Catherine had hoped with a large part of her heart that Francis would change his mind and come back to her instead of leaving on that ship. But as the day passed, and he did not come, she resigned herself to not seeing him for several weeks. She had been so relieved and so grateful that he'd still wanted her, she could think of little else. The loss of the child was a tragedy she did not really feel. God had taken it for whatever reasons He had, and she could do nothing about it. That losing it had not killed her as well, she had only to be thankful for. And yet, a part of her worried that she would now not be able to have children, that her happiness with Francis had a price. He would not be satisfied if she could not produce an heir. The doctor and midwife told her that only time would tell if she would conceive again, but it was quite possible.
Instead of fretting over it, she determined to regain her strength so that she would be up to the voyage when the Buenavista arrived in San Sebastian. She took walks, increasing in distance as she felt stronger, ate all her meals and thought of Francis. Had he been seasick this time? Poor man, she thought, to go through that after everything else!
There were days when she could think of nothing but the terrible events at Medina Castle or in the asylum. Days when she was filled with darkness and melancholy and didn't want to speak a word to anyone. Illora Palamos told her it was natural, that it was one of the things that came after losing a child—drastic swings of mood, occasional pain and lightheadedness. Catherine thought in those times that Francis would not want her after all when she reached England, she thought he would divorce her, as Englishmen could do, if she could not give him a son. She wept in misery off an on all day, and then in the morning following, the mood was dispelled and she was ready to plan for her future. Fortunately the bad days were few.
As she regained her strength, she managed to walk out to the stable with her uncle for an escort. Noche and Ivan were doing well after their long trek across Spain, and she was delighted to see them. She found looking upon them made her remember how Francis had kissed her that time, how he had taken her in his arms and warmed her to the very depths of her soul in that chill evening air. It was not as cold now, and the Palamos estate was somewhat sheltered from the breezes off the bay. But Catherine's mind thought only Francis as she stroked her horses' faces. So they had not been able to ride here. She had looked out her window and seen him once on a horse in Barcelona, and thought he cut a fine figure, straight and tall, assured in his seat on the saddle. How elegant he looked, how strong despite that boyish face. And to think she had been in his arms twice! Oh, that second time, she had been too upset by his imminent departure and too weak still to fully appreciate it as she had outside by the stable. But it was her fondest memory and one she turned to frequently, especially as she lay in her bed at night. Because then, she could let it continue in a fantasy. And unless she was feeling depressed, the fantasy would carry her into sleep, warm as on a summer's night.
Every morning at breakfast, she hoped for word of the Buenavista. When that news came, it was after midday while she was helping Illora with embroidering the cover for a pillow. Tomorrow, she was told, they would leave for England.
Catherine felt back to normal physically. There was no pain, no longer any weakness. She was more than ready for the voyage to England. It held one irresistible attraction—Francis Barnard. She thought of him constantly, wishing she knew if Consuelo had gotten her letter, hoping the girl had arrived back in Barcelona safely. There was no one here she knew well enough, or who knew her well enough to confide in. It was no secret that she loved Francis, but she was not comfortable talking about it with Doña Illora or the maid that had been assigned to help her.
The morning of departure was crisp and cold. Catherine was not worried about herself getting seasick or spending the time alone on the ship. She had found out that her uncle had been assigned an assistant. He, Ruben Segovia, was from Madrid, a man only a few years younger than her uncle and who did not seem the least interested in knowing Catherine at all. She thought he had, perhaps, heard about the mental asylum, but she did not care. If Francis wanted her, that was all that mattered. She prayed that he had made it home safely and that she would arrive safely as well. No matter how the voyage went, it would seem endless.
The ship itself was about as close to luxury as could be found for an ocean-going vessel. There was a separate dining room for guests and each had his own fully appointed cabin. Disconcerting was how Catherine felt about the sounds coming from the hold below—the horses were fed hay and something to keep them calm, but they still neighed occasionally or stamped around. She had wanted to go see them, but her uncle forbade it, saying it was no place for her.
