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I

Even after a year of marriage, breakfast was the happiest time of the day for the Honorable Freddy Standen. And this July morning in London was no exception. He came jauntily downstairs, made a minute adjustment to his neckcloth, and hurried to join his wife Kitty in the breakfast-parlor. Her deep rose morning gown, though simply cut, perfectly set off her brunette coloring. But what he noticed first was her ravishing smile, the one she kept just for him, as she turned her face up for a kiss.

“Good morning, my love,” she began as she handed him his coffee. “I’ve had an interesting letter this morning.”

“Eh? Everything all right at Arnside?” To everyone’s astonishment, Kitty’s one-time governess the former Miss Fishguard, was expecting an interesting event. “Uncle Matthew and Fish in good health?”

“Well, I suppose so. This letter is from Hannah.” The new Lady Dolphinton, settled with Freddy’s cousin Lord Dolphinton on his Irish estate, wrote infrequent but informative updates on their progress there. “She writes that they are planning a trip to England in the near future. Says they have a reliable man in their employ to look after the estate and the horses” She frowned over the letter, which was written in a minuscule hand. “Says they need to see their man of business. They’re engaging an agent to handle the sale of their horses here.”

Freddy nodded. “Makes sense. She has things well in hand. Sensible girl.”

“She’d like my help in selecting a few new clothes, including a riding habit.”

“Take her to Clark’s for the riding habit, Kit. Knowing her she’ll want something sensible. Good tailor is just what she needs. None of your elegant dressmakers.”

Kit chose to ignore this. “At any rate, they’ve arranged to stay at the Bath on Piccadilly. Hannah writes that it will provide Dolph with the peace and quiet he needs. He is somewhat anxious about returning to London.”

“Understandable,” replied Freddy. “I’d be anxious, too, if I had to face that old dragon.” He was referring to the Dowager Countess of Dolphinton, Dolph’s mother. “When are they arriving?”

“The last week in July.”

“Dashed inconvenient, Kit! Shooting starts the twelfth of August, and we’ll want to be at Legerwood by then.”

“She knows that,” replied Kitty, glancing at the letter again. “And she apologizes. It was necessary to wait until the last of the spring foals were born. If need be, I can stay with Meg for a few days. Meg’s not planning to go to Legerwood until the first of September.”

“Don’t like leaving you in London with Jack hanging about. Too much of a loose-screw. Come to think of it, don’t like leaving Meg here, either.” Freddy had not forgotten Jack’s promise to serve him trick-and-tie after the incidents at the Garsfield Rectory almost two years ago. Freddy had managed to score a triple victory over his cousin, Mr. Westruther. First, he had rescued Miss Olivia Broughty, who seemed destined to become Jack’s unwilling mistress. Second, he had landed a square hit to the redoubtable Westruther jaw, knocking Jack down in front of a roomful of people. But the worst and final insult was that Freddy had captured the heart, and won the hand, of Kitty Charing, whom Jack had always regarded as his own personal property and future bride. Freddy Standen knew full well that Jack always had his revenge, and even after so long a time, he was uneasy. And he had never been comfortable with Jack’s dangling after Freddy’s sister, Meg.

Kitty set down her cup. “I’m surprised you still regard him as a problem.”

“Got a long memory, Kit. And he never forgets an insult. Not likely to turn m’back on him, and you shouldn’t either. I’ll turn something up. Dashed well have to. We’ll brush through it all right.”

Freddy was as good as his word. He tapped on the door of her dressing room as she was preparing for their evening out. “Told you I’d come up with something,” he began as he settled himself on the sofa. “Nothing else for it. We’ll hope they can finish up their business before the twelfth, but whether they do or they don’t, we’ll stay here in town until they do. Then invite ‘em to Legerwood. Already fixed it with m’mother. As for Meg, don’t know what I was thinking. Buckhaven is at home now, and I don’t have to worry about her.”

“Oh, Freddy, that will answer perfectly!” Kitty sat down beside him. “You’re always thinking of other people.” She took his hand. “Now then, would you mind terribly if we didn’t go out this evening? We could have a little supper sent up here.”

“Suits me fine, Kit. Suit even better if you’d send your dresser away.” And when the woman had gone, he went on, “You look very becoming in that dressing gown. Look even more becoming out of it.”

The following morning, Kitty was expected at Meg’s. She never tired of seeing her nephew, the future Lord Buckhaven, a promising young man not yet put in short coats. And since the present Lord Buckhaven had returned in triumph from his visit to China, she supposed it would not be long before the nursery at the house in Berkeley Square played host to a second occupant. She assumed her own turn at motherhood would come soon enough.

As they waited for the nurse to bring in her nephew, Kitty acquainted Meg with all the details of the Dolphintons’ visit.

“Gracious!” exclaimed Meg. “It’s amazing what a little economy and management can accomplish.” She lowered her voice. “My mother says that Aunt Augusta is forced to do the best she can with her jointure, which cannot be much. Yet she insists on rattling around in that enormous house when she could settle in something much more suitable without anyone’s thinking anything of it.” She smiled. “Hannah’s got her well in hand.”

They were interrupted, not by the nursemaid, but by Skelton the butler, who threw open the doors and intoned, “Mr. Westruther.”

“Jack!” cried Meg as he kissed her hand. “I haven’t seen you this age. I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

“I could never do that, Cousin. It’s just that lately you’ve had another young man in your life, and he seems to require a great deal of your attention.”

He turned to Kitty, but rather than taking her outstretched hand, he pinched her chin between his thumb and forefinger in that proprietary way of his, saying, “And here’s our Kitty, fine as fivepence.”

Kitty’s color did not rise, as it had so many times in the past. Instead, she went dead white, recoiling slightly, but unmistakably, and recovering before Meg had noticed anything amiss. But Jack noticed. The laughter disappeared from his eyes, replaced by an angry coldness. Still, his voice was as light as ever as he went on. “So what brings you here today, Mrs. Standen?”

Meg broke in. “Kitty was just telling me that Dolph and Hannah plan a visit at the end of July,” she said gaily.

“Ah, the imbecile and his keeper, the mushroom. I shall be counting the days.”

Kitty was spared from saying anything by the arrival of the baby, and Jack left soon after.

Like her husband, Kitty had acquired the habit of taking the time to think about difficult problems. When she returned home, she retired to the small, sunny parlor at the back of the house that was set aside for her use. Here she threw herself into a chair and brooded.

She had decided that complete honesty was the best policy when Freddy found her there much later in the afternoon. “What’s amiss?” he asked, coming to sit beside her. “You don’t look quite the thing, Kit.”

She managed to stay calm as she related the story. “I just don’t like him--just don’t want him touching me,” she concluded. “As if I were his pet dog. It’s--it’s revolting, that’s what it is. And he called Hannah a--a mushroom!” Freddy took her hand. “And he was angry, Freddy. He was very, very angry with me.”

“Mustn’t worry, Kit. I don’t know what his lay is, but I’ll find him out. Can’t send you to Legerwood with Dolph and Hannah’s visit in the works. You and I will just have to spend a lot of time together over the next few days. Won’t be so bad, will it?” He smiled down at her as he gently pulled her to her feet. “Now, need to get dressed, both of us. We don’t want to miss our engagement with Stonehouse and Miss Waring. That new farce, and supper at the Piazza should take your mind off all this.”

The two weeks before the Dolphintons’ visit were occupied with planning for it. Kitty conferred at length with both Meg and Lady Legerwood concerning entertainment. The three ladies decided that with Dolph’s uncertain temperament, large parties were to be avoided. Instead, they planned a series of intimate family dinners, and theatre-and-supper parties. Enough, as Lady Legerwood said, to make them feel welcome without scaring Foster to death. Kitty--and Freddy--were ready and waiting when the day came and the butler announced the Dolphintons.

“Freddy!” cried Dolphinton, extending his hand. “Very glad to see you. And Kitty, how do you do? You look well.” There was genuine warmth in his eyes, and his face was animated. The hand that shook Kitty’s was both warm and dry. Kitty and Hannah embraced and exchanged greetings.

