The Dangerous Lord Darrington(9)

By: Sarah Mallory

There was a faint line of light beneath the door and as he entered the room he saw that a single lamp glowed on a side table, illuminating the curtained bed, but leaving the corners of the room in deep shadow. A movement beside the fire brought him to a stand.

‘Mrs Forrester!’ She rose as he whispered her name, the dim light muting her fiery hair to a deep auburn. He continued, ‘I heard someone cry out and thought perhaps he might be…’

Guy waved towards the figure in the bed. She looked discomposed and took a step as if she would leave the room, then thought better of it.

‘Mr Davies has not moved,’ she said quietly. ‘It must have been a peacock, or some night creature that you heard, my lord. The night time is full of noises.’

He nodded. ‘Of course. But why are you here, ma’am?’

‘Doctor Compton suggested someone should sit with your friend tonight,’ she said softly.

‘But he did not mean you, ma’am.’

She spread her hands. ‘I wanted to be sure he was comfortable. Besides, the servants need to be fresh for their duties in the morning.’

‘And you do not?’ He placed his candle on the mantelshelf before turning his attention to the figure in the bed. ‘How is he?’

‘Still sleeping. He grows a little restless now and again, but nothing serious.’ She added with a thread of humour in her voice, ‘It is very tedious keeping watch over a sleeping man.’

‘Then may I sit with you for a while?’

‘Oh, no—that is, I did not mean to imply…’ Beth trailed off, disturbed lest he should think she had been hinting for him to stay.

‘Of course not, but surely a little company would be welcome to while away the long night hours.’

Beth could not deny it. With a little nod she resumed her seat beside the fire and motioned him to a chair opposite, her eyes dwelling for a while on his stockinged feet.

‘Ah. I did not wish to wake the household by clumping along in those court shoes.’

‘I did not hear you approach; that is unusual for this house—the building is very old, you see. It is full of rattling doors and creaking boards.’

‘I was aware of that as I came along the landing earlier this evening. A person with a more fevered imagination might well have thought there were spirits abroad.’

‘The wind does howl through the corridors and rattle the locks.’ She was glad of the opportunity to explain away any noises he might hear in the night. ‘Some guests think they hear voices, others declare the Priory to be haunted. All nonsense, of course. I hope you will ignore any strange sounds, my lord, and remain comfortably in your bed.’

‘You may be sure I shall, madam.’

They lapsed into silence. After a few moments the earl said slowly, ‘I am glad of this opportunity to speak to you, Mrs Forrester. We have given you a great deal of extra work, I fear.’

‘Think nothing of it, my lord.’

‘But you were very much against my remaining here overnight.’

‘Oh, no! It was… I mean—if I was ungracious, my lord, I beg your pardon.’

‘There is no need. I quite understand, given the circumstances.’

Startled, Beth looked up. What did he know, what had he guessed?

‘My lord?’

‘To have me walk in, wearing your late husband’s clothes. I should have realised how distressing my appearance must be to you.’

‘Oh.’ She breathed again, relieved. ‘I have been a widow for nigh on six years, sir. I barely remember that suit of clothes. Besides, you are nothing like my husband.’ Beth wished she had not spoken. Would he think she was trying to flirt with him? She added hastily, ‘I mean, sir, that Mr Forrester was a very good man.’

‘As I am not?’

‘I have no idea!’ she retorted, flustered.

He laughed at her. ‘I beg your pardon, madam. I could not resist the opportunity to tease you.’

Beth pressed her lips together, determined not to respond, but she could feel the heat in her cheeks and was aware that in other circumstances she would quite enjoy his teasing.

She was thankful when a groan from the bed claimed their attention. Mr Davies was stirring. He was muttering incoherently and Beth picked up a cloth and dipped it into the small bowl on the bedside table.

‘Lavender water,’ she explained as she gently wiped the patient’s brow. ‘It is very soothing.’

However, on this occasion it did not calm Mr Davies, who continued to mutter and began to move restlessly in the bed.

‘Perhaps you should leave him to me?’ suggested Lord Darrington as the injured man cried out and began to curse when the movement tore at his cracked ribs.

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