Heat filled her at the sound of her name on his lips. “Then, I’ll see you soon, Nicholas.”
Once the carriage was gone, Jenny and Louisa made their way inside. Dinner was in less than an hour, which gave them little time to change.
“What on earth happened to your hair?”
Jenny turned to find Abigail Swanson gaping at her.
“Mrs. Rutley will not be pleased.”
“Jenny, Louisa,” Mrs. Rutley said, making all three of them turn, “I’d like to speak to you in my office. Now.”
Abigail gave a smug look. “Lashes, Mrs. Rutley. Such rebellion deserves several lashes as punishment.”
Ignoring Abigail, Jenny followed Louisa to Mrs. Rutley’s office, the headmistress closing the door behind her. She walked behind her desk and leaned against the back of the chair.
“Will you please explain to me why your hair is cut short?” Mrs. Rutley demanded.
Jenny took a deep breath and silently rehearsed her story before responding. “My sister says it’s the latest fashion in London.”
Mrs. Rutley tilted her head, and Jenny found herself unable to meet her gaze.
“Louisa,” the headmistress said, “you may go. Jenny will join you shortly.”
Jenny kept her gaze downcast and waited to hear the door close.
“I must say,” Mrs. Rutley said, “I’m disappointed. After all the progress you made, what would possess you to go and do something so drastic?”
The guilt weighed heavily on Jenny. What had made her think she could lie to Mrs. Rutley of all people? Yet she could not tell her the truth, either.
“I don’t like lying to you, Mrs. Rutley,” she said. “But I have a good reason for cutting my hair.”
Mrs. Rutley pursed her lips. “And I suppose you cannot tell me this reason?”
Jenny shook her head. “But it was for a worthy cause, I swear.”
“Your parents sent word,” Mrs. Rutley said as she reached over and picked up a letter. “They’ll be here in two weeks.”
“Two weeks?” Jenny cried, her eyes going wide. “But that isn’t enough time for Lord Dowding to—” She clamped her mouth shut upon realizing what she had nearly revealed. And what little she had said was too much! Seeing Mrs. Rutley’s arched eyebrow, Jenny changed what she meant to say. “To make an offer for my hand. I’ve waited so long for him to propose, you see.”
Mrs. Rutley smiled. “From what I’ve seen, the two of you are quite close. I imagine he’ll make an offer soon.”
Jenny swallowed hard. “I believe so, although I’m unsure.” She went on to explain their talks as of late.
Mrs. Rutley gave a nod. “I know you have a fascination with Lord Dowding,” she said, motioning to one of the chairs in front of her desk. “But you must be patient. And more careful. You mustn’t leap when you’ve only learned to walk. Now, are you certain there isn’t something else you wish to tell me?”
Jenny could only shake her head, for if she spoke, the truth would likely bubble up from her throat without being able to stop it.
“Very well,” Mrs. Rutley said. “Go change for dinner.”
“What about my hair?” Jenny asked. “Will I be punished for cutting it?”
Mrs. Rutley sighed. “No. I believe your intentions—as muddled as they likely are—were good. Now go before I change my mind.”
Jenny needed no further prompting. When she exited the room, she was not surprised to find Louisa lingering in the corridor.
“All is well,” Jenny said. “For now.”
Louisa grinned. “I know. I was listening. I worried you would tell her the truth.”