"If you will step into the drawing room, Mr. Macdonald," the butler said, giving Douglas the distinct impression that a very great favor was about to be conferred upon him, "Miss Stewart will be down directly."
Douglas nodded gravely and allowed himself to be conducted into the proper room. The butler withdrew and Douglas moved toward the pictures as though drawn by a magnet. He was examining them carefully when the door opened and Frances Stewart came into the room. She stood for a moment in silence, regarding the absorbed figure before her.
Douglas Macdonald was a pleasant-looking man of twenty-six. His medium brown hair was neatly cut and brushed and his clothing was well tailored and fashionable, but there was something ineffably unsettled about him. Frances smiled tolerantly. She knew the look well. Her father was a famous classics scholar and he often wore the same air. It was the aura of a man whose mind is on other things. "Hello, Douglas," she said, amusement sounding in the rich contralto tones of her voice.
He turned immediately. "Frances! How good to see you." She came toward him and reached up to kiss his cheek, saying something in response to his greeting. For a long moment he did not reply.
All her life Frances Stewart would have that effect upon people. Her face combined exquisite coloring with a hauntingly perfect bone structure that, Douglas had once told her, would keep her beautiful until she was eighty. He said now, in total disregard of her gracious welcome, "I wish you'd let me paint you."
She looked surprised. "I didn't think you did people."
"I don't, usually, but I'd like to do you."
"All right," she said agreeably. "Please sit down, Douglas. Aunt Mary is out, I'm afraid, and she will doubtless read me a lecture on the propriety of entertaining gentlemen in her absence, but I'm glad to have you to myself. It's been so long! What have you been doing with yourself?"
He sat down on a delicate-looking sofa and watched her calmly. "I've just come from Edinburgh," he said.
"Oh." The curves of her lips thinned. "Then I gather you've seen Ian."
"Briefly. He went to Castle Hunter for a few weeks, but came back to Edinburgh. He had a row with his mother, I'm afraid."
Her eyes flashed. The brilliant color of them had always been surprising. "He seems to be having rows with everyone these days. He couldn't quarrel with me in person, because I left Edinburgh before he got there, but he had the colossal cheek to send me a letter asking me what I was doing wasting my time making a London come-out. What does he expect me to do, for heaven's sake?"
"Wait for him, I imagine," he answered imperturbably.
She jumped to her feet and paced about the room, long-legged and graceful. "I have better things to do than wait for Ian to grow up," she said over her shoulder.
There was a pause while he digested this startling statement. "You know he's been sent down from Cambridge, I take it." He spoke cautiously.
"Oh, yes." She subsided into a chair. At eighteen there was still something faintly boyish about Frances. It came, Douglas thought, from all those years of running free with Ian. It only added to her quite considerable charm. "Do you know what he was expelled for, Douglas?" she demanded.
"I heard something about a rooftop race through the town," he admitted.
"They all ended up in the Cam. Stinking drunk." Disgustedly she pushed a stray curl off her face. "If it had been the first time they might have let him come back, but it wasn't. Even Charlie's intercession didn't help. He's out."
He was staring at her, faint surprise in his eyes. "Did Ian tell you all that?"
She lifted a faint, ironical eyebrow. "Hardly. I had it from Charlie."
"What's the matter with Ian, Douglas?" she asked with unsmiling intensity. "He was always wild, but getting thrown out of Cambridge is more than that. It affects his whole future."
"You used to be pretty wild yourself," he hedged. "Remember the time you and Ian impersonated the ghost of Glencoe and scared that poor Sassenach family all the way back to London?"
Frances grinned impishly, an expression so enchanting that Douglas ached to catch it on canvas. "That was one of our better efforts," she admitted. But she was not to be deterred. "This is different," she insisted. "He wanted to be thrown out of Cambridge. That's why he organized that silly race. And everyone followed him because ... oh, because he's Ian and twice as alive as everyone else. People would follow him if he announced he were going to the moon!"
Douglas allowed his gaze to dwell upon her calmly. "You know why he got himself thrown out of Cambridge, Frances," he said evenly. "You don't need me to tell you. Ian would have told you himself, if you had given him the chance."
Her head was slightly bent. She was staring at the Persian carpet and the austerity of the set of her lips and the somberness of her eyes were startling on her usually serene face. "He wants to go to the Peninsula," she said flatly.
"Of course he does." Douglas's voice was very gentle.
"Ever since Alan was killed at Talavera and Lady Lochaber made him promise he would not join the army he has been like this." She raised her head and her eyes. now were bright with anger. "I perfectly see Lady Lochaber's point. One son dead in Portugal is quite enough. I don't understand why Ian won't be satisfied until he too has a chance to be mowed down by a rain of bullets." She looked at Douglas, a shadow of anxiety in her eyes. "That was what the row with his mother was about, I take it?"
