Lady Genevieve Rohan's laugh reverberated throughout the parlor, filling the atmosphere with a gaiety that might have been dispelled at once had anyone taken a good look at the young English heiress. While it was true that Genevieve's brown eyes sparkled, one had only to observe the circles beneath them, the paleness of her skin and the pinched-in quality of her cheeks to know that the lady was distraught.
The facade she presented this cold morning in January, however, could have fooled Satan himself.
Suddenly she grinned. "Why, Mr. Toddman," she said after a short deliberation, flicking her ever-present fan open and bringing it to her face to hide all but her expressive eyes. "Our manservant informs me that you are here to see me this morning, not my father. I am flattered by your attention, but I am most curious to learn what you have come here to tell me."
The young man flushed, his gaze not quite able to meet that of the young lady. He cleared his throat and, looking away, brought up a hand to pull at his collar. Finally, he said, "Please excuse me, Lady Genevieve, if it seems improper to you. It is only that I must see you urgently. There are some matters that have come to my attention, and I feel it only right to ask you about these things now. After all, there is no need for me to carry tales to your father--nor to mine."
Genevieve smiled, while impishly she peeped out over her fan. "You are thinking of carrying tales? And what matters are these that have you in such a dither this fine morning?" she inquired.
The young man hesitated. He pulled at his collar yet again, making a face this time as he made to stretch his neck. At last, though, he said, "I have been to the bank this morning, and I have discovered that the management there is under the misapprehension that you are now in charge of your father's finances."
"Ah, I see."
"Do you? Jolly good, then. Well, you would certainly understand that I would appreciate your every expediency in clearing up this matter with the bank. Why, I came away from that institution this morning with nothing more to show for my efforts than empty pockets, and this after I have done so much for your father's project."
"Yes," she said, "I can understand your confusion. It is your project, too, is it not?"
"Well, certainly." He cleared his throat. "Yes, by Jove, of course it is. It is only--"
"Then you were able to procure that which we need?"
"That which we--" Noncomprehension turned to quick understanding as the young man's coloring went from pale to a deep crimson. He looked away. "Oh," he said. "You mean the Indian."
The young man shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "All in good time, Lady Genevieve, all in good time. You should not be worrying about such things. I have the matter well in hand."
Genevieve scrutinized the young man sitting before her, her gaze direct, forthright. She sighed. At length, she drew her silky fan closed, and setting it in her lap, she said, "Mr. Toddman, you do realize that my father's work is due in no more than a year's time?"
Again the young man shrugged. "Yes?"
"Then you must also realize that my father needs a considerable amount of leisure in which to outline all of his facts so that he can consolidate and categorize all that we have learned here."
"I fail to see--"
"There is only one tribe of Indians that we have not yet studied, and only that one tribe remains before my father can assimilate his notes and begin work on his thesis of the Native American culture. It is this singular fact alone that keeps us from realizing my father's accomplishments. And, sir, it is my understanding that it has been your duty to procure this Indian. I believe you have had access to my father's account in order to finance such an expedition."
The young assistant shrugged.
"Mr. Toddman, my father still has no Indian from this infamous tribe to complete his studies."
"It is not so easy as it would appear."
"Yes, I do realize that. So my father has told me. It is why he has allowed you such a free hand with our account. But it also came to my attention the other day that our money in that account has been dwindling at an incredible rate. And while this might be expected on such an expedition as ours, there is nothing here at the moment to show for such expenditures of funds."
"Nothing to show for it?"
She nodded. "The project remains unfinished."
The young assistant came to his feet, and, presenting his back to Genevieve, he paced toward the fireplace, which stood at the opposite end of the room. At last, he turned to stare back at the lady. He shook his head. "How can you say such a thing? There is more than enough here to account for all the exchange of funds."
"Mr. Toddman, the work is not--"
"And after all I've done for you. Did I not produce all the Indians you desired? Wasn't it I who introduced you to William Clark, who is now Superintendent of Indian Affairs? Wasn't it I who brought you delegates from the Sioux Nation, from the Omaha, the Cheyenne? How about the girl who was sent here from the Arapaho? Why, I even managed to bring you someone from the Crow and Pawnee tribes, and all this despite the fact that we were supposed to go and visit these tribes, not have them sent to us. And now you--"