we are married, and likely to be stuck with one another for quite some time, I have no choice. Only as you said I need time, Edward. I cannot promise you that everything will be as it was by next week. Probably it won't ever be the same; I don't know."
A tiny voice inside her head made itself heard and expressed the hope that he would succeed in winning her back.
Edward took her hand, and dropped a light kiss on her fingers. "This is all I am asking for at the moment," he said gravely. "Thank you for giving me a chance to prove myself worthy of you, Amelia. I love you, and this time I will not fail you, I promise."
While Amelia had not felt sea-sick on her journey from Marseilles to Leghorn, she felt worse than ever before on their short trip from Venice to Ferrara. Especially as their boat crossed the Venetian lagoon to the mouth of the River Po, she wished she could just close her eyes and die. Edward did not leave her for a moment, although she wished he would not carry his solicitude so far as to read to her. An amusing book, too did he not know how disagreeable it was to be laughing while one felt like throwing up any moment?
He looked immensely hurt when she told him so, but took the hint, and for a while he left her alone in her cabin although he came back after an hour or two to see how she was doing. By the time they had reached Ferrara, Amelia wished for nothing more than curling up in bed, going to sleep and never waking up again.
At least Edward left her alone that night she did not even have to tell him to stay away from her.
"I think you need some rest," he simply said, and, after kissing her cheek in a disturbingly brotherly way, left her room.
He was right; Amelia was glad and relieved that he did not want to share her bed that night or so she told herself. One did not want one's husband's attentions when one was feeling sick. On the other hand, his presence had a comforting effect on her, and if there was one moment when a woman needed comfort it was when she was feeling under the weather. He should have stayed, damn him!
A good night's rest put an end to her sufferings for the time being, and while she was still a trifle disgruntled the next morning at least she was no longer feeling sick, although the smell of freshly made coffee did, for a moment, make her feel rather faint. She opted for a cup of hot chocolate instead, claiming that she was in need of nourishment.
"I am glad you are feeling better," Edward remarked. "For a while you had me worried."
"I am feeling much better," Amelia said. "So you need not be worried any more. Shall we travel on today?"
"No; I felt you needed to take a break, and so we will remain here until tomorrow."
This programme sounded appealing, Amelia decided. She had a trying day behind her, and a couple of equally hard ones ahead - not that travelling by carriage made her feel sick, but a couple of days on a hot and dusty road in a carriage, no matter how well-sprung it was, was not a cup of tea.
"We will have to spend several days on the road," Edward told her. "But we are going to travel in easy stages; there are some pretty dangerous places where I would hate to travel by night."
"Banditti?" Amelia asked.
"Among other things that, and bad roads. It will take us some ten days to get to Rome from here, but we can rest in Bologna and Perugia in between should should the need arise."
"Good. Are there any interesting things to see there?"
"Almost everywhere on the way," Edward smiled. "Am I tiring you already?"
"Not at all," Amelia said. "I enjoy seeing all those things. I would hardly have agreed to travel to Italy with you if I had not wanted to see them. And even if I had I'd be more of a fool than I'd care to admit if I started complaining now, when we're in the middle of our trip. There's no use, is there?"
"Not much. I am glad I married a woman of sense. It is one of the things I love about you."
"I thought men disliked clever women? The most featherheaded girls I know were the ones who got married long before me. Probably because they acted as if they'd forget to breathe if they did not have a man at their side to constantly remind them of doing so. Look at Isabella Burke married at sixteen, and I'd bet you any money she'd have the fright of her life if a thought ever entered her head! And she is not the only one. I could name a dozen!"
"There are foolish men, too and I dare say some of them feel flattered if their wives are even more foolish than they are. I presume it is because they have so little else to be proud of."
"I have a clever wife to be proud of, among other things," Edward said with a smile. "Not to mention my own numerous virtues and achievements."
"I see you are not lacking in self confidence," Amelia said dryly.
"That's why I dared marry a clever girl," Edward countered. "I need not feel threatened by your wit."
Amelia found the journey from Ferrara to Rome much more tiring than the previous stages of their trip. More often than not she found herself waking up in the carriage, her head resting on her husband's shoulder. Once they got to the inn where they were to spend the night, Amelia could hardly wait until Martha had made her room ready for her, because she desperately wanted to go back to sleep. Even eating her dinner took some effort.
She sometimes caught Edward looking at her worriedly, as if he was trying to discover what was wrong with her. Amelia did not know what it was but supposed that their long journey was finally taking its toll. She, for one, would be glad to set up house in Rome and stay there until spring. The prospect of not travelling for several months was definitely appealing.
Edward did sleep in her bed again, but never did anything beyond giving her a good-night kiss on her cheek. Amelia did not know what he was up to had he lost his interest in her? It would be hardly surprising, though, considering that she could only just stay awake for long enough to say goodnight to him. Whatever his faults might be, Edward had always been considerate he probably left her in peace because he could see that she was tired. Amelia certainly hoped that that was it and that it was not because her behaviour after the brothel affair had given him a disgust of her. Even though she was glad to have her peace and quiet in the evening there was no denying that she was she felt rejected every time her husband turned away from her after giving her that chaste kiss on her cheek. This was not what the average night of a honeymoon couple should be like, she felt, and began to feel slightly annoyed.
Still, she could not bring herself to ask Edward why he no longer slept with her. In every other respect he was a kind and attentive husband; the sort of husband every woman wanted. But while he often kissed her, or held her, it seemed as if this was as far as his caresses would go. He did not even try to take them any further.
Edward was getting increasingly worried about Amelia. He noticed her constant fatigue, and was afraid that she was falling ill. It was highly uncharacteristic for her to sleep so much the Amelia he knew was full of energy; always ready to be doing something. Yet at the moment she could hardly drag herself up the stairs to her bedroom.
Even if he had not decided for himself that he would not take up marital relations with her before she had signalled to him, in some way or other, that she trusted him enough to engage in that kind of activity again, he would have left her in peace in her present state. Once they got to Rome, he vowed, he would find the best doctor that was to be had in town and would get the man to come and find out what exactly was wrong with Amelia. She bravely tried to stay awake during the long stages of their journey, but lost her battle with fatigue almost every time, and invariably ended up falling asleep.
Upon these occasions he put his arms around her, pulled her towards him to give her support and keep her safe in the jolting carriage, and tried to banish those nagging thoughts that told him that he was going to lose his wife. Amelia was not ill. She said she was feeling fine; she displayed no other symptoms but fatigue. It was not as if she was in pain, or feverish. She appeared to have developed a disgust of coffee, but that was not exactly worrying. The Italian coffee was rather different to what passed for coffee in England; maybe she simply did not care for the local way of brewing said beverage. She was still fond of sweetmeats of all kinds, though, and had not changed her eating habits as far as he could tell. Whatever it was, it was probably nothing of a serious nature, but he wanted to be sure that Amelia's health was not impaired in any way. If that was the case, he'd immediately take her back to England and set up house in Bath until she was better.
