"You're a man of unusual abilities and intelligence. You have wealth, and the prospect of acquiring much more. There's no logic in letting all that go to waste."
A smile touched Cam's lips. Although Westcliff was an open-minded man, he had strong opinions about how people should live. His values—among them honor, industry, and advancement—were not consistent with the Rom's To the earl, nature was something to be managed and organized—flowers must be contained in garden beds, animals must be trained or hunted, land must be cleared. And a young man must be steered into productive enterprise and led to marry a proper woman with whom he would build a solid British family.
"Why would it be a waste?
"A man must raise himself to his fullest potential," came the earl's unhesitating reply. "You could never do that living as a Roma. Your basic needs—food and shelter-would barely be met. You would face constant persecution How in God's name could such a life appeal to you, when you have almost everything a man could possibly want
Cam shrugged. "It's freedom."
Westcliff shook his head. "If you want land, you h. the means to purchase large amounts of it. If you want horses, you can buy a string of Thoroughbreds and hunters. If you want?
"That's not freedom. How much of your time is spent directing estate affairs, investments, companies, having meetings with agents and brokers, traveling to Bristol and London?"
Westcliff looked affronted. "Are you telling me in earnest that you are considering giving up your employment, your ambitions, your future … in favor of traveling the earth in a vardo?
"Yes. I'm considering it."
Westcliff's coffee-colored eyes narrowed. "And you think after years of living a productive life in London that you would adjust happily to an existence of aimless wandering?"
"It's the life I was meant for. In your world, I'm nothing but a novelty."
"A damned successful novelty. And you have the opportunity to be a representative for your people?
"God help me." Cam had begun to laugh helplessly. "If it ever comes to that, I should be shot." The earl picked up the silver letter seal from the corner of his desk, examining the engraved base of it with undue concentration. He used the edge of his thumbnail to remove a hardened droplet of sealing wax that had marred the polished surface. Cam was not deceived by Westcliff's sudden diffidence.
"One can't help but notice," the earl murmured, "that while you're considering a change in your entire way of life, you also seem to have taken a conspicuous interest in Miss Hathaway."
Cam's expression didn't change, the barrier of his smile firmly fixed. "She's a beautiful woman. I'd have to be blind not to notice her. But that's hardly going to change my future plans."
"Ever," Cam returned, pausing as he heard the unnecessary intensity of his own voice. He adjusted his tone a once. "I've decided to leave in two days, after St. Vincent and I confer on a few matters regarding the club. It's not likely I'll see Miss Hathaway again." Thank God, he added privately.
The handful of encounters he'd had with Amelia Hathaway were uniquely troubling. Cam couldn't recall when, if ever, he had been so affected by a woman. He was no one to involve himself in other peoples' affairs. He was loath to give advice, and he spent little time considering problems that didn't directly concern him. But he was irresistibly drawn to Amelia. She was so deliciously serious minded, so busy trying to manage everyone in her sphere, was an ungodly temptation to distract her. Make her laugh. Make her play. And he could, if he wished. Knowing that made it all the more difficult to stay away from her. The tenacious connections she had formed with the others in her family, the extent she would go to take care of them… that appealed to him on an instinctual level. The Rom were like that. Tribal. And yet Amelia was his opposite in the most essential ways, a creature of domesticity who would insist on putting down roots. Ironic, that he should be so fascinated by someone who represented everything he needed to escape from.
It seemed the entire county turned out for the Mop Fair, which according to tradition had been held every October the twelfth for at least a hundred years. The village, with its tidy shops and white and black thatched cottages, was almost absurdly charming. Crowds milled about the distinctive oval village green or strolled along the main thoroughfare where a multitude of temporary stalls and booths had been erected. Vendors sold penny toys, foodstuffs, bags of salt from Lymington, glassware and fabrics, and pots of local honey.
The music of singers and fiddlers was punctuated by bursts of applause as entertainers performed tricks for passers-by. Most of the work-hiring had been done earlier in the day, with hopeful laborers and apprentices standing in lines on the village green, talking to potential employers. After an agreement was made, a fasten-penny was given to the newly hired servant, and the rest of the day was spent in merrymaking.
Merripen had gone in the morning to find two or three suitable servants for Ramsay House. With that business concluded, he returned to the village in late afternoon, accompanied by the entire Hathaway family. They were all delighted by the prospect of music, food, and entertainment. Leo promptly disappeared with a pair of village women, leaving his sisters in Merripen's charge.
Browsing among the stalls, the sisters feasted on hand-sized pork pies, leek pasties, apples and pears, and to the girls delight, "gingerbread husbands." The gingerbread had been pressed into wooden man-shaped molds, baked and gilded. The baker at the stall assured them that every unmarried maiden must eat a gingerbread husband for luck, if she wanted to catch the real thing someday.