Read A Slip In Time Online

Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood

Tags: #romance historical paranormal time travel scotland victorian medieval

A Slip In Time (4 page)

“Thank you, Lord Eaton” She cleared
her throat once more. “But I would much prefer to join my aunt and
cousins now and turn in for the night.”

She half expected him to instruct her
to call him “Roger” as he ever did when she used his title.
Instead, he paused, his lids dropping to hood his eyes. He raised a
long forefinger to his chin then tapped it in thought.

“Actually, Lady Symington felt her
accommodations to be somewhat cramped, what with herself and your
two cousins.”

A discernible “harumph” issued from
Mr. McNab, who, to Julia’s surprise, had silently rematerialized
and now stood just behind Lord Eaton’s left shoulder.

“But have no fear.” Lord Eaton ignored
the butler. “Dunraven boasts many agreeable rooms. Isn’t that so,
Angus?” He glanced over his shoulder, giving the Scotsman a hard
eye.

“I’d say they’re gettin’ scarcer by
the minute, m’lord.” He returned the look.

Julia took scant note of the butler’s
impudence, so shocked was she that her aunt had barred her from her
room. It should come as no surprise, Julia reasoned. Had not Aunt
Sybil methodically removed her from the mainstream of activity
throughout the entire day? Had she not relegated her to the least
comfortable accommodations and excluded her socially from the
others in their company, both on the train and again in the coach,
when she virtually had abandoned her at Perth’s station? Now
this.

Julia fought down a tide of anger welling
inside her. Perhaps it would be preferable to be lodged apart,
where she did not have to suffer such slights or insults. Yes, she
would welcome a measure of solitude after months of being
surrounded by strangers.

Julia looked to Lord Eaton and masked
her agitation with a smile. “I shall be happy with any provision
that can be made for me. If someone will only direct me to a
chamber and send for Nettie —”

“Ah, there is another slight problem.
Your aunt requested that our staff provide someone to assist you.
Her maid, Nettie, is understandably overworked attending the three
of them.”

“Yes, of course.” Julia floundered,
stung yet again by her aunt’s wiles.

In fairness, Aunt Rachel’s maid,
Dorrie, had remained behind with her at Braxton. It was Dorrie who
had attended Julia throughout the summer along with Emmaline. Aunt
Rachel, though certainly not elated by Julia’s presence, had been
generous with her in small ways. But then Aunt Rachel was her
mother’s sister by birth. Sybil had married into the family and was
no blood relation.

“Mrs. McGinty, what of that girl,
Betty?” Lord Eaton’s voice drew back her attention.

“She’s readying the rooms in the east
wing, my lord.”

“Then fetch her, fetch
her!”

Julia dropped her gaze, embarrassed
she had brought no lady’s maid of her own and must rely on
Dunraven’s staff. It could not be helped. The servants who so
faithfully had served her family had had to be dismissed and her
home let out.

Returning her attention to Lord Eaton, she
found him deep in discussion with Mr. McNab, determining which
rooms were to be made available for the new arrivals. Lady Charles
quickly requested a room in the east apartments, specifically the
one once occupied by her husband. Two rooms on the floor above it
were agreed upon for Lord Withrington and Sir Robert.

“What of the Gold Room for Miss
Hargrove?”

“Lady Reynolds and her twin daughters
are settled there, m’ lord.”

“The north wing, then? There are two
rooms still unoccupied, I believe.”

“One is without furniture, and the
fireplace in the other is unusable, m’ lord.”

“Well, what of that chamber in the
south tower? That would do nicely. Yes, put Miss Hargrove
there.”

“The
south
tower, m’lord?” The butler’s
thicket of brows raised a full inch.

“It
is
furnished, is it not?” Lord
Eaton’s tone held a note of irritation at being questioned by the
servant.

“But no one sleeps in the south
tower,” the butler argued, resisting the notion.

“And why would that be?” Lord Eaton
snapped, his face reddening at the butler’s continued
mulishness.

Mr. McNab shrugged. “Just is, m’lord.
Has been since the day I took service with Lord Muir, here at
Dunraven.”

