“Did you see a man pass you?” she asked them, then looked at their faces. “Whatever is the matter?”
“It’s McBride,” McGregor panted. “Your husband, lassie, is running amok in the hills.”
“Not running amok,” McPherson corrected. “Chasing someone. A poacher, I’m thinking. An accidental shot.”
“Shot?” Juliana touched her throat. “Elliot was shot?”
“No, no, lass,” McPherson said quickly.
“He shot Dull Pimple.” McGregor burst into laughter. “In the hand. That was a grand sight. The man dancing about, screaming like a banshee.”
“Is he all right?” Juliana asked in alarm.
McPherson answered while McGregor kept chuckling. “Your kind heart does you credit, lassie. Dalrymple’s fine. Bullet grazed him, the lucky bastard. My housekeeper is tending to him—she’s a good nurse, but he’s complaining all the way. Wants to bring a lawsuit against me.” He laughed.
“What about Elliot? Where did he go?”
“Chasing the poacher,” McGregor said. “I ran after him, shouted at him to leave the bugger alone, but he’s gone. McBride didn’t say anything, just dropped out of sight behind a rock and disappeared.”
“We need to find him. Elliot, I mean. No, both of them.”
“Dinnae worry, lass,” McPherson said. “I know every inch of these lands, and your husband’s only after a poacher, probably a lad from rougher country where the hunting’s not so good. They don’t have much up in the hills, and I don’t begrudge them a hare or two.”
“He’s not a poacher,” Juliana said. “The man Elliot is chasing is dangerous. I saw him.”
Both men stopped. “Saw who?” McPherson asked.
“A man Elliot knew in India.”
McPherson and McGregor exchanged a glance. “Lass,” McGregor said. “I hate to say it to ye, but your husband’s been acting a bit strange. Ye know he has. There’s no one more dangerous in the hills than the pair of us. And him.”
“But I saw him. Priti—you saw the man here, didn’t you?”
Priti looked up from feeding the goat a fat head of cabbage. She nodded then turned her attention back to her more interesting friend.
“What did he look like?” McPherson asked, in the tone of someone humoring her.
“Like a Highlander,” Juliana said impatiently. “In a kilt and boots, like one of the workers. But different. Like Elliot.”
That’s what had struck her—while the men here were sunburned pink from working in the summer outdoors, Mr. Stacy’s skin had been burned deep brown, like Elliot’s. Both men had lived a long time in a country where the sunlight was far stronger than that of northern Scotland.
“We need to find him,” she repeated.
When the older men continued to look at her skeptically, she swung away in exasperation. “Fine, then I’ll find someone who will help me. Hamish!”
She ran back toward the house. There were plenty of men there from the village and those who could be spared from their farms, all happy to earn the extra wages.
Juliana ran to the top of the staircase and shouted down at them all. “Gentlemen. Lads. Stop!”
One by one, they stopped hammering and pounding, looking around in curiosity to see what the lady of the house was screeching about. Hamish popped out from one of the upstairs rooms, hammer in hand.
Quickly Juliana told them what she wanted them to do. “An extra jar of ale to the man who finds my husband.”
Tools were dropped, and booted feet hammered on the stairs and the flagstone floor. The men eagerly raced out the door, scattering as they ran into the sunshine and wind.
Juliana knew that they, like McGregor and McPherson, weren’t particularly worried about Elliot, but why give up the easy chance for some fine brew? She followed them down and out, but swept Priti up into her arms when the little girl wanted to go with them.
“No, Priti, you stay with me.”
Priti gave her a look of disappointment, then flung her arms around Juliana’s neck and kissed her cheek.
Mahindar came out, followed by the three women, to find Juliana. “You are wise, memsahib. The sahib will not be in any danger now, not with thirty men searching the hills for him.”
“Do you believe him, Mahindar? That Mr. Stacy has followed him here?”
Mahindar looked troubled. “I do not know. The sahib has had waking visions before. Certainties that he was being followed or hunted. When he first came home, he was so very ill.”
“What does Mr. Stacy look like? Does he have red hair? Very light red?”
“Yes,” Mahindar said cautiously. “But so does almost every man working here.”
He had a point. Because a Scottish man had a fading sunburn from India did not mean he was Mr. Stacy. Many gentlemen from England or Scotland went to the Raj—with the army, the civil service, or on their own to try to make a living.
Then again, Juliana had made her decision what to believe, and she’d stick by it.
She carried Priti inside, with Mahindar and family, to wait for the searchers’ return.
The men came back at sunset, Elliot with them. Hamish declared himself the winner of the ale. The others good-naturedly debated that, except Elliot.
Juliana had never seen Elliot furious before. When she’d known him during their youth, he’d been at his most smiling and charming, and since their marriage, he’d been quiet, or seductive, or silently withdrawn.