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Authors: Murray Pura

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Fordyce shrugged as Lord Preston left. He extended his hand to Catherine. “May I complete this dance for you?”

“Please.”

As she placed her arm on his shoulder she said, “Tell me about your cruise, would you?”

“Of course. Well, let’s see. We darted down to Sierra Leone right from the start. We left from Devonport on November twenty-seventh last year, so I expect the captain wanted to get as warm as possible as quickly as possible.”

She laughed. “A sensible British captain.”

“Right. John Thurm is his name. We made it to Cape Town, South Africa, for Christmas, had a break, headed on for Zanzibar, Tanzania, and then anchored at Singapore in February. I remember the dates and times because I keep a journal. After that it was Australia and New Zealand—Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland. Then full-steam ahead for Fiji and Hawaii.”

“You terrible man!” Catherine felt free enough to tease him. “No wonder you have such a golden tan. We’re suffering through our English weather, and there you are in Hawaii of all places.”

“Defending Britain, Lady Catherine.”

“Indeed. And where did the trade winds take you next, Leftenant Commander?”

“All sails set for Canada’s West Coast. Beautiful great trees on Vancouver Island, the cities of Victoria and Vancouver are gems, then down the coast to California and San Francisco—”

“Still defending England?” she interrupted.

“Every morning and every night. And your ladyship, of course.”

“Of course.”

“So it was necessary to get to Panama and Jamaica to defend you and the flag. Then we went on to South America to do more of the same—Valparaiso, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro—”

“Oh stop!” She was laughing. “I hardly know you and I feel like slapping you. I’d love to see all those places even if it took a lifetime. And you saw them all in a few months.”

“We hope to do the tour again next year.”

“You do not.”

“The Mediterranean, in any case. Why winter here when you can winter in Malta?”

“You’re not a man; you’re a beast.”

He stopped dancing. “There’s the song done.”

“And that’s it?”

“Why, would you like another go ’round?”

“I don’t know why, but I do. I want to hear about Victoria and San Francisco and Jamaica, for starters. I may want to hear about more after that.”

The music began again, and Fordyce swirled her about the floor. “I don’t think I can figure you out.”

“What a dreary woman I would be if you could. We’ve been together less than an hour.”

“Well, isn’t Lady Catherine having the time of her life,” Sally commented as she stood watching the naval officer whisk Catherine about the floor under the strings of electric lights.

“Thank the Lord, that’s all I can say.” Norah gulped at her punch. “She moped around Ashton Park for nigh on two years till I thought she’d joined the ghosts in the attic. A few weeks here, and her spirits have gone from night to day. It’s wonderful.”

“I thought she liked that German fellow…the teacher.”

“So we all liked him.”

“And she clearly likes this naval officer.”

“Why shouldn’t she? Look at him.”

“One minute she’s a nun, and the next she’s the life of the party.”

“Stop fussing, Sally. I’d hardly call her the life of the party. Just a lonely widow who decided it was time to unwrap the mourning band from her soul. I’m sure the lord and lady are thrilled.” Norah put a glass of punch in Sally’s hand. “Drink up. You’re all hot and bothered.”

“I am not hot and bothered,” Sally retorted, but she drained the glass in a few seconds.

“We’ve had a fine night, and it’s not over yet!”

Sally made a sour face. “We neither of us got two dances in a row from the same man. It’s been first this one, and then the other one. I
can’t remember all their names, and they’ll never remember mine. They all want to dance with the Knight girls. Those are the ones what will have the lads coming to call.”

Norah watched one of the Knight sisters flash past on the arm of a scarlet-uniformed army officer. “Don’t be so sure. They’re too tall and thin so far as I can see. Men don’t like that.”

“They’ve not been off the dance floor all night, Norah.”

“But it’s the same few blokes over and over again, d’ya see? A lot of men like sturdier stuff.”

“For heaven’s sakes, is that what you and I are? You make us sound like Holsteins.”

“Didn’t I tell you?” Norah suddenly crowed. “Wasn’t I right?”

Sally pushed back strands of damp blonde hair that had fallen into her eyes. “What are you going on about now?”

Two army officers in scarlet greeted them with short bows.

“Ladies,” said the one, “we’ve had our eyes on the pair of you all night and have finally drummed up the nerve to approach.”

“Please don’t refuse us,” pleaded the other man with a warm smile.

“Why, we would never do that.” Sally returned the smile and slipped her arm through that of the taller of the two men. “If you’ve been waiting all night, we must make up for lost time. How will three dances do you, sir?”

“Only three, m’lady?”

“Why, I’m sure there should be more if we find we don’t tread all over each other’s feet.”

Sally and the officer went onto the floor, leaving Norah with the shorter and stockier one who, nevertheless, continued to offer her one of the brightest smiles she had ever seen. He extended his arm. “I’d be honored, ma’am,” he said. “You’re lovely.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I do. I truly have waited all night. I’ve not had a single dance.”

