When the party arrived, Mr. Primrose put Daisy in charge of the tyke, since she had pre-school experience prior to coming to Dunfeur Castle. The boy, Caleb, slept soundly in the lap of a handsome young man who then held him out to Daisy. “This is for you,” he said.
“Ah, thank you sir,” she replied and bundled little Caleb in her arms and made straightaway for the bath.
‘An American,’ she thought, opening the taps while a sleepy Caleb undressed. ‘I knew we were getting guests, but I didn’t imagine someone so young.’
“Young master,” she said, testing the water. “I think this is fine. Do you need help getting in?”
The boy held up his arms in reply and she placed him gently in the bubbly bath. “No falling asleep now. You scrub well, or I’ll do it for ya.” She gathered the sour-smelling clothes and placed them in a metal pail, not knowing if she should wash them or burn them. From the sound of splashing, she sensed Caleb waking up more fully. She poured a bit of shampoo into her hand and rubbed it into the boy’s damp head.
“Do you know the man you rode in with?” she asked, in a playful tone that should conceal her curiosity.
“Men,” Caleb said, and flapped his arms into the bath splashing water out of the claw-foot tub.
“Oh, I only saw one. The one who’s lap you fell asleep on.”
“That was Baron. He’s cool,” Caleb said. “He knows how to surf and ride a motorcycle and he said I smelled like burnt crank grease.” The boy’s fit of giggles made it difficult to rinse the soap out of his hair.
“Oh he did, did he? I guess crank grease smells awfully bad,” she said.
The boy calmed down. “I like the other man too. He’s my cousin though, so I gotta.”
Daisy reached for a fluffy white towel and helped the better-smelling boy out onto the tile floor. She wrapped the towel around him and rubbed most of the water out of his hair. “Come on,” she said, picking him up and wrapping the towel even tighter. “Let’s get you changed so you can try to eat something, then perhaps another nap.”
Caleb cringed. “I’m never eating again,” he said. “It was horrible.”
She made a note to herself: broth. She could get some warm broth in him and he can’t complain that she’s making him eat.
Daisy shook her head and wondered if all the Sykes men were as troublesome as young Caleb. His grandfather certainly was a handful, according to Mr. Primrose, though the great patriarch was usually restrained by his equally powerful wife. She paused at the door to the guest room and looked down the hall. The mistress’s door was ajar, and Daisy thought a visit from a freshly cleaned grandson may go a long way to restoring, if not health, then hope. She decided a visit in the evening would suit both grandmother and grandson.
With the boy napping, Daisy made her way downstairs to see if she could help with dinner preparations. It was rare to have this many visitors in the manor, Mrs. Hopkins told her. As the house manager, Mrs. Hopkins controlled all the staff inside the house, save for Mr. Primrose. Anderson, the groundskeeper, handled the outside staff, a cadre of young men Daisy often thought of as polite, but feral. The visitor in the wide hallway reminded her of them. He sat in an antique chair pretending to doze while across the hall raised voices could be heard from the office. Daisy turned toward the office, then turned back to find the young man looking her way. He winked.
“I’m not trying to listen,” he said, sitting up. “But they’re damn loud.”
Daisy nodded, unsure of what to do next. She moved toward the kitchen door when the voice of Lord Sykes stopped her.
“Now hold on son.”
She turned back and saw that the young man, Baron, Caleb had called him, was leaning forward in his seat now, all pretense of not listening abandoned.
Lord Sykes’ voice returned. “I know you want me to disapprove of your relationship, but I never have. You have created that idea in your head alone and punished me for it all these years.”
“Why didn’t you say so specifically? Why let me think that I was ostracized?” The younger Sykes must have been closer to the door, Daisy thought, because his voice was lower, but clear.
“Because it seemed to suit you,” Mr. Sykes replied. “Primrose always reported how happy and successful you were. How much the two of you seemed, well, good together.”
“Besides, you never opened the damn letter. After seven years.”
A soft chuffing sound came from Baron. She saw him sit up straight, his chest filling with what could only be described as pride. Daisy blushed enough for the both of them.
Lord Sykes seemed closer to the door now, as if he moved from behind his desk. “We have plenty of little heirs tearing up the gardens and running through the halls. I’m almost relieved I don’t have to expect more pups from you.”
There was a pause in the conversation. Daisy and Baron both leaned to the side, trying to gauge what was happening inside the office. They heard a few muffled claps, rough hands on fine tweed. Daisy convinced herself a hearty hug was given and received.
“To be honest, lad, that you found one in America and made him your mate is astounding. The American line has been on its own for a long time. Is he in touch with his family?”
“He has no family.”
“He most certainly does,” Baron said as he pushed open the door. Daisy, rapt in her own imagination of the family reunion in the office didn’t see the young man cross the wide hall and burst through the door. Instinct drove her after him and she stood just outside, peering in. She put a look of grave concern on her face to hide her curiosity.
She expected only the two Sykes men to be inside. Daisy was stunned to see not only the master and his second son, but Sylvia, Caleb’s mother and niece to Lord Sykes, as well as Mr. Primrose.
Not to be forgotten, Baron repeated himself. “I certainly do have a family and he’s standing right here.” He grabbed young Sykes hand and stood tall in front of Lord Sykes who towered over the young man. The lord of the manner waved his hand around the room.
“Yes, everyone in here is your family, son,” Lord Sykes smiled gently, not in the toothy way of his son. “I am curious about your kin, though. Have you heard from them? Of them?”
Before Daisy got a chance to hear an answer, Mr. Primrose appeared from behind the door and escorted her back into the hallway. A soft click of the latch signaled that her “concern” was no longer needed. Mr. Primrose stood with his hands clasped behind his back, grinning.
“Is the young boy settled in, Daisy?”
“Yes, Mr. Primrose. Napping with a full belly and smelling fine.”
He nodded. “Good, good.” The old man looked away for a moment, considering his next remark.
“Daisy, I don’t think young Sykes and his friend will be staying long, but while they’re here, please make space for them.”
Daisy nodded, understanding that “make space” meant privacy. In the few short months Daisy had worked at Dunfeur Castle she noticed the quirks of nobility, the strangeness of a centuries-old castle, the barks of a few too many dogs wandering the grounds. This was the first time Daisy was witnessing a touching family moment. She thought about the young man sitting in the chair trying not to listen. How easily he was accepted. How comfortable he was around so much history.
“That’s Americans for you,” Mr. Primrose said, as if he could read her thoughts. “Never ones to be intimidated by the centuries.” He patted Daisy on the shoulder and gave her a quick smile. “It’s refreshing, isn’t it?”
She sighed as he walked back toward the office. When he opened the door, soft laughter, muted but genuine, burst forth into the hallway. Daisy heard Baron’s voice clear through the noise. “If you hadn’t been an idiot, I never would have been in the pound in the first place.”
A soft click and the hallway was silent again. Daisy retreated, but stopped at the bottom of the stairway, listening. She thought she heard a soft whimper, like the whining of a pup. As she placed her foot on the bottom stair, the office door opened and Sylvia Sykes appeared next to her. “No need, Daisy,” she said and ran up the stairs two at a time.
Daisy watched the woman go and suddenly thought about all the steak Mrs. Hopkins ordered for the kitchen. Some ideas slid together in her brain and then slid right apart again. The quirks of nobility, she thought, heading straight for the kitchen.