The rest of the week went plodding along its prescribed course, offering only a few deviations from the comfortable routine.
I went riding most mornings right after breakfast, and within a few days Samson and I were the best of friends; he responded to my very thoughts, it seemed, before I even shifted the reins, and was an absolutely fearless jumper. Sometimes Michael would join me on these morning rides, and once Lord Levondale came along with us, but for the most part it was just me and Samson hacking about the country and going out of our way to hop every fence and hedge in the place. A couple of times I rode into the village during my peregrinations, visiting the shops and popping into the vicarage to say hello, though it was too early in the day to visit the pub and get to know the villagers there.
I was going to miss these daily rides in the spring when I went back to London for the Season--I'd gotten rather lax around the midriff last summer without daily riding (or any other form of exercise that didn't involve a private room and a like-minded friend) to keep me in trim. Perhaps I'd go to the trouble of keeping a horse or two in Hyde Park and become an habitué of Rotten Row.
The wooing of Lavinia, and the worrying of Lord Levondale and Michael, progressed apace: I often spied the latter two casting concerned looks at me and Lavinia when we'd sit with our heads together over a game of backgammon or an illustrated paper; from a distance it looked like we were whispering sweet nothings to each other, though in fact we were usually talking about art or literature, or exchanging views on the other guests' behaviour (of which she mostly disapproved).
I could tell, when I was alone with Michael (which wasn't often, but always delightful), that he wanted to quiz me about my intentions, and on occasion seemed just about to let loose with an admonishment of my behaviour toward his sister, but I always managed to divert his attention when he looked like his trend of thought was headed in that direction. Whether Lord Levondale was having similar urges to take me aside for a man-to-man talk, I couldn't say, but he often looked like he had something of the sort on his mind, stroking his chin or pursing his mouth when he looked at me.
Rupert and Lavinia weren't hitting it off as buddies, as I'd hoped they would, though they got along well enough and were spending a good deal of time together (usually when I was out riding or shooting, pastimes Lavinia did not care for); Rupert and Abigail, however, were getting on like a house afire: she hung on his every word, which is always gratifying to a chap, and he found her breathless enthusiasm a nice change from the blase sophistication of the society girls his mother had been throwing at him.
The Duchess seemed satisfied with how things were going, though, and Rupert reported that she'd been sweet as cream to him all week. She also seemed to take quite a shine to me, believing that I was a loyal supporter of her aim to get hold of Lavinia's money through marriage, and was extraordinarily courteous to me whenever our paths crossed--she even winked at me in a manner that can only be called 'conspiratorial.'
I tried my best to quash my revulsion over these winks--after all, my own father had done the very same thing, dangling after an heiress to save the family bacon (though he hadn't been anywhere near as broke as the Gosforths were, and had his own coronet to offer), and it was only by pure chance that he and my mother had actually fallen in love with each other. On the other hand, I don't particularly like my father, so perhaps that's not the best comparison to draw.
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