A Country Wooing

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Authors: Joan Smith
Tags: Regency Romance
distance the stone walls of Penholme rose. As she approached it from the rear, the first person she saw was Alex. He already had his arm out of the sling. He was talking to some workmen. When he saw her, he waved and walked forward to meet her, leaving the men behind.
    “Now aren’t you glad you came down off your high ropes and took Lady?” he asked. “You make a beautiful pair.”
    “More gallantry! Lady and I thank you. I didn’t come to take you from your work, Alex. I’ll go in to say hello to Aunt Tannie.”
    “I’ll join you presently. Wait till I come.”
    “Yes, milord.” She gave him a pert smile.
    “That was a request, however incivilly worded.”
    “It had the air of a military command.”
    “No, no. I’ve sold out. It’s my new title that makes me so arrogant, Duck.” He laughed and turned back to the workmen.
    Loo and Babe were in the stable, admiring the ponies Robin had chosen for them at Eastleigh. The stable looked half empty. Anne mentally tallied up what mounts had been put on the block. He’d kept the grays for the curricle, the bays for the family carriage, a hack and hunter each for himself and Rob, a hack each for the twins, and he’d bought the ponies for the girls. Just what a man in his position would consider essential.
    While she was complimenting the girls on their Welsh ponies, Alex joined them. “Here, up you go,” he said to Babe.
    “Alex, your arm!” Anne cautioned.
    “I can lift Babe with one arm,” he said, and did so, hoisting her up on the pony’s back. Like all the Penholmes, she had a natural affinity for horses. She was soon jogging around the yard as easily as she walked. Loo had scrambled up on her pony by herself and went after her.
    “Imagine Babe not being mounted till she’s six,” Alex said ruefully.
    “She’s still a baby.”
    “A Penholme baby! Rosalie was hunting when she was eight. And look at Loo—what an awkward set of hands. Here, Loo!” He went after her and rearranged the reins between her fingers, urging her to sit straight and not pull on the line.
    This done, he stood back to watch. “They should be in the schoolroom today, but I had to let them try out their ponies. As far as that goes, that governess.... Where did she come from, anyway?”
    “Sussex, I believe.”
    “Literalist! I meant what is her background. I stepped into her schoolroom yesterday and heard a few paragraphs of a gothic novel. She’s not at all well spoken. I don’t relish telling her she must leave, but the girls need a better teacher than that.’’
    “I don’t know what her background is, but she is engaged to the local schoolteacher. Perhaps if you intrude yourself into the schoolroom with gentle hints of geography and grammar, she’ll see fit to marry him in a hurry.”
    “How long has she been here?”
    “Since shortly after you left.”
    “That’s what I thought,” he said. His manner of saying it told her what was in his mind. Charles’s work, hiring an unsuitable employee because she was young and pretty.
    A groom, and there was an excess of them with the diminished stable, was called to oversee the girls’ lesson, and Anne and Alex entered the house.
    They met Mrs. Tannie just coming from conference with cook. She ordered tea and went with them to the gold saloon. “How much do you owe the builder?” she asked bluntly.
    “Fifty for the dovecot, two hundred and fifty for the stables. That was Coulter, the builder, with me just now,” he explained to Anne.
    “Between that and the servants’ wages and Dr. Palmsey, it will eat up what you got at Eastleigh yesterday,” Mrs. Tannie said.
    “A pity. I had hoped to buy tiles from that blunt and pay off the merchants. We’re so steeped in debt I’m reluctant to go into a shop. I wonder what else I can sell.” His eyes wandered around the walls, hung with valuable paintings.
    “Not the pictures, surely!” Anne exclaimed, alarmed to imagine things had come to such a pass.
    “No, I’ll

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