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About the Author
CAROL A DUNN is the author of the Daisy Dalrymple series as well as other mysteries and historical novels. Born and raised in England, she lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
"The best thing about being a grandmother," said Catriona placidly, "is that if Donald falls in, you have to fish him out, not I."
Letty laughed. "Unfortunately, Daphne is just as likely to fall in. If they both take the plunge at once, Mama, you may be called upon to help."
Lady Catriona March and her daughter stood on the bank of the ornamental lake. Among the reeds, in an aged rowboat tied to a rickety jetty, Letty's seven-year-old twins played at pirates. With bulrushes for cutlasses they hacked harmlessly at each other, the August sun bright on their copper curls.
Even as the ladies watched, the boat began to sink with a bubbling sigh.
"The water is not very deep," said Letty with her usual optimism, "and it is a warm day. I hope they can manage without me, as I foolishly put on my new gown." She glanced up the slope at the sprawling manor of Lincolnshire stone before moving to the near end of the jetty.
Knee-deep in muddy water, Donald and Daphne argued about whose fault it was that their pirate ship had sunk. Dearly as she loved her grandchildren, Catriona's thoughts were on their mother, slender and graceful in lavender-green sprigged muslin. She had not missed Letty's backward glance at the manor house, nor its connection with her new gown.
The new heir to the baronetcy and to Marchbank had arrived last night. Catriona knew little about Sir Gideon March, except that the lawyers had at last found him in Canada a year after Jeremy's death. He was Jeremy's uncle's grandson, a distant cousin, and though there had been no positive breach, the two branches of the family had lost contact. She did not know Sir Gideon's age, nor even if he had awife. Whether he would bring life and gaiety back to Marchbank, she could not guess.
Letty deserved a little gaiety. Wed at seventeen to her childhood sweetheart, widowed after three weeks of married life, she was a devoted mother and seemed content with their quiet life at the Dower House. Yet she was too young, too pretty to resign herself to widowhood.
Catriona herself found a proper resignation difficult to attain. She, too, had married at seventeen and borne her only child not a year later, but she had had Jeremy's love and support for long years thereafter. His absence now was an aching void in her life.
At her age, that void was not to be filled. Letty was another matter. Somewhere in the wide world was the man who could mend her broken heart and who would not flinch at taking on a pair of energetic twins.
"My feet are stuck in the mud, Mama," said Daphne gleefully.
"So are mine," Donald clamoured.
"I can't move a single inch."
"Perhaps we'll grow roots, Daph, and turn into plants like in that story Grandmama read us."
"You mean Narcissus? I can't see my face in the water, though."
"There's too many ripples. Keep still."
"For heaven's sake, children!" Letty took a tentative step onto the dilapidated jetty. "Lean this way and hold out your hands, Daphne. I shall try to reach you and pull you out."
"May I be of assistance, ma'am?" The deep, amused voice came from behind Catriona.
With a startled gasp, she turned. A tall, powerful gentleman in buckskins and a walnut brown coat raised his hat to her, revealing thick black hair with the merest hint of grey at the temples. Dark eyes smiled down at her from a sun-bronzed face.
"Thank you, sir. I daresay my daughter will be glad of your aid."
"Your daughter?" For a moment he looked surprised, then his gaze went beyond her. "Perhaps introductions had best wait," he exclaimed, and strode past her.
Letty crouched on the edge of the jetty, precariously reaching towards Daphne. Their fintertips were a good six inches apart. If they met, Letty was more likely to land in the water than to pull the child out.
"Wait!" called the stranger imperatively. "I believe I can reach her, ma'am."
Looking round, Letty rose from her undignified position in one graceful movement. "Do you think so, sir? That is very kind of you. You may be splashed, I fear." She stepped back to be out of his way.
"A little water won't hurt me."
"And mud," said Donald with relish
"And pondweed," Daphne chimed in, draping a strand of greeenery around her neck. "Look at my necklace."
Undeterred, the gentleman set foot on the jetty. He had taken two paces when his foot went through the rotten wood. The whole structure prommptly disintegrated, dumping him and Letty to flounder in the water among floating planks.
The twins, overcome by giggles, clutched at each other and both sat down. Catriona bit her lip, her chin quivering in her struggle to suppress unseemly merriment. She was undone when a shout of mirth behind her announced the arrival of another newcomer. Her laughter escaped her control, and she was breathless when she finally managed to give her attention to the second stranger.
Ten or twelve years younger than the first, in his late twenties, he was nearly as tall, equally strong-looking but tending more to a lean, sinewy build. His complexion, too, was browned by the sun. Fair hair, blue eyes, and a broad grin completed the picture of a handsome Buck.
"Need a hand, Gideon?" he called.
So the older gentleman was the new baronet.
"Not unless you fancy a swim, coz," he answered wryly. Finding his feet, he rose from the shallows like a Triton from the depths. He took Letty's hand, pulled her up, and disregarding the muddy water cascading from their persons, he said with gallant courtesy, "Permit me to offer you my arm, ma'am."
She cast a laughing glance up at him and accepted. Her straw bonnet sagged about her ears, but far worse, her gown clung to her body, the thin muslin almost transparent. As they made their way to the bank, Catriona wondered despairingly what she could use to cover her daughter's scarcely decent form.
"If only I had worn a shawl, or even a spencer!"
No longer amused, the young man beside her tore his wide-eyed gaze from Letty. "Take my coat, ma'am," he said in a slightly unsteady voice. Stripping off the bottle-green garment, he handed it to Catriona.
She hurried forward with it. Sir Gideon heaved himself out of the water and turned back to haul Letty onto the bank. With a smile for her mother, standing by with the coat, she reached up to take his hands. A moment later she was on dry land. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the second gentleman, now in his shirt sleeves.
A flush mantled her cheeks. "Mama, pray let us go home at once," she begged, hastily pulling the coat on and buttoning it.
"Will you not come up to the house to dry off?" Sir Gideon invited them. "The children, too, of course."
They all turned back to the lake, where Donald and Daphne were now wrestling in the muddy water.
"We cannot possibly inflict those two on you!" Catriona exclaimed. "In any case, they all need dry clothes, and the Dower House is not much farther off."
"Then you are Lady Catriona March?" said the baronet. "We enquired for you at the Dower House, and your servant said you had walked this way, but I couldn't believe..." He glanced from Catriona to Letty and back. "I took you for sisters. To tell the truth, I had supposed the dowager to be an older lady."
"You don't look a bit like one's notion of a dowager, ma'am," his cousin agreed.
"Lady Catriona, I'm Gideon March, as you will doubtless have guessed. Allow me to present my cousin, Harry Talgarth."
Mr Talgarth bowed. Catriona's lips twitched as she gravely introduced the dripping Letty to the dripping baronet and his dry but shirt-sleeved cousin. "My daughter, Mrs Rosebay."
"How do you do, Sir Gideon, Mr Talgarth." Letty was beginning to shiver. "I am most grateful for your help, but pray excuse us now. I want to go home! Daphne, Donald, come out at once."
"We can't Mama."
"We're not pirates anymore."
"We're sea serpents."
"We'll die if we leave the water."
Harry Talgarth reached the water's edge in two strides. "Out!" he commanded.
Four bright blue eyes turned on him with more speculative interest than alarm, but after a moment the twins decided to obey. They slithered up the muddy bank à la serpent, completing the devastation of their clothes.
However lively and argumentative, they were well-taught. Daphne cursied and Donald bowed. The sight was almost too much for Catriona, and then she met Sir Gideon's twinkling eyes. They both burst out laughing.
The children glanced at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
"Let's be racehorses," Daphne proposed.
"I'll get home before you."
They dashed off.
"Straight home, and go in through the kitchen," Letty called after them. She looked chagrined.
"Come on, darling, you will take a chill," said Catriona. "Excuse us gentlemen. We shall be happy to receive you later this afternoon--at four, say?--though I cannot promise your coat will be fit to return to you by then, Mr Talgarth."
"No matter, ma'am. I only hope it preserves Mrs Rosebay from a chill."
"We shall see you at four," said Sir Gideon, "without fail. I'm badly in need of a lady's advice."
So he was not married, Catriona thought as they parted. Gallant and charming, with a splendid sense of humour, he would suit Letty to a T. To be sure, he was considerably older, but Jeremy had been twenty years older than herself, and she had come to love him dearly.
She had been shocked, though when her father, the Earl of Dunshannon, had insisted on wedding the youngest of his many daughters to a suitor she considered positively elderly. Best not to say anything to Letty until she was better acquainted with Sir Gideon. It had not passed Catriona's notice that Letty had been instantly at ease with him, amused by their mutual mishap. Not until she saw Harry Talgarth had she shown a ny sign of embarrassment.
"What must they think of us, Mama?" Letty wailed."I have never been so mortified in my life. I made an utter cake of myself, and then the children misbehaving..."
