Read A Slip In Time Online

Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood

Tags: #romance historical paranormal time travel scotland victorian medieval

A Slip In Time (2 page)

Much later, they sat in the front
parlor, sharing tea in silence. Her grandmother, composed and
dry-eyed, studied Julia closely. Julia assumed it to be a trial for
her to do so, for she possessed her father’s golden looks and his
clear green eyes. Yet, she knew she bore a marked resemblance to
her mother as well, about the nose and mouth, and in the tilt of
her brows.

At length, her grandmother broke her
silence, setting down her teacup, some decision made. “You will
come to Gramercy with me, child,” she stated with the air of one
accustomed to giving orders. “There, your needs can be comfortably
met while you see through the months of mourning, and we weigh the
possibilities for your future.”

Whatever Julia expected it was not this. Why
should she accept an invitation from the family that had treated
her mother so callously, or allow any of them a say in her future?
She started to decline, but her grandmother raised a hand, staying
her.

“I am an old woman filled with
regrets. Regrets that will burn in my soul long after I die. I
cannot undo the past. But let me do this much — for both your
parents. For you.”

Lady Arabella paused, fidgeting with the
cameo at her throat as she considered her next words.

“I know that your circumstances are,
shall we say, straightened, that your parents’ investments — the
cargo they accompanied — went down with them at sea. You have many
decisions to make, and I suspect your fine home will need be let
out, if not sold. Meanwhile, come to Gramercy, child. If for no
other reason, it was your mother’s girlhood home. She loved it
dearly. And if you do not know it, she first met your father there,
too. Perhaps, you can find something of them both at Gramercy
still.”

And so it was that Julia entered the gilded
world of the aristocracy. The world her mother once forsook.

But if it pleased her grandmother to
take her under wing, Julia received a frosty reception from the
other members of the family — her mother’s brother, Henry, now Lord
Symington, Earl of Wye, and his countess, Sybil, as well as her
mother’s younger sister, Rachel, the Viscountess
Holbrooke.

The months crawled past. While Julia
secluded herself in Kent, garbed in black, her cousins, Lilith and
Emmaline, sparkled through the gala court balls and bright
entertainments of London society. Gossip-filled letters arrived
daily from their mothers, updating Lady Arabella as to their
daughters’ successes and news of the most promising catches of the
Season.

As it happened, the end of Julia’s
period of mourning coincided with the conclusion of the London
gaieties and the beginning of the midsummer migrations among the
stately country houses. Before the latter commenced, Lady Arabella
packed Julia and herself off to her town house in London’s
exclusive West End. There she summoned the family and announced
that Julia would accompany Lilith and Emmaline on their forthcoming
social rounds. This brought wails of protest from Julia’s aunts.
But the “old lioness” prevailed.

Within days, Julia joined her aunts
and cousins on the dizzying social circuit, traveling from one
grand estate to the next, staying no more than a handful of days in
any one place. From the first, Emmaline welcomed Julia with
sisterly affection, delighted to have gained a fresh relation.
Lilith, however, like her mother, held her with disdain.

Julia refused to feel diminished by
such haughtiness. Yet, she understood their reticence to her
presence. While this was Emmaline’s first Season, it was Lilith’s
third. If she did not snare a husband this time out, she risked
being labeled stale goods and doomed to spinsterhood. Lilith needed
no additional competition in the field.

Julia resolved to enjoy her summer
wanderings, no matter her reception. She fancied she retraced her
own mother’s footsteps of years past. Especially of one summer,
when the lovely debutante, Helen Symington, declined the proposal
of a duke of royalty to marry a baronet.

Myriad diversions filled her days —
recreations of every order, elegant teas and soirees, sundry
sporting events, and ceremonious meals. Of an evening, there were
the requisite charades and whist and sometimes a dance, lasting
till midnight in a tent on the lawn beneath the stars.