“Did my uncle expressly forbid using
the south tower?”

“No, m’lord.”

“Then I see no reason to allow the
room to stand empty when we are in need of it.” He began to turn
away then halted. “Or does my uncle reserve those quarters for his
personal use, when he is in residence?”

Julia’s ears pricked at the comment,
realizing Lord Muir was not present, as she had assumed.

“M’lord is occupying m’lord’s
chamber,” Mr. McNab informed him somewhat crustily.

Lord Eaton tossed up his hands in
exasperation. “Well then, ready the Tower Room. I want Miss
Hargrove settled there directly.”

Julia did not miss how the butler and
housekeeper exchanged swift glances, nor the darkling looks they
now sent her way. She rubbed her forehead, too exhausted to worry
over it.

“Very well, m’lord,” Mr. McNab
conceded, his voice brusque. “I’ll send young Tom to lay in a fire
straightway.” At that, he quit the hall, walking at a brisk pace,
his kilt switching.

Lord Eaton cinched the belt of his
jacket, visibly composing himself. “My apologies. These Highlanders
make testy servants. Much less refined than our English
ones.”

From the corner of her eye, Julia glimpsed
Mrs. McGinty lift her chin and glide from the hall.

In short order, several
servants appeared, two proving to be Lord Withrington’s and Sir
Robert’s personal valets. They helped fetch in the luggage,
dribbling in additional rain
to pool on
the flagstones.

Mrs. McGinty returned with a young woman,
plump and dark-haired, of an age with Julia. She introduced the
maid as Betty Shaw then instructed her to escort Julia to the south
tower.

Betty’s eyes widened, shifting to
Julia. She dropped away her gaze, shielding her surprise, and gave
a quick nod.

“Dunraven maintains only a skeletal
staff when Lord Muir is not in residence, Miss Hargrove,” Mrs.
McGinty informed. “Betty will assist you as best she can manage.
However, she must also attend to her other chores. I would ask your
patience if she is unable to respond promptly to your
summons.”

“Yes, of course,” Julia replied, aware
of Betty staring at her once more.

Mrs. McGinty turned to confer with Lady
Charles while, at the same time, Lord Withrington and Sir Robert
decided to join the other gentlemen in the smoking parlor.

En masse, the group migrated toward
the end of the hall. Mrs. McGinty and Lady Charles ascended the
grand staircase, the luggage-weighed servants trailing behind.
Meantime, the men drifted toward the side corridor after wishing
the ladies a pleasant sleep.

Betty lit a small oil lamp and led
Julia left of the staircase and toward the back wall. “This way,
miss.” She continued to the door gaping there like a black, open
maw.

A biting chill enveloped Julia as she
entered the passage. She rubbed her arms briskly and followed
Betty, whose lamp was now throwing shadows onto the walls, huge and
misshapen. Tables and chairs lined the way, while scores of
stuffed birds peered down from shelves, their jet eyes
gleaming.

Diverse corridors led off the main
passageway, but the maid conducted Julia the full distance to its
end. There it opened onto a dark-paneled vestibule with a
shell-headed alcove. Turning right, they arrived at a richly carved
staircase.

Their footsteps sounded sharply on the
bare wood as they climbed the many stairs. Reaching the top, they
bore to the left and entered another passage, this one containing
an elaborate display of antiquated pistols and rapiers, glinting
menacingly from the walls.

Weary and cold to the marrow, her every bone
aching, Julia relished the thought of sinking into the comfort of a
bed, any bed, even one in the abandoned tower chamber.

But why the butler’s protests, she
wondered? And what of the look he traded with the housekeeper?
Betty, too, showed surprise that Julia was to be quartered in the
tower. What might she know? Julia studied the back of the maid’s
dark head, debating whether to raise the matter.

“Betty, there is something that is
unclear to me,” Julia began in an informal tone. “Mr. McNab
indicated the tower chamber is furnished but never used. Is there a
reason?”

“Rare it is for Dunraven to have
guests, miss,” Betty answered obliquely. “Though, several times a
year, Lord Muir is in residence with his Society
friends.”

