The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy(3)

By: Julia Quinn



“In this,” Winston said, stuffing his own ears with cotton, “I do not exaggerate.”

Richard glanced discreetly about the room. Winston was making no effort to hide his actions; surely it was considered rude to block one’s ears at a concert. But very few people seemed to notice him, and those who did wore expressions of envy, not censure.

Richard shrugged and followed suit.

“It’s a good thing you’re here,” Winston said, leaning in so that Richard could hear him through the cotton. “I’m not sure I could have borne it without fortification.”

“Fortification?”

“The pained company of beleaguered bachelors,” Winston quipped.

The pained company of beleaguered bachelors? Richard rolled his eyes. “God help you if you attempt to form sentences while intoxicated.”

“Oh, you’ll have that pleasure soon enough,” Winston returned, using his index finger to hold his coat pocket open just far enough to reveal a small metal flask.

Richard’s eyes widened. He was no prig, but even he knew better than to drink openly at a musical performance given by teenaged girls.

And then it began.

After a minute, Richard found himself adjusting the cotton in his ears. By the end of the first movement, he could feel a vein twitching painfully in his brow. But it was when they reached a long violin solo that the true gravity of his situation sank in.

“The flask,” he nearly gasped.

To his credit, Winston didn’t even smirk.

Richard took a long swig of what turned out to be mulled wine, but it did little to dull the pain. “Can we leave during intermission?” he whispered to Winston.

“There is no intermission.”

Richard stared at his program in horror. He was no musician, but surely the Smythe-Smiths had to know that what they were doing . . . that this so-called concert . . .

It was an assault against the very dignity of man.

According to the program, the four young ladies on the makeshift stage were playing a piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But to Richard’s mind, a piano concerto seemed to imply actual playing of a piano. The lady seated at that fine instrument was striking only half the required notes, if that. He could not see her face, but from the way she was hunched over the keys, she appeared to be a musician of great concentration.

Albeit not one of great skill.

“That’s the one with no sense of humor,” Winston said, motioning with his head toward one of the violinists.

Ah, Miss Daisy. She of the bouncing blond curls. Of all the performers, she was clearly the one who most considered herself a great musician. Her body dipped and swayed like the most proficient virtuoso as her bow flew across the strings. Her movements were almost mesmerizing, and Richard supposed that a deaf man might have described her as being one with the music.

Instead she was merely one with the din.

As for the other violinist . . . Was he the only one who could tell that she could not read music? She was looking anywhere but at her music stand, and she had not flipped a single page since the concert began. She’d spent the entire time chewing on her lip and casting frantic glances at Miss Daisy, trying to emulate her movements.

Which left the cellist. Richard felt his eyes settle on her as she drew her bow across the long strings of her instrument. It was extraordinarily difficult to pick out her playing underneath the frenetic sounds of the two violinists, but every now and then a low mournful note would escape the insanity, and Richard could not help but think—

She’s quite good.

He found himself fascinated by her, this small woman trying to hide behind a large cello. She, at least, knew how terrible they were. Her misery was acute, palpable. Every time she reached a pause in the score, she seemed to fold in on herself, as if she could squeeze down to nothingness and disappear with a “pop!”

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