Excerpt 2

“I know what you are about, Miss Heywood.”

Charlotte looked up in surprise at this and found herself being observed by Mr. Sidney Parker.

“I am sure that I do not know what you mean, Mr. Parker,” she said, and returned her eyes to the book upon her lap. She meant to dissuade him from any further observations by increasing the intensity of her study of the words that had ceased to interest her half an hour earlier, but he failed to note her scrutiny.

“I know very well of your machinations. And I heartily approve for I think Sir Edward totally unsuited for Miss Brereton.”

At this she was very surprised. “I do not think I like being accused of machinations.”

“Very well, spoils and stratagems then. You see I have observed you closely as you observe those around you. At first I thought you non judgmental, but then I see you make your opinions of the little community my brother and the august Lady Denham have created.” He chose then to sit — unasked — beside her on the low, stone wall looking out to shore.

“And how do you know that I make these opinions?” she asked, interested in his observation of her despite her desire that he be elsewhere.

“Oh but your face charmingly betrays you. When you witness some behaviour of which you disapprove, it is like a cloud passing before the sun, but when you look up the cloud has already passed and it is sunny again. Your disapproval is like that; hard to detect unless you look for it.”

“And what of my approval? How is that displayed? Can it be so picturesquely described?”

“Of course. It is like the sun glinting off a piece of glass. But it too is gone in an instant.”

Charlotte, still pretending to look at her book, laughed and then with a sigh closed her book. She then looked at Mr. Parker and said, “How poetic you are. And from such fleeting expressions you deduce that I have conspired to … to what exactly have I done Mr. Parker.”

“That note, Miss Heywood. The fortuitousness of its discovery could not have been better timed. Miss Brereton is now free. And for Sir Edward too the match would have been unwise. He has no money; she has no money. Unless Lady Denham should grant either of them her estate in which case neither would need the other.”

“You are as your brother described. You feel free to say anything.”

“And you have managed to avoid denying that you saved that note and produced it when it might do the most … no, I cannot say damage for I think it was a sound decision.”

“Mr. Parker, I do not appreciate being accused of looking in wastebaskets for discarded notes.”

“Oh ho, so that is how it was done! Very well, don’t deny it. I like a bit of mystery. Now what do you propose to do about Arthur?” At this he stood and walked in front of her so that he now eclipsed her view of the shore.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“Please, do not pretend that my brother does not give you pause. Were it not for my natural indolence I should have addressed his many shortcomings long ago. But with your energy of action I am sure we can have him sorted out.”

“Again, Mr. Parker, you labour under the misapprehension that my intent is to interfere in the lives of others.” As she said this she looked up at him and the wind caught her bonnet, which not being properly secured, blew away, causing her to cry out.

That cry was enough to goad him into pursuit of the bonnet that danced and skipped along the stone wall to lead him a merry chase. She looked in wonderment at him; his tall angular figure denying him the proper dignity of a man in pursuit of a lady’s garment. At the last he stumbled forward and with outstretched hands caught the bonnet before it could hop the wall and continue down the road. Unfortunately he secured the bonnet only at the cost of his upright attitude. Miss Heywood knew it would be better to look away from his discomfiture, but she could not help but be intrigued at this little drama. She did, however, return her gaze to the shore once Mr. Parker began his long walk back to her. Presently she was aware of him standing beside her.

“Your bonnet, I believe,” he said, quite gravely. She turned her head to him, prepared to laugh again, until she saw that his fall had proven more serious than comic. She gasped to see his trouser leg torn and …

“Your knee! It is bleeding!”

“Is it? Hadn’t noticed,” he said with that peculiar male attitude of denying that which was blatantly obvious. He again offered her the bonnet, which she took, whereupon he sat next to her on the stone wall again. He winced as he took his seat.

“Mr. Parker, I think you’re quite injured!”

“No, no, just a scratch. One can’t get injured chasing a bonnet. It just won’t do.”

She looked at him as if he had lost his senses but in fact he was simply loathe to display his pain and admit his embarrassment of how poorly he had acquitted himself. Later Charlotte would realize this was the moment when her estimation of him changed, when he revealed himself as more than just a man with an ironic sense of the world and instead simply as a man willing to endanger himself for something as silly as an errant bonnet. This self-realization, however, was for the future. In the present, she only viewed him as a man who foolishly seemed to be denying that he was in great pain and bleeding — and that this injury had occurred while in her service.

She took the bonnet he had handed her and quickly bound his knee.

“I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to retrieve that for you and now you’ve gone and ruined it,” he said.

“You are a very silly man, Mr. Parker, but I thank you. And now we must get you back to your brother’s house for I fear my bonnet is inadequate to the task of staunching your wound. Can you stand?”

“Of course I can stand,” he said, although at this point inspiration struck when it occurred to him that Miss Heywood really was quite pretty.

“Actually, it does hurt a little. If I might have your hand to assist me?”

She ruefully offered her hand, annoyed that she now was destined to spend so much time with the one man she most wished to avoid. She helped him to his feet and together they walked back to Trafalgar House, he perhaps limping more than was warranted — or perhaps it was sufficient for his purposes.

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