The next morning he found the hat again on his doorstep, again filled with eggs. He brought them inside and carried the hat out with him in an angry fit. One day he could forgive, the man didn’t know, but when he’d told him he’d tend his own chores and he’d done it anyway, well, that just made him angry.
Again he found the horses groomed, fed and the stalls cleaned and he rounded the house ready for a fight. He found Daniel in the coop, prying old half rotten boards off the nesting boxes. Teagan threw the hat and it hit with a satisfying whap against the man’s strong back.
“Had to get the eggs out before working on the boxes.” Daniel said as another board pulled away. “Won’t step over my bounds tomorrow, sir.”
Which entirely stole all of Teagan’s wrath. “Well, good!” He tried to sound angry but he’d always been a lousy liar. With nothing pressing to do, he went back inside and ate a grumpy, solitary breakfast. The day repeated itself and when he went back outside before noon, he found his yard empty.
He never found a hat full of eggs outside his door again and the chickens looked very put out at having to wait until he’d gotten awake to be fed. He found himself less angry at the stalls being already mucked clean and the horses fed but none of the grooming had been finished. It was a good compromise and one he thought he could live with.
Daniel had spent the morning cleaning the leather of the harnesses and tack and had moved on to the wagon by the time Teagan had emerged from the house. He nodded at the slender man’s greeting but kept his focus on the job he was doing. The wagon was a decent size and in good repair but the maintenance had been over looked. He jacked it up to wrestle the wheels off to re-grease the axils.
The slender man returned while he was still busy struggling with the wagon and from the corner of his eye he saw Teagan sit down on an old milking stool, basket of eggs carefully placed beside him. For once, the darker haired man said nothing and Daniel dismissed his watching to check the front axle and smear the thick grease in place.
As with any project, nothing went smoothly for the whole affair. One wheel just didn’t want to return to its place and Daniel struggled with it. It really was a two man job but then, it wasn’t his nature to blame a missing pair of hands for his troubles.
A second, paler, set of hands braced themselves near his own and he glanced up to meet stubborn deep green. There was a challenge in them and he frowned, knowing this wasn’t what his employer had in mind. It just seemed stupid to fight over it, if Teagan thought himself capable of it he’d accept the help. Daniel stayed frowning but he nodded and together they angled and wrestled the wheel back into place. He didn’t even try to refuse the other man’s help on the last wheel.
The work left them both panting and tired and Daniel happily flopped down onto the wood plank floor beside Teagan once he’d gotten the jack lowered and pulled away. The other man was paler than he had been and he had his head propped back against a post support beam, eyes shut.
Daniel almost asked him if he was okay or if this was normal for him or just what was wrong with him but he wasn’t comfortable prying. “Your uncle has a load of lumber for you in the town. I’ll pick it up this afternoon, be back before dark.”
“Lunch first?” He lifted his head and it felt light.
“No, sir, will lose the light.” He pushed himself to his feet and moved to get the draft horses in the harness. When he had the wagon ready, Teagan’s coloring had improved and the man didn’t look quite as much like a corpse. He nodded and got on his way.
It was late when the wagon returned, the sound of it woke Teagan from where he’d drifted to sleep curled up in his father’s chair by the fire. The sound carried in through the open window and he awoke chilled from the cool spring breeze. He shut the window and straightened his clothes before, getting a drink and going out to help unload the wagon.
When he pulled the door open he caught Daniel almost on the threshold. He thrust out the wrapped package he was holding. “Mr. Roberts’ said to have this sent to you when I picked up the lumber.” He pressed the package of fresh meat at the slender man and ducked his head as he moved back to the barn to unload the wagon.
Teagan took the wrapped bundle and shook his head. His uncle nagged at him to eat more fresh meats and he was half frightened it was more liver. He hated liver, with a passion, and was forced to eat it for his health most of his life. The paper peeled back to show it was fresh pork, not liver and that was a better choice. It would be plenty to keep him fed for days and a thoughtful touch on his uncle’s part.
