Romantic Fiction from Erindale Publishing
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Erindale Tale #4
by Courtney Seligman
(A sequel to The Maiden All Forlorn and An Unsuitable Suit)

 The fourth Erindale Tale continues the story started in The Maiden All Forlorn and An Unsuitable Suit by describing the events that shaped Moira's sixteenth year, and touched the lives of those who cared about her.

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Published October, 2020
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Back Cover Text:
 As Moira's fifteenth birthday drew near she hoped her 'new' year would be one to remember; but as in most years there were a few distressing events. Still, how could she help but enjoy being treated as a member of Gael's loving family and having many good friends? So as her sixteenth birthday approached all she wanted was to have things stay exactly as they were for years to come. Except for perhaps just one thing; but for that she would have to wait and see what the future might bring.

© 2020 Courtney Seligman
Cover for A Year To Remember, Erindale Tale #4
Front Cover for A Year To Remember, Erindale Tale #4

Chapter 1
June of ‘39 started at Blind Man’s Bluff as the best June in anyone’s memory. Each day was bright and sunny, and though some days were very warm, they never became too warm to work in the fields, and on many afternoons clouds built up in the west early enough to provide a spectacular sunset, and by late evening were spreading a beneficent rain across the land, so it was never necessary to provide extra water to the fields. As a result the crops grew like weeds, and the weeds… well, they did themselves proud.
 On a Monday morn in early June Gael and Danny were out in the fields, spreading havoc among the unwanted interlopers, and as he’d done since he was well enough to join Danny, Gael was giving Ryan’s son what he thought good advice, and what Danny thought an irritant that had to be endured as well as possible.
 “Be sure you take them out root as well as branch or they’ll be back before you know it,” Gael said.
 “Not as though I haven’t been doing this sort of thing for the best part of twenty years,” Danny muttered to himself ― which he had, since his father had enlisted his aid as soon as he was old enough to use a small spade for a similar task ― and used his hoe to take a savage swing at the base of the nearest weed.
 “What’s that?” Gael asked.
 “Nothing,” Danny told him. “Just absorbing your all too frequent words of wisdom.”
 “You may think me over-particular, young man, but you’ll thank me if we don’t have to do this all over again in a week or two.”
 “I’m sure we will, no matter how well we do it now, if everything keeps growing like there’s no tomorrow…” Danny looked toward Gael then straightened, took off his hat, wiped his brow and replaced the covering.
 What stopped him in his tracks wasn’t Gael’s frown, but the girl making her way across the field, carrying a pitcher and a couple of mugs. Not that he was going to tell anyone how he felt about her, but between her fiery red hair, her enchantingly flushed cheeks and the way her blue-and-white-checked gingham dress clung to her figure, it was all he could do to remember that though she looked eighteen or nineteen she was only going on fifteen.
 Of course that sort of thing hadn’t stopped his brother Michael from living with Lily when she was fourteen and looked it, and they’d had a happy marriage until she died in the recent epidemic. But Danny had made a fool of himself by objecting to the idea, then having to eat his words when he found out she was already with child. And he had no intention of letting anyone tease him by pursuing a girl who wasn’t any older than Lily had been. Not even if he had to take a dip in the river every day till she turned sixteen. Then and only then would he let her know how he felt about her. Still, that didn’t mean that the sight of her hadn’t suddenly made the day feel even warmer than it did a moment ago.
 Moira smiled as she reached them and offered each a cool drink of water. “And I’m supposed to tell you that lunch is almost ready, so you should clean up and join the rest of us as soon as you can.”
 Gael nodded. “We’ll just take care of the fifteen or so feet left in these two rows, then be right in.”
 Danny thanked her for the drink and added, “It will be nice to take a break. I’m sure it’s a lot cooler in the house, and the company not nearly so concerned about fifteen feet or so that would be quite willing to just lie here and wait for us.”
 “The sooner it’s done, the sooner we can quit for the day,” Gael pointed out.
 Moira grinned as she took the empty mugs. “Well, I’ll leave the two of you to your work, and hope you don’t use those hoes on each other before you’re done.” She turned to go, then turned back. “And Gael, don’t forget that Owen should be by early this afternoon to see how you’re doing. So don’t get overheated and make him think you’re still not fully recovered.”
