The Seventh Miss Hatfield

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Authors: Anna Caltabiano
me about your journey. Are you warm enough? Have you been offered a drink?’
    I was thankful he talked so much that he didn’t let me answer his questions. I hadn’t expected to be caught, and I most certainly hadn’t expected this sort of greeting. I was in utter shock and didn’t know what to say or do.
    ‘Riding on the train alone must have been horrible for a young woman of your age. I do hope you’ll forgive your old uncle for that. I would’ve driven down with my new automobile if I hadn’t fallen ill. Eh, physician’s orders. What can I say?’ The man paused – barely – for breath, then went on babbling. ‘Why, it’s been so long since I saw you last, Margaret. Just look at you! You’re a young lady now, not the little girl I once knew. You were only knee-high the last time I saw you and you’ve only grown more beautiful,’ he gushed, making me feel more uncomfortable by the second.
    I was thankful when he finally paused and looked back at his grim-looking companion, as if suddenly remembering he was there.
    ‘Margaret, this is Father Gabriel, the new local chaplain from the town near our country home. He’s doing us the honour of staying with us while we’re in the city. I almost forgot that you two haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.’
    I looked at the man standing a step behind him. The black clothing he wore now made sense, though he looked young to be taken seriously as a chaplain. As I gazed into his hard eyes, I gauged that he couldn’t be more than thirty-five, yet the serious way he held himself suggested he was older.
    ‘Though Father Gabriel has only been with us a short time since Father Dominic’s passing, he’s made himself indispensable, and it feels like we’ve known him for ever. He appears to have that effect on people.’
    ‘A pleasure to meet you.’ I found the chaplain’s voice to be warmer than I’d expected. ‘But as I was telling Mr Beauford right before we found you, I’d best retire for the evening to be up for the early mass tomorrow. If you wish, you may join us.’
    I thanked him, before he quickly turned on his heel and left. I was now alone with the old man.
    Mr Beauford hesitated, as if just recalling something. ‘You haven’t seen Henley yet, have you?’
    I shook my head, wondering who I’d be introduced to next. I only hoped whoever it was didn’t talk nearly as much as the man currently standing before me. ‘Henley! Boy!’ the man yelled to no one in particular. Muttering to himself, he rang a bell in the corner of the room. A scant minute later, the same servant who had escorted me to the parlour appeared.
    ‘Sir?’ She nodded towards the man and cast a confused – but polite – glance at me.
    ‘Bring Henley down to greet his cousin. This is my niece, Margaret, whom we’ve been expecting,’ he said. When he named me as his niece, the woman eyed me up and down, and I felt her cold judgement. Whether she reached a conclusion she liked or not, she quickly uttered, ‘Yes, sir,’ and promptly set out to find this Henley the man wanted me to greet.
    The man, Margaret’s uncle – whoever she was – made small talk, trying to engage me in conversation at any cost, but my mind was elsewhere. I needed some way to escape, but I couldn’t leave without the painting. I knew I was being rude by not conversing with him, but he didn’t appear to mind.
    ‘There he is,’ the man said. The tone of his voice changed all of a sudden and made me look up from my thoughts.
    The same servant was standing near the door, now ajar, but Mr Beauford’s gaze was on the younger man coming through it.
    The young man looked nothing like the older, stooped-over man in front of me. His steps were filled with a lively spring, and there was something within him that made him glow like the embodiment of a happy and vigorous life. His face, however, conveyed a different message. His clear eyes had a strange sort of light in them, and his lips twitched as his hard

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