There was a flurry of dark, dampish curls as the pretty maid-child shook her head vigorously. “Don’t say Daisy, Grandfather!” she scolded, kissing him soundly. “Say Eirien! You always forget!”
“My apologies, dear-heart! But such a lovely Elvish name cannot possibly be attached to such a grubby little flower as you; I cannot see our Elvish Daisy for the dirt!”
“Isn’t it splendid?” she crowed, smoothing her filthy gabardine as he set her down and discreetly dusted himself off. “I worked very hard out-of-doors today: I had ever so many tadpoles collected for your jars!” She frowned fiercely. “But Rory made me drop them back, Grandfather! And then I had nothing to bring you but this very beautiful stone….” And with a brilliant smile that banished the frown ascribed to Rory almost as soon as it appeared, she burrowed into a particularly muddy pocket and brought forth a grimy pebble balanced in the center of her palm.
“Well, how did you know?” marveled Grandfather, whisking out his handkerchief and taking up this gift, which he subsequently set to rubbing briskly. “I was wishing just the other day to have another very beautiful stone in my terrarium—let’s see it! Oh, my! And doesn’t it sparkle in the light?” He held it up before the fire, and indeed it did sparkle now, a pale yellow stone with small facets that winked and flashed when he turned it this way and that. “It’s very fine indeed, Eri,” he said solemnly. “We shall find just the place for it in my collection.”
“But first,” Berry interrupted firmly, extracting the child from further proximity to the furniture and Grandfather’s rather select waistcoat, “I can see your mama managed to do something about your face and hands before you escaped, but I’ll have that duster, if you please, Miss. It’s not at all decent for sitting down to supper, and you’ve a lovely dress underneath that’s much the cleaner.” She led the child away and helped her to unbutton the grimy little smock, which they hung then carefully on a peg by the door.
Jamy and Bo watched all this from the shadows, and Jamy felt himself smiling unaccountably as small Eirien, sighing wistfully, was stripped of her gloriously soiled apron with stringent efficiency by Aunt Berry, who obviously had little appreciation for such a superb accumulation of dirt. He was altogether in sympathy with the little girl’s regret. He could remember having achieved just as blissful and satisfactory a state of grubbiness himself on more than one occasion—and having been just as affronted when his father, similarly unmoved, pitched him unceremoniously into the shallows to wash it all away. He smiled in remembrance, and looked up to see Bo watching Eirien and smiling, too.
Now two more children—a boy and girl closer to his own age—skidded through the door, a breathless entrance that nonetheless, in comparison to Eirien’s, had the effect of being quite sedate. Berry slipped out at the same moment; the children descended on the Master with glad affection and Jamy drew further back with uncertainty. But Bo put a hand on his shoulder. “These are Theo’s children,” he said quietly, close against his ear. “Steady on, now. They’re not nearly as frightening as they look.”
The boy was a year or two older than Jamy, and considerably cleaner than Eirien, with fairish hair and an open, forthright manner. A genial expression, vaguely reminiscent of both Theo and the Master, played across his gold-flecked features and glinted in his dark blue eyes. He wore a simple muslin shirt and sturdy breeks, no concessions to his lineage, and in his hands he held a canvas bag pulled tight with a drawstring. Something in the bag seemed to be in motion. Jamy’s eye was drawn to this and he stared, wondering at the strange jerks and thrusts and rustles that issued from the canvas sacking, trying to imagine what might be within.
The Master was wondering, too. “Now, what’s this?” he asked, as the boy gave the bag into his hands. “What have you got, Rory?” He loosed the string, uttered a soft cry of surprise and sat down in his chair. Carefully, he set the bag on his knees and reached within, drawing out, cupped in his large hand, a small grey bird that fluttered and keened anxiously, struggling determinedly as if she would return to the sack. The Master stroked her gently and spoke softly to her. Eirien crowded in beside him, cooing as she bent close to look.
