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Romance for Arminel

Chapter Text

Humphrey Anthony got into his little runabout and started the engine, hoping he was not making an idiot of himself. He drove from Fardingales, where he lived and worked as his uncle's land agent, to another big house, this one situated on a cliff overlooking the sea. As he negotiated the narrow country lanes, he thought of his friend Hawk Chudleigh, wondering if he would be home, and trying to think of a good reason to be dropping in for an unexpected visit. Turning up unannounced was something Humphrey seldom did. He was a quiet, serious young man, who usually saw his friends by arrangement and tended to meet them away from their family homes. Humphrey had visited Chudleigh Hold before, just three weeks previously, and that visit was the reason for his return.

He remembered so clearly arriving at Chudleigh Hold that day with Sir Godfrey Chudleigh, Hawk, Tom Vinton, and Gonzalo Ortuz. Hawk had called upon Humphrey and Tom to help with the rescue of Sir Godfrey, who had been kidnapped and held to ransom for a priceless opal necklace owned by the Chudleigh family. When the intrepid rescuers returned to England, Godfrey had insisted that they lunch with his family before heading to their homes in Applesendie. Humphrey and Tom had agreed, and they had been warmly welcomed by the Chudleighs.

It was as they discussed all that had happened in South America that Humphrey noticed Hawk's youngest sister, Arminel. She barely took her eyes off of Hawk, and it was clear that she had been anxious about him and was relieved to have him back safely. She had greeted Humphrey and Tom pleasantly, but her attention had been focused on her brother.

By the time that he had sat beside her at lunch and watched her while they enjoyed a cup of tea afterwards, Humphrey had decided that Arminel was quite the prettiest girl he had ever seen. Although she had the clear-cut Chudleigh features, her colouring was quite different from the rest of her family. Her siblings were dark-haired and dark eyed, but Arminel had magnificent bronze hair and grey eyes, and her skin was delicately pale. She was daintily built, and when he stood next to her, Humphrey felt very large and ungainly.

Once he had got home, Humphrey found that Arminel Chudleigh's face had constantly invaded his thoughts. He could not stop thinking about the way her lips curved into a smile, and the sound of her well modulated voice seemed to echo in his head. He had even found himself daydreaming about her, about taking her out to dinner and kissing her on the doorstep when he brought her home. Having never thought about any woman like that before, Humphrey was disconcerted by this desire to see Arminel again. After thinking up increasingly bizarre schemes whereby he encountered Arminel and she fell happily into his arms, Humphrey decided that he would need to meet her in a very ordinary way and actually ask her to have dinner with him.

Humphrey parked the car beside the steps that swept up to the heavy front door. He jogged up the steps and rang the bell, running a hand over his dark hair and straightening his tie as he waited for someone to answer. As he contemplated ringing again, the door was opened by a slight, bronze-haired girl. For a moment, she looked quizzically at the guest, and then she realised who he was.

"Hello, Mr Anthony," she said, opening the door wider and standing to one side. "Won't you come in?"

"Good afternoon, Miss Chudleigh," he said, and he stepped over the threshold.

"Hawk's not here at the moment," Miss Chudleigh told him. "He and Charles have gone to town. They'll be back in about an hour," she added after a quick look at her watch. "Would you like to wait for him?"

Humphrey almost said that it was unimportant and that he would come again another day, but even as he had the thought, he realised that he definitely would be making an idiot of himself if he left; after all, it was in the hope of seeing Miss Chudleigh that he had descended upon Hawk's home. If he waited, she would sit with him and he would be able to talk to her without interruption. "Thank you," he said. "I'd like that - as long as it doesn't inconvenience you."

"It won't," she assured him. "Everyone else is out, so I was sitting on the terrace, enjoying the lovely weather." She led him across the entrance hall and through the drawing room, where French windows were flung wide, giving access to the terrace that ran the length of the house. "Go and sit down," she suggested, "and I'll ask for tea."

Humphrey strolled across to a small iron table that held a book and some embroidery, and sat down on a cushioned seat. The view from the terrace was just the sort of scenery to appeal to Humphrey - miles of rolling hills, small copses, and hedges full of wildflowers, with the distant sound of the sea as an accompaniment. He sat back with a contented sigh, enjoying the warm sunshine and the almost endless blue sky.

A few moments later, Arminel Chudleigh appeared through the French windows, a tray in her hands. At once, Humphrey rose and took the tray from her, holding it as Arminel hastily moved her things from the table.

"Thank you," she said when he had put down the tray. "I decided that lemonade is more appropriate for this weather," she went on, picking up the jug and pouring him a glassful.

"Yes, it's lovely and warm, isn't it?" Humphrey agreed, taking the glass from her. "Thank you." He sipped his drink and put the glass on the table. "Do you mind if I take off my jacket?" he asked.

"Of course not," Arminel assured him. Once he had removed it and hung it over the back of his chair, she offered him the plate of biscuits.

"Thank you," Humphrey said again. He looked across at Arminel, who was nibbling on one of the delicious homemade biscuits. He thought again how pretty she was, with her bronze hair shining in the sunlight and her flawless pale skin. As he admired the picture she presented, she raised grey eyes to his face, and he hoped he didn't blush as she realised that he had been staring at her. "Did you make the biscuits, Miss Chudleigh?" he asked, saying the first thing that came into his head.

"No," she told him with a giggle. "I'm a terrible cook. And please call me Arminel, Mr Anthony. I don't feel nearly old enough to be called Miss Chudleigh."

Humphrey chuckled. "Then you must call me Humphrey," he pointed out. "It's only fair."

Arminel nodded, but she said nothing.

"What do you do, Arminel?" Humphrey asked after a moment's silence.

"I'm at secretarial college," Arminel replied. "I go four days a week. It's in Exeter, so I drive myself there."

"That makes you sound very grown up," said Humphrey, but then he wondered if he should have made such an observation.

Arminel laughed. "It feels just like being at school," she confessed.

Humphrey laughed as well, recalling his days at Bristol University. "Yes, I can believe that," he assured her. "In fact, I felt pretty much the same when I did my university course. I think it was the endless classes, essays, and exams that did it."

Arminel rolled her eyes. "The exams!" she said in a doom-filled voice. "They're the worst. They make me feel so nervous."

"Yes, it can be rather nerve-wracking," he agreed. "I used to prefer sitting exams in the morning so that I didn't have to wait around and worry about them."

"I can't sleep the night before an exam," Arminel admitted. "Let's not think about them or I shall begin to worry about my next one!"

"I'm sure you don't need to," said Humphrey, giving her a reassuring smile. "What are you sewing?" he asked, to change the subject.

"Embroidering," she corrected him severely.

"I'm very sorry," he grinned. "My sister Jill does embroidery, but she doesn't discuss it with me, while my cousin Anstace doesn't know one end of a needle from the other. This means my knowledge of such matters is sketchy to say the least."

As she giggled at his explanation, Arminel suddenly realised how much she was enjoying Humphrey's company. She had liked him the first time she met him, when he had arrived at Chudleigh Hold on his return from South America, but she had not imagined meeting him again. Indeed, it had taken her a moment to recognise him when she answered the door to him that afternoon. "It's a tray cloth," she explained, spreading out the material so that Humphrey could see the delicate pink flowers in three of the corners. "It's for my sister's Christmas present."

"You're very well organised," said Humphrey, sounding impressed. "It's only July!"

"She lives in Australia," Arminel told him. "We have to send everything off very early if we want it to reach her by Christmas. When it comes to Merle or Hawk, I'm usually knitting their gifts on Christmas Eve!"

Humphrey laughed at that, reflecting as he did so that he seldom laughed as much in a week as he had done that afternoon with Arminel. She was an amusing companion as well as being very easy on the eyes, and Humphrey began to wonder when he would be able to see her again. Hawk would return home shortly, so Arminel would leave them to talk in peace, and he would very much miss her company. Before Humphrey could respond to Arminel’s explanation, a servant appeared on the terrace.

"Excuse me, Miss Arminel," she said, "but there's a telephone call for you."

"Thank you, Alice." Arminel stood up, saying, "Please excuse me for a moment, Humphrey. Have another biscuit while you wait."

Taking a biscuit from the plate, Humphrey watched Arminel walk quickly back indoors. Dressed in a simple frock the colour of café au lait, with neat brown sandals on her slim feet, Arminel was very attractive, he decided. He had found her charming when he last saw her, and since then he had thought about her all the time. Being naturally reticent, he had said nothing to anyone, especially not to Hawk, so he knew very little about her. He was not even sure how old she was, although as she had her hair up and she was taking a college course, he guessed that she was eighteen or nineteen. He himself was the same age as Hawk - almost twenty-two - so hopefully her family would think him a suitable escort for Arminel should he be able to get together the courage to ask her to go out with him.

As Humphrey pondered another meeting with Arminel, Miss Chudleigh returned from the telephone. "That was Hawk," she told her guest. "They've had a breakdown, so they must wait for the car to be fixed. The mechanic says he can do it tonight, but it'll take a couple of hours. I told Hawk that you were here," she went on, "and he said you could meet him at the Chevalier Inn. That's where they're waiting."

Realising that he had no reason to stay at Chudleigh Hold any longer, Humphrey stood up and pulled on his jacket. "Thank you for a delightful afternoon," he said as she walked across the terrace beside him.

"It's my pleasure," she responded, and when she smiled, Humphrey knew that he was lost. Arminel led him through to the great hall of Chudleigh Hold and opened the huge door.

"See you again," he said, turning towards her and holding out his hand.

Arminel laid her cool hand in his. "Goodbye, Humphrey," she said.

Humphrey shook her hand and reluctantly released it. "Goodbye, Arminel," he answered, and then he walked down the steps to his car. As he drove off, he saw her still standing in the doorway, so he waved to her, and then he was rounding the curve in the driveway and she was lost to sight.

