Scandal in Spring Page 17

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“You did?” Her head lifted from the pillow.

“St. Vincent and I came up with a list and debated the merits of each candidate at length. We settled on an even dozen. Any one of them would do for your sister.”

“Oh, Marcus, you are the most clever, most wonderful—”

He waved away the praise and shook his head with a grin, remembering the lively arguments. “St. Vincent is damned finicky, let me tell you. If he were a woman, no man would be good enough for him.”

“They never are,” Lillian told him impudently. “Which is why we women have a saying…‘Aim high, then settle.’”

He snorted. “Is that what you did?”

A smile curved her lips. “No, my lord. I aimed high and got far more than I’d bargained for.” And she giggled as he crawled over her prone body and kissed her soundly.

The sun had not yet risen by the time a group of guests bent on trout fishing had partaken of a hasty breakfast on the back terrace and had gone out dressed in tweed and rough twill and waxed linen. Sleepy-eyed servants followed the gentlemen to the trout stream, carrying rods, creels, and wooden cases containing flies and tools. The men would be gone for a good part of the morning while the ladies slept.

All the ladies except Daisy. She loved fishing, but she knew without asking that she would not be welcome in the all-male group. And while she and Lillian had often gone by themselves in the past, her older sister was certainly in no condition to do so now.

Daisy had done her best to persuade Evie or Annabelle to come with her to the artificial lake that Westcliff kept generously stocked with trout, but neither of them had seemed enthusiastic about the prospect.

“You’ll have a smashing time,” Daisy had wheedled. “I’ll teach you how to cast—it’s quite easy, really. Don’t say you’re going to stay inside on a beautiful spring morning!”

As it turned out, Annabelle thought that sleeping late was a fine idea. And since Evie’s husband St. Vincent had decided not to go fishing, Evie said she would rather remain in bed with him.

“You would have much more fun fishing with me,” Daisy had told her.

“No,” Evie had said decisively, “I wouldn’t.”

Feeling cross and just a little bit lonely, Daisy breakfasted by herself and set out to the lake, carrying her favorite lancewood rod with the whalebone top and the clamp-foot reel.

It was a glorious morning, the air soft and alive. Overwintering salvia sprang in bright blue and purple spikes alongside the blackthorn hedgerows. Daisy crossed a mown green field toward ground that was blanketed with buttercups, yarrow, and the bright pink petals of ragged robin.

As she rounded a mulberry tree Daisy saw a disturbance at the water’s edge…two young boys, with something between them, some kind of animal or bird…a goose? The creature was protesting with angry honks, flapping its wings violently at the giggling lads.

“Here, now,” Daisy called out. “What is this? What’s going on?”

Seeing the intruder, the boys yelped and broke into a full bore run, their legs a blur as they headed away from the lake.

Daisy quickened her pace and approached the indignant goose. It was a huge domestic Greylag, a breed known for its gray plumage, muscular neck and sharp orange beak.

“Poor fellow,” Daisy said as she saw that its leg was tied with something. As she drew closer, the hostile goose darted forward as if to attack her. It was abruptly caught up on whatever it was that tethered his leg. Pausing, Daisy set down her fishing gear. “I’m going to try to help you,” she informed the aggressive bird. “But an attitude like that is rather off-putting. If you could manage to control your temper…” Inching toward the goose, Daisy investigated the source of the problem. “Oh, dear,” she said. “Those little scamps…they were making you fish for them, weren’t they?”

The goose screeched in agreement.

A length of fishing line had been knotted around the goose’s leg, leading to a tin spoon with a hole punched through the bowl. A fishhook had been attached to the hole. Were it not for her sympathy for the ill-used goose, Daisy would have laughed.

It was ingenious. As the goose was tossed out into the water and had to swim its way back, the tin spoon would flash like a minnow. If a trout was attracted by the lure it would be caught on the hook, and the goose would tow it in. But the hook had caught on some bramble, effectively imprisoning the goose.

Daisy kept her voice soft and her movements slow as she crept toward the bramble. The bird froze and peered at her with one bright black eye.

“There’s a nice fellow,” Daisy soothed, carefully reaching for the line. “My goodness, you’re large. If you’ll just be patient a moment longer, I’ll—ouch!” Suddenly the goose had rushed forward and struck her forearm with a hammer-blow of its beak.

Scampering back, Daisy glanced down at the little dent on her skin, which was beginning to bruise. She scowled at the belligerent goose. “You ungrateful creature! Just for that I ought to leave you here like this.”

Rubbing the sore spot on her arm, Daisy wondered if she might be able to use her fishing rod to unhook the line from the bramble…but that still didn’t solve the problem of removing the spoon from the goose’s leg. She would have to walk back to the manor and find someone to help.

As she bent to pick up her fishing gear, she heard an unexpected noise. Someone whistling an oddly familiar tune. Daisy listened intently, remembering the melody. It was a song that had been popular in New York just before she had left, called “The End Of A Perfect Day.”

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