There is nothing more annoying than to have the Holy Grail thrust into one's hands when one is about to enter Almack's. But what could Miss Arabella Templar do? As the Grail Guardian, it's her fate to guard the holy relic and do her best to remain ladylike and pure, even though she'd prefer to skewer Napoleon's spies with her sword and discover more about the mysterious Grail Knight who lies gravely wounded in the spare bedroom.
I am a wretched buffoon. As I gazed at her, I recalled some snippets of fevered memory, and understood that I had been a difficult patient. No wonder she felt awkward in my presence. I had intended to inform her of her duties as a Guardian of the Grail, had imposed on her mother’s household, no doubt keeping them from the pleasures of town life, and all the thanks she had received for it was a tiresome patient who vomited into a bowl she had held, and held unflinchingly.
“My dear Miss Templar, please accept my apologies. I have been abrupt with you and have imposed on you and your mother. Please believe me when I say I am in your debt for your care of me, and your patience in what must be my bewildering—yes, even inappropriate—approach to you. I should not have been surprised at your rejection of me.”
She came forward in a rush, her eyes shining. “Rejection—oh, no, no, you must not feel obliged—it was only unusual —and you were injured and ill. We could not just leave you as you were; think how awkward—it would have caused such a scene at Almack’s with you bleeding, and you might have died, and the gossip, it would have been all over town. . . .”
I cannot bear tears in a woman—she had taken in a sobbing breath, her eyes wide and looking as if she would weep. I took her hand and squeezed it. “No, no, my dear Arabel—Miss Templar, do not distress yourself. You did well, and I appreciate that you acted quickly and intelligently. I, however, have been wretched in my attempt at doing my duty. I should not have approached you at Almack’s, but there is an urgency to the matter, especially since word of my presence here has spread—”
She squeezed my hand tightly. “I know, I know,” she said soothingly. “The Grail.” She put her other hand on my brow and looked concerned. “Promise me you will stay another few days at the very least. Promise me.”
I am certain that Bonaparte’s spies will not cease their search for the Grail, and I should have been on my way to Scotland by now, with Miss Templar in tow, for only the Grail Guardian can put the Grail in the sacred place farthest away, and best protected, from Bonaparte. But as I looked into her eyes, a feeling of elation crept into me. At that moment, I felt I could not refuse her anything. I took her hand to my lips and kissed it.
“Of course,” I said. “I will stay a few more days, I promise you.”
She breathed a sigh of relief, and her smile was so wide and brilliant that all thought of Bonaparte and Grail and duty fled my mind. She held my hand to her cheek, and there was nothing in that moment but Arabella, smiling through her tears, and the wish that time would stop and that I could dwell in the idea that she cared for me.
I am a fool. A cursed damned fool.
April 11, 1806
I am an idiot child. I am convinced of it. I should have made it clear to William that he was indeed well enough to leave, and with the Grail in hand. Why, he was even up and dressed properly in waistcoat, jacket, and trousers, his neckcloth neatly tied. But he must look at me again with gratitude and warmth, and that was the end of my resolution. Indeed, I entreated him to stay longer, and my only excuse was that his forehead did feel quite warm with possible fever, although that could have been from sitting so close to the fire. And then I made so bold as to hold his hand and put it to my cheek. . . .
Although it was after he kissed my hand, so it was under duress. When given warm looks and a hand kiss from a man who has been half-undressed in one’s presence, a lady must respond, and I could hardly do so in a repulsive manner to one who had been gravely wounded. Indeed, had I rejected the kissing of my hand, the insult to his sensibilities must send him back into a fever, and it would be my fault if he died from it—
I am lying. I wanted to hold his hand and I wanted the kiss and I wanted to kiss him back. I pulled my hand away carefully, for I did not want to injure his arm again, and I believe I managed to compose myself enough so that we chatted of inconsequential things before I insisted he rest again.
I did not stay long at his side; it was clear he was weary. Instead, I went back to my room and brooded for a few minutes on the injustice of fate forcing me to feel an attraction for a man who was not in full control of his senses. However, I cannot brood for long, for it fills me with ennui. I dressed in my oldest gown, and then went to find Bertie, for there is nothing like swordplay or a round of target shooting to bring me into a better mood.
I let my dear brother win at swords after I beat him roundly the first time, which cheered him so much that he offered me a taste of blue ruin. I had never tasted it before, so I brought my toothbrushing cup to him so that he could pour some into it.
It tasted horrible, and I poured it out of the window immediately, rinsing it and my mouth out with water from the ewer at my dressing table. The sunlight glinted on my tooth cup for a moment when I poured out the gin, and I thought of the Grail that Mr. Marstone spoke of so reverently. I sighed, feeling quite low, for except for his claims about that cup, it looked little different from the one I use to brush my teeth.
No matter; he will be gone in a week’s time, and that will be the end of the little tin Grail, and this man will trouble me no more.