“You are familiar with constructing buildings. Will you help us rebuild our church?”
She had no idea what she was asking. Overseeing the building of a church would require dozens of decisions each day when he could not make a single one.
“Please, say yes,” she went on. “We need your help.”
What could he say? That he had plans to go to London for the Season? That was not true. That he had to entertain Lady Meriweather? Miss Fenwick would know that was a lie. But he could not speak the truth. He had seen enough pity in his friends’ eyes. He did not want to see more, especially in her eyes. But she was right. He was the man for the task.
God, if this is what You want me to do, I will need Your help more than ever.
“All right,” he said. “I will try to do my best.”
Instantly, he wished he could retract his words. This was the first decision he had made in more than a year, and he feared it would prove to be as bad as the last one.
Other than the steady plop of thick, cold raindrops outside, not a sound could be heard when Edmund stepped into the entrance hall of Meriweather Hall. He followed the vicar and Miss Fenwick and Miss Kightly. Other than Foggin, the footman who had opened the door, nobody could be seen. Lady Meriweather must have retired to her room, exhausted by the long journey north from Norwich.
The footman, in Meriweather Hall’s black livery, took their coats, then stepped aside as another footman burst into the entrance hall. He skidded to a stop on the stone floor, almost bumping into one of the benches set against the raised panels on the lower half of the walls.
“Jessup,” Edmund said with a frown. He was still learning how a baron should act, but he knew that a footman never behaved that outrageously. “I trust you have an explanation.”
The footman gulped. “I was asked to deliver this message to Miss Kightly the moment she arrived at Meriweather Hall.”
“Perhaps you should not take such requests quite so literally.”
Nodding, the footman said, “I won’t. From this point forward.”
“I am pleased to hear that.” He motioned for Jessup to hand the message to Miss Kightly, and the footman held out a folded sheet to the pretty blonde.
As she opened it, he shifted his gaze toward Miss Fenwick. She stood beside her brother, her hand on his arm in a comforting pose. Not that he was surprised. Miss Fenwick was very supportive of her brother and his ministry. He had known that before, but her request by the remnants of the burned-out church was proof of her devotion to him.
Edmund looked away. Miss Fenwick’s determination to help her brother with his parish must have been what had persuaded her to ask Edmund’s assistance in rebuilding the church. How long would it take for her to realize she had made the request of the wrong man? His gut churned at the idea of having the respect he had seen in her eyes turn to pity.
He had heard others whisper the word when they thought he could not hear. Even though his closest friends had never spoken so, he knew what was in their heads. It was a pity that Edmund Herriott, who once could be depended on to make a quick decision, now could make none at all. Not good. Not bad.
A groan sounded in the entry, and, for a moment, he wondered if it had escaped from him.
Miss Fenwick rushed to Miss Kightly’s side, asking her what was wrong, and he shoved away his thoughts that punished him over and over.
Miss Kightly’s smile was forced. “Forgive me. I am simply surprised at the message from my great-uncle.”
“Do you want to share what Sir Nigel has to say?” Miss Fenwick asked.
“Yes, I guess I should. He says that...” Her voice trailed off.
Miss Fenwick looked toward Edmund, and he shrugged. He could think of several possible subjects Sir Nigel might have written about, especially in light of what had happened at the church and what had been discovered.
He was not surprised when Miss Kightly said, “My great-uncle has sent word that I should be ready to return to his house.”
“When?” he asked.
She looked at the note, a lovely golden strand of hair slipping across her pale cheek. “It says only that he will come for me today.” Again a strained smile edged along her lips. “’Tis good then that there has not been enough time to unpack my bags.” She folded the page and looked around.
The footman jumped forward to take it from her at the same time Edmund reached toward her. Jessup backed away with an apology.
Edmund nodded toward him, then said, “If you wish to sit in the small parlor, I will have a hearty tea brought for us.”
“Sit?” Miss Fenwick said with an unexpected laugh. “We have been doing far too much of that.”