"I think you should marry him."
"He made a fool of me, Caroline."
"I don't think that was his intention."
"It was certainly the outcome."
"Why do you think that?" And then before Elizabeth could answer, Caroline added, "I don't think you're a fool. I know Blake doesn't. And James certainly—"
"May we please stop talking about James?"
"Very well. I suppose we might as well return to your home, then." Caroline reached behind her and placed a supporting hand on her lower back. "I don't seem to have my usual energy these days." Then she held out her black book, asking, “Would you mind holding this?''
"Certainly. Is it a journal?"
"Of a sorts. It's my personal dictionary. When I come across a new word, I like to jot it down, along with its definition. Then, of course, I must use it in context, or I will certainly forget it."
"How interesting," Elizabeth murmured. "I should give it a try."
Caroline nodded. "I wrote about you last night."
She nodded again. "It's right there on the last page. The last page I've written on, that is. Go ahead. I don't mind if you've a look at it."
Elizabeth flipped through the pages until she reached the last entry. It read:
in*ex*or*a*ble (adjective). Relentless; unyielding; implacable.
I fear that James will prove inexorable in his pursuit of Miss Hotchkiss.
"I fear it, too," Elizabeth muttered.
"Well, 'I fear' was really just a phrase," Caroline hastened to explain. "I certainly don't fear it. In fact, if I am to be completely honest, I should have written that I hoped James would prove inexorable."
Elizabeth looked at her new friend and fought the urge to groan. "Maybe we should just go home."
"Very well, but if I might make one last point—"
"If it has to do with James, I'd really rather you didn't."
"It does, but I promise it's the last. You see ..." Caroline paused to scratch her chin, smiled sheepishly, then said, "I do this when I'm stalling for time."
Elizabeth motioned with her hand toward the road home, and they began to walk. "I'm sure you're going to tell me that James is a perfectly lovely man, and—''
"No, I wasn't going to say that at all," Caroline interrupted. "He's perfectly insufferable, but you will have to trust me when I tell you that that is the best sort of man."
"The kind you can't live with?"
"No, the kind you can't live without. And if you love him—"
"You do. I can see it in your eyes."
Caroline waved her protest away. "You do. You just don't realize it yet."
"What I was trying to say is that even though James did a perfectly awful thing by not telling you his true identity, he did have his reasons, and none of them had anything to do with humiliating you. Of course," Caroline added with a nod of her head, “I realize that is easy for me to say, since I am not the one who took marquis-marrying lessons from a marquis...."
"But his intentions were honorable, I am sure of it. And once you get over your anger—your very valid and well-deserved anger"—Caroline looked over at Elizabeth to make certain she heard that part—"you will realize that you will be miserable without him in your life."
Elizabeth tried to ignore her words, because she had a sinking suspicion that they were more accurate than she would have liked.
"Not to mention," Caroline continued blithely, "that / will be miserable without you in my life. I know no females my age besides Blake's sister, and she's off in the West Indies with her husband."
Elizabeth couldn't help but smile, but she was saved from further reply when she noticed that the front door of her cottage was open. She turned to Caroline and asked, "Didn't we shut that behind us?"
"I thought we did."
It was then they heard the thump.
Followed by the bellow for tea.
Followed by a decidedly feline howl.
"Oh, no," Elizabeth groaned. "Lady Danbury."
Lady Danbury rarely traveled without her cat. Malcolm, unfortunately, had difficulty appreciating the finer aspects of life outside of Danbury House. Oh, he made the occasional trip to the stables, usually in search of a big fat mouse, but having been raised among the nobility, he clearly considered himself one of their ilk, and he did not enjoy being wrenched out of his cushy surroundings.
Much to Lucas's and Jane's fascination, Malcolm chose to express his ire with a mournful, rather accusatory whine. He repeated this at two-second intervals, with a regularity that would have been impressive had the sound not been quite so monstrously annoying.
"Maw," he moaned.
“What is that sound?'' Caroline asked.
"The whine or the thump?" Elizabeth returned, letting her forehead fall into her hand.
Elizabeth waited for Malcolm's next "Maw," and replied, "That was Lady Danbury's cat, and"—THUMP— "that was Lady Danbury."
Before Caroline could reply, they heard another sound, that of feet scurrying very quickly through the house.
"That, I imagine," Elizabeth said dryly, "was my sister Susan, fetching tea for Lady Danbury."
"I've never met Lady Danbury," Caroline said.
Elizabeth grabbed her by the arm and hauled her forward. "Then you are in for a treat."
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