- 7. Far From The Island – 07
- 8. Far From The Island – 08
- 9. Far From The Island – 09
- 10. Far From The Island – 10
- 11. Far From The Island – 11
- 12. Far From The Island – 12
- 13. Far From The Island – 13
“It’s a fine day – how do you feel about venturing outside for a bit of fresh air?” Fiona entered Francis’s sitting-room to find her charge frowning over a letter. “Is something wrong?”
Francis hastily folded the missive up and tucked it into his waistcoat pocket.
He looked more tired than usual this morning, bathed as he was in the merciless light which streamed through the window. The fine lines around his eyes were etched deeper than usual, and a groove of pain furrowed his brow. Fiona placed the back of her hand against his forehead.
“You feel a bit hot,” she said.
Francis shrugged, impatient as ever with fussing of any sort. In the month since she had arrived – a month that had passed in a blur – she and her charge had formed a strong bond, but there were times, like now, when Francis put up the shutters and retreated into his own world.
At first, she’d assumed it was the pain, a need to keep private his suffering, which she understood very well, but sometimes, when she caught him looking into the distance with such a bleak look on his face, she wondered if there was something else troubling him.
“What do you think?” she said brightly, keeping a canny eye on him as she went about her morning chores. “We could go to the Botanic Gardens if you feel up to it. You haven’t been over the door in a week.”
“For heaven’s sake, stop fussing!” Francis exclaimed impatiently. “I am not a baby.”
“No, but you’re acting like one.” Fiona sat down across from him and folded her hands in her lap. “What’s wrong with you?”
She raised a sceptical brow.
“I’ve got all day, you know.”
Francis was forced to laugh.
“Roddy was here last night.”
“I know. I heard him arguing with your father.”
“Roddy wants to branch out into making horseless carriages,” Francis said with a wry grin. “He says that one day everyone will have one. You can imagine what my father thinks of that. My brother deigned to visit me later to vent his feelings. He didn’t come bothering you, did he?”
Fiona shook her head.
“I think he’s finally getting the message that I am immune to his so-called charms,” she said.
It was a lie, but she didn’t want to worry Francis. The truth was that Roddy came knocking at her door at every opportunity. When he passed her in the hallway, he brushed against her, as he did when he opened a door for her. He’d twice waylaid Annie, the maid who brought Fiona’s dinner, in order to deliver the tray himself, and it had taken Fiona a good 15 minutes to usher him back out of the room again.
She’d considered complaining to Mrs Cunningham, but a mixture of pride and fear kept her silent. Constance Cunningham certainly doted on her elder son, and Francis would be mortified to know that his own stern words with his brother had been to no avail.
“Anyway, you’re not going to tell me it’s Roddy who’s got you all upset,” she said, “so stop avoiding the issue.”
“There’s no issue. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Francis said testily.
“Look, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine,” Fiona said gently, “but if you wanted to tell me what’s bothering you, you know it wouldn’t go any further. It can help, you know, to get things off your chest.”
“A fine thing to say to someone in my condition,” Francis said dryly. “Oh, Fiona, don’t look like that, you know I was only teasing. It’s just . . .” He wiped the sheen of sweat from his face with his kerchief, waving her back to her seat when she rose to help him. “Is there someone waiting for you on Heronsay?” he asked abruptly.