 Gael snorted. “I may not be quite as fit as I was before I took sick, but I can still do half again as much work as this youngster and hardly break a sweat.”
 “You don’t need to convince me of that. You need to convince Owen, or he’ll be advising Mia to get you to rest more; and you know what she’ll do if he does.”
 Gael grimaced. “I know. She’ll coddle me to death.”
 Moira laughed. “So remember that, and come in as soon as you can.” She turned toward the house, and for just an instant Gael was as transfixed by the sight of her as Danny had been. Not because she was a fetching thing to look at ― though he would never have denied that she was ― but because from the moment he met and hired her she’d reminded him of Kylee, his long-dead sister; and especially from behind there were times when if he hadn’t known better he’d have sworn she was his sister come back to life, as young and innocent as the day she disappeared.
 He shook his head and turned back to Danny. “Well, if we’re going to get to the house before Mia comes looking for me, we’d best get done here as soon as we can.”

 Moira, Danny and Gael’s family were just finishing their meal when Owen arrived, and after responding to the enthusiastic greetings he received from almost all those assembled, Owen followed the head of the family to Gael and Mia’s room. Gael grumbled all the way there, but thanks to what Owen said at the end of his examination, he had a broad smile on his face when he returned to the kitchen and told his wife that she could stop worrying about him, as he had just been declared as fit as anyone could be expected to be at his age.
 “In fact, far better than most men his age,” Owen added as he took advantage of a tasty-looking treat. “So though whenever I’m out here I’ll stop by to say hello and make sure things remain as they are, I won’t be stopping by just to see how Gael is any more.” He downed what was left of the tidbit, asked Mia if there was anyone else he should see while he was here, and when she said everyone else was fine, said his goodbyes and headed for the front door only a couple of minutes behind Gael and Danny.
 As usual Moira accompanied him to the front porch, as she had gotten used to visiting a bit, to find out what was going on with her old friends in town, and as usual Owen was happy to oblige her. Since neither he nor Evans served the Home, he could only tell her that from what little he’d heard things were fine there, but he had a surprising reply to her next question.
 “And how is Miss Hobbs doing? I know she had a setback when you tried adding barley to her diet…”
 “She’s completely recovered from that episode,” Owen replied, “and in fact was well enough to leave for Seaside on Saturday.”
 Moira blinked her surprise. “What in the world takes her there?”
 “Her brother and Sir Robert’s sister have just become engaged, and since Sir Robert has some kind of business in Seaside, he offered them a chance to spend a week there if chaperones could be provided. And Miss Hobbs and Lizzie went along as the chaperones.”
 “Your sister Lizzie? And neither Templeman nor Jacob objected to her being gone for another week, after having been at Hobbs Hall for more than five weeks?”
 “Well, of course that was mostly during the epidemic, so her services weren’t missed all that much at the time; and apparently the cost of what Sir Robert and Master Hobbs would have considered a suitable chaperone was about the same as Lizzie’s salary, so though I imagine Isaac and Jacob were surprised by the request at first, they were willing to give her a chance to be with the friends she made at the Hall as long as it didn’t cost them anything. Though of course I only have Lizzie’s word for that, as Hobbs would never discuss such a thing with a mere doctor, even if he does happen to be one of her brothers.”
 “A mere doctor? After you saved Miss Hobbs’ life?”
 “Remember, I’m only Evans’ assistant, and to men like Hobbs even Evans is only a servant. And only you, Lizzie and Evans know what part I played. So as far as the world at large is concerned, mere is the proper term.”
 Moira twisted the lapel of his coat as distress filled her voice. “Oh, Owen, I’m so sorry. You are such a fine doctor, and for you to be thought of as merely anything is unfair.”
 He removed her hand from his lapel, though he continued to hold it near his chest. “I’d think that having been raised at the Home, you should know how the world treats people. Except for her father being a wealthy man, is Miss Hobbs any better than you? She is a fine young woman; but so are you, and yet you are a servant, even though Gael’s family doesn’t treat you as one.” She nodded and he went on. “So you shouldn’t fret about me. Evans knows what I did, and his good opinion is worth more to my career than Hobbs’. And since it was your suggestion about her diet that put me on the right track, you deserve as much credit as I do. But I can’t tell anyone about that, as it would show that I violated Evans’ order not to discuss any of our cases with anyone else.”
 She sighed. “I know. And I shouldn’t tempt you to do it, since it could get you in trouble. But I do enjoy talking with you, and if I can do anything to help…”
 He released her hand as he bent to give her his usual peck on the cheek, then straightened and gave her a warm smile. “You help just by being you, and listening to my concerns. Usually the only person I can talk to about them is myself.”
 “I’m glad you feel that way. I would miss being able to talk with you about anything and everything.”
 “As would I. But, dear friend,” he added as he looked at his watch, “if I am to see my family and get back to town on time, I’d best get going. So I’ll see you next week.” And with that he took his leave, and Moira returned to her duties.

 The next week passed much as the previous one had, though it did pour on a couple of days, giving Gael and Danny a brief respite. But weeds didn’t stop growing just because it rained, so there was more work to do on the days it was clear, and Ryan and Michael needed Danny’s help too, so Danny went home for lunch and only Orran was free to help Gael in the afternoons. Orran wasn’t as big and strong as Danny, but as is true of many thirteen-year-old boys he was growing like the weeds he was slaughtering, was already half a head taller than Mia and Moira, and seemed likely to end up as tall or taller than Gael, who at six foot three was the biggest and tallest man in the neighborhood. And Gael didn’t twit him as he did Danny, so with less talk and more work the two of them worked together as fast or faster than Gael and Danny did while Orran was busy with the animals and other chores in the morning.
 Mia and Moira spent most of each morning teaching the younger children, then preparing lunch; though Sarah helped with lunch almost as often as Moira and Aralie, for though Danny brought Daisy, Feo and Rosie over in the morning now that Lily was gone, Sarah usually picked them up, and as often as not stayed and visited before going home to help Annie fix their own family’s meal. After lunch Mia would rest a bit while Moira supervised Brian and Liane, whose chores included gathering herbs and vegetables for dinner, and Aralie sewed and watched Aileen. So except for the occasional rainy day, each day was like any other day.
 As he’d implied when he left on Monday, now that all of the patients Owen had been tending were well, he stopped coming to the countryside twice or thrice a week, and didn’t stop at Gael’s till the following Monday.
 In most respects his visit was exactly the same, though the news he related to Moira afterward was different ― namely, that everyone had returned from Seaside on Sunday, and apparently all had a very good time.
 And the end of his visit was also different, for when he bent to give Moira his usual goodbye peck on the cheek, he stopped short, shook his head and turned away.
 Surprised, Moira asked if there was something wrong.
 He turned back to her, the frown that had been forming on his face replaced by puzzlement. “What makes you think something is wrong?”
 “Well… you seem suddenly very distant and serious… and you were about to give me a peck on the cheek… weren’t you?”
 “Yes, I was… but I got to thinking about something…”
 “It must have been something serious to so quickly change your mood…”
 The real reason Owen stopped short was that he was having trouble reconciling the all too forward habit he’d gotten into with yesterday’s talk with Lizzie about what he should or shouldn’t do with his life. And he couldn’t tell Moira anything about that, as it might endanger their friendship. But her face made it clear that he must give her some explanation.
 “Well, it’s like this,” he said, stalling for time to think the thing through, lest he say more than he should. “As you know, I took advantage of your being under the mistletoe at Christmas…”
 “Yes, you did,” she said with a mischievous grin.
 “And during the epidemic, whenever we talked you looked so worn out and woebegone that it seemed like you needed comforting, and a gentle peck on the cheek, like you’d give a waif, seemed an appropriate gesture.”
 She nodded, having gotten quite used to that ― at least, after the surprise of the first time he did it.
 “And since we’re such good friends, I just sort of fell into the habit, even after there was no good reason for it.”
 “Except that we are such good friends,” she protested.
 “But even for such good friends it could easily be taken as being far too forward, and…”
 “And nothing. Have I given you any reason to believe that I think it too forward?”
 “No, but…”
 “I’ll admit,” she went on, “that I’d probably consider it forward from most anyone else. But I have gotten so used to a goodbye peck from you that it seems like a… an affirmation of the respect and goodwill we share. So unless it truly bothers you, I would prefer to keep things exactly as they are.”