"She hasn't given in?"
The shadow cleared. "Good for her, I say."
"I don't know, Frances," he said slowly. "Ian is ripe to do something reckless."
"He won't go to Portugal," she said positively. "It is not easy to pin Ian down to a promise, but once he gives his word he keeps it." She frowned, her fine eyebrows slanting slightly upward. "Why is he so set on joining the army, Douglas? It's become an obsession with him."
Douglas leaned back in his chair, his eyes level on her face. "Women never like it when their men want to go off to war," he commented neutrally.
She looked back at him thoughtfully, almost remotely. "He won't be mine if he goes to Portugal. I don't want a soldier for a husband."
His mouth was suddenly dry. She was deadly serious. "Have you told that to Ian?"
"Oh, yes." Her eyebrows were like fine aloof arches over her coolly distant eyes. "Obviously he didn't believe me. Or he didn't care. Otherwise he never would have gotten himself thrown out of Cambridge."
"Not care!" He stared at her incredulously. "You can't believe that."
"What else am I to believe?"
He looked at her sealed face and his mouth twisted in a wry smile. She was so young. How could she possibly understand the demons that drove a boy like Ian? Out of loyalty to his cousin he tried to explain. "Ian needs to be doing something, Frances," he said at last. "It is unfortunate he is not the eldest son; there is much in Lochaber that needs to be done. But he is not the earl, and he won't meddle in what belongs to Charlie."
"He could become a lawyer. It is what he was going to do after he left Cambridge."
"It is what you and Lady Lochaber wanted him to do, not what Ian wanted. Frances, Ian needs a wider canvas to exercise his energy than the law would ever provide. In the Scotland of a hundred years ago, there was scope for a man of his caliber. Today there is not." He smiled crookedly. "The times are out of joint for him, Frances."
Her face had hardened. "He would have made a good brigand, you mean."
He grinned. "He would have," he agreed.
Unwillingly she smiled back. "You've always defended him."
"I've never had to defend him to you before."
The smile faded. "I know." She straightened her slim shoulders. "Goodness, you've been here for half an hour and all we've done is talk about Ian! What about you, Douglas? What are you doing in London and how long do you plan to stay?"
"I've taken rooms in Jermyn Street," he replied. "I plan to take in some lectures at the Royal Academy. If I want to become established as an artist, London is the place to be."
"I suppose so." She smiled at him warmly. "I hope you'll have time for some socializing. If I send you a card for Aunt Mary's ball next week, will you come?"
It was a moment before he replied, but when he did his voice was expressionless. "I should be happy to. Is your father in London as well?"
"Papa?" There was another ironic lift of her eyebrows. "He is in Edinburgh, of course, immersed in his books. You didn't think he would dream of subjecting himself to the frivolity of a London season?"
Douglas had met Sir Donal Stewart on several occasions. He laughed. "No, I can't quite see him making idle conversation over a glass of champagne punch."
"He would more than likely deliver himself of a learned dissertation on the authorship of Homer, or some such topic. Papa does not have the knack of idle conversation."
"He'll talk about you."
"I'd rather he talked about Homer!" Frances shook her head. "Anyone who thinks they are getting a good reading of my character from Papa is in for a sad disappointment. He decided when I was born that I was perfect, and once Papa makes up his mind about someone nothing can change it. Probably because he scarcely notices anyone who inhabits his own time sphere. If I were Antigone, now, he would have a much more varied opinion about me."
There was some truth in what she said, but not as it pertained to her. Douglas had seen the light in Sir Donal's eyes when they rested on his only daughter. "I doubt it," he said merely.
He stayed for another ten minutes and then took his leave, having promised once again to attend Lady Mary Graham's ball. As he drove himself home to his lodgings in Jermyn Street his brow was furrowed. His conversation with Frances had disturbed him greatly.
When Ian had asked him to call on Frances and see how she was doing, he had been suspicious. Ian had never before needed an intermediary. Douglas understood the request now that he had seen Frances. Obviously she was furious with Ian.
It was serious. For one thing, Frances was rarely out of temper. There was a characteristic sweetness and serenity about her that Douglas had loved since first he met her six years ago. But that unruffled tranquility hid a temperament capable of great passion, and a resolve that was formidable in one so young. It was easy to be soft and charming when your will was never thwarted. Douglas had seen Frances crossed once or twice; in a battle of wills she had always won.
There was only one other person Douglas knew who had a determination to match Frances's. The first move in the game had gone to her; obviously she had hastily accepted her aunt's repeated invitation to launch her into London society in order to punish Ian. She had left Edinburgh before he arrived. Just what she planned to do, however, remained unclear to Douglas. He decided to spend a few weeks observing her before writing to his cousin.