James Kirk, Earl of Riverside, returned the country some six hours ahead of his baggage and six days behind the rest of his rather unusual household. He had stayed in Town for two primary reasons. The first, to set to rest a few of the less pleasant rumors floating around regarding said household and in doing so allow his cousin George and George's wife some measure of peace for the duration of their stay at the family's London residence. The second, to receive a very interesting shipment from his old school friend Mitchell, currently traveling the Americas.
Most of said shipment was back with the cart and carriage; one small portion of it squawked indignantly from the inside of his saddlebag.
"Hush, you," Jamie said, reaching inside to stroke the creature's head. "You can have out when we reach home."
The creature nibbled his fingertips and settled.
The Riverside country house came into view shortly before luncheon, though Jamie passed it up in favor of the short-cut to the stables, where he could put up his mount and temporarily hide his little friend.
In addition to the usual, unremarkable stable-sounds, the whole front of the place was filled with a furious muttering. Jamie dismounted as quietly as he had ever had occasion to do, flattened himself to the outside wall near the entrance, and listened.
His "niece" Joanna McCoy (to whom he may as well have been a second father, in terms of the heart), was a girl of nearly ten and far more interested in her pony (and current conversation-partner, it would seem) than her lessons.
"-- doesn't have any right to scold me. After all, I shall never visit France. The stories Father and Uncle Jamie tell, who would want to? "
If she were a boy, she might do well as a spy for the War Department, though I suppose that doesn't signify, Jamie thought, reminded that it might be better to keep his reminisces of Napoleon to himself. Ah well, that's my cue.
"Stories you weren't supposed to have heard at all," Jamie said, clucking to his mount to follow and entering the stable with a grand theatrical (if road-dust-covered) flair. "Who was scolding you, now, and why might that be?"
She gave a well-contained shriek; her pony, a middle-aged gelding of good training and docile temperament, only turned his head. Jamie's horse snorted in turn, used to far more exciting circumstances than this one. Joanna flung herself on Jamie, hugging him with a fierceness he always felt priviledged to enjoy.
"Uncle Jamie, you're back!"
"So it would seem," he said, grinning.
"It was my governess," she replied, "She says that my French is an embarrassment."
"Well, is it?"
Joanna gave an emabrrassed half-smile. "Qui? But it bores me so!"
"It is a fact that the Greeks tell much more interesting tales."
"Then I shall learn Greek!"
"They also have more than twenty-six forms of the word 'the'."
"'Oh,' indeed," Jamie said. "How many forms do the French have?"
When she did not answer, Jamie received a fair impression of what her governess had meant by an embarrassment. Clearly Joanna herself felt discomfort and no small amount of chagrin that she could not answer, especially being such a child as took great pride in being able to answer everything. Jamie sighed. He would discuss the matter with her father later. As for now ...
He asked, "I take it you have your father and everyone else worried sick, running off for a ride on your own?"
Joanna didn't answer for quite a while, as if weighing the potential consequences of each version of the truth she might tell him. She could have taken after Caitlin or Amelia's examples, or the better portions of her father's character, but some days it seemed she was all too-familiar contrariness and mischief.
"Father was called away to an accident in the village this morning," she said quietly. "He's yet to return, and I left a note on my writing-desk for the others."
The creature in his saddlebag chose that moment to trill loudly, as if it recognized far more nuance to her words than the words themselves implied. Joanna perked up instantly. I might well hang in my own house for this, Jamie thought, but we haven't yet tried the power of bribery against her.
"What's that?" Joanna asked, stepping around Jamie to investigate the sound on her own.
"It was to be a secret," he replied; when Joanna turned her head back toward him, Jamie grinned with his entire face. Loosening the saddlebag's straps, he continued, "First you must promise that you won't sneak off on your own again, note or no note."
Joanna considered this bargain, perhaps weighing sharing of the secret against uncertainty at its impressiveness.
Jamie caressed the creature, from the tip of its narrow beak over its warm, scaled eye-ridge. It trilled its pleasure and in that moment Joanna nodded a vigorous affirmative. He smiled as well; as a child he had visited the huge flesh-ripping beasts in the royal menagarie and the larger feathered leaf-eaters, their down long and fine as fur. He remembered with fondness three years of certainty at the end of his childhood that he would devote his life to the King's Guard with their bright red uniforms a perfect contrast to the golden-hued duckbilled creatures they rode.
Any child he had had a hand in raising was sure to love the dinosaurs with which man shared his world as well as Jamie had loved them himself. Carefully, he removed the tiniest dinosaur he had ever seen, no more than four pounds by weight and less than a foot by height.
"Oh," Joanna gasped. "She's lovely. She is a she, is she not? Auntie Eve said that most male dinosaurs are showy as peacocks."
"These too," he said, "The males of this type are bright, sparkling green, where her hide is more olive -- see?"
Jamie took the little dinosaur's little hand against his thumb; the beast gripped it and chirped loudly. In the filtered noontime light, her scales reflected glinting coppers and spring-grass hues as well. Her coloring looked very fine indeed with her lead-gray beak.
He handed the dinosaur to Joanna, cautioning her unncecessarily to be gentle and showing her the correct way to hold it. The dinosaur, in turn, settled into her grip and rubbed her head against Joanna's reverent caresses.
"Where is she from?"
"The Missouri Territory, on the edge of the Great North American Plane, in the United States," he replied. "She's quite young, and should bond to you if you care for her well."
"She's mine to keep?" Joanna asked, startled that she should have such a fine present immediately after being caught in misbehavior.
"Well," Jamie said, "She deserves a mistress who isn't forever running off, don't you think?"
Joanna weighed the one against the other for a silent moment: her own dinosaur, her heretofore ill-gotten freedom. The conflict showed clear as day upon her face, her hazel eyes half-closed in squinty thought, exactly the same expression her father wore when faced with such delimmas.
In the end, she chose the dinosaur.
Jamie had had the feeling that she would.
"I shall be the best mistress in all creation!" she exclaimed; the dinosaur gave a high-pitched singing chirp of what, in a person, would have been enthusiastic agreement.
"And you'll apply yourself to your French and not run off."
"Good, good," he said, then kissed the top of her head. "You go inside and settle your new pet, and I shall take care my horse and your pony, just this once."
Ah, bribery, Jamie thought, watching the back of Joanna's head disappear over a small hill as she rushed off toward the house, it never fails.
And permission was over-rated anyway, he decided as he called for a stablehand to take his horse's tack.