The sun was shining over Piccadilly as the carriage transported Maria towards her rendezvous. Not a soul knew where she was going excepting one, and she had asked to be dropped at Fortnum and Mason, though that wasn’t her final destination.
Descending to the pavement, Maria let the doorman do his duty and waited until the coachman, Peter, had driven off before slipping back out onto the busy street. It was a short walk to St James’s church. Was it really only just over a year since her wedding had been supposed to take place here? Not her actual wedding to Sam, but the wedding that she had called off, cleaving her family in two and embarrassing her father so that he had retreated from public life.
Maria’s mother waited in a pew to her left as she headed down the aisle that her sister had walked in her place, marrying the man that had been meant for Maria. Catherine McAndrew’s back was rod straight, hat perfectly positioned on her dark hair, striped through now with grey. She did not turn as her daughter approached but waited for her to sit beside her.
‘I’m sorry, Mama. Sam delayed going to the theatre this morning and I had to wait for the carriage to return. I did ask to meet this afternoon.’ She was sure that her mother did this on purpose, making Maria go out of her way to meet up at awkward times, castigating her for being difficult. It was all she deserved, she supposed.
‘Well, you’re here now. Your letter mentioned some news?’
‘Yes Mama. You will be happy to know that you will soon be a grandmother.’ Maria delivered her glad tidings in the same cold manner that her mother had used, gratified to hear the older woman’s sharp inhalation.
‘Maria, that’s wonderful!’ Catherine took her hand and moved herself to face Maria. ‘I’m so happy. Perhaps I may even tell your father. He surely cannot extend this silent treatment to an innocent child. He was so full of joy when your sister…’ She broke off quickly.
‘She is with child also?’ Maria saw the shame in Catherine’s face as she nodded.
‘We only discovered it a few months ago, and of course I did not see you this summer. You were otherwise occupied. Edward told us about the scene at the Harper’s house.’ So quickly it had turned back against Maria!
‘I was helping a good friend who was in dire straits,’ Maria corrected. ‘And it is none of Edward Heaton’s business. I felt an affinity with Celine. She was being forced into an unhappy marriage, just as I was. I could not stand by and watch her life be ruined.’
‘Would your life have been so much unhappier with Edward? He is a successful man and he looks after your sister. I do believe she gives thanks each day that you allowed her this opportunity.’
‘Edward only wanted our family’s money, Mama.’ Maria pulled her hand away. ‘Is it so hard to see? I married Samuel because he wanted nothing from me. He saw how I suffered while you and Papa only wanted to save face. Edward is not a good man.’
Catherine stood. ‘I’m sorry Maria. I came because you are my eldest daughter and I cannot stand for you to throw away your life in a youthful fit of dissatisfaction. Perhaps this child will make you realise just how precious family is.’
Maria bit her tongue. How could she tell her mother now what a dangerous villain Edward Heaton was? Had she spoken earlier then her younger sister would not now be married to the man who had left her battered and bruised, the man who had driven her to marry the first man who came to save her, even though that saviour could never love her.