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Authors: Murray Pura

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BOOK: Beneath the Dover Sky
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She felt a blush coming up from her neck at his burst of enthusiasm. “I expect I am. I’m Lord and Lady Preston’s daughter Catherine.”

“Catherine. What a wonderful name. So you’re not the wife? You’re not Lady Preston?”

“I am not.”

“What a relief.”

“Really?”

She saw his eyes glance at her left hand.

“I’m Albrecht. Albrecht Hartmann. Please call me by my first name—Albrecht.”

“Ah, the baron’s friend. The theologian.”

“Has he been talking about me?” He turned off the engine. “Somehow I had the idea in my head the house would be blue. You know, a summer blue like the sky over Dover in fair weather.”

“No.” She smiled. “White like the cliffs.”

“I see that.” He opened the car door and stepped out. “Pardon me. How do I address you? You are the daughter of an English marquess?”

“Believe me, I’m quite happy with Catherine.”

“But if this were a formal occasion?”

“A formal occasion?”

“A ball. A concert. An affair at Westminster. How would I be expected to address you?”

“Lady Catherine, I suppose.”

He reached out his hand. Without thinking, she put hers in it and he raised it to his lips. “Then Lady Catherine it is. I’m so pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Thank you. Do you…do you have any title I should address you by?”

“Well, professor, I suppose. But I’d rather you didn’t. This is the summer holiday, after all, and you are not one of my students.”

“Doctor then?”

He shook his head. “Not yet. I have master’s degrees in divinity and theology. Those will have to suffice for now.”

“So I may call you Master Hartmann?”

“Oh no! Please don’t. I much prefer hearing Albrecht roll off your—excuse me, but I must say it—your perfect lips.”

The blush expanded from her neck into her cheeks and around her eyes. “My goodness, thank you, Albrecht.
Danke schön
. That’s very kind. But it doesn’t seem fair that I am free to call you Albrecht while you must go about putting
lady
in front of my name every time you wish to use it.”

“I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was treating you with any sort of disrespect. What if I call you Catherine when it is just the two of us and Lady Catherine if other people are around?”

“I’m fine with that.” She dropped her eyes suddenly. “You must be eager to see the baron. Shall I show you to the back porch where he and my father are chatting?”

“I’d rather not.”

Her gaze came up. “You’d rather not?”

“I’ve seen a lot of the baron, and I’ll see a lot more. But I haven’t seen Lady Catherine before. May I not spend more time with her?”

“I—I’m doing the roses.” She hesitated, her mind whirling. “But…but if you wish.”

“Perhaps you’re free to show me around the estate?”

“My son is napping…”

Albrecht’s face went white. His arms went to his sides and he bowed stiffly. “My apologies, Lady Catherine. I didn’t know you were married. Here I am offering gallantries and pleasantries, and all the while thinking you were an eligible young woman. Please show me the way to the baron, and you shall quickly be rid of me. You must think me quite the brute. Never mind, Lady Catherine. I’m sure I can find my way to the back of the manor myself…”

“Albrecht!” interrupted Catherine. “I am not in the least bit insulted. Quite the contrary.” She took a deep breath. “You have not been crass or rude. Forward, yes, but I, well, I find you charming in a very continental way. I was going to say my son is napping and he usually likes a three-hour rest. I’m certain that will give me plenty of time to give you a short tour of the estate. If you are still interested.”

“But your husband?”

“Please walk with me, Albrecht. I’m going to show you the apple
trees first.” She started forward. When he didn’t follow, she looked back at him. “Join me. Honestly, it’s so rare that I meet new people I actually like.”

He continued to hesitate. “It would not do for us—”

“My husband was killed, Albrecht. Almost two years ago now.”

“I see. I’m very sorry, Lady Catherine. He cannot have been very old.”

“He was an Irishman killed in Belfast. Gunmen targeted him because he wanted Northern Ireland to remain attached to Britain. He didn’t want to be part of an independent Irish state. That’s all it took.”

Albrecht was silent a moment. “Often it takes much less.”

“Now that is out of the way, shall we walk? I find you refreshing. You were drawn to me simply because I was a young woman out among the rosebushes. I find that appealing. So many people have been introduced to me in the hopes of making a match. But you didn’t know me when you drove up. Nothing was prearranged. You are not Lord So-and-So’s heir or Lady Push-and-Pull’s youngest son coming to meet me at one of the balls I’ve attended lately. The whole business seems rather flat to me. But you? You just pulled up in your natty red convertible and asked for directions. You didn’t know me from an acorn. As I said, I find that very refreshing. So would my late husband, to tell you the truth. He hated all the stuffed shirts.”

“Well, if you insist.” Albrecht relaxed. “How do you know I’m not one of those stuffed shirts?”

“I should hardly think so. Not the way you’ve been acting for the past ten or fifteen minutes.” She smiled, her black hair shining in the warm sun. “Mum and Dad would be overjoyed to look out a window and see me strolling with a refined-looking man like yourself. So please don’t be worried about how this will look. The staff will whisper, of course, but they always whisper. Just so long as you understand I am not agreeing to anything beyond a stroll on the grounds. I have made a new friend, the friend is a man, and I am enjoying that friend’s company. Are you satisfied with this?”

He lifted an eyebrow. “You mean if I ask you to visit me at my castle on the Rhine and stay over for a month, you will refuse?”

“Most certainly.”

“Then I will not ask.” He joined her, and they walked into the apple orchard at the side of the house.

