When Lady Adlington and her daughter called at Fawley the following day, Anastasia was dismayed to find only Charlotte and Aunt Beatrice in, meaning she would probably be forced to sit through some long discussion about Sir Walter's recent return and his upcoming visit to Avondale. She was correct.
"And Sir Walter has already said he will definitely be in London for the next season, and as that will be Anastasia's first..." Her mother was already saying to Aunt Beatrice not two minutes after they had entered the sitting room. Anastasia tuned out of the sisters-in-law's conversation and turned to Charlotte, perched elegantly on the edge of a settee.
Finishing school certainly does drill in a lot of etiquette, Anastasia thought, remembering how her cousin would have once unceremoniously flopped into a chair without caring of the opinions of others.
"Where are Robert and Mr.Campbell today?" She inquired politely, almost in jest. Charlotte, however, did not seem to notice her exaggerated tone and replied in a similar voice.
"They went riding somewhere with a group of friends somewhere near Canterbury."
"What? Why didn't Robert invite me?" Anastasia cried, upset that she was obliged to sit in a drawing room sipping tea while her cousin was galloping around the countryside.
Charlotte seemed to find her outburst amusing and giggled softly. "Don't be ridiculous, Anna, you couldn't go off with a group of young men! As much as you may wish to." She blushed. "Even if it were only Robert and James - surely you see how improper it would be?" she said, frowning slightly, realising her cousin had been quite serious.
"I - of course, I don't quite know what I was thinking." Anastasia shook herself, how could she have been so stupid? They weren't children anymore. Charlotte, who had always been the baby of the trio, though only a year younger than Anastasia, was sixteen for heaven's sake! To suggest an outing unchaperoned with several young, and in all probability, very eligible men must sound appalling to someone so proper as Charlotte now appeared. Afraid of making another such blunder, she transferred her attention to the other conversation in the room.
"Ah, Anna, we were just discussing what a pity it will be that Robert won't be in London at all next season for your debut," Beatrice informed her as she joined them.
"But surely term finishes before the end of-" Anastasia began, confused.
"Term? My dear, he'll be touring the continent!" Lady Adlington exclaimed. Anastasia frowned and her mouth opened slightly. Of course! Robert's finished his last year in Eton-the lucky scoundrel! What I wouldn't give to visit Vienna and Rome instead of curtsying before the king. While imagining such cities, she wandered aimlessly over towards her mother and aunt, pretending to admire the mantelpiece behind them just as Beatrice whispered,
"It really is a pity, Cecily. I was quite hoping she and Robert might marry, but I suppose she'll be engaged to someone else by the end of the season."
"Oh, yes I do suppose she will. I've already got quite a few possible suitors in mind. Because she will inherit the estate and the fortune, she will be quite a desirable wife - in fact, I do think we'll have to be rather careful who she chooses."
Anastasia froze, her heart pounding so hard it threatened to break through her rib cage. "Will you excuse me a moment? I feel a little faint," she mumbled weakly, finding herself short of breath. She dashed out of the room without waiting for a reply and ran all the way out of the mansion, not stopping until she reached a bench in the shade of a tree where she knew she couldn't be seen. She collapsed, panting, onto the seat and tried to focus her thoughts.