After he washed and dried his face, Mr. Thornber walked to the window and looked out. His room afforded him one of the most pleasant views of the grounds. It was another rather agreeable afternoon. The first signs of spring were visible. He could see the buds on the trees and the emergence of the water in the pond which had been covered in ice not so long ago. Earlier this morning on his ride back here, he’d stopped at the waterfall where he used to while away many happy childhood hours. Presently, the quietness was broken by the twittering of birds. He smiled. He couldn’t wait to go back outside. His eyes swept across the grounds when they were arrested by something.
The smile vanished from his face when he saw the two figures standing beneath the oak tree. He recognized one as belonging to Miss Roth and the other belonging to a gentleman he had never seen before. He leaned out as if to get a closer look which wasn’t possible from that point. Who was this stranger? Jealousy burned in him like a wild fire as he watched them stroll over to the bench and sit down, facing each other. What was he doing here? When did Miss Roth meet him?
His face pale now, he watched them, wondering what they were talking about. And feeling like an utter fool. He had cut his business short today just so he could rush home to be with her. All morning she had occupied his thoughts, making it impossible for him to concentrate. He enjoyed their walks and talks and had planned to take a turn in the garden with her as they had been doing for the past several weeks. He was under the impression that she enjoyed his company too. Perhaps he was mistaken. She seemed to enjoy this fellow’s company a great deal. They were having a rather animated conversation. He appeared younger too. Why shouldn’t she prefer a man closer to her age?
His hands curled into tight fists as he struggled to keep his feelings in check. It was propriety and pride which kept him from going to there and demanding to know who this interloper was. How would it look a man eight and thirty behaving like a jealous fool over a girl of nineteen?
What was he going to do now? He couldn’t remain here watching them and torturing himself. He had to leave Cedar Manor at once for he feared that running into Miss Roth would be his undoing. He had no idea where he was going but he had to get out of there now. He turned away from the window and strode over to where his jacket laid and swept it up, pulling it on as he left the room.
He ran down the steps two at a time and passed the housekeeper, Mrs. Westcott in the foyer. She glanced at him in surprise, wondering what in the world could make him take off without so much a word to her. Perhaps, he had urgent business to attend to, she reasoned. Shrugging her shoulders, she continued down the foyer and went up to her room to have a nap.
Outside as Mr. Thornber was hurrying to the stables to get his horse, he saw his niece Emily returning from her walk with her nurse Ada in tow. She broke into a run when she saw him. “Uncle Edward,” she cried. She stopped short when she saw his face. “What’s wrong?”
His distress clearly didn’t escape her notice. “Who is the gentleman with Miss Roth?” he asked before he could stop himself.
“Oh, you mean Julian?” her face brightened. “I like him. He’s very nice.”
Mr. Thornber’s expression darkened. “I didn’t ask if you liked him, Emily,” he snapped. “I asked who he was.”
“He’s Miss Roth’s childhood friend.”
“How long has he been here?”
“He came this morning. He was in the school room with Miss Roth and me and then he had lunch with us. After we finished my lessons, he and Miss Roth came with Ada and me for a walk but they came back before we did. Do you want to meet him, Uncle?”
“No, I do not want to meet him. Tell Mrs. Westcott that I won’t be back until late.” And with that, he turned and strode away, his steps quick and furious. Both Emily and Ada gazed after him in bewilderment. Moments later he was racing out of the stables and away from Cedar Manor.
Emily turned to Ada. “Why was Uncle Edward so angry?” she asked. “And why didn’t he want to meet Julian?”
Ada put her arm around Emily’s shoulders. “Emily, perhaps you are too young for me to be telling you this but I think your uncle is jealous.”
“Jealous?” Emily exclaimed, looking even more bewildered. “But why?”
“Never mind, little one,” Ada told her. “And please, I beg you, don’t tell your uncle what I said.”
Emily shook her head, thinking adults could be so strange sometimes as she and Ada walked to the house.