The threesome of young people never did discover how their sobriquet 'three wise monkeys' traveled so quickly about the ton, but by the end of a week they were everywhere known by it.
Even when they entered at Almack's on a rainy Wednesday evening, a murmur went round the august chambers. They were soon lionized by many of those gathered though not, of course, by the celebrated hostesses. Those ladies had required to be convinced not to withdraw the Cheriton youngsters' vouchers after hearing of the Argyll Rooms' masquerade.
The trio had felt constrained by their notoriety to behave with the utmost decorum for the past several days. Lord Cheriton and the dowager expressed satisfaction with their new propriety. Even Lady Valence, who was among their chaperones for the evening, was pleased with them. Both young ladies were gowned with maidenly modesty: Louisa in cream tussore silk with Valenciennes lace and topaz jewels, and Susan in white satin with turquoise gems and matching ribands.
Unconscious of the hostesses' disapprobation, Susan and Louisa exchanged looks of delight at the attention they received. James, a reluctant attendee at the assembly though a picture of sartorial elegance, was noticeably dissatisfied.
"Why should it be that when Felicity is in charity with me, I feel like behaving in an utterly outrageous and unacceptable manner?" Susan said to Louisa in an undertone. The strain of demure behaviour was beginning to tell upon them.
"I think James wishes to behave badly whatever Felicity's feelings!" Louisa said, staring about the chamber with bright curiosity. "I confess I like Almack's despite its deficiencies." She spied a crush of gentlemen headed in their direction, and spread her lacy fan to conceal a satisfied smile. "I am enjoying my season."
"I am not! This is the most insipid of all things. For two pins, I would go up to Shardleigh and wait there until the term begins at Cambridge." James frowned ferociously.
"You cannot, then we should not be 'the three monkeys'," Susan pointed out with some anxiety. "'The two monkeys' has not at all the right ring to it, and we cannot press Gibraltar into service."
Louisa stifled a giggle. "It would be unfortunate to lose our sobriquet just after we have gained it. We shall just have to find another adventure."
"It won't be here," Susan said, accepting an invitation to the quadrille forming. "How is it that Almack's is so popular? Its decoration compares poorly to that of the Argyll Rooms. And the refreshments..." she shuddered delicately.
James brightened even as he was being separated from the young ladies by the influx of young men. He chafed at them for they were all his friends and contemporaries. "I shall have to think of something we can do," he said to his sister and Louisa over the rising tide of chatter.
Only Louisa was close enough to hear and understand. "I should like to take a river journey someday," she said unthinkingly, over her shoulder. With a warm smile at a young gentleman of her acquaintance, she too joined the sets forming.
It was with some misgiving that she spied a thoughtful look on James' handsome face later in the evening. She was not surprised when he solicited her hand for the boulanger when it formed.
He spoke in jerky periods, when the movements of the dance allowed. "I talked to Susan; beat that Donning chap to her hand for the last country dance." He was diverted by his own words. "Can't think why they let Donning in here. I'm told he has some nasty ways; his behaviour don't stand scrutiny."
"Really? He's very charming and more handsome than any gentleman should be. What has he done?"
James looked uncomfortable. "It ain't the sort of thing one confides to ladies. He's all very well for a brief dance, or some polite chitchat, but he's the sort of chap you never leave alone with your sister, or a maidservant."
Louisa's wide eyes rounded with dismay and curiosity.