"They were no worse than high-spirited and their usual imaginative selves. Indeed, I was quite proud of them when they remembered their manners, even if I could not help laughing. And it was Sir Gideon, not you, who demolished the jetty, though I do think you would have had a ducking anyway," she added to be fair. "I must say, he took his soaking very well."
Letty sighed. "Yes he was all that is gentlemanly. But Mr Talgarth stared at me so!"
"And lent you his coat. Come, let us forget the incident and start afresh."
"If only they will forget. Still, I daresay Mr Talgarth will soon go away, and Sir Gideon will be a pleasant neighbour."
"I am sure he will." Catriona heard the note of hope in her own voice and chided herself for being a matchmaking mama. Not to mention overhasty: she had taken an instant liking to Sir Gideon, but after all, she still knew very little of him. A pleasant manner and attractive person by no means proved him to be a man of character and principle.
Standing in the sun at her chamber window, Letty brushed her long, damp hair and wished it were more like Mama's, a rich, chestnut colour, instead of her own paler hue. Papa had called it Titian, but to Bart she had always been "Carrots." Perhaps if she had been blond, or if her eyes were green like Mama's rather than commonplace blue, he would have...
With a deliberate effort, she shook off the unwonted mood of self-pity. Bart was six years gone, buried on a Spanish mountainside, and she had long since learnt to live with the memory of those three disastrous weeks.
"Mama?" Daphne peeked round the door, then came in. Dressed in a clean white pinafore embroidered with ivy leaves, her red curls combed into a semblance of order, she was a sight to lighten a mother's heart. "Mama, Betsy says she's nearly finished with Grandmama and is your hair dry enough to braid?"
"Tell her yes, lovie. You are looking very pretty."
"My hair was tied in knots. Betsy thought she'd have to cut it all off. I could've worn a wig, like Grandpapa did when he was young. Mama, Grandmama says me and Donald--"
"Donald and I."
"...can take tea with you, but I have to ask you first."
"If you both promise to behave yourselves."
"We'll sit ever so quietly in our corner and look at picture books."
The twins had never been known to sit quietly in a corner for more than ten minutes, but Letty decided that, as a close neighbour, Sir Gideon must accustom himself to them. As a visitor, Mr Talgarth's opinion mattered not a whit to her, she thought defiantly. How stern he had sounded when he ordered her children out of the lake!
Daphne added a proviso. "Except when we're eating. Sarah's making jam tarts."
Twenty minutes later, her hair braided and pinned up beneath a lace cap with a ribbon that matched her blue gown, Letty joined her mother in the sitting room. Mama was still wearing half mourning, though it was eighteen months since Papa died. Her dark lilac gown trimmed with black ribbons suited her remarkably well. Nonetheless, her eyes opened by Sir Gideon's and Mr Talgarth's comments, Letty resolved to persuade her it was time she put off black gloves. She was too young to dress like a dowager.
She looked up from the smock she was embroidering for Daphne. "How well that gown becomes you, Letty. Sir Gideon will quite forget his last view of you. I am sadly flustered, I declare, to be entertaining gentlemen again. Other than the vicar, few have called since we came to the Dower House."
"You flustered, Mama? Fustian!" She glanced about the room, bright with flowered chintzes and gleaming wood. Surely Mr Talgarth would find nothing here to criticise. Not that his gaze had been precisely critical when she emerged from the waters like a naiad, but unlike Sir Gideon, he had not been smiling. Too far off to read the expression in his eyes, she only knew that something in his look had made her blush.
Her mother's voice was a welcome distraction. "The kettle is on the hob and Sarah has been baking."
"I see you have set out the madeira."
"Gentlemen often prefer wine. You recall your papa's opinion of tea-drinking in the afternoon."
They both laughed.
Daphne came in, still reasonably clean, followed by Donald, equally angelic in his blue skeleton suit and short jacket. On their best behaviour, they settled into "their" corner, furnished with two footstools and a shelf of children's books. A moment later the door knocker sounded. Letty discovered she was bracing herself and forced herself to relax.
"Sir Gideon March and Mr Talgarth, my lady," Lois announced.
As Sir Gideon bowed over her mother's hand, Letty met Mr Talgarth's eyes. Now his regard was warm, appreciative, even admiring. Disconcerted, she hastily turned away to greet Sir Gideon.
After the usual polite exchanges, Mr Talgarth said to Letty with a sympathetic smile, "Unless appearances deceive, you have quite recovered from your wetting, Mrs Rosebay. The children have taken no ill?"