Humphrey decided against meeting Hawk in Exeter and instead returned to Fardingales. He was very thoughtful all the way home, and by the time he was strolling into supper to meet up with the rest of his family, he had decided what to do.

*******

On Tuesday evening, Humphrey closed himself into the estate office at Fardingales. He opened his diary and flipped through it to the page where he had scrawled in Hawk's telephone number at Chudleigh Hold. Lifting the receiver, he dialed the number and listened to the call go through. Very soon the telephone bell was pealing and then a man's voice came down the line.

"Good evening," Humphrey replied, relieved that it was not Hawk who had answered his call. "May I speak to Arminel, please?"

"Yes, I'll just get her," Humphrey was told. "Who shall I say is calling?"

"It's Humphrey Anthony," said Humphrey.

"Oh, hello Anthony. This is Charles Chudleigh. How are you?"

"I'm very well, thank you," said Humphrey. "How is Sir Godfrey? Has he recovered from his adventure now?"

"Yes, he's right as rain," said Charles. "In fact, he's planning his next trip even as we speak."

"After the eruption, he ought to be safe enough," said Humphrey thoughtfully.

"Let's hope so. You want Arminel? I'll just fetch her. Hold on, please."

Humphrey took a deep breath and waited, knowing that it could take a few moments to find someone in a house the size of Chudleigh Hold. Then, suddenly, Arminel's voice was coming clearly down the line to him.

"Hello?" she said, sounding uncertain.

"Hello, Arminel," he said, surprised by how happy the sound of her voice made him feel. "This is Humphrey Anthony. I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Humphrey?" Clearly Arminel had not expected him to phone her. "Hawk's here this evening," she told him. "Did you want to speak to him?"

"No," said Humphrey. "It was you I wanted to talk to."

"Oh?" Arminel was astonished to hear that.

"How are you?" he asked somewhat belatedly.

"I'm fine, thank you," she replied, still sounding confused. "How are you?"

"I'm very well. I've finished work for the day, so I can relax now. I'm thinking of having a nice long walk."

"I'm still working on the tray cloth," Arminel told him with a smile in her voice.

"You're very diligent," he said, grinning. "Arminel, I wondered if you'd be able to have a break from the embroidery tomorrow evening. I'd like to take you out to dinner. What do you say?"

For a moment, Arminel said nothing, but the colour swept across her pale cheeks. She could not believe that Humphrey was asking her to meet him for dinner. She had enjoyed their conversation on the terrace, but she had never imagined that she would see Humphrey again. He had been friends with Hawk for four years, and although she had seen him once or twice, she had not actually spoken to him until he came to Chudleigh Hold with Godfrey. For him to call her out of the blue and invite her to dinner with him was entirely unexpected.

"Arminel?" asked Humphrey when she made no reply.

"Yes," she responded, "I'm here." Taking a deep breath, she went on, "That would be lovely, thank you, Humphrey."

"Excellent," he said, overjoyed by her reply. "Thank you, Arminel. I'm really looking forward to it. May I collect you at six o'clock? I know a quaint old inn on the edge of Dartmoor which I think you'd like. I'll make a reservation for half past seven."

"That sounds nice," she agreed. "Thank you."

"Then I'll leave you to your sewing," said Humphrey. "See you tomorrow."

"Goodbye," answered Arminel.

"Goodbye."

Arminel heard Humphrey replace the receiver, so she did likewise. Thoughtfully, she stood up and walked slowly back to the drawing room where she had been sitting when Charles called her to the telephone. She took up her embroidery again, but all she could think about was Humphrey. He wanted to have dinner with her, and she had accepted his invitation. They would be going on a date together. At least, she presumed it was a date because he had not mentioned that anyone else would be with them, nor had he given a practical reason for their dinner together. Arminel decided that she would not mention the word date until she had had dinner with Humphrey; surely by the time he brought her home, she would know whether or not it was a date, and until then she would imagine that it was a meeting for some more sensible and mundane reason. Glad to have settled that in her mind, Arminel looked critically at the final flower she had stitched and decided that it just about passed muster.

"What did Humphrey want?" Charles came into the drawing room, a quizzical look on his face.

Her cheeks scarlet, Arminel replied, "We're having dinner tomorrow."

"Oh," said Charles, but the look he gave her spoke volumes.

Arminel bent her head over her embroidery. As she stitched, Hawk sauntered into the drawing room and threw himself down into a comfortable armchair. "Chess, Chas?" he demanded.

"Okay," agreed Charles, sitting on the other side of the small table that held the chessboard. "It's my turn to be white."

"Hm," agreed Hawk, watching as Charles made the first move.

"Arminel is going on a date," observed Charles as he sat back and waited for Hawk to move.

Hawk's hand hovered above a pawn. "Really?" he demanded. "Do we know the chap? He'd better be decent."

Oblivious to the glare that Arminel was giving him, Charles said, "We do know him, so you can decide if he's decent enough. It's Humphrey Anthony."

"Old Humph wants to take Arminel out?" Hawk sounded astonished.

Arminel stood up with dignity and gathered up her embroidery. "I'm going to bed," she told them, annoyed that her voice sounded unsteady.

Hawk leapt to his feet and made a desperate attempt to save the situation. "I'm surprised that Humph is interested in dating," he explained, "not that he's interested in dating you. I didn't realise he had such good taste."

Although she tried to scowl at Hawk, Arminel couldn't stop her lips from curving into a smile. "I hope that's what you meant," she told him severely.

"It was." Hawk seemed sincere. "So stop being a little ass and sit down again. It's too early to go to bed. Besides, I'm sure Chas has some good advice for you about dating."

"Me?" exclaimed Charles. "What do I know about dating? Should we get Merle over tomorrow? She'll probably have plenty of advice."

"I don't need advice," Arminel said firmly. "Don't you dare call Merle. Change the subject, Charles."

"You don't need to be embarrassed," Charles persisted. "There's nothing wrong with getting to know a decent chap like Humphrey."

Feeling thoroughly embarrassed, Arminel stalked out. She ignored Charles' suggestion that she sit down again and went upstairs to her room. Sitting in the comfortable wicker chair by her window, Arminel decided it was very strange that Humphrey would want to take her out to dinner. It was true that they had chatted easily on Saturday afternoon and that Humphrey had seemed to enjoy sitting in the sun, talking to Arminel. But Humphrey was handsome and confident and intelligent, so would he really want to spend a couple of hours looking across a dinner table at Arminel and talking to someone so dull and uninteresting? In Arminel’s opinion, it seemed very unlikely.

Arminel spent the whole of the next day waiting for the telephone to ring. She had convinced herself that Humphrey would have changed his mind, so he would call her to cancel their dinner plans. By six o'clock, however, she had heard nothing from him, so she traipsed up to her bedroom and dressed. As she finally managed to get her hair into a chignon instead of her usual coronal of plaits, she heard Hawk calling her. Opening the door, she found her favourite brother coming along the passage towards her.

"Humphrey is here," Hawk told her. "Are you ready?"

Arminel picked up her handbag, took a final look in the mirror, and said, "Yes."

"Have a nice evening," said Hawk, giving her a brotherly pat on the back.

Arminel went nervously downstairs and found Humphrey waiting in the hall. He was wearing a suit and tie, and a pair of extremely shiny shoes. As he saw Arminel coming down the stairs, he smiled and walked over to greet her. "Hello," he said, his voice warm. Then, taking in the pale blue dress she wore under her navy jacket, he said, "You look lovely, Arminel. I'm glad I chose a blue tie."

"Hello, Humphrey," Arminel answered, hoping that he had not noticed the colour that spread across her pale cheeks. She saw that Humphrey's tie was an almost perfect match for her dress, and she smiled. Then she saw Hawk coming downstairs, a smirk on his face. She gave him a fierce glare, which made Hawk's grin wider, but he made no comment.

"Shall we go?" asked Humphrey.

"Enjoy yourselves," said Hawk as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

Humphrey held open the front door and Arminel walked out towards his car. He caught her up and quickly opened the car door for her. She smiled nervously up at him, and he grinned back. "I'm so pleased that you're coming with me tonight," he said sincerely.

"Me too," Arminel agreed ungrammatically.

Humphrey closed the door for her, and soon they were driving away from Chudleigh Hold, heading towards Dartmoor. As he was busy finding the right road, Humphrey was silent, and Arminel also said nothing. She was wondering if Humphrey thought her frightfully dull because she did not initiate a conversation, but her mind had gone completely blank. She could not think of anything to say, so she sat silently beside him, hoping that he did not mind.

Finally, Humphrey heaved a sigh of relief. "Okay," he said, "I've found the right road. I'm sorry I ignored you for so long, but I didn't want to lose us."

"That's okay," she responded, clearing her throat because her voice sounded so quiet.

Humphrey turned briefly and grinned at her. "I think getting lost on Dartmoor would be a pretty bad first date," he pointed out.

Amazed that Humphrey did consider them to be on a date, Arminel looked across at him. His eyes were fixed on the road ahead, but he had a smile on his lips. "I suppose it could be worse," she said, her voice soft, "although I'm not sure how." As Humphrey chuckled at that, Arminel admired his good looks. He was handsome, with his well-cut features and dark eyes, and his firm chin gave a hint of his character. This was a man who was confident and determined, but Arminel thought he could also be gentle and considerate. "Where are we going?" she asked, pleased to hear that her voice was steadier.

"The Union Inn - do you know it?"

"No, I don't," she told him. "We don't visit that sort of place very often."

Guessing that the Chudleighs were not well-off despite their imposing home, Humphrey nodded. "We don't either," he said. "My uncle went there a couple of weeks ago and said it was a very quaint place. He was more impressed by the food than the ambience, I believe."

