took another direction. She had never had a truly close female friend with whom to whisper secrets. But she could not imagine why jolly Mrs. Parton chose such a cold, unfeeling confidante like Lady Greystone.
Memories of Mama’s poise and graciousness swept into her thoughts. She straightened her shoulders and followed the other ladies into a bright, pretty parlor at the back of the house. No matter what her brother had done, no matter what censure came her way, she would hold her head high and never again deny who she was. Even when a gentleman like Lord Greystone withheld his good opinion from her, yet carried a dirty street child as if he were a precious jewel.
* * *
A myriad of thoughts assailed Greystone as he followed Crawford toward the fourth-floor nursery. He tried to concentrate on the imp in his arms, but the flawless, smiling Lady Beatrice invaded his mind. Had he mistaken her expression? Was she laughing at him or approving of his actions, as he had first thought? And why did it matter? Last night he’d dismissed any notion of taking an interest in her, a decision solidified by her brother’s association with that scoundrel Rumbold. As Mother had taught him from childhood, no good could come from ill-advised friendships, for a man could find himself too deeply involved to escape the evil influences such associations could bring.
At the thought of Mother a hint of shame struck him. As he often did, he recalled his debt to her. He owed her everything: his life, his faith, his moral standards, her restoration of the family fortune Father had gambled away. Yet since his illness last winter he found himself less and less amenable to her instructions. She had a harshness about her that had never bothered him before, but now he found it inconsistent with the improvements he wished to make in his own character. Furthermore he found he could no longer align himself with her every opinion. Now he wanted to learn about and follow the teachings of Christ. Still, he would never cease to honor her, as the Biblical commandment instructed.
The child moaned, then bit his lower lip and shuddered. “Sorry, gov’ner.” Tears filled his eyes, and he swatted at them with his uninjured hand.
“Never mind, my good man.” Greystone swallowed his own sentiments. He wanted to give the boy a reassuring squeeze, but that would doubtless cause him more pain. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.” He eyed the footman posted on the landing. “Bring hot water and a tub to the nursery.”
“Yes, milord.” The man hurried downstairs.
“Ain’t ya gonna have me whipped, sir?” Curiosity rather than fear filled the boy’s expression.
Now Greystone’s emotions—rage at the master sweep, pity for the boy—threatened to undo him, so he did not risk an answer.
They reached the nursery, and Crawford held the door open. “’Tis a bit musty in here, my lord.”
“Of course.” Greystone stepped inside and surveyed the long-unused chamber. Dusty holland covers were draped over the furniture, and threads of light peered around the heavy drapes, glinting off dust motes hanging in the air. “Get someone in here to clean it as quickly as possible. But first uncover the bed so I can set my little friend down.”
“But my lord.” Crawford’s pale eyes widened. “He is not fit for a clean bed. He must have his bath first.”
“Bath?” The boy squirmed, then cried out and grasped his injured arm with his good hand. At each of his movements, Greystone could feel the child’s bony frame.
“Never mind the bedding. It will wash.”
With a martyred sigh, Crawford folded away the holland cover and turned down the counterpane on the four-poster bed. Greystone gently laid the boy down, amazed at his resilience. Although the lad shuddered and bit his lip, he did not cry out again.
“There, my lad. The physician will be here shortly to see to your arm.” Greystone turned to leave, but the boy grabbed his hand.
Mouhssine Rekha; Ennaimi Kalindi