Disclaimer: The Lost World and all its characters belong to other people. No infringement of any rights is intended.
Today's the day. That was the thought that greeted Roxton as he opened his eyes. For a while he remained lying in bed, staring at the ceiling as it grew increasingly distinct in the lightening dawn. Finally he sat up, one-handedly pushing back his hair and scowling when the locks promptly flopped right back into his eyes. He brushed it back again, this time using both hands. He rested that way for a time, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.
Today is the day. He couldn't escape the thought. Sighing, he dropped his hands and got to his feet. Might as well get up and face it.
"Good morning, John," Summerlee greeted the hunter as he emerged into the common room. "I've just finished brewing a pot of tea. Care for a cup?" He lifted the teapot invitingly, a genial smile on his face. Unnoticed by Roxton, his eyes did not entirely echo the smile, but instead swiftly took in the unusually preoccupied and grim demeanor of the expedition's hunter.
Roxton started slightly at the botanist's greeting; he hadn't seen Summerlee standing in the kitchen. He'd thought it was too early in the morning for others to be about. A quick glance outside showed the morning light was stronger and less slanted than he'd expected. I must have been dawdling, he realized. Belatedly remembering Summerlee's question, he mustered up a smile. "No thank you; I thought I'd get out and do some early hunting this morning "
"Excellent!" Summerlee interrupted. "I've been meaning to ask you, John, if you'd try to bring back something in the aviosaur line the next time you went out hunting. I'd like to try and perfect my 'Bush Chicken Arthur.'" He chuckled a bit with shy pride even as he kept a close eye on the hunter. He saw Roxton shift uncomfortably, but chose not to acknowledge it. "I know it's hardly big game, but you have to admit the aviosaur family produces some tasty specimens."
"Not to mention you relish the look on Challenger's face every time we enjoy eating one," Marguerite's voice interjected unexpectedly, surprising both men. They turned to see the dark-haired woman entering the common room, fully dressed and ready for the day, an amused smile on her face. "What was it he said last time? 'I can't believe we're eating the missing link between dinosaurs and birds - just one of these in London would set the whole world on its ear!'" She snorted. "Of course, he says the same thing about everything in this place."
Summerlee was the first to recover from his surprise. "Good morning, Marguerite. You're looking lovely today. Tea?" He smiled warmly at her, all the while wondering silently why Marguerite was up and about so early.
Roxton was not so tactful. "What on earth are you doing up at this hour?"
Instead of snapping at him as he half expected, Marguerite merely gave him a cool look. "I'd hate to be thought predictable." She then turned to Summerlee, giving him a warm smile. "And I'd love a cup of tea, Arthur, particularly if I'm going to be spending the morning tramping around in the wilderness."
Summerlee's eyes widened a trifle behind his glasses as he took in the implications of her words. "Of course, my dear," he replied lightly, turning back to the tea things. He poured two cups of tea while keeping a speculative eye on the heiress.
"You're what?" Roxton sputtered. "What are you up to now? You know the rules - no one is supposed to go out alone!" He was so lost in indignation at Marguerite's words that he automatically accepted the cup of tea Summerlee handed him without so much as looking at the older man, much less offering him thanks.
Marguerite gave Roxton an ironic smile, remarkably keeping her temper. "Of course I know the rules. Why else would I be planning on spending the morning hunting with you? I assure you it wasn't my idea of how to start the day, but needs must and all that. You're just lucky that I am up early this morning. The least you could have done was tell me your plans last night, so I could have planned on being up this early." Her smile thinned and her eyes sparkled wickedly as she watched the stunned expression spread over Roxton's face. "I wouldn't have enjoyed being rousted out this morning at the last minute." She took the cup of tea Summerlee silently offered her with a grateful nod. "Thank you, Arthur."
"I didn't tell you because you're not going with me," Roxton blustered, severely off-balance at this entirely unexpected conversation.
