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Authors: Amanda Scott

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BOOK: Border Storm
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“Faith, sir, she ought to have been doing so these two years past.”

Sir William looked around the chamber as if to make certain that no servants had joined them before he said firmly, “I believe I understand you, madam. But we have discussed this matter before, and I do not intend to alter my decision.”

May’s lips pressed tightly together, for she knew better than to protest.

Laurie glanced at Blanche, wondering if her stepmother would dare at such a moment to speak her mind.

Blanche’s expression remained firmly under control, however, and if Sir William could read her thoughts, Laurie could not.

Mildly Blanche said, “One would not wish to gainsay you, husband, but the present situation is most unfair to May. She is quite old enough for betrothing.”

“You and I will discuss this anon,” Sir William said. “It is no topic to bandy before the servants, and I warrant I hear them coming now with our supper.”

The table was ready, and almost as an echo of Sir William’s words, three menservants entered, carrying platters of food.

The members of the family took their places at the table.

Sir William glanced at the platters’ contents and said to his carver, “We will tend to ourselves, I think. You may leave when you have served the soup and then return in half an hour to see if we require aught else.”

“Aye, master.”

While the carver ladled barley soup into bowls and a lackey set a bowl before each of them, Laurie became aware of Blanche’s searching gaze. She returned the look steadily but said nothing, knowing that her stepmother was trying to determine what punishment, if any, Sir William had meted out. From experience, however, she knew Blanche would not ask, so she turned her attention to her food.

Much of the food was cold, left over from the noontime dinner, but the soup was hot and tasty to one who had had nothing to eat since before dawn. She might have shared a crust and some cheese with Davy’s family when she and Sym rejoined them after the Englishmen had departed, but she never liked taking food from them. They had little to spare. Usually she took gifts to them from Aylewood’s kitchens, but that morning she had been in a hurry. She had not seen them in days, and had thought—wrongly, as it turned out—that an early visit would be safe.

May said abruptly, the moment the servants had left the room, “May I go to Fast Castle when you go, sir?”

Isabel shot her a startled glance, then quickly turned back to her food.

“We’ll see,” Sir William said. “The King has asked me to attend a meeting of the Scottish wardens to discuss various things that we might do to encourage peace in the Borders. I had not thought of the meeting as a social occasion, but your mother has expressed a desire to go.”

“I’ll warrant that at least some of the other wardens’ wives will be there,” Blanche said, smiling at him.

Smiling back, he said, “Aye, perhaps. Do you want to go, too, Laurie?”

Conscious of May’s hopeful gaze, and the sterner one of her stepmother, Laurie said, “It would be pleasant to visit Fast Castle, sir. I have never been there.”

In an austere tone, Blanche said, “Is it not premature to promise such a treat to a daughter who disobeys us so easily, Sir William?”

Isabel gave May another quizzical look, and Laurie’s curiosity stirred.

When May caught Laurie’s eye and looked away quickly with a flush that was discernible despite her painted cheeks, Laurie began to wonder what mischief she had been up to. She did nothing to draw attention to her, though, for she had no wish to harm May. In any event, if she expressed her thoughts aloud, she knew that Blanche’s anger would fall on her no matter what May might have done.

Sir William and Blanche continued to talk of the forthcoming meeting at Fast Castle, but Laurie paid their discussion no heed. She did not care if she went with them or not. She liked music and dancing, and if the occasion proved a festive one, she would enjoy it. But she would not enjoy her stepmother’s constant urging to encourage the attention of every marriageable gentleman who attended the gathering, regardless of age or appearance. Such occasions made her feel like the winning pony after a race, when all the men were looking it over and wondering if they could afford to buy it.

“Laura, you are not attending.” Blanche’s sharp voice drew her attention again. “Why do you stare so rudely at your sister?”

Realizing that she was still gazing blindly at May, Laurie collected herself and said, “I beg your pardon, May. I was not really looking at you. I was thinking about… about Fast Castle,” she added hastily.

“You should have been attending to our conversation,” Blanche said. “At polite gatherings, a young woman who finds her own thoughts more fascinating than the conversation around her is judged to be haughty or unbecomingly proud.”

