Searching the grounds could take all afternoon, or even all night. She could miss him on any one of several paths. She almost ran towards the wooded edge of the estate.
‘Henry?’ she called his name. Her voice was deadened by the thick wood and the dense undergrowth. Panic and anxiety welled up inside her, she seemed to be getting nowhere, paths that were usually short and easy underfoot seemed to go on forever, weeds and stray twigs teased her footfalls, threatening to trip her, hampering her progress.
This was silly. He might not even be in the grounds. He could have walked somewhere else, he might have taken the carriage, she hadn’t even thought to check and now she was miles from the house. Maybe he’d gone to town, it seemed likely. A wave of sickening panic paralysed her for a second. Perhaps he was on his way to Greyhope. Maybe it would be him who ended in a watery grave. She’d not only driven him to it but placed the suggestion in his mind with her own action. She started to run. She had to get to town, even if she had to run all the way.
Before she could think, she felt herself slam against the forest floor. A strangling root held her ankle fast. She was reminded painfully of the time she’d fallen in the Anchor, she lay on the ground, her whole body aching. Her ankle felt like it was being crushed by a vice. She momentarily wished that she could return to the Anchor. She’d felt trapped there, but things were simpler, she didn’t have to feel when she was there, she just existed from day to day. Now she was in pain, physically but more completely inside her soul.
She dragged herself to her feet. The fine gown she wore was covered in dust and twigs. Her white gloves were stained with mud. Running to town was now impossible. She could hardly even walk. The sound of running water filtered into her conscience, she realised she was close to the stream. The water may not be magic but she could sooth the burning pain in her ankle. She limped to the spot and found a rock to sit on, freeing her ankle from her boot and her stocking, she dipped it into the burn. She almost cried as the cool water washed over it. There was something magical about it. It seemed to lift some of the gloom that hung over her. She took off her boot and stocking from her other foot and plunged it into the water. She felt tears clinging to her cheek, she let them fall. What was the point of trying to stop them? Nothing mattered anymore. Everything was hopeless. She wished she’d tried harder to tell him, if she’d made him listen. Now he was gone and life without him was pointless.
The maid was sobbing hysterically in the courtyard. Henry could hardly bear to watch. The horses carrying Neil and his awful brother had just left and now this.
‘The mistress has gone,’ she cried, ‘and it’s all my fault.’
Tony the footman stepped forward and put his arms around her.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Henry, ‘the mistress has gone where?’
‘She’s gone, left. Run away. I saw her,’ cried the maid, ‘and it is my fault, I did it.’
‘Did what? For heaven’s sake,’ said Henry, ‘will someone please explain what she is talking about.’
‘She ruined the dress,’ said Tony, ‘she didn’t mean to, she dropped the lamp on it. Only just managed to stop a blaze but she got scared that she’d be charged for spoiling it. She made up that story about the note. Figuring that the mistress and Mrs Calder would fight it out amongst themselves about who actually sent it and they’d never find out the truth.’
‘But I didn’t want her to leave,’ cried the maid, ‘I like her, I can’t stand it, I want to die.’
‘That is quite enough of this nonsense,’ said Henry, ‘take her inside and we’ll say no more about it.’
‘Thank you sir,’ she sobbed.
‘Where did the mistress go?’
‘I saw her walking towards the woods,’ sniffed the maid, ‘she looked so bad, I thought Mrs Calder must have sent her away for ruining the gown sir.’
Henry ignored her foolish and utterly erroneous conclusion, he was walking fast towards the house. he had business there first.
Katy’s feet were almost numb as she lifted them out of the water. She wished she had a warm linen towel to dry them with. Pulling her knees up to her chest she sat huddled on the boulder. Staring at the water, she lost track of time. She closed her eyes and listened. The burn seemed to be rustling a tune. She allowed the sound to drown out everything. Refusing to allow any thoughts into her head. Every time Henry’s face appeared in her mind she banished it, how could she have let him down so badly? Stop thinking, she must stop thinking. Listen to the water, don’t think. She’d grown to care for him, but she shouldn’t dwell on it. She’d believed in him, believed that he’d come to care for her too. She’d never been so deceived. He’d enjoyed the play. He’d succumbed like every other man to womanly charms but he didn’t really care, he couldn’t. Two people so far divided could never get that close. Not really, it was all part of the game. She deserved this pain. Acting the part was as good as lying, she should be punished and she should endure it, it was her penitence.
‘Katy! What are you doing here?’
She jumped from her trance and spun round. Henry stood behind her, his face stern.
‘Henry,’ she said, she tried to stand up, forgetting the pain in her ankle and stumbling.
