“Perhaps we should choose The Marsh of the Frogs, ” Miss Wynter said innocently. “Bottle green is all the rage in men’s clothing this year. Surely Lord Winstead will have something in his wardrobe in the color.”
“I am not playing a frog.” His eyes narrowed wickedly. “Unless you do, too.”
“There is only one frog in the play,” Harriet said blithely.
“But isn’t the title The Marsh of the Frogs?” he asked, even though he should have known better. “Plural?” Good Lord, the entire conversation was making him dizzy.
“That’s the irony,” Harriet said, and Daniel managed to stop himself just before he asked her what she meant by that (because it fulfiled no definition of irony he’d ever heard).
His brain hurt.
“I think it would be best for Cousin Daniel to read the play for himself,” Harriet said. She looked over at him. “I’ll fetch the pages right after breakfast. You can read it while we do our geography and maths.”
He had a feeling he’d rather do geography and maths. And he didn’t even like geography. Or maths.
“I’ll have to think up a new name for Lord Finstead,” Harriet continued. “If I don’t, everyone will assume he is realy you, Daniel. Which of course he’s not.
Unless . . .” Her voice trailed off, quite possibly for dramatic effect.
“Unless what?” he asked, even though he was fairly certain he did not want to hear her answer.
“Wel, you’ve never ridden a stalion backwards, have you?”
His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Surely he would be forgiven for such a deficit, because, realy. A stalion? Backwards?
“Daniel?” Elizabeth prodded.
“No,” he finaly managed to say. “No, I have not.”
Harriet shook her head regretfuly. “I didn’t think so.”
And Daniel was left feeling as if he somehow did not measure up. Which was ludicrous. And galing. “I’m fairly certain,” he said, “that there is not a man on this planet who can ride a stalion backwards.”
“Wel, that depends, I would think,” said Miss Wynter.
Daniel couldn’t believe she was encouraging this. “I can’t imagine on what.”
One of her hands did a little flip in the air until the palm was facing up, as if waiting for an answer to drop down from heaven. “Is the man sitting backwards on the horse, or is the horse actualy moving in reverse?”
“Both,” Harriet replied.
“Wel, then I don’t think it can be done,” Miss Wynter replied, and Daniel almost thought she was taking the conversation seriously. At the last moment she turned away, and he saw the teltale tightening at the corners of her mouth as she tried not to laugh. She was poking fun at him, the wretch.
Oh, but she had chosen the wrong opponent. He was a man with five sisters. She didn’t stand a chance.
He turned to Harriet. “What role will Miss Wynter be playing?” he asked.
“Oh, I won’t be taking a role,” Miss Wynter cut in. “I never do.”
“And why is that?”
“I can supervise,” Frances said.
“Oh, no, you can’t,” Elizabeth said, with the speed and vehemence of a true older sister.
“If anyone is going to supervise, it ought to be me,” Harriet said. “I wrote the play.” Daniel rested one elbow on the table, then rested his chin in his hand and regarded Miss Wynter with carefuly studied thoughtfulness, maintaining this position for just long enough to make her shift nervously in her seat. Finaly, unable to take his perusal any longer, she burst out with, “What is it?”
“Oh, nothing, realy,” he sighed. “I was just thinking that I hadn’t taken you for a coward.” The three Pleinsworth daughters let out identical gasps, and their eyes, wide as dinner plates, darted back and forth from Daniel to Miss Wynter, as if they were folowing a tennis match.
Which he supposed they were of a sort. And it was definitely Miss Wynter’s turn to voley.
“It is not cowardice,” she returned. “Lady Pleinsworth hired me to shepherd these three young girls to adulthood so that they may join the company of educated women.” And while Daniel was trying to folow that overblown bit of nonsense, she added, “I am merely doing the job for which my services were engaged.” The three pairs of eyes lingered on Miss Wynter for one more second, then lobbed over to Daniel.
“A noble endeavor to be sure,” he countered, “but surely their learning can only be improved by watching your fine example.” And the eyes were back on Miss Wynter.
“Ah,” she said, and he was quite certain she was staling for time, “but in my many years as a governess, I have learned that my talents do not lie in thespian pursuits. I would not wish to polute their minds with such a sad talent as myself.”
pursuits. I would not wish to polute their minds with such a sad talent as myself.”
“Your thespian talents could hardly be worse than mine.”
Her eyes narrowed. “That is perhaps true, but you are not their governess.”
His eyes narrowed. “That is certainly true, but hardly relevant.”
“Au contraire, ” she said, with noticeable relish. “As their male cousin, you are not expected to set an example of ladylike behavior.” He leaned forward. “You’re enjoying yourself, aren’t you?”
She smiled. Maybe a little bit. “Very much so.”
“I think this might be better than Harriet’s play,” Frances said, her eyes folowing her sisters’ back to Daniel.