“Go on,” he said when she lingered. “Back to your lists.”
Juliana smiled at him, her body happy, and made herself leave.
Mahindar passed her on her way downstairs, he heading up to Elliot. The man seemed to know exactly when Elliot would need him.
Juliana stopped him on the landing. “Mahindar,” she said. “Thank you. For all you’ve done.”
Mahindar blinked. “I’ve barely started, memsahib. There is much yet to do today.”
“I meant about Elliot. For looking after him. For taking care of him. You didn’t have to.”
Mahindar shook his head. “He needed looking after. Still needs looking after. When we found the sahib, he was wandering miles from his house, half dead from thirst and exposure. We brought him home. We could not let him die.”
“Not everyone would be that kind.”
“I was raised to always give aid to the unfortunate. And the sahib, at one time, did me a good service. He took me away from a man who treated me shamefully.” Mahindar smiled. “He even punched that other man in the face. My wife, she liked that. But we would have helped the sahib regardless. He is, in the truest sense, a good man.”
“I’ve always thought so.” Juliana paused. “You don’t know how he escaped from whatever awful place he was in, do you?”
“No, memsahib. He has never told me the whole story. Only bits and pieces.”
Juliana stood aside for two men who were waiting to pass with a rolled-up carpet, and signaled them to proceed. Now was not the time to ask for Elliot’s history, and besides, Juliana wanted Elliot to tell her himself.
“Thank you, Mahindar” she said again, sincerely, and went back downstairs to her lists and letters.
Juliana was pleased to find that while she’d been upstairs with Elliot, Hamish had brought in the post, including all kinds of news and notes from her family. Juliana took the post with her to the dining room, and settled in to indulge herself with it.
Ainsley wrote a nice long, chatty letter that only Ainsley could write. In it she said that she understood why Juliana had wanted them to stay away for a time, but that they’d be back for her midsummer fête, along with the entire Mackenzie family. She also reassured Juliana that the wedding gifts had gone back, except for those from people who were perfectly happy for Juliana and Elliot to keep what they’d sent. Those gifts would be arriving at Castle McGregor by courier later in the week.
Ainsley ended by professing gratefulness for Juliana marrying her troubled brother, and her certainty that Juliana would have a good effect on him.
Elliot’s brother Sinclair wrote to both her and Elliot, declaring that he was happy with the turn of events. Sinclair, who was two years older than Elliot, said he would attempt to attend their midsummer fête, but he was always kept busy in London, not only in court, but in taking care of his two children. They went through a new governess every week. Sinclair would be kind and resist the temptation to foist the children off for the summer on Elliot and Juliana—Elliot and his new bride needed time to get to know each other before the holy terrors of the McBride family descended upon them. Sinclair concluded that he’d foist them off on Ainsley instead.
Juliana smiled as she finished the letter. Sinclair had always been good-natured, and he’d deeply loved his wife, who’d been taken from him so young, leaving him two children to raise on his own.
Juliana’s father wrote in his understated way that he was glad that Juliana seemed to be happy. Implicit in the letter was the promise that, if Juliana should prove to become unhappy, she could return home with no questions asked. Mr. St. John would even enlist the best legal help on her behalf in such a case.
Any other person might find this letter cool, but Juliana knew her father. He was a man of deep feeling, but he had decided long ago never to bother anyone else with those deep feelings. He was the epitome of the calm and stern Scot, expecting the worst, but quietly accepting the best if it should happen to come.
Gemma’s letter was the longest. Juliana loved in Gemma the fact that she did not believe in keeping anything secret for anyone’s good. She was forthright and honest, and if others found her opinions too abrupt, at least they always knew where they stood with her. The polite lie was not for Gemma St. John. She believed in unvarnished truth, for good or ill.
I must tell you what people are saying so you will be prepared upon your return to Edinburgh. Not everyone in the world believes this, but I have heard put about that your swift choice to marry Elliot shows that you are no different from your mother. All the work you have done throughout your life to prove you are not like her counts as nothing for vicious gossips such as Lady Gascogne and Mrs. Bassington-Smith and ladies of like mind.
I, being me, could not let that pass. I told Mrs. Bassington-Smith that your mother indeed was a scatterbrain, and we all knew it, but that you were as unlike her as a flower is to cheese. I said that you had been wise to accept Mr. McBride’s timely proposal, and now have a husband and home of your own, and all’s well that ends well.
Well, I shut her up, as you can imagine, but I know they rehearse this idea out of my hearing. One cannot have society without disparagers such as these, I know, but I thought I’d warn you. However, you do have your champions, including me, who believe you had a lucky escape from Mr. Barclay. As for opinion about Mr. McBride, everyone can only declare what a fine man he is, and no one can deny that he comes from an utterly respectable family.