Marguerite raised one eyebrow. "Oh? And who else were you planning on taking along? Veronica and Malone aren't due back until this afternoon. Summerlee certainly didn't sound as if he meant to go with you, and judging from the smell, Challenger's already at work in his lab." The heiress wrinkled her nose at the astringent chemical odor wafting upstairs - or maybe it was at the continued obtuseness of the British lord. "Or were you going to break your own rules?" she added sweetly.
Roxton opened his mouth to answer her, then shut it with a snap as he realized he didn't know what to say. He'd forgotten Malone and Veronica were off at the Zanga village, warning them about some strange woman and the parasite she carried. Even worse, he knew Marguerite had him dead to rights. He had been planning on breaking his own rules this once. He didn't want anyone else around him today. But there was no way he could say so to her. Nor could he refuse her company now, however much he wished he could. Hell. I'll just have to be extra careful, stay that much more on the alert. "All right," he conceded as gracefully as he could manage, given his unsettled state. His mood lightened a trifle as he remembered Summerlee's request. It's not as if bush chicken is all that dangerous to hunt. Lucky, that. "Let's get going. We've a lot of ground to cover, and I don't want to be all day about this."
"Without breakfast?" Summerlee protested, shaking his head. "I hardly think that's necessary, John. The aviosaurs we've seen have all been strictly diurnal. It's not as if only the early bird will catch the early bird." He chuckled a little at his own joke.
Roxton unbent enough to give him a half-smile in return. "I suppose a little breakfast couldn't hurt," he agreed.
"And no breakfast could hurt quite a lot - at least for the gentleman who made me miss mine for no good reason," Marguerite added pointedly, but smiled to take the sting out of the barb.
The elderly professor beamed at both of them. "I'll have eggs ready in a trice. John, if you'd be so good as to fetch down the skillet? I'm afraid my reach isn't quite what it used to be. And Marguerite, if you could set the table "
Roxton sighed. "Of course." Reaching for the hanging skillet, he missed the assessing look Summerlee gave Marguerite, Marguerite's noticing it, and the inquisitive stare Marguerite gave Summerlee in return. By the time he turned back, Summerlee was energetically whisking eggs in a bowl and smiling gently at Marguerite, who was placidly laying out the flatware as if she hadn't a care in the world.
The weather was perfect; not too hot, not too cool, with almost no breeze to carry a scent to unsuspecting prey. He'd set a brisk pace, but Marguerite hadn't complained at all, seemingly content with hurrying to the aviosaur's usual habitat. They'd had excellent luck so far; they'd already bagged three of the small, feathered, flightless dinosaurs, including one Roxton was pretty sure Challenger had never seen before. They'd have to wait to eat that one until after George had a chance to dissect it. Their luck continued to hold, too. There were no signs of other predators; other dinosaurs tended to avoid the cooler microclimate of the aviosaur's canyon habitat. They were close enough to another flock of the sociable creatures to hear them squeaking to each other as they foraged in the underbrush. Roxton should have been in his element.
He wasn't. He grew edgier with every minute that passed. Tension sang through his frame, tightening him up until he felt ready to shatter. It wasn't just him, either. Marguerite was increasingly wary, too, and Roxton had learned through hard experience to trust her instincts. He wanted nothing more than to bag a few more aviosaurs and get her back safely to the Treehouse. Today's the day. I should never have let her come with me
A sudden rustle of nearby twigs caused hunter and heiress to spin around, weapons at the ready. A loud cheep heralded the appearance of a large aviosaur; on tiptoe, with its long neck stretched upwards to the utmost, it was almost knee-high to the explorers. It was clearly as startled by them as they were by it. For a moment they all froze, staring at each other. Then the aviosaur bristled, fluffing out its downy proto-feathers to make it look much larger than it actually was. It shrieked a loud warning call and ran back into the brush - or at least it tried to. With a half-exasperated snort that was nearly drowned out by the shrieking warning calls of its fellows, Marguerite fired her pistol. The feathered dinosaur dropped to the ground, spasmodically twitching its four limbs and long tail a few times before lying still.
