(The funeral, Sudden learning, Absent friends, and Another disastrous dinner)
Yesterday afternoon had been a medicine to his soul. Just what he'd needed to face today. He shaved and groomed himself with every care. To bid a lovely stranger farewell.
Somber, black clothes. No decorations. No shining jewels. Just the raven-black ribbon on his top hat. The Admiral his father said that mourning dress made Peter look like a lamppost in search of a corner. That could not be helped.
Miss Iris made certain that he was properly turned out before he stepped out the door. Today was not a day for smiles, but the ghost of one rested on her lips for him. He rested an awkward hand on her shoulder and murmured, "Thank you, Miss Iris."
"Safe travels, Colonel," she murmured in return.
He stepped gravely into the coach. Took his seat and let the world pass him by. He knew why he could not summon tears, so he did not try. And passed through the eulogy like many others, listening to revelations that had never occurred to them to learn.
She liked chrysanthemums, and the colour pink. She drank coffee only when she had to and drowned its bitter taste with sweetness. She actually liked chamomile and mint tea. Her favourite music was Ragtime, and she had a soft spot for calliopes. And she was more than good friends with Lady Broodwell.
That... that was something of a shock.
No wonder she saw no merit in his nor Taddie's best efforts. It all made sense.
Except for the absence of Thaddeus himself. He said he cared for Delilah. So why wasn't he here for the ultimate goodbye?
Never mind. It was likely for the best. Thaddeus Becile, if he were here, would likely make a big scene and cause a lot of wreckage. He was probably off somewhere being overly dramatic about how unfair life was.
Let him. He'd come out of his wallow, eventually. And the mourners present wouldn't have to put up with any of his shenanigans.
Once the service was over, he had a very few words for Lady Broodwell. "I wish I had known her a fraction as well as you knew her," he said. And, "The world is a darker place without her brilliance."
Lady Broodwell seemed surprised by his words, but said nothing in return.
He went home as soon as he could be excused. So did many others who thought they had known Delilah. By that time, it was nearly evening. He didn't bother with changing his dress much for dinner with the Admiral his father. All that was truly necessary was to remove the hat, and change his cuff links, tie, and coat.
And just like that, it was as if he had never cared for Delilah at all.
Peter descended to dinner with heavy feet. The Admiral his father sat waiting in his basket chair and glanced at Peter's somber expression before he immediately asked the most callous question to ever fall out of the lips of a man. "Get yourself any widows?"
"Father..." He sighed. "There was no avenue for such in the first place. And second, I would prefer some time for mourning."
"Nonsense," the Admiral barked. "Found my second wife at your mother's funeral."
"I remember," Peter grated. He neglected to mention the single month of courtship and the fortnight she lived as the Admiral's wife before she fled in the dark of the night. Destination unknown. "As I recall, it wasn't the most harmonious arrangement."
"It's still a damn sight better than a life of celibacy. As a damned virgin!"
Half the maids in the room gasped. Several turned bright red. Miss Iris in particular kept her gaze solidly on the carpet.
"Admiral," said Peter with all the chilled dignity he could muster. "If you can't be civil in mixed company, then I shall be taking my repast upstairs."
"You can take it in the kitchen since you're determined to act like a whining child!"
Peter stood. "As you wish, sir."