A gust of wind tossed the black ribbands of her bonnet. Johnny clutched at his hat brim. Jean and the poet had already reached the arch of the graceful bridge that spanned the lake at its narrowest point. They were deep in conversation. The poet's fair hair ruffled in the wind and he was gesturing with his right hand. Reciting again?
Yipping and panting, the two red setters left off teasing the ducks and bounded back up the slope. Maggie took a breath. "No! Down, Una. Bad dog, Tom!"
"Why is he called Tom?"
"Clanross gave us the dogs for our fifteenth birthday, so Jean called hers after him. That was when she was in love with Clanross," Maggie said absently. Then she heard her words. She bit her lip and wished she hadn't mentioned her twin's calf love. She felt too comfortable talking to Johnny.
Johnny said nothing.
Maggie watched the two dogs whirl off, chasing each other across the spongy turf. After a moment, she bent and flicked mud from the skirt of her grey pelisse. "You heard from my brother-in-law yesterday, didn't you? How does the election go?"
Johnny swung into motion. "Well enough, except in Minchampton. They've been polling three days and that seat is hotly contested." He reached a stone bench at the lakeside and sank onto it. "I wish I might help with the canvassing."
"I wish you might, too," Maggie said with shameless untruth. She was glad he was at Brecon. "Do you mean to try for a parliamentary career some day?"
He gave a short laugh. "I'd like to."
"Why should you not?"
"I've no experience." He dug the tip of his stick into the damp gravel. "Clanross did say he would find something for me on the hustings, but that was before I broke my blasted shin."
Maggie sat beside him. "There will be other elections."
"Not for years," Johnny said glumly. "I'm twenty-five and no farther along than I was when I came down from Oxford."
"Surely that's not..." Maggie bit her lip again. What did she know of politicks? He would be thinking her a thrusting sort of female.
"Not what, Maggie?"
She faced him, hot with embarrassment. "Not entirely true. You have Clanross's interest."
"But I'm his private secretary. Barney Greene deals with political matters."
"That's true now, but in a year or so things will be different. Mr. Greene talks of retiring to his manor, and I daresay there will be a by-election, and..."
Johnny was smiling at her. "You have it all planned out."
"I'm s-sorry, Johnny. It's just that I'm interested."
"That's kind of you, Lady Margaret."
She looked away, sure she had offended him. He had been calling her Maggie all morning.
Jean and Owen had crossed the length of the bridge and were now coming back. They stopped again in mid-span, and the poet flung out his arm in a gesture that embraced the grounds and the house, and all he surveyed, probably.
"I wonder what he is declaiming now?" Johnny murmured.
"He is writing an anthem for the ploughmen of England."
Johnny made a rude noise in his throat.