Arminel laughed at that. "Isn't that what men are like?" she said, glancing at Humphrey.

"Some of us," he replied with dignity, and then he laughed, too. "But this evening I'll do my best to see past the menu."

Very soon they were pulling into the car park of a white painted building that had flourishing window boxes at all of its diamond-paned windows. It was a very pretty-looking place, and Humphrey was delighted by the look of appreciation on Arminel's face. When he had locked the car, he held Arminel’s elbow and took her across the door to the Inn, which he opened for her.

As they had arrived early, Humphrey guided Arminel into the bar to a table next to the window and pulled out a chair for her. "Let me get you a drink," he said, looking down at her. "What would you like?"

Arminel was not used to drinking, and she was not sure what would be appropriate. "Well…" she said hesitantly.

Humphrey seemed to understand, for he said, "How about a glass of wine?"

"Thank you," she said, relaxing almost perceptibly.

As he crossed to the bar, Humphrey wondered how to put Arminel at her ease. Seeing her again had made him acknowledge that he had fallen for her completely and utterly, and he was very eager to make a good impression on her. She was clearly unused to being courted, though, so he must be very considerate and thoughtful and take things slowly.

A glass of wine in each hand, Humphrey returned to their table and sat down opposite Arminel. He set her glass in front of her and then raised his own towards her. "To a lovely evening," he said.

Arminel tapped her glass against his and echoed his words before having a sip of her drink. It was deliciously cool and slightly sweet, and Arminel thought she had never before tasted anything so delectable. "This is so nice," she told Humphrey, and he grinned at her surprise.

"I'm glad you like it," he said. "My cousin Anstace likes this sort of thing, so I thought you might, too."

"You seem close to you cousin," Arminel remarked.

"Yes, she's a good chap," Humphrey said. "She's still in Rio with her husband - he's a naval man. Their son lives at Fardingales with my aunt. Timothy is his mother over again - he's the image of her, and he's as mischievous, too."

"Says the doting uncle," said Arminel with a smile. "How is your young brother?"

"He's still in Switzerland with my mother," Humphrey told her. "The operation was successful, but he'll probably need another one. He's so much better, though, which is a huge relief. My mother seems rejuvenated because of it."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Arminel responded, and Humphrey heard the sincerity in her voice. "I know the worries we've had about Charles - not that my mother was around to be anxious about him."

Humphrey saw the look of regret on Arminel's face, so he reached out and put his hand over hers. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said, his eyes looking steadily into hers.

"It is difficult sometimes," she told him, and she decided that she liked the feel of his large, strong hand over hers. She had another mouthful of her wine to steady herself, and then she said, "You mentioned your sister Jill. Do you have any other siblings?"

"No, there's just Rodney, Jill and me. We live with our cousins, though - Anstace's sister and brothers. Life at Fardingales is always busy."

"Do you work?"

"Yes, I'm the land agent for Fardingales. I work for my uncle." Humphrey's hand still covered Arminel's and as she seemed not to mind, he kept it there. "I studied agriculture at university so that I could help Uncle Tim. The estate's too much work for one, and Quentin and Thorold - my cousins - are too young for the job. Besides, I don't think they're actually interested in running Fardingales." Before Arminel could say anything, Humphrey glanced at his watch. "Shall we go through to the restaurant?" he asked. "I probably shouldn't say this, but I'm hungry."

Arminel giggled. "Hawk's always hungry," she told him.

"I know." Humphrey grinned as he put a hand to the small of Arminel’s back and guided her out of the bar. "Men are like that."

They went into the restaurant and were shown to a table by the window. Outside, they could see the rolling hills of Dartmoor looking beautifully verdant in the light of the slowly sinking sun. A young waitress brought them menus and when they had ordered their food and seen their wine glasses refilled, Humphrey sat back in his seat and surveyed his pretty companion.

"I'm so pleased that you agreed to meet me this evening," he said. "I don't think I've laughed as much in the last month as I have in a couple of hours with you."

Arminel was surprised to hear that. "Really?" she asked.

"Really. I hadn't realised how somber I have become."

"That's not good," said Arminel, trying to look serious but unable to stop the corners of her mouth from curling upwards.

Humphrey smiled at her. "You have a beautiful smile," he said softly. "When you smile it makes me want to smile."

Arminel blushed, but her eyes held his and her lips kept their upward curve. Humphrey unsuccessfully fought the urge to put his hand over hers again, even as he wondered where those words had come from. He could not remember even thinking such a thing about a girl before, let alone putting such thoughts into words. Yet he found himself wanting to say more, to tell Arminel that she was beautiful and that in her company he felt happier than he had ever been before.

They held each other's gaze for a long moment, until the waitress came over and put their food before them, effectively breaking the spell. Humphrey released Arminel's hand and looked at their laden plates. "I think this accounts for my uncle's opinion of this place," he remarked, sounding very matter-of-fact now. "He approves of hearty appetites."

Glad that she had skipped tea, Arminel surveyed the generous helping of cottage pie on her plate. "It looks good," she said, pleased to have a chance to regain her composure.

They ate in silence for a while, and then Humphrey got the conversation going again. He managed to avoid paying Arminel any extravagant compliments despite them being on the tip of his tongue, and they chatted lightly about all sorts of things of interest. Humphrey discovered that Arminel was a woman of definite opinion, but she admitted that as one of the youngest of her family, her elders tended not to take much notice of what she thought.

They finished their meal, and Humphrey suggested dessert, but Arminel declined, declaring that she couldn't eat another mouthful. Instead, they drank coffee, and then it was time to leave. All too soon, they had reached Chudleigh Hold, and Humphrey was pulling up at the foot of the steps. He got out of the car and walked Arminel to the big front door, where he stopped and looked down at her.

"I've had a really lovely evening," he said sincerely.

"So have I, thank you," she answered, her face pale in the moonlight.

"Would you go out with me again?" he wondered, managing to sound confident despite his worry that she would turn him down.

"Yes," she said softly. "I'd like that very much."

Humphrey grinned. "Then I'll arrange something and call you," he said, and Arminel heard the happiness in his tone. "Friday night? Or would you prefer Saturday?"

Still hardly able to believe that Humphrey wanted to see her again, Arminel said, "Either is fine." She smiled up at him, adding, "Thank you, Humphrey."

"The pleasure is all mine," he responded, wondering if he could kiss her. She was much more relaxed in his company than when he had collected her, but Humphrey felt instinctively that she was not yet ready to be kissed. "I'll call you," he promised. "Goodnight, Arminel."

"Goodnight," she replied. Humphrey turned and went down the steps to his car, leaving Arminel to open the front door and go inside. To her surprise, both Charles and Hawk were sitting in the hall, and they got up as she closed the door behind her.

"How did you get on?" asked Charles.

"Did you have a good time?" demanded Hawk at the same moment.

Arminel rolled her eyes. "Goodnight," she said firmly.

"Are you going to see him again?" Charles inquired.

"Did he kiss you?" queried Hawk.

Arminel blushed furiously and almost ran across the hall to the stairs. She ignored the grin her brothers shared and hastened to her room. Once inside, she got ready for bed and then sat in the chair by her window. Gazing out across the darkened garden, she drew a deep breath and let her mind wander back to the time she had spent with Humphrey. She smiled as she remembered the feel of his hand on hers and the way his dark eyes had lingered on her face. It was strange, she reflected, to feel this interest in a man, to want to spend time with him and to have him touch her. It was delightful to sit opposite him and look at him, to listen to what he had to say, and to feel that he actually wanted to hear about her thoughts.

Arminel sighed happily and went to bed.

Chapter Text

As Arminel hunted for a book in the library the next day, the telephone rang, so she lifted the receiver and said, "Good afternoon. Chudleigh Hold."

"Good afternoon. Fardingales."

Humphrey sounded amused, and Arminel burst out laughing. "Hello Fardingales," she chuckled. "How are you?"

"I'm really well," he told her. "How are you, Chudleigh Hold?"

"I'm very well, too."

"Good." Humphrey's voice was suddenly brisk. "Arminel, there's a new film showing in Exeter this week, and I've got the afternoon off on Friday. Shall we go and watch it? I'll take you to dinner afterwards," he added persuasively.

"I'd like that," she said happily. "What film is it?"

"I can't remember its name, but it's something exciting. Is that okay?"

"I'll be happy to see anything with you, Humphrey," Arminel told him.

His heart suddenly warm, Humphrey said, "I'm glad you feel like that. I enjoyed myself so much with you yesterday."

"I had a lovely time as well," she assured him.

"The film begins at half past two," said Humphrey, "so I'd like to collect you at half past one. How does that sound?"

"It sounds perfect," she said.

"And Arminel," Humphrey went on quickly before he could mention that he thought she was perfect, "do you have a pen and a piece of paper? I want to give you my number here."

"I'll get one. Just hang on a minute."

"I'll hang on for as long as you want me to," he responded. Arminel said nothing, so Humphrey didn't know if she had heard him or not.

Arminel, who had heard his words, fetched a pencil and notebook from Godfrey's desk. Her heart was beating noisily as she realised that Humphrey had enjoyed spending time with her and was eager to see her again. "Hello?" she said as she lifted the receiver again.

"Hello." Humphrey's voice was warm. He gave her his telephone number and then said, "This line rings in my office, so it's pretty much just answered by me. Will you call me tomorrow, please, Arminel? I finish work at five, but I'll wait here until you ring. Friday is too far away."

"I'll call you," she promised.

"I'm already looking forward to it. What are you doing now?"

"Talking to you on the phone," she answered.

Humphrey heard her giggle, and he laughed. "I asked for that, didn't I? What were you doing?"

"Looking for a book," she said. "I've just finished mine, so I came to the library to find something else."

