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One of Lizzie’s admirers, a young Army captain called John Jerrold, came over to carry her off for a cotillion, and Lowell arrived with two glasses of lemonade, one of which he handed his sister.
“I see I have missed my chance with Lady Elizabeth,” he said in his lazy country drawl, putting the second glass down on a ledge beside them, next to one of the carved marble busts of Grecian goddesses that adorned the alcoves in the ballroom. “Can’t drink this ghastly stuff myself and the Granby never serves beer on evenings like this.”
Alice smothered a snort to think of her brother bringing a tankard in from the taproom.
“I’d give a great deal to see you drinking beer in the ballroom in front of the Duchess of Cole,” she said, nodding towards Lydia’s mama who was holding court in the chaperons’ corner, surrounded by her cronies. Faye Cole had managed to ride out the scandal of her daughter’s pregnancy by virtue of being the first and loudest to condemn Lydia and she remained an arbiter of county society. Alice could not abide her. Neither could Mrs Lister, who quite rightly blamed the Duchess for being the architect of her social exclusion. Every so often the two of them would eye each other like prize fighters.
“The Duchess will be distraught that mama’s feathers are higher than hers tonight,” Lowell continued. “Could you not prevent her from buying such a monstrous headpiece, Allie? She looks like a cockatoo with such a high crest!”
Alice gave him a speaking look. “I would not dream of spoiling mama’s fun, Lowell. If she wishes to wear pearls and feathers and artificial roses, that is her choice.”
“She’s wearing them all together tonight,” Lowell said gloomily. “Looks like an accident in a flower cart.”
“I did not think you would care about it,” Alice said, slipping her hand through her brother’s arm. “You never bother about what people say.”
Lowell shrugged moodily. The morose expression sat oddly on his fair, open features. Normally he was the most equable of characters but Alice sensed there was something troubling him tonight.
“Lowell?” She prompted. “You do not really have a tendre for Lady Elizabeth, do you?”
Lowell’s grim expression was banished as he gave her his flashing smile. “Good God, no! Did you think I was sulking because she prefers some sprig of the nobility to me? Lady Elizabeth is far above my touch. Besides, we would not suit.”
“No,” Alice agreed. “She needs someone less tolerant than you are.”
“She needs to grow up,” Lowell said brutally. “She’s spoilt.”
“She’s been a good friend to me,” Alice said, whilst not exactly contradicting him.
“I appreciate that,” her brother said. He shot her a look. “You’re not happy though, are you, Allie?”
Alice was startled at his perspicacity. “What do you mean? Of course I am-”
“No you are not. Neither am I, and mama is the unhappiest of all. She hates to be slighted like this.” Lowell’s gesture encompassed the ballroom with its neat rows of dancers, their reflections repeated endlessly in the long series of mirrors that adorned the walls. “Strange, is it not, that when you are hungry and exhausted from working all the hours there are you think that to have money will cure all your woes?”
“It cures a great many of them,” Alice said feelingly.“But not the sense that somehow you have wandered into the wrong party,” Lowell said, his eyes still on the shifting patterns of the dance. “I am coming to detest the way in which we are patronised. This isn’t our world, is it, Allie? If it was you would be dancing rather than standing here like a wallflower.”