 He took an assessing look at her. “You’re sure?”
 She gave him a forceful nod. “I’m sure.”
 He smiled, shook his head and uttered a small chuckle. “All right. But,” he said as he caressed her cheek, “just remember that you asked for it.” He bent forward, gave her cheek a gentle kiss, and with a twinkle in his eyes said, “And with that, dear friend, I shall take my leave.”

Chapter 2
Other than slightly warmer weather, the next week on the farms was the same as the previous one, and since in comparison with the earlier part of the year no news was good news, everyone was in a perfectly happy frame of mind. Though there was a short discussion of an unusual nature while Moira was helping Mia prepare lunch on the following Monday.
 “I presume that Owen will be stopping by today,” Mia noted, while Moira was chopping vegetables for the stew.
 “I suppose he will,” Moira distractedly replied.
 “And of course he’ll want to visit with you a bit after he sees the family.”
 “I imagine so.”
 “You said he was a bit distant at the end of last week’s visit…”
 Moira nodded. “I knew you’d want to know about that, since you’d asked me not to discourage the easy way he has with me, because of how staid and sober he’d become with most everyone else after starting with Evans.”
 “But you managed to coax him out of his mood…”
 Moira smiled as she remembered the end of their visit. “Yes, I did.”
 “So he might be the same as usual today…”
 “I hope so. I truly enjoy his company, and have gotten so used to having him give me a peck on the cheek that I actually felt a bit bereft when it seemed like he was going to abandon the practice.”
 “I’m glad to hear that. But I was talking with Sarah the other day, and she said that if anything he’s become even more withdrawn lately, and though obviously happy to see everyone, he was more so than ever last Monday.”
 That seemed odd to Moira, since he’d seemed perfectly fine when he left, but before she could think of any reply, Mia continued her statement.
 “So it doesn’t seem as though encouraging his easy way with you is going to help him; and if you want to put a stop to anything he does, we wouldn’t discourage you.”
 Moira looked at her mistress with surprise. “You want me to stop him now? After having encouraged him to not stop last week?”
 “Not if you don’t mind his attentions. I just don’t want you to feel you have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
 Moira shook her head as she returned to her chopping. “I don’t mind. He is a true gentleman, and as I told him, I consider his peck to be merely an affirmation of our close friendship… or words to that effect, as I can’t remember exactly how I put it.”
 “In that case I won’t say another word about it, as good friends are hard to come by, and if you and he are good friends, it would be a shame to do anything to spoil that.”
 Moira nodded. “It certainly would…”

 As expected, Owen did show up after lunch, and after his usual discussion with the family about how everyone was doing, Moira followed him out to the front porch for a brief chat. Though it wasn’t as brief as expected, as near its end he took her into his confidence about something that was bothering him.
 “There will be a slight change in my routine next week, and I have to admit I’m wondering how to phrase the thing when I get home; but…” He shook his head and sighed. “I should just lie, and say that Evans needs me on Monday, so I won’t be out until Tuesday.”
 Moira looked as puzzled as she felt. “Why would you have to lie to them? Doesn’t he need you?”
 He looked toward the door, then motioned toward the bench on one side of the porch. “I can trust you to keep a secret, can’t I?”
 “You know you can,” she said as she followed his lead.
 “It’s just that I’ll be taking part of Monday off because I’ll be busy on Sunday, and daren’t let Annie know why, or she’ll be at me all afternoon. So you mustn’t let the real reason slip.”
 Her eyes twinkled as she replied. “I know how to deal with Annie. So if there’s something you don’t want her to know but are willing to share with me, you can count on me. But what in the world could be so important?”
 He sighed. “Lizzie has this foolish idea that I should let people see that I’m not just a doctor, but a person, and is dragging me to a wedding.”
 “Really? Who’s getting married?”
 “Sir Robert’s sister and Master Hobbs’ son.”
 “That’s right. You told me that they were engaged… two or three weeks ago? When they went to Seaside. Though it is surprising that they’ll be married so soon. Usually those in such a station take months to plan for the occasion.”