"So you enjoy reading?"

"Yes, very much. I read all sorts of things. I think it will be Jane Austen next. What about you - do you like to read?"

"To be honest, I don't read very much," said Humphrey. "I would rather be outside if I've got some spare time."

"So what do you do on wet evenings?" wondered Arminel.

"I play chess with my uncle or read the newspaper," he explained. "If I have more than an evening off, I like to go sailing."

"Do you have your own boat?" asked Arminel.

"Yes - well, she belongs to the family. She's called Susannah. Tom and I have had adventures aplenty aboard her. You remember Tom Vinton, don't you?"

"Yes, he came here with you when you brought Godfrey home," Arminel recalled. Before she could say anything more, the library door opened and Godfrey came in with Charles. They were having an animated discussion about Godfrey's planned return to South America, and knowing that Humphrey would hear their voices, Arminel said, "I have to go. I'll call you tomorrow."

"I'll be waiting," Humphrey promised. "Goodbye, Arminel."

"Goodbye." Sadly, Arminel replaced the receiver and turned to leave.

"Sorry, Crumpet," said Godfrey. "I didn't realise that you were here."

"Was that Humphrey?" asked Charles with interest.

"I don't want to interrupt your planning," said Arminel, and she swiftly left the library. Although she was relieved to have escaped from her brothers' questions, she knew that it was only a temporary respite. She couldn't blame them for wanting to be sure that the man paying attention to her was decent, but they had all met Humphrey before, and Hawk could vouch for him, so they shouldn't need to keep on asking Arminel herself about him.

As she sought refuge in the morning room, Arminel wondered why she was reluctant to talk about Humphrey with her siblings. She wanted to keep the details of their friendship to herself because what was happening between them was private. It was none of their business whether Humphrey had kissed her or not. As she thought that, she wondered exactly when she could expect Humphrey to kiss her. She had never before thought of kissing anyone to whom she was not related, but she decided that she would quite like to try kissing Humphrey. She felt her face grow hot at the thought, but she liked the strange feeling that ran through her at the idea of Humphrey's mouth on hers. Ladies in films seemed to kiss men before they had even been on a date, but Arminel decided that was to move the story along quickly. In real life, kissing would not happen nearly as fast. Perhaps she would need to go out with Humphrey several times before they could kiss one another.

Just for a moment, Arminel wondered if Humphrey would want to spend that much time with her, but then she remembered how he had told her that she had a beautiful smile. His dark eyes had held hers, saying much more than that, and Arminel knew that she had to stop thinking so negatively. Hawk was surprised to hear that Humphrey was interested in going on dates, which meant that he didn't usually ask girls out. He had not only asked Arminel out twice, he had also asked her to phone him because he wanted to talk to her on days when he would be unable to see her. As she told herself that, surprising though it might be, Humphrey did actually like her, a smile played across Arminel’s lips and the strangely exciting feeling coursed through her again.

********
Arminel managed to have an uninterrupted twenty minutes on the telephone to Humphrey; they had chatted easily and laughed a lot. Then they had their date to look forward to, and it was with excitement that Arminel dashed upstairs to get changed as soon as she had helped clear away after lunch. Dressed in well-cut slacks and a pretty blouse, she went downstairs to wait for Humphrey's arrival. In the hall, she met Merle, who smiled warmly at her, took her arm, and led her into the drawing room.

"Hello Merle," said Arminel, pleased to see her eldest sister. "I didn't know you were coming today!"

"I've come for the weekend," Merle told her.

"I'm going out in a minute," Arminel remarked. "I think Charles will be here."

"Yes, he told me that you were seeing Humphrey Anthony," said Merle.

Arminel rolled her eyes. "It's none of his business," she said firmly, but her cheeks flooded with colour.

"What time will Humphrey be here?" Merle wanted to know.

"He said half past one."

"Please ask him to come in for a few minutes before you leave," suggested Merle. "I'd like to see him."

"We have to get to Exeter, so there won't be time," Arminel told her.

"I'm sure you can spare a couple of minutes," said Merle firmly.

Before Arminel could refuse again, the doorbell rang. "Goodbye, Merle!" Arminel swung her handbag onto her shoulder and almost ran from the room.

Charles, however, had obviously been waiting by the front door, for he opened it, saying, "Hello Anthony! Won't you come in?"

"Hello," responded Humphrey, entering the hall and shaking the hand that Charles offered him.

"It's good to see you," Charles went on. "Can I get you some coffee?"

Arminel shot Humphrey an apologetic look, but before she could tell Charles that they wanted to be on their way, Merle came into the hall.

"My sister, Mrs Frank Pullen," Charles said. "Merle, do you remember Humphrey Anthony?"

Merle came forward, her hand outstretched. "Yes, I certainly do!" she exclaimed. "Hello, Mr Anthony. I shall always be grateful to you for bringing Godfrey back safely. How are you?"

"I'm very well, thanks," said Humphrey. "And I can't take much credit for bringing Sir Godfrey home. Tom Vinton devised the plan, and Hernan Pasquez carried it out. I was just along for the ride."

"That's not what Hawk says," said Charles, his eyes gleaming. "But we'll spare your blushes."

"What are your plans for this afternoon?" Merle asked him. "It's very overcast, and the forecast is for rain."

"We're going to the cinema," explained Humphrey, "so the weather won't bother us unduly."

"Then we'll let you get on your way," Merle said with a smile. "Have a lovely afternoon."

"Thank you, Mrs Pullen." Humphrey turned to Arminel and asked, "Are you ready?"

"Yes," she said, her face still pink.

"Goodbye, Chudleigh," said Humphrey. "Goodbye, Mrs Pullen. It's lovely to see you again." He smiled at them both, and then turned to Arminel. "Okay?" he asked.

Arminel nodded, and Charles opened the front door for them. Once they were safely in Humphrey's car, Arminel turned to him and said, "I'm really sorry about that. They're…very…" Arminel hesitated, unsure of how to explain her family's interest in Humphrey.

"I can't say I blame them," Humphrey assured her. "They are bound to want to know that you're with someone they approve of. I hope they will approve of me."

"You're Hawk's friend," Arminel pointed out. "They should already know that you're decent and trustworthy."

"Thank you," said Humphrey happily, pleased that she thought so well of him. "And I didn't mind meeting them. I hope I'll be able to persuade you to come to Fardingales to meet my family when my mother comes back from Switzerland."

At once Arminel felt nervous. She was relieved that Mrs Anthony was out of the country because she was not sure how she would manage to meet Humphrey's mother and make smalltalk with her. Glancing quickly at her, Humphrey realised just how shy Arminel was, so he reached out and patted her arm.

"She's not due back for another two months," he told her. "So don't worry about it now. Besides, she'll adore you, Arminel."

Arminel felt her heartbeat quicken as he touched her, and that strange feeling shot through her again. She blushed, but Humphrey didn't notice because his eyes were on the road ahead. "I hope so." Arminel’s voice was little more than a whisper.

"I know so," said Humphrey confidently. "Now, are you sure you're okay with the film? Jill, my sister, said there's no way I should take a lady to see a thriller."

Arminel giggled at that. "I will love it," she told him firmly. "I read thrillers - Wheatley, MacLean, all that sort of thing. They're brilliant!"

"Jill assured me that you'd read Jane Austen and be appalled by my taste in entertainment," said Humphrey, "and you yourself told me that you were reading Jane Austen."

"I'm very happy with your choice," she assured him.

"I'm glad about that," he said, grinning at her. "I'm not sure I'd like a ladylike film."

Arminel smiled back at him, blushing as she caught the expression on his face. Humphrey turned back to the road, and very soon they had reached Exeter. He parked near the cinema and as they walked along the road together, Humphrey wondered if he could take Arminel's hand in his. As he debated whether to or not, they arrived at the cinema, and he realised that he had missed his chance. Philosophically, he bought the tickets and they went inside to find their seats.

The film was just as thrilling as they had hoped, and they sat spellbound from the beginning of the show. As the suspense grew, Humphrey glanced at Arminel and saw how tense she looked. She was grasping the arm of the seat, her grey eyes wide, and he could tell that she was totally immersed in the story. Gently, he took her hand in his, and his fingers stroked her palm. She jumped a mile and turned to look at him, smiling ruefully as he grinned at her.

He leant closer to her and whispered, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

"This is so exciting," she whispered back, but she made no move to pull her hand from his.

Happily, he clasped her hand in his lap, and they both turned back to the film. When it finally came to an end, the lights in the cinema came up, and Arminel and Humphrey looked at one another.

"Did you enjoy that?" Arminel asked him.

Humphrey nodded. "It was excellent," he said with enthusiasm. "How about you?"

"I agree," she told him. "I especially liked the way it wasn't too far fetched."

Keeping a firm hold on Arminel's hand, Humphrey stood up. He towed her along the row of seats and down the stairs. As they stepped out into bright sunshine, he said, "You're right. Even when he escaped, it seemed plausible."

"And the action was non-stop," Arminel continued. "It was so fast paced from start to finish."

"I'm really pleased that you enjoyed it," said Humphrey. "And the weather has improved, too. What a wonderful day this is." He looked down at Arminel and added softly, "I think it's wonderful because I'm with you."

Arminel looked up at him, her eyes serious. "Really?" she asked doubtfully.

"Absolutely," he told her with complete certainty. "I very much like spending time with you." She gave him a sweet smile which set his heart racing. "It's especially wonderful when you smile at me like that," he told her. As colour flooded her cheeks, Humphrey squeezed her hand. "Because it's such a lovely afternoon, shall we go for a walk now? It's a bit early for dinner, isn't it?"

