“Honoria!” Sarah exclaimed, rushing forward to steady her. “I was watching for you through the window. Where have you been? I have been frantic. We were just about to send out a party to search for you. You said you were going off to collect flowers, but then you never returned.”

Honoria tried to interrupt between each of Sarah’s sentences, but she only managed to catch enough of her breath to say, “Stop.” She looked down; pools of water had formed at her feet. One rivulet had broken free of the circle and was slowly rolling toward the wall.

“We need to dry you off,” Sarah said. She took Honoria’s hands. “You’re freezing.”

“Sarah, stop.” Honoria pulled Sarah’s hands free and grabbed hold of her cousin’s shoulder. “Please. I need some paper. I must write a letter.”

Sarah looked at her as if she’d gone mad.

“Now. I have to – ”

“Lady Honoria!” Mrs. Royle hurried into the hall. “You had us all so worried! Where on earth did you go off to?”

“I was just looking for flowers,” Honoria lied, “but please, I need to write a letter.”

Mrs. Royle felt her forehead. “You don’t feel feverish.”

“She’s shivering,” Sarah said. She looked at Mrs. Royle. “She must have got lost. She’s terrible that way.”

“Yes, yes,” Honoria said, willing to agree with any insult if it would only mean the end of this conversation. “But please, just listen to me for a moment. I must act quickly. Lord Chatteris is stranded in the woods, and I told him I would – ”

“What?” Mrs. Royle screeched. “What are you talking about?”

Briefly, Honoria related the story she’d concocted while hurrying home. She’d wandered off from the group and lost her way. Lord Chatteris had been walking in the woods. He had told her that the path went back and forth between the two properties. Then he’d twisted his ankle.

It was mostly true.

“We will bring him back here,” Mrs. Royle said. “I will send someone at once.”

“No,” Honoria said, still a bit out of breath. “He wants to go home. He asked me to send word to the head of his stables. He told me exactly what to say.”

“No,” Mrs. Royle said firmly. “I think he should come here.”

“Mrs. Royle, please. Every moment we’re arguing, he is stranded out there in the rain.”

Mrs. Royle was clearly conflicted, but finally she gave a nod and said, “Follow me.” There was a writing desk in an alcove down the hall. She took out paper, pen, and ink and stepped aside so that Honoria could sit down. But Honoria’s fingers were numb; she could barely grip the pen. And her hair would surely drip all over the paper.

Sarah stepped forward. “Would you like me to do it for you?”

Honoria nodded gratefully and told Sarah exactly what to write, all the while trying to ignore Mrs. Royle, who was hovering behind her, interrupting every so often with what she thought were helpful comments.

Sarah finished the letter, signed Honoria’s name, and then, at Honoria’s nod, handed it to Mrs. Royle.

“Please send it with your swiftest rider,” Honoria begged.

Mrs. Royle took it and hurried off. Sarah immediately stood and took her cousin by the hand. “You need to get warm,” she said in a voice that brooked no protest. “You’re coming with me right now. I already told a maid to heat water for a bath.”

Honoria nodded. She had done what she needed to do. Now she could finally collapse.

The following morning dawned mockingly clear. Honoria had slept for twelve hours straight, bundled under quilts, with a hot brick at her feet. Sarah had crept into her room at some point to tell her that they’d received word from Fensmore; Marcus had arrived safely at home and was probably in his own bed, with his own hot brick at his feet.

But as Honoria got dressed, she was still worried. She had been utterly frozen by the time she’d reached Bricstan, and he had been out in the rain for far longer than she had. It had been windy, too; she’d heard the trees rustling and creaking through her window when she’d been taking her bath. Marcus would almost certainly have caught a chill. And what if his ankle was not merely twisted but broken? Would they have sent for a surgeon already to set it? Would they have known to do so?

And who were “they,” anyway? Marcus had no family that she knew of. Who would care for him if he took ill? Was there anyone at Fensmore besides the servants?

She was going to have to check on his welfare. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself otherwise.

Down at breakfast, the other guests were surprised to see her. The gentlemen had all returned to Cambridge, but the young ladies were gathered around the table, eating their coddled eggs and toast.

“Honoria!” Sarah exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing out of bed?”

“I’m perfectly well,” Honoria assured her. “I haven’t even a sniffle.”

“Her fingers were like icicles last night,” Sarah said to Cecily and Iris. “She could not even grip a pen.”

“It was nothing that a hot bath and a good night’s sleep could not cure,” Honoria said. “But I would like to travel to Fensmore this morning. It was my fault that Lord Chatteris twisted his ankle, and I really do feel I must check on him.”

“How was it your fault?” Iris asked.

Honoria nearly bit her lip. She’d forgotten that that was one of the missing elements of her tale. “It was nothing, really,” she improvised. “I tripped over a tree root and he stepped forward to steady me. He must have stepped in a mole hole.”