Maggie MacKeever

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the mirror only to be confronted by her reflection in the window glass. “Shocking,” perhaps; “indecent” or “outré”— but definitely not “nice.” “I mean, how do I look?” she asked.
    “Oh, very fine!” Lord Davenham decided that even a clan so impervious to public opinion as the Davenants might be dismayed were its leader to comport himself like some prehistoric caveman. “You are a diamond of the first water, my dear, as I think I’ve said before.”
    Husbands were legendarily indifferent to their wives’ attire, remembered Thea; but she fancied most husbands would have taken notice of this dress—would, in fact, have forbidden their wives to publicly wear such a gown. Thea half-wished she had been thusly browbeaten; without her corsets—indeed, with hardly any covering whatsoever on most of her upper body—she felt only half-dressed. If only Malcolm had not been so insistent! But he had made it very clear that if she did not wear the gown, he would not attend the rout. “I have the oddest suspicion that Malcolm is up to something,” she remarked. “He has grown so secretive.”
    The cause of that furtiveness, thought Lord Davenham, was nothing more sinister than Malcolm’s determination to thwart Thea’s plans. But it was not Vivien’s habit to cut up his wife’s pleasure. “I would not tease myself about it,” he said vaguely. “Malcolm was always involved in some escapade.”
    “Do not tease myself!” echoed Lady Davenham, indignant not because of her husband’s indifference to their cousin so much as by his lack of reaction to her dress. At the least she would have lilted to have a compliment, and even better would have been an invitation to rendezvous in the damp and misty garden—or elsewhere! “One may lead a horse to water,” she muttered.
    Horses? Lord Davenham was delighted by his wife’s effort to introduce a topic of conversation less controversial than their dashing cousin, and her own bold gown. “I have an idea for a reaping machine to be pushed by a team of horses. . . .”
    As Lady Davenham chafed her arms, she decided there was only one explanation for the lack of attention paid her by the masculine members of her family: she had become a dowd. Still, she didn’t think it necessary that she be constantly reminded of that unpleasant fact. “There is nothing to choose between you and Malcolm!” she remarked. “I am quite out of charity with you both.”
    Why his wife might be out of charity with him, his lordship understood; he imagined she’d caught him showing more interest than was seemly in the charms displayed by her gown. Considering his wife’s strict adherence to propriety, and her excessive modesty, it was miraculous that she’d worn such a gown at all. But why this annoyance with Malcolm? Had he dared similarly presume? Was this unusual gown result of his return? Despite his resolution to let Thea work out her own fate, speculation upon Malcolm’s influence left Lord Davenham feeling somewhat uncharitable. “That would be very bad,” he said.
    “What would be very bad?” inquired Thea, who had grown very melancholy as result of thinking she was an antidote. “It is very difficult to have a conversation with someone who does not pay attention!”
    “I am paying attention!” responded his lordship; was he not consequently feeling very cross? “As I attended to James. You remember James? I encountered him recently at a meeting of the Royal Institution of London—I did tell you, did I not, about the nature and propagation of light?”
    If Lord Davenham’s interest in propagation might be concentrated closer to home, mused his unhappy lady, the dukedom might not lack an heir. “Several times; I beg you will not repeat the lecture to me again. What has the Royal Institution to do with our cousin, pray?”
    “Not the Institution, James. And you accuse me of not paying attention!” As he pondered this inequity, his lordship took snuff. “As

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