Arminel nodded because she felt so breathless she didn't think she'd be able to speak. Humphrey smiled and drew her into step with him, and they strolled through the streets hand in hand. Later, when they felt hungry, they went into a quiet restaurant in a sleepy sidestreet, sitting opposite each other at a table in a dimly lit corner. It was with reluctance that Humphrey released Arminel’s hand when they sat, and once they had ordered their food, he leant across the table and imprisoned her fingers in his once more.

"I'm hungry," he remarked.

Arminel grinned. "I'm starting to think that you're always hungry," she observed.

"This morning I was working outside with my uncle," he explained, "and outdoor work always leads to a good appetite." Seeing the skeptical look Arminel was giving him, Humphrey protested, "It's true! We were repairing fences. That's backbreaking labour."

Giggling, Arminel said, "I believe you. I just enjoy hearing you try to justify yourself!"

Humphrey laughed. "That's another thing I like about you," he said. "You're such a tease. You just want to see me get wound up trying to defend myself."

Laughing, Arminel admitted, "It is quite amusing! In some ways you're like my brothers - they think men are wonderfully strong and only here to protect weak women whether we want it or not. I just like to remind you that you have feet of clay."

"You've already noticed that?" he demanded, determined to give as good as he got. "I hoped I could hide that until at least the fourth date!"

Although the odd fluttering inside she felt at his words brought colour to her cheeks, Arminel laughed. Then she astonished herself by saying, "You do have some good qualities."

Humphrey looked thrilled to hear that. "Dare I hope that you'll tell me what they are?" he inquired with interest.

Suddenly serious, Arminel said, "You're so nice. You don't get annoyed with me when I'm an idiot. And you're really kind."

Touched beyond words by what she said, Humphrey squeezed her hand. "You aren't an idiot," he assured her, his voice soft. "I think you're witty and beautiful." He paused for a moment to see her reaction to his words, wishing as he did so that he was more eloquent. Then he gave her a wicked grin. "I had hoped for something better than nice though."

"Oh?" she queried.

"You could have gone with handsome… Charming… Considerate…"

Arminel smiled. "I like the way you're so down-to-earth," she said, "and I thought it's better not to make you too swell-headed."

Humphrey laughed. "Okay," he said, trying to sound resigned. "You win. Arminel, I'm free all day tomorrow. Would you like to come sailing with me?"

Before Arminel could answer, the waiter brought their food. Humphrey withdrew his hand so that Arminel could make a start on her dinner, and he began to eat his own. Once the waiter had poured their wine and left them to enjoy the meal, Humphrey looked across at Arminel and repeated his invitation.

"I don't know anything about sailing," she warned him.

"That's okay. I can teach you, if you'd like to learn. We don't have to go far. The forecast is better for tomorrow than today, so we can drop anchor and have a swim."

"Then I'd like it very much," she said.

Humphrey turned his attention to his food for a while, but he was thinking hard. He was thrilled by the way his relationship with Arminel was developing, and he felt that he had a very good chance of persuading her to like him as much as he liked her. She was sweet and shy and naïve, and he had come to adore her. Time spent with her flew past at unbelievable speed, while time away from her crawled by. He had never been interested in girls before, and he was pleased that she was his first girlfriend, but conversely he wished that he was more experienced so that he would know how he ought to behave with her.

"Do you want me to bring anything with me tomorrow?" asked Arminel suddenly, bringing Humphrey out of his reverie.

"Just yourself," he said. "And perhaps your swimsuit if you'd like to swim."

"Okay." Arminel sounded quite happy with the plan, and she gave him a smile before continuing with her food.

When they had finished eating and had savoured a cup of coffee, Humphrey paid the bill and looked questioningly at Arminel. "Shall we go?" he asked her, half hoping that she would say no.

"I suppose we ought to," she said with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

"So you've had a good time," he suggested.

"Yes, very good, thank you," she assured him.

Out in the street, Humphrey took Arminel’s hand again. She beamed at him, so he asked, "What?"

"Nothing," she responded. "I'm just happy."

"Why?" he wondered, hoping that he already knew the answer to that.

"Because this is nice," she told him.

"It is," he agreed, and they sauntered on, neither of them in a hurry to find Humphrey's car and bring an end to their evening. Before long, however, they had retrieved the car, and all too soon they were walking up to the front door of Chudleigh Hold together. Humphrey turned to Arminel, his gaze holding hers for a moment. Then he leaned closer and his lips gently brushed her cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said, his voice low. "Goodnight."

Almost beyond words because of Humphrey's proximity, Arminel nodded. He grinned at her, seeing the effect his closeness had, and then he put his hand to her face. For an instant she thought he would kiss her again, but, much as he wanted to, he didn't. He looked deep into her eyes and then gently caressed her face before dropping his hand and stepping back.

"Until tomorrow," he said softly.

"Goodbye," Arminel responded, and she stood by the door to watch him leave. Once he had disappeared around the bend in the driveway, she crept indoors, deciding to make for her room without seeing any of her siblings. She did not want to discuss the magical evening she had spent with Humphrey; she was not in the mood to be interrogated and teased, so it would be better to slip off to bed without encountering anyone.

As she quietly closed her bedroom door, Arminel heaved a sigh of relief. She kicked off her shoes and changed into her pyjamas. Once she had cleaned her teeth and tied her hair into a long, loose plait, Arminel climbed into bed. Before she could lay her head upon the pillow there came a soft tap at the door, and Merle peeped in.

"How did you get on?" she asked, coming in and sitting on the bed next to her youngest sister.

"I had a nice time," replied Arminel. "I'm tired, Merle…"

"When will you see him again?" Merle gently smoothed her sister's bronze hair, her expression affectionate.

"Tomorrow." Arminel sat up and leaned closer to Merle, so the elder sister wrapped her arms around the younger.

"It's serious then," said Merle.

"I've seen him twice. That's not serious."

"And you've spoken on the phone, and you'll see him tomorrow," Merle added. She kissed Arminel's cheek. "Be sensible with him, Crumpet."

"I can't believe you've said that!" Arminel exclaimed, her cheeks scarlet.

"Since Mummy and Daddy aren't here, I have to say it," Merle pointed out reasonably. "Would you rather I left it to Godfrey?"

"Absolutely not!" Arminel was quite definite. "Don't worry, Merle. Humphrey will soon realise that I'm not worth it and then…"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Merle exclaimed, "You're sweet and gentle and very pretty. Any man would be lucky to spend time with you."

Arminel snorted self-deprecatingly, but she let the subject drop. "I'll see you in the morning, Merle. Thank you."

Merle kissed Arminel warmly and tucked the bed covers around her. "Goodnight," she said, patting her sister's shoulder. "Sweet dreams."

"You, too, Merle," replied Arminel. "'Night."

Arminel lay awake for a long time, thinking back over the evening. She recalled the feel of her hand in Humphrey's and remembered how safe she had felt with his large warm hand holding firmly to hers. Once he had taken her hand in his, he had been reluctant to release it, she realised, and he had held it again every chance he got.

Then, on the doorstep, he had kissed her cheek. It was not the same sort of kiss that men and women shared in films or books, but Arminel decided it was very romantic. His lips had brushed her cheek so tenderly that she had felt quite breathless. In all, Humphrey had made her feel very special, and Arminel sincerely hoped that he had realised just how much she liked him.

She rolled over, but sleep would not come. She felt thrilled by the evening she had spent with Humphrey, and it was very difficult to calm herself and fall asleep. She kept hearing Humphrey's voice in her mind, and feeling his hand on hers and his lips on her cheek, and her heart would race again. It was not until well after midnight that Arminel slipped into sleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Arminel put her swimming costume and a big towel into her bag, and then she headed to the kitchen to beg Cook to give her some of the freshly made buns that were cooling on the worktop. Cook was very obliging, and she gave Arminel a big bottle of lemonade and a bag of ginger snaps, too. Having thanked Cook profusely, Arminel went off to wait for Humphrey.

She did not have long to wait, for he turned up at just after ten o'clock, apologising for his early arrival. "I was awake, and it's a glorious morning," he explained as he took her bag from her, "so I thought we could make an early start. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all," she assured him with a smile. "I'm quite ready."

They drove to Applesendie, where the Susannah was moored, and were soon heading out to sea. Humphrey gave Arminel a quick lesson on using the tiller, before he set the sails and got them going. Arminel proved to be a quick learner, and she followed Humphrey's shouted orders quickly and correctly. Finally, after sailing for half an hour, they reached a secluded cove where Humphrey dropped anchor. The Susannah bobbed gently, for the sea was calm and the wind still, and Humphrey turned to Arminel with a smile.

"You're a natural," he told her enthusiastically. "With some practice you'll be a good sailor."

"I enjoyed it," she told him, looking around. "It's beautiful here, Humphrey."

"It's also virtually inaccessible on foot, so hopefully we'll be undisturbed," Humphrey said. "Do you want coffee first or shall we go for a swim?"

Arminel replied, "Let's go swimming. It's already so lovely and warm."

"Then come down here," suggested Humphrey, taking Arminel's arm, "and you can change in Anstace's cabin."

He showed her a little slip of a cabin, so Arminel went in and quickly changed into her swimming costume. She pulled on her bathing cap and then put on a wrap, for she suddenly felt shy about appearing before Humphrey dressed only in her swimsuit.

When she got on deck, Humphrey was wearing his swimming trunks, and Arminel flushed as she looked at his bare chest and tanned legs. Pretending that he had noticed nothing, Humphrey said, "We can dive in from the stern."

Arminel strolled across the deck, trying to look nonchalant, and she slipped off her wrap before diving cleanly into the clear green sea. Humphrey caught his breath as he saw what a beautiful figure she had - long legs, a flat stomach; he tried not to think about other parts of her. He stood at the stern and watched as she came up for air, suddenly worried that she could not swim well, but she seemed to be having no difficulties.

