The shooting party made their way slowly back to the house, fatigue beginning to settle in, but the excitement of the day's sport and the anticipation of one of Mrs Constantine's famous meat pies keeping them in high spirits. When they reached the stable yard, they handed their guns to the boys waiting for them, and made their way eagerly to the dining room. They found the table already set and the dishes already waiting for them. Henry lingered at the back of the party, giving directions to his staff and speaking a moment with his guests as they filed into the house. When he got to the door Mrs Constantine, the housekeeper and maker of pies extrordinaire, was waiting for him.
"Mr King arrived while you were out, sir."
"Peter? He must dine with us," Henry said, as he slowly made his way across the hall. Mrs Constantine stopped him.
"Yes sir, adding another setting shall be no trouble, but Mr King asked to see you in your study the moment you returned," she said. Henry frowned slightly. "I don't think it's anything to worry about, sir, but he did say it was important."
"Thank you, Mrs Constantine. Tell the party I shall be there in a moment."
"Very good, sir."
And with that the two parted company. Henry smiled as he entered the study, and found Mr Peter King standing by the fire helping himself to a large glass of port. They shook hands warmly and enquired after each other's health politely for a moment or two. Henry settled himself in one of the plush armchairs which sat in front of the large, dancing flames, and indicated his companion do the same.
"And now you must tell me what was so important," he prompted. Mr King smiled as he sat down.
"Ever the businessman, Henry."
"It is the effect of Blackwood."
"Shall you ever love a woman as much as you do this house?" Mr King asked with a smile.
"One can only hope," Henry chuckled. "Come, tell me. I thought you were still in Scotland."
"We were. But some matters of business came up." He paused and glanced at Henry before he continued. "We must go to Antigua."
"Elizabeth and I."
"We are leaving her with her governess, Mrs Granger."
"How long shall you be gone for?"
"Several months, we think, but we cannot be certain," Mr King sighed.
"And your reason for calling on me?"
"Isobel," was the simple reply.
"Isobel?" Henry asked.
"Elizabeth and I have not taken the decision to leave her lightly."
"Of course," Henry murmured.
"I comfort myself it shall all be for her benefit. But Elizabeth is concerned about her care if…if something were the happen to us."
"You are her godfather, Henry," Mr King affirmed, "So we would like to ask, if something were to happen to us while we are away, that you will ensure Isobel is taken care of? I do not mean you must take her in, but find her somewhere, or someone, who will look after her."
"I would do everything in my power, Peter, to make sure she had everything she could possibly need or want."
Mr King appeared to sigh with relief. "Thank you, Henry, that is a great weight off my mind."
"Were you in any doubt of my accepting. You know I love that child as if she were my own."
"Indeed, but taking that kind of responsibility for her would be quite another thing. You are still young and single-"
"And any woman who could not accept Isobel would not be worthy of me," Henry interrupted. Mr King chuckled. "You have heard George's news?"
"Elizabeth wrote to Augusta to congratulate them," Mr King replied.
"I do not think I have ever seen a man so excitable as George was when he told me."
"Not even me, Henry?"
"Not even you, Peter."
"And how is Caldenia?"
"You mean is she still pestering me to find a bride?" Henry asked. Mr King gave a slight inclination of the head in reply. "I believe I am in no danger until Augusta's child has arrived."
"And then I may have to feign illness."
"It cannot be that bad?"
"I was made to dance with Patricia Harlow last season," Henry replied, as if this were all the explanation needed. Mr King chuckled. "You do not know how lucky you are, Peter."
"I believe I am beginning to appreciate it, Henry." There was a pause before Henry stood up and beckoned Mr King to follow him.
"And now you must come and dine with us. Mrs Constantine has been convinced to cook the party her famous meat pies."
"Then how could I refuse?" Mr King smiled.
Two years later
Henry pulled his large, thick winter coat closer around him as he watched the carriage approach along the drive. The wind was fierce and large grey clouds loomed threateningly overhead. Discarded leaves blew everywhere and Henry worried he would not be able to keep his feet firmly on the ground much longer. Finally the carriage stopped at the bottom the entrance steps, and Henry descended them as the carriage door was opened. Peering into the dark space he found two shapely, green eyes staring back at him. He reached out a large, masculine hand to her, and tentatively, she placed her tiny hand in his. He carefully helped her down the carriage steps and then waited a moment as her eyes drifted up to the sight of Blackwood. For that moment he just stared at her, the little girl who looked so much like her father, with her long, deep brown curls and her long, elegant face. And yet, there was something of her mother about her, something in the expression of her eyes. Elizabeth had had the same shaped eyes, which betrayed every emotion. Suddenly, he saw pools of tears begin to form in the little girl's shapely, green eyes, and with concern he knelt down, taking her other hand in his free one. There was a silence where the two just looked at one another. Henry did not know what to say – he felt guilty. He had promised her father he would ensure she was looked after, but his attentions to her situation had faltered, and she had been left to be passed from one distant relative to the next.
"Isobel…" he began, before faltering at the loss of words.
"Uncle Henry?" she questioned, her voice cracking tearfully. And then she could control them no longer and fell into his arms. Henry pulled her tightly into his embrace and, standing once more, wrapped his large coat around her too, making what he hoped were soothing noises.
"I am here now," he whispered as he climbed the steps to the house. "I am here."