Sinclair studied Ethan in thoughtful silence. Then at last he said, “I favor a different approach. Think of the rebel army as a snake. Cut off the head”—he slashed a hand across his throat—“and the body will wither and die.”
Just then, Thomas Moody entered the study bearing a silver butler’s tray. Tall, grim, praying mantis thin, he approached them in measured strides. “Sir, I brought you brandy sours.”
“Good man. Always anticipating my needs.”
Moody handed Sinclair a crystal goblet. “I thought you would enjoy one, sir.”
“How is that knot on your head?”
“It still pains me, but I’m managing.”
“At least your suffering was avenged. I wish you had seen Mr. Matlock dispatch those vermin.”
Moody wished he had felled the rebels himself, for his failure had opened the door for a usurper. He glanced at Matlock, who looked right at home in the master’s study. Ordinarily Moody would be lounging in that chair, enjoying imported spirits while sharing an easy camaraderie with the man of the house, whose favor over the years had greatly improved his circumstances. Now the enthusiasm in his employer’s tone pierced him to the quick.
“Three against one, yet he made it look like child’s play.”
“I had surprise on my side,” Ethan said, wishing his host would tire of complimenting him.
“And some very large ballocks. We are forever indebted to you; aren’t we, Thomas?”
“Indeed sir,” Moody replied, wondering how much longer Matlock would exploit Sinclair’s generosity.
“Which reminds me,” Sinclair fixed his drink-reddened eyes on Moody, “please arrange to have the cottage cleaned. I want it ready by this evening. Mr. Matlock will be staying there indefinitely.”
Moody had planned to request the cottage for himself. “At once, sir,” he intoned. Turning to serve Matlock his drink, he dug his heel into the carpet and pretended to stumble. The brandy sour slid from the tray and struck Ethan in the chest, dousing his waistcoat with sugared liquor.
Moody feigned dismay. “Now look what I’ve done.”
“No matter,” Ethan assured him. Accepting the linen napkin Moody proffered, he joked as he toweled himself off. “This isn’t the first time I’ve worn a drink. Some nights I’ve spilled more on me than in me.”
“I lost my balance. I’m still a bit weak from that blow to my head. I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Matlock.”
Yet Moody’s stare conveyed no remorse, and Ethan, looking into his pale blue eyes, sensed resentment lurking beneath his careful polish. All at once Ethan’s guard was up, prompting a quick assessment of the man—late thirties, tall though gangly, not the rugged build that was common for his class of body servant. Still, there was a certain sinewy strength about him, and Ethan had been a student of human nature long enough to recognize Moody’s readiness to employ it as needed. “It was an accident,” he said, even as he resolved never to turn his back on this man.
“Give that to Thomas to be laundered,” Sinclair directed, then silenced Ethan’s protest with an upraised hand. “I insist you enjoy every amenity I can offer you.” He rose, setting aside his untouched brandy sour. “Ethan, come with me. I want to show you around.”
As he left the study, Ethan deposited his waistcoat on Moody’s tray, saying cheerfully, “Here you go, Tom. No rush.”
Alone in the room, Moody stood for a moment, choking down bitterness. “My name,” he muttered, “is Thomas.”
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx