Chapter Fourteen

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It was Mrs. Croft who informed him. She'd made sure not to convey an attitude of annoyance but rather one of concern. In truth, they were all concerned. Three full weeks had passed since they'd buried her father and with each day, she withdrew more and more into herself. The dark cloud that had settled over Dalenburgh had not lifted but rather had increased in size. He knew that he could not rush her time of mourning though he longed to be a comfort to her.

He found her in the servants hall polishing trays of cutlery. Her back to him, he stood silent for several moments and observed her. The black dress she wore was much too plain for a woman of her newfound means but more than suited the task on which she was currently focused. Her hair was pulled neatly away from her pale, lined face--a face that hadn't shown an ounce of contentment since her arrival until now. She was quiet. Relaxed. Well within her element. He concentrated on her hands, her long fingers working the silver polish into the handles of serving utensils with equal parts force and care. It pained him to see her engaging in common household work when he knew she was born for much greater pursuits. He thought back on the conversation he'd shared with Drummond just that morning. It was the third time the two men had exchanged words regarding Lady Margaret's behavior. The butler, though generally discreet, could not contain his displeasure.

"Sir, she's even taken to washing and changing her own bed linens," the elderly butler complained.

"Just give her time, Drummond. She'll come around," Holm reassured him with a pat on the shoulder.

But would she come around? He'd kicked the question around his mind for several days and was nowhere close to finding an answer. His hand slipped into the pocket of his jacket where he fingered the envelope that had arrived from Chadfinch many days before. He knew it was wrong to keep correspondence from her yet he'd done just that. A clean break from her old life, he'd told himself. Time and distance will help her adjust. It's better this way. Letters from her former life will only upset her.

He sighed and she turned sharply, unaware until that moment of his presence.

"Oh goodness, I didn't hear you come in." She met his eyes.

"I apologize if I startled you." He stood a little straighter.

He approached her and as he did, he pulled a silver pocket watch from his vest. He placed it on the table beside her.

"If you have the time, would you mind shining this up a bit?" he asked with a playful smirk.

Immediately a blush moved up and across her cheeks. Beyond embarrassed, she felt a multitude of emotions. She fought hard to keep them all in check, determined not to show him just how miserable she felt. She wanted to come back with something witty and sharp, something to show him that she understood the jest in his action, but she had neither the energy nor the inclination.

He didn't give her the opportunity to respond. Slowly he pulled the polishing cloth from her hand and waited for the protest that never came.

"The silver has never looked finer." He lowered himself onto the bench beside her and surveyed her work.

"You're mocking me." She avoided his eyes, focusing instead on the intricate designs engraved on his pocket watch.

"I would never mock you," he said firmly.

"Yet you don't approve?"

"My approval or disapproval matters little."

"I feel better when my hands are busy." She confessed after a brief silence.

"I understand. I appreciate your skill and diligence, Margaret, but I must tell you that your presence downstairs is creating some tension."

"Is it?" She dropped her gaze down even further and tugged at an errant thread on her cuff.

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