“Yes,” Titania insisted, rising to her feet. “You cannot go to Elders View alone. You know that such a thing would bring great disgrace upon you.”
Dinah shook her head. “But you cannot endanger yourself again, Titania. Your husband’s good name might be brought into disrepute, and I cannot–”
“I will sit in the carriage then,” Titania interrupted, her hands now planted on her hips. “Please, Dinah. As much as I am glad to see this determination of spirit and your urge to do more and go further than you have ever done before, I cannot allow you to be so reckless.” She dropped her hands and gave Dinah a small, well-meaning smile. “You truly do love my brother?”
“I do,” Dinah answered, her voice suddenly hoarse as a swell of emotion crested within her heart. “As strange as it may seem, I have discovered within myself such a depth of affection that I cannot bear to allow him to do this. He is penitent enough already. He bears a great shame over his past behavior, and even though he is determined to reform himself, his past wrongs are being used against him.” Her chin lifted, her eyes settling on Titania and saw her nod in agreement. “I must prevent him from ruining himself forever.”
Titania put her hand on Dinah’s arm. “Then let us go with all swiftness,” she replied, a smile on her face. “You are truly changed, Dinah, and I cannot help but think just how wonderful it will be to one day have you as a true sister, instead of only a cousin.”
As the carriage rolled away, Dinah looked out of the window into the dark streets and felt her heart ache for Lord Whitehaven all over again. She had been on her way to the study merely so that she might see him, to talk with him, to perhaps even have the chance to warp her arms about him once more – but instead she had overheard the butler greeting none other than Lord Irving. A little afraid of what this meant, she had fought the sudden urge to follow after Lord Irving, knowing that she ought not to eavesdrop but still curious. Even though she had tried to return to the library, even though she had forced her steps in that direction, she had been unable to force herself to do as she knew to be right. Praying for forgiveness even as she had retraced her steps and walked back towards the study, she had clasped her hands together and pressed her ear close to the door.
What she had overheard had sent her world spinning furiously. Hardly able to believe Lord Irving’s demands, she had been frozen with shock, standing by the door and feeling her stomach swirling, her heart racing and fear rushing up and down her spine. When she had become aware that Lord Irving was about to leave, she had barely made it to the next room in time before he had walked out into the hallway. She had taken a few minutes to collect herself before returning to Lord Whitehaven’s study, pushing open the door without any understanding of what she might say or how she might say it.
What she had seen had practically stopped her heart. Lord Whitehaven had been standing, ashen face, with his head low and his back hunched. The wretchedness of him had been evident to her in every move that he made, his sorrow and frustration over what had occurred burning into her from where she stood. ‘I will not allow her to go with him’, he had said, vehemently, and Dinah had felt her heart ache with the love that he displayed so evidently. ‘I will never treat you as dispensable.’
In that moment, she had known what to do. She had chosen not to tell Lord Whitehaven of her plan, for she knew full well that he would not allow her to do as she wished. He would have done everything in his power to have her remain at home, and no doubt, had Lady Whitehaven known of it, she would have added her agreement to it also. Thankfully, Dinah had Titania to turn to, given that her husband had not yet returned to town. Trusting that Titania would be willing not only to listen but also to aid her in whatever way was required, Dinah had told her cousin everything.
Titania had listened with both horror and shock, her astonishment growing steadily as Dinah had laid out her plans. Thankfully, it had not taken long for Titania to agree and they had spent the last hour or so working out the plan in all its fullness.
“He will be very angry at first,” Titania commented, a little drolly. “But I am certain that in the end, he will be grateful.” She leaned across the carriage and patted Dinah’s hand. “You are very good to him, my dear. Especially when he has never been welcoming to you.”
Dinah gave her cousin a half smile, which she was not quite sure Titania was able to see, given the darkness that was only briefly broken by the dull streetlamps.
“I understand him better now,” she answered softly. “I understand how he saw himself. I understand how wrong I have been in my critical and judgmental spirit. I have treated people poorly, and yet forgiveness and tolerance has been shown to me.” She shrugged, her thoughts returning to Lord Whitehaven once more. “We have only just begun to realize what our lives might look like were they entwined together.” She swallowed hard forcing back her tears. “I am not about to allow him to throw that aside now, not when there is another way.”
Titania opened her mouth to respond, only for the carriage to slow and to eventually come to a halt. The door was opened, the steps set down for them, and taking in a deep breath, Dinah made her way out. The driver waited with the horses whilst the two tigers they had brought along with them, as they had done before, immediately came to stand behind the two ladies. Buoyed a little by their presence and placing one hand in her pocket, so as to reassure herself that her documents were still there, Dinah lifted her chin, took a long, deep breath and began to advance towards Elders View.
The noise that came from the place was almost deafening. There were shouts of joy, cries, and exclamations — and a good deal of rowdy laughter – and that was even before Dinah had dared asked for one of the tigers to open the door.
“I am here with you,” Titania said encouragingly, looping her arm through Dinah’s. “Come now. Courage, my dear. You will manage this, I am quite certain of it.”
Dinah nodded, swallowed hard, and gestured for the door to be opened. With one doubtful look towards Titania, the man scurried to do as he was bidden and Dinah made to step through it at once – only for a loud crash to rend her ears, making her stagger back. A harsh laugh soon followed but rather than send Dinah scurrying back to the carriage, it seemed to embolden her. She remembered what she had heard Lord Irving say, how he had practically demanded that she be brought to him, to be married off at once in some peculiar fashion. And now, no doubt, he was treating Lord Whitehaven with the very same distain – and all because Whitehaven had refused to do as Lord Irving had bade. Shaking free of Titania’s hand, Dinah strode forward and hurried through the door, coming upon another only a few paces within. Thrusting them both open wide, she marched forward without hesitation.
It was as though the world went silent at her presence. The room was large and bright, with almost every surface holding a good many candles. Gentlemen of all ages and appearance were thrust in every part of the room, but all turned towards her as one. She stood just inside, with Titania and the two tigers coming in thereafter. Tables were aplenty, with gentlemen seated or standing around them all. A long serving table was in one corner which, Dinah presumed, meant that liquor flowed very easily indeed. Continuing to look out across the room, her eyes then fell upon a prone figure to her left, with another gentleman standing over him. Lord Irving. He was looking at her with shock in his eyes, although the rest of his expression remained quite calm. Beside him were two burlier fellows, one of whom seemed to recognize Dinah—for when she caugh
t his eye, he immediately looked away and lowered his head, shuffling his feet uncomfortably.
“A woman!” one gentleman roared, shattering the silence. “Get her out of here!”
“I am come to find my cousin,” Dinah interrupted, her voice ringing out across the room despite the fear that lingered on in her heart. “Once we have him, we shall depart.” She turned and gestured in the direction of Lord Irving. The tigers moved together, the four of them, walking towards Lord Irving and the fellow who lay on the ground. Dinah had no doubt that it was Lord Whitehaven.
“Lord Irving.” She lifted her chin and looked up at the gentleman directly, even though she wanted to do nothing more than fall to her knees beside Lord Whitehaven and aid him in whatever way she could. “I am afraid that your conversation with Lord Whitehaven was not entirely unnoticed by the rest of us in the house.”
Lord Irving’s lip curled. “So he told you of what was said, did he?” He laughed scornfully, as the rest of the gentlemen within Elder View continued to stand silently, their eyes fixed upon what was being slowly played out before them.
“No,” Dinah replied, a touch of anger beginning to form in her heart. “No, he did not. I heard you speak, Lord Irving, and I am here to tell you that you are nothing more than a disgrace.”
Lord Irving’s eyes narrowed but Dinah continued on regardless.
“I am not to be bought nor sold like something a trader might wish to do. I am not to be used as your plaything, Lord Irving. I am not about to become your wife simply because you demand it of me. To triple a man’s debts when he is already struggling to pay the first merely because he will not do as you ask and give me to you as your wife is more than a little vengeful, do you not think?” Much to Dinah’s surprise, a few murmurings broke out at this, making her turn around to see a good many gentlemen speaking to one another about this matter, as though they had no knowledge of Lord Irving’s deeds nor of his character. Many of them were now looking doubtfully at Lord Irving, and there were many a furrowed brow. Dinah felt a flash of hope in her chest, turning back to Lord Irving with a lifted brow and seeing his lower.
“Lord Whitehaven is much too good to give me to you as your wife in order to try and save himself from loss and ruin,” she told the gentleman, as Titania helped an ashen-faced Lord Whitehaven to stand, with a tiger supporting him on the other side. “And now you have had him beaten for what is the second time, even though he has done nothing to wrong you.”
“He owes me money,” Lord Irving grated harshly. “It is not my fault that he cannot pay.”