covered in autumn leaves, with gilded acorns, silver pinecones, and yards and yards of copper-colored ribbon! How very thoughtful you are, Bell!”
The horses blew air through their noses, as though to contradict Belinda’s estimation of her sister’s noble motives.
The young women walked on for a time, until at last, Arabella said, “No. It is rather selfish, actually. You see, I have just decided that the rector shall accompany us to the Continent. There is no doubt at all that he will come if I ask him, and taking his utter compliance with my wishes for granted makes me feel rather guilty. However, if I preface my request with a present, I think I shall feel less so.”
“But why should you feel guilty?”
“Better you should ask why I want him.”
“Well, then, why do you?”
“Because I foresee that you and I shall go off on all sorts of junkets in an effort to recover my statue. We shan’t want Charles with us—you know how he can be—and yet there is no telling what mischief he will get into, left on his own.”
“So . . . you want Mr. Kendrick to look after Charles.”
“I shall pay for his passage, his room, and all of his wants,” replied Arabella defensively. “Besides, Mr. Kendrick is fond of Charles. It will seem more like spending time with a cherished companion than caring for a dangerous lunatic.”
“And yet, Mr. Kendrick will be joining us for the sole purpose of basking in your presence. It will vex him exceedingly to watch you going off without him.”
“I know. I am a dreadful woman, am I not?”
“Yes,” said Belinda. “Yes, I suppose you are.”
C ALLING AT THE E FFING R ECTORY
J ohn Kendrick, Rector of Effing (who was sometimes called “vicar,” although this wasn’t strictly correct), lay coughing peevishly under a mound of blankets as his housekeeper entered with a bowlful of soup on a tray. She was the solid, square-ish, no-nonsense type, and there was not a shred of sympathetic understanding in her voice as she thumped his pillows and asked whether he felt up to receiving a visitor.
“Visitor?” the rector ejaculated. “How could you possibly think I might? My throat feels like the cat’s scratching post and my nose is as blocked up as a miser’s chimney!”
“All right, then; I shall tell Miss Beaumont that you are too ill to see her.”
“Miss Beaumont?” he asked. “Miss Beaumont is here? Well, for heaven’s sake, Mrs. Hasquith, why did you not say it was she? Show her in, by all means!”
Privately, Mr. Kendrick owned that he would not have engaged Mrs. Hasquith had he been permitted the freedom to chuse his own staff. But she was a relic of the previous rector’s, and had come with the house.
“The rector is too ill to see anyone, ma’m!” shouted Mrs. Hasquith over the banister, making certain her employer should hear her. “He says you can come back in a fortnight.”
Arabella was quite nonplussed by this news. But before she could address the grizzled head that leered down at her from above, a roar of protest erupted from the sickroom.
“ Thought that would get him,” muttered the housekeeper with a grim smile. “Come upstairs and go in, miss, if you please.”
Arabella found the poor reverend coughing weakly from the effort of his bellow.
“Hullo, Mr. K.,” said she, plumping her offering down upon the bed. “I have brought you something to help wile away the hours until you are well again.”
To his intense delight, the invalid found all manner of items inside to soothe and amuse him.
. . . There was a deck of cards:
“Oh! I am not supposed to have these, you know, but I suppose, if I only play with myself and don’t gamble, it is bound to be all right.”
Arabella could not help smiling as she momentarily pictured the rector “playing with himself.”
. . . A flask of “cold medicine”: “Cook put this up for you,” Arabella explained. “It’s an old family recipe.”
Kendrick pulled out the