Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 146

"I should have been here."

From her spot near the door Jennet said, "I shouldna ha' kept ye sae lang."

Hannah jerked in surprise as Elizabeth took her by the elbow and steered her away from the bed.

"Hannah Bonner," she said in her primmest schoolmistress voice. There was a line between her brows that Hannah had not often seen, and did not care to see now. "What is this foolishness?"

In her surprise, Hannah glanced at Curiosity. But there was no help to be had from her; she looked quite in agreement with Elizabeth.

"But--"

"Do not interrupt me. Do you think that hand-wringing will help your father? When he wakes he will want to hear all about the castle. Will you be ready to answer his questions?"

Hannah blinked hard, and then she nodded. "Yes."

"Yes?"

It was not like Elizabeth to be unfair, and Hannah felt herself flush with frustration. "We've only been here a few hours," she said. "By tomorrow I'll know more."

"Aye," volunteered Jennet, coming to her aid. "I'll show her whatever she cares tae see."

"Good," said Elizabeth, more calmly. "Your father will be very glad of it." She pushed out a long breath and Hannah saw suddenly how very worried Elizabeth was. She saw too that nothing she could say would help.

"The two of you might take the twins out into the garden for an hour. I will manage here well enough."

Curiosity said, "That's a fine idea. I'll come along, too."

There was a bit of sloping lawn that ran from the gardens down toward the dairy, and they settled there in the shifting shadows of a rowan tree.

"A pretty place," Curiosity said, spreading her skirts out around herself. "Cain't deny that."

Jennet sat beside her with Daniel in her lap. She was studying Curiosity's hand where it lay on the grass, palm up and fingers slightly curved. Hannah wondered what Jennet found so interesting, and so did Curiosity.

"Ain't you ever seen an African before?"

Jennet leaned over to look more closely at Curiosity's palm. "The Marquis o' Montrose came tae call on the laird, last summer it was, and he had a Moor for a footman. But I dinna see him sae close," she said. "Why are ye broon on one side and pale on the ither?"

Curiosity shrugged, and examined her own hand. "I have wondered that myself. When I get to the other side I'll be sure to ask the Lord what He had in mind."

Jennet propped Daniel on the ground beside Lily, and steadied him with one hand to see if he might sit on his own. He would not, but he found it a good game, and chuckled with great satisfaction each time she caught him and brought him back upright. She said, "I like your idea o' heaven. Imagine, askin' any question."

"I guess you'd keep the Almighty busy talkin' for a good while," said Curiosity, but there was real affection in her tone. Then she looked over at Hannah.

"You mighty quiet, Squirrel. Worried about your daddy?"

"A little. And about Elizabeth."

"No need," Curiosity said, holding up her face to the sun. "She'll settle, soon as his fever breaks." And then, without turning her head, she said, "Jennet, child. Now tell me, ain't that Mrs. Hope your mama?"

Hannah pulled up in surprise. It was true that Jennet had never mentioned her own family beyond her brother, Simon, and now she wondered why she would have been silent on that subject. Curiosity had come to the same question, and she was after something--Hannah had seen her at work too many times to mistake her tone.

"Aye." Jennet was preoccupied with Daniel, and she did not seem to mind Curiosity's questions.

"And she's a widow woman?"

"Aye," said Jennet. "Widowed young."

"Now that's too bad," Curiosity said, ignoring Hannah's pointed frown and moving right ahead to what she wanted to know.

"So it's just you and your mama."

"Granny Laidlaw's doon the village," said Jennet. "She's like you."

Curiosity drew up in surprise. "How is that?"

"Canny," said Jennet.

"I thank you kindly for the compliment," Curiosity said. "Now I suppose as young as you are, you wouldn't remember nothing 'bout this Isabel I hear tell about."

Jennet turned to look at Curiosity, and something much older than her years was there in her eyes. "Ye want tae hear how it is she ran off wi' a Breadalbane?"

Hannah gave Curiosity a triumphant look. Jennet was too clever to be wheedled out of a story, and Curiosity had underestimated her. But she wasn't displeased to have been outmaneuvered, and she gave Jennet a wide smile.

"Why, yes. I would."

"They'd beat me for even sayin' her name. The earl forbids it. Auld Nick was sent awa' oot o' service for talkin' aboot her in MacQuiddy's hearin'."

"Then we won't ask." Hannah met Curiosity's raised brow with a furrowed one of her own.

"Och, I'll tell ye what I ken," said Jennet with an easy shrug. "It's no' verra much. A summer's night, it was. He was waitin' for her below--" She pointed with her chin toward the village. "I dinna ken how it was that she ever came tae meet a Breadalbane. My mither could tell ye, but she willna speak o' it."

"Were they good friends, then?" Hannah asked, drawn into this story almost against her will.

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