Lord Darnley seemed to sink into the floor. “As do a good many of the ton,” he muttered, accepting this explanation without question. “That is why I am, as yet, without a wife.”
“Not that you would remain faithful to her should you marry,” Grayson interjected ruefully, as Lord Darnley nodded heavily. “You know that as well as I do – as do the rest of the beau monde!” He saw his friend shrug and turn his head, knowing inwardly that even should his mother have agreed, he would never have allowed Lord Darnley to marry Dinah. He was a drunken oaf, who cared for nothing but pursuing his own pleasures. There was no expectation that any lady who married him would be treated with respect, for most likely Lord Darnley would continue on just as he was at this present moment. That was not a life he wanted for Dinah.
“Might go in search of a woman to warm my bed later on, once this game is finished,” Lord Darnley muttered, leaving Grayson and wandering back around to sit down in his seat. “What say you, Whitehaven? Will you join me?” His voice became louder as he threw the suggestion out towards Grayson, who only grinned and shrugged. He might do so. The thought of returning to his townhouse, knowing that Dinah slept only a few doors away from him, was a torturous one. Perhaps it would be better to go to a bawdy house, in the hope that the warmth of another lady’s embrace would push her from his mind.
“Shall we play then?” one of the gentlemen asked, before Grayson had time to answer Lord Darnley. “Loo, was it?”
“I’ll deal,” Lord Darnley muttered, reaching for the cards and beginning to set them out one at a time, near to each player. Grayson watched with a bored eye, thinking silently that he might have had enough of this particular gambling house for a while. The suggestion of going to a bawdy house had caught his attention.
“The jack!” Lord Darnley exclaimed, gesturing towards Grayson. “That means you are to deal, old boy.” He gathered up the cards and made to hand them to Grayson, only for one gentleman to slam his hand on the table and push himself up threateningly.
“You’re cheating.” One long, bony finger was pointed in Grayson’s direction, only to then be pointed at Lord Darnley. “You’re in on this together.”
Grayson rolled his eyes. “Do not be ridiculous,” he muttered, reaching for the cards again. “You know very well it is a game of chance.”
“No!” the gentleman exclaimed, slamming a fist on the table this time. “No, you made certain to give your friend the jack, didn’t you?” His eyes narrowed as they swung back towards Grayson. “And now you’re going to deal him and yourself a pretty little hand, so that one of you is bound to proclaim victory.” His eyes became slits, his cheeks bright red. “And you’ll share the winnings after that, will you?”
Insulted by such a declaration, Grayson drew himself up as best he could, struggling to his feet and trying his best not to lean too heavily on his bad leg.
“I am not a cheater, sir,” he told the gentleman firmly. “I resent the accusation and reject it entirely!”
Much to Grayson’s horror, a second gentleman now rose to his feet also, glaring at Lord Darnley and then back at Grayson himself.
“You are a cheater,” the second gentleman hissed, pushing his chair back and slowly coming around the table to where Grayson stood. “And a liar. You’re going to steal from us.”
What was meant to be Grayson’s final word on the matter disintegrated as the fellow slammed his fist right into Grayson’s jaw. He tasted blood, his ears ringing furiously.
And then, Lord Darnley threw himself at the first gentleman, whilst Grayson himself tried to defend himself against the second. Fists flew, groans were expelled and pain ricocheted through Grayson on more than one occasion. Cards were forgotten, money thrown across the room and drinks being flung over the heads of others.
At least, Grayson considered, staggering back as another gentleman slammed into the one who had been throwing punches at him, this was one way to forget all about Dinah, although perhaps rather a painful one.
“Cheater!” came another man’s roar, and ready to defend himself once again, Grayson threw himself into the melee.
“Quite a disastrous start, I must say.”
It was with these words that Lady Whitehaven quit the room, leaving Dinah sitting alone by the fire in the drawing room, her eyes fixed on the flickering flames. Lady Whitehaven was obviously disappointed that Dinah had not thrown herself into the joys of dancing and conversing and the like, but in her heart, Dinah felt no guilt. She did not want to marry, did not want to be forced into matrimony when she was content just as she was. What was the urgency? Even if she was to become a spinster, she would rather become a nun than worry with utter desperation over her lack of success as a lady of the ton.
She spoke those words almost reverently, the idea coming to the forefront of her mind and lodging itself there. It all seemed so very simple.
It would mean leaving the manor house behind, leaving Lady Whitehaven whom Dinah had come to consider a mother in many ways, but Lady Whitehaven had made it clear that such a thing was to occur regardless, given that she was pushing for Dinah to marry. Besides which, Lord Whitehaven, as odious as he was becoming, would not make her return to the manor house and estate particularly easy, especially when he too had made it apparent that he did not wish for her to be present. Of course, Lady Whitehaven would never agree initially, but in time, when it became clear that Dinah was not about to marry and certainly would not seek gentlemen out in the way Lady Whitehaven expected, she might come to consider the nunnery. After all, it was better than being a spinster, as regarded the ton, for it would not be that she had failed in her desire to find a suitable husband but rather that she had found
a higher, better calling. It would take a good deal of time – mayhap two or more Seasons – before Lady Whitehaven would be prepared to even consider the notion, but Dinah decided that she was willing to wait.
All she would have to do would be to remain steadfast in her desire to remain without husband. It was not wrong of her to do so, she considered, for whilst one must be obedient to one’s parents – or guardians, given that she was without both father and mother – Dinah did not believe that extended into ensuring that her desires aligned with that of Lady Whitehaven’s. Lady Whitehaven could think of nothing better than being married and settled, whilst she herself had no such inclinations. Some gentlemen were certain to be kind and generous, she was sure, but none incited any feeling nor emotion within her – unless she considered her feelings of anger and anxiety whenever Lord Whitehaven drew near!
“Is this the plan you have for me?” she whispered, closing her eyes and lowering her head, praying as she had so often done before. “Is this what my mother meant when she told me to keep looking for the path You would one day show me?”
There was no immediate answer, no ringing voice nor sense of peace that settled over her however. Her heart twisted this way and that, considering what it would be like to become a nun, and also what it would be like to leave the family she had come to love so much these last few years. Lady Whitehaven would no longer be able to be a part of her everyday life. She could not expect to see her cousins and their husbands and, perhaps, one day their children, if she went to a nunnery. They would not be able to visit very often, and she would be expected to remain where she was.
“But then,” she murmured, lowering her head all the more, “they may not wish to see me.” A small flush colored her cheeks, as she thought back to her time with the family. Yes, she loved her cousins, but they were so very different from her. They each had their own personality but none of them, as far as she had thought, had prayed as much as they ought. It had, she realized, put a strain on their relationships, and it was only now, when they were mostly absent and she the last one at home, that she had come to realize that.