(123-03-19) Rowan Door Dinner Redux
Rowan Door Dinner Redux
Summary: Another happy Rowan family dinner, from its announcement to its aftermath.
Date: 19-28/03/2016
Related: Everything with these characters.
Players:
Margot..Antony..

The three middle children of Lady Bryony's exceptionally fruitful union with Ser Adarian are at their lessons in a chamber reserved for the purpose; the littlest one is confined at present within the boundaries of a wooden pen set up in the pleasantest of the downstairs rooms, where his mother and his aunt have repaired after their luncheon to indulge in the twin pleasures of needlework and conversation in the warm afternoon light.

Where Lady Rowan's standing embroidery frame is set up near a window — half a dozen golden rowan trees have taken form from her needle; and vast expanses of snow; and a single tiny blood-red flower — she sits sideways, both her hands outstretched and upraised, for Lady Bryony to wind pale pink wool from them. The latter is perched upon the very edge of a chair drawn up nearer for the purpose, dressed in pale green and lilac silk, giggling at something Lady Rowan has just said. Her son contributes meanwhile a burbling noise, directed more at the small toy horse he's chewing than either of the ladies.

Two pairs of eyes, amused and curious brown, hesitant cool blue, lift at the unexpected appearance of the master of the house, himself, in person. They seem each to be asking rather a different question of him.

Antony comes in dressed properly rather than for training, which he hasn't been at this morning at all. He doesn't seem to have brought any answers for questioning glances with him. He just find a chair and helps himself to it, sitting down. He doesn't look /particularly/ friendly or cheerful, but there are no directed scowls to begin with. The fingers of his right hand tap against his right thigh.

Little Lord Davith is the first to speak. Though again to his horsie.

Sitting there with wool about her hands — Lady Bryony paused in her winding when her host appeared — Lady Rowan watches him till he sits down, and then averts her eyes and whatever expression of surprise may have crossed her features at this course without precedent in the past month. She murmurs an exceptionally reserved, "Good day to you, my lord."

Lady Bryony bites her lower lip and looks uncertain and then remembers that, oh, yes, she has wool. Her hands resume their smooth and regular motions, one turning the growing pink ball of it, the other lifting and winding. "Good afternoon, Lord Rowan," she adds, turning from her labours just long enough to give him a quick, shy smile. It's awkward for her, the poor thing.

"Good day," Antony says, quite straightforwardly if not warmly. He looks at Margot, then at Bryony, but his expression doesn't betray much of what he must be thnking. It's still neither welcoming nor forbidding. It drifts again, as if in thought.

The wool is wound. The feminine laughter Lord Rowan presumably heard through the door doesn't recur. After a minute or two Lady Bryony, who glances regularly over her shoulder at her little boy, observes: "He's going to chew his way right through that poor horse. Where did it come from, do you remember? Do you suppose we could get him another one if he does?"

Lady Rowan, studiously avoiding the sight of he who has been admitted too far into her thinking, she's quite sure of it now, murmurs: "It was given him by his great-uncle. I'll write and ask where he found it."

Antony glances again between Margot and Bryony, perhaps trying to puzzle out why Bryony asks Margot where her child's toys come from. Or perhaps he's just trying to be intimidating. His hand taps.

The reason of course is that one lady has a far better memory than the other, who sighs, "Oh, bless you," and lets the matter rest. A moment later, because the silence weighs more heavily upon her than either of the Rowans, she adds: "I'm sorry to keep you so long. This really is the next-to-last, I promise."

"It's all right," murmurs Lady Rowan. "I don't mind."

Antony has surely had some sort of practice with silence. And silent he is, now. His tapping hand doesn't make an audible sound, though it also doesn't stop. There he still is.

Lady Rowan can just see the fidgeting, out of the corner of her eye. Her shoulders grow more rigidly tense moment by moment, tap by tap.

When she is relieved of the last yards of pink wool she fetches another skein in the same shade from the basket at their feet. Lady Bryony meanwhile is making fast the end of the previous ball before dropping it into the basket. Their four hands move smoothly together in this familiar ritual, untwisting the new skein and cutting its ties, one holding and one winding, never bumping nor fumbling nor needing to inquire into who ought to do what. It may become gradually apparent that they're even taking turns in looking at the baby, Lady Bryony over her shoulder and Lady Rowan by tilting her head to glance past her.

It's hard to tell which details Antony makes particular note of. He focuses his gaze on his wife, after a time, her face more than her hands.