“Care to step into the library, Dolph? I’ve just gotten a case of Madeira. Thought you might like to help me sample it while the ladies get re-acquainted.” Dolphinton followed him out, pausing to bestow a smile on his wife.

“Hannah, you have worked miracles!” exclaimed Kitty. “I’ve never seen Dolph so--so--”

“Natural?” finished Hannah? “Yes, there’s a great deal of improvement, Country life certainly agrees with him, and he’s a born horseman. He’s filled out and gotten stronger, too. Not as skinny as he was. But I have to say,” Here she broke off, frowning and staring at her lap.

“You have to say…”

Hannah squared her shoulders and raised her eyes to Kitty before continuing. “I have to say that Miss Fishguard--eh, Mrs. Penicuik--had more than a little to do with it.” She began removing her York tan gloves as though preparing for some sort of work. “Foster and I spent a very nice honeymoon at Arnside. Your Uncle Matthew made us welcome. You might say he was delighted that we had tied the knot in the very teeth of Foster’s mama. Miss Fishguard can be a little odd, but you know that.” She paused and drew a breath. “One morning she happened to come into the breakfast-room. Foster was about to swallow his Restorative Pill.”

“Restorative pill?”

“Yes. Said he had been taking one every morning before breakfast for as long as he could remember. Said his mama gave them to him and that they were supposed to help him behave better.”

“Behave better?”

“Well, Miss Fishguard went on at a great rate about Nature being the best physician of all. Pressed for a natural and wholesome diet. Lots of fresh fruit, plain cooking, and so-on. She spouted so much poetry at us that Foster and I agreed that while he remained at Arnside he wouldn’t take the Restorative Pills, and we’d see how he went on.”

“And how did he go on?”

“In three or four days--less than a se’nnight--he began to be calmer, less anxious, more cheerful.”

“And I take it the improvement has continued.” Kitty was nearly at a loss for words, her mind in a whirl.

“Yes, up to a point. Foster will never be a man of genius. His mental powers will never be great. But he has become a man of good sense who can make his way in the world. He has lost a great deal of his fear. His health has improved. He hasn’t had a Restorative Pill since that day at Arnside.”

“You astonish me, Hannah.”

“There’s one other thing. Before we left for Ireland, I called at an apothecary shop and inquired. There is no compound one can purchase that is known as Restorative Pills. It was the apothecary’s opinion that the remedy was especially compounded for Foster, possibly by another apothecary.”

“Or by a physician.” Kitty was interrupted by the return of the gentlemen.

Hannah stood. “We must go. We’ve yet to call on Lady Buckhaven--eh, Meg. And we need at least to leave cards on Lady Legerwood.” She sighed. “And Foster’s mother, of course.”

“M’mother is looking forward to seeing you both,” said Freddy.

The Dolphintons were engaged for the morrow with their man of business. “The first of several meetings,” observed Hannah. But they happily accepted Kitty’s invitation to dinner. As the two couples waited on the flagway for the footman to find a hack for Dolph and Hannah, Kitty managed to ask quietly, “Do you still have those pills?”

“Yes, safe and sound right here.” Hannah patted her reticule

“Would you trust me with them?” Wordlessly, Hannah handed over the small pasteboard box. With that, the hack arrived, and the Dolphintons were off.

Freddy was the first to speak as he and Kitty turned to go into the house. “Must say, quite a change in old Dolph,” he began. “Don’t know when I’ve seen him so. . .”

“Reasonable?” Kitty finished for him.

“Reasonable. That’s the dandy. Carried on an entire half-hour’s conversation and never repeated himself once. Talked about these hunters he’s breeding and training. Carriage horses as well, in match-pairs. Dashed if it didn’t all make perfect sense. Hannah’s worked wonders with him.”

“Yes, she has,” replied Kitty. “But it isn’t all Hannah.” She followed him into the small room they grandly referred to as his “library,” and when she had shut the door, she opened her hand to reveal the tiny box. “A great deal of it has to do with these.”

Freddy raised his quizzing-glass and opened the box to reveal a quantity of small white pills.

“They’re called Restorative Pills,” Kitty began, closing the box.

“And Hannah has been giving them to Dolph?”

“No, quite the opposite. Dolph stopped taking them almost as soon as they arrived at Arnside for their honeymoon. According to him, he’s been taking one every morning for years. Fish persuaded him to stop. But there’s more. Hannah consulted an apothecary, and he told her that someone must have been compounding the pills especially for Dolph.”

Freddy closed the box, pocketed it, and took both of Kitty’s hands in his. “I can see what you’re thinking,” he began. “Most natural thing in the world. But we could catch cold at this, Kit. Not our affair. And besides, dashed difficult to prove what’s in the pills or who made ‘em.”

Kitty frowned but did not protest. Freddy, in his roundabout way, had gotten right to the heart of the matter. She reminded herself that he usually did.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” Freddy continued. “Good to see Dolph looking so well. Enjoy the visit. Enjoy taking ‘em both down to Legerwood. Make it our business to see they have a good time. I’ll find a way to keep my eye on Dolph as well as you ladies while we’re still in town.”

Kitty held his hand to her cheek in that engaging way she had. “I’m so glad I married a man with good sense. Can you lock those pills away safely?”

“Rather send ‘em to Jericho,” replied Freddy. “But I’ll keep ‘em safe.” He went to his desk and locked the pills in a middle compartment.

Kitty admitted to some anxiety over the next night’s dinner “en famille.” In reality she needn’t have worried. Lord Buckhaven, while he was certainly a man of the world, was also a diplomat and had been thoroughly briefed beforehand by Meg. Lord Legerwood, as Freddy was fond of saying, was always “up to every rig and row in town” and had resigned himself to a somewhat tedious evening. As for Lady Legerwood, that formidable mother of six, Dolphinton had always awakened her maternal instincts, and she was graciously happy to do what she could. Kitty admitted to herself that she was pleased as she led the ladies to the drawing-room.

“Now,” said Meg as they took their seats. “We can converse on a subject near and dear to my heart. Kitty’s, too. Shopping!”

The ladies had soon organized the first of several shopping expeditions to Grafton House, where Hannah could purchase not only the new cloth for her gowns but also such requirements as stockings and handkerchiefs. The riding-habit would be bespoken at Clark’s, in accordance with Freddy’s suggestion. A second excursion would be devoted to shoes, boots, bonnets, and other necessities.

They soon had their heads together over the fashion plates, and it was not long before the gentlemen came in, full of plans of their own. It was agreed that Freddy would escort Hannah, Kitty, and Meg on their shopping expedition. Lord Buckhaven was to wait on Dolph at the hotel, as he had expressed the desire to add one or two good hunters to his stable. Lady Legerwood would send a note around to Mrs. Mallory the sewing-woman, and Lord Legerwood found himself at liberty. And finally, the Dolphintons accepted an invitation to visit Lord and Lady Legerwood for the duration of their stay in London. They were to remove there the following afternoon.

The tea-tray was brought in shortly after these complicated plans were agreed to, and the party broke up after tea.

Meg and Lord Buckhaven strolled toward their home in Berkeley Square, which was situated within an easy walk. “From all you said, I expected to be attending a nursery-supper,” said Buckhaven. “Dolphinton’s quite conversable. A bit slow to catch on now and then, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Hannah has wrought quite a change in him,” replied Meg. “Either that or it’s all that good country air. I’m at a loss to explain it.”

In bed later, Kitty turned to her husband. “Freddy, you are the downy one,” she said, causing her husband’s eyebrows to go up.

“Not the thing, Kit. Call me that in private, but it ain’t the thing to say in company.” He paused for a moment. “Besides, what do you mean?”

“Only that you’ve arranged things so that Dolph and Hannah are always under guard, and so are Meg and I. How on earth did you manage it?”

“Assure you, Kit. Easiest thing in the world. Toddled round to White’s and had a word with m’father, then found Buckhaven at home.” He blew out the candle.

The next day’s shopping expedition was both successful and uneventful, and as the day was fine and not too warm, Freddy proposed a treat of ices at Gunter’s, not far from Meg’s home. As they enjoyed their refreshments, Kitty remembered to ask, “Hannah, how was your visit to Lady Dolphinton?”

