She pressed the lantern into his hands and ran to where her brother lay trussed up on the floor. Dropping to her knees, she tried to pull the gag away.
“Let me.” Edmund pulled out a knife and carefully cut the filthy fabric from around Gregory’s head and sliced through the ropes binding his wrists and ankles, as well. “Are you injured, vicar?”
“No, other than from being forced to lie on this cold floor in one position for hours.” He chafed his wrists, then held out his arms.
As she embraced her brother, she said, “Don’t ever do anything that foolish again!”
“I didn’t do anything foolish. They grabbed me while I was standing on the headland.”
“They didn’t say, but I got the idea they wanted to draw attention from themselves and put it on a search for me.”
“Then they have succeeded,” Edmund said. “Can you walk, vicar? We need to get out of here, collect Ashland and return to Meriweather Hall.”
“I will do my best.” He put his arm around his sister’s shoulders.
“Tresting is there,” Edmund said.
Vera shook her head, making her black curls bounce around her face. “He and Lillian left when they heard you were missing, too, Edmund.”
“No doubt to put some heinous scheme into motion, but not having him there is good news.”
Edmund took the lantern and slipped out with the Fenwicks following. Nobody spoke of how the vicar’s escape could be discovered at any moment. When Vera turned her brother in the direction they had come, Edmund put the vicar’s other arm over his shoulder.
Mr. Fenwick’s steps grew more sure as they went to where the two branches combined into one tunnel. Every few minutes, Edmund stopped and listened. The only sound was the running water against the stones.
“They may have left,” Vera said when they reached the main tunnel, “to prepare for whatever Sir Nigel has ordered.”
“But they will leave at least one guard at the entrance beneath the fishing nets.” Edmund moved forward. “From here, we must be silent.”
The Fenwicks nodded. The occasional splash seemed as loud as cannon fire to his ears, but he had learned during the war that nobody else would notice such a common sound. As the blackness eased, he closed the lantern and left it on a boulder.
Edmund stopped when he was near enough to touch the layers of nets hiding the tunnel entrance. Slowly he pulled one, then another aside until he could see past them. A lone man stood with his back to them. With Jeannie Cadman’s lie, the smugglers had no reason to keep an eye on the inside of the tunnel.
But how to slip out, silence the guard and make their escape without alerting half the village?
As if he had asked that question aloud, Mr. Fenwick whispered, “I have an idea, my lord.”
Edmund nodded, though he was unsure what the vicar planned. He had learned early in the war that if a man had an idea, a wise officer let him give it a try. If he had remembered that the night he had made his worst decision, many men might not have died.
“I will distract him,” the vicar said. “If you can render him unconscious, my lord....”
“That I can do,” he replied.
Mr. Fenwick smiled and squeezed his sister’s hand before he crawled past Edmund. She slipped her fingers into Edmund’s, such a caring, courageous motion that he was awed by her trust in her brother...and in him. If he had trusted her as much, he would have seen that she was not trying to undermine him with her suggestions. She wanted to spare him embarrassment and give him time to heal. His pride and self-pity had kept him from understanding.
His attention refocused on the vicar as Mr. Fenwick edged to the other side of the tunnel’s entrance, so he had a chance of emerging without the guard seeing where he came from. As Edmund had, the vicar peeled back the corners of the nets. He dropped to his haunches and slipped out without causing the other nets to ripple.
Edmund arched his brows at Vera, who smiled. Pulling the pistol from beneath his coat, he held it by the barrel. He waited for the perfect moment to attack.
“Well, good evening,” Mr. Fenwick said as if he appeared out of nowhere every day of the week.
The guard stared at him. “Vicar, what—?”
He never had a chance to finish as Edmund burst through the nets and struck the pistol against the man’s skull. The weapon vibrated in his hand as the man collapsed into the water. He shoved the pistol under his coat and helped the vicar pull the unconscious man into a sitting position on the sand. When Vera stepped out of the tunnel, she picked up the man’s floppy hat and put it on his head. Edmund drew the man’s left leg up and propped the heel of his boot against a stone. He pulled the outermost net up and draped it across the man’s lap.