"They positively enjoyed the experience, sir." Eager for him to see the twins for once looking well-bred and tidy, she gestured towards them. He nodded and went to speak to them in their corner. Watching, Letty saw them pointing out to him something in their book. He responded seriously, then glanced up and smiled at her again.
There was something curiously disturbing in Mr Talgarth's smile. Letty managed an uncertain smile in return. Then Donald asked him another question, and with relief she gave her attention to her mother and Sir Gideon.
"In view of the circumstances," the baronet was saying soberly, "you will excuse my belated expression of my condolences on your late loss. I greatly regret that I never knew Sir Jeremy."
"We miss him." Catriona blinked away the mist that suddenly obscured her vision. "How foolish it is to let family ties lapse. I know your relationship to my husband, but little else. You have been in Canada, I collect?"
"For a year or two. Before that, we were for some time in India."
"You had no home in England?" Letty asked. Catriona was pleased by her interest in his history.
"My father was a doctor, Mrs Rosebay, and while he did not leave me penniless, he owned neither house nor land. I had always longed to see the world, so I joined the Navy when I left school."
Letty glanced at Mr Talgarth. "And your cousin?"
"My mother's nephew. Harry's parents died when he was a small child, and my parents brought him up. He happened to leave school just when I was feeling the tedium of blockading France's Channel ports, so I left the Navy and we have been adventuring together. China, India, Canada, South America, even to Russia. You might call us the proverbial rolling stones."
A little dismayed by his unsettled life, Catriona said, "You had no notion you were heir to Marchbank?"
"None. My grandfather was a third or fourth son, I believe. I still sometimes wake up and pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming that I'm a baronet."
As Catriona and Letty laughed, Lois carried in the tea tray and set it on the small table by the window. Letty went to pour, reaching the table three seconds before the twins.
"Not a nibble," she said severely, "until you have passed the cups and handed round the plates. Sir Gideon, will you take tea or do you prefer madeira?"
"A drop of madeira will do me, thank you."
"Shall I pour the wine, ma'am?" offered Mr Talgarth, who had followed the children. "I'll drink tea, though."
Donald brought a glass of madeira for Sir Gideon, and Daphne, concentrating hard on the cup and saucer in her hands, brought Catriona's tea without spilling a drop. They returned with plates of jam tarts and almond cakes. Sir Gideon took one of each.
"I've sampled many interesting foods on my travels," he said, "but there is nothing to beat English pastries warm from the oven. And that reminds me, Lady Catriona. I'm hoping to obtain some information from you. The manor is in excellent condition-the lawyer tells me you have been keeping an eye on it? I am most grateful. Indeed, I was dismayed to hear that you had removed so promptly to the Dower House. There was no need--"
"It seemed advisable. We knew nothing of your disposition."
"True. I might have been the sort of villain who evicts grieving women and children from their homes."
Catriona shook her head at him in mock reproach. "Well, you might! In any case, we are perfectly comfortable here. Jeremy had the house set in order, expecting that ... expecting..." Her throat tightened, blocking the words.
He came to her rescue. "A wise precaution, and it's a charming house. However, I trust you will continue to make use of the Marchbank park and gardens as if they were your own."
"You are very kind, Sir Gideon. To tell the truth, I doubt we could keep the children away if we tried," she added candidly. "But we have wandered from the point. What is it you wish to consult me about?"
"I want your advice about hiring servants. Though the present staff has kept the place well, now that we are in residence, they are too few if they are not to be grossly overworked. For a start, I need a cook, preferably one who has as light a hand with pastry as yours."
"You cannot have Sarah, but do have another jam tart. Daphne, pray--Oh, twins!"
Unseen by their grandmother, and by their mother, who sipped her tea with bowed head, listening to Mr Talgarth, the children had taken the entire plate of pastries to their corner. The last crumb disappeared as Catriona spoke, and they looked up with jammy beams. Sir Gideon grinned.
"We've been ever so quiet," said Daphne with an air of conscious rectitude.
"We don't like almond cakes," Donald explained.
"It's all right, Grandmama. Sarah made loads of jam tarts."
"We'll get you some more."
"How could you!" Letty sprang to her feet, far more agitated than their minor naughtiness warranted.
Surprised, Cariona said calmly, "Pray ask Lois to bring more tarts, children. Wash your faces--I expect your fingers need it, too--and go and play in the garden."
Subdued by their mother's unexpected outburst, Daphne said, "Yes, Grandmama."