Sir William said, “No one who knows Laurie for long finds her overly proud, madam. For that matter, I have frequently heard you complain that she is not sufficiently aware of her worth.”

“Pray, husband, do not encourage her to misbehave. It is her duty to pay heed when we discuss social occasions, for it is likewise her duty to marry. You agree with me on that head, as you have pointed out to her more than once.”

“Aye, well, she should marry,” he said.

“Indeed, she should,” Blanche agreed. “Instead, however, she behaves like a lowborn hoyden. Should word of such behavior spread beyond Aylewood, no one will want her, and since you have commanded that your younger daughters may not marry until Laura has done so, she must do so at the first opportunity.”

“Aye, well, there is no great rush about it.”

“Perhaps there is not, but if she does not marry, you, my dear sir, will find yourself supporting three daughters until the day of your death.” She crossed herself hastily, adding, “Although I certainly pray that the good Lord sees fit in His mercy to put off that dreaded day for many and many a year.”

“Aye, there’s no rush about that, either.” Turning to Laurie, he added ruefully, “I cannot argue her point, you know.”

Disliking the turn the conversation had taken, Laurie said quietly, “I have found no one with whom I can imagine spending the rest of my life.”

“But I have introduced any number of excellent gentlemen to you, lass! They are the best Scotland has to offer, yet you have scorned them all.”

“Had you simply commanded her to obey you and marry one of them, she must have done so,” Blanche said.

“I am a man of law, madam,” Sir William said testily. “I must not give an order that I lack the power to enforce. How would it look for a march warden to do such a thing?”

“You are her father,” Blanche said, as if that were that.

“But Scottish laws are not secret, madam. Most men know the marriage laws well. Certainly the parson knows them. Would you have me command her to lie to him when he asks if she has agreed to the marriage she is about to enter?”

Blanche said grimly, “In my family, husband, daughters obey their fathers in everything.”

“Aye, madam, but your father was fostered in an English household. Indeed, he was half English himself, but English ways are not my ways.”

“If you would permit me to speak freely…”

When Blanche paused meaningfully, Sir William sighed and said, “Say what you will, madam. You generally do.”

“Very well; then, I say ’tis folly to allow one daughter to wind you round her thumb whilst you cast obstacles in the paths of your other daughters’ happiness,” Blanche said bluntly.

“Godamercy, Blanche, what—?”

“What if Laura should never marry? Have you thought about that?”

“Aye, every time you cast the prospect in my teeth, I think on it,” he retorted.

“She is nearly twenty, sir. Girls normally marry as early as fourteen!”

“I’ll admit that she’s getting a bit old,” he said. “If she’s not married by the time she’s one-and-twenty, I’ll think on the matter again.”

“But—”

“That is enough,” he said sternly. “I’ve made my decision. Moreover, I’ll remind you and your daughters that the same law that lets Laurie say aye or nay to a husband gives me full authority to forbid any daughter’s marriage. Do not think you will get round me on that, madam, because you won’t.”

He scowled at Blanche and then at May.

May did not meet his gaze. She had finished eating and was sitting with her hands in her lap, looking down. Her demeanor appeared to be submissive, but Laurie saw Isabel give her yet another searching look.

Feeling guilty, Laurie wondered if May was simply trying to conceal irritation at Sir William’s stubbornness, or hers.

She would have liked to tell May that she was sorry if her waywardness was causing difficulty. Had she been able to explain her aversion to marrying, she would have liked to do that, too. However, she could not explain it beyond saying she had never met a man she wanted to marry, so she sat quietly instead, saying nothing and hoping that no one would command her to speak.

A mental picture of the red-haired man in Tarras Wood suddenly filled her mind. So clear was it that she glanced hastily around to see if anyone had noted a change in her demeanor.

No one was looking at her. Blanche’s gaze was drifting toward May, who was still looking down at her lap. Isabel was watching Blanche.

Turning to Sir William, Isabel said, “Sir, when will the English attack again? Will they murder us all, do you think?”

Sir William regarded his youngest daughter fondly and said, “They may attack again, lassie, but here at Aylewood we are as safe as mice in a mill. Our tower, sitting as it does on its rocky crag with only the one track approaching it and with someone always keeping watch, must be well nigh impregnable.”

