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."I behaved terribly," she said, shocked at herself."It sounds to me as though you behaved very sensibly," he said, handing her a cup of tea, and sitting down beside her."They may not be a den of thieves exactly, but they're certainly a nest of bullies.And the only thing to do with bullies is stand up to them.""Well, that's what I think too," she said, delighted to find a kindred spirit."And yet - oh, goodness, if you could have heard the things I said to them.""I wish I had.I'm sure it would have been very entertaining.""Oh no, I'm sure that's wrong," she said, conscience stricken."How can a fight be entertaining.""Very easily if you have righteousness on your side.Nothing like a good fight.Engage the enemy and turn your ten-pounders on him.""Ten-pounders?""Guns.""They said - " her voice began to shake from another reason, "they said they'd tell the constable that Clara was parish property, and I said - " mirth was overcoming her, "I said - ""Don't stop there," he begged."I can't stand it.""I said he would take my side because - he'd met this chicken before."His crack of laughter hit the ceiling.Rena gave up the struggle not to yield to her amusement, and the two of them sat there, holding onto each other and rocking back and forth."That's not a ten-pounder, that's a twelve-pounder," he gasped at last."It must have blown them out of the water.I shall always regret that I wasn't there."I ought to have been, of course.I should have walked back to the vicarage with you, and then I would have been there to help.When I think of you struggling back here - and what do you mean by creeping in by stealth?""I thought you would still be at the tavern, and the house would be empty.""No, I didn't stay long.I began to feel rather uncomfortable.""You mean you felt unwelcome?""On the contrary, they welcomed me with open arms.They've decided that my arrival means the good times have come again, that I'll be wanting to restore the house and the gardens and that will provide work for them.I now know the names of every artisan and gardener in the district."How could I tell them that I have no money to fulfil their dreams? And my dream too if the truth be told.""Is it really your dream too?" she asked excitedly."Yes.In the short time I've been here I've fallen in love with this place.I'd like to do all the things they want, and live in a house that's as lovely as it ought to be.But not only for my sake.For theirs too."He gave an awkward laugh."I've really been thinking only of myself since I inherited the Earldom.I never thought of how it might affect other people, or how they might hope it would affect them.But tonight I was confronted by the reality of other people's lives, and it made me stop and think."He looked at her ruefully."Thinking isn't something I've done a lot of in my life.I've done my duty as a sailor, but for the rest I've been heedless, and content to be so.But now - " he sighed."Their need is so desperate and frightening.It made me feel I should do something about it.And yet - what can I do? Except pray that we find more coins, and they turn out to be worth a lot.""Yes," she said."We'll pray.""So, I escaped, because I wouldn't give them false promises.I came home and started writing letters, until I heard this crash from downstairs.""That was the chair.""And why were you going to sleep on the sofa? Do we lack spare bedrooms?""I thought I'd find one tomorrow, in the light.""You can't stay down here tonight.""Yes I can.And I'm going to.""Rena, be sensible.""I am being sensible.Besides, I want to stay with Clara, and I can't very easily take her upstairs.""Talking of Clara, she's busily pecking my boots.No doubt she thinks she still has to defend you.Will you kindly call your chicken off?"She laughed and did so, then drained her tea."Now, sir - ""John.""Now, John, please will you be sensible and go to bed?"He gave her a naval salute."Ay, ay, ma'am.I'll see you at seven bells [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]