“I found her just this morning in the Marish, Grandfather,” said the boy, squatting on the other side. “A crow was trying to nick her egg and, see, she’s hurt herself fighting him. I couldn’t fix her, but I knew you could. See, I brought the egg, too, and the nest. That’s what she wants. She’s been quiet all the journey, just sitting on the egg. But she’s injured, Grandfather. You can fix her, can’t you?”
“I think so,” said Grandfather, examining the wing as the bird peeped wildly in protest and Eirien made small sounds of comfort. “But for now, I think she needs to know she and her egg are safe. There’s a basket with a lid under the table there. Fetch it, won’t you, and we’ll make her as comfortable as we can.”
The basket was fetched, and from the bag was brought out a small nest fashioned of tiny twigs and leaves, lined with a cushion of fluffy down and sheltering at its center one small, speckled egg. This they placed in the bottom of the basket on a soft bed of scented grasses that Rory had thought to bring also from the Marish, and the mother bird was gently loosed beside it. The Master studied it for a moment and then he replaced the woven lid and made sure it was fast.
“She’ll be all right for awhile now,” he said. “I’ll see to her before I go to bed tonight. The wing needs setting properly and then she should have some rest, which she can surely get sitting quietly on her egg without some great brute trying to push her off. Rackety birds, crows.” He frowned, and Rory took the basket of his hands and made for the loft to set it out of harm’s way.
Jamy, who had been deeply engrossed in the settling of the injured bird, looked up at the sound of the soft, new voice and caught his breath in sudden confusion.
The older girl—who looked to be the same age as himself—was speaking to the Master, but she was looking at him with deep brown eyes that reflected so gentle and startled a heart that for an instant he was reminded of a fawn he had seen alongside the river this morning, watching him with great, wondering eyes as the barge passed by. The fawn’s wide-open gaze had stirred some lonely affection in him, and it was with a small ache of longing that he had watched the little creature vanish behind him in the pale morning mist. To meet that look again so soon—and in the eyes of a girl!—was disconcerting to say the least.
She was a very pretty girl, her wide eyes shining in a small round face that was pearl in complexion and faintly blushed with pink. A few impossibly soft, dark tresses curled about her ears and gently traced her neck, and the rest of her long hair was pulled back and tucked into a plait that hung down over one shoulder and was tied off with a long ringlet and a flutter of ribbons the colour of old roses. She was dressed in a mulberry pinafore with an embroidered belt, and beneath it a creamy waist with softly ruffled sleeves.
Jamy had never known such a creature and he was no match for her; indeed he pitched a little in dismay, as if he had sailed with confidence before a high wind that all unlooked for fetched about and overmanned him at the tiller and, as added insult, snatched his breath away. To be sure, he understood his place, but not his heart or his senses, and he faltered, unsure of how to respond. But the girl seemed to realize his rising uncertainty and quickly she smiled: a warm, shy welcome. So accepted, he drew breath and followed her lead: with a toss of his curls, he bowed his head respectfully (Berry would understand, surely!) and then bestowed on her what he knew to be his most amiable grin.
She coloured prettily and looked beseechingly at the Master, and he, seeing what had passed and mindful that Jamy and Bo had been to this moment unnoticed, reached for her hand. “Ella,” he said, drawing her into the shelter of his arm, “this is Jamy. It was good of you to make him welcome so kindly. I fancy he is feeling a little shy just now.” He beckoned then, and flushing, Jamy came forward into the light with Bo at his side.
At once small Eirien cried, “Uncle Bo!” and rushed forward. Laughing, Bo swung her up into his arms. “Hello, Daisy!” he teased. “Say hello to Jamy.” But Eirien hid her head bashfully and peeped at Jamy through her tiny fingers, saying not a word. Bo looked down at her in astonishment.
“Why, I think you must stay forever now, Jamy,” he said wryly, ruffling the curly little head and then stooping to kiss Ella’s rosy cheek. “You are the only person I can think of who has ever rendered our crazy Daisy speechless.”