Roxton could hear the rest of the aviosaurs scurrying away. Adrenaline still pounding through his veins, he rounded on Marguerite. "Oh, great work, Marguerite. Now we'll have to spend another hour tracking the flock before they'll settle down enough to let us get another shot."
Marguerite's eyes flashed with ire, but she kept her voice level and quiet. "What was I supposed to do? It had already given the alarm. Should I have let it get away, too?"
He knew it was true, but he didn't feel like being reasonable. "Maybe if you'd stop jumping at every shadow, we'd have better luck sneaking up on them."
"Me? Me jumping at every shadow! That's a laugh! You've been twitching at every sound for the last hour at least!" Marguerite glared at him belligerently, hands on her hips, expedition coat flaring behind her in much the same way the aviosaur had bristled at them moments before.
The comedy of the comparison brought him up short, deflecting him from his dark mood. The justice of her words kept him silent. Could it be true? Is Marguerite jumpy simply because she's picked up on my mood? Is she so tense because I've made her so? It's certainly possible; she's picked up on my moods before
Unfortunately for Roxton, Marguerite wasn't inclined to interpret his silence favorably. "What's the matter, Lord Roxton, don't you trust me to keep you safe from a flock of long-tailed chickens?" She made no effort to keep her voice down, or to hide her fury.
And there it was, the chance he'd half been looking for all morning. She was furious. All he had to do was say yes, to express doubt in her ability. Ten to one she'd storm off and leave him alone, as he'd wanted from the start. She'd be at risk alone, but perhaps not as much as if she stayed with him. He took a deep breath
and let it out again in a huge sigh, the lie unsaid. He couldn't do it. No. Not this way. Not knowing what I know. Not today. I won't do that to her. He took another breath, willing himself to calm down, knowing if he couldn't control himself, he'd never be able to get Marguerite to cool off either. Pushing back his hat, he met her eyes, wanting to emphasize his sincerity. "Of course I trust you, Marguerite."
She looked surprised at his words. He didn't blame her. He was sometimes startled to realize how true that was. Oh, he'd keep a sharp eye on her where jewels were concerned, no doubt about it. But given a tight situation, he'd learned long ago to rely on this seemingly most unreliable of women, because his instincts told him she'd never let him down - and she never had. He first really noticed that urge to trust her in tight spots at Paradise, when Marguerite had to all appearances abandoned them in favor of the immortality and immorality of the fruit-eaters' lifestyle. Somehow he'd known she'd be back, that everything wasn't as it appeared to be - and he'd been right. He'd been right then, he'd been right ever since - and he'd be wrong to let her think otherwise now.
"Really?" Marguerite's voice broke into his momentary reverie, and he realized she was staring at him, one eyebrow raised. She still looked irritated, but not so angry that she'd abandon him.
"Really. And I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I have been jumpy; I shouldn't be surprised that you've been the same way." Seeing her expression sharpen with curiosity, he quickly sought a diversion. The last thing he wanted was Marguerite sensing a mystery and deciding to pry. "I guess I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed today."
"Hm." Marguerite considered him carefully, then shrugged. "Apology accepted, Lord Roxton, on one condition."
"What's that?" he asked warily. Trust in a dangerous situation was one thing, but he knew better than to make a blind promise to the mercenary heiress.
"That we call it a hunt and head back to the Treehouse. I think we have enough bush chicken for Summerlee - and I know I don't want to spend another hour or two jumping at shadows." Marguerite's grey eyes sparkled as she deliberately teased him.
As Marguerite grinned at him unexpectedly, all signs of her ill-temper vanished like a summer squall, Roxton felt his heart beat a little faster. "Agreed."
"And you carry the game bag."
"Of course. But that's two conditions."
Marguerite shrugged with magnificent unconcern. "So I lied."
"Of course," Roxton muttered again, too quietly for Marguerite to hear, but he couldn't hide his smile.
