He flinched and said, “I’m sor—”
“Don’t you dare say you are sorry for speaking from your heart, Edmund! If you want my opinion, and I’m going to offer it whether you do or not, you should speak from your heart more.”
“Doing so has gotten me in trouble more often than not.”
“But not doing so hides the man you truly are.” Mischievousness crept into her voice. “And won’t you shock your aunt?”
“Yes, she would be taken aback if I spoke so in her hearing. She comments how cold and drafty the house is. She thinks me quite the twit for wanting to live in what she deems the middle of beyond.” He pushed away from the pulpit. “But enough of that. Is there enough room here for the whole congregation?”
She scanned the space again. “I’m not sure if that is anything to worry about. Many of the older parishioners will not be able to attend, because it is a long walk from the village to Meriweather Hall.”
“Lady Meriweather suggested we arrange for wagons and carts to bring the parishioners here and back after the service.”
“It sounds as if you have given this a lot of thought.”
“Lady Meriweather has.”
Vera turned slowly to take in every inch of the dusty space. The sounding board would not need to be put back into place, and a good scrubbing would bring both the floors and the wood back to a Sunday sheen.
“What do you think, Vera?”
“I think Lady Meriweather will enjoy welcoming the villagers here as her predecessors did. Will you?”
His brows lowered in a puzzled frown. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Do you look forward to assuming the most important role of the lord of Meriweather Hall? Welcoming the people who work on your lands to worship with you?”
“The village, as you know, is not part of this estate.”
She waved aside his words with a chuckle. “You know what I mean. Back when this chapel was built, that baron held the land from this end of Sanctuary Bay to Whitby. Everyone who lived here was dependent upon Meriweather Hall for protection during war and for food during famines or when the fishing went bad.”
“You know a lot about this house.”
“I am interested in the history of the bay. When the previous Lord Meriweather told stories of the olden days, I listened eagerly.” She paused, then said quietly, “You would have liked him, Edmund. I know you never had a chance to meet him, but you share many interests with him.”
“I regret that we never met.” He picked up a strip of fabric from a bench, and the material fell apart in his hands. “It will need some cleaning.”
“I know the ladies from the church will be glad to help. If you send carts for them, we can get it cleaned before Sunday.”
“We will be glad to help, too,” said Mrs. Williams from the doorway. The tall housekeeper wiped her hands on her apron as she came into the chapel. Her black gown became hoary with dust from the floor. “It would be our pleasure, my lord. If I may say so, it’s been too many years since this chapel was used. My granny told me how her granny was told by her granny about when the chapel was used for christenings and marriages for the Meriweather family back as far as anyone could recall.”
Edmund hesitated, and Vera knew he could not make even this simple decision.
She hurried to say, “Mrs. Williams, that is generous of you. However, if you need help, please don’t hesitate to ask. I know our church members would be glad to lend a hand.”
“We will be happy for their help, Miss Fenwick.” The housekeeper smiled broadly. “Imagine that! Services in the chapel. I never thought I would see the day. It is a true blessing.”
Vera smiled at Edmund. “Yes, it truly is.”
* * *
Walking toward the back of the chapel, Edmund left Vera to talk with the housekeeper. How easily they made decisions!
He turned to look at the boarded window. Mrs. Williams spoke to Vera about sending a couple of men up to remove the planks, and he imagined the colors and light that would fill the chapel. Lady Meriweather had mentioned to him that the stained-glass window would match the beauty of the altar screen.
“Or so I am told,” she had said. “Not that I have ever seen the window uncovered.”
He had chuckled with her, because it was impossible not to share Lady Meriweather’s laughter. Now, as he looked around the chapel with its dust and webs and what might be bat droppings beneath the gallery, he vowed to take the time to check every room in the vast house from the cellars to the attics. From the day he had arrived at Meriweather Hall, he had wanted to do that, but events had distracted him.