Into this dazzling world
came a steady stream of missives from Lady Arabella, filled with
matriarchal advice and expectations. Surely, Julia would find a
suitable match, she heartened. Not a titled first son of course,
but a second or third. Though Julia’s dowry be slim, she
was
a Symington “of the
blood” after all, her lineage ancient and illustrious.

The days slipped past. Despite the
legion of guests passing through the great houses, Julia became
well acquainted with many, their paths crisscrossing throughout
July and August. She first believed this to be coincidence. But it
soon became apparent that a steadily swelling group arranged their
itinerary to “drift in tandem.” The smooth-spoken Lord Eaton seemed
at the core of this merry band.

By summer’s close, the excitement and
glamour of elite society began to pale. The pleasure-seeking
nobles were an indolent lot, Julia found. Their most pressing
concerns centered on staving off their perpetual
boredom.

Such aimlessness wore on
Julia. She longed to gain focus to her life. Direction and purpose.
In truth, she longed to return to Hampshire and
continue the charitable endeavors of her parents in their
village.

Her decision made, she prepared to
approach her aunts. But that very night Lord Eaton had issued his
impulsive invitation. Next morning, amidst a flurry of packing,
Julia appealed to her aunts. They dismissed her request out of
hand, declaring they would not risk another of the “old lioness’s”
verbal maulings.

Without further discussion, they set
off for London and Kings Cross station, excepting
Aunt Rachel, who chose to stay behind. Now with
each mile Julia journeyed farther from her goal. She refused
defeat, however. Tomorrow morning, she purposed to pen a letter to
her grandmother and make her plea directly. Surely there would be a
means at Dunraven to post it.

Dunraven Castle.
There it was again. That prickly feeling that
tingled across the back of her neck and shoulders and down her
spine.

Perhaps it was just her aversion to
being in the same company as Lord Eaton once more, she reasoned.
She didn’t trust the man. Oh, he was charming and mannerly and
tolerable enough in looks. But there had been discomforting
instances when he seemed to shadow her, once trailing her on the
winding paths at Asridge and then again at Saltram.

Rumors reached her ears, too, of his
fondness for the gaming dens and for certain actresses in Regent
Street. The very hastiness of his invitation northward, coupled
with his disappearance from Braxton, puzzled Julia. He caught the
overnight Express, she was informed, ostensibly to open Dunraven
and ready it for the expected entourage, the guests and their
servants numbering some thirty-odd.

Julia pulled her thoughts from Lord Eaton,
disquieting sensations still eddying through her. The sooner she
could leave Dunraven Castle the better.

»«

The train emerged from the tunnel to bruised
but brighter skies. The rain fell faster now, in sheets,
splattering the windows. Mountains thrust upward all around, their
drama masked by the drenching downpour. Wooded glens soon gave way
to softly rolling hills which, in turn, flattened out as the train
reached the coast. Here, masts of fishing vessels crowded the
shoreline. In short order a whistle blast was heard, announcing
their arrival at Dunbar, one of the rare but brief stops on the
line.

Julia looked up as Aunt Sybil hastily
rejoined them, having left them at the previous stop to move
several compartments forward to the saloon car. As the train rolled
out of Dunbar and headed inland, Aunt Sybil settled herself.

“We shall reach Edinburgh within the
hour, I am told,” she announced crisply, her gaze compassing Lilith
and Emmaline but never touching Julia. “There, we shall change
trains and be on our way to Perth, our final stop. Lady Bigsby
informs me Lord Eaton’s carriage shall be waiting. It shan’t hold
us all, of course.” She bent her gaze meaningfully to Julia. “But
we may hire what transport is available for the remainder of the
journey. Being Scottish, though, it will no doubt prove
outmoded.”

At that, she fell to sharing the
gossip she had gleaned in the saloon car and spoke of possible
excursions to the spa at Strathpeffer and to Royal Deeside. The
Prince, she confirmed, was in residence at Albergeldie.

Within the hour, the train smoked into
Waverly Station, situated in a deep and open ravine in the heart
of Scotland’s capital. The city towered all around, its
crow-stepped gables, multilevel tenements and soaring spires adding
to its height. Edinburgh Castle dominated all, frowning down from
its craggy perch.