With her head slightly bowed, thus, over the wool Lady Bryony is winding from her hands, Lady Rowan's face is somewhat shielded by the drape of her mantilla; when she tilts her head, thus, to see the baby in his pen, she becomes a trifle more visible. Her features are carefully calm, but there's a tension in them her husband has seen often enough to recognise. She is in the present moment far from a relaxed or a happy woman.

"I'll be joining you for dinner tonight," Antony finds it appropriate to announce after letting more oppressive silence slide by.

At that Lady Rowan looks up, coolly lovely. It's too late now for her to take back her oft-made suggestion, just because she has so bountifully renewed her nervousness in his presence. She swallows, and informs him that: "I shall instruct the servants to lay a place for you, my lord."

"Thank you," Antony returns evenly. And shows no sign of rising. He looks to Bryony. "Lady Bryony, have you been made happy in your stay with us so far?" Not that there has been much 'us' about it.

Lady Bryony looks to Lady Rowan first of all; then, turning to answer him, her ball of wool still for a moment, she says firmly, "Very much so, Lord Rowan. The house is so beautiful, and it seems as though every day Margot thinks of something else to make us even more comfortable. In fact, it's quite— oh, he's trying again, Mar, look," she exclaims urgently; and Lord Rowan is forgotten as both ladies turn tender and fascinated eyes upon little Lord Davith's latest attempt to stand up on his own tiny feet and walk. He hasn't quite grasped the fundamentals, but he's reaching for them.

Antony tilts his head back a little to look at the ceiling rather than partake in spectating at the child's attempt to walk.

He misses, then, the little stumble which brings the ambitious Lord Davith into too sudden contact with the wooden bars of his pen — and which of the ladies is the first to drop the pink wool. At any rate it's on the floor in an immediate tangle even before the child has drawn in breath enough with which to express the extent of his displeasure. Two silken gowns and umpteen petticoats rustle. Lady Bryony exclaims first ("Oh, my little love!") but it's Lady Rowan who bends to lift him up into her arms. "Shh, shh," she murmurs, cuddling him close whilst his mother rests a hand upon his head. They begin to discuss at length whether he'll have bruised himself; if so, where; whether they should put ice on it or whether it'll only upset him more, the way it did the last time; and somehow without agreeing aloud, they reach a decision of some kind, and Lady Rowan begins to walk about the room, rocking him slightly, singing a low, purring, velvety lullaby as he bawls into her mantilla.

Antony gets up and quits the room while the ladies are at their discussion without a farewell.


The ladies are accustomed to meeting in their favoured sitting-room a little while before dinner is served. This evening three goblets instead of the usual pair have been set out next to a decanter of the wine chosen to compliment the meal's first two courses — and Lady Rowan is unusually quick to take up hers.

Lord Davith having left her earlier attire rather stick, she is wearing a different black silk gown; she has also, in deference to the hour of the day and the nature of the meal, left her head uncovered. The dignified style which has lately replaced her habit of wearing her hair loose and shining about her shoulders, is revealed at last in its sleek black simplicity. The shape of it follows exquisitely the shape of her head, the line of her jaw; her throat has never appeared so slender or so white; when, inevitably, she bows her head, the effect is in danger of appearing even more elegant. The pins are plain ones, effectively invisible. She wears as usual in her mourning no jewellery but her white golden wedding ring, and her seven-pointed star pendant.

Lady Bryony has curled her own golden hair, and changed into a green gown embroidered with golden roses, the cut of which makes a great deal of the ripeness of her figure. She rushes in, in haste, a minute or two after Lady Rowan, and finding the other goblets filled chooses the nearest and clinks the rim of it against her sister's. "There, now, what did I tell you?" she demands brightly, though what she told Lady Rowan, Lady Rowan won't tell.

Antony doesn't disturb whatever pre-dinner ritual the ladies have. Perhaps he had his fill as their silent satellite earlier. He's already been seated in the dining room by the time the women come through, though of course at their appearance, he rises once again. Of course he seems weary. He usually does, these days.

The ladies' discussion is exclusively of the children until a servant admits himself to inform them that the hour has come. Lady Rowan's immediate rejoinder is that dinner must be held until Lord Rowan is ready to join them.