Catherine had not failed to notice that there were soldiers on board, or that the ship was armed with cannons. Pirates, she'd been told, were a serious threat, and since this was the ambassador's ship, likely pirates might see the opportunity for ransom. Catherine prayed that Francis' ship had made it safely to port. She didn't know if it had been unarmed or not.
She realized at some point after settling into her own tiny, private cabin, that she was the only woman on the ship. There was no maid to help her or to make her feel less vulnerable. Only her uncle's presence reassured her. He would make sure no one took advantage of her, she knew that, but it would have been so much better had Francis been there. If only she knew he had made it back safely!
They voyage for Catherine was tedious. She never felt inclined to be sick, though Señor Segovia spent a lot of time bending over the rails, as did a few other passengers. She saw their pale, waxen faces, their eyes, which looked only out to sea, and their progressing weakness as the days on ship passed. That is what happens to Francis out here, she thought often, feeling sympathy for them because she held so much for Francis.
She asked the captain how long it took for someone to get over the sickness and if that person would become sick again after a prolonged stay on land. The answer made her heart go out to Francis. In all likelihood, he was as ill the second time as he had been the first. I would've taken care of you, my love, she thought. I would have bathed your face with a cool cloth, eased your sickness in whatever way I could.
Thinking of him passed many of the long hours she spent down below. Her time on deck was limited to fair weather days and less violent seas. The motion of the ship became a kind of comfort to her, a regular rhythm she could count on, though she heard many of those who were sick say how badly they wanted the motion to stop. That must have been how Francis felt. God bless him, she thought, I would never ask a voyage of him if this is how he suffers.
She had only one day with a dark mood, and it didn't matter that she spent it in her cabin, in the close, cold air. She stared at her single candle and wept, feeling desolate and alone. She convinced herself that Francis would not want her after all, that he would find some suitable English girl to marry. And she was afraid of more than that, of being the only woman on the ship, of feeling apart and different in England. They would laugh at her English pronunciation, her tastes, her clothing—she would not be welcome at all. She would find herself alone in a strange country with no one to take care of her. And there was no comfort to be had. She cried herself to sleep, telling her uncle when he knocked on her door that she was not hungry and to go away.
It wasn't until the next morning when she woke with her stomach growling, that she felt better. Of course he had known what was going on. He had been through it with his wife more than once, and he'd seen Catherine that way, too.
She was standing on deck when someone pointed out a far shore, visible as only a dark grey hill, and said it was England. Her heart made a sudden start. Francis! He was there, somewhere.
They were in sight of England all day long. It was cold here, but the fine mist that had been blowing in the morning had stopped, leaving only low clouds and a stiff northerly wind. Each time Catherine looked to the far shore she thought they would begin to turn in, though she schooled herself from asking why they did not. But finally, she could bear it no longer and asked the first mate how much farther would it be.
"Another hour yet. We will make it before sunset."
She nodded. "Thank you." She then found her uncle on deck and told him what she'd learned. They both went below to dress. Catherine knew that she would need to make a good impression on anyone who happened to greet them. She put on one of her finest dresses with full compliment of supports under the skirt, and an ornate headdress. The material was of dark blue with gold details and a deep lavender inside the splits and pleats. She had no one to help her, and her hair did not want to stay under the headdress. It was difficult to manage without a maid to either do it for her, or hold the mirror up so she could see what she was doing. She managed the headdress after some time, and hastily packed up the trunk with everything she had brought out. Her hands were a little unsteady with excitement. Francis! she thought, I'm going to see Francis!
She wished it would be possible to throw her arms around him. It seemed forever since he'd left San Sebastian. Soon, she told herself, and you must not let anyone see how your heart flutters. You must be what he expects, what he will want you to be before all others.