Julia disembarked on wobbly legs,
immensely grateful to gain solid ground. Joining the others in
their group, she moved swiftly along the concourse, beneath the
station’s vast glass dome.

The sky above appeared darkly battered now,
its wind-tossed rains buffeting the glass with considerable vigor.
On she pressed through the mad rush that mobbed the station. It
would seem half of Britain had emptied itself, come for the hunt
and recreation.

Julia hoped for a brief respite from the
strains of their travels, but with a scant fifteen minutes to
switch trains, luggage and all, it was not to be. Renovations in
the station complicated the transition, making for detours up,
down, and through numerous steps and passageways.

Boarding the train destined for Perth,
Julia found herself and Emmaline under the watchful eyes of Nettie,
her aunt’s personal maid. Meanwhile, Aunt Sybil sought out the
saloon car, taking Lilith with her.

Leaving Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills
behind, the train headed north and climbed through Dalmeny. The
majestic Forth Bridge came into view, with its cantilever trusses
and diamond-shaped towers shooting upward to a phenomenal height.
In minutes, they traversed a massive stone viaduct, then entered
onto the bridge proper with its surpassing views.

On the other side, the train followed the
shore to Kircaldy. Veering inland, it passed over the richly wooded
Leven valley before it swung north, climbing ever upward, into the
Central Highlands.

With each passing hour, the weather
continued to deteriorate. The temperature inside the compartment
plummeted. Numbed with cold, her stomach mutinous, Julia sought
relief in sleep. She managed to doze lightly for a time, stirring
to see their arrival in Perth, where it stretched along the
Tay.

As promised, Lord Eaton’s private
coach awaited. In preemptive fashion, Sybil appropriated seats for
herself, Lilith, and Emmaline, abandoning Julia to the care of
acquaintances from Braxton.

“Won’t you join us, my dear?” invited
Lady Charles, sympathy touching her features. The plumes on her
bonnet bobbled as she gestured to an aged equipage that stood
before them. “There is ample room. Do come.”

Julia stepped quickly through the downfall
and climbed into the traveling carriage. Two gentlemen in their
company followed, Lord Cuthburt Withrington and Sir Robert
Longford. Within moments the horses set off.

Tracking the other conveyances in the
entourage, they journeyed deep into the mountains, passing through
cloistered glens and narrow gorges. One valley led into another
and, at times, the other coaches slipped out of sight.

Every ten to twelve miles, they would come
across a little post house where the horses could be changed or
rested. Here, they could briefly rejoin their friends and refresh
themselves with thin hot soup and oatcakes, though more often than
not, whiskey proved the sole staple.

Julia’s stomach would tolerate naught.
She felt dizzy and bruised to her bones from all the tossing about.
Still, she welcomed each respite, noting with some concern their
coach lagged increasingly behind the others.

What had been soaking rains now became
a brawling storm. Fierce winds pummeled the carriage, causing it to
sway. Darkness closed in, requiring the coach lanterns to be lit
early. Julia wondered if she’d survive this wild and empty
land.

A fit of shivering suddenly took hold of
Julia, owing more to her fatigue than the icy drafts breezing over
her. She drew up her lap rug but it aided her little.

“Allow me.” Sir Robert leaned forward,
offering his own blanket. He tucked the plaid about her so she was
well layered in its thick, woolen folds.

“Bound to improve, you
know. The weather that is.” Sir Robert smiled easily, causing ray
lines to appear at the corners of his eyes. “If one thing is
predictable about Scottish weather, Miss Hargrove, it is that it is
thoroughly
unpredictable.
As it has been devilish since we crossed the
border, I’d say we are due for a change any time now.”

“Devilish?”
piped in Lady Charles, resituating herself
beside Julia after another jolt. “The weather has been positively
diabolical. How you men think to hunt in it, I cannot
conceive.”

Lord Withrington, who shared the bench
opposite with Sir Robert, peered over the top of his steel-rimmed
glasses.

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