The wagon unloaded quickly with two working at it and Teagan moved to help as much as he could but Daniel worked with single-minded focus. The man simply never spoke and Teagan wasn’t sure if any conversation would be welcomed. It didn’t seem like Daniel wanted to be friendly, let alone friends, and he could respect that.
“I’m going to make dinner, would you care to stay and have some?” The sun was setting and it would be dark soon.
Daniel got the latch closed on the last stall door, finishing what he was doing as if he hadn’t heard the offer. It wasn’t until the horse was secure and safe before he spoke. “Thank you but I should get home, sir.”
It hadn’t even occurred to him that the silent man might consider it awkward to stay. Or, maybe, he had someone waiting for him at the woodsman’s cottage he’d moved into. He really did know nothing about the man. “Of course, well, thank you.”
“Yes sir.” He nodded and dropped his eyes but it wasn’t noticed, the slender man had turned and retreated from the barn, leaving Daniel to find his own way home.
He knocked on the door but didn’t have to wait long for it to be opened. The housemaid smiled broadly and Teagan grinned back at her. “Afternoon Mary, is Mrs. Roberts in?”
“Of course,” she smiled wider trying to be mannerly but turned her head and shouted. “Miss! Master Teagan’s here for ya!”
“Mary!” Elizabeth scolded instantly, she’d been hovering in the door to the parlor. “That’s no way to introduce guests.”
“He ain’t a guest, miss, he’s family.”
“Still! Shouting like that…”
“It’s okay Lizzie.” He held out the basket he’d brought with him. “I have far too many eggs, thought you could use them.”
Lizzie took the basket and tsked at how full it was. “Did you save any for yourself?”
He peeled off his outer coat and hung it on a peg inside his uncle’s foyer. “The hens are laying too well, they’ll just go to waste at my house. Please, take them and put them to good use. Make that custard Uncle Robin loves so much.”
“Well, thank you.” She passed the basket to Mary. “Bring in tea, please Mary. You will be staying to have tea, won’t you Teagan?”
“Right away, Miss.”
“I’ve no other plans this afternoon.”
“Good.” Lizzie took her nephew’s arm and led him into the parlor. “I was just sitting her bored silly with the mending and praying someone would come by to entertain me.”
“Where are the children?”
“Cece has them outside, playing in the sunshine to spare me a headache.” She tried not to fuss at how pale he was or the dark circles under his eyes as she pressed him into a chair. As children, she’d been quite taken with him; he was quiet and thoughtful when the other boys were rowdy and loud. It wasn’t until she was nearly a young woman that she understood why he didn’t run around like so many of the other children and it was her father that warned her that there was no future with a husband that wouldn’t live long enough to see children, let alone grandchildren.
They chatted about non-important things, gossip about family and the town until the tea arrived and Lizzie pulled her legs up under her on the chair and balanced the fine china cup in the palm of her hand. “Well?” She prodded now that there was no further need for any of the servants to bother them and she could stop acting like the lady of the house. “Tell me about him?” “About whom?” Teagan raised and eyebrow and sipped his tea.
“You rat! You know who I mean, Daniel O’Raian of course, he’s all the town will talk about.”
“There’s nothing to speak of, he works like a dog and says as little.”
“He is quite silent.”
“You’ve met him?”
“Of course I have, your uncle brought him by here the day he came home with him. Told me if I ever needed anything that Mr. O’Raian was utterly trustworthy.” She held back that it had been her suggestion to sic the quiet man on Teagan. “He seems quite dashing.”
“You’re married Lizzie.” He reminded her with a grin.
She waved the reminder off. “I only speak so casually with you and your uncle. I may flirt about other men but honestly, your uncle has my heart.” She brushed auburn curls back from her shoulder and smiled warmly. “Now, he’s been here over a week, tell me of him.”
“Nothing to tell, Lizzie, he works hard and barely speaks. I did finally get him to eat lunch today, he’s been up on the barn roof doing repairs. He refused to come into the house to eat but sat on the porch instead.”
“You’re not giving the poor thing a hard time of it, are you Teagan?”
He looked insulted. “Me?”
She raised her eyebrows at him and looked stern.