 “I know. But apparently the lovebirds are anxious to be together, and Master Hobbs may be afraid that if he puts things off Sir Robert may lose interest in the match, as he has affairs that he needs to take care of in Colton.” Not, he thought, that Sir Robert didn’t have affairs of his own to be anxious about, but that was something he couldn’t tell anyone about.
 “And it’s their wedding that you’re being dragged to?”
 “Yes. As you know, Lizzie spent about five weeks at Hobbs Hall during and after the quarantine, and thanks to those five weeks, Miss Hobbs is now well on her way to a complete recovery. But also thanks to them, Lizzie became very good friends with Miss Hobbs and Miss Ballard, so she has been invited to the wedding and reception.”
 “And I take it that you will be her escort?”
 He nodded. “Yes. It’s against my better judgment, but Lizzie has been firm about declaring that if I will not take her, she will not go. And several persons of importance will be disappointed if she doesn’t go, so what can I do?”
 Moira grinned. “You can tell Lizzie that I wholly agree with her decision. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have a little fun now and then…”
 Owen grimaced. “Fun? I’ll be on tenterhooks the whole time, worrying about making some kind of faux pas that will turn Evans livid.”
 “I’m sure you can be just as gentlemanly as any man. You have a fine figure, a handsome face and can converse as well as anyone I know, and having been trained as a governess I know all about proper deportment, so you can take my word for it.”
 “I suppose I should, since I seem to have no choice in the matter.” He sighed and rose. “I thank you for the use of your ear, and what I hope will be a correct prediction of how things turn out. But I imagine Mia is wondering what I’ve done with you, so I should go before she sends someone out to fetch you.”
 She rose as well and he bent to give her his usual peck on the cheek, and as he straightened gave her a smile that reached all the way to his eyes. “And with that, dear friend, I shall take my leave and see you next Tuesday.”
 “At which time,” she smilingly replied, “I expect you to tell me all about what a wonderful time you had.”
 “From your lips to God’s ears,” he murmured, then drove home.

…and although Rundlewood is now gone, and I shouldn’t have any further need to defend myself against his minions, Billy has continued to insist that I take part in light sparring, to give me a better idea of what to do if I am involved in any future conflict. But though what we’re doing may seem light to him, some days I wish that I had the services of a rub-down man!
 But enough about me. When we first met you seemed uncertain as to whether you were thirteen or fourteen, since as a foundling your actual birth date was unknown. Given that and the fact that it is now nearly a year since we met, I presume you have a birthday within the next month. And though its date may be uncertain, I certainly don’t want to miss this opportunity to express my fervent wish that your sixteenth year will find you healthy and happy, and that you are looking forward to finally seeing your too long absent but
 Most affectionate friend,

 Moira sighed, folded Jamie’s letter and put it with the others he’d written since she first met and then lost him, as well as her position at Hobbs Hall. She certainly agreed with all his sentiments, especially the one about finally seeing him again; and if she’d waited until this evening to read his letter, she’d have sat right down and written a reply. But though Mia had been kind enough to let her take time to read the letter this afternoon, she shouldn’t put off her chores any longer.
 As she returned to the gathering room Mia looked up from her sewing and asked if there’d been anything in Jamie’s note that she felt comfortable about revealing.
 Moira nodded and took up the sock she’d been darning. “Actually, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t tell you about. Things have been quiet at the camp, so there wasn’t any news, other than the fact that Billy is still having Jamie do some ‘light’ sparring, so he can properly defend himself if he ever needs to again.”
 “That sounds reasonable, given how badly he was beaten last year; though I take it, from what you’ve said, that he had a complete recovery?”
 “Yes. As you may recall, in one of the first letters he wrote after the incident, the doctor seemed amazed at how well he was doing, and there has been nothing in either the words he has written since then or the hand he wrote them in to suggest any permanent effect on either his mind or his body.”
 Mia smiled. “I’m glad, both for his and your sake. I know you care for him.”
 “Not, I fear, as much as he apparently cares for me, but I do consider him one of my best friends.”
 “Was there anything else of interest?”
 “He did remember that I’ll be having a birthday near the end of this month, and hopes that my sixteenth year will be a healthy and happy one.”
 “That would certainly be nice, especially given how things were earlier this year.”
 “Yes,” Moira said with a sigh. So many friends ill and too many dead, though at least all those in Gael’s family survived, thank the Lord. “Still,” she added, “there have been some good things happening lately, so I do have hope that the coming year will be one to remember.” Especially, she thought, if Owen and Evans’ recent success in dealing with Miss Hobbs’ strange illness continued. And of course she was hoping to have a long and pleasant conversation with Owen when he came tomorrow, so July should start off happily for more than one reason.
 “Thinking of your birthday,” Mia said, “we should have a small celebration and some kind of a present when it comes up.”
 “You don’t need to do that. Just being here, with you and your family, is so nice that…”
 “I know I don’t need to. But we have a celebration for everyone else, so why not for you?”
 “I didn’t mean that. I’ll be happy with whatever you choose to do for that. I meant a present.”
 Mia nodded at the sock Moira was darning. “I was thinking in terms of something new for you to wear. Other than the dress you have on and the green one that matches it, you haven’t had anything new since you came here, and no matter how well you darn those socks they’re not going to last much longer.”
 “Oh. I see. Well, as long as you don’t let Annie make the same kind of extravagant gesture she did with the silk, I don’t have any right to complain about something to wear.”
 Mia smiled. “That certainly was a surprise… I can still remember her words and expression…”
 They chorused, “Silk! Brought from the ends of the earth!” and laughed. Mia shook her head, though she was still smiling. “I hope you enjoyed it as much as she did.”
 “Oh, I have. Of course I don’t wear it often, but when I do, it still feels like gossamer. It’s just too bad,” Moira said with a sigh, “that it’s so hard to properly clean without ruining the fabric…”
 Mia nodded. “Well, we won’t be getting you silk this time, but still, you should think about whether there’s any way in which you’d like a new dress or shift to be special; and of course we should do something special about the meal, so it isn’t just like any other day.”
 “I don’t suppose, as warm as it’s been, that there’s any ice to spare for… ice cream?”
 “That would be special,” Mia said thoughtfully. “Did you get to have ice cream for your birthday at the Home?”
 Moira shook her head. “Not often. Birthday parties in the winter or spring always included ice cream, but by July it was hit or miss, and birthdays later in the year never had any.”
 “Of course there would have been many children to serve at the Home,” Mia mused, “and there aren’t that many of us…” She thought for a moment or two then added, “I’ll have to ask Gael if we can still get more ice. I’m sure that if we can he’d be more than happy to ensure that you can have ice cream on your birthday, if only for his own sake. Though I suppose… just when is your birthday, my dear?”
 “I don’t really know. Based on my weight when I was left at the Home, they wrote July twenty-fifth in the register. But aside from the fact that that was only a guess, it was celebrated on the fifteenth, along with all the other birthdays for those born in July.”
 “So we have more than three weeks to arrange for something.”
 “More than that, if need be. For in some ways I feel as though I should adopt the anniversary of the day Gael hired me as my birthday, since it was the start of my new life.”
 “But that’s only three days before his birthday! And though with all that’s happened we won’t be having as large a gathering as we did last year, having your birthday only three days beforehand won’t make it feel as special.”
 Moira paused and looked up. “I suppose you’re right,” she said in a thoughtful way. Then she shook herself out of her distracted mood and returned to her darning. “But any day that’s good for you is fine with me. For as I said, I’m not used to celebrating it on my actual birthday, anyway.”

 The following day brought Owen to the farm again, but he didn’t seem quite himself even while checking on Gael’s family, and when they went out to the porch to visit, instead of smilingly conversing with Moira he just stared off into the distance.
 “Owen… I can tell that something is bothering you. Did something go wrong at the wedding?”
 “What?” he said, jerking his attention back to her.
 “I asked how the wedding went…”
 He ran a hand through his hair, sighed, then shook his head. “The wedding was fine. The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, they were filled with the glow of their love for each other. It was all a wedding should be…”
 “Then what is bothering you?”
 He gave her a rueful smile. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t let my troubles spoil our visit. It’s very good to see you again, as always, and there’s really no need for you to worry about me.”
 “But how can I help but worry when you’re like this? What in the world is wrong?”
 He motioned toward the bench they sat on last week. “Do you have a few minutes?”
 She nodded. “I’m free for as long as you need me.”