Norah put her arm through his. “Not a single dance? I don’t know if I believe that, leftenant.”

“I swear. I just kept thinking,
What would it be like to spin you about the room
?”

“You’re not interested in my friend?”

“Ah, no. Not my type at all. But Squinty, that is, Leftenant Park, he’s happy as a clam, isn’t he?”

“What about the Knight girls?”

“I don’t know them. I just wanted to meet you. Shall we dance?” He took her onto the floor. Whatever awkwardness had existed when he first spoke to her was gone once they moved about. He never stumbled or bumped into others. While he was not what Norah considered a smooth dancer, he was steady and sure-footed. After a few minutes she trusted him enough to let him take her wherever he wanted on the floor.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Norah Cole, sir.”

“And I’m Leftenant Bruce Milne. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Cole.”

“As I am pleased to make yours, Leftenant Milne.”

“Bruce.”

She smiled. “Bruce it is.”

Fairburn strode down to the pond as dawn swept over the fields. He found Skitt huddled in his bush gripping his cricket bat. “No luck then?”

“Not with the poachers.” Skitt’s eyes and face were bright. “My night on the dance floor was another matter.”

Fairburn squatted by him. “Ah, your grand moment with Lady Catherine. Well, not to burst your bubble, but she didn’t exactly pine away after you left.”

“What d’ya mean?”

“Others asked her to dance. She couldn’t very well turn them all away.”

“Who? Who did she dance with?” Skitt’s eyes narrowed. “Did she dance with you?”

“Me? I didn’t set a boot on the dance floor all night. Oh, it was a host of army officers and navy men.”

“Who in particular?”

“Why, what are you planning to do with him? Pistols at dawn?”

Skitt’s eyes grew darker. “What’s his name?”

“Steady as she goes, lad. A naval officer named Terrence Fordyce. He serves on
HMS Hood
.”

“Does she like him?”

“Well now, you know I didn’t think to march up and demand that information from her, Master Skitt. But you can if you like.”

Skitt suddenly stood up clutching his bat, a blanket, and his leather flask. “It doesn’t matter. I shall continue on. We had a wonderful time together last night. We’ll have a wonderful time at her father’s birthday party as well.”

“How do you, a groundskeeper, intend to get into a party for the nobility?”

“Lady Catherine said she’d slip me in.”

“Slip you in? Under the door? Down the chimney? They’ll all see you, Skitt. They’ll know who you are and who you aren’t. D’ya want to risk getting thrown out on your ear or even sacked?”

Skitt tilted up his chin. “Faint heart never won fair lady.”

Catherine sat up in bed, sheets at her neck, arms wrapped about her bent knees, and glanced out the window. Two weeks had passed since the servants’ ball, and a change had come over her. Last night, after her second official date with Terrence Fordyce, she’d collapsed into bed without drawing the curtains. Now she noticed the first streaks of sunlight winking off the dew on the grass. Her room was on the third floor and faced south so she could just make out the sparkle of the Channel at Dover. It was a perfect summer morning, and she felt like a perfect summer morning inside. It was the most light and joy she’d experienced since her husband’s death.

You’d like him, Albert
.

Well, Cat, he seemed like a good sort, right enough. You know I’ve wanted you to get past your grieving and find a man who’ll be a good father to Sean. Fordyce might fit the bill
.

It’s too soon to say anything about that. Albert, I do so miss you still
.

But you must have a life, Cat. That’s what I want for you
.

Would it be Fordyce then?

Mind, I liked the other chap too. Hartmann seems a solid type. If only he wasn’t German. That spoils things
.

Albert, what does it matter? The war’s over. The Germans were our allies once against the French. You do remember Waterloo, don’t you?

Albert’s voice grew silent in her head. Continuing to gaze out the window, Catherine prayed, thought a bit, remembered Terrence’s tanned face as he told her about Vancouver Island, and saw Albrecht’s face, white and strong in the dark of the front porch. She closed her eyes. “Life is happening far too fast,” she said softly. “One week I’m the grieving widow, and the next week I’m single and flattered by the attention of beautiful men sweeping me in a beautiful silk gown over the dance floor.

“People seem to like the change. Mother and Father certainly do. I don’t know how I feel about it all though. Yes, it’s spring and summer in my soul. It’s spectacular. But marriage in half a year or a year? A father for Sean? I can’t see it. I’m not quite sure who Catherine Moore is at the moment, and it’s going to take a while to sort her out—never mind choosing between men as lovely as Terrence Fordyce and Albrecht Hartmann.” She lay back on the bed, eyes still closed, and murmured, “Quite honestly, I really don’t know what they see in me. Maybe I should take my vows—become a nun. That would solve everything, would it not?”

4

July, 1924

Liverpool

“Look, I’d like to win, but the truth is I’m happy if either of us wins.”

BOOK: Beneath the Dover Sky
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