"Aren't you coming in?" she called up to him. "It's invigorating!"

Humphrey did not answer; he dived in himself and surfaced close to her. "You're not cold?" he asked with concern.

"I won't be once we've had a swim," she assured him, and she struck out, heading away from the Susannah.

Humphrey was a strong swimmer, but he kept pace with Arminel, and they called comments to one another as they swam. Although the water was chilly, the exercise warmed them up. They headed back towards the yacht, as as they treaded water next to her, they debated what to do next.

"It looks lovely there," Arminel said, pointing towards the little sandy beach.

"Let's go and see," agreed Humphrey, and soon they were wading through the surf towards the shore. Despite the earliness of the morning, the sand was warm underfoot, and they sank down side by side.

"It's a shame we can't picnic here," said Arminel, stretching her legs out lazily, her earlier embarrassment forgotten.

Humphrey, distracted by the pale skin of her thighs, looked quickly up at her. "What?" he asked.

"Weren't you listening?" she demanded.

Humphrey blushed. "It's the noise of the sea drowning out your voice," he said, hoping she would accept his explanation.

Arminel looked at Humphrey, and their eyes met and held. She found herself feeling breathless, so she didn't repeat her observation. She felt Humphrey's hand close over hers, so she linked her fingers with his, and they sat quietly, staring out across the sparkling sea.

A long time later, Humphrey turned to look at Arminel. He had got himself under control again, so he grinned at her and said, "I'm hungry, and I need some coffee. Let's go back on board."

Arminel smiled at him. "I'm hungry, too," she admitted.

They stood up and walked hand in hand through the waves, and then they plunged into the sea. It felt much colder now that they had sunned themselves, so they swam quickly to the boat. Humphrey hauled himself over the stern, and then he held out a hand to help Arminel scramble on board.

"Go and get dry," he began, but as she reached the deck, Arminel's foot slipped in a puddle of water. She fell heavily into Humphrey, who grabbed hold of her to steady her, and then suddenly he had her clasped against him.

Her palms against his bare chest, Arminel looked up at him, blushingly saying, "I'm so sorry!"

Humphrey encircled her slender waist with both arms and looked down into her face. "I'm sorry," he said at the same moment.

Just for an instant they both felt like laughing, but then Humphrey leant closer and his mouth came down on hers. He kissed her gently at first, and when she made no move to pull away from him, his mouth became more urgent. Her lips parted, and she returned his kiss, wondering how she could have considered that Humphrey had kissed her the evening before - there was no way his chaste peck on the cheek could be compared to what he was currently doing. Arminel realised just how naïve she was to have lain awake thinking about something so simple, something that any brother or father or uncle might do. Now she had discovered what kissing actually involved, she could hardly believe that she had been so thrilled the previous evening.

At that point, Arminel abandoned thought and concentrated on enjoying Humphrey's kiss. She thought he was enjoying it, too, for he had his arms wrapped tightly around her, and it didn't seem like he planned on letting her go any time soon.

Finally, Humphrey drew back a little, although he kept his arms around Arminel. He looked searchingly at her. "Should I apologise?" he asked earnestly.

"What for?" Arminel asked, gazing into his dark eyes as if she could see right into his soul.

"For this," he said. "For everything."

"No," she said consideringly. Then she blushed. "It was nice."

Her words made Humphrey lean down and kiss her again. This time, Arminel slid her arms around his waist, and he seemed to approve because he pressed her more tightly against him and kissed her until he realised that the slight breeze which had blown up was making Arminel's soft skin feel cool to the touch.

"I think you should go and dry off," he told her. "You feel cold."

Arminel nodded, so, keeping an arm around her, he walked her across the deck and down to the little cabin. She went inside and quickly changed into her spare swimming costume before brushing out her hair and leaving it in one long plait. She grabbed the food given to her by Cook and headed back up the steps to find her wrap. Humphrey was nowhere to be seen, so Arminel sat down on one of the long benches that ran around the yacht and gazed dreamily across the water to the cove. A few minutes later, Humphrey, now clad in shorts and a t-shirt, came up on deck bearing a tray. He placed it on the bench next to Arminel and sat down on the other side of it.

"Coffee?" she asked, sounding impressed.

"There's a small galley," explained Humphrey. "We keep supplies on board so we can go sailing at a moment's notice."

"I brought some buns and some biscuits," said Arminel, handing him the bags, "and a bottle of lemonade."

"I brought sandwiches and fruit," Humphrey told her. "Let's eat the biscuits now and save the buns for after lunch."

"Okay," Arminel agreed easily. She watched as Humphrey poured a mug of coffee and added some milk before passing it to her. "Thank you," she said.

Humphrey poured his own coffee and opened the bag of biscuits. "Biscuits from Chudleigh Hold are always delicious," he said when he had sampled one.

"Yes, Cook's ginger snaps are the best."

After a moment of silence between them, Humphrey said, "Should we talk about it - about what happened just now?"

Arminel looked thoughtful. "I don't mind," she said.

"I'd like to," Humphrey told her.

"Then we should talk," Arminel agreed. She looked expectantly at Humphrey, but he was gazing back at her and saying nothing. "If it helps," she said, her voice dreamy, "I liked it."

"So did I." Humphrey looked and sounded very earnest. "I wanted to kiss you last night, but I didn't know if you'd mind. You haven't been out with anyone before, have you?"

"No," she agreed. "I've never met anyone before. I mean there are men at college, but they're not interesting." Arminel knew she sounded muddled, but Humphrey understood what she was trying to say.

"I haven't either," Humphrey admitted. "I kissed a girl once, ages ago, just because I could." As Arminel raised her eyebrows, Humphrey looked sheepish. "She was the one that wanted it," he explained, "but I wasn't interested. In fact, I wasn't interested in girls until I first came to Chudleigh Hold with Hawk and Godfrey - until I saw you."

"I liked you when you came to see Hawk last weekend," Arminel told him. "I enjoyed talking to you, but I didn't think I'd see you again. Hawk doesn't bring his friends to visit."

Humphrey smiled at that. "I don't, either. But Arminel, I want to take you to Fardingales. I'd like to show you the house and introduce you to my family. I'd like us to walk through the woods and visit the beach together."

"The thought of meeting your family makes me nervous," admitted Arminel, already feeling that Humphrey would understand.

"I know." Humphrey reached out and gently brushed a strand of bronze hair off her face. "I'd be with you, though, so maybe it wouldn't be so difficult."

"Okay," she said with a nod. "When your mother comes back from Switzerland. If you still want me to then."

"Can I tell you something?" he wondered.

"Of course," she assured him.

"I couldn't stop thinking about you, Arminel. I spent ages trying to work out how I could see you again. When I telephoned you, I was so worried that you'd say no." He smiled suddenly. "I've been so happy this week because I've been dating you."

Arminel replaced her empty coffee cup on the tray. "I've been happy, too," she told him. "You're very easy to talk to. I feel that I can be myself with you because you don't get annoyed when I'm anxious about something."

Humphrey moved the tray and slid nearer to Arminel. He took both of her hands in his and leaned closer. "Don't stop being yourself," he said quietly. "I think you're perfect."

Before Arminel had time to respond, he had closed the distance between them and pressed his mouth to hers. As they kissed, she gently freed one hand from his and reached behind him to run it across his dark hair. Humphrey released her other hand and took her in his arms, pulling her close against him. As she wrapped her other arm around his waist, he felt happiness flood through him. When they finally needed to come up for air, Humphrey drew back a little and smiled at Arminel.

"My sister told me to be sensible with you," Arminel told him.

"Mrs Pullen?" Humphrey asked.

"Merle, yes," said Arminel. "She's my eldest sister. She's always looked after me. That's what she told me last night. Are we being sensible, Humphrey?"

"We'll only kiss," Humphrey assured her. "I think that's sensible."

"Have you ever stopped being sensible?" Arminel wondered. Then, realising what she was asking, she blushed and added, "You don't have to tell me. I'm sorry I asked."

"I'll tell you when we've been together longer," he promised. "Just now, it's better if we only talk about us."

"You're right," agreed Arminel. She raised her hand and gently touched Humphrey's face with her fingertips. He caught her hand in his and drew it to his mouth. When he kissed her palm, Arminel felt something inside her lurch pleasantly, and her eyes met his. He gazed at her, his eyes filled with affection, and Arminel gave him a slow smile.

Humphrey smiled back and then leaned in to kiss her again. He held her tightly and kissed her lingeringly, and she snuggled into his embrace. They both enjoyed this intimacy, and it wasn't until Humphrey decided that he was hungry again that they released each other.

"Come down and see the galley," he said, gathering up the tray.

Arminel stood, too, and followed him down the steps once more. The galley was a small kitchen, which was well equipped to enable the sailors to cook simple meals and to clean up afterwards. While Humphrey made fresh coffee, Arminel washed their cups, and then they went back on deck to enjoy the thickly-cut sandwiches that Humphrey had brought with him. This time, they spread a rug out on the deck and feasted picnic-style. Afterwards, they stretched out on their backs and held hands while they let their food go down. Once they had rested for half an hour, Humphrey changed back into his swimsuit, and they dived into the sea again.

They swam for a while but then it was time to dry off and sail back to Applesendie. After mooring the Susannah, they got back into Humphrey's car, and he drove Arminel home. As they walked up the steps together, Humphrey turned to look at Arminel, his dark eyes intense.

"I want to kiss you goodbye," he told her, "but I can't here. Will you take a raincheck?"

Arminel grinned. "Yes, of course," she assured him.

Humphrey looked relieved. "I won't forget," he said with a grin of his own. "When can I see you again?"

"I have an exam on Tuesday, so I will need to study for it," she told him, "but after that is fine."