Julia wondered what society the Scots
could possibly enjoy in this remote region. But Lord Muir was an
English aristocrat with Scots ties, according to Lady Charles.
Likely, his friends trekked north across the border for their
gatherings, as those from Braxton did this day. Still shivering
with cold, she sympathized with them most sincerely.

“Even when Himself is present, no one
sleeps in the tower,” Betty chattered on in her musical voice.
“‘Tis the original and most ancient part of Dunraven. Forgive me to
say so, miss, but you must be very special to Lord Eaton for him to
lodge you there.”

“Lord Eaton?” Julia nearly choked on
the notion. “You misunderstand, Betty. There were simply no other
rooms available.”

Unable to see the maid’s face, Julia
could not read her reaction. Julia’s thoughts returned to the
chamber. Perhaps, Lord Muir preserved the room untouched due its
great age and history. Whatever his reason, she knew she must be
careful to disturb nothing there unduly. Only the bed, which she
intended to sink into for at least an aeon or two.

Julia continued to rub warmth into her arms
while she took note of their surroundings and attempted to commit
their route to mind. At times, she could hear the roar of the storm
without. At others, when she and Betty turned back into the bosom
of the castle, she could scarce hear any rumblings at all. They now
began to climb yet another stairway, this one more ornate than the
last.

Gaining the top of the stairs, Betty led
Julia through a lavishly embellished portal. Just inside she
halted.

“This is the Long Gallery,” Betty
spoke in a hushed, almost reverent tone. “‘ Twas once what was
called a communicating gallery, something like a cloistered walk,
opened but still protected from the elements. It connected the
south wing to the tower. In time, the gallery was enclosed and
became part of the castle complex. Sometimes, I fancy the people of
yesterday walk here still, bustling back and forth with messages
for their laird.”

Julia lifted a brow at Betty’s
fanciful imagination, then looked to the wide gallery stretching
before them. Gloom devoured the greater portion of it, though
windows lined the full length of the right wall.

As the storm bellowed outside, lightning
flashed in sporadic intervals, illuminating the sky and flooding
the gallery with an eerie blue light. In those piercingly bright
moments, Julia could view the expanse before her, filled with
overstuffed chairs, small ornate tables, vases and statuary on
pedestals. But most startling of all, a vast collection of
ancestral portraits covered the wall to her left, rising three
tiers high.

Julia stepped closer to Betty as lightning
continued to brighten the hall in fits, transmuting the faces of
its unsmiling inhabitants, conferring on them sinister aspects.
True to the illusion of portraits, every painted eye followed them
as they continued along the gallery amid flashes of blue.

At the gallery’s end, Betty veered
right. In the soft glow of lamplight, Julia saw that the wall to
her left was comprised of large, rough-hewn stones.

Again they turned, and Julia began to
despair of finding a bed this night. The maze of corridors seemed
without end. Curiously, this one led through thick rock, ten feet
or more in length. It ended at a planked oaken door where golden
light flowed around its edges and escaped beneath its bottom.

Betty pushed open the door fully and crossed
the threshold, pausing there as she waited for Julia to follow.

“Here we are, miss. Please come
in.”

“The south tower?”

“Yes, miss. ‘Tis the ancient heart of
Dunraven.”

Julia hesitated at the portal. It struck her
that she stood in no corridor at all, but within the stout defense
walls of the keep itself, the entryway cut through its stone.

The heart of
Dunraven.
The words flowed pleasantly
through her. Stepping inside the chamber, she found it handsomely
appointed and inviting.

To her right, an expansive fireplace filled
the wall, columned and deeply hooded, no less than six feet wide. A
cheery fire burned there, filling the room with its distinctive,
peaty odor.

A round, gate-legged table stood
centered before the hearth, flanked by chairs covered and fringed
in pale green velvet, the arm supports and legs gleaming of dark,
polished wood. To her left loomed a monstrously large armoire,
again of dark wood, paneled and carved. Blue-and-white china jars
perched on top.

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