At this, Ella laughed and Eirien herself stifled a giggle behind her hands. Jamy caught her eye, bright behind her fingers, and winked at her in the manner of conspirators. She gazed at him thoughtfully, a tiny frown between her brows, and then laid her head on Bo’s shoulder, curling her arms around his neck.
The boy, returning from his errand, came both surprised and curious back into the circle, exchanging quick, wondering glances with both his grandfather and his uncle, whose faces conveyed what he needed to know. Seemingly conscious of his role as heir to the Hall—though in the same easy manner of the older Brandybucks—he offered his hand in a friendly fashion.
“Jamy, is it?” he said affably. “How d’you do? I’m Rory Brandybuck. I’m sorry I didn’t see you—I was fretting so about this bird. What brings you to the Hall?” With a swift eye to the Master, who nodded encouragement, Jamy took Rory’s hand, as he had been taught to do when greeting a very few of his father’s more formidable associates. No boy had ever shaken his hand before, or offered to. It felt curiously grown-up to engage in this ritual as if he were entitled to it. The Brandybucks, he decided, were an altogether surprising sort of gentry. “The river, if it please you. I came down this morning from the bridge with a letter for the Master.”
“On the river!” The boy’s eyes kindled. “Your father lets you ride the barges?”
A hollow look darkened Jamy’s eyes for an instant, visible only to the Master who had seen it twice before. But the inward struggle was swift this time; it was clear he had no desire to share it with another boy.
“We are river-folk,” he said simply, perhaps hopefully. “My father makes his living on the Brandywine.” Rory fairly glowed with interest. “You live on the river?” he exclaimed with unabashed delight. “On a boat? What a splendid life! Mine is too quiet by half, but you’ll have had all manner of adventures then, I’ll wager, just like Grandfather.”
“Adventures!” Jamy blinked in surprise and shook his head earnestly. “Nay, and I’m sure there’s no adventure on the river to match the Master’s!” He turned a wistful eye on the sword and shield and then on the Master himself. “I wish I could ask you to tell some of it, sir, while I’m here!”
Rory and Ella looked at each other and a slow smile passed between them. Eirien lifted her head and whispered excitedly in Bo’s ear.
“Grandfather,” Rory said. “What do you think? Grandfather Maggot told us a ripping yarn the other night that you have never told us: about Uncle Peregrin and Cousin Frodo and Master Sam running from Black Riders in the Marish. But he stopped halfway through and said you’d have to tell us the rest, because he only knew it to the ferry landing, on account of the fact that Great-grandfather Maggot turned back and went home to supper once he’d delivered them to the dock and you turned up in the fog to take them over the river! You never told us the Black Riders came into the Shire!”
The Master smiled slowly in acknowledgement. “It is long years since I have spoken of Black Riders,” he said. “And I wish it had been as easy to be in that dark story as it is for you to tell it, lad. But so he did go home to supper—your great-grandfather—for he’d played his part by then, and bless him for a cool head! And do you know? I think without him the story might have ended right there in the Marish, with Frodo taken and the Ring lost to Mordor and all the Shire bound in chains to suit the Dark Lord’s purpose!”
Ella gasped and Jamy’s mouth fell open. “Oh, sir!” he said in hushed tones. “Please don’t send me back without I get to hear that story!”
“Company’s right,” declared Rory stoutly, slinging an arm about Jamy’s shoulders to show them united in their desire to hear this tale which, if it had been harrowing beside the hearth in the Marish, promised to be beyond thrilling here. “You’ll tell us what happened next, won’t you Grandfather?”
“I will,” he laughed, pleased to see them so naturally disposed to one another, “but first I must see what Ella has to show me—for I think you have brought along something from your holiday, too, haven’t you?”
For the first time, Jamy saw that Ella carried a slim green folio of soft leather, very like the one that held the beautiful paintings the Master’s wife had made. Shyly, she held it out to the Master.
“There’s only one,” she said. “It’s the best of the lot—for you, Grandfather.”
