Authors: Margaret Bennett
Tags: #Nov. Rom
Denholm turned in his saddle to look at Melvyrn. “What about tonight?”
“I plan to visit, not make a night of it,” he replied.
“I’ll leave you to it. Besides, I’ve got
several reports to write.”
“Then we’ll part here,” Melvyrn said, leading Hector off on
to a back road that led to the Hall.
As Hector trotted down the long lane, Melvyrn smiled as he though
t about the feisty Miss Wensley. He imagined she’d be quite an armful even as petite as she was. As he dismounted, the old groom appeared to take Hector’s reins, and the butler opened the door. Entering the main hall, Melvyrn nearly tripped over the frisky spaniel pup. “So very sorry, my lord,” the butler said, scooping Silas up with one arm, then taking Melvyrn’s hat and gloves. He showed Melvyrn into the drawing room. “I will inform Miss Wensley that you are here.”
If the young woman was a recluse, her butler either didn’t know it or hoped to change her ways.
Melvyrn smiled to himself, wondering how Miss Wensley would take his unexpected appearance. He soon found out as minutes later Miss Wensley sailed into the room with her chaperone close behind her.
“What an unexpected pleasure,” Miss Wensley said rather too crisply as she stood glaring at him. When Mrs. Boroughs coughed gently behind her, Miss Wensley lowered her eyes and gestured for him to sit down.
“I’ll ring for tea, my lord,” Mrs. Boroughs said.
“No need, Mrs. Boroughs.” Smiling, he said, “Since Miss Wensley is not a good rider, I’d hoped she’d take a walk with me?”
Miss Wensley appeared ready to decline, but Mrs. Boroughs, apparently in cahoots with the butler, quickly gave her consent. “I will get your hat and shawl, my dear,” she said, exiting the room, leaving the door open.
took a deep breath, raised her chin, and leveled her stormy eyes at him. “I have work to do, my lord.”
“As do I, Miss Wensley, but I could not let such a fine afternoon go and thought you’d like to share it with me.” Again, Melvyrn bestowed his best smile on her as Mrs. Boroughs returned.
In silence, they exited the front door and strolled down the now shadowed lane toward the main road. The wide brimmed straw hat she wore made it difficult for Melvyrn to see her face, though he certainly saw the tilt of her delicate chin. With his hands clasped behind his back, he grinned to himself, feeling satisfaction at having bested the little vixen.
She finally looked up at him, but he could not wipe the smugness off his face quick enough.
“You, my lord, can be most annoying.”
Melvyrn almost laughed at her insolence. Only his parents and nanny had ever used that tone with him. “I beg your pardon?”
“You may beg all you want, but I still find you annoying. I really do have work to accomplish, my lord.”
“Can we not call a truce, Miss Wensley?” he asked.
She was quiet for a moment before nodding. “Very well.”
“Actually, I came by because you were missed at the Chadlingtons’ picnic.”
“Lately, I have not had time for such events,” she offered lamely.
“Perhaps you should get someone to help you, a bailiff?” he said. When she made no comment to his suggestion, he asked, “Do you have a wine cellar?”
At this sudden switch of topic, she looked up at him. “I have no need to keep one stocked. Why do you ask?”
“Curiosity mainly, for I noticed the excellence of Lord Chadlington’s stock at the picnic today.” He took her hand and threaded it through his arm. He was surprised when
she left it there. “I suppose in an area like Folkestone where there are smugglers it is easy to come by French brandy and wines.” Did he feel a light tug on his arm? He looked at her, but the blasted hat hid her face.
“I would not know, my lord,” she said rather scathingly and pulled her arm free of his. “It is getting late and I must return to my duties.”
“Of course,” he replied smoothly. As they walked back down the lane, knowing she wanted to object, he perversely held her elbow. In silence, they reached the door just as the butler pulled it opened and they entered. “I enjoyed our walk, Miss Wensley,” he said affably.
“Thank you, my lord,” she replied curtly. “Perhaps you could all
ow me a little notice next time, so that I can free my schedule.” It sounded more like a command than a request.
“I’ll do my best,” Melvyrn said, then offered his adieu.
Later that evening, d
ressed in Bailey’s old clothes, Melvyrn again was thankful for the heavy woolen jacket. The winds coming off the Channel were wet and cold. As he climbed aboard the
, he saw the lad was already sitting close by Tolly at the stern. Taking a place closer to the bow, he immediately felt the rough surf slapping the bow of the lugger. Minutes later, both sails were up, and the
skimmed across the dark water.
the occasional cold spray rained down on him, he hardly noticed the discomfort. Instead, he kept examining that afternoon’s visit with Miss Wensley. He found her hard to understand, for he’d never met a beautiful, young woman like her, more concerned about estate matters than an outing or new gown.
The moon was up, making the crossing easier
if more dangerous the closer they came to the French coastline. With the dawn’s approach, Tolly pointed to a small inlet to the west of Wissant.
We’ll put to there,” he called out from where he’d stood by the rudder throughout the crossing.
“How far are we from the village?” Melvyrn wasn’t three feet from where the youth had slumped down along the side of the gunwale and fallen asleep sometime during the night. He’d averted his face from Melvyrn, pulling his cap further down on his forehead.
Not far, but no need to advertise we’re here too early. Likely, no one’ll mess with us.” Tolly answered. “But don’t want to call attention to the old Frenchy. Best to lay low ‘til after noon.”
Within an hour, they’d gained the shelter of the inlet, pulling the boat half way out of the water
onto a tiny beach. While the other men hunched down where they sat to catch some shuteye, Melvyrn moved closer to Ros.