 They sat on the bench and for a long moment he just stared into space before shaking his head. “You will probably think me a fool to be so worked up over this. But I’m deathly afraid of going home and telling everyone what happened; and if I don’t tell them, when they find out about it, it will be even worse.”
 “If you don’t stop beating around the bush, I’ll be the one who is deathly afraid…”
 He chuckled, then turned to look at her. “You know I didn’t want to tell Annie I was going to the wedding, as I expected her to badger me about finding a way to let her go, as well.”
 “I didn’t realize that was why you wanted to keep it a secret, but knowing Annie, it makes sense.”
 “Well, how do you think she is going to act when I tell her that not only did I go to Hobbs Hall for a wedding, but that while I was there Sir Robert announced that he and Lizzie were married three weeks ago?”
 Moira’s eyes went wide. “They were?”
 He nodded. “Yes. I accidentally found out about it the day they returned from Seaside, but had to keep quiet about it, lest any…”
 “You’ve known about it for weeks? And you didn’t tell anyone?”
 “I couldn’t. Sir Robert made it quite clear to me that their engagement had to be kept secret until his business in Benton was…”
 “Their engagement? And when did you find out about that?”
 Owen’s face turned quite red, while it otherwise did a very good imitation of a sheep. “A… about a week before Jacob and Esther’s wedding…”
 “But that was…” Moira thought furiously, but Owen beat her to the conclusion.
 “The last Sunday in March. You see, Lizzie took sick the day before she was supposed to go to Mistress Hobbs’ birthday party, and when Sir Robert came and sat with her for more than six hours, I couldn’t help but conclude that there was more to his visit than concern for a friend of his sister.”
 “I can see that when we have more time, I shall have to worm the whole story out of you, as it sounds so fantastic that…”
 Owen nodded. “Yes. It does. In fact, Miss Hobbs was a witness to the wedding, and declared in the presence of all those assembled on Sunday that it was just like a fairy-tale come true. Which, I suspect, will be repeated in print in the next issue of the Benton Gazette, as there was a reporter there who took an obvious interest in everything that was said and done. So you see, I must say something about it when I go home, or when Annie hears the news I will be in for the scolding of my life.”
 Moira stared at him. “Oh, my. I see what you mean. She will find out you went to a wedding you were not willing to tell her about, and because she didn’t go she missed not only a good time but also an amazing revelation. She will be furious…”
 He sighed. “I know. That’s why I was… am… so upset. But I have to tell them, because someone out here must take the Gazette, and as soon as they get it…”
 Moira suddenly rose. “Don’t go away. I have to talk to Mia for a moment, but I’ll be right back.”
 He looked at her with alarm. “What are you…”
 She placed two fingers to his lips. “Don’t worry. I won’t say anything here just yet. But I think I know how I can help you, and need to make sure I can be spared for half an hour or so.”
 Within a few minutes Moira was back, dressed for a visit with friends, and explained what she had in mind. So on the drive over to Ryan’s ― which took longer than usual, since the horse was allowed to plod along at a slow pace ― she had Owen tell her all there was to tell, “so I can deliver the news for you. For even if Annie is a bit upset with you…”
 “A bit upset? If it were possible she’d fly through the roof!”
 Moira grinned. “I suppose she would, if you had to do it yourself. But with me there, happily delivering the glad tidings, no matter how upset she might be with the way things turned out, she won’t be able to take out her anger on you, and hopefully by the time you take me back to Gael’s, then return to your home, she’ll have had a little time to simmer down.”
 Owen sighed. “I hope so. But even if she doesn’t, it will make the task far easier for me. So I have to thank you for taking the time and trouble on my account, whether…”
 “Don’t think I’m being so generous entirely on your account. For when will I ever have another chance to deliver such amazing news?”
 Despite his apprehension, Owen laughed. “Hopefully, never again.”
 And as it turned out, though Annie was upset, Moira not only had a good time delivering the happy tidings, but was able to collect not only her peck on the cheek when Owen took her back to Gael’s, but also a friendly hug in thanks for her efforts. And to top the afternoon off she was then able to relate everything to Mia once Owen was gone. Which, by the time she was done, had their kerchiefs soaked with tears of laughter.

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