He sat down and opened the cover and there inside a single painting gleamed in the shadows like a black pearl. The Master looked on it for a long moment, and then he sighed softly. “Oh, my dear,” he said, and there was a quaver of astonishment in his voice. He lifted and turned it so the others could see.
They caught their breaths together as myth materialized before their eyes, as from behind the shroud of time a shadow stepped into the light of their own sunny Shire.
Eirien wriggled in Bo’s arms: “I want to get down!” He stooped, setting her on her little feet, and then knelt, studying the picture with the child yet wrapped in his arms. Beside him Jamy stood stock-still in wonder.
“Good show, Ella,” murmured Rory, shivering a little as he bent forward. “Faith —it’s perfect!” The painting showed the bit of story Rory had just recounted to the Master: Farmer Maggot delivering the three travelers to the ferry landing so long ago. The night was inky black. Fog wafted in tatters across the gloomy lane, rising silver-grey off the dark river in the background, sinuous in the faint glow of the lanterns far away at the end of the dock.
A waggon stood in the foreground and in it were three hobbits fixed in a moment of fearful alarm. In the back of the waggon a dark-haired hobbit started up, partly covered with a blanket. Next him, a smaller, seemingly younger hobbit with cinnamon glints in his fog-dampened curls, crouched on his knees, one hand anxiously preventing his friend from rising further, the other gripping the side of the waggon. On the front seat, another hobbit, his grey eyes wide with alarm, held the reins while reaching back with a protective, restraining hand. The old farmer stood on the ground at his ponies’ heads, poised as if for battle, and in front of him loomed a nightmare of swirling fog and shadow.
“What is that?” asked Jamy, a shiver of horror licking up his spine. “Is that a Black Rider?” He narrowed his eyes, focused on the churning mist and the dark, hooded shape that seemed to loom up behind it.
“Look closely,” said the Master, and then he laughed softly. “How clever you are, Ella, and how strange, to see it the other way round for once. No wonder they were all white to the eyes!”
Smiling, Ella leaned forward and with her little finger traced a small murky area at the base of the looming darkness. There, swathed in mist and nearly imperceptible, was the shaggy foreleg and trim little hoof of a hobbit-sized pony stepping carefully along the lane, and nearly invisible beyond it, the faint smudge that was his small rider.
“It’s you!” cried Jamy, looking at the Master. “Coming to meet them, like in the story! And the shadow is…?”
“Just a shadow,” nodded the Master, “but on such a night as that, I see now how it might have seemed the Dark Lord himself. Well done, Ella! And you did this from your own imagination, as Grandfather Maggot told the tale?”
She nodded. “Is it very like it was, do you think?”
“It is indeed,” he said. “So much so that I fear for you, dearest—were you frightened, painting such a dark thing?”
“No,” she said. “When I heard the story I was frightened thinking about how it must have been for you to see them for real—but when I decided to paint it, it was not really about the Rider anymore, but all about light and shadow.”
“Just so,” he said, as if to himself. “It was all about light and shadow.”
Jamy looked raptly at both the painting and Ella. He had worked alongside his father at the lines and the poles for all the years of his boyhood, and while he was not yet grown, he knew it was common opinion that when he came into his own, he would be considered, like his father, one of the finest boatmen on the river. He thought it must be the same with Ella, for it was clear that one day she would be as fine a painter as her grandmother had been. The manner was different, and the paints, too, but the eye saw the same, and the light was every bit as breathtaking.
“You’ll tell us the rest of the story, sir?” Rory asked, but before the Master could answer, Berry appeared once again at the door. “Dinner in five minutes,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, that’s enough! All of you!”
Jamy had followed Bo and the Master and the girls at a slight remove with Rory, who offered a light-hearted commentary on the Brandybuck relations who lived behind other doors in the Hall, and a dazzling account of a daring raid on a neighbouring farmer’s winter stores that he had made with his cousins in the Marish. He lowered his voice when detailing this triumph, but Jamy, happening to look ahead, saw the Master prick an ear to the whispering and exchange the ghost of a glance with Bo.