“But if the Laird of Buccleuch and Rabbie Redcloak go after those men who attacked today, Lord Scrope’s men will attack Liddesdale again,” Isabel said. “That frightens me, because dreadful things will happen and more people will die. And Bridget says that perhaps next time the raiders will come all the way to Aylewood.”

Blanche said gently, “You must not listen to servants’ gossip, Isabel.”

“But Bridget kept crying all day. She said that she heard those horrid men had killed her brother and two of her uncles—even one of her brother’s bairns!”

“Who the devil is Bridget?” Sir William demanded.

“Your daughters’ maidservant, of course,” Blanche said. “I will speak to her directly after we have finished here, I promise you. She may have received dreadful news, but she should not repeat such sordid tales to the child, nor should she speak of persons who do not exist, like that Rabbie Redcloak.”

“Does he not exist, then?” Isabel demanded, wide-eyed. “Laurie said he does. She said that Sir Quinton Scott of Broadhaugh knows him. That is why Rabbie’s Bairns helped Lady Scott rescue Sir Quinton from Carlisle, and that is why they call her ‘Janet the Bold.’ Also, Bridget says—”

“That will do, Isabel,” Blanche said sternly. “If you cannot hold your tongue, you must retire to your bedchamber.”

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Isabel said in a small voice. “Must I go now?”

“The one who really should leave the table is Laura,” Blanche said, giving her husband a look of irritation. “She should be ashamed of telling such untruths to the child, particularly tales like that utter nonsense about Janet Scott.”

“That story is true,” Laurie said quietly. “Everyone knows that she rode to Carlisle Castle. And that
is
why they call her ‘Janet the Bold.’”

“You forget that I have become acquainted with Lady Scott,” Blanche said. “There can be no doubt that she is a gentlewoman. Moreover, you seem to forget that she is English. Her brother is England’s deputy warden for the western march.”

“Still, she—”

“Be silent,” Blanche commanded. “Doubtless people hereabouts tell foolish tales about her simply because she has the misfortune to be English and was raised in an odd way. Her mother and father died when she was small, and her brother, who they say is a harsh man, raised her himself. If she sometimes says or does odd things, ’tis doubtless because she had no mother to teach her how to go on.”

Laurie had never met Janet Scott, but she had admired her bravery from the moment she first heard about it. Now she found herself envying Janet, as well.

“There will be no more such talk,” Sir William said with a stern look at her. “Not of Janet the Bold or of Rabbie Redcloak. Do you hear me, lass?”

“Yes, sir,” Laurie said meekly as she tried to imagine what it would be like to hear herself called Laurie the Bold.

Instead, however—and particularly if Blanche had anything to say about it—people were more likely to call her Laurie the Stubbornly Unwed.

Blanche seemed to have forgotten about Isabel’s lapse, for she returned to the subject of Fast Castle, and the rest of the meal passed without incident.

As soon as Sir William excused Laurie and her sisters from the table, Laurie hurried to her bedchamber. She thought briefly of speaking to May. Then she remembered that Blanche had promised to have a talk with Bridget. At this hour, Bridget was likely to be in the bedchamber that May shared with Isabel, waiting to help them prepare to retire.

Having no wish to encounter Blanche again until time had done what it could to lessen that lady’s displeasure with her, Laurie decided she would be wiser to wait until she and May could talk privately.

Six

There came an old lady

Running out of the wood…

“Y
E’VE GOT COMPANY, SIR
Hugh,” Ned Rowan said over the noise of ponies’ hooves clattering on cobblestones, as Hugh and his men rode into the inner bailey at Brackengill Castle a short time later.

Hugh grunted in response, for the unusual activity in the yard had already informed him that company had arrived. Unfamiliar lackeys tended unfamiliar horses, and some of his lads were dragging baggage through the main entrance. He had no idea who it could be, but unexpected company was common in the Borders. Frequently, passing travelers requested hospitality, and hosts rarely denied them.

“I’d better see who it is,” he said to Rowan, adding in a louder voice, “Andrew, come and take charge of my lad here.”

BOOK: Border Storm
3.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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