I looked some ten feet away and saw Murdoch standing, Fintan’s bridle in his hand, the oak canopy over his head still shedding small pearls of raindrops from the leaves. His dark hair was swept back from his high forehead, lifting and falling a bit in the light wind. His eyes, usually somber, held a sadness I had never seen before, as though a deeper grief had been added to sorrow. I imagined that he looked like this the day he found his mother lying dead, his father keening at her side.
He looked so forlorn that my heart reached out to him, in spite of all my resolve. “Oh, Murdoch, you are wet. Stand over here.”
“The sun and wind will dry me in no time at all. I can take NimbleFoot now. I will see that he is returned to you in about a month.” I could hear the distance in his voice, as though he were already practicing being far away.
“Very well. Will you be comfortable in his saddle? It is much smaller than Fintan’s.”
“Yes. We will make it work.”
“Then—farewell, Murdoch.” I stood back from my pony, inviting him to mount and ride away.
Without moving, letting yesterday’s raindrops roll down his face like tears, he regarded me beneath his wing-like eyebrows. “Cate. Where did I go wrong?”
I could feel my whole body stiffening, my throat closing up. I did not want to talk about old mistakes, old feelings. I turned away from him.
“Please tell me.”
I stood with my back to him for a while, wondering how I would talk about the bitterness of the past. At last I spoke, still turned away. “When you broke your word to me. You told me you would respect the bond of friendship—and then you broke that bond.”
“How, Cate?” His voice sounded almost strangled, as though he really did not know.
I sighed. He had broken it every way he could break it, and yet he was pleading with me to tell him. I turned quickly, now almost angry. “You bade me farewell in Tara with an unseemly kiss. When you were needed in Inishowen, you returned here instead. You would not—or could not—banish that–that look from your eyes. The one that is breaking Liam’s heart, and mine, too.”
Then he seemed suddenly angry, too. “And yet you encouraged me. You bade me sup with you. You accepted my offer of a booley on your behalf. You came almost to the very house where I am staying, dressed as though to seduce a saint. What am I to think?”
I paced in front of him, thoroughly exasperated. “Listen to me. You are mistaking my innocence for devious intent. I told you—I invited you to supper because I like you. The booley—how could I refuse you? Your search may lead to taking the savages who defiled my mother. And just look at your outrageous statement about my clothing! I will admit that I did not dress to please my husband. The selfish reason was—I dressed to please myself. I actually hid my horse so you would not see me. Can you understand that?”
He seemed to brush away my words as though they were June flies. “I have one last question, Cate. What did you hope to achieve by taking me to see Persimmon?”
I caught my lip in my teeth, trapped in a corner. Only the truth would do, as much as I hated to tell it. “I could lie to you, Murdoch. But I respect you, and I will tell you the bitter truth. It was an act designed to draw your attention away from me to–to someone else. A despicable thing to do. And I am truly sorry.”
“I love you the more for it. Oh god, Cate. You have bound me so closely I will never escape.”
He covered his face with his hands, as though to hide his stricken eyes.
I felt a great lump rise in my throat. “Then we have lost each other forever, Murdoch. Liam and I are agreed—as long as you feel this way, I can never see you again.” I felt a sudden pang of ironic kinship with Murdoch, for I felt shrouded in sorrow and loss.
He wiped the rain from his face, looking at me again. “What if–if I could hide it, never let it be seen?”
“But you cannot. In that way, we are alike. Your true feelings are caught in your eyes like a deer caught in sudden firelight. And I have lost someone I would have cherished as a friend the rest of my life. And so I grieve, for the end has come.”
I did not try to hide the tears streaming down my face. “From this day forward, please talk to me only through other people. Thank you for what you are trying to do for me and my family. Farewell.”
I turned around, head down, waiting for him to mount NimbleFoot and ride away. My chest was shaking with suppressed sobs. I felt for all the world that one of my best friends had died. And in a sense, he had.
Why had he returned so soon to Derry? Why could he have not waited and let our growing, pleasing friendship be the memories to look back on? Now the memories would be forever bleak and cold, and I would never again visit the rugged, splendid Bay of Trawbreaga.
When at last I turned around, I saw Fintan standing patiently, waiting to be mounted. There was no sight of either NimbleFoot or Murdoch—only a golden stallion, his white mane lifting and falling in the light summer wind.
OQ Erin O’Quinn blog: http://erinsromance.wordpress.com/
Storm Maker on Amazon: Erin O'Quinn
Storm Maker on Amazon: Erin O'Quinn