By the time they returned to the Treehouse in the early afternoon, Roxton's mood had soured again, even though the return trip had been uneventful. Marguerite had been nothing but pleasant, but even her unusually tolerant mood couldn't lift the dark clouds. In a way, it made him even more determined to leave her at the safety of the Treehouse. I need to be alone. I need to get away from her, get away from them all. I can't be with them today.
Apparently the universe had other ideas. No sooner did Roxton and Marguerite enter the Treehouse than Summerlee hurried forward to meet them. "Oh, Roxton, good. You're back."
The hunter frowned, taken aback at the urgency of the greeting. Somehow I don't think this is just about ingredients for Bush Chicken Arthur. "What is it, Summerlee? Is something wrong?"
"Well, yes, there might be," the elderly professor admitted, his brown eyes worried behind his spectacles. "I was going through my things, and I noticed that one of my pistols is looking awfully odd." He held out the weapon in question for Roxton to examine.
Roxton bit back an oath at the sight. The metal of the barrel was mottled and streaked with discolored patches. "What? How did this happen?" he demanded, taking the gun from Summerlee in order to examine it more closely. He was deeply puzzled. I just cleaned all the guns a few days ago; there was no sign of this!
Summerlee shook his head. "I can't begin to guess. But at least a few of the other guns are showing similar signs." At Roxton's disbelieving look, he elaborated, "I was just starting to look through them when I heard the elevator "
"Damn." Roxton dropped the game bag he'd been carrying, all his attention on the crisis confronting him. "I'd better check them all. We can't afford to have anything go wrong with our weapons."
"Indeed not," Summerlee agreed somberly. Then his face brightened a little as he spotted the game bag. "Were you successful? Did you bring back some aviosaurs?"
"Yes, yes, we bagged a few," Roxton replied, still absorbed in examining the discolored gun. After making sure it was unloaded, he peered into the barrel, squinting and angling for the best light. "I can't see any discoloration on the inside, but there's no telling without the proper tools. I'd better examine all the guns, and give any that show signs of discoloring a thorough cleaning. Maybe Challenger might have some idea as to what caused this "
Absorbed in his examination, Roxton didn't notice the reticent look that swiftly crossed Summerlee's face, or the sudden comprehension that caused Marguerite's eyes to widen. "I'll tell George, Roxton. I should let him know about that new specimen, anyway. He'll be anxious to look at it as soon as possible." Although her words were directed at Roxton, her eyes never left Summerlee. She was rewarded with another assessing look, and then a slight nod accompanied by a small smile. She dipped her head in acknowledgment.
"You do that," Roxton mumbled, oblivious to the byplay.
"I'll start work on the other aviosaurs," Summerlee volunteered. "Unless you need my help gathering up the guns first?"
Roxton halted his examination of the weapon long enough to give Summerlee a distracted half-smile, acknowledging his offer even as he declined it. "No, no, I can do that on my own."
"I'll sort the mending pile after I get Challenger," Marguerite murmured as she withdrew the new aviosaur from the game bag. They hadn't field-dressed this specimen, unlike the others, and its appearance caused Summerlee's eyes to gleam with curiosity. "You might need extra cleaning rags, and I have a feeling some of what's in the mending pile might be good for nothing else."
"Yes, I'll need my cleaning supplies." Nodding to Marguerite, Roxton headed to his room to fetch his gun-cleaning equipment.
By the time he returned to the common room, Challenger had emerged from his lab and was examining the new aviosaur with undisguised delight. Marguerite was demonstrating the claws that emerged mid-joint on the forelimbs and describing its movements to the ginger-haired scientist. Summerlee was also listening even as he scalded the other aviosaurs, preparatory to plucking them.
"You say it jumped onto a tree, and used these claws and its hind feet to hook into the bark?" Challenger demanded excitedly.
"It certainly did. I'd say it was at least six or seven feet up before Roxton's bullet brought it down. Wouldn't you agree, Roxton?"
Distracted by the problem of the guns, Roxton still took a moment to try and remember. "About that, yes."
Challenger could scarcely contain his excitement. "And it was still climbing? Extraordinary! Do you realize what this could mean?"