As Letty subsided into her chair, Donald ran to her, flung his arms round her, and kissed her. "We're sorry, Mama. We didn't mean to vex you."
They dashed from the room. Mr Talgarth took a handerchief from his pocket and gravely handed it to Letty. Her face almost as red as the jam, she scrubbed the sticky smear from her cheek.
Once more the poor girl had been put to the blush before Harry Talgarth. If he had seemed amused, as Sir Gideon was, she could have laughed it off instead of being horridly embarrassed. Catriona decided it was time to end their tête-à-tête.
"Letty you know the village people as well as I do. Come and help me advise Sir Gideon as to what servants can be hired locally and which he must advertise for."
Mr Talgarth produced a notebook and pencil and wrote down names as they talked. When at last they had discussed all available positions, Sir Gideon thanked his advisers.
"I am glad you intend to take on so many," said Catriona. "I hated having to let them go when we left the manor. Am I right in supposing this means you are going to settle at Marchbank?"
"We are. We have seen a good part of the world, and now it's time to settle down and tend my acres. To begin with, would you object if I had a new jetty built and obtained a boat that will actually float?"
"Object? Good heavens, why should I object?"
He turned to Letty with a smile. "I was thinking of your enterprising offspring, Mrs Rosebay. I fear a seaworthy vessel might prove an irresistible temptation to a couple of pirates."
"Then I had best teach them to swim," Mr Talgarth unexpectedly proposed in a practical tone.
Letty stared in astonishment. "Teach them? Both of them? But they are so full of mischief!"
"That's why they need to learn," he pointed out, "and the sooner the better, while the water is warm enough. They are good-natured and loving despite their mischief. I have no qualms if you have not, ma'am."
"An excellent suggestion," said Catriona, since Letty still looked stunned.
"You'd best start tomorrow, Harry, if the weather holds." Sir Gideon stood up to take his leave, and a few minutes later the gentlemen were gone.
Letty started to collect cups and plates. "I cannot believe it," she said, stopping dead with the wineglass in her hand. "I was convinced that he had taken the twins in dislike and held me to blame for their naughtiness."
"I could ssee you were ill at ease with Mr Talgarth." Catriona brushed some crumbs off the table into her hand and deposited them on the tray. "However, since it sounds as if he is to make his home at Marchbank with Sir Gideon, you must strive to overcome your dislike."
"I don't precisely dislike him, Mama. How can I, when he has so kindly offered to teach Donald and Daphne to swim? He just ... makes me uneasy."
"It is a pity that he did not turn it to a joke when Donald bedaubed your cheek with jam."
"Oh no," Letty exclaimed with fervour, "that would have been worse than anything!"
"Then it seems the poor fellow can do nothing right," said Catriona, smiling. "How fortunate that Sir Gideon is so charming."
"Indeed he is most agreeable."
With this temperate praise Catriona contened herself. Letty must have time to get to know Sir Gideon before marriage was to be thought of--always supposing that the baronet was in the market for a wife.
As twin red-headed sea serpents splashed towards the new skiff, Sir Gideon shipped his oars. "They have learned to swim amazingly fast," he said.
"They are clever children," said Catriona with a proper pride in her grandchildren, "and they have an excellent teacher."
"It is good of Mr Talgarth to go to so much trouble." Letty dabbled her hand in the water. "Daphne told me they always do exactly what he says because otherwise either they swallow water or he threatens to stop teaching them."
"Daphne, Donald, that's far enough," came Harry Talgarth's incisive voice. The twins turned at once and paddled back towards the bank. "Mrs Rosebay," he called, "we'll be getting out now. The water is not as warm as it was."
"I shall come and fetch them," Letty called back, averting her gaze from the wet-shirted figure.
Catriona smiled and waved at him. At the advanced age of forty-two, she was, she felt, exempt from the demands of bashful modesty. She had only come out in the boat to chaperon her daughter. Not that she thought for a moment that Sir Gideon would take advantage of being alone with Letty; he was by far too gentlemanly.
With long, lazy, powerful strokes, he rowed towards the new jetty. Beneath the blue Bath superfine of his coat, his muscles flexed, driving the boat smoothly through the water without haste or wasted motion.
The way he rowed was typical of him, Catriona decided. Always tranquil, unhurried, good-humoured, he had already restaffed the manor and taken the reins of the estate management into his capable hands. Hilton, the bailiff, had dropped in to see her at the Dower House the other day. Sir Gideon, he reported was a fair man who realised his own ignorance but knew what he wanted.