"I'll sort something out and call you," promised Humphrey. He gave her another earnest look, wishing that it was at least dark so that he could enfold her in his arms and kiss her, but he could not do that in broad daylight outside her family's home. "Goodbye, Arminel."

"Goodbye."

As Humphrey put the car in gear and drove off, Arminel opened the front door and went into the house.

Chapter Text

Throughout the summer and autumn, Humphrey and Arminel saw one another at least once a week, and often more. Arminel was due to finish her college course the following year, and Humphrey had begun to wonder if he could speak to his uncle about taking Arminel on as his secretary. He had more paperwork to do than he had time to do it, and he knew he would have more time to assist his uncle outside if someone else was helping in the office. As yet he had not said anything to Arminel, but he knew that she would need to look for a job, and he wanted her to work with him.

In the late autumn, Humphrey prepared to travel to South America with Godfrey. He was to be gone for six weeks, and both he and Arminel were dreading the separation. They had become good friends, so the thought of being apart for six weeks was difficult. However, there was nothing they could do but wait for the time to pass.

The evening before he was due to travel to London with Godfrey, Humphrey came to Chudleigh Hold. He would stay the night with the Chudleighs so he and Godfrey could set off early the next morning. Merle and Frank had also come to stay, bringing their children with them, and Ven had managed a night at home in the middle of her latest concert tour. The atmosphere was a strange mixture of joy because most of the family was gathered under the same roof and anxiety because Godfrey's kidnapping and subsequent incarceration were still fresh in their minds.

With so many people at Chudleigh Hold, it was almost impossible for Arminel and Humphrey to have a moment alone. Although no one had even hinted at it, Arminel knew that her siblings were worried that she and Humphrey would no longer be 'sensible' if they were under the same roof at such a time, and as a result, one of them was always close at hand. Finally, wanting more than anything to say a private goodbye to Humphrey, Arminel devised a plan.

Feeling pleased with her idea, she waited until just after ten, and then she excused herself. She bade everyone a casual goodnight and managed to wink at Humphrey as she left the drawing room. Confident that she was not under suspicion, Arminel went up to her room. She penned a brief note for Humphrey, slipped along to his room, and left it under his pillow. Then she hopped into bed and pretended to be asleep.

About half an hour later, Arminel's bedroom door was quietly opened, but Arminel did not open her eyes to see who was looking in on her. She lay still, her breathing slow and even, listening carefully. Footsteps came quietly to the bed, and Merle’s soft voice murmured, "Sweet dreams," before she straightened the bed covers and slipped out of the room again. After such tenderness, Arminel could not feel angry with Merle for checking up on her, but she clung to her resolve to meet Humphrey privately however indecorous it might be.

Arminel slipped out of bed and dressed again. She waited until just before eleven o'clock, and then she quietly opened her bedroom door and went silently downstairs to the library. She switched on the desk lamp and settled down in a comfortable leather chair next to a coffee table piled high with books and papers.

Just five minutes later, the door swung silently open and Humphrey came in. He grinned at Arminel and held out his arms to her. She got up and threw herself at him, hugging him tightly. "Oh, Humphrey!" she exclaimed. "I can't believe that you're going tomorrow! I'm going to miss you so much."

Humphrey caught her more closely against him. "I'm going to miss you, too," he assured her. "Come and sit down, Arminel, and let's talk." He led her across to a sofa that was not in the circle of light cast by the lamp, and he sat, pulling her down next to him. He turned towards her and took both of her hands in his. "Before I go, I want to tell you something," he said, looking suddenly serious.

Arminel entwined her fingers with his. "You can tell me anything," she said encouragingly.

"I know." He smiled at her and leant closer, pressing his mouth to hers. They enjoyed a long, tender kiss, and then Humphrey pulled away a little. "Arminel, do you remember the day I first kissed you? We were on the Susannah…"

"Yes, of course I do," she replied, surprised that he would think she could forget her first kiss.

Humphrey smiled and ran a hand across her shining hair. "Do you remember what we talked about afterwards - what you asked me?" he wondered.

Arminel thought for a moment. "Yes," she responded, blushing.

"I wasn't sensible the night I kissed that girl I told you of," he said, his face serious. "I walked her home, and she invited me in. I stayed with her that night." Humphrey paused, his eyes scanning Arminel’s face for some reaction to his words. "In a way, I wish I hadn't," he went on, "but taken logically, I'm pleased I did."

"Why?" she asked with interest.

"A man ought to know about such things," was Humphrey's reply. He took a deep breath and slid off the sofa. Kneeling on the floor in front of Arminel he said, "Arminel, I love you. I'd like to keep you by my side forever. Would you do me the tremendous honour of becoming my wife?"

Looking down into his kindly face, a face that had become so familiar and so dear to her, Arminel knew that there was only one answer she could give to his question. "Oh, Humphrey!" she breathed. "Yes!"

"Even after what I've just told you?" he asked, wanting to be certain that she understood what he had told her. "Even though you won't be the first girl in my bed?"

Arminel put her hands to Humphrey's face. "A man ought to know about such things," she told him, grinning despite the heightened colour of her cheeks.

Humphrey chuckled and fumbled in his pocket. He drew out a small box which he opened, and then he turned it so that Arminel could see what was inside. As she gasped, he took the ring and slid it onto her finger. "Is that all right?" he asked, unable to keep a note of anxiety from his voice.

Arminel looked at the beautifully-cut emerald set into a band of gold. "It's incredible," she told him in awe-filled tones. "I love it. Thank you, Humphrey."

"You're incredible," he told her, getting off his knees and sitting at her side again. "You make me so happy, Arminel. I can't imagine how I will manage, being away from you for six weeks."

Arminel leaned into Humphrey's embrace. "You make me so happy, too," she assured him. "No one has ever been as understanding as you are. I'm so lucky."

"You're so sweet," he said, and his lips found hers again. A long while later, they released each other. Humphrey gently smoothed Arminel's hair. "I'll ask your brother if I can marry you," he said, serious again now. "I'd like to do things properly."

"Godfrey will be pleased about that," Arminel told him. "But Humphrey, can we wait until you come back before we tell anyone?"

"I will come back," he assured her, mistaking the reason for her words. "My family has nothing that people would kidnap me to get."

"I wasn't thinking about that," she replied with a smile. "And I know you're very resourceful, so I don't think kidnappers would be able to hang on to you. Especially not if Tom Vinton hears of it."

"That's encouraging," Humphrey conceded. "So what's bothering you, Arminel?"

"I don't want my sisters and Charles to keep on at me while you're gone," she explained. "I'm going to miss you enough as it is. I'd rather deal with it myself than have them constantly on my case. Let's talk to Godfrey when you get home again."

"If that's what you want," he said, his fingers on her face now. "I'm going to write to you, Arminel. Will you write to me?"

"Yes, of course I will. But how will my letters find you?"

Humphrey pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. "These are the addresses that I'll be using and the dates I expect to be there. They'll forward anything that arrives after I've left."

"Okay." Arminel held Humphrey's hand against her cheek. "But take care, Humphrey."

"I will," he promised. "Now it's late, and if you're going to get up to see us off, you should sleep now."

"I know," she agreed, "but I don't want to leave you."

"I don't want to leave you either." Humphrey caught her against him and held her tightly.

She clung to him for a moment, and then she pulled away. "You have a long journey tomorrow," she reminded him. "You need to sleep." They stood up and Arminel turned off the lamp. The moonlight coming through the window showed them their way to the library door, and across the hall to the stairs. They went up silently, and on the landing Arminel stopped and looked up at Humphrey. "Can you find your room from here?" she whispered.

"Along there, last room on the left," he whispered back.

"Yes, that's right," she agreed. "Goodnight Humphrey."

"Goodnight," he said, and he leaned closer to kiss her cheek.

Arminel kissed his cheek in return, and then they parted. She went on up to her own room, and once she had changed for bed, she carefully put the ring back in its box and hid it away in a drawer. Then she climbed into bed and fell asleep almost at once. The alarm woke her in the morning, and as Arminel dressed, she remembered that Humphrey had asked her to marry him. A warm glow spread through her, and she abandoned her usual morning tidy-up so that she could dash downstairs for breakfast. She found Humphrey already sitting at the table, so she said, "Good morning," and sat next to him. Merle passed her a cup of coffee and Arminel helped herself to bacon and eggs.

Godfrey turned up next and then Charles put in an appearance. Owing to the early hour, breakfast was a quieter meal than usual. The two travellers ate heartily to fortify themselves for the journey ahead. As she sipped her third cup of coffee, Arminel glanced at Humphrey. He smiled at her and beneath the table, his hand felt for and caught hold of hers. Arminel squeezed his hand tightly as it lay in her lap. Now that the moment of parting was so close, she felt as if she must weep. How would she manage without Humphrey for six weeks? He was so strong and dependable, and she always felt better able to deal with anything when he was at her side.

"Come on then." Godfrey stood and looked at Humphrey. "We'd better go," he told the younger man.

Humphrey squeezed Arminel’s hand and released it before standing up as well. He and Godfrey went to collect their suitcases, and soon everyone met together in the hall for the final goodbyes. Humphrey shook hands with his hosts and then, while Godfrey was saying farewell to Merle and Charles, he stepped closer to Arminel. She looked up at him, her eyes bright with unshed tears, and Humphrey almost weakened when he looked into her expressive face.

Seeing how he felt, Arminel smiled at him. "I'm just being silly," she said firmly. She had realised that she had not told him how much she cared the previous evening, and she knew she could not let him go without knowing just how she felt about him, so she moved even closer to him. Then she reached up to kiss his cheek. As her lips brushed his face, she murmured, "I love you, Humphrey."