He'd given up asking her how she was. The answer he got was always the same yes, she was feeling perfectly well and just a little tired. The journey was probably getting to her, but once they had arrived in Rome she'd be perfectly well again. Upon the third or fourth inquiry on his part, Amelia's tone of voice had betrayed a certain amount of exasperation, and Edward had taken the hint. From that moment on he refrained from asking Amelia how she was, but he kept a close watch on her nevertheless. Whether she liked it or not, he was going to take good care of her.
Edward had rented lodgings in Rome's Strangers' Quarter, not far from the Piazza di Spagna, and no one could have been more relieved than he when they arrived at their destination on the evening of the twelfth day of their journey. He had stopped for a day both in Bologna and Perugia, mainly to give Amelia an opportunity to rest.
Almost immediately he set about finding a physician who spoke English well enough to make himself understood to Amelia, and competent enough to suit his own requirements. He was in luck he found that Lady Milbanke, an elderly Englishwoman of valetudinarian habits who'd removed to Rome years ago in the hope that the Roman climate would relieve her suffering had a physician in her employment; a very competent young man according to her ladyship. Furthermore, Lady Milbanke was an old and intimate friend of his mother's, and so Edward had no scruples in applying to her for assistance. Upon being asked whether she could spare her physician for one morning, Lady Milbanke agreed to send him to the Asterbys' lodgings.
"It is little wonder that Lady Asterby is feeling under the weather," she said severely. "To go junketing all the way across Europe! It is enough to ruin anyone's health! You should have known better than that, my boy! I wonder at your mother for not having warned you how it would be! I have never found her lacking in good sense before!"
So it was that three days after their arrival in Rome Amelia found herself facing a physician she had no wish to see.
"This is Mr Travers, an excellent man," Edward introduced him to her. "He is a physician in Lady Milbanke's employment; and I have asked him to come and see what can be done about your constant fatigue, my dear."
"There is nothing wrong with me," Amelia protested, glaring at her husband. That he had actually dared to invite a doctor to come and see her without even bothering to ask for her permission first was a piece of high-handedness she did not like. What business of his was it that she was occasionally feeling tired? Especially since she had travelled in a carriage across almost all of Italy? Was not that reason enough for fatigue?
"I am sure there is not, my lady," Mr Travers replied glibly. "However, ma'am, since I am here already, and your husband appears to be anxious regarding your well-being, would it not be a good idea to let me reassure him?"
"And you think your medical opinion will weigh more with him than my assurances that I am feeling perfectly well?" Amelia asked. "Surely I ought to be a judge?" She encountered a pleading look from Edward, and sighed. "Very well," she said. "Since it means so much to you, I will allow Mr Travers to examine me."
The medical examination took place in Amelia's dressing room, with Martha in attendance. Amelia underwent the usual procedures, only to say in the end, "Well? Was I right?"
"Perfectly right, my lady," Mr Travers replied. "It looks to me as if there is nothing wrong with you that will not be mended in a couple of months' time."
Amelia stared at him in disbelief. "What do you mean, sir?" she asked.
The doctor raised his eyebrows at her. "Has no one ever acquainted you with the symptoms of pregnancy, my lady?"
"Preg you think I am in the family way?" Amelia cried, frowning. The thought had never entered her head.
"I should say it is very likely," Mr Travers said. "A healthy young woman, recently married, feeling occasional sickness and constant fatigue those are strong points in that direction."
"I was merely feeling seasick," Amelia explained. "I have been seasick before; and then I was certainly not with child. It is only the journey I've been on the road for days on end!"
"I am not saying that it cannot be so that you are indeed feeling exhausted after having made so long a journey, my lady. But in my experience, ladies suffering from the same symptoms as you do are very often with child. Is there any reason why you should not be increasing?"
"Of course not," Amelia snapped. "I am a married woman; one does have children when one is married."
"Exactly, my lady. I presume my diagnosis has merely taken you by surprise; and that you will in time discover that I am correct in my assessment of your situation. I will withhold my congratulations until you have accepted your pregnancy as a fact and are in the mood for receiving them."
"I think the doctor is right," Martha, who had watched the medical examination without comment so far, remarked.
"Thank you," Mr Travers said. "I am glad to see that some dependence is placed in my professional opinion after all."
"Do you?" Amelia asked her maid. "I really would not know. Neither my mother nor my sisters told me what it was like to be expecting. So how am I to know?"
"You may trust my judgement, my lady," Mr Travers said, smiling. "At least I will be able to reassure your husband."
"You will not tell him that what you told me!" Amelia cried. "If what you said is true I want to make my own announcement, and if it is not I do not want to disappoint him by telling him that you have been wrong."
"Certainly, my lady. I agree that your husband had better hear this piece of news from you. However, I will be able to tell his lordship that you are not seriously ill. I shall attribute your bouts of fatigue to the long journey, as you have done so far. This will do for an explanation until you are willing to offer him another one." Mr Travers smiled. "Pregnancy is not an illness, after all, so I shall not tell any lies."
Mr Travers' report did much to restore Edward's peace of mind, especially since Amelia appeared to feel slightly better after a few days. She was still often tired, and got up later than usual, but she took much more interest in her surroundings than she had done during their journey to Rome.
She even agreed to take part in the local social events, and therefore they found themselves at a party in Lady Milbanke's house one evening. In spite of her indifferent health, Lady Milbanke enjoyed having company, and upon finding that her friend the Duchess of Burwell's son was in town she had sent him and his young wife an invitation to one of her musical soirees.
The performance was first-rate, they agreed, and made many new acquaintances among Lady Milbanke's guests. They also encountered old acquaintances among them. Edward met some of the friends he had made on his previous visit to Rome, and Amelia, after some half hour of insipid conversation with said friends' wives, became aware of a familiar face in the crowd.
She greeted its owner with a friendly smile, and he immediately came over to her.
"Lady Amelia," he cried, bowing over her hand. "That is, I ought to say Lady Asterby now, should I not?"
"You ought to," Amelia agreed. "How are you, Mr Wallace? We have not met for ages!"
"I am very well," Mr Wallace replied. "The Roman climate is doing wonders for my constitution."
Roger Wallace had been a close friend of Amelia's brother Gregory, and had been obliged to leave England some two years previously. He'd been a frequent guest in Wincham Gregory had often invited his friend to join him there, whenever their financial straits had made it advisable for both of them to leave London for a while and Amelia had grown accustomed to having him around and treating him with the same easy camaraderie as she treated her brothers. His presence in Rome, she felt, was a lucky coincidence, and she hoped to be able to resume their old friendship while she was staying there. Mr Wallace certainly looked as if he shared this particular wish.
"Your brother wrote to me about your wedding," he said. "Half the men in England must have been cast into deep despair by the news."
"Why should they?" Amelia asked. "After ignoring me for years, I doubt they took enough notice of me to even know who I was."
"Why, yes, the world is peopled with fools," Mr Wallace declared. "Though there are not as many as you may believe, Lady Asterby."
Amelia laughed. "Next you will tell me that you have always been aware of my good qualities, and that it was only your innate modesty that made you remain silent, as you knew your suit would never be acceptable to my father."
"And so it was, I swear. Don't you know that this was why I left England? I could no longer bear seeing you and knowing that you were not meant for me! Can you blame me?"
