Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 141

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The gardens were situated on the west side of the castle, protected from the winds that came up the mountain valley. Scotland was not known for its excessively fine weather, but the situation was one that would make the most of the sun. A large kitchen garden, flower beds in full bloom, apple trees and raspberry canes, and roses interplanted with lavender. An unusual and completely lovely effect, so different from the gardens of her childhood at Oakmere, where nature was subservient to geometry.

Someone had put a great deal of planning into the grounds; someone both sensible and with a keen eye for natural beauty. Appalina perhaps, or Marietta, she of the mysterious portraits.

For the first time in months Elizabeth was physically comfortable, freshly bathed and well dressed, her stomach full and the sunlight gentle on her back and shoulders. But she felt a little dizzy suddenly, and fought with the urge to turn back into the deep shadows of the hall and retreat, back to Nathaniel and Curiosity and the children. And how silly that was: once she had traveled alone through the endless forests, and here she stood trembling in the rose gardens at Carryckcastle.

She could not let herself be drawn into such a simple trap as a pleasing garden; she would not forget how she had come to be here. With new concentration, she started toward the conservatory that stood on the far side of a little stand of pear trees, its glass walls and roof reflecting bright in the sun. The gardens were not empty--men were at work weeding the beds and spreading manure, and far off she saw the Hakim, pushing a man in a wheeled chair. She paused to watch him, curious about this patient of his, an old man hunched forward. A maid came up and curtsied before him; he raised his hand to trace something in the air over her head.

"Might I be o' any help, mem?" A gardener popped up before her so suddenly that she stepped back in alarm and pressed a hand to her heart.

"I didna mean tae startle ye, mem, please pardon me. I'm the head gardener, and I thoucht perhaps ye had questions--" The rims of his eyelids and the tips of his ears and nose were tinged pink and this gardener reminded her of a plump little rabbit.

"Not at all." Hannah had once brought them information about the head gardener at Carryck, and Elizabeth searched her memory for the name. Whatever connections she could make to the staff might help later on, when the time came to leave.

"The earl is in the conservatory, Mr. Brown?"

His eyes widened in surprise. "Aye, mem. So he is. I expect he'll be there aa day." And apologetically: "He doesna like tae be disturbed when he's workin', mem."

Elizabeth studied the rose before her. "I believe your brother serves on the Isis, does he not? Have you had a happy reunion with him?"

The little man's look of surprise deepened. "I've no' yet seen him, mem, but I hope he'll be doon the village when I get hame. Do ye ken oor Michael, then?"

"A bit. My stepdaughter spent some time with him, and the bird he raised--"

"Sally," supplied the gardener, grinning now.

"Yes, Sally."

With a little flourish he held out a single rose between a thumb and forefinger stained green. "Gin it isna tae forward, mem ..."

"Thank you," said Elizabeth, accepting the blossom. "How pretty."

"She's aye bonnie tae look at, mem, but her smell is still sweeter."

"Very sweet, indeed. Your roses thrive very well given the climate here, do they not?"

He nodded solemnly. "Aye, mem, so they do. But that's the laird's doin', ye ken."

"Is it?" Elizabeth could not help smiling. "Does His Lordship command the weather to his roses' liking, then?"

The smooth brow crinkled under the straw brim. "There nivver was sic a mannie for growin' things," he said very seriously, looking toward the greenhouse. "Perhaps His Lordship will show ye his orchids, some day."

"What a splendid idea, Mr. Brown. I'll go now and ask him. Oh, and can you tell me--who was that elderly man in the wheeled chair? He's gone now, but he was there just a minute ago, with Hakim Ibrahim."

A pained expression flitted across Mr. Brown's face, gone as soon as it came. "That must ha' been Mr. Duppy, mem. A guest o' the earl's. He's verra tender, ye see. In puir health."

"I am sorry to hear that," Elizabeth said. And then, still vaguely uneasy, she took her leave of Mr. Brown.

The conservatory was an enormous building made almost entirely of glass. It was cleverly designed, so that the panels that served as walls could be adjusted individually, pivoted and propped up to regulate temperature and air flow. Each was covered on the inside by a fine mesh, surely a convenience when the midges were biting.

And such a profusion of greenery: full-grown trees, flowering shrubbery, a long table of orchids--Elizabeth knew them only from books in her uncle's library--under bell jars. A small red butterfly such as she had never seen before flitted by, and then another. There was no sign of the earl, but when she opened the door she heard voices.

"It looks like a wee monkey," said a young girl's voice. "For aa it's got a purple neb."

"Aye, and it's near as much trouble as a monkey wad be," said the earl. His tone was very different from the one Elizabeth had heard from him late in the night; he sounded perfectly at ease conversing with little girls.

Along the wall was a row of the potted ti-nain trees that the Hakim had tended so carefully on the deck of the Isis, come now to the end of their long journey. Elizabeth walked along, following the sound of the voices until she arrived at the work area in the very middle of the conservatory.

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