educated and well-connected, she is trapped by a dark secret from her past. She fears the rest of her life will be decidedly prosaic, until a dashing young man inherits a neighboring farm and sweeps her off her feet.
The man riding up the drive this time was no one I recognized, and I knew everyone in Willowbend. He was young, and he rode a dapple-gray mare with hints of ginger in her mane and tail. The breathtaking animal had all the aloof grace of a well-bred aristocrat, her tail and ears held high. A slim hunting dog trotted obediently at her heels.
The spectacle was such a contrast to the former one of Mr.Buckley and his plodding, drop-eared nag that I stood for a moment as one paralyzed. Once he had dismounted, the rider spoke to the mare with obvious affection, patting her neck and clucking to her until she nickered at him. His canine companion loped about the yard, sniffing unseen trails, then jumped to attention and ran to his side when he called, “Pharaoh, come!”
It’s not anyone we know,・I murmured, for Colleen’s benefit, mounting the front steps. Her eyes were weak. “It’s a gentleman by the looks of him.”
Goodness! she hissed, And I look like common white trash! Landra, invite him in and make my apologies while I change.”
She snatched up Ezra, who had run to her, but he struggled, wailing, so she put him down and rushed inside.
The screen door snapped shut behind her on its tight spring as I gathered Ezra into my arms. I stared after her, aghast that she had left me to meet a strange man without an introduction. Finally, I drew myself up and turned to face him, remaining on the porch.
Having fastened the mare to the hitching post, the man was approaching. I saw that he wore a gray slouch hat, a khaki frock coat with a white shirt beneath it, and brown, brushed cotton trousers tucked into worn, leather riding boots. He wore no tie, cravat, or waistcoat. I did not think he was wealthy, but he was dressed so well, at least in comparison to my father’s usual habiliment of denim bib overalls or chinos and striped cotton shirt, that I was taken aback.
He paused several feet before the front steps and removed his hat.
“Good afternoon, ma’am” he said. He held a riding crop in his free hand, but from the look of his horse, I doubted he ever used it.
I kept my chin up, conscious of my appearance, but unwilling to acknowledge it by smoothing my hair. “Hello.”
“My name is William Cavendish. I’ve just inherited an old estate nearby and wanted to make a friendly call.”
“Mr. Buckley told us of your arrival just today.”
A brief silence elapsed. He crouched on his heels and stroked his hound as it came to him. Ebenezer was beside me in an instant with his hackles raised, and I quieted him with a word.
I slowly became more and more conscious of my bedraggled hair and shabby dress, and Ezra grew heavy on my hip. I set him down, but he refused to come forward, hiding himself in the folds of my skirt. Resisting the urge to smooth my tumbled hair, my hand went instead to my mouth, where Daddy had hit me with the lash. It had healed, but a scar was left, a thin line that split my top lip on the right side. I rarely thought of it, but when I did, I was self- conscious of it.
All of this passed in a matter of moments, but each one seemed an aeon thanks to my discomfort. Mr. Cavendish smiled at Ezra.
“Your little boy is bonny. It’s comely in a child, to be shy of strangers.”
“This is Ezra, my brother.”
He looked confused. You are Mrs. Andrews, are you not?”
“I’m Miss Andrews. Mrs. Andrews is my stepmother. You might have seen her on the porch as you approached.”
“Begging your pardon. Did I frighten her away, arriving so unexpectedly?”
You didn’t frighten her. She went inside to make herself presentable. We weren’t expecting company, you see.”
“Even on a Saturday afternoon?”
“We live too far out for it to matter.”
He rose, his boots creaking, and made as if to swing the crop, pivoting on his heel. He turned back to me and said, “Begging your pardon, but I don’t believe I caught your first name.”
My name is Landra,I said, managing not to grimace, for I hated my Christian name. No matter how often I said it, it felt odd and awkward in my mouth. At church, the girls who didn’t like me said it was ugly. I never signified their remarks with a reply, but I knew they spoke the truth.
My mother had pronounced my name with a soft a in her drawling Georgia accent, much as one says the word lawn. Daddy, in his smugness that I had been named after his father, pronounced it with a short a, like the word land. Neither pronunciation improved it, but I generally went with my mother’s; there was a hint of refinement in it.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,・he replied.
He ascended the first two steps of the porch and extended his hand.
I hesitated. A young lady does not take a gentleman’s hand indiscriminately, I thought, a favorite proverb of Colleen’s, yet Colleen had abandoned me, and here we were. There was no common acquaintance present to introduce us.
At last, I met him on the middle step and shook his hand.
“The pleasure is mine,” I replied, bowing.
“Lahn-dra,” he enunciated. “That’s mighty pretty. Don’t think I’ve encountered that one before.”
My mind flitted away for a second. His words reminded me of something. Miss Montgomery. Has a nice ring to it. You got a first name? Who had said those words? My father. My father had said them when he met my mother.
dearly loves a laugh.