The servant clears his throat and mentions that he saw milord step into the dining-room a minute or two past. Feminine glances are exchanged; feminine eyebrows are raised. But then of course they repair to the dining-room, each with her own goblet, Lady Bryony's empty and Lady Rowan's approaching that state, and the servant following behind in charge of the decanter and the third goblet. This last he deposits at Lord Rowan's place upon the table, with a murmured, "Beg pardon, milord." The setting of the table takes of course into account the pre-prandial libations… he'd be short one otherwise.

Footmen stand ready to tuck in the ladies' chairs and then to serve. The linen, the silver, the plates are all the manse's finest, fetched out of storage even before Lady Rowan took up residence. The flowers owe all their elegance to her touch. No feast laid out before royalty was ever planned with such tenderness, such attention to detail, as one of her family dinners.

"Good evening, my lord," murmurs Lady Rowan, after her usual custom; even in letters, even in that letter, she avoids his given name. She sits. "I'm afraid we didn't know you were waiting in here."

"We usually have a glass of something in the sitting-room," explains Lady Bryony helpfully, settling into her own chair a moment later.

Antony sits down again when the ladies are seated. "Good evening," he returns to Lady Rowan. "The servant must have timed things poorly," he concludes. "But you are welcome to your time in the sitting-room, it is no insult to me, surely." Not that he sounds as warm and friendly as those words probably should.

"The servants were not at fault. On the contrary. If Rob hadn't told me you were waiting in the dining-room I'd have ordered dinner held for you, not knowing you had already come down," explains Lady Rowan carefully, unfolding her snowy white napkin over her lap. She doesn't meet his eyes. The napkin serves as her alibi. Bowls of a thick, fragrant, spicy soup begin to arrive.

"It's rather funny, isn't it, being in one room and not knowing what's going on across the way," offers Lady Bryony inconsequentially. Just because Lady Rowan has fallen into a pensive silence, leaving it up to her.

Antony lifts his eyebrows at that explanation from Margot. "Oh," he says. "I didn't understand that you meant to tell me I was at fault in coming early." He looks to Bryony. "It's true, we know so little of what is going on."

Lady Rowan says nothing. She sips her wine.

"We come early too, of course," points out Lady Bryony, as cheerfully as she can; "at least, Margot does, and I try. But we didn't know you had as well till Rob said. Because w—" She is interrupted by a lift of her sister's hand.

"It really couldn't matter less," insists Lady Rowan. "My lord, how do you find the soup?" She herself has apparently not found it yet at all.

Antony has only managed a mouthful or two by the time Margot asks. He looks up. "I like the flavor," he says, rather unequivocal praise for that, at least.

Lady Rowan inclines her head. "It is one of a number of receipts a cousin of Lady Bryony's was kind enough to send us from Highgarden."

"It's a favourite of mine," admits Lady Bryony, who has at the thought of it (or the taste of it) already perked up again after a shadow passed over her face at that interruption. "You were asking today if I was being well looked-after here — you see how very well."

"That is kind," Antony agrees, his spoon clanking twice on the inside of the bowl. He's not showing tremendously great table manners tonight, hunching a little farther over the bowl than most masters of etiquette would prefer. He looks to Bryony. "And you've been happy here?"

"Yes, Lord Rowan," confirms that lady, not for the first time today. "It's kind of you to ask me." She smiles at him deliberately before looking again to Lady Rowan, the angle of her gaze suggesting more of an interest in the status of her spoon vis a vis her soup, than her hair, or her mood.

The wine is not proving sufficiently relaxing. Lady Rowan sips again, without much optimism, and then as she takes up her spoon and tastes the soup a servant, noting the deplorable state of her goblet, leans past her to replenish it. By her standards this qualifies already as heavy drinking. "The Tyrells," she mentioned, "cared for me so well when I was their guest, that it is a pleasure to me to try to offer such hospitality in return."

Antony drinks his wine left-handed. "Yes, of course," Antony replies to Margot. "I suppose it is after all Margot whom you ought to thank," Antony tells Bryony. "I'm afraid I haven't made much difference to your comfort. She arranges everything."

Lady Bryony glances to her sister. "She likes arranging everything," she points out; "she's arranged me for years, and I'm afraid it's made me quite spoiled. She leaves me nothing at all to worry about."

"I worry regardless," mentions Lady Rowan. "To worry a little more is not out of my way." Nor is her goblet, though at least she's trying the soup.

"… I wish you needn't," Lady Bryony says to her softly, "but I suppose it's too late to break such an old habit." There is no answer.