But it was hard to suppress her smile. Thank you, Holy Father, she said, touching her rosary. I will honor him.
Francis had found excuses to spend a lot of time on the docks in the past week. He knew Catherine's ship would arrive, but not when, and he wanted to be there when she did. It was not a waste of time. Looking over manifests, logs and records were jobs he could have done by having them brought to the estate, but they were done just as well in the shipping office.
Despite his intentions to be there, he was at Chipham Manor when word arrived of the Buenavista in the English Channel. He sent the information on and had his own carriage readied. It was a fine piece of workmanship, the very best the Barnard house could come up with. A fine team of horses, all black, and a black carriage with silver trim and appointments. Inside, it was plush velvet-lined and warm. Francis felt a little silly riding in it by himself, but he wanted to be with Catherine again, and sit across from her to fill his eyes with her beauty.
But the anxiety he had felt during the weeks since he'd left Spain was still with him. He assured himself repeatedly that she would be on the ship, that she would come to him as planned. They would be married soon. As soon as he could arrange it. But no matter how he tried to be confident, he could not cast aside the doubts, doubts that rose in his dreams and made him waken with the feeling of hopelessness. Lovely, brave Catherine would not come, she would be kept in Spain, or worse, she had taken ill again and died. No one heard his restlessness at night, his soft moans as he relived some of his ordeals in nightmares. Molly's attempts to comfort him met with stony denial that he needed any such thing. He would not have her in his bed, nor any other woman. To do so would be to tempt some fate to deny him the only woman he really wanted there. He felt a vague unease just contemplating Molly's voluptuous body, so he kept her at a distance, going so far as to tell her not to enter his room at night. She thought, he knew, that it had something to do with the condition of his back, and his admonition to keep quiet about it. She was wrong, however, because it was his heart that sent her away. There was room for only one true love, and she was coming from Spain, Lord willing.
The carriage arrived at the docks, and the chill air was blowing stiffly around him as Francis walked down to the berth where the Buenavista was to dock. He could see the ship some distance off, detect the activity of the crew in the rigging, adjusting sails, and furling many of them. Oh, Lord in Heaven, he prayed, let Catherine be on that ship. Let her be well.
The wind snatched at his black hat, but he did not adjust it. He had worn it the first time he met Catherine, and he thought it would be symbolic of her first meeting him on English soil. He was joined shortly by a small delegation sent by the Duke of Somerset to welcome the new ambassador. Arrangements had been made for Don Santoña and his niece to stay at Chipham Manor, he was only to be welcomed at the docks by the delegation. Francis planned to appear at Court again the Spaniard's first day there, but after that, it was back to business. And courting Catherine, of course. That was the only business that really held his interest. There would be functions, of course, and everyone would be invited, and it was there that it would become obvious Francis was taken with her. It was there, he would lay the foundations for the match in the public eye. Meanwhile, her extensive wardrobe and other possessions would be stored at Chipham Manor.
Francis tried to think about the coming weeks, to let his mind go over the details, but it would not. Instead he felt those little flutters in his stomach, the ones he thought of as a symptom of fear, that which he had frequently felt after his trial under the pendulum. Now it was directed at the possibility of his dreams collapsing. Catherine must be on that ship. She must.
It seemed forever before the ship was close enough to throw ropes to the dock crew and be pulled the rest of the way into the berth. Francis held himself rigid as he waited for the gangplank to be laid across to the ship. He didn't feel the cold wind, he could only look up at the deck, waiting for a glimpse of her. The white clouds of vapor he breathed out were so quickly dispersed by the wind that it was not apparent to those standing nearby that he was breathing hard.
He spotted Don Santoña, who was taller than many of the crew bustling around him. Catherine was petite, though, and he could not see her. What if she'd been as ill as I was? he wondered. She might need to be carried out.
Before he could let this thought expand into panic, Don Santoña appeared at the top of the gangplank with Catherine. Francis took in the sight of her eagerly as they made their way down to the dock. She was in a voluminous, nearly black dress and her face looked white in comparison as the light of day began to wane.