“You don’t actually have a castle on the Rhine, do you, Albrecht?” she asked, the play of light and shade under the trees dappling her face.

His hands went behind his back as they walked. “In fact I do. Or rather my father does. But I’m afraid my older brother Walter will get it.”

“And what will you inherit?”

“The old mountain chateau in Pura, Switzerland, with its sweeping views of the mountains and Lake Lugano and Italy.”

“Now you’re teasing me.”

“I’m not actually. We really do have the chateau. Would you like to see it?”

“This estate will have to suffice for the both of us for now. Come, let me show you the swans.”

“She said yes!”

“She didn’t!”

“Aye, she did!” Norah grinned. “Lady Preston promised Mrs. Longstaff we’ll have a dance in a fortnight—a servants’ ball, though we’ll not call it that. Can you imagine? The regular families from all around will be invited.”

“What about the bluebloods?” asked Sally.

“No, no, they’ll have their moment later in July when we celebrate Lord Preston’s birthday. This is just for us common folk and the Danforths.” She chewed on her thumb. “You can be sure Skitt will ask Lady Catherine for a waltz.”

“A waltz? He don’t know how to waltz.”

“Neither do you. Neither do I. We’ll have to learn before July twelfth. Such a time we’ll have. They say the Gillans have two strapping sons, though I’ve never met them all the years I’ve summered here with the lord and lady.”

“What makes you think the Gillan boys will look at the likes of us?”

“Oh, they’ll look all right. We’ll dress in such a way as’ll turn their heads right ’round. You’ll see.”

“What are the pair of you up to?” Mrs. Longstaff came bustling into the kitchen. “We have to serve in fifteen minutes. How is the schnitzel?”

“Perfect.” Norah opened the warming door of one of the large ovens. “You see?”

Mrs. Longstaff bent over and looked in. “Lovely.” She straightened. “What about the roast potatoes? What about the cabbage soup?”

“The potatoes are done to perfection as well. The soup needed more salt, so Sally tended to that.”

“Let me see!” Mrs. Longstaff took a large spoonful of the soup that was bubbling on the stove. “Mmm…well done, Sally.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“I’m not sure which you’re better at—cleaning the rooms or helping me cook.” She glanced about her. “Tavy has the table set in the dining hall. We have another mouth to feed tonight.”

Norah groaned. “Have we?”

“Oh, you’ll not groan once you’ve set eyes on him. The baron’s friend he is. Handsome young man. Handsome as a prince, I’d say. A theologian from Germany.”

“A theologian?” Norah rolled her eyes. “Why, he’d be a little shriveled man with spectacles.”

“He isn’t a shriveled old anything. He looks like one of the actors in
The Covered Wagon
.”

“I’ve not seen that film.”

“Norah Cole, how is it an old woman like myself has seen it four times and you’ve never seen it once?”

“We’re ready, ma’arm.” Tavy stood in the doorway. “Not a minute to waste.”

“Right! Norah, you run along with Tavy to the dining hall and see the shriveled-up theologian for yourself. Sally and I will send the soup up by the dumbwaiter.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. On your way now.”

“I’ve not had better schnitzel in Munich or Berlin.” Albrecht tucked into a second helping. “Who’s your chef?”

“Mrs. Longstaff.” Lord Preston lifted a forkful to his mouth. “She’s an absolute wizard.”

“Longstaff? She’s not even European?”

“Not a hint of it. Good Lancashire stock, though there may be a touch of Viking.”

“The soup was exceptional as well.” The baron leaned back in his seat and sipped his red wine. “Tomorrow’s Sunday. Where do you go for services when you’re down here, Vilhelm?”

“St. Mary’s. It’s been in Dover since just after the Norman Conquest.”

“Do you mind if Albrecht and I join you?”

“Of course not. It’s Church of England, mind you.”

The baron waved a hand. “A change of scenery is good for the soul.” He smiled at Catherine who was helping Sean with his soup. “Lady Catherine, will you attend the morning service with our crowd?”

“Certainly, Baron. It’s a beautiful stone church, and the choir and messages are inspiring.”

“How does young Sean do?”

“Very well, sir. He—whoops!” Sean spat up some soup and laughed. She dabbed at his face with a napkin. “He seems awed by the interior—all the light and stained glass—so he’s generally quiet.”

“Good for him. Perhaps he’ll make a fine theologian, eh, Albrecht?”

Norah appeared over Albrecht’s right shoulder. “Coffee, sir?”

“We can always use fine theologians, Baron. The Lord knows we have few enough of them.” Albrecht smiled up at Norah. “Nice to see you back here with your pot.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“A half cup would be just right.”

“Very good, sir.”

Lady Preston interlaced her fingers on the tabletop. “Tell me, Professor Hartmann, how would you sum up the role of the theologian in this age of skepticism?”

Albrecht put cream in his coffee. “What it has always been. To bring the supernatural into the natural world so that it is just as real as anything we perceive with our five senses.”

“Bring it in? But isn’t the supernatural always here? Isn’t it all around us? Angels and devils and God and His Holy Spirit?”

Albrecht drank his coffee. “You’re right. When I speak of bringing it in, I mean to say I wish to make it obvious and credible to the human race. That it is as present as water and air, which are vital to us, and that faith in God is equally as vital. Indeed, without it, we are lifeless and without a proper path so we do not attain to our destinies.”

“Do you distinguish between orthodoxy—right teaching—and orthopraxis—right living?”

BOOK: Beneath the Dover Sky
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