Today's Reading

Where were you in October five years ago, my lord? she wondered. Behind the lines of Torres Vedras, protecting Lisbon with Viscount Wellington, as Wellesley had just become, or skirmishing around as a riding officer seeking out intelligence on the advancing French? Perhaps he had been a friend of Major Andrew Norwood. No, best not to think of him, the shocking sounds that fists meeting flesh made, the lethal whisper of a knife blade through the twilight.

The violence that is in men's hearts...

Gaby bent her head over her ledgers. There was work to be done, a winery did not run itself. She could not allow herself to think about Norwood or the nightmares would begin again. He was gone, dead, and she was 'not' going to allow him to haunt her.

* * *

The clock in the hall struck six as she finished her notes and lists. She put down her pen, blotted the ledger, assembled the
papers and allowed herself to look out of the window at last. And there her uninvited guest was, strolling bareheaded through the cherry orchard as though he was surveying his own acres. He was heading directly for the burial plot.

She was probably overreacting, Gaby told herself as she ran down the stairs and out through the front door. There was no reason why he should not look around the grounds—they had been laid out as a pleasure garden, after all, and she was proud of them. It was perfectly natural that he should visit the burial enclosure and pay his respects, if he was so inclined. As for what he might find there... Well, that was not his business. He was a messenger passing through and would soon be gone. What he thought of her was not of the slightest importance.

She found him standing at the foot of her parents' graves, head slightly bowed, apparently deep in thought. She stood on just that spot almost every day, collecting her thoughts, asking questions, wrestling with difficult issues. She did not expect an answer from beyond, of course, but simply thinking about how her parents would handle any problem often gave her own ideas direction and validation. Her father had never given her firm instructions about the business, he taught by example and encouraged innovation. The only hard line either parent had laid down was, Follow your conscience, always. If you are uneasy in your mind, then listen and do the right thing. It was a rule she attempted to live by.

'December 1807,' the earl said, looking up as she reached the headstone and faced him. 'The month the French took Porto for the first time.'

'Yes. There was an epidemic of the influenza, just to add to the general horror. I think the anxiety and stress of the invasion made my parents particularly vulnerable to the infection.' She could say it unemotionally now. Sometimes it even seemed like a dream, or a story she had read in a book, that time when she found herself orphaned with a fourteen-year-old brother and a quinta to, somehow, protect against the armies fighting to control a country in turmoil. She missed them all every day. The pain had become easier to live with, the sense of loss never seemed to diminish.

'And this is your brother.' Leybourne had moved on to the next headstone, reminding her just what a bad job she had done of
protecting Thomas. He crouched down to read the inscription. 'September 1810. We were behind the lines of Torres Vedras, holding Lisbon by then. I remember those months.' Not with any pleasure, from the tone of his voice.

'The French killed Thomas. Not disease.' The French and treachery.

'Hell, I'm sorry.' He had bent down to read the inscription, but he looked up sharply at her words, then back to the stone. He reached out one long finger to trace the dates of birth and death. 'I had not realised he had been so young, only seventeen. What happened? Were they scavenging around here?'

'Only just seventeen.'

'Old enough to be thinking about girls and so shy that he had no idea how to talk with them, let alone anything else. Old enough to be shaving off fluff and young enough to be proud of the fact. Young enough to still kiss his big sister without reserve when he came home and old enough to resent her worrying...'

What our readers think...