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A carriage rattled around the turn below at a spanking pace. Angela, watching from her perch on the rock, shaded her eyes to see it better. It was a large, comfortable black coach, very much like her brother's. However, Jeremy and Rosemary were still in London, surely. It was the height of the Season, and Jeremy rarely ruralized at Bridbury at any time, but especially not during the Season.
Still, Angela thought she could make out a gold smudge on the side, which at this distance might very well be the family crest. Anyway, it had to be traveling to the castle. What else was there out this way except Bridbury? And who else would be coming here in a carriage except her brother? Unless, of course, she thought with a groan, it was someone like Great-aunt Hepzibah, coming to spend a few weeks with Grandmama. Having endured such a visit from her grandmother's other sister only two months earlier, Angela was not sure she could bear that.
She gathered up her drawing pencils and pad and scrambled off the rock, whistling to the dogs. Socrates, who had been roaming in search of some mischief to get into, came bounding back, ears flopping comically. Pearl, sound asleep stretched out on a flat rock in the sun, merely rolled an eye, unwilling to make the effort to move until she saw that her mistress was actually going somewhere.
"Come on, you lazy dog," Angela told the toy spaniel. "It's time to go home. Why aren't you like Trey? See? He's already up and ready to go."
Trey wagged a tail in acknowledgment of her praise, and she bent to scratch first him and then Pearl behind the ears. At that moment, Socrates plowed into her, pitching her sideways, and thrust his head under her arm to be included in the petting.
"Socrates, you foolish dog," she scolded affectionately. "If ever a dog was less deserving of a name "
He answered by giving her cheek a swipe of his tongue before she could dodge away.
"Come on," she said, standing up and picking up the pad and pencil box. "Let us see who our guest is."
They started off down the side of the slope. It was shorter walking down to the castle this way than along the more winding route the road took, so she knew she would arrive not long after the carriage did. Socrates led the way, his plumed tail waving, ranging ahead of them, then dashing back every few seconds to make contact with them again. Angela kept her pace slow to accommodate Trey, who, though he got around well on only three legs, could not keep up a consistently fast pace. Pearl, in her usual companionable way, stayed at Angela's other side, distracted only now and then by an errant scent.
When they reached Bridbury, Angela saw that it was indeed Jeremy's coach pulled up in front of the door. The servants were still unloading trunks from atop it. She ran lightly up the steps and through the front door.
She started toward the main staircase, then stopped as an old yellow dog, his coat liberally shot through with gray, came hobbling up to greet her. "Hello, old fellow," she cooed, bending down to pet him. "I'm sorry we ran off without you today. It was just too long and difficult for you."
The look in his old eyes was wise and dignified. Angela curled an arm around his neck and gave him a hug. Wellington was her oldest pet, almost fifteen years old now, and, if the truth be known, still her favorite deep in her heart. It always hurt her to leave him behind. However, it was just as painful, if not more so, to see him struggling to keep up and always falling behind, and if they went far, he simply could not make it.
At that moment, an orange cat came daintily down the banister of the stairs and made the short leap onto Angela's shoulder. It draped itself with familiarity around her neck. Angela went up the stairs, her collection of animals following her, and along the hall to the drawing room her grandmother preferred. Along the way, another cat joined the group, this one a fat gray Persian with a face so flat that Jeremy said it looked as if it had walked into a door.
The two dowager Lady Bridburys, both her mother and grandmother, were in the drawing room, her mother half reclining on a fainting couch and her grandmother sitting ramrod-straight near the fire. The elder Lady Bridbury let out an inelegant snort at the sight of Angela surrounded by her animals.
"Honestly, Angela, people are going to start saying you're odd if you persist in walking about with that entire menagerie." She lifted her lorgnette and focused on Trey. "Especially when some of them are so different."
"No, they will simply say that they fit me perfectly.
Everyone already thinks I'm odd, you know." She crossed the room and gave the old lady a peck on the cheek in greeting, then turned toward her mother. "Hello, Mama. How are you this afternoon?"
"Not well," her mother replied in a die-away voice. "But, then, I am rather accustomed to it. One learns to adjust."
"I should think you would be accustomed to it," Angela's grandmother, Margaret, commented. "You are never well."
Laura, the younger Lady Bridbury, assumed a faintly martyred look, her usual expression around her mother-in-law, and said proudly, "Yes, I do not enjoy good health. But, then, it was always so with the Babbages."
"Pack of weaklings." Margaret dismissed them contemptuously. "Thank God the Stanhopes don't suffer from such nonsense. I did not have so much as a chill all winter."
Laura gave her mother-in-law a rather pitying look. She had known the dowager countess for almost thirty-five years now, and she still was unable to understand why the woman took so much pride in her robust condition. In her own opinion, a woman ought to be suffering from something most of the time; otherwise, she would never get enough attention from the male members of her family.
However, Laura knew it was useless to try to make Lady Bridbury understand any point of view other than her own, so she turned back to her daughter. "Have you been out walking, my dear? You should wrap up. You might catch a chill. I know it is April, but the wind, you know, can be so dangerous. You should wear a muffler."
Angela's grandmother rolled her eyes, but Angela merely smiled at her mother and replied, "Doubtless you are right, Mama."
She kissed her on the cheek as well, and nodded toward Miss Monkbury, her grandmother's self-effacing companion, who sat away from the fire, knitting. Miss Monkbury gave an odd ducking nod in reply and continued to knit. Angela sat down between her mother and grandmother, saying, "Did Jeremy come home? I saw the carriage outside."
"Yes. And he brought a decidedly peculiar young man with him," Margaret answered. "An American."
"An American? I wasn't aware that Jeremy even knew anyone from America."
"One doesn't, normally," Laura agreed.
"That is one of the things that is so odd about his coming here. A Mr. Pettigrew, Jeremy said he was. Jason Pettigrew. I ask you, what sort of name is that? Sounds like a commoner, but then, I suppose all Americans are, aren't they? He looks like a solicitor, but when I told him so, he denied it." Her frown seemed to indicate that she suspected he had lied to her.
"I found him rather shy," Laura put in. It was rare that her opinion on any matter agreed with her mother-in-law, though she never disagreed directly. "Of course, he does speak in that American way, but other than that, he seemed quite gentlemanly."
"Yes, but what is he doing here? That is the question, Laura," Margaret put in impatiently. "Not whether he is polite."
"But what is Jeremy doing here, either?" Angela asked. She, of course, lived at Bridbury year-round, and had for four years now, ever since the divorce and its attendant scandal. But Jeremy and his wife spent most of their time in London.
"That is what I asked him," Margaret assured her. "But he would not tell me. He said he had to talk it over with you first." She looked affronted.
"With me?" Angela was astonished. She loved her brother, and owed him a great deal for what he had done for her over the past few years. They had a pleasant relationship. But she could not imagine anything that he would want to discuss with her before he would discuss it with their grandmother. Angela was well aware that her position in the family was the least important of anyone's, except perhaps Miss Monkbury's.
"Yes. Apparently this Mr. Pettigrew is to be a part of the discussion, also. He and Jeremy retired to the library. I have rarely been quite so astonished. However, I find that the present generation is so often graceless." She sighed.
Angela stared at her. "Mr. Pettigrew? But why?"
"I just told you, I haven't the slightest notion," her grandmother replied acidly. "I was not taken into your brother's confidence. You had best go to the library and ask him yourself. However, do, please, go up to your room and change into something a trifle more presentable first."
"Yes, Grandmama, of course." It was useless to point out that if Jeremy was waiting for her, her grandmother might have told her so when she first came into the room. She stood up, saying, "If you will excuse me, Grandmama. Mama."
