Scandal in Spring Page 45

“You must never leave a business card when you’re calling on an Englishman,” Daisy advised him. “It’s bad form here—it implies you’re trying to collect money for something.”

“I usually am.”

Daisy smiled. She found another intriguing object, and she held it up to inspect it.

A button.

Her brow creased as she stared at the front of the button, which was engraved with a pattern of a windmill. The back of it contained a tiny lock of black hair behind a thin plate of glass, held in place with a copper rim.

Swift blanched and reached for it, but Daisy snatched it back, her fingers closing around the button.

Daisy’s pulse began to race. “I’ve seen this before,” she said. “It was part of a set. My mother had a waistcoat made for Father with five buttons. One was engraved with a windmill, another with a tree, another with a bridge…she took a lock of hair from each of her children and put it inside a button. I remember the way she took a little snip from my hair at the back where it wouldn’t show.”

Still not looking at her, Swift reached for the discarded contents of his pocket and methodically replaced them.

As the silence drew out, Daisy waited in vain for an explanation. Finally she reached out and took hold of his sleeve. His arm stilled, and he stared at her fingers on his coat fabric.

“How did you get it?” she whispered.

Swift waited so long that she thought he might not answer.

Finally he spoke with a quiet surliness that wrenched her heart. “Your father wore the waistcoat to the company offices. It was much admired. But later that day he was in a temper and in the process of throwing an ink bottle he spilled some on himself. The waistcoat was ruined. Rather than face your mother with the news he gave the garment to me, buttons and all, and told me to dispose of it.”

“But you kept one button.” Her lungs expanded until her chest felt tight on the inside and her heartbeat was frantic. “The windmill. Which was mine. Have you…have you carried a lock of my hair all these years?”

Another long silence. Daisy would never know how or if he would have answered, because the moment was broken by the sound of Annabelle’s voice in the hallway. “Daaaisyyyy!”

Still clutching the button, Daisy struggled to her feet. Swift rose in one smooth movement, first steadying her, then clamping his hand on her wrist. He held his free hand beneath hers and gave her an inscrutable look.

He wanted the button back, she realized, and let out an incredulous laugh.

“It’s mine,” she protested. Not because she wanted the dratted button, but because it was strange to realize that he had possessed this tiny part of her, kept it with him for years. She was a little afraid of what it meant.

Swift didn’t move or speak, just waited with unyielding patience until Daisy opened her fingers and let the button drop into his palm. He pocketed the object like a possessive magpie and released her.

Bewildered, Daisy hurried toward her sister’s room. As she heard the sound of a baby crying, her breath stopped with anxious joy. It was only a few yards to her sister’s door, and yet it seemed to be miles.

Annabelle met her at the door, looking strained and weary but wearing a brilliant smile. And there was a tiny bundle of linen and clean toweling in her arms. Daisy put her fingers over her mouth and shook her head slightly, laughing even as her eyes prickled with tears. “Oh my,” she said, staring at the red-faced baby, the bright dark eyes, the wealth of black hair.

“Say hello to your niece,” Annabelle said, gently handing the infant to her.

Daisy took the baby carefully, astonished by how light she was. “My sister—”

“Lillian’s fine,” Annabelle replied at once. “She did splendidly.”

Cooing to the baby, Daisy entered the room. Lillian was resting against a stack of pillows, her eyes closed. She looked very small in the large bed, her hair braided in two plaits like a young girl’s. Westcliff was at her side, looking like he had just fought Waterloo singlehandedly.

The veterinarian was at the washstand, soaping his hands. He threw Daisy a friendly smile, and she grinned back at him. “Congratulations, Mr. Merritt,” she said. “It seems you’ve added a new species to your repertoire.”

Lillian stirred at the sound of her voice. “Daisy?”

Daisy approached with the baby in her arms. “Oh, Lillian, she’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Her sister grinned sleepily. “I think so too. Would you—” she broke off to yawn. “Show her to Mother and Father?”

“Yes, of course. What is her name?”

“Merritt.”

“You’re naming her after the veterinarian?”

“He proved to be quite helpful,” Lillian replied. “And Westcliff said I could.”

The earl tucked the bedclothes more snugly around his wife’s body and kissed her forehead.

“Still no heir,” Lillian whispered to him, her grin lingering. “I suppose we’ll have to have another one.”

“No, we won’t,” Westcliff replied hoarsely. “I’m never going through this again.”

Amused, Daisy glanced down at little Merritt, who was falling asleep in her arms. “I’ll show her to the others,” she said softly.

Stepping into the hallway, she was surprised to find it was empty.

Matthew Swift was gone.

When Daisy woke up the next morning, she learned to her relief that Mr. Hunt and Lord St. Vincent had returned safely to StonyCrossPark. St. Vincent had found the south road to be impassable, but Mr. Hunt had had more luck. He had found a doctor in a neighboring village, but the man had balked at riding out in a perilous storm. Apparently it had taken a fair amount of bullying from Hunt to convince him to go. Once they had arrived at Stony Cross Manor, the doctor examined Lillian and Merritt and pronounced them both in excellent condition. In his assessment the baby was small but perfectly formed, with a well-developed pair of lungs.

Prev Next