This outrageous statement caused Amelia to laugh even more heartily. "And I dare say your debts had nothing at all to do with your decision to leave your native country, sir?"
"They have been grossly exaggerated, my lady. I am sure I cannot possibly owe as much as some people said I did."
"That is what I thought, but my brother told me never to underestimate you in that respect. You must admit that when it comes to running into dun territory my brother is an expert, so naturally I trust his judgement. Why did you leave England if the extent of your debts was not the reason?"
"Oh, but it was not that they amounted to a staggering sum, but I could not possibly pay them. And life in a sponging house is abysmally dreary; I really could not face it. So I preferred to go away until I had hit on a way to make enough money to pay my debts."
"Have you? Found a way to settle your obligations?"
"I am still in Rome, aren't I?" Mr Wallace retorted.
"I suspect you are not really trying hard, sir."
"But why should I? I have everything I want! Now that you are in Rome, Lady Asterby, I see no reason at all for going back to England."
Edward had not seen Amelia laugh quite as much as she was doing now ever since the incident in Venice. Yet there she was, laughing heartily at Wallace saying all kinds of inappropriate things to her; and Edward was feeling a sharp twinge of jealousy as he watched his wife with one who, as he knew, was not to be trusted. Yet she was behaving as if it did not matter. Slowly he approached them, and when Amelia looked up and noticed him he said, "I had no idea you were acquainted with Roger Wallace."
His tone of voice betrayed that he was none too happy about it. Still he did his best to keep up appearances. He favoured Wallace with a slight bow; a greeting that was punctiliously returned, although Edward disliked Wallace's impertinent grin.
"Indeed?" Amelia asked, bristling. "I thought his friendship with my brother was common knowledge."
"I would have believed Rattray to have more sense than introducing some of his friends to his sisters. It appears that I was mistaken." Edward said stiffly.
"He did keep the truly undesirable characters away from me, I believe," Amelia reflected. "But I never saw any harm in Mr Wallace as long as a girl does not take him seriously he is perfectly harmless."
"You wound me, Lady Asterby," Mr Wallace said, though his laugh told her otherwise. "To tell a man that he's harmless is almost as bad as accusing him of being dull."
"I am sorry; this was not my intention. Not that I shall believe for a moment that I have insulted you. Men like you cannot be hurt by mere words, sir."
"I think I shall be well advised to leave her ladyship to her husband's care before she starts twisting the knife in my breast," Mr Wallace said to no one in particular, and bowed. "It is good to see old friends again, would you not agree, Asterby?"
"There is hardly anything more agreeable," Edward replied, though his tone of voice implied that in this particular case he would have been well able to do without meeting the old friend in question.
Mr Wallace bowed, once again, over Amelia's hand, and left them to themselves. The situation was awkward; Edward knew that while Amelia had appeared to be flirting with her brother's friend she had certainly not meant to do so. She had simply been happy to meet an old acquaintance again, and had acted on an impulse, not considering the effect this episode would be watched, and would have serious consequences regarding her reputation.
On their way back to their lodgings, Edward tried to remonstrate with Amelia, trying hard not to give her the impression that he blamed her in any way. His efforts did not meet with the desired success, however. Amelia was furious; she told him that she was not going to turn her back on an old friend who'd done nothing to offend her just to suit her husband's stuffy notions of propriety, and if he did not recognise that there was nothing unseemly in her friendship with Mr Wallace there was no more to be said. The argument could have developed into a nasty quarrel indeed, if they had not at that moment arrived at their lodgings. Since none of them wished to continue their dispute within the servants' hearing, Edward merely went to his own bedroom after politely bidding Amelia good night, and decided to remain there; although he knew that it was not going to be a good night for him.
The more time passed, the more certain Amelia became that Mr Travers and Martha had been correct in their assessment of her situation. She no longer doubted that she was with child. There were many signs that pointed in that direction signs she had known nothing about at first, but which Martha had explained to her in the meantime.
She often felt sick in the mornings now though, luckily, not always. There were some smells she did not like, for they brought on a bout of nausea the smell of coffee was among them. They invariably roused her stomach to protest.
She was putting on weight too some of the dresses she had bought shortly before her wedding were getting too tight around the waist already. Since she was not eating enough to explain her increasing corpulence even her preference for sweetmeats was less pronounced than it had been there had to be another reason for it. She was still often tired, but took care that her husband should not notice it. She had taken to having a quick nap while he was out of the house meeting friends. That way she was somewhat able to stay awake later in the evenings, when they were obliged to join their friends in various evenings' entertainments.
Amelia had not told Edward about her pregnancy so far. She wanted to wait until she was comfortable with the idea of having a child. At one point she would have to tell him, she knew and the sooner she did the better it would be. But Amelia strongly suspected that the moment Edward found out that she was expecting he would take her back home to England, and there were two reasons why she did not want this to happen not yet.
The main reason was that she dreaded the long sea voyage from Italy to England knowing her husband as she did, she was afraid he was not going to put her through a journey on the road. He'd be much too worried about her being jolted about in a carriage on bad roads, which might harm her as well as their unborn child. No, they'd have to stay on board a ship for weeks on end, and considering that right now she was feeling queasy often enough already even without being sea-sick this was a prospect she could not face with equanimity. Considering that, she preferred giving birth in Rome to having to travel all the way back to England in her condition. Maybe Martha was right, though, and she would stop feeling sick at one point. So if she could postpone their trip until then, everything would be fine. She would tell Edward then, she decided. There was no danger of his finding out beforehand, she reflected sadly. He never saw her without her nightgown now; he still did not touch her after their quarrel about Mr Wallace he'd even spent most of his nights in his own bed. So it was highly unlikely that he would find out about her growing belly before she let him know what caused it.
Her other reason for remaining in Rome was that she was enjoying her visit a great deal. The city had a special charm; its ancient edifices being only part of it. She liked the climate it was nearly December now, and it was still nice and warm in comparison to England. There were many interesting people she met people whose acquaintance she knew she would never have made if she'd remained in London. There were artists among them; writers, musicians, and scientists all of whom had sought and found inspiration in Rome. This set of people fascinated her, and she wanted to be a part of it for as long as she could.
She has also become friends with other people, such as Lady Milbanke and her daughter, Miss Denville. There was Roger Wallace, whom she had always liked, and who was treating her with extraordinary gallantry. It did her sore heart and low self-esteem good to see that there were men who were obviously drawn to her or at least behaved as if they were and therefore she wholeheartedly entered into this flirtation; although she always took great care that it went no further than was proper. She knew, of course, that Edward was none too happy with this development, but she felt it was only right that he, too, should feel what jealousy was like. Besides he only needed to show a little more affection for her than he was doing, and she would gladly give up Mr Wallace's compliments and flirtatious ways in favour of her husband's. But Edward had not mentioned the matter since their argument the other night, which confirmed Amelia in her suspicion that he did not truly care for her, and that he had not told her the truth when he had told her that he loved her. If he truly did, why didn't he try to get Wallace out of the way? She was glad she had never told Edward what she really felt for him. But his coldness hurt her nevertheless.
