“Hungry?” he snapped at his children. When they didn’t reply, he said, “Good. Because sadly, none of us will be eating this, will we?”
He crossed the room to the bed, then sat down gently at Eloise’s side. “Here,” he said, still too angry for his voice to be anything but gruff. Brushing aside her efforts to help, he set the meat against her eye, then arranged a piece of cloth over it so that she would not have to dirty her fingers while keeping it in place.
Then, when he was done, he walked over to where the twins were cowering, and stood in front of them, arms crossed. And waited.
“Look at me,” he ordered, when neither removed their gaze from the floor.
When they did, he saw terror in their eyes, and it sickened him, but he didn’t know how else he was supposed to act.
“We didn’t mean to hurt her,” Amanda whispered.
“Oh, you didn’t?” he bit off, turning on them both with palpable fury. His voice was icy, but his face clearly showed his anger, and even Eloise shrank back in her bed.
“You didn’t think she might possibly be hurt when she tripped over the string?” Phillip continued, his sarcasm lending him a controlled air that was even more frightening. “Or perhaps you realized correctly that the string itself wasn’t likely to cause injury, but it didn’t occur to you that she might be hurt when she actually fell.”
They said nothing.
He looked at Eloise, who had lifted the meat from her face and was gingerly touching her cheekbone. The bruise under her eye seemed to be worsening by the minute.
The twins had to learn that they couldn’t continue like this. They needed to learn that they had to treat people with more respect. They needed to learn . . .
Phillip swore under his breath. They needed to learn something.
He jerked his head toward the door. “You will come with me.” He walked into the hall, turned back at them, and snapped, “Now.”
And as he led them from the room, he prayed that he could control himself.
Eloise tried not to listen, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself from straining her ears. She didn’t know where Phillip was taking the children—it could be the next room, it could be the nursery, it could be outside. But one thing was certain. They were going to be punished.
And while she thought they should be punished—what they had done was inexcusable and they were certainly old enough to have realized that—she still found herself oddly worried for them. They had looked terrified when Phillip had led them away, and there was that niggling memory from the day before, when Oliver had blurted out the question, “Are you going to hit us?”
He had recoiled when he’d said it, as if he were expecting to be hit.
Surely Sir Phillip didn’t . . . No, that was impossible, Eloise thought. It was one thing to give children a spanking at a time like this, but surely he didn’t strike his children habitually.
She couldn’t have made such a misjudgment about a person. She had let the man kiss her the night before, kissed him in return, even. Surely she would have felt that something was wrong, sensed an inner cruelty if Phillip were the sort who beat his children.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Oliver and Amanda filed in, looking somber and red-eyed, followed by a grim-faced Sir Phillip, whose job at the rear was clearly to keep the children walking at a pace that exceeded that of a snail.
The children shuffled over to her bedside, and Eloise turned her head so that she could see them. She couldn’t see out of her left eye with the meat covering it, and of course that was the side the children had chosen.
“We’re sorry, Miss Bridgerton,” they mumbled.
“Louder,” came their father’s sharply worded directive.
Eloise gave them a nod.
“It won’t happen again,” Amanda added.
“That’s certainly a relief to hear,” Eloise said.
Phillip cleared his throat.
“Father says we must make it up to you,” Oliver said.
“Er . . .” Eloise wasn’t exactly certain how they meant to do that.
“Do you like sweets?” Amanda blurted out.
Eloise looked at her, blinking her good eye in confusion. “Sweets?”
Amanda’s chin shook up and down.
“Well, yes, I suppose I do. Doesn’t everyone?”
“I have a box of lemon drops. I’ve saved them for months. You can have them.”
Eloise swallowed against the lump in her throat as she watched Amanda’s tortured expression. There was something wrong with these children. Or if not with them, then for them. Something wasn’t right in their lives. With all of her nieces and nephews, Eloise had seen enough happy children to know this. “That will be all right, Amanda,” she said, her heart wrenching. “You may keep your lemon drops.”
“But we have to give you something,” Amanda said, casting a fearful glance at her father.
Eloise was about to tell her that that wasn’t necessary, but then, as she watched Amanda’s face, she realized that it was. In part, of course, because Sir Phillip had obviously insisted upon it, and Eloise wasn’t about to undermine his authority by saying otherwise. But also because the twins needed to understand the concept of making amends. “Very well,” Eloise said. “You may give me an afternoon.”
“Yes. Once I’m feeling better, you and your brother may give me an afternoon. There is much here at Romney Hall with which I’m unfamiliar, and I imagine you two know every last corner of the house and grounds. You may take me on a tour. Provided, of course,” she added, because she did value her health and well-being, “that you promise there will be no pranks.”