The Seduction Of Elliot McBride

Page 65

Daniel lifted the clock and looked at it with a practiced eye. “Ye have your work cut out for ye.”

“Mrs. McBride will want it all gone.”

“I’ll take this off your hands at any rate.” Daniel peered inside the clock. “I always need spare parts.”

“For clocks?”

“For whatever gadget I’m trying to put together. I’m an inventor. I already have a patent on a new pulley system for trams.”

A sharp mind. Elliot’s mind at eighteen had been filled with visions of glory in the regiment, of conquering a nation, of the praise of a beautiful woman when he finished.

“Five shillings for it,” Daniel said, digging into his pocket and dropping the coins in the money box. He shrugged at his extravagance. “It’s for the church roof, I’m told.”

“I thank you,” Elliot said gravely. “My wife thanks you. The church roof thanks you.”

Daniel chuckled then studied Elliot with the same scrutiny he’d given the clock. “How is married life, eh? Ainsley said she’s relieved you’ve got someone to look after you.”

“Did she? But my sister enjoys playing nursemaid.”

“Aye, she does. She’s me mum now, and is good at it. I like to call her Mum in front of people. It makes her wild.”

Ainsley was only eleven years older than Daniel. Elliot shared a grin with him.

He glanced again at the fortune-teller’s tent, where lads from the village were waiting for the lovely Juliana to run her fingers over their palms, and his grin vanished.

“Daniel,” he said. “Help me shift this lot.”

Daniel followed his gaze to the tent. “Aye, Mrs. McBride is doing well in there. Promised me all kinds of riches and beautiful women. She’s got the touch too.”

“We’ll sell everything on this damned table,” Elliot said. “The minister will die of happiness.” And then Elliot could go into the fortune-teller’s tent and kick out the eager crofters’ sons.

“The fair Juliana might kiss us,” Daniel said. “Me on the cheek, of course, like a good auntie.”

“Shut it, and sell things,” Elliot growled.

Daniel joined him behind the table. For the next hour, the two of them held up objects and, like the best hawkers in Covent Garden, cajoled people to come and buy them. Daniel was good at it, and Elliot lost the avoidance of people he’d had since his imprisonment and remembered what it was to be young and brash.

“A pen wiper, dear lady,” Daniel said, holding up a round piece of knitting for a woman with a basket on her arm. “Why not two, or three? Ye have more than one pen, surely.”

“A glass vase, lad,” Elliot said to a young man. “To put wildflowers in for your lady. Ye can barely see the crack here. Ye fill this with flowers from yon meadow, and she’ll be baking ye oatcakes in no time.”

The table quickly became popular, the villagers drawn to Daniel’s and Elliot’s outrageous style. The ladies, in particular, flocked to them, blushing under Daniel’s blatant flirtation.

The contents dwindled, and the tin box for the money filled up. When Elliot and Daniel were down to the last two or three items, they decided to hold an auction. They sold an old bonnet for thirty shillings, the most dismally cracked porcelain vase for twenty, and a pair of misshapen antimacassars for a guinea. Daniel raised his hands at the end.

“We’re all done, ladies, thank you! And the minister thanks you.”

“Yes, very well done, brother dear.” Ainsley came out of the crowd, her little girl, Gavina, on her arm. She kissed Elliot’s cheek. “Juliana will be pleased.”

“’Tis what he’s hoping.” Daniel chortled.

Elliot secured the lid on the box of coins and handed it to Ainsley. “The villagers were generous.”

“Of course they were. Two handsome Highlanders in kilts begging the ladies to give them their coin? They could not resist. You wouldn’t even have had to give them the things. Which, by the way, they’ll simply bring back to contribute to next year’s jumble sale.”

“Och,” Daniel said in dismay. “I might go to America instead.”

“If I’m recruited, you are too, lad,” Elliot warned. He gave Daniel a thump on the shoulder, left the table, and headed for the fortune-teller’s tent.

No one was waiting outside it at the moment—the villagers had all collected at the jumble sale table and hadn’t drifted back to the tent yet.

Elliot raised the flap, walked inside, and found Archibald Stacy sitting on a chair in front of his wife.

Juliana watched Elliot change from her husband who’d obviously slipped inside to dally with her, to a cold being of ice. His warm smile vanished, and his gaze became fixed, every bit of heat in him dying.

He didn’t ask how Stacy came to be there—Elliot would discern that Stacy had pulled up a stake in the back of the tent and ducked inside while Juliana was busy ushering out another villager.

Juliana had returned to the tent after walking out the young lady, who was happy to have been told that a young man of the village fancied her—not difficult to guess, because Hamish was friends with the lad in question—and found Mr. Stacy sitting at the table. He’d said, “Will you tell my fortune, Mrs. McBride?” and held out his empty hand.

Stacy said now, “Are you going to shoot me, McBride? If so, get it over with. I’m growin’ too old for this.”

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