Of course, they add, it’s a pity that he’s mad…
Juliana finished the letter, half uneasy, half reassured. She pictured the rather pretty Mrs. Bassington-Smith, wife of a high court judge, her black hair in its perfect ringlets, declaring over her waving fan that Juliana was no better than her mother.
Juliana’s temper stirred. Really, it was no one’s business why she’d married Elliot, or how they were getting on. Mrs. Bassington-Smith hadn’t been on Juliana’s guest list for the midsummer ball, and Juliana determined that the woman would not be added to any other list from here on out.
And Elliot wasn’t mad. Not really. He’d been disturbed by the terrible things he’d endured, and he was trying to recover.
Juliana tamped down her irritation in order to answer the letters, soothing her temper by writing first to the people of whom she was most fond. She wrote also to merchants in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, ordering materials for the house, the fête, and the ball.
Elliot had told her, through Mahindar, that she could buy whatever she wanted or needed, with an open-ended account. Juliana, with the frugality and efficiency she’d strived to learn since girlhood, looked for the best things she could for the very best price.
By the time she’d finished her correspondence and emerged to have Hamish carry it to the village, it was time for luncheon, which she ate informally with Priti. Priti had been taught table manners, Juliana saw, holding her fork and spoon properly, eating only her bread with her fingers.
Juliana’s heart warmed as she watched her. Who couldn’t love this child, with her wild black hair and winsome smile, her prattling talk, in a mix of English and Punjabi? Her eyes were deep brown, but she had the look of Elliot. She would be lovely when she was grown, and Juliana vowed to watch over her every step of the way.
After their luncheon, Channan arrived to lead Priti back to the kitchen. Priti was glad to go, to play again not only with the goat, but with her other new friend—the setter who seemed to have no inclination to return home to Mr. McPherson.
Priti climbed onto Juliana’s lap and kissed her cheek, and Juliana held her close. She was glad Elliot had brought her here from India, to a place where she could be safe.
Priti gave Juliana another sticky kiss, climbed down, took Channan’s hand, and pulled the older woman away.
They had not been gone thirty seconds when Mahindar walked into the dining room, looking distressed.
“Memsahib, you have callers.”
“Callers?” Juliana rose, dabbing with her handkerchief where Priti had left her honeyed kiss. “Good heavens, who would call while we’re at such sixes and sevens?”
Mahindar presented the silver salver he held in his big hands. The two cards bore the names of Mrs. Terrell and Mrs. Dalrymple.
“Oh Lord.” Juliana sent up the fervent prayer. “I remember distinctly telling them the house wasn’t fit for visitors, and wouldn’t be until the fête. Where am I to put them?”
“Do not distress yourself, memsahib. The room you said you wanted for the morning room is clean and neat. I can bring you tea there, with little cakes. Miss Rossmoran has been teaching Channan how to make little cakes.”
“Excellent, Mahindar. You’re a wonder. Yes, put them there, and tell them I’ll be right in.”
Mahindar departed swiftly and quietly.
Juliana neatened her hair in the mirror. She was hardly dressed for accepting callers, in a workaday gown of brown poplin without much trim, though her Edinburgh dressmaker had always managed to make her dresses pretty even if they were inappropriate for the occasion.
They’ll have to take as they find, Juliana thought irritably as she walked across the chaos of the house to the morning room.
Mrs. Terrell and Mrs. Dalrymple rose as Juliana entered. They took in her gown, glanced at each other, and kept their expressions fixed.
“I apologize for the dust and noise,” Juliana said, her face heating. “We have the builders in, as you can see.”
The ladies sat down, exclaiming that of course they expected nothing, that her morning room was lovely, had the best of views, would be splendid when it was finished. Mahindar glided in while they were chattering and set down the tea things, the ones Ainsley had given Juliana, plus a three-tiered tray filled with tiny cakes and petit fours.
Juliana poured out the tea.
“I wonder that your husband brought his Indian servants home with him,” Mrs. Dalrymple said as she accepted a cup and plucked a cake from the tray Mahindar held. “One had to put up with them in India, of course, but I like plain Scottish servants now. The Indian ones do creep about so, and most of them are blatant thieves. It’s unnerving.”
Juliana looked at Mahindar, who kept his face completely blank. “Mahindar and his family are not thieves,” she said. “They are perfectly fine people.”
“Mark my words, they’re not to be trusted,” Mrs. Dalrymple said, waving her tiny cake. “What on earth Mr. McBride was thinking, I cannot imagine. The Hindus find it bizarre to cook a chop, can you imagine, Mrs. Terrell? They eat no meat themselves.”
“Mahindar is not Hindu,” Juliana said. “He’s a Sikh.”
Mrs. Dalrymple shuddered. “Even worse. They are so bloodthirsty.”
“I have not found Mahindar to be bloodthirsty in the least,” Juliana said. “What’s more, he speaks perfect English.” She gave Mrs. Dalrymple a pointed look.
Mrs. Dalrymple paid no attention, being busy taking a bite of her cake. She chewed a moment, then her face took on a peculiar expression, and she started to cough. “Good heavens, help us. He has poisoned us!”