Simon said nothing as he watched Evelyn leave his side in the chapel. But his eyes followed her as she came to stand beside her father...and he carefully observed their conversation. Evelyn looked to the departure of the Viscount and the Baroness, and her expression grew morose.
She mourns his loss.
He knew her preference for the company of the Viscount. He had observed it last night, seeing the soft looks she granted Rene. Those fond glances had made him uneasy enough. But why did these sullen expressions...full of trouble and sadness...seem to strike deeper offense in his heart than the ones before? Why did he find himself wondering if his threat to Rene had been harsh enough? He inhaled deeply, forcing himself to be calm. Whether or not the Viscount had heeded his warning, it now seemed to not matter. It was obvious that both the Viscount and his Baroness were soon to be on their way, and he told himself to be grateful for small miracles.
Be pleased that the rogue is departing, he thought. Once he has gone, her favor will turn to you, as it should.
He wanted to be pleased. And for a moment, he was satisfied with the thought that he would be rid of his rival.
But why did he feel an overwhelming need to be certain of it? Why did he have the compulsion to follow Rene and force him to speed his departure?
Because of Evelyn, he realized. It was quite possible that she would attempt to stall Rene's leaving. Clearly, she did not want him to go. And the thought of it nearly made him angry. She was young and impressionable...but the time had come to cease such naïve behavior. She was to be his wife, and he would remind her to whom her loyalty was bound.
The meeting with Sir Guy's men would wait. A meeting with Evelyn was of greater importance.
After we have broken fast, he said to himself. Then we shall speak...
Something was wrong.
Simon had seen Evelyn rise quietly and quit the room. And he had seen Sir Guy follow soon after. It had taken much discipline to remain where he sat, half-heartedly giving his meal attention, while he wondered at the absence of father and daughter. For some time, he listened to the conversation around him...trying to ebb his curiosity. But as the space of time became larger, he found he could not help himself.
I will be idle no longer, he thought. He moved to rise from his chair...but the Countess rose first. The guests quieted as they listened to her.
"My lords and ladies, my husband has sought the pleasure of the morning air and I must join him. Please, continue to partake of our hospitality."
She smiled, and a moment later she quietly departed. The guests returned to their meal and conversations, content in their doings. But Simon was intent on solving this growing mystery. With a brief word of explanation to his father, he rose to his feet...quietly following the Countess out of the hall.
The sudden departure of the Viscount and the Baroness. Evelyn's displeasure. And now the Earl and Countess were exchanging words in private. It was not difficult to conclude that all of these matters were intertwined in some way. And somehow, Simon deduced that Rene was responsible for all of it. But what offense had he committed?
As he paused at the entrance to the garden...the place where the Countess had found her husband...Simon wondered if he'd made a mistake in allowing Rene to remain unscathed. A good pummeling might have humbled him. And as he listened to the conversation between the Earl and Countess, he cursed himself for not having made the proper correction.
"It is as I suspected," Guy said, his tone hushed but furious. "The Viscount had intentions towards Evelyn...and he dared to act on them."
"When?" asked Cassia. "How?"
"Just now. Near the courtyard. He kissed her."
"Oh my." There was a concerned pause. "Was it...a vulgar act? Did he force himself on her?"
Guy replied, his voice somewhat calm. "No. He only kissed her cheek." His tone raised in anger again. "But that is not the issue! She is a woman betrothed, and she allowed another man to lay hands on her!"
Cassia sighed. There was a moment of silence between them. Then, her words were quietly spoken. She seemed to be seeking reason as she questioned him.
"What explanation did she give for her actions?"
Another pause. A short, cool reply. "I did not seek one."
"You did not allow her to justify herself?"
Guy's voice rose again. "What justification could there be in so blatant and foolish an act? She may very well have ruined her chances with the Marquis."
Now it was Cassia's voice that grew strong, rising with the first hints of anger. "Forgive my boldness, Guy, but at this moment, I give not a flying fig about the matter of an engagement. What did you say to Evelyn?"
He did not reply, but she pummeled him with angry questions.
"Did you berate her? Did you set upon her with your beastly temper, as you are so foolishly apt to do in moments of anger?"
Still he said nothing. Cassia demanded to know, "Where has she gone?"
At last he spoke, with a tone that was considerably humbled. "I do not know."
There was another moment of silence. And then the Countess unleashed her full fury on him.
"Guy of Gisborne, how could you be so cruel? Evelyn has never before caused you offense. But at the first small impropriety you strike her down with absolute malice, giving no thought to any feelings save your own!"
She paused, giving a slight groan of discomfort.
From where Simon stood, hidden by a hedge, he had intended to remain unseen and only to listen to their conversation...not to watch. But hearing the sound of the Countess in some sort of pain, he allowed himself a glimpse. He watched, seeing Lady Cassia as she placed a hand on her belly. Guy came to her instantly, fraught with concern.
"What is it? Is it the child?"
Simon was stunned when the Countess slapped her husband's hands away, lashing out at him.
"Do not touch me! And do not speak to me! I must find our daughter and attempt to undo the damage you have caused her."
She stormed away from him, and he followed close behind.
Simon took several steps back as the gate flew open. Lady Cassia passed through in an angry flurry, and Simon was startled when she allowed the gate to slam back before her husband could make his exit. He watched Sir Guy emerge, stand still for a moment, and run his hands over his face and through his hair. The time seemed terribly wrong to intrude upon a man's privacy. But after hearing all that had occurred because of Rene, he could not remain silent, even for the sake of decorum. With a firm tone in his voice, he stepped forward.
"My lord, I must have a word with you."
Guy looked at him for a moment, his expression deeply troubled and frustrated. But Simon could see that his presence was the least of the Earl's worries.
"Forgive me, your grace," said Guy. "I cannot speak with you now."
Simon understood his concerns, but they shared a pressing matter, and he would not be off of it.
"It concerns the Viscount," he said.
Guy's expression changed, becoming intense and focused. "What of him?"
"I overheard your conversation, Sir Guy. And I must confess that my suspicions have now been confirmed."
Guy raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "Your suspicions?"
"From the first," said Simon, "I have felt a strange concern pressing on me in regard to your honored guest. I have held my tongue thus far, but I fear I can no longer do so."
Guy sighed, his shoulders dropping slightly. "If you have been offended, your grace, then I offer my sincere apologies."
Simon shook his head as he gave a stern reply. "The fault lies not with you, nor with your daughter. It lies with the Viscount. And I would seek your help in seeing the matter settled."
They looked at one another. No words were necessary...their agreement to see justice done affirmed in silence.