“The old Frenchman, you never said how you came to know him?”
“Ain’t necessary to know,” Tolly said, coming up behind Melvyrn. He maneuvered around a couple of men and planted himself in front of the lad, blocking him from Melvyrn’s view.
“No, but I’d sure like a chance to talk to the
lad so I’ll know if I can trust him,” Melvyrn said to Tolly. His angry tone should warn the fisherman that he wasn’t accepting any more interference in accomplishing this mission.
“You can trust
the lad.” Tolly sounded just as angry.
“I appreciate the fact that you’re trying to protect the lad,” Melvyrn said. “But he’s an unknown, Tolly.
I’d feel better making his acquaintance since he’s to act as a go-between for me and the Frenchman.”
But it wasn’t Tolly who reacted to Melvyrn’s honesty.
The lad lightly touched Tolly’s arm and a signal seemed to pass between the two of them before the boy leaned around Tolly’s and met Melvyrn’s eyes. Watching Tolly and the boy, Melvyrn saw the close relationship that existed between the two, and was somewhat surprised by how easily Tolly had backed down, accepting the lad’s unspoken assurance without argument, almost as if the lad was in charge.
“What is it you want to know?” Ros said, his voice low, almost gruff.
“Tolly explained that Embree was your father’s friend,” Melvyrn said, studying the lad’s smooth, beardless face. He appeared to be no older than fourteen, but he possessed a maturity far beyond that age. “But how did you arrange to rescue our soldiers with him?”
“I contacted him. He knew
about my bro--my friend dying because he couldn’t get help or get back to England.” The lad’s voice cracked, sounding almost feminine. “Tolly had already agreed to help me.”
“Why did the Frenchman agree to it?”
“He is tired of the carnage. Men are dying on both sides, farmers are starving, all to keep the Little Corporal’s coffers full.”
“Will he agree to meet my contacts?” Melvyrn asked after digesting what the lad had said.
“I don’t know. Is there another way?”
“Possibly. A secret drop
point could be arranged, but it is my belief that our mission will be most successful if the agents can work together.”
“I’ll explain all this to him,” the lad answered with
a frown marring his brow. “Can you trust your man?”
Completely,” Melvyrn said.
By now the sun was well up. Melvyrn
needed to contact the agents in Marquise and deliver the diplomatic pouch Denholm had given him. Maybe they could give him the name of someone in Wissant who could help the old Frenchman relay the dispatches. He got up and looked at Tolly. “I’ll meet the lad back here before noon in time to go see Embree. If something should go astray or I don’t show, leave me. Understand?”
“Aye, there’ll be a sail half raised if it ain’t safe for you to show yourself here,” replied Tolly.
Rosalind watched Melvyrn climb out of the boat and head up the sand dune into the brush. It was obvious that
Tolly respected his former Major. She also wondered where Melvyrn could be going. She knew so little about him and yet, on Tolly’s word, she was exposing Jacques to more danger.
“Where are you off to?” Tolly asked when she tossed one leg over the side of the boat, preparing to jump down onto the sand.
“Jacques should be warned,” Rosalind said.
“I’ll go with you,” Tolly said.
“No, you need to stay here and tend to business. Otherwise, the merchants might become suspicious.”
shook his head. “It ain’t safe for--”
“When Melvyrn returns, bring him to the cottage
,” she interjected.
You can’t go roaming about by yourself. If you’re stopped--”
“If I am stopped, I am a young lad on an errand for the master of the lugger,” Rosalind finished for him. She knew he worried over someone discovering she was a female, but they had come too far to turn back now. “Wish me luck, Tolly.”
“Aye, that and a prayer,” mumbled the big fisherman half under his breath.
Rosalind found Jacques out in the back of the little two room cottage, tilling the ground for a kitchen garden. Since he was not expecting her, she was quick to put his mind at ease. “Nothing is wrong, Jacques. I came early to talk.”
e old man straightened his back and leaned on his hoe. He was a small, thin man with wispy gray hair under his black wool beret. Age and a hard life had left gaunt hollows under his cheekbones. His warm brown eyes squinted into the late morning sun as he watched her approach.
“You are alone,
angel?” he asked.
but the British government has sent a man to talk to you about helping their agents pass messages.”
“And why are you here
?” he asked.
“The man who
works for the British War Office and is organizing this wants to meet with you. If you are agreeable, he will be here in a few hours.”
The old man looked thoughtfully at Rosalind, then asked, “Do you trust this man? Is this what you want me to do?”
Rosalind bit her lower lip and shook her head. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “I want the war to end, Jacques, but I don’t want to put you in any more danger. The French already suspect you of helping English soldiers.”
thoughtfully, then asked, “Have you eaten?”
“I had breakfast.”
“Come inside, and share some bread and cheese while we wait.”
noon, a knock sounded on the cottage door frame just before Tolly’s black bushy head appeared bending down to peer into the room.
, Tolly, and bring your friend,” Jacques called out from where he sat at a battered trestle table with Rosalind.
Following Tolly, Melvyrn ducked his h
ead coming through the low doorway to stand just inside the little room. “Monsieur Embree?” he asked after an uncomfortable silence. His eyes squinted as they adjusted to the cool dimness of the cottage interior.
.” Jacques remained seated next to Rosalind.
Melvyrn introduced himself. “I am Phillips.”
“You are the gentleman who wants me to betray my fellow countrymen by passing British correspondence?”
“Forgive me, Monsieur Embree,” the Earl said in flawless French, much to Rosalind’s surprise, “but the lad here assured me of your help.”
, I have agreed to help you.”