Ironically, their hosts, the Reids, found it necessary to travel to Yorkshire as well, since they had received notice to present themselves at Summers Glade to meet Neville Thackeray’s grandson, who would soon be arriving there himself. Quite naturally, it was suggested that they all travel together. This was Lady Mary’s idea. Her daughter, Ophelia, though, went beyond what could be considered good form in beseeching the Lamberts to join them at Summers Glade as well.
Alice and Hilary no doubt would have declined if they hadn’t been so despondent over why they were leaving London, and not thinking clearly. They didn’t even like the marquis, after all. But Ophelia admitted that she’d already invited many of her other friends to come to Summers Glade, and it was going to be quite the festive country gathering.
Sabrina’s aunts were possibly seeing this as one last chance for Sabrina to catch some young gentleman’s eye, so they had readily agreed, They were also anticipating the many parties that Ophelia would no doubt be having at the Glade after she was wed, which would be even more exposure for their niece. The very thought had cheered them up some small bit, so Sabrina didn’t have the heart to object herself, though she at least saw the impropriety of descending on the Marquis of Birmingdale without his personal invitation.
Nor was Sabrina ignorant of Ophelia’s real motives in inviting them and a slew of other people to Summers Glade, which were twofold. She had been furious, and didn’t mind who knew it, that she was being dragged away from the London Season, and this was her silly way of bringing the “Season” to her. More to the point, though, she apparently felt she needed reinforcements to bolster her courage, but then she’d made it quite clear that she was terrified of the Highland barbarian whom her parents were forcing her to many.
Though Sabrina was still disgusted over how Ophelia was going about getting rid of her fiancé, she did sympathize somewhat. It was so antiquated, after all, in this day and age, to be engaged to many someone you’d never clapped eyes on. Her fear was understandable.
Sabrina might have sympathized even more if Ophelia had expressed a desire to marry for love instead, but that, apparently, wasn’t on her list of priorities at all. She had merely been too impatient to wait and see if the marquis’s grandson might suit her well enough, and besides, she aspired to a grander title than his. That there weren’t a great many young dukes running around who would fit the bill of having a grander title was beside the point. She was sure she could find one, or a prince, even a king if she set her mind to it. She did think that highly of herself.
It was quite an embarrassing moment, though, facing the Glade’s stern-faced butler, who had been expecting no more than three visitors but was met with eight instead—two of Ophelia’s admirers had joined them on the road—and more still to come. Ophelia handled that in her typical way, however, dismissing the man as a menial.
“If I must stay here,” she told him, “so must my friends. I am rarely without visitors, so you will just have to get used to it.”
Fortunately for Ophelia, her parents were still outside and hadn’t heard that haughty remark, or she would probably have got a dressing down for it. The butler’s look said clearly that the marquis would hear of it, though. Ophelia no doubt hoped so. She did not want the marquis to like her. When either he or his grandson could end the unwanted engagement, she was determined to be unpleasant to both to speed up that ending.
At least Sabrina and her aunts wouldn’t have far to travel if the worst happened and the marquis kicked them all out. Their own house, closer to the nearby small town of Oxbow, was only twenty minutes away, so it would be no hindrance to leave, even at night. They would just have to wait and see whether Lord Neville would be of a mind to pamper his soon-to-be grand-daughter-in-law.
Unaware of the arriving London guests, Duncan and his grandfather were at that moment upstairs meeting for the first time themselves. Duncan had insisted on waiting in Neville’s sitting room for him, while Neville’s valet had refused to wake him any sooner than the marquis’s customary hour of arising. So Duncan had waited, nearly two hours, for the old man to bestir himself and make an appearance.
But he had finally done that, and the valet, looking red-faced on his way out, had obviously gotten a scolding for not waking Neville sooner. Not that Duncan had minded the wait, which had given him time to examine some of the possessions that Neville must consider of importance, for them to be in his personal sitting room.
The strange African artifacts on one wall suggested that Neville must have visited that continent at some point in his life, or wished he had. Another corner of the room was filled with Chinese art; around the mantel were things Egyptian. Either Neville liked to travel or he was a collector of unusual art.
The furnishings, however, were in the same French flavor prevalent throughout the house. The desk was so dainty looking, Duncan would be afraid to use it himself, concerned that the slightest bit of weight from an elbow might send it crumbling to the floor. On it were two miniature portraits, one of which he recognized as his mother when she was a young woman, undoubtedly painted before she’d left home to marry Donald. The other was of a child—with bright red hair.
The second picture caused Duncan to pause and simply stare at it. It could have been himself, he supposed, though he certainly had no recollection of anyone ever being around him who could have painted it. It wasn’t a pose, was a male child in play outdoors, oblivious to anyone who might have been watching him. And Duncan’s hair had been that bright when he’d been a child, though it was nowhere near that color now, had darkened considerably as he’d aged. He saw no resemblance, though, really, other than the hair, but that could be the fault of the artist—and he was running out of reasons why it might not be his portrait, when he knew deep down that it was.
He just couldn’t figure out why Neville would have it, or want it, when he’d never, not once in Duncan’s entire life, tried to see him or even contact him. He’d written to Archie, but never to his only grandson, which spoke eloquently, as far as Duncan was concerned, about how Neville felt about him. He was a promised possession, and Neville probably saw him no differently from one of his art objects, to be prized and of value, but there was no sentimentality involved.
Now, seeing each other for the first time—Neville had paused in the doorway that connected to his bedroom and moved no further—they each simply stared, each surprised that the other was not what he’d been expecting.
Neville had a full head of hair, albeit every bit of it a silvery white, and cut just below the ear in the current style. And he had aged—gracefully. There was no doubting that he was far up there in years, yet he sported very few wrinkles, and his eyes were sharply alert. With the silver goatee he wore, he had a very distinguished if Continental look, his slimness, or what could be considered frailty in his case, and his lack of height adding to it. His posture was very erect, though. In fact, this was not a man near his deathbed, as Henry had implied. Far from it. Neville looked in perfect health.
“You’re bigger than I expected,” was the first thing Neville said.
In the same vein, Duncan replied, “You’re no’ as old as I was expecting—nor as sickly.”
The words broke the surprised silence. Neville entered the room, his stride brisk, though he did sigh as he took the chair behind his small desk. Duncan, finding no chair in the room that looked like it wouldn’t shatter if he even glanced at it, moved to stand in front of the fireplace. A bad choice, he quickly found, since the fire had been burning strongly before he even arrived, and still was, making the room uncomfortably warm, and near the fireplace, intolerably hot.
He moved to one of the windows instead and started to open it—all three in the room were closed tight.
“Please don’t,” Neville stopped him, and after a questioning glance from Duncan, added in a somewhat embarrassed tone, “I have been cautioned against drafts. My doctors seem to think my lungs won’t withstand another bout with congestion. Regrettably, that means the rooms I frequent are kept unduly warm.”
“So you have been sick then?”
“I spent the last entire winter in bed. I have fared better this year.”
Duncan nodded. It had been said matter-of-factly. Neville wasn’t bemoaning the fact, merely relating it. Duncan stayed near the window, where it was at least a little cooler, but not cool enough after standing next to the fire. Sweating now, he shrugged out of his jacket.
“I suppose you get that height from your father—and the hair,” Neville remarked, watching him.
“I’ve your eyes, I’m told.”
“Would you mind—coming closer so I might see them?”
The question, almost in the form of a plea, disconcerted Duncan. “Is your sight no’ so good then?”
“I have spectacles,” Neville replied in a grumbling tone, “I just keep misplacing them.”