A Marriageable Miss
decorum. Furthermore, she was well aware that her mother, had she lived, would have been less than happy to have permitted her daughter to attend such affairs.
    Unfortunately, although Mr Wheatley’s subsequent disbelief and outrage, when confronted with the result of Viscount Barrington’s scandalous behaviour, was more than sufficient to eradicate the earlier disappointments from his memory, it also seemed to have the effect of making him more determined than ever to achieve his goal.
    ‘Hence your father’s determination to draw up this contract that Markfield has described to me, I take it?’ nodded the countess, when the now highly embarrassed Helena’s reluctant explanations came, at last, to a close. ‘Well then, in the furtherance of your own strategy, it surely goes without saying that my grandson’s presence at your side will be more than sufficient to shield you from the unwanted attentions of any other would-be suitor. Therefore, if you agree to have Markfield escort you to some of this Season’s more prestigious events, I will take it upon myself to sponsor your début into society.’
    Helena’s brow furrowed. ‘It is very good of your ladyship,’ shefaltered. ‘But I fail to see why you should wish to concern yourself with my difficulties.’
    The countess gave a graceful shrug. ‘Your difficulties are hardly my concern, child,’ she replied indifferently. ‘My objective is the safeguarding of the Standish heritage for future generations and it would appear that this scheme is, at present, our only hope. To that end, insofar as I am concerned, such time as we can buy ourselves can only be to our advantage. Any received impression that Markfield might stand to benefit from your father’s fortune would do our cause no harm at all and, at the very least, should win us sufficient time to garner whatever resources we still have available.’
    Although she managed to keep her features perfectly composed, Helena could not help but feel a little surge of satisfaction at Lady Isobel’s words. The countess, it was clear, was simply proposing an arrangement very similar to that which she herself had put to Markfield barely two days ago. The only difference being, of course, was the fact that her ladyship was looking at the situation from her own particular point of view.
    Having quickly assessed her position, Helena soon came to the conclusion that, at this juncture, it would serve her purpose very well to appear to go along with whatever suggestions the countess put forward. In any event, until she had managed to figure out precisely how to rid herself of Markfield in such a way as to satisfy her father’s exacting requirements, she realised that she had very little choice in the matter.
    However, before she was able to formulate an adequate response to the countess’s proposition, there came a tap on the door, followed by the arrival of the butler bearing the tea things. The countess’s insistence that she should make herself useful pouring out the tea was sufficient to occupy Helena’s attention for the next few minutes, since she was well aware that her hostess would be assessing her competence at performing this mundane but vital function.
    Fortunately, from the slight smile that appeared on Lady Isobel’s lips as Helena placed the cup and saucer carefully on tothe small table at her hostess’s right hand, it would seem that the dowager had been able to find nothing of which to disapprove.
    ‘It would appear that your mother taught you well, my dear.’ Inclining her head, the countess indicated her satisfaction. ‘Perhaps I have been overly harsh in my appraisal of you—your manners clearly leave nothing to be desired. In point of fact, it does seem to me that you would have very little trouble in passing yourself off amongst the beau monde . Come now, Helena, what do you have to say? An offer such as this is hardly likely to come your way again.’
    Helena gave a brisk nod. ‘I am

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