Antony looks into his bowl as he eats a little more, then finally lays the spoon down and drinks wine again. "Margot is extremely skilled at arranging things," he agrees. "So I hope it's true that she likes it."

Lady Rowan gives her lord an uncertain look. She swallows her mouthful of soup, and breathes out. "I am glad to see things done well," she concedes, "by myself or another. Certainly… I try to do them well."

Antony looks right back at Margot. "And I think she never hesitates to see to the needs and happiness of those she loves. I hope everything is well settled for all your children? Care, tutoring, food, all of it? Is there much space here for them to divert themselves? Our sons were largely raised in Goldengrove, where we had a bit more room." Most of this is of course addressed to Bryony.

… Of course Lady Rowan sees also, sometimes, doggedly, to the needs of those she is very far from loving. Venison for their dinners, and the stains taken out of their garments, and so on and so forth. His words prickle at her in several places — the difference he can obviously discern between her care and her love; this theorised dissatisfaction of his with her domestic efforts on his behalf; how dare he judge her again, always, for failing his unreasonable sentimental expectations, and for having what he considers the wrong set of motives for actions which have no outward fault; and how dare he, also, finally decide to take her up on her invitations to dine in an ordinary, familial, unexceptionable way, just now, just at the very moment when she has been tempted into too dreadful a confidence and she can bear the sight of him least of all, lest in seeing him he should be looking back at her with that awful hunger she has glimpsed sometimes, as though she were a venison dinner — and she says nothing. Not one word. Her soup is cool enough to eat and so she eats it. Sparingly.

Lady Bryony meanwhile is giving free rein to her own set of social instincts for normalcy and correctness, by filling in her sister’s silence with an endless stream of chatter about her children, how comfortable they are here, and what a help dear Margot always is with them. They miss the gardens at the Hightower, naturally, but they’ve been invited to visit with their cousins there, and Margot of course is doing such wonderful things in the garden here: it looks different every day, doesn’t it? Who can even imagine how beautiful it might be when she’s finished?

That they get through the soup, let alone the succeeding courses, is a testament to Lady Bryony and her determination not to let anybody, herself included, suffer. The ladies bat the conversation about between them, from the children to the recent festival to books they’ve been reading to the minor indisposition of a Hightower cousin, and back to the children again, unerringly, ceaselessly; one or the other (more usually the other) turns to include Lord Rowan whenever some feminine sense judges that he’s been silent too long.

He might be forgiven for supposing that drinking so much wine at dinner is a habit his wife has got into at Highgarden, after her release from years of decorous abstention under his roof.

But he might also, once or twice, catch Lady Bryony eyeing her sister’s oft-replenished glass, as though she doesn’t know what to make of it either. Intoxication doesn’t seem to be bringing Lady Rowan any pleasure. She stops smiling even her deliberate smiles.

Then when the venison has been taken out and the cheese brought in, Lady Rowan unexpectedly pushes her chair back and drops her napkin on the edge of the table. Not tonight the neat folding, the precise placement. “If you’ll forgive me,” she murmurs; “I have a headache beginning, and I think I would do better to retire.”

Antony stands when his wife announces her intention to leave. He doesn't look thrilled, but he isn't surprised, either. His jaw juts slightly to one side, which probably means he has something unkind to say but is able for the moment not to say it.

Lady Bryony twists in her chair and then, making a like deposit of her napkin, rises also: "Poor thing… Shall I come up?" she asks softly, her face turned towards Lady Rowan and thus perforce away from Lord Rowan.

The lady of the house, lingering a moment with her fingertips spread out against the tablecloth almost as though seeking to steady herself, looks into Lady Bryony's eyes and gives a slow, weary shake of her allegedly aching head. "Eat your cheese," she suggests in a morose drawl. "I arranged it just for you, after all — I, who am so good at making arrangements."

And as her sister, at the end of a moment's hesitation, sits down again, her hand lifts from the table and with her first step comes to rest upon her shoulder. A mute apology for the tone of those words.

After which Lady Rowan only says, "Goodnight," to the dining-room at large — perhaps even intending the word for both its occupants — and departs with the faintest sway in her walk. This would hardly be a thing to notice in anyone else. Some women move like that always, on purpose, to draw attention. Women less aloof and cold and self-contained than Margot Rowan.

Antony sits down again when Margot departs. "If she makes me the invitation to join you at dinner, she can feel that it's my fault if I don't join you," he comments, perhaps addressing their marital discord more frankly with Bryony than he has in the past. "But when I accept, as you can see, it's no good."

