The phrase "particularly Miss Hathaway" uttered with just a hint of ownership, nearly shattered Cam's self-control. He, who had always congratulated himself on his equanimity, was instantly overrun with hostility. "Perhaps," he said, "you should have asked first. As it turns out, your services aren't needed."
Frost's face darkened. "What gives you the right to speak for Miss Hathaway and her family?"
Cam saw no reason to be discreet. "I'm going to marry her."
Frost nearly dropped the iron bar. "Don't be absurd. Amelia would never marry you."
"Good God," Frost exclaimed incredulously, "how can you ask that? You're not a gentleman of her class, and… hell and damnation, you're not even a real Gypsy. You're a mongrel."
"All the same, I'm going to marry her."
"I'll see you in hell first!" Frost cried, taking a step toward him.
"Either drop that bar," Cam said quietly, "or I'll dislocate your arm." He sincerely hoped Frost would take a swing at him. To his disappointment, Frost set the bar on the ground.
The architect glared at him. "After I talk to her, she'll want nothing more to do with you. I'll make certain she understands what people would say about a lady who beds down with a Gypsy. She'd be better off with a peasant. A dog. A?
"Point taken," Cam said. He gave Frost a bland smile designed to infuriate. "But it's interesting, isn't it, that Miss Hathaway's previous experience with a gentleman of her own class has now disposed her to look favorably on a Roma? It hardly reflects well on you."
"You selfish bastard," Frost muttered. "You'll ruin her. You think nothing of bringing her down to your level. If you cared for her at all, you would disappear for good."
He brushed by Cam without another word. Soon his footsteps could be heard as he descended the stairs.
And Cam stayed in the empty doorway for a long time, seething with anger, concern for Amelia, and even worse, guilt. He couldn't change the fact of what he was, nor would he be able to shield Amelia from all the arrows that would be aimed at the wife of a Gypsy.
But he would be damned if he would let her make her way through a merciless world without him.
Supper was a somber affair, with the Westcliffs and St. Vincents having departed for Bristol, and Leo having gone to the village tavern for amusement. It was a miserable night. Amelia found it hard to imagine there would be much revelry in the cold and wet, but Leo was probably desperate for more sympathetic company than could be found at Stony Cross Manor.
Merripen had remained in his room, sleeping most of the day, which was so unlike him that the Hathaways were all worried.
"I suppose it's good for him to rest," Poppy ventured, brushing idly at a few crumbs on the tablecloth. A footman came hurriedly to remove the crumbs for her with a napkin and silver implement. "It will help him to heal faster, won't it?"
"Has anyone had a look at Merripen's shoulder?" Amelia asked, glancing at Win. "It's probably time for the dressing to be changed."
"I'll do it," Win said at once. "And I'll take up a supper tray."
"Beatrix will accompany you," Amelia advised.
"I can manage the tray," Win protested.
"It's not that… I meant it's not proper for you to be alone with Merripen in his room."
Win looked surprised, and made a face. "I don't need Beatrix to come. It's only Merripen, after all."
After Win left the dining hall, Poppy looked at Amelia. "Do you think that Win really doesn't know how he?
"I have no idea. And I've never dared to broach the subject, because I don't want to put ideas into her head."
"I hope she doesn't know," Beatrix ventured. "It would be dreadfully sad if she did."
Amelia and Poppy both glanced at their younger sister quizzically. "Do you know what we're talking about, Bea?" Amelia asked.
"Yes, of course. Merripen's in love with her. I knew it a long time ago, from the way he washed her window."
"Washed her window?" both older sisters asked at the same time.
"Yes, when we lived in the cottage at Primrose Place. Win's room had a casement window that looked out onto the big maple tree—do you remember? After the scarlet fever, when Win couldn't get out of bed for the longest time and she was too weak to hold a book, she would just lie there and watch a birds' nest on one of the tree limbs. She saw the baby swallows hatch and learn to fly. One day she complained that the window was so dirty, she could barely see through it, and it made the sky look grayish. So from then on Merripen always kept the glass spotless. Sometimes he climbed a ladder to wash the outside, and you know how afraid of heights he is. You never saw him do that?"
"No," Amelia said with difficulty, her eyes stinging. "I didn't know he did that."
"Merripen said the sky should always be blue for her," Beatrix said. "And that was when I knew he… are you crying, Poppy?"
Poppy used a napkin to dab at the comers of her eyes. "No. I just inhaled some pepper."
"So did I," Amelia said, blowing her nose.
Win carried a light bamboo tray laden with broth, bread, and tea to Merripen's room. It hadn't been easy to persuade the kitchen maids that she could take the tray herself. They had felt strongly that no guest of Lord and Lady Westcliff's should carry anything. However, Win knew Merripen's dislike of strangers, and in his vulnerable state, he would be contrary and obstinate.