“No, I’m not. It gulls me to admit that I need the help but I do. I don’t like having the reminder of what I should be so obviously in front of me but when my sister was more of a man than me, I’ve learned to accept my limitations with as much grace as I can muster.”
“Oh, listen to you. Rebecca was as strong and healthy as an ox, and twice as stubborn and you spent most of your childhood a-bed. Can’t help that, dearest.”
He covered his distaste with a sip of the tea. “And what’s this poor thing comment? The man is as solid as a stone wall, nothing poor about him.”
She placed her cup down. “You haven’t heard?”
“I haven’t been to town in quite a while.”
“Oh, well, Mr. O’Raian was a conscript. They took him into the army when he was barely fourteen and sent him to fight in the colonies. When he came back, his mother and sisters were just gone, all of his family, simply vanished. He’s not a soul in the world to care if he lives or dies. Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever heard?”
He wasn’t sure it was the saddest thing he’d ever heard but it wasn’t a cheerful bit of the man’s history. It explained some of the silence and the distance Daniel carried and it made Teagan a little more willing to see it as just how the man was and not a snub. He always automatically assumed it was because of his own nature. So many people were just disturbed by him, of the reminder of how fragile their own health was, that he had gotten used to assuming cold distance from strangers was his own doing.
It surely gave him a great deal to think about. So much so that he wasn’t as firm as he normally was when refusing the food Lizzie tried to push him to accept. He found himself laden down with butter, cheese, bread, milk, jam and dried apples. So much food, in fact, that he had to borrow a larger basket to get it all home in and so distracted was he that he was half way there before he saw just how much she’d sneaked into it.
He was prepared today, the glut of food demanded that Teagan get some help eating it and he had cooked up a hot stew to go with the chunks of bread and butter Lizzie had sent home with him. It was ready before noon which gave him an advantage, he’d had to almost blackmail the silent woodsman into eating lunch with him before. Today he was going to try a simpler approach.
“Mr. O’Raian?” Teagan called up toward the barn roof, not trusting himself on the tall ladder. If he got dizzy or light headed halfway up he’d have to be helped down like a child.
It took a second, Teagan was learning that nothing moved the man until he’d finished whatever work was before him, but he didn’t have to call twice. Daniel walked within view. His waistcoat had been discarded and his shirt hung loose around his collar. His sleeves had been rolled up and his hat was sitting on the back of his head. He looked a hundred feet tall and like some mythical demi-god capable of anything. For a moment, Teagan forgot what he was going to say.
“I’ve lunch ready, come eat.” He phrased it as an order not a request.
Daniel paused, hammer in hand and finally nodded.
“Well, that was easier than I’d feared.” He muttered to himself and lingered to watch the silent man ease himself gracefully onto the top rungs on the tall ladder. Strong hands gripped old wood and with no fear and solid strength, Daniel scurried down the rungs. It made Teagan think things he had no place or right to think and he shook his head and turned away.
They ate in silence, on the porch because Teagan refused to eat inside when his company ate outside. Daniel sat on the edge of the small wood porch, hat sitting beside him and ate with what Teagan thought was enthusiasm.
“Lizzie, my Uncle’s wife, she said that she heard the United Irishmen caught a spy last week, over in Dublin.” He made an attempt at conversation. He had no idea, really, where the silent man’s loyalties were but he trusted his uncle’s. Daniel didn’t even flinch or glance up. “I’ll never understand what makes a man betray his people like that.”
Daniel put his plate down, empty but that was simply because he had inhaled the last few bites. He stood up and gathered his hat back. “Thank you for lunch, sir.” He answered softly and moved to leave before he spoke out of turn.
There was something different in how the quiet man was holding his shoulders, or maybe it was in the soft control to the tone of his voice. Teagan put his own plate down and stood up. “I’m sorry, Mr. O’Raian.” The words stopped Daniel a few paces away. “My family has always told me to never speak of politics or religion. It’s just…” he shook his head. “It’s the only bit of gossip I have that might have interested you. I can’t see you being concerned with Mr. Dunne’s cow having whiptail or the Sullivan’s sheep getting loose again.”