Francis stepped forward, his eyes on Catherine, as they wound their way around the dock workers. He was more than gratified to see her smile as she recognized him, and he smiled back, nodding once. Soon, he thought, I will take you in my arms!
And she looked well, too. Perhaps she had not been seasick.
"Don Santoña, Doña Medina," Francis said in English as they stopped before him. "Welcome to England." Francis kissed Catherine's gloved hand, giving it an extra little squeeze before turning his attention to the delegation. He had not recognized the older fellow standing beside Fernando Santoña and merely bowed his head politely to him. He suspected the man had been ill on the trip if his pallor and sunken cheeks were any indication.
Francis stepped back as introductions were made and waited for their invitations and subsequent pleasantries to be finished. He was eager to get them into the carriage and find out how Catherine had faired since his departure.
Francis had the pleasure of helping Catherine into the waiting carriage and settling across from her. Don Santoña sat next to her, and the stranger, some Spanish Court official, Ruben Segovia, sat beside Francis.
"It is a pleasure to share this lovely carriage," Catherine said in English as they began to move.
"The pleasure is mine." It was hard not to grin foolishly, and Francis thought Catherine was having trouble containing herself, too. "And it will be a pleasure to share my home with all of you." He tore his eyes from Catherine to look at the other two men in turn.
"It is a pleasure, Mister Barnard," Segovia said, "to be off that ship."
Francis nodded. "My voyages to and from Spain were difficult. I am no seaman."
"Well, a hot bath and good meal are awaiting you. All of you." Francis smiled at them, but mostly at Catherine.
"I look forward to that, Mister Barnard," said Don Santoña. "And sleeping in a bed which does not try to deposit me in the floor."
"Yours was a rough voyage?"
"Let us not speak of it," Segovia said.
"And you, Doña," Francis began, "I trust you are well? You were not ill on the voyage?"
"No, I was well. I am sorry to hear that your trip back was difficult." Her eyes were searching his, and Francis wanted to hold her and kiss her sweet mouth.
"I had changed my mind, in fact, when I reached the ship, but the sailors would not take me back to shore." He shrugged to make light of it, not knowing how much Señor Segovia knew about their relationship. He had deliberately remained formal for that reason.
Catherine's slight smile and sympathetic look told him she understood perfectly. "I see."
"You did your duty, Mister Barnard," Santoña said. "And I can see that you have made all the arrangements necessary."
"Yes, that was an advantage of returning earlier. That and having a chance to recover from the voyage. I am glad you were not ill, Doña." It was hard not to just beam at her. She looked lovely in the fading light, so much stronger than the last time he'd seen her.
"Thank you. That is kind of you to say."
"I meant it." He sighed, just looking at her, deciding it didn't matter if this other man knew how they felt about each other. They were already betrothed.
"My horses, Mister Barnard," Catherine said, "when will they be taken off that ship? The poor things haven't seen a soul they know in days."
Francis smiled. "They are being unloaded as we speak and will be brought to my stable this evening. They will be well cared for, Doña Catherine."
"That is good to hear. It will be an adjustment for them. It is colder here."
His frown returned. "They haven't lost their winter coats, have they?"
"No. At least I do not think so."
"The stable will be warm enough, and they will have free run of the pasture tomorrow."
Don Santoña looked at Catherine with a smile, then at Francis. "You see how she appreciates fine animals. I'm afraid I influenced her."
"To her betterment," Francis said, resisting the temptation to take her hand.
It was fully dark by the time they arrived at Chipham Manor. Francis played the gracious host, had servants gather what things had been brought and taken to the guests' rooms. With his aunt and uncle, he gave a quick tour, showing the guests to their rooms. Francis had Catherine on his arm, felt her squeezing it as he pressed her hand as they walked. He had not known about Señor Segovia, but it was a simple matter to have another room and bath prepared.
Francis returned to his own room to dress for dinner. He was elated, thanking God for bringing her safely to him, and hardly able to contain his excitement. Tomorrow, after their appearance at Court, he would give them the full tour. Perhaps he could steal a moment alone with Catherine. He had so much he wanted to tell her and to ask her. He wanted to marry her as soon as possible. To have her in the same house—such temptation! But they had been in the same house before, and she was chaperoned so there would be no indiscretions for someone to point out. And with Don Santoña staying with them, there was no need to get her a house of her own. Soon, he thought, we will be together as man and wife!
Supper was a formal affair, and Francis thought Catherine more lovely than any woman he'd ever seen. Her soft voice, lightly accented when she spoke English, her innate sweetness charmed both Francis' aunt and uncle. She was polite and gracious, listening mostly, but answering all manner of questions about Spain and herself with the appropriate amount of vagueness when necessary. Of course no one brought up her stay in the mental asylum, or her brother's madness. Francis had no chance to ask her not to tell what other things had happened at Castle Medina, but he needn't have worried; she mentioned nothing that would put either of them in a position to expose a painful secret. Nor did Don Santoña, doubtless wanting this marriage to take place without further difficulties.
The children, Anne and Robert, were brought in as supper ended and introduced. Robert said very little, but Anne, under Francis' watchful eye, chattered for a moment about her own pony before exclaiming how pretty she thought Catherine was. And Catherine, he was delighted to see, instantly took to his sister, complimenting her and her dress, and promising to help her with her Spanish.
"Charming children, Francis," Catherine told him after they had been taken off to bed. "You didn't tell me they were so beautiful."
Francis noticed his Aunt Jane beaming at Catherine. "Thank you, they are, aren't they? Robert is a little headstrong."
"He is much like his sister Elizabeth, my God rest her soul," said Adam Pillsbury. "He favors my sister's side of the family as she did."
Catherine nodded. "Yes, the resemblance is clear. Elizabeth was a beautiful woman. I'm sure Robert will be a very handsome man."
Francis thought he detected a moment of tension in her voice when she spoke of Elizabeth. Who could blame her? No one knew the truth about what happened back there. It was best to leave it in the past.
"And you can see that Anne and Francis are more alike—the blue eyes and brown hair," Jane said. "Tall and slender. Francis is an exact replica of his father."
Francis tried not to smile as Catherine looked at him.
"He must have been a handsome man," she said with a twinkle in her eyes.
"You are kind to say, Doña," Francis said as the removal of the dishes from the last course was carried out by the servants. "Shall we retire to the drawing room? You are all tired, I'm sure, and a warm drink will be just the thing to ease you into sleep."
Francis made sure he had Catherine on his arm as they walked to the room. "It is beyond wonderful to see you again, Catherine," he said as the other talked amongst themselves.
"Oh, Francis, I have thought of you constantly. I prayed you would make it home safely." She all but hugged his arm.
"And I prayed you would arrive here safely. You are well now?"
"Yes. I might not be up to riding yet, but very soon." She smiled up at him, and Francis put his hand over hers.
"I will be available to you whenever you wish to ride. Or, for that matter, whenever you need me." He pressed her hand.
"I love you," she whispered.
Francis almost missed the turn into the grand drawing room because he was so captivated by her lovely dark eyes. "We must talk. There is much to discuss."
"Yes, I agree. But we will have to wait, I think."
He nodded, showing her to a comfortable chair by the fire. "I love you," he said softly, as he bowed to her. He took a stand by the fire as the others made themselves comfortable. Brandy and wine were brought as the group talked quietly for a while. As much as he would like to have, Francis did not escort Catherine to her room. It was a manner of propriety that her room was in the far wing from his own. He had made sure she would have a view of the rear grounds when she looked out her window. Even in March, the garden was flowering, and beyond were the horse pastures. Ancient beech, larch and oak trees rose up here and there on the estate, and there was an oak outside Catherine's window. Francis hoped she woke to the sweet morning song of a robin.