In spite of what had happened in Venice, she still loved Edward. She loved him with all her heart, and if only he'd given her a reason to suppose that he returned her affection something more substantial than mere words - she would have immediately told him about her pregnancy, and would have asked him to take her home in spite of her constant queasiness. But to be shut up in Asterby Court with a husband who wanted none of her no, it was not to be thought of.
And so Amelia took part in all the festivities and entertainments Rome had to offer, and encouraged Roger Wallace to dangle after her, not recognising the danger she was in the danger of causing a lasting estrangement between herself and her spouse.
With growing suspicion, Edward watched the development between Roger Wallace and Amelia. Wherever Amelia went, Wallace was bound to turn up. He made Amelia laugh with his outrageous sayings, or with stories that hinted at a friendship that went back a long way. If he'd had any good reason for interference, Edward would have grabbed it, but Wallace was a cautious man when it came to his dealings with women whether married or single did not matter. He might make pretty, flattering speeches, but he knew where to draw the line, and since that was what he did with Amelia just as he did with every other female who had the doubtful honour of being the object of his gallantry there was nothing Edward could do but watch, helplessly, as his wife fell for Wallace's charm.
What he did not realise was that the case was quite the other way round. In the beginning, Wallace had merely taken his friend's sister under his wing, which was what Gregory Rattray had asked him to do. Lady Asterby had no acquaintance in Rome, Rattray had written, and begged his friend to introduce his sister to the right people. Which was what Wallace had done in spite of his debts back in England he was still popular among the English who came to Rome. After all his debts of honour had all been settled, and everyone owed their tailor a fortune or two; it was hardly enough to exclude a gentleman from polite society.
It was Wallace who had introduced Amelia into the artistic circles of Rome, and who had taken it upon himself to show her the city not the sights; Asterby was well qualified for doing that, but the important things warehouses, milliners' shops, and, which was equally important, he had pointed out those places to her where respectable ladies did not let themselves be seen. He had flirted with her; he found it impossible to talk to a woman and not flirt but no one could have been more surprised than Wallace himself when he suffered a severe fit of dejection one morning, simply because Lady Asterby had sent him a note excusing herself from an outing they had planned. He became aware that Lady Asterby's company had, in some way, become essential for his well-being; that, in short, he had fallen head over ears in love with her.
Wallace needed no reminder that Lady Asterby was a married woman and out of his reach. He knew that she did not return his feelings; he was also aware that he would never be able to act on them. But while common sense kept telling him that that it would be best if he kept his distance, he could not bring himself to actually do it. He consoled himself with the fact that she would leave Rome pretty soon, and that he would never see her again after that. Small consolation though it was simply because he did not want her to leave it made it easier for him to hide his feelings from her while she was still there. She was not to find out, he decided she should never become aware of the folly that had taken hold of him. To say the truth, he'd be severely mortified if she did.
But his own state of mind made him quite receptive to her moods, and so it did not take him long to discover that Lady Asterby was anything but happy in her marriage. He did not know why this was so, for she did not confide in him. But his observations told him that something must have happened between Asterby and his wife that had cast its shadow over their young marriage, and his heart broke for Amelia. It was clear to him that whatever had caused the rift must have been Asterby's fault. Amelia, with her open and affectionate manner and her immense charm, could not have been the one to blame.
Wallace noted every look she gave her husband sometimes she observed Asterby when he did not notice, and there was such an expression of longing in her eyes that, if she had ever looked at Wallace in such a way, he would have eloped with her at once and damned the consequences. She truly loved her husband, and while Wallace was jealous of Asterby almost insanely so he felt that Amelia's happiness mattered most. He was not saintly enough to offer Asterby a hint as to where his wife's preference lay, though. Instead, he flirted with Amelia to cheer her up, which suited both his humour and hers, and which might enrage Asterby enough to rouse him and make him do something to win his wife back.
One morning Wallace found Amelia in her parlour, already dressed for a drive into the surrounding countryside, but looking decidedly miserable.
"Whatever is the matter, Lady Asterby?" he asked. "Do not tell me that you are not going to come! It would be a crime to stay at home in such glorious weather!"
"Oh, I am coming; I certainly am didn't I promise I would? Is Miss Denville ready?"
"And what do I care for Miss Denville, pray?"
"A great deal; or you would not have asked me to invite her," Amelia replied.
"I asked you to invite her because I knew you would not come without another lady to bear you company! If it had been only for Miss Denville I'd have stayed at home."
"Enough," Amelia said impatiently, frowning. "This kind of talk will not do, Mr Wallace. I am a married woman, as you well know."
Wallace perceived that she was not in the mood for flirtation today. Something had put her out of temper.
"I beg your pardon, ma'am. I did not mean to insult you."
"How could any woman feel insulted when such things are said about her?" Amelia asked. "But it is not decent of you to say them to me, and I must not encourage you!"
"Who said so?"
"Many people, I dare say, though not to my face they don't." Amelia sighed. "I am a dreadful wife, aren't I?"
"I can hardly be a judge of the matter, ma'am. I am not your husband. Though if I were I do not think you would find me an over-critical one."
She put a letter she'd been reading before he'd come in into her workbasket and said, "Oh, but I am! This letter here informs me that I am."
"Burn it," Mr Wallace recommended. "It's the best thing to do."
"I might, though it will not solve my problem," Amelia said. "Come; do not let us keep Miss Denville waiting."
"In a moment, Lady Asterby," Mr Wallace said. "Won't you tell me what is wrong? I am an old friend; you can trust me, and maybe I can offer you some kind of advice."
"I cannot tell you. It is a private matter of some delicacy; I should not discuss it with strangers."
"I cannot force your confidence, of course," Wallace said, looking hurt. "Though calling me a stranger when we have been good friends for almost a decade is the outside of enough, I'll have you know."
"I did not mean to offend you," Amelia explained. "Only the letter deals with something that happened between my husband and me some time ago, and I do not know what to do about it."
"It did occur to me that you must have had a quarrel of some sorts," Wallace said. "It was not my fault, I hope?"
"Oh no, it happened before we got to Rome; in Venice," Amelia replied. "There was a rumour that my husband had done something something dreadful, at least I thought it was dreadful."
"You should not listen to rumours, Lady Asterby. Nine out of ten are false, and the tenth may be only partly true."
"In that case, the rumour was true, to some extent," Amelia said. "I I confronted my husband about it, and he told me what had really happened; only I did not believe him. I wanted to, but I confess I always doubted him in spite of what he'd said. His story sounded too much like a weak excuse."
"And now you do believe what he said?"
"Yes, because one of our friends in Venice has written to me, and she tells me that she has reason to believe that my husband's explanation was true after all. I feel awful; how could I have distrusted " She broke off, and then added, hopelessly, "What do I do now?"
"I believe that in such cases apologies are in order," Mr Wallace said. "Go to your husband, tell him you have found out the truth about whatever it is he did or did not do in Venice, that you are sorry to have wronged him, and that you beg his forgiveness. I don't know about Asterby, but if I were in his place I'd consider that sufficient."
"I can't! Oh, I cannot!"
"Why ever not?"
"The things I said to him when I first found out about it some of them were terrible and hurtful! And he knew exactly that while I acted as if I'd forgiven him I hadn't, not really! Now that I've found out that he's been telling me the truth all the time I just hope the earth will open up and swallow me so I do not have to face him."
"Do you think he might retaliate? Asterby is no as mean-spirited as that. Believe me, he'll forgive you quite readily, and everything will be as it was before."
Amelia shook her head. "I don't believe things can ever again be as they were before," she said dejectedly. "And it's my fault. I should have known better than to doubt my husband's honesty."
Wallace reached out his hand, and at the very last moment realised that he'd been about to caress her cheek. Instead, he took her hand. "Don't worry too much about it," he recommended. "Let things happen, and don't worry about them before they do. That's my advice. Talk things over with your husband as soon as you can. It will take the weight off your shoulders; and I will have my cheerful friend back. Sadness does not suit you at all."
Even though, he thought, that cheerful friend of his would probably exchange his company for her husband's pretty soon. But this was to be expected, and it was only right that it should happen, much though it would pain him. He'd recover from it.
The door opened, and Asterby came in, still wearing his cloak and hat and carrying his walking stick.
He cast one glance at Wallace's hand still holding Amelia's, and raised his eyebrows. "I hope I am not intruding," he said, in a far-too-amiable tone to be sincere.
Amelia blushed, and pulled her hand away from Wallace's. "Not at all," she said. "Do you want to join our party to Tivoli?"
There was a hopeful gleam in her eyes that gave way to dejection when her husband told her that he had no such plans. Instead, he was going to some library or other to look at some promising manuscripts.
"Some other time, then," Amelia said pleadingly.
"Certainly. When I can find the time," Asterby replied. Wallace wanted to shake him. Did that fool not see what he was doing to his wife? If he'd had the good fortune to be in Asterby's place, no one would ever have got him away from her certainly not a friend of her brother's with a reputation for rakishness. He'd have put up a fight. Did Asterby want him to steal his wife?
"I will take good care of Lady Asterby," he said, smiling maliciously.
"That I do not doubt," Asterby replied. There was a hint of coldness in his tone of voice. "Now if you will excuse me, I have an appointment to keep. Have a nice day, my dear."
This time he did not even kiss her cheek before leaving, Amelia noted. Her trip to Tivoli was ruined even before it had begun.
Edward had had quite enough. He was certainly not going to allow anyone friend of her brother's or not to interfere between him and Amelia. Maybe Amelia was too naοve to realise what was going on, and to notice what Wallace was up to, but Edward was not, and he was going to tell Wallace exactly what he thought of the situation, and to warn him away.
For that purpose he called at Wallace's lodgings the next morning, and was not a little surprised when the master of the house received him at his breakfast table, and treated him with the utmost affability.
It was not until Wallace's valet had removed the dishes from the table that Wallace said, "Spare your breath, Asterby. I know exactly why you have come to see me, and if I were in your place I'd have done so some three weeks ago."
"You appear to be able to read minds, sir."
"Nothing of the kind. But I know very well that my friendship with your wife does not meet with your approval."
"Then why do you keep it up?"
Wallace sighed. "Because I cannot do otherwise. Don't eat me, Asterby; your wife stands in no danger from me, on the contrary. I'd never let her come to any harm."
"Yet you behave as if you were her lover even in my presence! Can you deny it? Can you deny that this kind of behaviour could do her reputation a great deal of harm?"
"It would, if she ever responded to my advances in kind," Wallace said. "But she does not in fact, Lady Asterby puts me in my place more often than not. She is not interested in flirtation."
"This is not the impression I got," Edward said, frowning.
"I suppose so. You would not have come here if it were." Wallace poured his visitor a glass of wine before he continued, "I realise that husbands often take it into their heads that their wives are playing them false. Some have reason, others have not. You belong to the latter category. If there is one man in the room who has reason to be jealous of another, I am the one, not you. Your wife is utterly devoted to you how can you not notice? Are you blind? Haven't you seen the way she looks at you? I'd give anything in the world to know that she felt only half as much affection for me as she does for you! The woman loves you with all her heart; and you are worried about her friendship with me! Even if she were free to have me she would not, Asterby. Now why the hell am I trying to save your marriage for you? That's supposed to be your job, isn't it?"
Edward stared at him, taken aback at Wallace's sudden outbreak of temper. "You are in love with my wife, aren't you?" he asked.
"It is of no consequence," Wallace replied, realising what he had said, and to whom he'd said it. "Go home to her ladyship, and sort out what needs to be sorted out between you, and see how quickly she will drop her acquaintance with me. It is you she wants. She never wanted another."
There was a tone of desperation in Wallace's voice that Edward could not help but notice.
"I am sorry, Wallace," he said, although to say the truth he could hardly feel sorry that the man appeared to think his love for Amelia was hopeless.
"Not half as sorry as you should be, I'm sure," Wallace said, with a derisive laugh. "Thank you all the same. Now go back home to your wife, and if you don't take good care of her it's me you'll have to answer to. If she continues to be as unhappy as she is now I'll call you out."
Wallace's advice did not result in any immediate reconciliation between Edward and Amelia. Both had suffered too much from their first real quarrel to act as if nothing had happened. While Edward hoped that Wallace's assessment of his situation was correct as far as Amelia's feelings for him were concerned he yet doubted the man's judgement. Amelia had never given Edward any reason to suppose that she felt an uncommon degree of affection for him. Neither had she given him a reason to suppose otherwise. But the crux of the matter was that she had never given him a hint either way; at least none that could be counted as an unmistakable one.
So Edward began to watch Amelia, to see whether Wallace had been right, or mistaken. It was true that Amelia was well-disposed towards him; she would hardly have married him if the only feeling he'd been able to rouse in her was revulsion. She had certainly cooperated whenever he'd kissed her, and had even offered him caresses of her own. She must like him this was not the behaviour of a merely dutiful wife; Edward was quite ready to believe that and in fact hoped that it was so. But how far did her liking for him go? If she loved him, why had she never said so?
One thing was certain; and Amelia's flirtation with Wallace harmless though it might have been had convinced him of that. One did not capture a woman's heart by acting indifferent; or by staying away from her. In order to win his wife back, he had to spend more time with her than he had done in those weeks ever since they had left Venice, in the mistaken conviction that by keeping his distance from her as she'd wanted him to do he'd give her an opportunity to recover from her hurt and disappointment.
He found Amelia at home when he returned to their lodgings after his visit at Wallace's, and instead of retiring to the study to read, which was what he had often done of late, to escape what he'd felt was Amelia's reproachful manner, he went into the parlour to talk to her. She raised her eyes from her needlework as he came in, and gave him a shy smile.
"Did you have a pleasant morning?" she enquired. Edward, keeping his decision in mind, kissed her cheek and took a seat next to her on the sofa.
"Not really," he confessed. "But it looks as if it is going to be pleasant now. Are you not going out today, my love?"
"I was going to, but Miss Denville has made her excuses," Amelia explained, blushing slightly.
"Then you are at leisure to go into town with me?"
It was not often that he had made suggestions of a similar kind lately, and Amelia's surprise at his doing so now was evident. But she looked pleased.
"Certainly. What do you wish to do?"