"Of course, dear child," her mother responded, sniffing her lavender-scented handkerchief, obviously suffering another of her weak spells. Her grandmother gave Angela a peremptory nod.
"And, Angela!" Margaret called out as she neared the door. "For goodness' sake, leave those animals behind.
You cannot meet this American person looking like a zookeeper."
"Yes, Grandmama. Perhaps I should leave the dogs here."
Her grandmother raised a single icy brow at this sally and waved her out of the room.
Angela walked down the long gallery that stretched across the front of the house and into the west wing, where the bedrooms lay. She found her maid, Kate, waiting for her in her room. Kate already had one of Angela's better dresses, a dark green velvet, spread out on the bed, and a pair of slippers to match it waiting at the foot of the bed.
It did not surprise Angela that her personal maid was well aware that Angela was to join her brother and their surprise guest. In fact, she would not have been astonished if Kate knew why Jeremy had come to Bridbury. There was nothing as swift or as efficient as the servants' grapevine.
Kate, a woman much the same age as Angela, with laughing brown eyes, a wealth of chestnut hair and a buxom figure, jumped up from the chair when Angela entered and hurried over to her, clicking her tongue admonishingly. "Where in the world have you been? You look like half the county is clinging to your skirts. Out drawing them pictures again, eh?"
"Yes, I have to confess that I was." Angela glanced down at her skirts, a little surprised to find that several burrs and a few sticks, as well as dust and pieces of dried grass, were clinging to the hem of her dress. "I was hoping to find some flowers out already, but I could find nothing but lichen on the rocks."
"Well, if it isn't flowers, it's birds, or some kind of berry bush or something." Kate shook her head. "I'll tell you the truth, my lady, I can't fathom what you see in them little flowers, growing in cracks and such, looking more like a weed than anything else."
"They intrigue meso secret and hidden. It's like finding a prize when you do spot something unique. And they're lovely. Simple and delicate. Besides, it gives me something to do."
"Well, selling your pictures to them journals and magazines and such, that makes sense, to make a little money."
"Yes." Angela loved the flowers and shrubs and birds, and loved just as much to draw her pencil sketches and watercolors of them, but it was nice to be able to sell a few from time to time to periodicals and books. It gave her pin money, which saved her from having to depend on Jeremy for absolutely everything. She had lost her inheritance, of course, when she left Dunstan; the dowry she had taken with her into the marriage had stayed with him. She did not regret losing it; she never would. But it was hard, having to live on another's kindness, even her brother's.
Kate had been undoing the row of tiny buttons down Angela's back and helping her out of her dress as she talked. Now she held out the green dress for Angela, still chattering away merrily. Kate was allowed far more liberties than the typical maid. She had taken on the job of Angela's personal maid when both of them were in their teens, and the two of them had been close from the start. Kate had gone with Angela when she married Lord Dunstan years ago, and their bond had been forged into hardened steel during the ordeal of those years. It had been Kate who helped Angela find the courage to leave Dunstan and then accompanied her when she stole out of the house in the dead of night. For that brave loyalty, Angela loved Kate almost like a sister. Since the divorce, her other friends, even close ones like her cousin Cee-Cee, had absented themselves from her life. Kate was now Angela's only confidante, her most valued friend, and it was only at Kate's insistence that she continued to serve as Angela's personal maid. Angela had asked her to remain at Bridbury as her companion.
Kate had turned down the offer. "A companion, miss? Nay, that's only for a gentlewoman. I couldn't be content with that, now could I? I need something to do, and not stitching little embroidery, neither. 'Sides, I like making my own money and not living off someone else's charity. It's like slavery, I think, like selling yourself, just for the sake of being able to be genteel-like. But I ain't genteel, and never will be. I'd sooner sweat and have my independence."
"Have you seen the Yank that's with His Lordship?" Kate was asking now, as she knelt and began to unbutton Angela's shoes.
"No, I haven't. Have you?"