With the guests all retired for the night, Francis went into his office to work. He knew he would not be sleeping for quite a while, not with Catherine so near again. But it was a positive sort of excitement, pleasurable and distracting. His work on ledgers did not get too far because he could think of little besides the look on Catherine's face when she told him she loved him. Happiness awaited them, and it could not come soon enough.
Catherine sat by her window, gazing absently out it as she drew her brush through her hair and listened to a pretty little bird singing somewhere outside. It was the third morning she had enjoyed the serenity of feeling safe and secure, of being so near Francis. True, it was colder here, the weather had been mostly grey and overcast with a lot of fog, but it was nice in another sort of way. It was quiet. The city sounds of London—shod horse hooves and carriage wheels on cobblestone streets, shouts and bells and other less identifiable sounds—did not seem to penetrate through the trees and surrounding land to reach the manor house. Even in a city, much as it had been in Barcelona at the Santoña estate, it felt like being in the country.
Francis had taken her on a more complete tour, accompanied by her uncle the day before, and she had seen the stable and her horses, which appeared no worse for the trip. They had nickered at her, pushed their noses into her hands and face, clearly happy to see her. The stable was large and clean, each horse having its own big box stall. There were a number of cats around, some of whom vied for her attention by jumping to the top of fence posts and meowing. She obligingly stroked their fur before moving on. Francis' hound dog followed them everywhere. He was a huge dog, grizzled and wire-haired with large brown eyes that looked at Francis or his uncle with devotion.
The garden was altogether different from those found in Spain. Here it was not the lush, almost wild haphazard groupings of flowers. Instead it was tidy and obviously planned meticulously, but no less beautiful. She thought the less organized roses her favorite, though there were few blooms yet.
Catherine found the house to be as precisely neat as the garden. The rooms were large and well-furnished with a great many French pieces and influences in the decor. Gilt mirrors, moldings and trim everywhere. She felt she had stepped into a palace. She did think the English rather cold in their dealings with one another. There was little touching and more formality, but since Francis did not treat her that way, she didn't mind. She'd expected there to be cultural differences.
She was still hoping for a chance to talk with him alone, to, perhaps, receive another wonderful kiss. But it seemed his aunt and uncle and her own uncle, when he was there, made certain Francis was never alone with her. She spent time with his sister, who was most likable and friendly and who took pride in displaying her spinning skills. Between the two of them they had an afternoon of sharing and exchanging ideas. Anne had fanciful ones of marrying a prince and having five sons and five daughters, and she asked Catherine if she was going to have many children when she married Francis. Catherine knew she hadn't been told outright about the marriage, but the child was perceptive.
Francis is rather like a prince, Catherine thought as she gazed out the window. And yet he is not spoiled or arrogant as some. He had let her dance with other men at the ball the previous night, though he had made sure to dance with her first and last. She had the attention of a number of young Englishmen, some from families richer and more prestigious than Francis'. They meant nothing to her; she wanted only to be with Francis.
Her clothing, she discovered, was not so very different than other women's. One told her that Spain set the fashions of the day, and soon every woman who was anyone would be dressed in the elaborate style with the firm frames under the skirt and large ruffs at the collar.
There was to be another function the following evening at some other local noble's house, and Catherine was not really looking forward to it. She wanted to stay at the manor with her betrothed and enjoy his company. Preparing would also take up too much of the day so that having a ride through the nearby country with him was not going to happen. The next day, she told herself. He would be working today, she'd been told, and thought she would offer her help with the children.
At least, she thought, I can come back here whenever I need to. He has given me a wonderful sanctuary. I shall not complain!
But she did wish to be alone with Francis, to have a real conversation with him rather than the hastily said words in low voices said in stolen moments when they didn't think they could be overheard. He took her out on the balcony at the next ball, but they were interrupted constantly and gave up with a sigh and a shrug.
