What was she doing?
Marcus hadn’t been trying to keep himself hidden, but when he came across Honoria digging in the dirt, he couldn’t help himself. He had to step back and watch.
She was working with a little spade, and whatever type of hole she was digging, it couldn’t have been very big, because after barely a minute she stood up, inspected her handiwork first with her eyes, then with her foot, and then – here was where Marcus ducked more carefully behind a tree – looked about until she found a pile of dead leaves under which she could hide her small shovel.
At that point he almost made his presence known. But then she returned to her hole, stared down on it with furrowed brow, and went back to the pile of leaves to retrieve her spade.
Tiny shovel in hand, she squatted down and made adjustments to her handiwork. She was blocking his view, though, so it wasn’t until she went back to the dead leaves to dispose of what was clearly now a piece of evidence that he realized that she had piled up loose dirt in a ring around the hole she’d dug.
She’d dug a mole hole.
He wondered if she realized that most mole holes did not exist in isolation. If there was one, there was usually another, quite visibly nearby. But perhaps this didn’t matter. Her intention – judging by the number of times she tested the hole with her foot – was to feign a fall. Or perhaps to cause someone else to trip and fall. Either way, it was doubtful that anyone would be looking for a companion mole hole in the aftermath of a twisted ankle.
He watched for several minutes. One would have thought it a dull enterprise, staring at a lady who was doing nothing but standing over a homemade mole hole, but he found it surprisingly entertaining. Probably because Honoria was working so hard to keep herself from getting bored. First she appeared to be quietly reciting something, except judging by the scrunch of her nose, she couldn’t remember how it ended. Then she danced a little jig. Then she waltzed, arms outstretched for her invisible partner.
She was surprisingly graceful, out there in the woods. She waltzed considerably better without music than she ever had with it. In her pale green dress she looked a bit like a sprite. He could almost see her in a dress sewn of leaves, hopping about in the wood.
She had always been a country girl. She’d run wild at Whipple Hill, clambering up trees and rolling down hills. She’d usually tried to tag along with him and Daniel, but even when they refused her company, she’d always found ways to entertain herself, usually out-of-doors. Once, he recalled, she had walked around the house fifty times in one afternoon, just to see if it could be done.
It was a large house, too. She’d been sore the next day. Even Daniel had believed her complaints.
He pictured Fensmore, his own manse. It was monstrously huge. No one in her right mind would walk around it ten times in one day, much less fifty. He thought for a moment – had Honoria ever visited? He couldn’t imagine when she would have done; he’d certainly never invited anyone when he was a child. His father had never been known for his hospitality, and the last thing Marcus would have wanted was to invite his friends into his silent mausoleum of a childhood.
After about ten minutes, however, Honoria grew bored. And then Marcus grew bored, because all she was doing was sitting at the base of a tree, her elbows propped on her knees, her chin propped in her hands.
But then he heard someone coming. She heard it, too, because she jumped to her feet, dashed over to her mole hole, and jammed her foot into it. Then, with an awkward squatting motion, she lowered herself to the ground, where she arranged herself into as graceful a position as one might think possible with one’s foot in a mole hole.
She waited for a moment, clearly on alert, and then, when whoever it was in the woods was as close as he was likely to get, she let out a rather convincing shriek.
All those family pantomimes had served her well. If Marcus hadn’t just seen her orchestrate her own downfall, he would have been convinced she’d injured herself.
He waited to see who would show up.
And he waited.
She waited, too, but apparently for too long before letting out her second cry of “pain.” Because no one showed up to rescue her.
She let out one last cry, but her heart clearly wasn’t into it. “Blast it!” she bit off, yanking her foot out of the hole.
Marcus started to laugh.
She gasped. “Who’s there?”
Damn, he hadn’t meant to be so loud. He stepped forward. He didn’t want to scare her.
He raised a hand in salute. He would have said something, but she was still on the ground, and her slipper was covered with dirt. And her face . . . Oh, he had never seen anything so amusing. She was outraged and mortified and couldn’t quite seem to decide which was the stronger emotion.
“Sorry,” he said, not sorry at all.
Her brows came together in a hilariously ferocious scowl. “What are you doing here?”
“I live here.” He stepped forward and offered her his hand. It seemed the gentlemanly thing to do.
Her eyes narrowed. She didn’t believe him for one second, that much was clear.
“Well, I live close by,” he amended. “This path ambles back and forth across the property line.”
She took his hand and allowed him to help her up, brushing the dirt from her skirts as she rose. But the ground had been damp, and bits of earth clung to the fabric, eliciting grumbles and sighs from Honoria. Finally, she gave up, then looked up, asking, “How long have you been here?”