An Admirer of Good Horseflesh

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"Are you traveling alone?" Rachel asked when they entered the road. She looked about, as if to find a coach or another horse.

"Yes, I've come as far as Whitby, taking the coast road. I turned onto Cleveland Way, and stopped at an inn at Great Ayton last night. I've left my belongings there and rented this horse to make my way to the vicarage today."

"Are you on a pleasure trip, then?" Amanda asked. "Seeing the coast, or the moors?"

"Eh, well..." he hemmed. "I had some business on the coast, but I can't really discuss that. Private, you know. But once I had it wrapped up, I determined to revisit this lovely valley."

"What is your companion, Mr. Du Roche, doing in your absence?"

"Well, I think right now he is sitting in a jail," he said, trying to suppress a grin.

The ladies both gasped, looking closely at him to see if he was joking.

"No, it is only too true," he said solemnly. "Though I am glad of the outcome."

"What? How impertinent, Mr. Duchamps," Rachel chided.

"Shall I tell you why, or endure your censure?" he said teasingly.

"Yes, tell us why," Amanda said, "and don't let Rachel's bossiness deter you." Rachel scowled, but Amanda just smirked. "Do go on."

Mr. Duchamps cleared his throat. "Without divulging too much about my present situation, I must say that I am not exactly the poor, wandering French emigré that I made out to be. I am indeed French, and emigrated here five years ago. But in my current position—a military post, if you must know—I am charged with finding those who are French sympathizers and spies. Mr. Du Roche had raised some suspicion and the army needed someone to... outfox him, I guess. Your grandfather's school had many French ties, and when Du Roche was found to be connected there, I was sent in to see if the dealings were all above-board."

"Really, Mr. Duchamps! You'd suspect our grandfather? Gray-haired, quiet Grandpére who only teaches girls how to speak properly." Rachel was finding many aspects of his story irritating, though intriguing.

He chuckled. "Do not fear, I needed not many days to find out your grandfather was just a school teacher. It was Du Roche who'd been connecting with many other sympathizers and receiving information from the continent. Luckily, he was a proud and determined rake. He heard your grandfather describing the fine Cleveland horses—and perhaps his fine granddaughters as well—and asked for a letter of introduction. It was not hard for me to arrange to accompany him. While we were in the country, my army counterparts rounded up another known sympathizer. We had him write an urgent letter as a trap, and when Du Roche came flying back, he led me straight to the center of French intrigue and we brought the complicit scum into custody."

Rachel and Amanda looked their astonishment, hardly believing such operations had been linked to their family.

"I do apologize if you feel I intruded upon your hospitality. It was beneficial to our country in ways you cannot be told."

"I..." Rachel began, then shook her head. "I don't know what to say."

"I hope you will not say anything," Mr. Duchamps smiled. "If many people knew I was working in a military capacity, my usefulness would be gone. I must presume upon your good faith to let your family keep believing me a humble expatriate and an admirer of good horseflesh."

"He does have good taste in horses," Amanda said, looking to Rachel. They thought it over, glancing back and forth to Mr. Duchamps.

"All right," Rachel finally announced. "We shall keep you as our French ami, and let you worry about all the national secrets. We seldom leave our little village, anyway."

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