"I thought we could go for a walk in the Villa Borghese gardens. Just the two of us; would you like that? We have not been able to enjoy each other's company for a while and I admit I have been missing our solitary walks."
Amelia laughed. "If you are looking for solitude the Borghese gardens are not the right place, for all the world and his wife will be there at this hour. But I will accompany you anyway, if this is where you want to go."
She got up, and put her needlework into the drawer of her worktable. "The fresh air will do me good," she remarked.
"Are you feeling under the weather again?" Edward asked, slightly alarmed.
"Only a little," Amelia said lightly. "Nothing to be alarmed about."
"Shall I ask Travers to come and see you?"
Amelia shook her head, smiling. "It is nothing Mr Travers can do anything about," she said. "I am not ill, Edward."
She certainly did not look worried, Edward reflected as he was waiting for his wife to get dressed for their walk and come back to him. Nor was she really looking ill. Maybe their busy social life was getting to her; it would certainly be no wonder. Amelia had not been used to this kind of life. She'd lived quietly on her father's country estate until shortly before their marriage; going out every evening and staying out till the small hours of the morning was not likely to do her good. He should not have permitted it; but she'd seemed to enjoy herself so much, and the option had been preferable to sitting at home alone all evening with nothing to say to each other.
Yet the busy time of the year had not even started only after Christmas Rome came alive. There would be many more English coming to Rome for the Christmas and Carnival festivities, and they were not likely to get any peace and quiet until Easter, when they were to return to England anyway. He had to think of a way to get her out of the social whirl somehow it would not do to wait until she collapsed under the strain. He'd listen around to see whether there was a villa outside Rome that he could rent for a while, and take her there. It would have the agreeable side effect of getting Amelia away from Wallace, too. Maybe he could get his hands on some place in Tivoli, or further south.
The Borghese gardens were crowded, just as Amelia had predicted. They met many acquaintances, some of whom were hardly able to conceal their surprise at finding the Marquis and Marchioness of Asterby walking together and in perfect harmony with each other, too such a rare sight indeed.
It was almost like their early days, Amelia reflected when they had been walking in the gardens of Burwell Castle; except that Edward showed no inclination to steal any kisses from her. But he did occasionally put his arm round her waist and pull her towards him, which was an encouraging sign, and one for which she was grateful. The father of her child might wish to keep his distance from her, but at least he still seemed to care for her even if he did not love her any longer.
It was during this walk that they met an acquaintance of Edward's an artist who had, during her stay in England many years before, painted a portrait of his parents.
Edward had been well aware that Mrs Kauffmann lived in Rome, but had not known whether the lady remembered him, or would welcome any social calls from him.
Indeed she did not remember him, although she could recall her acquaintance with his parents and amiably asked him how they were doing. Upon being informed of the Duke and Duchess of Burwell's well-being, Mrs Kauffmann took leave to introduce her husband and was, in turn, presented to Amelia. This gave Edward an idea as to how they could remain in Rome but stay away from Wallace after all, and so he asked Amelia, when they were sitting at their dinner table that evening, "Now that you have met Mrs Kauffmann, what you think? Do you think you would like to sit for a portrait? The likeness she took of my parents is a very fine one; you could hardly place yourself in better hands."
"She certainly is an agreeable lady," Amelia remarked. "And I think I will prefer having my likeness taken by a lady."
"Does this mean yes?"
Amelia laughed. "I have one stipulation to make, however," she said. "You must have your likeness taken too. I do not see why you should have a portrait of me to put into your library and I should not have one of you as well, though where I'll put it I do not know yet."
Edward agreed that it seemed rather unfair, and promised to sit for a portrait as well. It would give them an opportunity to spend some more time with each other again, which would serve Edward's purpose very well restoring the intimacy that had once existed between them and which appeared to be gone.
The sittings took some three weeks, by which time Christmas was approaching. Edward was still waiting for a sign from Amelia that she would welcome his advances. While she was treating him with perfect good humour, and was not averse to receiving his caresses, she did not come near him unless he invited her to do so. But they were on truly friendly terms with each other again, which gave Edward some hope of further improvement.
Amelia was still hoping for a good opportunity to tell Edward that they were going to have a child. She knew it would not be long now until her pregnancy showed, and she needed to tell him before he found out on his own. Keeping such news from one's husband was an insult, she knew, but at first she had not been certain if it was true in spite of what Martha and Mr Travers had said to her - , and then, whenever she had made up her mind to do so today, something or other had happened to prevent her. It was not the kind of news to be thrown at a man's face in an offhand manner, she felt, but something important; something that would please him, and something that he might wish to reflect on. So she had come to the conclusion that she was going to tell him on Christmas morning. It seemed like the perfect moment for her announcement, and she spent some pleasant hours daydreaming, imagining his reaction to her big news.
Apart from that she was looking for a perfect Christmas present for her husband and had, while scouring the Roman shops with Miss Denville to keep her company, discovered a jeweller who specialised in making signet rings. She ordered a ring for Edward, and the other present she meant to give him was a book that she knew he wanted but had not come across in any of the book shops he frequented so far.
It was on the quest for that particular book that she set out one morning, about a week before Christmas, naturally refusing her husband's offer of escort. She told Edward that Miss Denville had some important news to share with her, which the lady was not likely to do with a gentleman present, and, when pressed, admitted that she had some business to perform where he would be very much in the way.
"You should not walk in the streets of Rome on your own," Edward protested. "There should be a gentleman with you to ensure your safety."
Amelia smiled. "We will be going in Lady Milbanke's carriage," she told him. "With her coachman and two of her footmen in attendance, so I dare say we will be quite safe. But it is sweet of you to be worried about me."
She got up from her chair, walked over to Edward's, and kissed his cheek before leaving the room. Edward remained in his seat, feeling happier than he had done for a long time Amelia's kiss was better than any Christmas present he had ever received in his life. He was reluctant to move, or do anything that would take this feeling away from him half an hour later, he still held on to the emotion that the brief touch of her lips on his cheek had stirred in him, hoping that this kiss meant things were in a way to be mended between them at last.
Maybe he should try his luck that evening, when they retired to bed, he thought he longed to touch Amelia, and to receive her caresses in return. It had been too long since the last time, and right now it did not look as if Amelia was going to repulse him if he tried. That was, she never had repulsed him but only because he had refrained from approaching her, afraid of what she might say if he did. But a man could try.
His friend, a certain Mr Colney, interrupted these thoughts by calling on him and inviting him to join him at a local coffee house, which was mainly frequented by such Englishmen as were staying in Rome, and Edward was glad to come along with him. It would take his mind off things, he hoped, and keep him amused until the evening, which he was going to spend alone with Amelia and which, he hoped, would give him the opportunity of re-establishing peace between them.
There was a large company of English gentlemen at the coffee house; many of whom were acquainted with Edward. The place was some kind of meeting point for every Englishman who arrived in Rome and who was anxious to have his arrival known among the English community in town. It was also the place where people went to pick up all the latest on-dits for whatever anyone might say, men were quite as fond of gossip as women were. It did not matter whether those rumours concerned those who were currently staying in Rome, or those who had stayed behind in England. The coffee house was where one got hold of the latest news.
