"Welcome, welcome!" greeted Mrs Noble enthusiastically, as Mr Smith was shown to the drawing room by the serving girl Miss Peth, along with Miss Noble, who had greeted him outside.
Mr Smith raised his eyebrows at the zealous display and murmured his gratitude for the family allowing him to visit, before glancing around the drawing room, looking for one particular face. He frowned when he could not see it.
"Everything all right, Mr Smith?" asked Mrs Noble, worried that she had missed something in their tidying up of earlier.
He cleared his throat. "Oh yes, yes, perfectly fine," he assured her. "I was just wondering where - "
"Oh! Father is in his study, you know how he is! I'll have Miss Peth take you there."
He shook his head slightly. "No, no, it's quite all right, I remember the way. I'll, er, see you at dinner. Thank you, ladies," he bowed his head to them, and exited the drawing room.
Miss Noble pursed her lips in amusement at his haste.
"Donna? Why are you laughing?"
"I suspect, Mother, that it was not Grandfather he was looking for."
Mrs Noble frowned and turned around in a circle. "Oh. Where did Miss Tyler disappear to?"
On his way to Mr Mott's study, he stumbled across Miss Tyler. It was a very fortuitous circumstance, for he had been meaning to find her at some point in the day, preferably sooner rather than later.
"Mr Smith, you have returned," Miss Tyler smiled, as she placed an armful of books on the table beside her.
"Yes," he murmured, simply watching her for a moment.
Miss Tyler arched an eyebrow. "What is it?"
He cleared his throat. "Nothing. Indeed, I was meaning to ask how you were. Have you been well, whilst I've been away?"
"Should I have become ill the moment you stepped out of Leadworth?" she asked wryly.
Mr Smith chuckled. "Not at all. My, I'd forgotten how quickly in the conversation you could best me."
"Well, it's not difficult to do," she teased.
His eyes widened. "I rather think I should be offended by that!"
"But you aren't."
"No. No, I'm not," he confirmed quietly.
Miss Tyler swallowed and glanced at her books for a moment. "I'd better take these back to the library…"
"Right, yes, of course! I ought to find Mr Mott, anyway," he nodded quickly.
She picked up the pile of books again, about to leave, before asking, "Is this a fleeting visit? Only Miss Peth informs me that you have no luggage, yet I'd assumed by your letter you meant to stay with us awhile?"
"Ah yes, my luggage is following me here via carriage," he assured her quickly. "I'm not sure how long I shall stay – as long as Wilfred allows me to, I'd wager."
Miss Tyler nodded amiably. "I'm pleased."
He quirked an eyebrow, absurdly chuffed at her response. "Is that so?"
"Yes," she nodded again, and his grin widened, but then she continued, "For if you stay for a while it is likely you'll be able to meet Mr Harkness when he returns from his post."
The grin faded from Mr Smith's face. "Mr…Harkness? Who's he, then?"
"He's a friend of mine and Donna's who has been staying with us for a month or so. He left yesterday with his regiment," Miss Tyler explained.
"He was disappointed that he wouldn't be able to meet you this time, but assures me that he'll hurry back as soon as he is able. Then you can make each other's acquaintance."
"Mmm," Mr Smith agreed, smiling tightly. "Can't wait."
"Excellent! We shall all be the best of friends. Now, if you'll excuse me - "
He swiftly interrupted her before she could leave. "- Rose?"
She blinked in surprise at his uncomfortable expression. "Yes?"
Mr Smith reached a hand up to tug on his ear. "I was just…well, I was wondering…" He cleared his throat then lowered his voice to murmur, "In the morning, before breakfast, would you like to recommence our stroll through the gardens together?"
"If that pleases you," she replied eagerly.
"Well, yes. But do you wish to?"
"Oh indeed, Mr Smith," she smiled, and he sighed in relief because it was that smile. The smile he'd drawn so effortlessly the night before. The smile he'd seen directed at him so often during his earlier stay at Chiswick House. "I wish it very much. We have much to talk about!"
"Quite right," he replied. He nodded in the direction of Mr Mott's study. "I'll go and say hello to Wilfred now."
"And I'll go to the library," she replied, still smiling. "I'll see you at dinner?"
"Oh yes," he confirmed, as he watched her nod and walk away. And he murmured to himself, "Yes indeed."