Having looked after Lady Rowan for a moment Lady Bryony turns back to the cheese, which is, as it happens, a favourite of hers. She can't quite make up her mind whether she's still pleased to see it. "Perhaps there isn't anything that's much good at the moment," she suggests, as diplomatically as she can, eating at least one of the grapes which accompanied the said cheese.

"Not if I'm present, no," Antony agrees. He clears his throat. "It's possible I'll be leaving before very long," he shares, in case Bryony is unaware.

The slight flush which creeps across Lady Bryony's peaches-and-cream complexion suggests that, yes, she's well aware, thanks for asking. "Indeed," she murmurs to the cheese, cutting off a portion to smear upon a thin slice of crusty, chewy bread. "Though I understand… your plans are not yet certain." It's either a polite inquiry into his intentions — or a hint.

Antony looks Bryony over, perhaps evaluating her demeanor. "It is not my decision, ultimately, is it?" he replies, that last bit just hinting that he suspects Lady Bryony knows more of their relationship than they all typically pretend. "Decisions in this house are Margot's to make. I thought you might have noticed."

His wife's best friend and closest confidante continues to appear just a trifle embarrassed by this line of talk, as though to be in receipt of his frankness too might just overwhelm her. She had more than a glass or two of wine herself, though it was Lady Rowan who put away the lioness's share of those two very fine Arbor reds… "I think you must have tried very hard, lately, to please her," she concedes, flicking him a quick and complicated warm brown gaze he's unlikely to be able to decipher in those brief instants before she returns it to the bread and cheese she's biting into.

Antony narrows his eyes slightly and accompanies that expression with a mirthless smile. "That would be impossible," he says. "She is not pleased by anything I do. Even if I give her whatever she asks for, the fact that she must accept it from /me/ takes any shine off it for her." He looks at his plate, but he's finished eating. He keeps his straight posture, however. "Look, I know you didn't ask to listen to this," he says. "You're her sister. The lines are clear. I don't know why I say it."

"Oh, you're saying it because you've nobody else to say it to," explains Lady Bryony without hesitation, "and because not saying it is wearing you down so dreadfully. I know that. Margot wouldn't mind not ever saying a word, but you're more sentimental." She presses her lips together, quickly, distractedly, then has another bite as though to stem the flow of further talk.

Antony looks as though he doesn't quite know how to respond to that frank incisiveness which still isn't quite delivered with the warmth of sympathy. "Sentimental," he repeats. "…Well. Whatever I am. It hasn't helped anything. I should leave you to it."

Lady Bryony swallows her mouthful of mostly cheese, very little bread. "… Forgive me," she says quickly, "I'm really the last person who ought to— to presume to speak to you of Margot." And she gives him a longer glance, tinted with apprehension but also no small amount of genuine apology.

Antony looks puzzled. The expression has a hint of pain in it, perhaps all the general discomfort shining through when his brow furrows. "Why the last person?" he asks. "You're her sister, after all. I'm sure she talks to you more than she ever has to me."

It seems Lady Bryony can't quite work out what to look at: her host, or her cheese, or that bowl of roses, or a spot on the carpet, or… At any rate her gaze cycles through all these places, pretty regularly, and in no order. "Well… well, yes," she grants, because that's quite true. "I just don't feel as though — I've helped much, lately. Not as much as I should have liked to, anyway." That is also true, on multiple levels.

"None of this is your fault," Antony says frankly, nodding once. "I don't blame you. You've seen to your sister. I'd expect nothing else. I've been a poor host. I'm sorry for it. I haven't always been… That is, there was…" He rubs his forehead with the fingertips of his left hand. "I have not felt much like myself," he concludes. "I don't…know what to do with myself, now, but…it's not been my intention to antagonize you. But you've no responsibility to do other than you have. Try to be comfortable here despite…how it is," he urges. "I don't think I'll join dinner again tomorrow. Any curiosity that compelled me to do so is more than satisfied, now."

The lady's eyes veer upwards from the cheese, to find his face. "Curiosity?" she asks, displaying her own, and colouring again once she's realised it.

Antony shakes his head. "I just don't understand her," he says. "But I do feel certain she feels nothing but contempt and anger towards me. I'm sorry to say it so directly to you. But I feel sure. No matter how else circumstances change, no matter what ever happens between us, that is how she feels."