When Edward and his friend Colney came in, there was a large group of men sitting in one corner, listening to what Lord Arlington, a youth but recently arrived in town, had to tell them about the goings-on in England.
Arlington was one of the fast set that Gregory Rattray and Lord Becclesfield also belonged to, and so Edward joined the group to try and discover some news of Amelia's brothers. While Captain Rattray wrote occasionally, Amelia had not had word of her eldest brother ever since they had left England. Not that she'd been overly worried Becclesfield was not the letter-writing sort. There was not much Arlington could tell Edward that he did not already know. Captain Rattray was not in London at present but had recently been promoted to the rank of Major and now resided in Yarmouth, where his new regiment was stationed. Edward knew as much, for Major Rattray had written to his sister to apprise her of the event.
Becclesfield, however, was still in Town, and as wild as ever. Arlington told Edward with a waggle of his eyebrows that he was often seen in the company of a certain Miss Lane, who was a rising star on the theatrical horizon. While it was common knowledge that Wincham wanted his son to settle down and get married, Becclesfield appeared to have a different idea of what was due to his station, and showed no inclination of giving up the gaming table, horse races and actresses for long enough to become acquainted with a lady who'd make him a proper wife let alone contemplate marriage.
"But I've heard Lady Jane Templeton has given birth to a pair of twins," Arlington said. This was a piece of news that would please Amelia. Lady Jane was her sister who had excused herself from attending their wedding because she had been expecting, and the journey to Somerset too strenuous to be undertaken in her delicate condition.
"Boys or girls?" Edward inquired.
"Two strapping boys, according to Templeton himself," Arlington said. "Or according to Becclesfield, who had it from Templeton himself."
"Lady Jane is also in good health, I hope?"
"I have heard nothing to the contrary," Arlington replied, and turned to another gentleman who wanted to know whether the famous Miss Polley was still the toast of London society. When Arlington told them that Miss Polley had married Lord Bermondsey, there were some exclamations of surprise among the listeners for Bermondsey had never been among the most prominent of Miss Polley's admirers.
It was little wonder that Edward, at first, did not notice the commotion at the door, but he became aware of it when he could discern, in a lively discussion among some Italian gentlemen, the words "English" and "marchesa". He turned around, and noticed among them a gentleman who lived in the same street as he did. It was this particular gentleman who told his friends that an English lady, a marchesa who lived not far from him, had been involved in some kind of accident.
Edward went pale. There was no English marchesa that he knew of that lived anywhere in the vicinity of their lodgings, so there was only one conclusion. Something must have happened to Amelia.
Leaving his friends, he joined the group of Italian gentlemen and, after apologising for his intrusion, asked what kind of accident had befallen the English lady. The man obliged him by vividly describing a dreadful scene. Apparently, the marchesa had been held up in the street and robbed of her belongings. When she had been reluctant to part with her possessions, she had received a blow on her head and had been carried home as one dead. Edward wished to hear no more. Hurriedly taking leave of his friends, he ran outside and hailed a carriage that was to take him home. Amelia needed him.
Edward blamed himself for not having gone with his wife. He knew that she had declined his escort, but he should have insisted on accompanying her. And now she had been held up, and hurt, and who knew whether she would ever get well again? If her injury resulted in any lasting damage, Edward would never be able to forgive himself.
The house was strangely quiet when he arrived at home. Considering the news he had heard, he would have expected to find the place in an uproar, with servants all over the place, and Mr Travers or some other physician in attendance but he found none of this as he entered his lodgings. Edward bolted up the stairs, taking two steps at once, and burst into Amelia's room only to find it empty. She was not there. Neither was there anyone in Edward's own bedroom, apart from Lacy, who was in the process of brushing one of his coats. He did not look as if anything had happened to disturb his unshakeable calm.
"Is her ladyship at home?" Edward demanded.
"No, my lord, her ladyship has not returned from her drive with Miss Denville yet," Lacy replied. "Her woman does not expect her back before three o'clock, I believe."
"Fetch her ladyship's maid to me, Lacy."
"Certainly, my lord." Carefully, Lacy disposed of the coat he had been brushing before he left the room.
After a few minutes of pacing the room, Edward finally heard someone approach the door and, when he opened it, he found Amelia's maid before him.
"You wished to speak to me, my lord?" she asked, bobbing a curtsey.
"I merely wanted to know whether her ladyship was back already."
"Not yet, my lord."
"Has no one brought a message here during my absence, for me or her ladyship?"
"I do not think there has been a message, my lord," Martha replied, looking at him curiously.
"What time did her ladyship say she would come back?"
"Not before three o'clock, my lord."
It was obvious that none of the servants knew what had become of Amelia. Edward dismissed Martha, and considered his next step.
He hoped that the man who'd talked about the robbery had been mistaken, and that Amelia was not the victim he had talked about. Whatever had happened, they had not taken Amelia home, for she was not here and none of the servants knew anything of the accident. Maybe Miss Denville had been robbed? Maybe it was she who had suffered the blow to her head? In that case, it was quite natural that Amelia would stay with her friend until she knew whether her injury was of a serious nature. He could send word to Lady Milbanke's no, he could not. There was no point in giving Lady Milbanke a fright before he knew exactly what had happened. One had to consider that lady's delicate health.
Edward did not dare go out again. What if they brought Amelia home while he was gone? It was not to be thought of. Neither did he want to miss her if she got back by herself. There was so much he wanted to say to her so much he wished he'd said to her sooner. He did not want to contemplate that it might be too late, that she might never hear what he'd meant to tell her that night. Why had he not said it before? Why had they wasted so much time with that foolish quarrel?
He retired to his library, and told the Italian major-domo that he wished to speak to her ladyship the moment she returned. Would he tell her ladyship that he was waiting for her in his study? The major-domo assured him that he would. So Edward sat down at his desk, trying to do some sums, then trying to read, and finally just staring into empty space and pulling out his watch every couple of hours only to find that a mere five minutes had passed since the last time he had checked his watch.
Unaware of the misfortune that was supposed to have befallen her, Amelia returned to her lodgings shortly after three o'clock, happy in the knowledge of having made some excellent bargains, and having got hold of the book she knew Edward had wanted. This was going to be an unforgettable Christmas for him, she hoped she'd give him the ring and the book first, she decided, and keep her big surprise until after breakfast, when they would be alone. With pleasant thoughts of Edward's reaction to her announcement, she took off her fur-lined cloak and her hat and handed them both to Martha, who carried them off to her room.
"His lordship is waiting for you in the study, my lady," the major-domo said, and Amelia nodded and went in search of her husband, wondering what he wanted of her.
She found Edward sitting at the desk, looking slightly dishevelled and extremely worried and unhappy. Closing the door behind her, she hurried to his side.
"Edward, is anything the matter? Has anything happened?"
Instead of answering her question, her husband got up, caught her in a crushing embrace and covered her face in kisses. Amelia was not one to complain after almost two months without receiving such a hug from him, but when, after a few minutes, he still gave no sign of ever letting her go she laughed, "Edward! My love; I can hardly breathe!"
Edward immediately slackened his hold on her, but he still did not seem inclined to let her out of his arms ever again.