It seemed that months, not just a single week, passed in Chipham Manor before she and Francis finally had a chance to ride together. Accompanying them was Fernando Santoña, trying out one of Francis' horses. Catherine chose to ride Ivan. She had been informed that the stablemaster had ridden both her horses several times, and they were in good form.
Though she could have, Catherine did not catch and saddle her own horse. Francis insisted his stable hands do it, though she checked the girth herself, before mounting up. Francis, she thought, looked just as impressive as she'd expected up on his tall black horse. He rode in his own saddle, though her uncle had brought his Spanish one and used that.
It was a warmer than usual day, and the sun made appearances periodically from behind scudding clouds. Francis set a brisk trotting pace as they set out on the road. Jack followed them. Before long, they came to open country. Catherine felt very comfortable on her horse. It had been ages, it seemed, since she'd ridden, but it was so good to feel the wind on her face, humid and chilly though it was.
"Catherine, are you feeling well now?" Francis asked her as the trotted across a meadow.
"I am feeling wonderful, thank you." She smiled at him, then her uncle who was concentrating on his horse more than their conversation. "You look very natural on your horse."
"I grew up riding. I've been wanting to come out here since you arrived, but it has been a hectic week." He turned and looked at the other man. "Don Santoña, how do you like Brazen?"
The older man smiled. "A fine animal. Very responsive. He has been trained well."
"Thank you." Francis pointed ahead of them. "We will canter up to the hill. This is one of the best hunting grounds near London." He smiled at Catherine. "But we will only be riding today."
"Good. I have never wanted to hunt." She followed his example and made Ivan break into a gentle canter. She could feel him wanting more, wanting to gallop, but she was not doing any such thing unless Francis did. How would it look if she took off like that? It would look as though she could not control her horse, and Catherine was a much better rider than that.
By the time they stopped to rest some time later, Catherine was exhausted. She felt her arms tremble from holding the reins, her legs ache. She did not want to suggest they turn back, but the idea of another gallop made her afraid she would fall from fatigue.
"Francis," she said, her chest heaving, "it has been a long time since I have ridden . . . so far. I do not think—"
His handsome face frowned with horror. "I am such a fool! Catherine, are you all right?"
"Yes," she tried to reassure him. "But I am too tired to gallop any more."
"Of course. I should have known. Please forgive me." He cast a glance back at Fernando Santoña, who was also breathing deeply. "We will return now."
"Thank you. It is my fault. I should have said something sooner." She dropped her eyes from his. "I did not want you to think me a weak woman."
He moved his horse up beside hers and put his gloved hand on her arm. "I have never thought that. But you were ill, and you have had no chance to condition yourself again. I understand. I'm sorry. I should have been paying more attention."
She smiled at him. "I just need to walk for a while. Till I catch my breath."
"Yes, but if you need me to I will race back to the stable and bring a carriage for you—"
"No, I am not that weak!"
"Catherine has always known her limits," said Don Santoña. "She is sensible enough to heed them."
"Yes, indeed." Francis nodded and led the way through the woods where they had stopped.
Catherine noticed that he now watched her frequently. She had rested enough after a while and suggested they trot the rest of the way back. By the time they arrived back at the stable, she was exhausted again. Her legs were wobbly when she dismounted, and Francis was there to help her. He took her straight to the house and ordered a hot bath for her, then left her in the care of her maid, Ellen.
It was nice to be fussed over by him, but she felt foolish for letting herself get so tired. Tomorrow she would be sore, but it was all right. It had felt good to get some exercise, to feel her blood pumping hard from healthy exertion. More riding, she thought, is what I need. And perhaps we can go off to talk next time. Having a chaperone was such a nuisance when they were going to be married anyway. So when is he going to announce the engagement? When can I plan for the wedding? When will we be married?