She tried sympathy next. "Leo… I know what you've gone through since Laura died. But other people have recovered from loss, and they've gone on to find happiness again?
"There's no more happiness," Leo said roughly. "There's no peace in any damn corner of my life. She took it all with her. For pity's sake, Amelia… go meddle in someone else's affairs, and leave me the hell alone."
The morning after Amelia Hathaway's visit, Cam went to visit Lord Westcliff 's private study, pausing at the open doorway. "My lord."
He suppressed a smile as he noticed a child's porcelain-head doll under the mahogany desk, propped in a sitting position against one of the legs, and the remains of what appeared to be a honey tart. Knowing of the earl's adoration for his daughter, Cam guessed he found it impossible to defend against Merritt's invasions.
Looking up from the desk, Westcliff gestured for Cam to enter. "Is it Brishen's tribe?" he asked without prelude.
Cam took the chair he indicated. "No—it's headed by a man named Danior. They saw the marks on the trees."
That morning, one of Westcliff's tenants had reported that a Romany camp had been set up by the river. Unlike other landowners in Hampshire, Westcliff tolerated the presence of Gypsies at his estate, as long as they made no mischief and didn't outstay their welcome.
On past occasions the earl had sent food and wine to visiting Romas. In return, they had carved marks on trees by the river to indicate this was friendly territory. They usually stayed only a matter of days, and left without causing damage to the estate.
Upon learning of the Gypsy camp, Cam had volunteered to go talk to the newcomers and ask about their plans. Westcliff had agreed at once, welcoming the opportunity of sending an intermediary who spoke Romany.
It had been a good visit. The tribe was a small one, its leader an affable man who had assured Cam they would make no trouble.
"They intend to stay a week, no more," Cam told Westcliff.
The earl's decisive reply caused Cam to smile. "You don't like being visited by the Rom."
"It's not something I would wish for," Westcliff admitted. "Their presence makes the villagers and my tenants nervous."
"But you allow them to stay. Why?"
"For one thing, proximity makes it easier to know what they're doing. For another?Westcliff paused, seeming to choose his words with unusual care. "Many view the Romany people as bands of wanderers and itinerants, and at worst, beggars and thieves. But others recognize them as possessing their own authentic culture. If one subscribes to the latter view, one can't punish them for living as men of nature."
Cam raised his brows, impressed. It was rare for anyone, let alone an aristocrat, to deal with Gypsies in a fair manner. "And you subscribe to the latter view?"
"I am leaning toward it"—Westcliff smiled wryly as he added?while at the same time acknowledging that men of nature can be, on occasion, a bit light-fingered."
Cam grinned. "The Rom believe no one owns the land or the life it sustains. Technically, one can't steal something that belongs to all people."
"My tenant farmers tend to disagree," Westcliff said dryly.
Cam leaned back, resting one hand on the arm of the chair. His gold rings glinted against the rich mahogany.
Unlike the earl, who was precisely dressed in tailored clothes and a deftly knotted necktie, Cam wore boots and breeches and an open-necked shirt. It wouldn't have been appropriate to visit the tribe in the formal stiff-necked attire of a gadjo.
Westcliff watched him closely. "What was said between you? I would imagine they expressed some surprise upon meeting a Roma who lives with gadje."
"Surprise," Cam agreed, "along with pity."
"Pity?" The earl was not so enlightened as to comprehend that the Rom considered themselves vastly superior to the gadje.
"They pity any man who leads this kind of life." Cam gestured loosely at their refined surroundings. "Sleeping in a house. Burdened by possessions. Having a schedule. Carrying a pocket watch. All of it is unnatural."
He fell silent, thinking of the moment he had set foot in the camp, the sense of ease that had stolen over him. The sight of the wagons, vardos, with dogs lazing between the front wheels, the contented cob horses tethered nearby, the smells of woodsmoke and ashes… all of it had evoked warm childhood memories. And longing. He wanted that life, had never stopped wanting it. He had never found anything to replace it.
"To my mind there is nothing unnatural about wanting a roof of over one's head when it rains," Westcliff said. "Or owning and tilling the land, or measuring the progress of the day with the use of a clock. It is man's nature to impose his will on his surroundings. Otherwise society would disintegrate, and there would be nothing but chaos and war."
"And the English, with their clocks and farms and fences—they have no war?"
The earl frowned. "One can't view these matters so simplistically."
"The Rom do." Cam studied the tips of his boots, the worn leather coated with a dry film of river mud. "They asked me to go with them when they leave," he said almost absently.
"You refused, of course."
"I wanted to say yes. If not for my responsibilities in London, I would have."
Westcliff's face went blank. A speculative pause. "You surprise me."