Hannah’s face grew red. “Lady Dolphinton was not at home when we called.” She looked down at her hands as she went on. “I couldn’t help noticing that Mr. Westruther came up the street as we were getting into the hack. He was admitted.”

“Jack?” Freddy began. “Calling on Aunt Augusta?”

“So it appeared to me,” replied Hannah. “I only saw him the one evening at Garsfield Rectory, but I’m not likely to forget him.”

“No, I suppose not.” Freddy’s eyes took on a vacant look for a moment before he said, “Wouldn’t refine on it too much. The old dragon probably belongs in Bedlam.”

“I shan’t,” said Hannah. “But I tell you to your head, we’re not going near her again. Too much distress for Foster, and I won’t have him falling back into the old ways.”

“She’s an unnatural mother,” said Meg with a shiver. “And my own mother will be the first to tell you so.”

It took all of Freddy’s formidable powers of address to turn the subject away from Jack until they had finished their treat. His sigh of relief was almost audible as they set Meg down at her home across the square. Hannah was next, and as the last parcel and bandbox were carried into the Legerwood house, Kitty and Hannah made plans to meet there the following afternoon when the seamstress was to call.

The Standens were quiet during the short ride home, and when they entered the house, Freddy said, “Supper upstairs again?” Kitty smiled gratefully, and they climbed the stairs arm in arm.

Later, in the safety of their own bed, Kitty shared her fears with Freddy. “I can’t help worrying,” she began. “There are just--just too many worrisome things.” Freddy gathered her into his arm and made an “I’m listening” sound. “First of all, there was that incident at Meg’s. Then we learned about the Restorative Pills. And now, Jack is calling on Aunt Augusta when she won’t even receive her own son, her own flesh and blood!”

Freddy looked down at her. “Not going to bamboozle you, Kit. There’s cause for concern, especially if Jack and Aunt Augusta have formed some sort of alliance.” He paused for thought. “Thing of it is, I’ve been over this with m’father. There’s nothing Aunt Augusta can do within the law. She can’t have Dolph declared insane. Can’t lay her hands on his fortune, either--such as it is. Can’t do anything about his marriage. He’s of age--do whatever he dashed well pleases. As for those pills . . . they don’t look good, but there’s nothing we can do about them. Just keep Dolph from ever taking one again.”

“And what about Jack?”

“No question, he’s a loose-screw.”

“But I think he’s gotten worse, Freddy.”

A line suggestive of a scowl appeared on Freddy’s brow. “You just never saw him at his worst, Kit. Dashed sorry you have to see him that way now.”

“Do you think it would be better for Dolph and Hannah to return to Ireland now?”

Freddy gathered her closer. “If they leave now, Kit, they might just as well never come back here again.”

The remaining days until August 12th passed in a whirlwind. Hannah survived tedious dress fittings and several more shopping excursions. A reliable agent was located, vetted, and engaged by the Dolphintons, who also had several more engagements with their man of business. And the family made certain that there were several evening appearances around town at plays and suppers.

“I feel much easier,” Hannah confided to Kitty one afternoon as they rested from yet another shopping trip. “Only another two or three years, and Foster will have a respectable independence. We may never be wealthy, but we can continue to enjoy a good, simple life on the estate.”

“And what of Aunt Augusta?”

“She may continue to rattle around in that great barn of hers for as long as it suits her. But she’ll not come next or near Foster while I can prevent it, and so I promise you. Lady Legerwood is right to call her an unnatural mother.”

II

Lord and Lady Buckhaven had courageously volunteered to entertain the nursery party, consisting of Meg and Freddy’s two younger sisters, their youngest brother, and all the attendant nurses, governesses, nursemaids, and abigails. The gentlemen, having put their heads together, deemed it best for the youngsters to stay in town until Lord Legerwood was satisfied that all was well in the country. So it was that the great procession of chaises, coaches, wagons, and other conveyances that set forth from the Legerwoods’ town house on Mount Street on 8th August was somewhat diminished, though still imposing. Freddy and Kitty left London fairly quietly on the morning of 10th August in a chaise and four with dresser, valet, and trunks following in a hired traveling coach. They broke their journey at a good coaching inn, and noon the following day found them bowling up the drive towards the comfortable, sprawling house at Legerwood.

Freddy’s parents hastened out to greet them, and they soon found themselves being ushered into a comfortable saloon where Dolph and Hannah awaited. The group settled around a luncheon of cold meats and fruit.

“I thought we’d stroll down to the stables after luncheon,” said Lord Legerwood. “Dolphinton remembers Brutus, and he’d like to get re-acquainted.”

“Meanest horse God ever created,” opined Freddy.

Dolph smiled. “He’s like a foot-soldier. Only happy when he knows who’s in charge.” He turned to his wife. “And Hannah’s going to have a few lessons. Never got very far teaching her myself.”

“You want Penning,” said Freddy. “Head groom here. He put all of us up on our first ponies. Never knew such a patient man.”

“It’s all arranged,” replied Hannah. “My first lesson with Penning is first thing tomorrow morning. I’ll go out before breakfast.”

Lady Legerwood broke in. “When Penning says Hannah is ready, we might venture on a picnic to the Old Grove. It’s not but a few miles from here. An easy, pleasant ride for her, and the rest of us can ride or go in the carriage as we please. We’ll have a house full within the next few days, so there will be plenty of picnics and treats in store.” She stood and turned to Kitty. “Now, my love. Let me take you up to your room. I’m sure you’ll want to rest for a while this afternoon.”

The next morning found the household bustling at an uncommonly early hour as the gentlemen prepared for the first day of shooting and Hannah prepared for her first riding lesson. Dolph, whose mother had never permitted him to learn to shoot, was anxious to accompany Hannah to the stables. Hannah, looking somewhat uncomfortable in the new riding habit, was doing her best to dissuade him.

“Dolph,” said Kitty. “Come and have breakfast with me. I thought you might accompany me on a walk to the lake afterwards. We can easily stroll from there to the stables and meet Hannah and Penning.”

Dolph smiled and offered her his arm. “I’m going to want a word or two with Penning after the lesson.”

A little more than an hour later they had breakfasted, admired the lake, and walked to the stables, where they found Hannah and Penning in earnest conversation.

“Lady Dolphinton did well, sir,” observed Penning. “She has a good seat, and she is learning to control the mare without too much difficulty. Most important, she’s no fear of either the horse or of riding it.”

“And you weren’t afraid, m’dear?” Dolph could not keep himself from putting an arm around Hannah’s shoulder.

“Not in the slightest, Foster. I would like to have ridden for another hour.”

“Plenty of time for that, my lady,” observed Penning. “Shall I see you at the same time tomorrow? I’m thinking we’ll leave the paddock and take a little ride down the lane.”

As the three turned toward the house, they saw a groom bringing in a good-looking pair of matched chestnuts drawing a smart curricle. Kitty frowned. “That looks like Jack’s curricle.”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied the groom. “Mr. Westruther’s. He’s just arrived a few minutes ago.”

Still frowning, Kitty led the way through the shrubbery to the front of the house. There, in the hall, were Lord and Lady Legerwood, Freddy’s younger brother Charlie, and Jack Westruther. Lord Legerwood sent Kitty a speaking glance over the heads of the others. “Charlie has invited Jack to stay with us for a few days,” he said to the newcomers.

Jack turned with his usual gracious smile. It was not reflected in his eyes. “Ah, Lord and Lady Dolphinton. How do you do?” He shook hands with each of them in turn. His eyes widened imperceptibly as they took in Hannah’s attire. “How goes the, ah, horse business?”

“Well, thanks, Cousin Jack.” Dolph returned the greeting evenly and shook hands firmly.

“And Mrs. Standen. Or may I continue to call you Cousin Kitty?”

“Just Kitty will be fine, Jack.” Kitty kept her face a mask, smiling as graciously as she could.

“Charlie,” Lady Legerwood broke in. “Conduct Jack upstairs to his room. Hannah, I’m sure you will want to go upstairs as well.”

Kitty folded Hannah’s arm under her own. “I’m also going up. I’ll go with you.”

Kitty found Freddy emerging from the dressing-room that adjoined their shared bedchamber. He had gotten out of his shooting clothes and was dressed in the perfect attire for a gentleman visiting the country--riding coat, buckskin breeches, and boots polished to a glossy sheen. “Did you see Jack?” Kitty began without preamble.

“Saw him when we came in a few minutes ago. Nobody thought to warn Charlie, I suppose.”

“He was in the downstairs hall when Dolph and I came in with Hannah from the stable.”

“And how was that?”

“Hannah was quiet. Dolph handled himself with complete propriety.” Kitty bit her lip, thinking. “I don’t suppose Hannah and Dolph know our thoughts. Hannah took him in dislike at Garsfield, and he’s always been unkind to Dolph.”

“Let’s keep our thoughts to ourselves.” Freddy offered her his arm. “If you’re ready, we’d best get downstairs. I think m’father wants to see us.”

Lord Legerwood waited for them in his comfortable library and began without ceremony. “To begin, Charlie had no idea. He simply ran into Jack at White’s and invited him down for a few days of shooting. I shall take it upon myself to acquaint Charlie with our concerns and to enlist his assistance in keeping an eye on our guests.” He rose from his chair and began pacing the room. “Second, we will not deviate from our plans, such as they are. The gentlemen will continue to go out to shoot in the mornings. Hannah will continue her morning riding lessons with Penning. Kitty, my dear, that leaves you, for the most part, to entertain Dolph. As long as you stay on this side of the estate, you’ll be away from any hunting. The coverts are at some distance from here.”

“Need to remember that we’re in the dark on this,” added Freddy. “Aside from the pills, no idea what’s in store. No idea even if anything is in store. Could be anything from the cut direct to cold-blooded murder. No way to determine it. It’s a dashed shame we don’t know why Jack was visiting Aunt Augusta, but we can’t do anything about it.”

Lord Legerwood was often astonished at his heir’s insights. “No, we can’t, Frederick. Now we should go and join the others for luncheon.”

“Just one more question, Sir.” Freddy held up his hand. “Did Jack bring his man with him?”

“He drove down with his groom,” replied Lord Legerwood. “I understand his valet is traveling by stagecoach and will need to be met at the George. Why is that of interest?”

“Never liked either one of ‘em.”

The next few days passed uneventfully in the usual late-summer round of shooting, picnics, and informal evening gatherings for cards and dancing. Jack Westruther seemed remarkably subdued, behaving with distant courtesy to the Dolphintons and to Freddy and Kitty. Hannah continued her morning lessons with Penning, and Dolph continued to monitor her progress closely.

One afternoon at the usual casual luncheon, Hannah announced quietly that the next day, she and Penning would ride to the Old Grove and back. Her success would signal a readiness to proceed with plans for the picnic excursion. “And shall I ride out with you?” asked Dolph?

“No, Foster.” Hannah smiled over at him. “Let’s let it be a surprise. I think you’ll be pleased with my progress.”

Jack announced his plan of driving to the village after luncheon and asked the assembled ladies if they had any commissions for him. No one did, and he left almost immediately to order his curricle.

Several neighboring families had been invited for dinner and an evening of cards, and the family at Legerwood had already retired to dress when Jack returned from his errand in the village. He joined the rest of the group in the drawing-room a few minutes after the guests had arrived. During the course of the evening, he engaged his dinner partner in light conversation, sat down to whist after dinner, and generally made himself agreeable.

The following morning was cool and overcast, though it did not appear that rain was in the offing. Freddy was to accompany Lord Legerwood on one of his periodic tours of the estate, to be undertaken in the company of the steward. Charlie, Jack, and several of the other gentlemen intended to go shooting, and Hannah had already announced her plans to ride to the Old Grove with Penning. Kitty and Dolph found themselves at leisure, and Kitty planned to assist Lady Legerwood with writing invitations to the picnic, which was set for early the following week. After an early breakfast, everyone dispersed.

Kitty finished her task for Lady Legerwood shortly before noon and found Dolph waiting in the front hall. He smiled engagingly. “What say we ride out to meet Hannah and Penning,” he said. “They should be on their way back by now.”

She smiled up at him. “Go to the stables and ask them to saddle Belinda for me. I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.”

III

Dolph tossed her lightly into the saddle before mounting Brutus, the horse everyone hated but him. Kitty was a competent, though uninspired horsewoman, and Dolph allowed her to set the easy pace they maintained for a couple of miles. The overcast had not burned off, and both riders found the breeze cool and pleasant. Kitty thought she could hear the faint report of the hunters’ guns from some distant area of the estate. Dolph’s eyes strained ahead for a glimpse of Hannah, though the lane was tree-lined and followed a curving path around a neighboring field.

It was because of those curves in the lane that they rode up on disaster without any advance warning. Penning’s big bay gelding peaceably cropped the grasses at the edge of the lane, but Hannah’s mare, quivering in every limb, bled profusely from a wound just above the shoulder.

“Hannah!” Dolph’s cry was the soul of anguish as he sprang from his horse’s back. “Oh, Hannah!”

Kitty slid from her mare, scarcely able to comprehend what she was seeing. Hannah lay curled on her side, still and pale. The groom, Penning, was sprawled over her body, his arms extended. A second look at him revealed a ghastly wound at the base of his skull, still bleeding heavily. Kitty almost wept as she saw Dolph kneeling beside his wife, his face vacant, rocking helplessly back and forth in the old way.

Some instinct she had never known took over, and Kitty went first to Hannah. Her hand on Hannah’s neck found a pulse--weak but steady. She found the groom’s pulse to be tumultuous, but it was clear that both still lived.

“Dolph!” she took him by the shoulders and forced him to look at her. “You must not do this. You must not go back to your old ways. Hannah needs you. She is alive, Dolph! Help me so that I can help her.”

Dolph shook his head as though clearing it from a physical blow, then said quietly, “What do you want me to do?”

Kitty forced herself to think. “First we must stanch the bleeding from Penning’s wound so he can be moved away from Hannah.” They accomplished this as best they could with a bandage made from Dolph’s neckcloth and strips torn from Kitty’s petticoats. “Put your jacket under his head,” Kitty ordered. The groom moaned slightly, which Kitty took to be a good sign.

“Good,” she breathed when that was done. “Now, we need to be very careful with Hannah. We don’t know if any of her limbs are injured or if her back has been hurt.” They did what they could to make Hannah more comfortable, cutting her stays and cushioning her head with Kitty’s own jacket. Hannah did not utter a sound as they ministered to her, but Kitty saw that her breathing was slow and regular.

“Now,” Kitty said, standing up. “You need to stay here and watch over them. Put me up on Belinda, and I will ride back for help.”

“I can ride faster,” said Dolph, his face taking on a slightly mulish cast.

“Yes, you can. But if whoever did this comes back, you can do a better job of looking after Hannah and Penning.” She looked about. “Watch them closely to be sure they are comfortable and that they’re not having any difficulty breathing.” She searched her memory. “If either of them should need to be sick, turn their head to the side. That’s very important. And don’t let anyone come near them that you don’t trust.” She looked up at him intently. “That includes Jack, Dolph. Keep Jack away from them at all costs.”

Dolph nodded and waved away her offer to repeat her instructions. “Don’t need you to do that any more,” he said. He put her up into the saddle and watched as she rode away. Though she was almost immediately hidden by the curve in the lane, he heard Belinda’s hoofbeats as Kitty urged the mare into a gallop.

Kitty had no time to be afraid as she and Belinda flew up the lane. The breeze which had been so invigorating chilled Kitty to the bone, and she realized that her cambric shirt was soaked with perspiration. She pulled up short in the stableyard and almost tumbled from the mare’s back into the waiting arms of John, the estate’s elderly coachman, who had seen her ride up.

“Easy, ma’am!” he said. “Be easy now.” He seated her on a rough bench near the stable door and sent one groom running to the house while another hurried for a dipper of cool water.

Kitty caught her breath. “Send one of the men for a surgeon,” she began. “He must be fetched immediately. About two or three miles up the lane--a terrible accident. Lady Dolphinton is badly hurt and so is Penning. I don’t know whether they should be brought back here or if the surgeon should see them first. Tried--tried not to move them too much, but they are hurt so badly.”

She almost wept with relief as Lady Legerwood hurried across the stableyard. John Coachman spoke quietly to her ladyship while Kitty took a swallow of the cool water. “We must not delay sending for the surgeon,” she managed. “Someone must go now!”

Lady Legerwood took command. “Have Mr. Jennings meet us at the place on the lane,” she began. “Send someone for the housekeeper and have her come here.” Satisfied that her orders were being carried out, she removed her shawl and tucked it around Kitty. “It’s naught but five miles to Mr. Jennings’ house. We’re fortunate he has retired near here. He can meet us at the lane and direct the moving of our patients.” She turned as the housekeeper bustled up. “Blankets, linen for bandages, towels, fresh water, soap, and a bottle of brandy. Have them brought here as quickly as possible.” Finally, she turned to John. “I’ll leave it up to you as to what conveyance will get us there fastest. We need to go now. The supplies can be packed in a wagon to follow us.” None of them noticed that one of the grooms ignored the commotion and slipped quietly out of the door at the far end of the large stable.

John Coachman organized their transport with a series of rapid orders, and within minutes Kitty and Lady Legerwood were handed into the barouche and driven smartly down the lane by John himself. “This carriage can transport the patients in comfort, Your Ladyship,” he explained. “It’s broad enough that they can be laid upon the seats. Several of the men will follow with the wagon and the supplies.”

Kitty almost wept with relief when they rounded the curve and she saw her husband, in his shirtsleeves, standing in earnest conversation with Dolph.

“Dolph has told me everything,” Freddy said as he helped first Kitty, then his mother, from the barouche. “John, see to the mare,” he went on. “She’s been shot.” As the coachman went to the injured horse, Freddy turned back to his wife and mother. “Rode up on ‘em from the opposite direction. M’father has ridden for the surgeon. Not going to move ‘em before Mr. Jennings says we may.”

Kitty turned to her husband. “Freddy, I think I heard the shot,” she said. “I thought it was the shooting-party, but there was only the one shot.”

Lady Legerwood was already kneeling between the two injured. “A wagon is on its way with supplies,” she said. And indeed, the wagon rumbled up as she finished speaking. She and Kitty had soon covered their patients with blankets and bathed their faces and hands with the cool water.

Dolph continued to kneel beside his wife, chafing her small hands between his large ones and calling her name. As Lady Legerwood continued to bathe her face, Hannah opened her eyes. “Shot!” she managed.

“Don’t talk now, Hannah,” replied Lady Legerwood. “Just rest. Foster is right here.”

Mr. Jennings was a wiry old man with snow-white hair. He sent half the waiting men back to the house. One of them led the injured mare, who was still on her feet but badly lame. “I want to see what you take out of her shoulder,” said Freddy.

The surgeon assessed his patients quickly. For Hannah he ordered brandy before turning to Dolph. “I don’t find any signs of injury to her spine. She can move all of her limbs, her eyes are normal, and she responds properly to painful stimulus. I suspect she had the wind knocked out of her when she was thrown, and she may have hit her head.” He pointed to a bruise and a lump just at her hairline.

He next turned his attention to Penning. “This man’s injury is serious. There’s been a severe blow to the back of his skull, and only time will tell if he recovers. I see no evidence of injury to his spine or to his limbs.”

“Yes,” said Freddy. “And here’s the stick that dealt the blow.” He held up a stout tree limb which had been stripped of smaller branches. The end was matted with dark blood and a few of Penning’s grizzled hairs.

“Well done, Frederick,” replied his father. “Lay that in the wagon to be brought back to the house.”

John had turned the carriage around, and Mr. Jennings supervised the placement of his patients across the comfortable seats. He then hopped in and signaled John to start the short trip to the house. Kitty and Lady Legerwood were handed up into the wagon, and the men followed on horseback.

Penning, a widower, lived alone in a small cottage not far from the stables. Rather than carrying him there, Lady Legerwood ordered that he be put to bed in a small room near the nursery, convenient to the family quarters where he could be watched constantly. Hannah, awake now, was carried to the room she shared with Dolph, and a bed was made up for him in the adjacent dressing-room. Kitty washed and dressed before going in search of ways she could be of help. She soon realized that her years of keeping house for her uncle had given her ample competence in a sick-room, and once she had received Mr. Jennings’ orders, she took charge of Hannah.

Freddy, meanwhile, went around to the stables where John Coachman was overseeing the treatment of the mare. He handed Freddy a bloodstained rag in which was wrapped a flattened, misshapen slug. “That’s what we dug out of her, sir.” Freddy hefted it in his hand before consigning it to a pocket. The remainder of John’s discussion of poultices and fomentations was beyond him, but the fact of the matter was that the bullet had hit nothing vital and the mare was expected to recover. He left the elderly retainer with an assurance that everything possible was being done for Penning.

Back at the house, Freddy found his father in the library. He handed over the bloody rag and its contents without speaking.

“Not from a shotgun,” observed Lord Legerwood. “What do you think?”

“I’d say pistol,” replied Freddy. “But the bullet is heavy and of large calibre. If it weren’t so absurd, I’d say it came from a dueling pistol.” He took the bullet back from his father and hefted it again in his hand. “What kind of clodpole tries to take a shot at a horse with a dueling pistol?”

“I’d say it was pretty well considered, Freddy,” replied his father. “They’re intended to do maximum damage at a distance of a few yards. The brush on the lane provides ample concealment. I’m not certain you could kill a horse at that distance, but you could certainly injure one. Especially if you were a good shot.”

“Jack,” said Freddy simply.

“We don’t know that, son. I’m going to lock this away for now.” His father turned his head as he locked the bullet away in a cubbyhole of his large desk. “I’ve already put the cudgel away in one of the cupboards.”

“Going to have the magistrate?”

“No,” replied Lord Legerwood. “No one has died--yet. I’d rather keep this among the family for as long as possible. Now let’s see about getting some supper.”

Dolph and Kitty had been down to supper by turns, and as night drew in, Kitty settled into a chair by Hannah’s bedside for the long vigil. Dolph refused to leave, and he seated himself in a straight chair on the other side of the large bed, occasionally taking Hannah by the hand. Her coloring was returning to normal, and her breathing was slow and regular. Eventually, Dolph laid his head down and fell asleep.

The candle had burned low when the door-handle turned and a woman quietly entered the room, shielding another candle. Kitty recognized Miss Norton, her dresser. “Mr. Standen sent me, ma’am,” the woman breathed quietly. “I’ve plenty of experience in the sickroom. I’ve nursed my brother, who was a soldier, wounded on the Peninsula. You’re to go now and take some rest. It’s past midnight as it is.”

“I’ll be back at dawn,” replied Kitty. “Lady Dolphinton is resting comfortably. I’ve administered the draught prescribed by Mr. Jennings, and she should sleep for the rest of the night. Come and get me if you need anything.” Miss Norton took her place in the chair, and Kitty slipped gratefully from the room.

Kitty slept deeply, and her next awareness was of her husband calling her name. Candles burned in their bedchamber, and the curtains were still drawn against the darkness. Freddy, fully dressed, handed her a cup of chocolate, and she became aware of a savory aroma of breakfast rising from a tray placed on a table by the fireplace.

“Been up more than an hour, Kit,” Freddy began as she sipped the hot chocolate. “Hannah’s much improved. Talking a bit. Took some broth. Devilish headache, but her color looks good. As for Penning--they’ve sent for Mr. Jenkins. M’mother says there’s fever, and he’s slipping down.”

Kitty got out of bed, washed quickly, and began to dress as Freddy went on. “Known him since before I was breeched, Kit. All of us. He taught us to ride, kept our secrets, rescued us, kept us out of trouble. Part of the family.” He drew a somewhat ragged breath. “Now, best eat up that breakfast. M’father would like to speak to you in the library, and then you’ll want to go to Hannah.” He drew her into a long embrace, then said, “I’ll be with Penning.”