"That we have a climbing dinosaur?" Marguerite drawled.
The inventor practically stamped with impatience at her remark. "Well yes, but much more than that, don't you see? Most theories surrounding flight presuppose a running theropod model - that early flight was propelled from a running start. But this creature!" He extended the forelimbs and hind legs of the aviosaur, running an appreciative finger over the feathers that covered the edges. "This creature suggests that William Beebe was right in theorizing that flight may have evolved from an aboreal origin - that gliders, not runners, were the first step in the evolution of powered flight! It's fantastic! I must get this down to my lab right away, run some tests - and maybe I can preserve the whole specimen "
Roxton shook his head in dismay. Challenger was obviously absorbed in the creature; getting his attention was going to be difficult. "That's all well and good, George, but before you go about potting the beast, I need you to take a look at this." He held out the discolored gun.
Challenger came over to examine the gun, but it was plain that his attention was still mostly on the aviosaur. He did frown and touch the discolored patches. "Hm, yes I see. Most disturbing." He glanced back at the kitchen, where Summerlee was plucking one of the other aviosaurs, and scowled as he saw the older scientist looking curiously at the new specimen. "Keep your hands off, Arthur. I won't have you cooking it! It's far too important!"
"I wouldn't dream of it, George," Summerlee denied, looking at his quondam rival with a near-angelic expression on his bearded face.
"The gun?" Roxton prodded, exasperated.
"Is discolored, yes." The tall scientist straightened up, turning back to his discovery. "And I agree that the discoloration bears investigation. But I can run chemical analyses on scrapings at any time - while this specimen can't wait. I must act to preserve it now."
"But " The protest was useless. Roxton knew it, but he couldn't help himself.
"Is the barrel affected? Would this discoloration prevent the weapon from firing?" Challenger demanded ruthlessly.
"Not on this one," Roxton admitted.
"Then I suggest you clean the guns and save me some scrapings." With that, the tall scientist seized his new find and quickly headed back towards his laboratory, leaving behind a very frustrated hunter.
Many hours later, Roxton was no closer to understanding what could have made the discolorations he'd found. He'd collected every gun he could find in the Treehouse - complaining loudly when he couldn't locate one of the .38-caliber pistols, as well as Malone's regular .45 and rifle, the latter two presumably out with Malone - and inspected them all carefully. About half a dozen of the weapons he'd looked at showed various discolorations on the outside of the barrels - and only on the outsides. The splotches varied in hue, from a nearly indistinguishable blue-grey that blended with gunmetal, to near-black, to an almost vivid purple. The guns didn't correlate to any one person in the Treehouse, either; he'd found splotches on Malone's backup .45, Marguerite's rifle, Challenger's rifle and pistol, and his own elephant gun, as well as Summerlee's pistol. Roxton was taking no chances. After cleaning every visibly affected weapon, he scarcely needed any urging from Summerlee to start in on the ones he didn't see any problems with. Sure enough, two of those had yielded up yellowish stains on the cleaning-rags. He sighed in irritation.
Nearby, Marguerite looked up from sewing buttons back onto one of her blouses and gave him a sympathetic look. "Any luck removing the discolorations?"
"Oh, yes, they're not all that difficult to remove. But I wish I understood what could have caused them in the first place," Roxton grumbled.
"Do you think they're serious?" Summerlee asked from behind him, near the open balcony. The elderly scientist had remained in the common room all afternoon, dividing his time between monitoring the simmering pots on the stove and adding some more detail to one of his botanical paintings.
"They don't appear to have affected any of the critical parts, but without understanding what caused them, I can't begin to say," Roxton answered. He didn't need any mysterious happenings, particularly not today. Unbidden, the thought returned to his mind. Today is the day.
As if in answer to the thought, the elevator suddenly rumbled to life. Roxton's reaction was automatic; he seized the nearest weapon to hand, loaded it, and had it trained on the elevator as it came to the top.
"Whoa!" Malone shouted as he saw the leveled weapon. "What the hell?"