"And among other things, my lady, that's a new roof for Ben Welter's farmhouse," he had said with satisfaction. "Them lawyers wouldn't let me spend the blunt, but Sir Gideon dubbed up wi'out a murmur."
He was generous to his dependents, amused by the children's antics, as vigorous as a man half his age--What more could Letty want? She was comfortable with him, making a laughing reference to the demolition of the old jetty as he handed her out of the boat onto the new.
Over the past month, he and his cousin had called at the Dower House nearly every day, or they had met in the park or gardens. Surely kindness alone was not enough to explain such assiduous attentions. Sir Gideon must be attracted to Letty. Several times in the last few days, Catriona had almost spoken to her daughter about the possibility of a second marriage.
Yet she had hesitated. The Dower House would be sadly empty without Letty and the twins, to be sure. The manor was no more than half a mile off, though. They could see each other daily. So why did her heart ache at the prospect?
"Shall we go round the lake again, Lady Catriona?" Sir Gideon smiled down at her.
"I beg your pardon, I was woolgathering! The boat is excessively comfortable, but no, thank you. I ought to be getting home, and I must not keep you." Cautiously she stood up. He took her hand, steadying her as the boat rocked a trifle.
"Careful now. The sun is warm, but the water is colder than when Mrs Rosebay and I took our ducking."
With one foot on the jetty, Catriona realised that Letty had already left. "Oh, where is she?" she cried. "My stupid heedlessness has prevented your walking with her."
In her dismay, she tried to step up too hastily and lost her balance. Instantly Sir Gideon's arm was about her waist, lifting her as though she weighed no more than a child. She fell against him, or he caught her to him--what did it matter which? She was clasped to his chest, his mouth mere tantalising inches from her own. Gold flecks danced in his brown eyes. Her pulse racing, she moistened suddenly dry lips as a flood of heat washed through her.
Her face was aflame. She pulled back out of his arms, stepped back, turned away, fleeing danger. But the danger was in herself, not in him. She dared not look at him lest he read the desire in her eyes. It was indecent for a respectable widow of her years to feel that way.
"Are you all right?" He sounded shaken. Had he read her mind? No, of course, she had narrowly escaped falling in the lake and had nearly pulled him in with her.
"Yes, quite all right," she said in a stifled voice. "Thank you for saving me. I am sorry."
"Whatever for?" Now he seemed deliberately to misunderstand. "I had no intention of going with Mrs Rosebay," he went on calmly. "She has the twins for company. If you permit, I shall walk with you back to the Dower House. Will you not take my arm? You have had a shock."
His obliging offer was impossible to refuse. Catriona laid her hand lightly on his arm, and they turned down the path along the bank. Whatever he guessed to be the cause of her agitation, he set out to distract her.
"The skiff is comfortable," he said, "but less stable I believe than the canoes we used in Canada. I should not care to trust it on a whitewater river."
He went on to talk of the natives' skill with canoes, their wretched treatment at the hands of the Northwest Company, and the treatise on the subject Lord Selkirk was writing.
"When we met his lordship in Montreal, we promised him to do what we can to influence the government to pass laws protecting those unfortunate people. Harry and I have been writing letters, and next month, when Parliament sits, we shall go up to Town to speak to people face to face. Money talks. I ought perhaps to tell you," he added awkwardly, "that I returned from India something of a nabob."
Her discomfort thoroughly dispelled, Catriona stared at him. "A nabob! You have been sailing under false colours, sir. Did you not claim to be a rolling stone? Don't laugh at me, you odious man! A sailing stone may be an infelicitous image, but you know very well what I mean."
"To complete the confusion of metaphor, you must not tar all of us rolling stones with the same brush. Some of us do gather moss. What would you have thought of me had I announced on entering your sitting room that, far from being saved from poverty by my inheritance of the manor, I am well able to buy an abbey?"
"I would have thought you a vulgar, ungrateful braggart."
"Well, I cannot quite afford an abbey, and I'm proud to be a March of Marchbank."
"And I think you a truly gallant gentleman," said Catriona softly as they reached the Dower House's back gate. "I shall not invite you in, Sir Gideon, as the turmoil attending on the arrival of two wet children is no place for a visitor. But I would have you know that I am most sensible of your kindness--"
"Gammon!" he said roughly, and turned to stride away.
She stood for a moment in the shade of the great elm and watched his tall figure until he was lost to sight in the copse. With a sigh, she went through the gate and into the house to see that water was heating and towels were warmed for her grandchildren.