“Ah,” Mahindar said, as though that explained everything.
“Juliana?” Elliot asked. “Are you willing to explore with me?”
“Perhaps the memsahib will want to change her dress,” Mahindar said. “It is powerfully dirty down there.”
Juliana glanced down at her rust-colored silk. She had liked the gown when she’d put it on, but now it was tainted by the fact that she’d worn it to meet the Dalrymples. Elliot was impatient, and Juliana didn’t want to take the time to go upstairs and change.
“That’s all right,” she said. “After all, I’ve worn it once now.”
The flippant remark did not have the desired effect. Elliot said nothing, and Mahindar looked distressed. “Wait, I beg you. Wait one moment.”
He dashed off and came running back in less than a minute with a large, white, flapping garment. He set Juliana’s lantern on the floor, bunched up the garment, and dropped it over Juliana’s head.
It was one of Mahindar’s, Juliana realized as she settled it, the long shirts that went over his white trousers. This one was clean and large enough to cover most of Juliana’s gown.
“I don’t want to ruin it,” Juliana said.
Mahindar waved that away and shoved the lantern back into her hand. “I have many. Go. Go.”
Elliot lowered himself into the hole, set his lantern on the edge, and reached up to lift Juliana down with him.
He had to stoop in the low room below, but this time, the closeness did not appear to worry him. As soon as Juliana had steadied herself next to him, Elliot led her onward.
“I have something I must tell you,” Juliana said as she followed Elliot into the bowels of the old castle. “I’m afraid it concerns Mr. Archibald Stacy.”
Elliot did not answer. He strode on quickly, despite having to bend head and shoulders, and Juliana hurried to keep up with him.
“You are most exasperating, Elliot McBride,” she said.
He reached back and took her hand again. “I know.”
His strong grip was a lifeline, pulling her through the dark. Their lamps were weak, candles illuminating only small circles of space. Hamish had promised that kerosene was on its way to the house, although perhaps wax candles inside tin lanterns were a bit safer down in this unknown darkness.
“Where are we going?” Juliana whispered. There was no need to whisper, but the dense warmth around them seemed to require it.
Elliot answered in normal tones, sounding perfectly sane. “When I was a lad, I found the plans of the old castle in one of the books in Uncle McGregor’s library. The castle had been a giant of a place, with underground storage and living quarters, in case of siege. Uncle McGregor brought me down here and showed me a little of it then, and I started exploring it again after I bought the place.”
“People lived down here?” Juliana shivered. Such a maze, the roof so low. It would have been appallingly dark, the inhabitants not having even the good candles she and Elliot carried now.
“They lived here when they had to,” Elliot said. “Uncle McGregor says the McPhersons raided often in those days, and the McGregors would hide the women and children and anything else valuable down here.”
“Mr. McPherson seems quite congenial to be descended from raiders. By the bye, he sends the message that you’re welcome to fish or shoot on his estate anytime you wish.”
“Six hundred years ago, the McPhersons were brutal warriors, and so were the McGregors. It was a long feud. Times change; people don’t.”
Whatever that meant, he didn’t explain.
“Elliot,” Juliana said as he took her onward through the darkness. “I know I am supposed to be an obedient wife, letting my husband decide my fate unquestioningly. But I’m afraid I never had good examples of obedient wives in my life. My mother did as she pleased. My stepmother is a bit more considerate of other people’s wants, but Gemma makes no secret of her opinions. So I must ask you—do you intend to live at Castle McGregor for the rest of your life, exploring the old castle and walking about the Highlands? Or may we, at some point, return to civilization? If only for a brief interlude? My wardrobe will soon be depleted at the rate we are carrying on.”
Elliot straightened abruptly, and Juliana realized they’d stepped into a room whose ceiling rose high enough for him to stand at his full height. Juliana’s candle beam didn’t reach the roof, but she felt the vastness of wherever they were, the cool draft that meant clean air flowed from somewhere.
“We won’t be returning to Edinburgh yet,” Elliot said absently, flashing around his lantern.
“I do understand that too many people at once unnerve you,” Juliana said. “You have been out of the habit of seeing company, and people do tend to whisper about you. I know this. In fact, I’m very surprised you came to Edinburgh at all, though so fortunate for me to find you lurking on my wedding day.”
“Of course I went to Edinburgh.”
His voice held a sharp note, and Juliana found his attention fixed hard on her, his gray eyes glittering silver in the candlelight.
“To attend my wedding?” Juliana asked him, her voice faint. “How civil of you.”
She’d sent the invitation to Rona inviting The McBride Family. Juliana had told herself that she’d worded the missive that way because she had no way of knowing whether the three younger male McBrides would be in the country for the occasion.
But Juliana knew she’d never have been able to pen an invitation to Elliot specifically. Keeping the request general, she’d avoided having to write Elliot’s name.