Kitty finished a quick breakfast and found Lord Legerwood in his book room. She noticed that the curtains were open and that the day was beginning to advance.

“Sit down, my dear.” Lord Legerwood began. “I trust Freddy has given you all the latest news.”

“He’s told me that Hannah is better but that Penning may be--may be sinking.” Kitty’s voice shook.

“We will all do our possible for him. Now, I wanted to hear from you about what you first saw when you rounded that curve in the lane. Just think back. Why don’t you begin with the horses.”

“Well, sir, Penning’s horse had the bridle pulled over his head, as though Penning had just dismounted. He was not injured, just cropping the grass there on the verge. Hannah’s horse--Hannah’s horse was in distress. She was shaking all over, and I could see blood coming from a place near her shoulder.”

“You’re doing very well, child. Now, what about Hannah and Penning?”

“Hannah was still and white. She was lying half on her side. Her eyes were closed.” Kitty closed her own eyes. “Penning--Penning lay across her. His arms were stretched out like this.” She raised her own arms above her head. “He looked--well, he looked like a parent trying to protect a child. When I went over to him, I could see a terrible wound, bleeding, at the back of his head, near the top.” She pointed to the place on her own head. “That was all that I saw.”

“Excellent, Kitty.” Lord Legerwood took both her hands in his and kissed her forehead. “You know Freddy’s mother and I regard you as one of our own daughters. We could not love you more. Now, you will doubtless want to go to Hannah.”

“There’s just one more thing, sir. As Dolph and I were riding up the lane, I heard a shot--just one shot--from far off. I thought it was from the shooting-party. But you said your coverts were elsewhere on the estate. I haven’t heard any other shots. Was the mare chance-wounded by one of the sporting guns?”

“No, Kitty. The mare was wounded by a shot from a pistol, and by someone standing close-by.”

“A pistol. You mean something like a dueling-pistol.”

Lord Legerwood smiled. “I do, indeed, mean something like a dueling-pistol. But you ladies aren’t supposed to know that such things exist.”

Kitty managed to smile back at him. “I’ll go and see to Hannah now.” She paused with her hand on the door. “I haven’t seen much of Jack. Is he still with us?”

Lord Legerwood smiled again, grimly this time. “He is still with us.”

Kitty hurried to Hannah’s sickroom, where she found Miss Norton still at her post. Hannah, though pale, greeted her with a smile. “I’ve quite a headache,” she whispered. “But I’ve managed to keep down some of that broth. Just help me with Foster.”

Kitty turned to Dolph and found him haggard, pale, unshaven, and obviously in need of rest. “Dolph, what are we going to do with you?” she said lightly. “You need to keep up your strength for Hannah.”

“I don’t want to leave her until this is settled,” replied Dolph with his best mulish look.

“Miss Norton, you will doubtless need breakfast and a rest,” said Kitty, ignoring Dolph. “Would you be good enough to send Mr. Standen’s valet here to assist Lord Dolphinton?”

Freddy’s man soon had the situation evaluated and under control, and some time later he emerged from the dressing-room to report that Lord Dolphinton was sleeping.

Kitty settled once more in the bedside chair, and soon Hannah slept also. She was surprised an hour or so later to see Freddy enter the room without ceremony, followed by one of the maids,

He beckoned Kitty out into the hallway, and the maid seated herself in the bedside chair.

“We need to go back down to m’father, Kit,” he began.

“Oh, God. Is it Penning?”

“No, Penning is still with us. He may have begun to turn the corner. M’mother is resting, and the housekeeper is looking after him.”

Lord Legerwood greeted them at the door, which he closed carefully behind him.

“Got to leave for London immediately, Kit,” Freddy began without preamble. “Received an express a few minutes ago from Buckhaven.”

“Meg! The children! Oh, Freddy!”

“No, no. Meg and the children are fine.” Freddy looked at his father for help.

“Your house in London has been broken into,” said Lord Legerwood. “Help is needed to discover what may have been stolen.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “Did you bring your jewels with you?”

“Yes, sir. Freddy has taught me never to travel without them.”

“And your desk in the little parlor downstairs? What did you keep in there?”

Kitty ticked off the list on her fingers. “Household accounts, social correspondence, invitations, bills requiring payment. Nothing of any value.”

Freddy consulted his watch. “Dash it, it’s not even eight o’clock yet. “Thing is, Kit, I’ve got to go to London. Buckhaven has the place locked up tight and under guard, but somebody’s got to go see what’s missing. The chaise will be around front in ten minutes. I plan to go straight through without stopping for the night. Back in a day or two.”

A knock sounded at the door, and Freddy’s valet handed in a small portmanteau.

“I understand, Freddy, and I’ll stay right here. Hannah is improving, and I may be able to help with Penning. I shall miss you.” She smiled. “I know you hate to write, but send us word of what’s happening.” She stood up. “Now, I’ll walk outside with you and see you on your way.”

The three emerged from the library to encounter Jack and Charlie, dressed in shooting clothes, walking towards the breakfast-parlor. Charlie glanced silently at his father while Jack said, “What? You gentlemen not shooting again today? Charlie and I will get all the best birds at this rate.”

“Got to make a short trip to London,” said Freddy easily. “Small matter of business to attend to. Back in a day or so.”

“Ah, I see. And how are our invalids this morning? I’ve been quite concerned about Lady Dolphinton.”

“She’s much improved, Jack,” said Lord Legerwood easily. “Enjoy the shooting, and don’t forget to have a good breakfast first.”

The chaise drew up as they left the house. Freddy drew his wife close for a moment. “You know I love you, Kit,” he breathed. He shook his father’s hand, entered the chaise, and was driven away.

Kitty, returning to the sickroom, encountered the housekeeper in the upstairs hallway. “Tell me, how is Penning?” she asked.

The housekeeper smiled. “Mr. Jennings left about a half-hour ago. He’s got a hard head, has our Penning. He’s awake now, and the fever has broken. Rest and quiet will do the trick.” She put a hand on Kitty’s arm. “Lord and Lady Dolphinton are both sound asleep,” she went on. “Perhaps you should rest, too, ma’am.” She bustled down the hall.

Kitty paused for a moment, considering. She knew that Freddy owned a fine set of dueling-pistols made by Manton. He practiced with some regularity, and she could only assume that other gentlemen also owned pistols and wondered, idly, if Jack had ever had occasion to use his. She searched her memory further. The assortment of long guns used for hunting was stored in a gun-room downstairs, and she knew that they were carefully cleaned and oiled after each use. She could smell, in imagination, the reek of powder that hung over the gentlemen when they returned from a morning’s shooting.

Kitty shivered, though it was not cold, and wrapped her Paisley shawl more closely about her. Listening carefully, and peering ahead in either direction, she turned and headed not for the sickroom but for the bedchamber occupied by Jack Westruther.

The door opened silently, and Kitty was soon within. The curtains had been opened, and the room had been cleaned and made up for the day. Where, she wondered. Where would he keep them? The adjoining dressing-room was a maze of closets, cupboards and drawers, and she began to despair of finding anything. As she stood, wondering where to begin, her eye strayed towards the tall wooden mantelpiece. On it stood a branch of candles--and a polished mahogany box. Kitty could feel a pulse beating in her throat as she stood on tiptoe and drew it down. It smelt of gunpowder.

She clutched the box close to her, hidden in the folds of her shawl, with a silent prayer that neither of the pistols was loaded. Then she stepped quickly out of the room.

Her good luck ran out as she reached the stairway and saw Jack hurrying up. He stopped, looking up at her with his mocking smile. Then he reached out and pinched her chin between his thumb and forefinger. “If it isn’t our dedicated nurse. Ah, that Freddy Standen is a lucky man,” he said. “But you’re going to be sorry you didn’t wait for me, Kitty.”

Kitty forced her most charming smile, feeling the blush rise in her cheeks. “That’s what all the gentlemen say, Jack,” she replied, and walked lightly--and carefully--downstairs without looking back.

Mercifully, her father-in-law was still in his bookroom. Kitty, with a ragged breath, drew the box out, and thrust it into his hands. “Jack’s. I’ve just taken them from his room. Can you tell if they’ve been fired?”

