Normally, Bentner would have beamed approvingly at the pretty portrait the girls made, but this morning, as he put out butter and jam, he had grim news to impart and a confession to make. As he swept the cover off the scones he gave his news and made his confession.
“We had a guest last night,” he told Elizabeth. “I slammed the door on him.”
“Who was it?”
“A Mr. Ian Thornton.”
Elizabeth stifled a horrified chuckle at the image that called to mind, but before she could comment Bentner said fiercely, “I regretted my actions afterward! I should have invited him inside, offered him refreshment, and slipped some of that purgative powder into his drink. He’d have had a bellyache that lasted a month!”
“Bentner,” Alex sputtered, “you are a treasure!”
“Do not encourage him in these fantasies,” Elizabeth warned wryly. “Bentner is so addicted to mystery novels that he occasionally forgets that what one does in a novel cannot always be done in real life. He actually did a similar thing to my uncle last year.”
“Yes, and he didn’t return for six months,” Bentner told Alex proudly.
“And when he does come,” Elizabeth reminded him with a frown to sound severe, “he refuses to eat or drink anything.”
“Which is why he never stays long,” Bentner countered, undaunted. As was his habit whenever his mistress’s future was being discussed, as it was now, Bentner hung about to make suggestions as they occurred to him. Since Elizabeth had always seemed to appreciate his advice and assistance, he found nothing odd about a butler sitting down at the table and contributing to the conversation when the only guest was someone he’d known since she was a girl.
“It’s that odious Belhaven we have to rid you of first,” Alexandra said, returning to their earlier conversation. “He hung about last night, glowering at anyone who might have approached you.” She shuddered. “And the way he ogles you. It’s revolting. It’s worse than that; he’s almost frightening.”
Bentner heard that, and his elderly eyes grew thoughtful as he recalled something he’d read about in one of his novels. “As a solution it is a trifle extreme,” he said, “but as a last resort it could work.”
Two pairs of eyes turned to him with interest, and he continued, “I read it in The Nefarious Gentleman. We would have Aaron abduct this Belhaven in our carriage and bring him straightaway to the docks, where we’ll sell him to the press gangs.”
Shaking her head in amused affection, Elizabeth said, “I daresay he wouldn’t just meekly go along with Aaron.”
“And I don’t think,” Alex added, her smiling gaze meeting Elizabeth’s, “a press gang would take him. They’re not that desperate.”
“There’s always black magic,” Bentner continued. “In Deathly Endeavors there was a perpetrator of ancient rites who cast an evil spell. We would require some rats’ tails, as I recall, and tongues of-“
“No,” Elizabeth said with finality.
“-lizards,” Bentner finished determinedly.
“Absolutely not,” his mistress returned.
“And fresh toad old, but procuring that might be tricky. The novel didn’t say how to tell fresh from-“
“Bentner!” Elizabeth exclaimed, laughing. “You’ll cast us all into a swoon if you don’t desist at once.”
When Bentner had padded away to seek privacy for further contemplation of solutions, Elizabeth looked at Alex. “Rats’ tails and lizards’ tongues,” she said, chuckling. “No wonder Bentner insists on having a lighted candle in his room all night.”
“He must be afraid to close his eyes after reading such things,” Alex agreed.