Three sets of double doors were set at even intervals around the perimeter of the little hall, and one was hospitably thrown open. Beyond it was a large, inviting sitting room, sensibly furnished with soft chairs and polished tables, illuminated by many lamps and candles, and perfumed with the faint, anticipatory aromas of the promised dinner. A dining room was just visible to the right, and a long corridor at the end of which appeared to be the communal buttery Jamy had seen earlier in the day, and to the rear of the sitting room was an archway that opened enticingly onto yet another passage.
Jamy was becoming familiar now with the startling size and configuration of life at Brandy Hall. Not only had he and Berry walked the long outside corridor when first he came, but Bo had shown him some astonishing things as well: kitchens and wash rooms and stables and cold cellars, and at the top of the strange and splendid staircases, the upper levels of the Hall, where both Bo and the Master had sleeping chambers with windows overlooking the river and skylights through which they could see the stars at night. But these were simple quarters such as any hobbit anywhere in the Shire might inhabit, nothing like the grand apartments he stood looking at now. It struck him suddenly that these were rooms that must have been designed for the long line of Masters of the Hall: just the sort of impressive accommodation he had quite unconsciously expected to find when first he came to deliver the Master’s letter.
It was obvious the Master had given them up to Theo; Jamy wondered if this had come on the death of his wife, if sorrow and unbridgeable memory had forced him to put aside such comforts as he had shared with her. He understood this: he and his father had never gone back to the pleasant little house at Sarn Ford after his own mother had so suddenly passed away. After the burial his father had shut and locked the door and sold it away to strangers, and they had ever after lived on the Lyssa and kept very frugal quarters, close and simple and reflective of their immediate concerns, like the Master’s study and the little sleeping-chamber at the top of the Hall where the stars shone in at night.
Through the doors he could see Theo now, standing before his sitting room fire with his arm around a lady of sparkling good looks who must be his own wife. Rory had explained on the way that he and his sisters and Mrs. Theo (who had been Camellia Maggot before she married and came to the Hall) had been away for nearly a fortnight visiting her folk at Bamfurlong. Mrs. Theo’s golden brown head was nestled fondly against her husband’s shoulder and they were speaking softly to each other in the manner of couples parted overlong. It was not hard to see that Theo had himself been lonely and overbalanced in these apartments while his family was away; his face seemed relieved of many cares now.
Jamy was presented to Mrs. Theo, who greeted him kindly and with a quiet attention that harkened to what she must have heard already from Theo and Berry and Tom. He was relieved that she did not seem to disapprove of him; she spoke to him as to her own children, with an affectionate concern for his comforts and—had he known it—no less concern with regard to the mystery of his being abroad on his own. She had a motherly heart, open to all small creatures, and straightaway she had declared privately to her husband that the boy would not suffer for want of care under the sheltering hand of the Hall. Jamy was surprised to find her fair like Rory, golden of countenance and a complement to Theo’s dark good looks—those same that defined Eirien’s small, mischievous face and sooty curls. He had thought to find in her a grown version of Ella, but that pale face, with its luminous dark eyes and sweet, warm, enigmatic smile, was unique to the room.
Berry and Tom were ferrying dishes from the kitchen to the dining room, and slowly a homecoming feast was being laid out on the long board, shining with many candles and bright with coloured crockery. There was room for everyone at the long table, so all ten of them sat down together and what conversation might be had over and around the food did not exclude the younger members of the house. Dutifully, the children passed platters and bowls and flagons, filling their own plates and cups as they chose, and when everyone had been served, they set to with the ravenous appetites common to young hobbits and for a time were content to listen to what passed between their elders.
“We went into the village at Rushey last week,” Mrs. Theo said, as she was winding down on news of family ‘over the river.’ “Such beautiful yarns they have there; we shall all have new jumpers this winter, and lovely colours, too, for Delphine Brownlock has such a way with dyes, and such a love of it, she has gone and done all the work ahead of us! I never thought to be able to buy coloured yarns, but it’s such a savings in time; a very clever mind has that girl.”
