The breeze was, for a change, coming off the land as Vera and Edmund were driven toward the village. Warmth brought hopes of spring and an end to the winter that had been longer and colder and snowier than even the oldest residents of Sanctuary Bay could remember.
“May I ask you a question?” Edmund asked, cutting into her thoughts.
“Certainly.” She tried to keep her voice from revealing how startled she was by the question. In the past two weeks, the trips to and from the church had been mostly in silence.
“You have known Sir Nigel longer than I have. Do his recent actions strike you as odd?” A smile pulled at his lips. “Maybe I should ask—do they strike you as odder than usual?”
“You would do better to ask my brother about that. I have spoken to Sir Nigel infrequently. Gregory has been at his house more often.”
“So you don’t usually attend his fall gala where he shows off his artwork?”
She shook her head. “A vicar and his sister are seldom invited to such social occasions.”
“But you are good friends with the Meriweather family.”
“The Meriweathers are unique in not judging one by one’s social standing.”
His light brown brows rose. “I never thought of it that way, though the whole family welcomed me without question.”
“That is how they are. Why are you asking me about Sir Nigel?”
“He seems even a bit stranger than usual.” He rubbed his chin with two fingers. “First, he sends Miss Kightly—Lillian—to Meriweather Hall, then he swoops in to take her to his estate as if she had run away. I have known him less than a year, but he did not act so out of hand before we went to Norwich for the wedding.” He pulled his hand away from his face and stared at it. “And Lillian is acting even odder than her great-uncle. Have you noticed that?”
Yes! she wanted to shout, but she must never forget how her unbridled reactions had led to disaster before. She forced herself to ask calmly, “In what way?”
“If you have not noticed anything, then I should let it go. It may be nothing, and I don’t want to besmirch her reputation by suggesting...by suggesting—”
“That she is as peculiar as Sir Nigel?”
He laughed, and she heard the carefree sound that had vanished weeks ago. “Right to the point as always, Vera. Thank you for reminding me that I should not look for trouble where there apparently is none.”
She swallowed her frustration as he began talking about what he hoped they would see at the building site. She could not listen while she berated herself. She had seen how extraordinarily Lillian had acted. Instead of treating Edmund with warm friendliness as she had throughout her stay at Meriweather Hall, Lillian had appeared bereft at the idea of leaving him to go home with her great-uncle.
The question taunted her, but she could not ask Edmund now, not after hinting that she had seen no changes in Lillian. She had not wanted to upset the status quo and risk her brother’s favor in his eyes. Instead, she had made Edmund question his own insights and left herself frustrated.
Vera was relieved when the carriage slowed to a stop by where the new church would stand. She doubted she had heard more than a word or two of what Edmund had said during the ride, and she felt guilty that she had been rude.
Bruse, the mason who had been overseeing building the foundation, hurried over to greet them. He was a squat man, as solid as the stones and bricks he used. Thick red curls matched his wiry beard, and he squinted. Whether it was because he could not see well or because he spent a lot of time working outside, she was unsure.
“I am glad to see you, my lord,” Bruse said. “We are ready to set the first columns in place to support the main floor and the roof. I need to know if you are having aisles on either side of the center aisle or not.”
“May I say something?” Vera asked when Edmund hesitated.
“Of course!” Color rose up Edmund’s face at his overly enthusiastic response.
“Gregory would prefer a single aisle in the sanctuary,” she said as if Bruse were not staring at Edmund in astonishment. “That will keep the congregation closer together so we have a true community when we worship. I think the parishioners would appreciate that, too, because it is what they are accustomed to.”
Edmund nodded. “That makes sense.” Looking at the mason, he said, “We will not have aisles on the sides, then.”
Bruse nodded. “We will still put walls beneath the joists to support the floors, but only the outer walls will be tied into the roof.”
Vera waited for Edmund’s answer. He understood what the skilled laborers meant when their words often made little or no sense to her. How was she going to continue to help him? She prayed that God would show her a way. After all, she had put Edmund in this situation by not thinking how her request could lead to continuous embarrassment for him.