‘What’s happened?’ He walked towards her and helped her to sit back down.
‘I fell, I tripped, I hurt my ankle…’
‘Then stay put for heaven’s sake.’
‘I thought you’d gone, I panicked, I was running, I…’ she was babbling. She tried to read his expression. Was this even real? This dell seemed so mysterious that perhaps he was a vision, was she still daydreaming? Seeing what she wanted to see.
He shook his head.
‘I was in the stables, arranging for Mr Darroch’s horse to be made ready, I was going to have him evicted, but you managed that by yourself.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but I thought I was doing right.’
‘You were. My mother’s just told me what you said. She thought you were quite magnificent.’
‘I told her, what I’m about to tell you. I just hoped for once that someone would…’
‘Yes,’ he nodded.
‘I do believe you, I do, I know you’re not a swindler…’
‘Perhaps I am,’ said Henry, ‘I’m a businessman, a merchant, I trade with many people, do many deals, make bargains, perhaps some of my clients think me a swindler. There’s a fine line in business, muddy waters, it’s hard to keep your feet clean.’
‘So? What does it mean?’
‘Nothing. They are the hard facts. Make of them what you will. I’ve never knowingly done wrong in my business deals, but as I say, there will always be people who disagree, those who would see me fall or who haven’t benefited from some investments as I have. You can believe what you want. Maybe you think I am a conman, I bought you after all.’
She shook her head, ‘you didn’t. If anything I conned you. I believe you’re straight. I always thought you a man of integrity. You’ve always treated me well, always.’ She stared at him intently, willing him to believe her, trying to melt the blue ice chips.
‘And yet I’ve acted in a manner most callous towards you today.’
‘My own doing, I tried to be something that I’m not. I thought I could be a lady just by dressing up and talking fancy, but I can’t. My sins have found me out. I’ve been punished for my deception.’
‘Was that your only deception?’ He didn’t look at her but fiddled with a piece of moss clinging to their boulder.
‘I think so,’ said Katy, ‘If you mean George, I swear there was never any plot between us, never. He tried but I refused, he told me he was trying to marry some rich woman and get money from her family but I didn’t know he meant you, not until today. He never named her, he never mentioned you. How could I have known?’
‘That’s not what I meant,’ said Henry, still not looking at her, ‘perhaps I was mistaken, I thought, recently, it felt…’
He nodded and looked up, ‘was that part of the deception?’
She shook her head and her voice came out as a whisper, ‘no. I know this started as a convenient arrangement but I’ve changed, I’ve grown to care for you. In fact, I love you. You’re the one true man I’ve ever met, the only one I’ve ever been able to trust. I just wanted you to…’
A strong arm pulled her close. She felt happiness wash over her like the clear water at her feet.
‘I do,’ whispered Henry, kissing her gently on the neck. ‘You’ve changed me. You’ve made me a man, not just a gentleman. And as for you, young lady, well, it doesn’t matter what you used to be, together we can stand anything.’
‘You mean you want me to go back, to stay…’
‘Of course I do,’ said Henry, drawing back and looking at her as though she was mad, ‘my life is nothing, without you. They can throw anything at us now and it won’t matter. Everyone knows the truth but it doesn’t change anything, you’re still my wife, you’re the mistress of the house and moreover, you’re a lady. A real one. You’ve got style and spirit that none of them could ever have. I’ll take you anywhere, I’m not ashamed of you. You’re the only person in my life, who’s ever cared about me for something other than my money and for that alone I would keep you. You care about Henry Cranston the man not the cash box.’
‘But, I’m an outcast, everywhere I go, people will talk…’
‘And you’re bothered?’ he smiled at her and stroked her cheek, ‘that doesn’t sound like my Katy.’
She returned his smile and shook her head, ‘you’re right, why should it bother me?’
She suddenly felt the flame of adventure awake in her heart. They could go anywhere and she could be herself, no lying, no acting. She could live her own life in her own way. Together they were invincible. ‘I’m glad you found your way to the Anchor,’ she said, ‘and that I didn’t succeed in scaring you away.’ Putting her arms around his neck she hugged him.
‘No, you didn’t succeed in doing that, I survived the night in the worst inn in Scotland and I’d do it again, anywhere in the world as long as you’re with me.’
Katy held him even tighter, ‘let’s do it, let’s take on the world.’
‘That’s right,’ he said, wrapping her in his arms and swaying her, she laughed. ‘That’s my girl, my fearless warrior, the one that bewitched me, changed me and that I fell in love with. My one and only young lady, my wife, my friend and my love.’