"Let me just go on holding you for a while, my love," he whispered. "Please I have just passed the worst two hours of my life, realising what it must be like to lose you, and I found I could not bear it. Let me hold you so I can convince myself that you are still with me, Amelia."
"But yes! I am still here," Amelia assured him. "Where else should I be?"
"There was some talk at the coffee house where I went with Colney that an English marchesa had been robbed, and badly hurt by the ruffians who stole her purse," Edward explained. "I thought it was you, Amelia."
"Oh dear!" Amelia cried. "My poor Edward!" She kissed him. "So this was why you looked so unhappy when I came in! I am sorry that you should have been so worried about me!" She gently caressed his cheek. "I won't ever go out without you again, I promise."
Edward finally let go of her, but only to sit down in his chair and make his wife sit down on his knee.
"I love you, Amelia," he said quietly. "When I told you in Venice after you found out about my brief visit to that brothel you did not believe me. I can even understand why you didn't though it took me a while. But I hope you will believe me now. I really do love you, Amelia, and I have loved you ever since I met you in Kensington Gardens and you asked me to do something about our engagement."
"You have?" Amelia asked, putting her arms round his neck. "If only I'd known, I would not have asked you to cancel the wedding."
"Oh no; I'd never have hurt you intentionally," she told him. "That explains why you looked so upset when you asked me why I disliked you. You see I have not forgotten."
"Did you dislike me then?" Edward laughed.
"No in fact I believe I was in a fair way of falling in love with you," Amelia confessed. "Though I did not know it at the time. I became aware of my feelings for you when your cousin told me you were going to marry me to keep him out of your shoes and I felt that this was not the reason why you should."
"Henry is an idiot," Edward said, not mincing words and pulling her closer to him. "I was absolutely besotted with you by that time. Even he must have known that."
"I think he wanted to make mischief. So did Captain Beauchamp."
"Possibly," Edward agreed. "I would not put it past him."
"Only I saw how he treated his poor wife, and then you stayed away from me, never giving me so much as a proper kiss, and I felt I'd be damned if I let you know how much I loved you," Amelia continued, not minding her language. "It didn't do Mrs Beauchamp much good to be so devoted to her husband and letting him know how much she cared for him, and I didn't want to give you the power to hurt me."
"I'll never treat you the way Beauchamp treats his wife," Edward promised. "Never, Amelia." To substantiate this promise, he held her close, and kissed her again.
Several minutes and kisses - later, he asked Amelia if she was not tired, after such an eventful day. Amelia laughed and replied that she could well do with some rest, and put up no resistance when Edward drew her upstairs with him even though she doubted that rest was what she would get.
That evening, Amelia decided to let her husband have one of his Christmas presents early. They were in bed; Amelia snuggling up closely to him, and thoroughly enjoying his attentions.
"Edward," she whispered, when he stopped kissing her for long enough for her to speak.
"Yes, my love?"
"There is something I have been meaning to tell you," she said. "Something important."
"How important?" Edward asked.
"Very important," she replied. "It it has something to do with those bouts of sickness I've been having, among other things. It also has a great deal to do with us."
"You said you were not ill," Edward reminded her, sitting up and looking alarmed. "Don't say that you did not tell me the truth, and that you are ill after all! Though you do look healthy enough to me "
"Pregnancy is not an illness, Edward." Amelia paused to let the message sink in. It took Edward a few moments to catch its meaning.
"We are going to have a child?"
"If all goes well, we will," Amelia said.
"In May," Amelia told him. "I think. Martha says so, at any rate."
"Do you mean to tell me that your maid knew before I did?"
Amelia chuckled. "When it comes to that, I suspect she knew even before I did," she said. "While my mother and sisters informed me of what to expect in the marriage bed, they did not take the time to tell me how to recognise that I was expecting. It took Martha and Mr Travers to tell me all about that."
"You have known ever since Travers came to see you? Ever since we came to Rome?"
"I did not believe them at first," Amelia explained. "I was not certain so I did not want to tell you, because I did not want you to be disappointed if I was mistaken after all."
"You should have told me," Edward said, though he did not sound half as angry as he had every right to be, Amelia thought. But he sounded offended, and she did not blame him. She tried to explain her reasons for keeping quiet.
"Then I was afraid you were going to take me back to England immediately, and I simply could not face a sea journey at that time," she continued. "Not after the rough time I had of it when we went from Venice to Ferrara."
"My poor love," Edward cried, putting his arms around her and kissing her. "But you are feeling better now, are you not?"
"Do you want to take me home?"
"Yes," Edward said, and Amelia could tell that there was no point in arguing with him, for he was absolutely determined. "I am going to take you home. I think it will be better now than in spring when your pregnancy will be even more advanced, and the journey will fatigue you much more than it would now. And do not ask me to venture on a long sea voyage with a newborn child. That's entirely out of the question. I will not do it. Our child will be born at home."
"You are right," Amelia said, after a few moments' reflection. "I did not give the matter much thought before now, but you are certainly right. We should be going home."
Their welcome in Asterby Court was certainly most gratifying. Edward's servants received their new mistress gladly, and it was not long until Amelia had taken control of the household, in spite of her condition. She was feeling quite energetic now, and kept herself busy with becoming acquainted with Asterby Court and its ways, finding room for their Italian acquisitions, and receiving numerous visits from her new neighbours.
It was not long before her mother-in-law descended upon them. Edward had written to his parents to inform them of the upcoming happy event, and the Duchess would not have missed it for anything in the world. Amelia did not look forward to having that formidable lady in her house at first, but soon after her mother-in-law's arrival she discovered that the Duchess was eager to befriend her, and was full of useful advice.
After that fateful day in Rome, Edward and Amelia had agreed that they were never going to allow anything to come between them again. Whatever needed to be said should be said at once and not postponed; and misunderstandings as well as disagreements between them should be sorted out at once.
"We owe it to the little one," Edward had said, and Amelia had agreed, though she'd also added that they owed it to themselves. "For the little one won't be happy unless we are," she pointed out.
The little one was born late one evening in May, and turned out to be a strapping boy. Matthew, as they named him, was a bright child, and, Amelia often suspected, his father's favourite. Maybe it was because he bore Edward's beloved brother's name Amelia had named the boy after his uncle because she knew how much Edward missed his brother. Edward had been content with her choice "Anything but Henry", had been his only demand regarding his son's name, and Amelia had laughingly promised him that there was no danger that she'd suggest the name for any of her sons.
She knew that Edward's Cousin Henry's malicious words had done lasting damage to their marriage. Had it not been for him, she would never have doubted Edward's love for her, and would not have been as reluctant to confess her own feelings as she had been.
Edward admitted that she had a point, although he added that he'd still have tumbled off the pedestal she had put him on when finding out about that episode in Venice.
Amelia nodded. "Very true," she said. "I did have rather high expectations regarding our marriage, and your person. Who could ever live up to them? You were destined to fail from the outset."
Edward laughed. "I hope you are not going to tell me that I've failed completely!"
Amelia shook her head. "No; you have not. Nor have I, I hope, and if I do I hope you will tell me."
"The very moment," Edward said, and pulled her into his arms. "Though I do not think the moment will ever come."