It was all Humphrey could do to kiss her cheek and step back from her. The words she uttered made him long to catch her against him and passionately kiss her, but that would definitely be inappropriate. Instead, he said softly, "I love you, too. I don't think I'll need a plane to get me to South America - after that, I feel that I am walking on air."

Arminel giggled, and all danger of tears passed. "Take care of yourself, won't you," she told him firmly.

"I will. And look after yourself, too. I'll see you next month."

"I'll be waiting," she promised.

"Ready?" Godfrey had picked up his case and was looking interrogatively at Humphrey.

"Yes," Humphrey replied, taking up his own case and following Godfrey to the door.

The remaining Chudleighs stood at the top of the steps and watched as Godfrey and Humphrey climbed into the car, and then they were all waving as Tizzard drove away.

Once the car was out of sight, Merle linked arms with Arminel and they headed back inside. "Are you okay?" asked Merle anxiously.

"Yes, I'm fine," Arminel assured her. "I'm not worried that they'll be in danger. It's just that they'll be away for so long."

"You'll be busy with your course," Merle reminded her, "and you can come and stay with me. Robert and Jemima will leave you no time for fretting about them."

Arminel giggled. "That's certainly true," she agreed. "And I will come, Merle. It will be lovely, thank you."

"Good. Now let's go and start on the chores." Merle took Arminel’s arm and they headed upstairs to make the beds and tidy the bedrooms.

*********

Arminel went to college and stayed with Merle, and generally kept herself busy. She wrote to Humphrey two or three times a week, and he wrote back at least as often. His letters were short, as he did not have the pen of a ready writer, but he told Arminel of what he had seen and done; she was thrilled by the gradual change of greeting from 'Dear Arminel' to the more effusive 'My darling Arminel'. The closing changed, too, from 'Love, Humphrey' to 'With all my love forever, Humphrey', and Arminel was both touched and relieved that her fiancé was not forgetting about her while they were apart. One letter even included a snap of Humphrey in the mountains, towering peaks forming a spectacular backdrop. It was the first photo that Arminel had of Humphrey, so she put it into a frame and set it on her dressing table.

Merle and Charles noticed how regularly letters for Arminel came from South America, but they made no comment. They were secretly relieved that Arminel was dealing so well with the separation, for they had expected her to be tearful and anxious while Humphrey and Godfrey were away. Instead, she carried on stoically, working hard at her secretarial studies, keeping up with her chores around the house, and chatting and laughing as usual. Although she always took Humphrey's letters up to her room, not emerging for more than an hour afterwards, when she reappeared, her eyes were never red; indeed, reading the letters always made her seem happy.

Finally, the day of Godfrey and Humphrey's return arrived. Chudleigh Hold had been cleaned from top to bottom, and Godfrey's room was ready for him. Humphrey was to stay for dinner, but then he would return to Fardingales and his own family. The two men landed in London in the early morning and caught the first train to Exeter, where they were met at the station by Tizzard. They finally walked up the steps to Chudleigh Hold's heavy front door just before twelve o'clock.

"They're here!" exclaimed Arminel as she heard the car pull up outside the house. She got up quickly from her seat in the drawing room, and almost ran across the hall, closely followed by Merle. Charles, whose limp slowed him down, adopted a much calmer pace.

Arminel wrenched open the door and found herself looking at the unshaven face of her eldest brother. "Hello, Godfrey," she said perfunctorily, stepping neatly round him and gazing happily at Humphrey, who was just behind Godfrey.

Humphrey gazed back at Arminel, a huge smile on his face. "Hello," he said, his voice low.

Arminel resisted the urge to throw herself at him. "Hello Humphrey," she said happily. "I'm so pleased to see you."

"I'm delighted to see you, too," he told her, taking her arm and leading her back into the house, for it was a cold December day, and he felt chilly after growing used to the humid heat of South America.

"How are you?" she inquired, looking anxiously at his face. He, too, was unshaven, and she thought he looked exhausted.

"I'm looking forward to sleeping for a week," he said, putting his case down and releasing her arm. "It's a long journey, and it comes after plenty of other long journeys."

"Lunch will be ready soon," said Merle, who had turned to greet Humphrey and caught his remark. "If you'd like to rest here, we can have your room made up. It won't take long."

"Thank you, Mrs Pullen," Humphrey said as he sat down on a couch in the drawing room. "I really ought to get back to Fardingales. My uncle will be eager to hear about the trip."

"I understand," Merle assured him.

Arminel sat down in an armchair from which she could gaze at Humphrey. Godfrey was recounting the details of the journey home, so Humphrey looked across at Arminel. "I'm sorry I don't look very presentable," he said, "but we landed this morning and went straight to the station. We were both eager to get here."

"I'm glad you're back safely," Arminel told him. And then, seeing that no one was taking any notice of them, she added, "You look wonderful to me."

"It's great to be back," he said, wishing he could at least take her hand. "You look amazing, Arminel - even better than I remember."

Arminel's lips curved into a smile even as her cheeks flushed. Humphrey grinned at the expression on her face. Then Alice appeared in the doorway to announce that lunch was ready. They all stood, and Arminel said, "I'll just show Humphrey where he can have a wash."

"Charles can do that," Merle began, but Godfrey intervened.

"I'm quite certain that Arminel can manage," he told his sister. He had seen how regularly letters from Arminel arrived for Humphrey, and he knew that Humphrey had written more to Arminel than to his own family. He thought Humphrey was a decent, honourable young man, and he knew he could be trusted to respect Arminel. Furthermore, they were clearly overjoyed to see one another again, and Godfrey felt they would appreciate the chance of a few private words together.

"This way," said Arminel, leading Humphrey across the hall.

Once they had turned down a long corridor out of sight of the others, Humphrey caught Arminel’s hand in his. She smiled up at him in such a way that he at once released her hand and caught her in his arms. Before she could say anything, his mouth closed over hers, and he kissed her thoroughly.

When he released her, Humphrey asked, "Is that better?"

Arminel blushed and giggled. "Yes, a bit," she told him. "I've missed you so much, Humphrey. It feels as if you've been away for years."

"I've missed you, too," he assured her. "I love you, Arminel. I can't wait to make you my wife."

"I love you, too," she assured him. "I'm so glad that you didn't change your mind while you were away."

"I shall never change my mind," he promised. "Let me have a wash, darling, because we ought to join the others. I will come over and see you tomorrow."

Realising that they could not be late for lunch, Arminel showed Humphrey the small cloakroom where he washed his hands and face. When he emerged, he caught Arminel against him and kissed her again.

"Can I talk to Godfrey about you tomorrow?" he asked as they walked towards the dining room.

"I'd like that," she agreed.

In the dining room, they took their places at the table and enjoyed Cook's excellent roast lamb. Conversation centred on the travellers' recent experiences, and although she would rather have been alone with Humphrey, Arminel enjoyed the stories he and Godfrey told. And when he had finished his food, Humphrey's hand sought and grasped hers beneath the table, leaving her feeling deeply happy.

Humphrey stayed for coffee, but then he made his excuses and set off for home. As she decorously shook his hand at the front door, Arminel wished he was staying longer, but she knew that was selfish of her. He looked exhausted, and he needed to return home to reassure his family that he had returned unscathed from his sojourn. The look Humphrey gave her as he said goodbye told Arminel that he wanted to stay just as much as she wanted him to, so she smiled back at him and watched him leave.

Once the car taking Humphrey home had disappeared from sight, Arminel set off for the staircase so that she could continue with her Christmas knitting. Before she could ascend, Merle called her back.

"Arminel! Come and have another cup of coffee," she suggested.

Arminel turned. "Okay," she agreed.

Merle led the way into the dining room, where Godfrey was already drinking more coffee as he went through the letters that had come during his absence. Charles dealt competently with estate business, but plenty of personal letters came for the master of Chudleigh Hold. Arminel slipped into her seat and accepted coffee from Merle.

"It's good to have them back, isn't it?" observed Merle, giving Godfrey a fond look.

"What's that?" asked Godfrey, looking up and catching her eye.

"I'm pleased to have you home," Merle told him.

"And Arminel is pleased to have Humphrey home," added Charles, grinning at his youngest sister.

"I'm impressed with young Anthony," declared Godfrey. "He's hardworking and intelligent." He glanced across at Arminel as he went on, "He's dependable and responsible, and good company, too."

Arminel nodded, hoping that the subject would soon be dropped. She was already aware of Humphrey's good qualities, and while she was delighted that Godfrey liked him so much, she preferred not to talk about her feelings for Humphrey with her family. She had been dating him for five months, which surely spoke for itself.

"When will you see him again?" asked Charles.

"Give him time to recover from the trip!" Arminel exclaimed.

"In other words," added Hawk, who had been silent until that point, "mind your own business."

"Judging by the hand holding that was going on," said Charles with a grin, "he won't keep away for long."

Arminel blushed and did her best to hide her hot face behind her coffee cup.

Fortunately, Merle saw Arminel’s embarrassment and deftly changed the subject. "I shall go home tomorrow evening," she told them. "If there's anything you want me to do, Godfrey, you'd better say it now or forever hold your peace."

"We need to discuss Christmas," said Godfrey. "Come and see me in my lair when I've had a chance to look through this pile."

"Okay." Merle drained her cup and stood up. "I'm going to check on the kids. Arminel, you might come and help."

Arminel stood as well. "I'd be happy to," she said, "and then I'll help you pack."

Despite their early start, the day flew past. As she lay in bed that night, Arminel thought about the day ahead. She had heard nothing more from Humphrey, but she knew that he would not go back on his word - he would come to Chudleigh Hold the next day and ask Godfrey for Arminel’s hand in marriage. And after hearing Godfrey's opinion of Humphrey, Arminel felt certain that he would agree. Smiling, she fell asleep, her mind filled with the image of herself in a long white gown walking down the aisle of the village church to marry Humphrey.