Daniel crushed his hat in his hands but his back was to the slender man. “I’ve no interest in politics or talk of rebellion.” He said flatly but couldn’t leave it there. “You asked why someone would do that? Fear, sir.” He wasn’t in the mood to explain further and walked back to the barn to try to get the section of the roof he was working on finished.
It gave Teagan a lot to think about. Not just about the nature of spies and traitors but about his silent handyman too. The answer was so much further thought out than Teagan had ever expected that he had to wonder. He’d thought the man’s silence was just his nature, then, taken with what Lizzie had told him of the man’s history, his nature and his military training. Anyone fairly raised by the army would learn to hold their tongue and keep their silence, and Daniel did follow orders easily and without question. Now, he wondered if the man’s quiet way covered deeper thoughts and a surprisingly intelligent mind. The mystery of it was almost enough to make up for the intrusion of the man into his life.
The pen twirled easily in between his fingers which made for a pretty spin but didn’t get any words onto the paper. The right phrases just weren’t coming out and Teagan sighed again and scratched his nose, unknowingly smearing a spot of ink. His plan to write up a new stirring pamphlet for his uncle and his friends wasn’t as easy as it sounded. He knew what he wanted to say, what comparisons he wanted to draw but when he sat to write it all he could hear in his head was Daniel O’Raian saying the caught spy had been afraid.
A knock on his door broke his thoughts and startled him so badly that the pen dropped. Luckily there was no ink still fresh on the quill and nothing splattered on the paper. His uncle didn’t knock, none of the neighbors ever came by, not since his father had passed away. The very oddity of the knock had him hurrying to the door.
Daniel stood on the other side, waistcoat and jacket back on, coat tossed over an arm and hat in hand. “Sir.”
“I’m finished today, sir.” Daniel swallowed hard and nodded to the roof. “Worst is fixed.”
Teagan frowned. “Thank you.”
“It’s just, your Uncle, Mr. Roberts, sir, he’s work for me. I won’t be by tomorrow, sir.”
“Might be gone for a couple of days, I’m to accompany him on his travels, sir.”
Which wasn’t the duty of a woodsman. “Well, travel safely.”
“It’s…” Daniel drew a breath and had to drop his eyes. He just couldn’t keep his thoughts straight with this wide, dark green eyes watching him. “I was looking at the garden sir. It’s about a third what was once ploughed, yes?”
He nodded. “Yes, while my father was alive. I can’t, the plough is too much for me, I can’t till it. I’ve had to let it go fallow and just keep what I can maintain.”
“I thought, since I’ll be in town anyway, to pick up seed potatoes, grain, squash and beans, things like that. Won’t take much to get that other part back in order, sir.” Which wasn’t a lie, it would be work, yes, but one that Daniel didn’t mind.
“I don’t know if my Uncle intended you to farm, that seems like a lot of work beyond the repairs.”
Daniel shrugged. “Wouldn’t mind it and my orders are just to see to what needs tending.”
He remembered how it looked, when his father had been alive and the garden had been heavy with fresh produce. It had been nice to not have to go begging to Lizzie’s kitchen for an onion because he’d run out of what he’d been able to grow on his own. “Thank you, I’d be grateful for the help, on the condition that you take some of the harvests with you.”
“No, sir.” He glanced up and prayed that his face didn’t show how the sight of ink smudged on the side of the pale nose made his heart beat faster.
“It’s only fair. You’ll be doing more than half the work. I’m sure my uncle warned you, I’m stubborn, it’s the only way I’ll accept such help.”
“As you say, sir.” Which wasn’t entirely an agreement but he knew better then to stand around and debate the divvying up of as of yet un-grown vegetables. “I’ll be by when I get back.”
“Thank you for letting me know.” The wind gusted and swirled around the house, puffing up across Daniel and drifting across Teagan. On it was the smell of rain and something more, hay and sawdust, sweat and strong, vital, powerful male. It hit him like a dropped brick and Teagan knew it wasn’t his thin blood or weak heart that made his knees suddenly feel weak. He stood, stunned, like a fool, in the door way as Daniel nodded and turned to leave. He was still standing there long after the man had ridden from sight.