"Roxton!" Veronica snapped at the same moment. "Put that down! What do you think you're doing?"
Sheepishly, Roxton lowered the gun. "Sorry," he mumbled, deeply embarrassed and unsure of what else to say.
"Don't mind him," Marguerite chimed in, shifting her pile of mending. "He discovered some unusual discolorations on some of our guns, and it's made him edgy." She gave the hunter a droll look. "One could even say he's downright cranky."
A frown immediately creased Malone's normally cheerful countenance. "That would make me pretty edgy, too," he confessed. He hurried over to Roxton's side. "Can you show me? Do you know what caused it?"
Roxton felt much better at Malone's immediate understanding that this was important, something to be worried about. "No, but we'd better take a good look at the guns you had today, to make sure they aren't showing the same signs."
Veronica shook her head as the two men immediately started poring over Malone's .45 and rifle. She headed into the kitchen, curious about what was cooking on the stove.
"Well, my guns look all right," Malone concluded after a few minutes.
"I'll clean them anyway, just in case." Roxton was determined to take no chances. "Are you sure you haven't seen the .38? I know you had it a few days ago - do you remember what you did with it?"
Malone shook his head. "I'm pretty sure I put it back on the gun shelf, but I'll double-check my room just in case." At that moment his stomach rumbled loudly. Malone colored, an abashed smile curving his lips. "Maybe after dinner? I'm starved, and whatever's cooking sure smells good."
"Bush chicken?" Veronica asked, inspecting one of the pots.
"Yes. I also have a nice grain, nuts, and vegetable mix that I think you'll like in that other pot," Summerlee confirmed. He added his watercolor brush to the mostly filled jar of dirty brushes, put down his much-spotted brush rag, and made his way into the kitchen.
"Arthur Pilaf, to go with Bush Chicken Arthur? I can't wait," Malone enthused. "I'm sure it will be wonderful."
Summerlee blushed slightly. "I wanted something that would wait well, since we weren't sure when you'd make it home."
"Thank you," Veronica said warmly. "The pilaf smells wonderful, and it's so nice to have food waiting. I'm still not used to it," she confessed in a slightly lower voice.
"Give it time, my dear," Summerlee said softly, patting Veronica's shoulder and giving her a kind smile before turning to the rest of the group. "Everyone wash up. Dinner should be served in ten minutes."
Marguerite, Malone, and Veronica dispersed with cheerful acknowledgments, leaving Roxton sitting in the common room, looking rather blankly out at the jungle. Sure enough, the light was deepening towards evening. He looked to the careful stack of cleaned weapons, to the elevator, already secured for the evening by Veronica, to the aviosaur feathers drying in a mesh bag hanging by the balcony. He shook his head, bewildered. Where has the day gone?
"Come on, Roxton," Summerlee's voice interrupted his thoughts. He looked up to see the elderly professor looking at him, a blend of kindness and curiosity on his face. "You, too. Go wash up." When Roxton didn't move immediately, the curiosity increased, leavened with a measure of concern. "Are you all right, my boy?"
"Yes," Roxton answered, rather uncertainly. "Yes, I am." Before Summerlee could ask any questions, he levered himself to his feet. "You're quite right; I need to wash up after cleaning all those guns."
"Indeed, it's a messy business, and you wouldn't want to delay dinner for the others," Summerlee agreed. "Go on now."
Shaking his head again, Roxton made his way to his room to wash up, unaware that Summerlee watched him every step of the way.
Dinner was over, night had fallen, and Roxton sat in a chair on the balcony, smoking one of his last cigarillos. A glass of brandy sat nearby, mostly untouched. All around him he could hear comfortable, peaceful sounds: Malone relating some story to Veronica, Challenger fussing about in his laboratory, Summerlee washing up dishes in the kitchen. He sighed, slowly relaxing as every moment brought the reality home that much further. The day was over.
A light, familiar step heralded Marguerite's approach. She smiled at him, settling into the other chair on the balcony. "It's a fine evening."