Lady Bryony sighs and looks away, very much as though she would like to argue with at least some of what he's said, if she weren't quite so bound by loyalty. "Do you really think," she asks after another quick go at the cheese, "she's such a simple-minded, black-and-white kind of woman? … Well, apart from her dresses, I mean," she adds with a crooked smile.

Antony lifts his eyebrows. "Don't you think she /is/ rigid, when manners compel her to invite me to dinner when she can hardly bear to sit through a meal with me?" he asks. "I will tell you, Lady Bryony, if she feels anything other for me, she's never shown it. The only breaks in the contempt are when I grant her greatest requests. Then she politely says her thanks. But that is her manners. It is nothing to do with any regard for me. She has none. I believe if she could remove me from existence without it disturbing her own position or interrupting her own wants for herself, she would do it. Provided, of course, that the outside world could not know and judge her for it. If you think she has some secret feeling that I am in any way superior to crawling insects, allow me to be skeptical of that."

The pinkness in Lady Bryony's cheeks deepens as she listens to his tirade, swallowing once or twice, but letting him… say it, all of it, because he hasn't anybody else and she feels she owes him a few minutes of her own misery. "How anybody ever thought," she says slowly, rolling another grape between her fingertips, "you and she might make a match, is beyond me. Completely opposite tastes and temperaments, except that you're both so inclined to wall yourselves up in your own defensive positions. I wonder if you've ever once talked to each other instead of across each other. But you— you'll forgive me, I hope, for saying that out loud," and she puts her napkin on the table and her grape on her napkin, and rises hurriedly; "it's just, I always talk a little too much when I've been drinking wine, and you did provoke me a little, you know you did. Saying all that when you know I can hardly say a word in answer without breaking her confidence. I think I ought to say good evening now, Lord Rowan, before I say anything else we'll both regret. I'm sorry for the letter and I'm sorry for this evening."

"I chose her," Antony replies to that. "It is my own fault. But I don't think she /would/ want to talk to me. If I talk badly to her, I don't mean to. I don't have the…cleverness she has. But I never used to be defensive," he does go so far as to stick up for himself. "You didn't know me before." He nods when she says he's put her in a bad position and that she intends to go, a little shame in his expression acknowledging her point. "I'm sorry," he says. "Good— The letter?" He looks up again.

Already having taken a couple of quick rustly steps round the table, with none of her sister's solemn gliding dignity, Lady Bryony stops with her hand upon the back of one of the unoccupied chairs and looks over her shoulder and admits: "Yes, that was my fault. You'd not have had nearly such a bad dinner, either of you, two or three nights ago. It's only right that I should have had rather a bad one too, for interfering," she adds, pasting an amused little smile upon her face. Then the smile falls away. "Oh, dear, I don't mean to say it was that bad, I was only trying to make a joke, at a terrible moment for jokes. Forgive me that, too, please. I really do think sometimes that Margot must be right — the only thing less comfortable than not talking about things is talking about them, don't you find?" She turns further, tilting her head. A pearl necklace of Lady Rowan's gleams about her throat. "So I shall say goodnight, and — I hope you won't have indigestion."

"What letter do you mean?" Antony asks, the first few syllables loud enough that they are surely intended to stop her in the room, though the rest of the sentence is nearly choked off with emotion. "Do you mean to say…?"

Whilst still speaking Lady Bryony completes her circuit of the dining-table; when Lord Rowan speaks in turn, her fingers are wrapped round the door-handle and she has turned it, though not pulled it towards herself. She casts him rather a pained glance, and then looks at the dining-table with its abandoned wine-glasses and remnants of cheese and bowls of impeccable summer flowers. "Please… please don't bring it up with her," she sighs beseechingly. She bites her lower lip. "I don't know what you can possibly think and I'm sure I oughtn't to know, but she had a bad enough time in admitting it, and in writing it. You know she'd rather die than have to talk about it. Please."

Antony juts his jaw forward a little. He goes red from the neck up. For a moment it looks as if he's going to slam a fist down and break a plate and start bellowing. But he doesn't. He puts his elbows on the table and buries his head in his hands. It's strange to see his right fingertips jiggling amongst his hair. Some would take it as a sign of emotion. Not that there aren't enough signs.

Signs Lady Bryony misses almost in their entirety. The sight of that flush spreading upwards out of his collar freezes her for several seconds — but the lift of his fist breaks the spell, and she bolts out of the dining-room, leaving the door wide open in her haste to get away upstairs.

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