“I can,” he replied solemnly. “Please sit down, Kitty.” He took the box full of menace to his desk, opened the curtain to admit the daylight, and began to examine the contents. The silence stretched past the breaking point, and Kitty resisted the urge to scream. She found herself shredding her handkerchief to pieces.

“You might as well come and see, my dear,” said Lord Legerwood when he at last looked up. Kitty approached the desk and looked at the box. It was lined with green velvet and housed gleaming implements that to her resembled small hammers, calipers, and items she could not identify. One pistol, all polished wood and engraved metal, shone dully from a fitted slot within. Its mate was in Lord Legerwood’s hand. He indicated the pistol in the box. “This one has not been fired,” he said. “Or if it has been, it has been properly cleaned before being stored away. He held the second pistol out for her to see. “This one has been fired and has not been cleaned. There is a residue of powder in the barrel and the working parts, here.” He rubbed the pistol lightly with his handkerchief and showed her the black smear left behind. He then used his handkerchief to wrap the pistol carefully, slotted it into its place in the box, and locked the box in a cupboard behind his desk.

Kitty stood silently as her father-in-law came around the desk and took both her hands in his. “You took a terrible chance, child.”

She raised her eyes to look at him. “It’s worse than you think. I--I met Jack coming up the stairs. I don’t think he suspected anything. The sickroom is very near the top of the stairs. He flirted with me in that outrageous way of his. I--well, I flirted back and continued downstairs.” Her eyes filled with tears.

“No, no! Don’t cry!” exclaimed Lord Legerwood. “You’ve turned your handkerchief into a rag, and mine is locked up in the cupboard!” He offered her his arm. “Let’s go and see if your mother has come down to luncheon.”

IV

Kitty was delighted to see that most of the family had gathered for luncheon. Lady Legerwood looked tired, but she was calm and smiling. Dolph had obviously rested, washed, and dressed, and he managed a smile as she entered the room. Charlie looked grave and pensive.

“How are our invalids?” asked Lord Legerwood as he filled his plate.

“We have good reports on both,” replied his lady. “Hannah is awake and has taken broth and gruel. Mr. Jennings may allow her to sit up for a while tomorrow. Penning’s fever has broken, and he’s awake and talking. He would like to speak to you after luncheon, my love. Don’t spend too much time with him.”

Kitty found, to her surprise, that she was ravenous. She ate her food with relish, accepted a second glass of lemonade, and even chose one of the ratafia cakes she normally avoided. The family rose, and Kitty turned to go upstairs. She saw Charlie intercept his father in the hallway.

“Speak to you, sir?” said Freddy’s younger brother. “Won’t take but a moment.”

Lord Legerwood led his second son towards the book room.

Kitty found Hannah propped on pillows and looking tired, but she showed a decided improvement. Dolph was there in the straight chair. “Hannah says the horse was shot,” began Dolph. “Says she saw the man through the trees a moment before.”

Kitty held up her hand. “Let’s not worry about that now. Lord Legerwood is acquainted with all the facts. I’m sure he’ll want to speak with Hannah when she’s ready for visitors. Until then, we are all safe here. Hannah is improving, and I’m sure you’ll both be happy to know that Penning is also improving.” She seated herself in the chair at the head of Hannah’s bed and took out a scrap of embroidery.

“Where has Freddy taken himself off to?” asked Dolph.

“Freddy had to make a quick trip to London to attend to some business. I expect we’ll have a letter from him tomorrow afternoon, and he should be back in a day or two.”

Hannah threw her a sharp look but said nothing. “Dolph, I was just thinking,” Kitty continued. “Why don’t you go down to the stables and have a look at the mare? See what John Coachman is doing for her. There may be remedies you could suggest, or perhaps he knows of remedies you should have in your own stable.”

“It’s a good idea, Kitty. It will also give my wife a chance to fall asleep.” He left the room.

Hannah yawned deeply, but she shook off her sleepiness and reached for Kitty’s hand. “I must tell you this before I fall asleep. I keep being afraid I’ll forget. I got a good look at the man who shot the mare. It wasn’t Jack, but it was the groom who brought his curricle to the stable that day I had my first lesson. A tall man with sandy hair.”

Kitty forced herself to remain calm, reflecting idly that she was getting very good at remaining calm. “I’ll tell Lord Legerwood,” she said. “And I’ll ask him to visit you. Now, sleep.”

Hannah was soon deeply asleep, and Kitty had been working at her embroidery for at least two hours when Dolph slipped quietly back into the room. He beckoned to Kitty and gestured at the door. When they stood in the hall, he began. “There’s been quite a commotion.”

Kitty’s heart sank.

“Jack says he’s been robbed. Says someone has stolen a valuable pair of dueling pistols from his room.”

“What’s being done about it?”

“Well, Lord Legerwood is remarkably calm. Says if they haven’t turned up by tomorrow, he’ll have the servants’ rooms searched. Jack’s pretty angry.”

“I expect he is. How’s the mare?”

“Oh, better. Still quite lame, but she’ll come round. You should go and rest, Kitty. Been up since before dawn. I can look after Hannah. Call a maid if she needs anything. She’s so much better now.”

“I will, Dolph. Thank you.”

Kitty fled gratefully to the room she shared with Freddy, realizing with a pang that he wasn’t there. Though it was still well before dinner-time, she noticed that the bed had been turned back invitingly, the curtains drawn. Stepping out of her shoes she decided on a nap before dinner, and she was asleep within moments of laying her head on the pillow.

Miss Norton came in much later with a candle and a supper-tray. Kitty stirred and watched as her dresser busied herself around the room, lighting candles, building up the fire, and laying the supper invitingly on the table by the hearth.

“Come and eat something, ma’am. It’s late. After you’ve eaten, I’ll help you prepare for bed. You’ve earned a good night’s rest.”

“As have you, Miss Norton. Have you had any rest at all?”

“A good forty winks this afternoon, ma’am. And there’s a comfortable bed ready for me in the dressing-room. Lord Legerwood left orders that you wasn’t to be left alone.”

Kitty could no longer withstand the enticing aromas of her supper, which included a glass of wine. She found herself making short work of it, and by the time she was ready for bed, she was ready for sleep again. She tried not to refine too much on the fact that her father-in-law had felt it necessary for someone to sleep in the next room. Her sleep was uninterrupted, and she awoke early and refreshed.

She dressed quickly and made her way downstairs to the breakfast-parlor. As she approached, she could hear men’s voices and realized that Dolph was speaking. “No, thank you, Jack. I’ve no need of pills, restorative or otherwise.” She stood just outside the door, hardly daring to breathe.

Jack’s somewhat quieter voice replied. “I spoke with your Mama. She’s gravely concerned that you aren’t taking these. She saw you one evening at the theatre--you didn’t see her--and your appearance and demeanor have caused her the greatest anxiety. You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Dolph. You may feel well now, but your health will suffer. And you’ve placed yourself in the power of a wife--and a family--utterly devoid of care for your best interests. Take one of the pills for the sake of your health.”

“My health will just have to suffer,” Dolph said decidedly.

“Let me put it to you another way, Dolph. Begin taking the pills again. Hannah will be restored to her brother’s family where she can live in safety for the rest of her life. Or don’t take the pills. I pledge you my word, you will never be sure of Hannah’s safety again. Think of what you’ve been through these past few days. Are you willing to risk Hannah again? My nets are wide and deep, Coz. They extend even to that ramshackle place you call an estate in Ireland, not to mention the gentleman you just hired as your agent.”

“That’s quite enough,” said Kitty in a voice she didn’t recognize as her own. As she entered the breakfast-parlor she rang the bell, and a footman appeared almost immediately. “Ask Lord Legerwood to come at once,” she said. “And send another two men.” She turned to Dolph. “Dolph, he has no power over you. Leave the pills alone.”

Jack’s mouth had taken on the familiar, firghteningly white look that Kitty recognized as dangerous anger. She stood her ground and managed to push his hand away when he went to touch her chin. “No more, if you please, Jack. I don’t think I ever liked that. And I’m certain I don’t like it now.”

Jack smiled. His hand lashed out with the speed of a boxer and forcibly gripped Kitty’s chin. His eyes mocked her as he pulled her close. “Ahh, I keep forgetting. You’re Freddy’s cunning little jade, aren’t you?” He bent his head toward her face. “But tell me the truth, dear Kitty. Aside from the title and all the pretty gowns, does he make you happy?”

For the second time in his life, Mr. Westruther found himself knocked to the floor unexpectedly by one of his cousins. This time it was an honest hit, as the Earl of Dolphinton seized Jack by the collar and turned him round to face the flush hit that landed on his jaw.

“Thank you, Foster,” said Lord Legerwood from the doorway. “You’ve saved me a great deal of trouble.” He turned to the two burly footmen who had followed him into the room. “Please escort Mr. Westruther to his bedchamber. Ensure that he does not leave. I shall be with you directly.”

He turned back to Dolph. “Very impressive. You’ve been practicing.”

Dolph shook his head. “No, sir. Hannah says it’s all the country air and exercise. But I always did love a mill.”

“I’d say you were the last man on earth to need any sort of pills, restorative or otherwise. A cold compress across those knuckles will take down the swelling.”

Kitty began to speak, but she suddenly found the room growing dark as people and furnishings began to rush away, leaving her in darkness. She awoke to find herself being carried upstairs by Dolph as Lady Legerwood and the housekeeper fussed over her with smelling salts. He laid her on her bed and stepped back.

“These ladies will take good care of you, Kitty. Need to go look in on Hannah, but I’ll be back. Freddy will be home soon.”

Kitty awoke later that afternoon to the sound of carriage wheels on the drive, and a few moments later, she was in Freddy’s arms. “Freddy,” she whispered. “No one could ever make me as happy as you have.”

He laughed. “Hoped that might be the case, Kit. But it’s nice to hear you say so.”

Kitty found herself much restored and was anxious to join the family downstairs after dinner. As she entered the drawing-room with Freddy, her eye lit on Hannah and Dolph, and she smiled. Freddy escorted her to a seat, and Lady Legerwood poured her a cup of tea. “What has happened?” she asked. “I’ve been asleep for most of the afternoon.”

Lord Legerwood left the window where he had been standing and came to join the small circle near the fireside. “First of all, Jack is in his room, under guard, until I decide what to do with him. Penning and Hannah have both identified their assailant as the groom who accompanied Jack here. That man is also under guard in, ah, another area of the house.”

“But why did he shoot the horse?”

“Let me begin at the beginning, or as near to it as I can.” Lord Legerwood accepted a cup of tea from his wife and sipped it before continuing. “Lord Buckhaven has been industriously engaged on our behalf since we left London, and he has uncovered several useful facts. Jack’s passion for deep play has caught up with him. He is, as they say, rolled-up. His debts of honor far exceed his ability to pay them. This is compounded by the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Penicuik anticipate the birth of an heir at any time now. You have married Freddy, and with your marriage and Mr. Penicuik's, all of Jack’s expectations of his uncle’s fortune have come to nothing. He can’t even go to the moneylenders.”

“Couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow,” muttered Charlie.

“Next we come to your Aunt Augusta,” Lord Legerwood continued. “Her financial situation is bleak, and it is largely due to her stubborn refusal to sell that house and move into something smaller. She has dismissed most of her servants and has resorted to selling her jewels and furs. While she has no debts of honor, her tradesman’s accounts are seriously in arrears, and she is unable to obtain credit to purchase even her necessities. It’s abundantly clear that she intended to keep Foster in her clutches for as long as he was useful, helping herself to the bulk of his fortune along the way.”

Lady Legerwood shuddered. “Her own child,” she murmured. “How could she?”

Lord Legerwood raised his teacup in a mock-toast toward Dolph and Hannah. “It’s clear to all of us that Foster’s marriage to Hannah has thwarted those schemes completely. Not only has he been restored to health, but his fortune is increasing gradually but steadily. That’s thanks to Hannah’s economy and management, and to Foster’s eye for a good horse.”

He paused to allow his wife to refill his teacup. “I spent some time with Mr. Jennings this afternoon, and it is his professional opinion that those pills are laced with a minute quantity of arsenic.”

The gasp that went round the room was shared by everyone but Freddy, who added, “Went over the house from attic to cellar. The only thing that was missing was those dashed pills. Lock on m’desk was forced, and they were gone.”

“Yes, and they appeared here shortly thereafter,” said Kitty. “But arsenic? Is not that likely to kill a person?”

“So it is, in sufficient quantities,” replied Lord Legerwood. “In very small amounts, it causes physical and mental debilities, nervousness, anxiety, even cold sweats. In short, all the ills that troubled Foster from his boyhood. I should also say that Mrs. Penicuik, eccentric as she is, did Foster a great service. Mr. Jenkins asserts that a simple diet of wholesome, substantial foods, can assist in the recovery of persons suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning.”

“What an unholy alliance!” exclaimed his lady. “It’s clear Jack and Augusta conspired over this.”

“I have given it considerable thought,” said Lord Legerwood. “The whole purpose of this drama has been to bring Foster into subjection under his mother’s rule again. The horse business has begun thriving and will soon yield an abundant income. If the plot had succeeded, Foster would have ended in Bedlam--or worse. Hannah would have been forced to return to her brother. Jack would have been placed in charge of the estate in Ireland, and the profits from it would have been divided between Augusta and Jack. An unholy alliance indeed. The wounding of the horse, the near-braining of one of our most faithful retainers, the injuries to Hannah--all of this was intended to throw Foster off-balance, to make him receptive to his cousin’s advice. We are all fortunate that Foster has more courage than either Jack or Augusta gave him credit for.”

“So what happens to Jack?” asked Kitty. “If I had a vote, it would be to see him transported. Or hanged.”

The room fell silent. "Let him go," said the Honorable Freddy Standen.

“After all he’s done?”

“Makes perfect sense, Kit. He’s not a Standen. Merely a distant cousin. No scandal to us if he’s taken up for debt. Or worse. Send him back to London with his tail between his legs and let him deal with the trouble he’s made. If he has a brain in his head, he’ll take ship for Virginia or some such outlandish place.”

“And what about Aunt Augusta?”

Freddy thought for a moment. “That’s a touch more delicate. She needs to know that we know what she’s been about. Needs to know we know all about the poison and all the rest of it. Once she’s in possession of that knowledge, pay off her tradesman’s debts with a warning that it’s the last groat she’ll see from any of us.” He paused to gather another thought. “Couldn’t hurt to let it be known around town that she wouldn’t receive Dolph and Hannah. Face facts. Their star is rising, and it won’t be long until they’re sought-after members of society. A bit of brass can do that, you know.”

Lord Legerwood extended a hand to his son, who stood respectfully and shook it. “Frederick, you continue to astonish me.”

A short time later, Kitty emerged from the dressing-room to find her husband comfortably settled on the sofa by the fire in their room. “Another very becoming dressing-gown, Kit,” he observed.

“I’m going to need a new riding-habit by the autumn, Freddy, and I think I’m going to bespeak it at Clark’s. Will you help me pick out a nice, sensible cloth? I want one more like Hannah’s.”

“Not much left of the blue velvet, I suppose. By the way, John Coachman says that was a nice bit of riding you did the other day. Came into the stableyard at a full gallop. Neck or nothing, he says.”

“I was terrified, and not just by Hannah and Penning! When Belinda picked up her pace, I knew I was going to fall off. If I ever have to make a desperate ride for help again, I’m going to do it astride.”

Freddy’s lips compressed in a telltale sign that he was trying to keep from laughing. “Not the thing, Kit. Not the thing for ladies.”

Kitty stood looking down at him, a hand on her hip. “And in any case, it’s all backwards.”

“What’s all backwards?”

“It makes more sense for gentlemen to ride side-saddle. In my observation--which of course is very limited--they have more to protect.”

The telltale non-smile appeared again. “More to protect, have they?” He reached up, catching her off guard and tumbling her into his lap. “Have to investigate this further, Kit.”