"So it is." Roxton savored the words.
She glanced inquiringly at the glass of brandy sitting nearby, then raised her own glass of juice in a mock toast. "Here's to just another day in the Lost World. Cheers."
As she took a sip of her juice, all the pieces abruptly fell into place for Roxton. Her unusually tolerant attitude even in the face of his moodiness; her uncharacteristic willingness to accompany him hunting; indeed, her presence at his side all day long. It all made perfect sense. After a shocked moment of disbelief, he picked up his own glass and saluted her with it. "How did you know?"
For once Marguerite didn't pretend to misunderstand or give an evasive answer. "Veronica was with you when Catherine told you. She told Malone. Malone wrote it in his journal "
"And you read Malone's journal," Roxton finished for her, no longer surprised.
"Of course," she acknowledged, unembarrassed.
"And you stayed with me all day. And I never guessed." He still couldn't quite believe it. He'd been completely focused on keeping his companions safe from harm - and guilt - just in case this was the day he was destined to die. It had never occurred to him that any of the others knew or remembered the date, much less that they might try to protect him because of it.
"You never even noticed long enough to wonder." Marguerite's tone was dry, but the look she gave him - soft, almost affectionate - belied her delivery. "You weren't exactly at your best today. Small wonder," she added softly, remembering the driven young woman from a future that would never exist.
"The wonder is that you were willing to put up with me," Roxton contradicted, a glow in his eyes. "It can't have been easy."
Marguerite ducked her head, a rare blush tingeing her cheeks with pink. "Dirty job and all that, you know," she muttered, then swiftly turned the subject. "The real wonder is how Summerlee knew."
As Marguerite had intended, that tidbit diverted Roxton. "Summerlee knew?" he yelped, only barely remembering to keep his voice down.
Marguerite smothered a laugh at his indignant expression. "He never came out and said so, but yes, I'm reasonably sure he knew," she drawled. Her suspicions had been roused at breakfast, but the real confirmation had come in the silent exchange after she and Roxton had returned from the hunt. Without that, she might not have connected the unusual number of dirty paintbrushes with the odd stains on Summerlee's brush rag - stains that matched the ones on Roxton's gun-cleaning cloths. But she liked to think she would have seen Summerlee putting down the "missing" .38 under the brush rag when the elevator proved to have no one but Veronica and Malone in it. It was precisely the same thing she'd been doing, replacing the tiny two-shot pistol none of them knew she had under her pile of mending. Neither she nor Summerlee had been taking any chances. Ah, Professor - we're far more alike than I ever could have guessed. "Yes," she said again. "I'm pretty sure of it."
"How? Did you tell him?" Roxton asked, bewildered.
A tiny frown creased Marguerite's forehead. "No," she said truthfully. "I don't know how he knew." She knew there was much more to Summerlee than most of the others guessed; he couldn't have led the top-secret commission advising the wartime government on experimental projects if he was just a simple botanist. But she'd never managed to uncover more than that.
After a moment, Roxton took Marguerite's hand, distracting her from her musings on Summerlee. "Thank you," he said softly. "I owe you both."
Marguerite smiled up at him, for once not pulling away. "For my part, you're welcome, Lord Roxton. And as for Summerlee maybe you should let him keep his little secret. Somehow I don't think he wants to be thanked."
"Maybe," Roxton rumbled, thoughts of Summerlee rapidly disappearing from his mind. "Maybe so. But since I can thank you "
In the kitchen, Summerlee dried dishes and watched the two talking on the balcony, smiling as he saw Roxton formally kiss Marguerite's hand. He'd never let them know he could lip-read every word they said. How right you are, Marguerite; we all like keeping our little secrets. You're welcome for my part too, Roxton. You deserve this happiness. "Ah yes," he sighed under his breath. Putting down the last dish, he picked up the glass he'd poured himself earlier and raised it in a solitary toast. "To June 23, 1920. A perfectly ordinary day." With a quiet chuckle, he drained the glass dry.
Some notes on the sequence of events: