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.Hester could hardly believe that she was in Bath and in such happy company, and it seemed as if she had emerged from a long dark tunnel into the light.* * * *Paul was shown into a small private parlor at the lodgings where Richard Mortimer was staying and asked to wait.He was left for some minutes to tap his heels impatiently, but then Mortimer came in.“Forgive me for keeping you waiting, Crawford.Our meeting had slipped my mind for a moment and I was not quite dressed.”“I imagine you know why I have come?” Paul said, his eyes narrowed with anger.“The cannon you sold me were faulty and men were killed.”“Yes, I was sorry to hear it,” Mortimer said.“But you must know that I acted for the foundry and received only a small commission.I would offer to return it, but I hardly think it would compensate?”“You are right, it would not,” Paul said, controlling his temper with difficulty.“Do you ask me to believe that you offered me that contract in good faith? Do you say that you had no idea that Hanwell’s company did not forge them? Or that they were inferior goods?”“As I told you, I was merely a go-between.I was approached to make the contract and to be paid when I handed it over, that was the limit of my involvement.”“Did it not strike you as suspicious that you should be approached in the matter?”“The person who paid me was not a gentleman,” Mortimer replied.“He argued that he would be at a disadvantage and asked if I would undertake the commission.”“But you told me that you were Joseph Hanwell.”“No, indeed, you are mistaken.I told you that I represented Hanwell’s company, as I believed I did.Good grief, Crawford—I am not a murderer or a traitor.My brother was killed fighting for the army.”“I believe there was little love lost between you?”“Then you believe wrongly,” Mortimer said, his lips drawn into a thin line.“I had no time for my father, but as it happens, I cared for Simon—though that is none of your business.”“No, perhaps not,” Paul agreed.“Very well, I must take your word for the moment, sir.As yet, I have no proof that the cannon sold to us were deliberately spiked—but I am working to discover the truth, and I must warn you that it is my intention to bring the guilty men to justice.”“And I must tell you that you may go to Hell,” Mortimer said, a sneer on his lips.Think what you please, Crawford, and be damned to you! I was as much a victim as you—but if you refuse to take my word, I’ll waste no more on you.Good day, sir.I wish you luck with your search.”Paul narrowed his eyes.Mortimer might be telling the truth, but on the other hand, he might be a clever schemer.For the moment, there was no more to be done, but he would not give up until he had seen justice done for the men who had lost their lives.“Then I shall leave you for the moment,” he said and walked to the door, where he turned and looked back.“But be warned, sir.I intend to discover the truth no matter how long it takes.”* * * *The next few days passed in a whirl of pleasure for Hester.In the mornings, she met Geraldine and Lucinda to go walking or shopping.Sometimes they visited the library or the Pump Room with Charlotte and Lady Holbeach or partook of delicious cakes and coffee in charming little rooms where the ladies met to gossip and while away the hours.In the afternoons, they often went driving to places of interest or local beauty spots.Josh Farnham was their usual escort, though Captain Crawford accompanied them on several occasions, and a certain Mr.Thomas Jones was quite often to be found wherever they happened to be.“Mr.Jones likes you, Hester,” Geraldine teased her after they had bumped into him for the third time in as many days.“I believe you have an admirer.”Hester shook her head, for she suspected that the handsome, though rather shy Mr Jones, was far more interested in Geraldine than in her.Indeed, she believed he might be the admirer her friend had spoken of in confidence.However, she did not tease her over it, because Mr.Jones was only one of many gentlemen who flocked about Geraldine.She to her credit treated them all with an equally shy charm that only made them redouble their efforts to engage her attention.As Geraldine’s friend, Hester was a valuable member of their group, and her quiet but friendly manner had drawn more admirers than she had any idea.Her air of coolness had found favor with the older ladies, even if some of the gentlemen had begun to call her the citadel and wager on the chances of various gentlemen who had set their sights on winning her.Hester would have been disquieted had she learned that more than one gentleman had thoughts of marriage, but since she was unaware of their private thinking, she was able to enjoy herself without worrying.It was for her a time of pure delight, like a thirsty soul drinking at the well of heaven, and she was determined to make the most of her stay however brief it might be [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]