Miranda stayed silent until Olivia finally kicked her. “I accept your apology,” she said grudgingly.
Fiona nodded and ran off.
“I can’t believe you called her a silly old cow,” Miranda said.
“You must learn to stand up for yourself, Miranda.”
“I was standing up for myself just fine before you came along, Livvy. I just wasn’t doing it so loudly.”
Olivia sighed. “Mama says I haven’t an ounce of restraint or common sense.”
“You don’t,” Miranda agreed.
“It’s true, you don’t. But I love you anyway.”
“And I love you, too, Miranda. And don’t worry about silly old Fiona. You can marry Winston when you grow up and then we’ll be sisters truly.”
Miranda glanced across the room and eyed Winston dubiously. He was yanking on a little girl’s hair. “I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “I’m not sure I would wish to marry Winston.”
“Nonsense. It would be perfect. Besides, look, he just spilled punch on Fiona’s dress.”
“Come with me,” Olivia said, taking her hand. “I want to open my gifts. I promise I’ll squeal the loudest when I get to yours.”
The two girls walked back into the room, and Olivia and Winston opened their gifts. Mercifully (in Lady Rudland’s opinion), they finished at four o’clock on the button, which was the time that the children were meant to go home. Not a single child was picked up by servants; an invitation to Haverbreaks was considered quite an honor, and none of the parents wanted to miss the opportunity to hobnob with the earl and countess. None of the parents besides Miranda’s, that was. At five o’clock, she was still in the sitting room, assessing the birthday booty with Olivia.
“I can’t imagine what has happened to your parents, Miranda,” Lady Rudland said.
“Oh, I can,” Miranda replied cheerfully. “Mama’s gone to Scotland to visit her mama, and I’m sure Papa has forgotten about me. He often does, you know, when he’s working on a manuscript. He translates from the Greek.”
“I know.” Lady Rudland smiled.
Greek.” “I know,” Lady Rudland said on a sigh. This was not the first time Sir Rupert Cheever had misplaced his daughter. “Well, you shall have to get home somehow.”
“I’ll go with her,” Olivia suggested.
“You and Winston need to put away your new toys and write thank-you notes. If you don’t do it tonight, you shan’t remember who gave you what.”
“But you can’t send Miranda home with a servant. She’ll have no one to talk to.”
“I can talk to the servant,” Miranda said. “I always talk to the ones at home.”
“Not ours,” Olivia whispered. “They’re starched and silent and they always look at me disapprovingly.”
“Most of the time you deserve to be looked at disapprovingly,” Lady Rudland interjected, giving her daughter a loving pat on the head. “I have a treat for you, Miranda. Why don’t we have Nigel bring you home?”
“Nigel!” Olivia squealed. “Miranda, you lucky duck.”
Miranda raised her brows. She had never met Olivia’s older brother. “All right,” she said slowly. “I should like to finally meet him. You talk about him so often, Olivia.”
Lady Rudland summoned a maid to fetch him. “You’ve never met him, Miranda? How odd. Well, I suppose he’s usually only home at Christmas, and you always go to Scotland for the holiday. I had to threaten to cut him off to get him home for the twins’ birthday. As it was, he wouldn’t attend the party for fear that one of the mamas would try to marry him off to a ten-year-old.”
“Nigel is nineteen, and he is very eligible,” Olivia said matter-of-factly. “He’s a viscount. And he’s very handsome. He looks just like me.”