“And a good bit of my ready coin, too!” observed Theo indulgently.
“Well, that’s a useful thing,” Bo observed lazily, “for with such a face and tongue as Delphine has, she’ll have a time landing a husband to support her.”
“Bo Brandybuck! You know very well Delphine is as pretty a girl as any who set her cap for you!” scolded Berry, scandalized. “And if she gave you a tongue-lashing once, you probably deserved it: you were a most unenthusiastic suitor. At any rate she’s not thinking of you any longer—Griffo Hayward has asked her hand and won it. There’ll be a wedding in the summer, and perhaps you’ll be sorry then!”
“I shan’t,” said Bo remorselessly, “and I shall wish them well with considerable enthusiasm. I thought I should never convince that girl I wasn’t the marrying kind.”
“Aren’t you, my dear?” asked Mrs. Theo artlessly. “Oh, Berry—who do you think I saw walking arm in arm with Folco Potts in the square at Rushey? Tansy Boffin! Now there’s a pretty girl. I always liked her, and we have not met in months—why, since Midsummer Festival here, as I recall—wouldn’t that be right, Bo? Of course, it was all I could do to part her from Folco so that we might have a little ramble and a private talk; he is very fond!”
“Oh!” said Berry, her eyes sparkling suddenly, “Is he?”
Frowning, Bo set down his fork and stared across the table at his sister-in-law. “What’s this?” he said. “Folly Potts! Walking with Tansy! And fond, you say?”
“So it seemed to me,” said Mrs. Theo with a careless shrug. “He was most anxious of her every comfort. Won’t you have more apple tart, Father? There’s only a little left, and I know it’s your favorite.”
“Folco Potts?” said Tom, catching Berry’s eye. “Bit of a dandy, isn’t he? A fancy dresser?”
“A regular peacock,” said Bo darkly, “and a prating fool, to foot. He ought to be locked up in his potting shed. What’s Tansy doing with him?”
“Settling? What does that mean?”
“It means, love, that if perhaps Folco is not exactly what she wanted or not perhaps what her friends might have wanted for her, he may be better than nothing. There is a rumor that she had ardent hopes of someone else, but, alas, he never spoke.”
“Oh, dear!” said Berry, taken aback. “Surely not?”
“Well, there are worse things, I should think, than marrying a fellow who is secure in his craft and particular about his dress, even if he is not one’s first choice. At least he will always look presentable and he will no doubt counsel her in that wise, as well. Now that I think of it, I’m sure Tansy could dress more to advantage, Berry. She has that wonderful complexion, but you want to be careful what colours you wear with such bright, coppery hair.”
“Folly, better than nothing!” Bo exclaimed. “Rather better nothing than Folly Potts! And Tansy looks just fine the way she is. I can’t believe you are encouraging this idiocy, Cammy! You must write her at once and warn her off of such a ridiculous match.”
“Ought I, dear?” said Mrs. Theo, dexterously handling victuals to various quarters. “Here, Jamy, do have a bit more off the joint, and you, too, Rory. There you go, that’s good for growing lads. Now, Bo, why ever would Tansy dash her last hopes on my disapproval? I’m sure she knows what’s best for her.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t,” said Bo, frowning fiercely, “if she doesn’t know there’s any number of fellows better for her than Folly Potts!”
“Well, they haven’t spoken, dear,” said Mrs. Theo.
“I’m sure she can’t know, Uncle Bo,” said Ella earnestly, touching his sleeve. “I wish they will tell her.”
“Well, perhaps,” said Theo, meeting his brother’s flashing eyes with a solemn smile, “you can nip over to Rushey when you get back from Haysend and remind Tansy of all those other fellows, eh, brother? Before she throws her lot in for good and all with Folco?”
Bo pushed his plate back and shook his head with a mutter of disgust. Jamy looked thoughtfully at Mrs. Theo, busy now buttering bread for Eirien, and then to the Master, ingenuously downing his ale. It occurred to him that Mrs. Theo could have brought off the worrying deception forced on Berry this morning with no effort whatsoever and never a backward glance. And certainly Bo was none the wiser for what had just passed, save for Folco Potts’ untoward ambitions. Jamy deemed Mrs. Theo a female to be respected and vowed he should never try to deceive her, for without doubt, here was someone who could catch him out and hang him up all in the same minute!
Rory leaned forward interestedly.
“Haysend? Are you going to Haysend tomorrow, Uncle Bo?”
“I am that,” Bo responded, seemingly relieved to have done with the subject of ladies, and to be on to a more comfortable conversation. “There’s a dam building on a fallen tree in the Withywindle there that needs breaking down and Jamy’s going to lend his waterman’s eye to solving the problem for Tom and me.”
“But that’s splendid!” Rory flashed a smile of delighted anticipation, first in Jamy’s direction and then in Theo’s. “I want to go!”
Theo frowned uncertainly. “It’s dangerous, Rory. The river is unpredictable. You’ve no training for it....”
“I know, but surely I could be of use in some way—I can hold a rope or a pony or something. Anyway I want to go with Jamy and hear what he knows of the river….”
“He’s quite welcome, Theo,” Bo said, noting Jamy’s quick enthusiasm.
Theo hesitated, glancing from Rory to the Master. Once again, he seemed constrained and genuinely reluctant to trespass where authority might be concerned. With careful deference he enjoined the Master: “Father?”
The Master looked up as if he were truly startled to be drawn into the matter. He gazed at Theo for an instant and then he bent his head and took up his cup gravely, as if he meant to measure his response. But Jamy, sitting next him, saw what none were meant to see, his face mostly hidden by the cup—a sudden darkening of his eyes with pain and dismay, the same that Jamy and Bo had seen when they had tumbled in to find him next the black and neglected hearth, anguished with his letter, and sick at heart. The Master’s fingers trembled slightly round the cup, and Jamy caught his breath; surreptitiously he looked to Bo, who had not seen and was watching mildly the interplay between his father and his brother.
But just as quickly as it had come, the moment passed as if it had never been, and the Master set down his cup again and looked up with smiling eyes.
“Cammy, won’t you send those mushrooms round again?” he asked hopefully, and at the same time he flicked a keen and eloquent glance at Rory. “How delightful they are! There is nothing so good as a Marish mushroom to an old marauder like me, my dear; your grandfather thrashed me more than once, you know, for helping myself to his stores.” He smiled blandly, if affectionately, at Rory, who froze in his place between Jamy and Ella, a forkful of sausage suspended in the air. “I own I was a slow learner,” he mused, sighing, “no comfort to my father’s disgrace, I’m sure.” He helped himself to the bowl of mushrooms and passed them on to Rory, who coloured a little under Theo’s sharply considering gaze.
“Now, as for this ramble to Haysend, Theo,” the Master went on, “why, it sounds a proper boy’s adventure to me. And this lad’s been on holiday long enough, if you’re asking me —it’s time he got back to work.”
Jamy, concluding Rory was in no position to enter in here, said respectfully to Theo, “Please, sir, I’d be grateful if you’d let him come, and I promise you, he shan’t come close to the Withywindle or the little maidens below!”
This mysterious utterance, which made Berry tsk and both Rory and Mrs. Theo blink in surprise, coaxed a smile from Theo despite his solemn mood, and he laughed softly. “Most assuredly not, Master Jamy,” he said with mock severity, “and I shall hold you to it! You may go, Rory, but you will put yourself at Uncle Bo’s discretion and Master Tom’s right hand and do as you’re told. And Jamy—you’ll take no chances, do you hear?”
“Yes, sir.” Jamy acknowledged Theo’s orders with a grin and turned to the Master. “Which as reminds me, sir,” he said, “—the River Daughters, that is—won’t you tell us the rest of the story of the Black Riders at the ferry landing?”
“River Daughters?” murmured Mrs. Theo.
“Hush,” said her husband. “Better we hear of Black Riders; trust me.”