Sorry for not having updated for so long! I have been very busy lately, but I have been working on this chapter by chunks. I am now introducing a new character-Andrew's sister Rose. She's met Charley in France, as a VAD. I will be telling her "back story" from time to time-I'm actually considering making a separate story with her as a central character. I'll be doing the same for Lilly too, in the future. Hope you enjoy this chapter!
Helena Rose Farnsworth—known to many as Rose, looked at herself in the pocket mirror she held. God above, she looked dusty and grimy. But at least, she is back home, in her native land. Finally demobbed, and she would be able to get back on her two feet.
Andrew wrote to her a month ago, informing her that he was going to get married again. To a former VAD, a very nice girl named Charlotte. Mother also wrote, saying that Charlotte had been in the QARANC, would probably remember her, as she had been billeted to France too. Rose tried to remember her in a sea of names. She shook her head, finally giving up. Whoever she was, she would find out.
The cab Rose hailed finally stopped at her brother's home, hoping to catch anyone at home to refresh herself and probably rest a bit and then go to her parents' home. The driver helped Rose down, and carried the suitcase to her eldest brother's doorstep. The house looked cosy and warm. Taking a deep breath, Rose knocked, using the brass knocker. She was glad that it was her eldest brother who inherited Aunt Alicia's house—he knew how to take care of things and keep them in proper order. The maid who opened the door interrupted Rose's thoughts. Rose introduced herself.
"Is…is my brother, Mr. Andrew Farnsworth at home today? I'm his sister, Rose." Upon that introduction, the maid's eyes opened wide. "Oh miss, it's such a shame, he's at Caxton Hall—he's going to be married today. Would you like to rest for a bit and make yourself look brand new?" Rose nodded "Yes please. And thank you. And you are Jenny, aren't you?" The maid nodded. Andrew, in passing, wrote about hiring a small number of staff, even trying to locate Mrs. Gibson, the former family cook, whom Andrew managed to find and hire as part of his household. He wrote about them, and what they looked like,
Jenny led Rose to a small room where there was a washstand—a high, wide white table topped with a rectangular white lace doily, which Rose presumed to be new. There was also a white jug with blue flowers, and a scalloped mouth. With the jug was a matching bowl, both of which Rose recognised from the days of when Aunt Alicia was alive. Beside the bowl and jug was a small white scallop-shaped china dish that held a small cake of lavender scented soap from Yardley. Rose poured water into the bowl, and began to wash her face. In no time, she looked fresh and clean again—at least, her face was. Her clothes were another matter. Fishing her handkerchief from her skirt pocket, she tried to dust her coat clean. Rose sighed. She wasn't dressed for a wedding—she wore a plain white blouse and a dark-grey gabardine skirt. Over her simple outfit was a charcoal-grey coat of pre-war quality, obviously four or five years out of fashion, but it was the best Rose could do.
When Rose got out of the small wash-room, Jenny the maid offered to help her dress into a new frock if she wished. "Would you like to get yourself changed, Miss Rose? So you feel fresh and clean." For a moment, Rose decided against it, and she wavered. "I suppose it won't take too long if I change into a new blouse." Jenny nodded and led Rose to the spare-room, where her large suitcase and valise sat next to the bed. With great economy of movement, Rose took off her coat, blouse and skirt, which Jenny took. "I'm going to iron it, Miss Rose. It's a bit crumpled, if you don't mind me sayin'. I'll be back in two ticks and help you with a blouse of your own choosin'."
Rose smiled. "You're right. Thank you, Jenny."
Jenny was true to her word. How she managed it Rose had no idea, but she was thankful. Jenny also had a pink-and-white striped ribbon to cover the stark simplicity of the black velvet band of Rose's straw boater hat.
Rose changed into a pale pink lace blouse, and Jenny re-arranged her hair. The maid admired her hair. For that, Rose was astonished, as she never took much notice of her own hair before. She was glad she did not get it cut like she had originally planned when she signed up to be a VAD.
Finally, Rose was ready, and put on her hat, whose black velvet band Jenny artfully concealed with pink and white striped ribbon. "You are a marvel, Jenny. Thank you," she thanked the maid. Jenny beamed. "It's nothing, Miss. Best you hurry or you'll not get into the wedding in time. I'll get Tim our hall boy to hail a cab for you. You just make yourself comfortable, and a cab'll be there in two shakes of a tail," the maid assured Rose.
It took Timothy a bit of time before he managed to hail a cab for Rose. "Thank you, Timothy!" Rose called out to him before the cab left the house.
The trip to the civil register office was mercifully short, but upon arrival, Rose found out that the wedding was already well under way. After trying to make herself inconspicuous, Rose found an unoccupied chair in the last row of seats. But even so, she managed to get a view of the bride. Rose smiled. It turned out that she knew her as a VAD all right. The nicest person she ever met.
But wait, Rose thought, she is the daughter of a Duke?
Then again, it didn't make any difference. Rose always wanted a sister, and finally, she had one. And the fact that she met her before made things easier, she thought. Technically, she already had a sister-in-law—Andrew's former wife—but Rose never liked her and thought Andrew was too good for her. Then Andrew wrote to her that he was divorcing Alexandra, his wife as she was having an illicit affair with Alasdair, her other brother. Rose found out through their mother that Alasdair and Alexandra eloped and got married in Gretna Green, and that Alasdair was not welcome at Dovecote and their relatives' homes. The wedding ceremony ended, and everyone congratulated the bride and groom. As Rose made her way toward them, Andrew saw her and smiled, then called out to her. "Rosie. You've made it. This is Charlotte."
Rose looked at her new sister-in-law and grinned. "Last I remembered, everyone at Rouen called her Charley." Then she hugged the bride. "This is such a lovely surprise. Last time we saw each other, we were all terrified of the hospital being blown to bits. Welcome to the family, Charley," Rose culminated her welcome with a kiss on the bride's cheek.
Charley shyly smiled. "Thank you, Rose! It's such a coincidence, really—I never was able to put two and two together until I saw Andrew call you."
Rose smiled. "Anyhow, I'm glad I now have a sister-in-law I could get along with. Not after you know who." She squeezed Charley's hand. "How did you and Andrew meet?" She didn't miss the look her brother gave his wife, however, which said, "I'll take care of this," and put his arm on her shoulder. "It's a very complicated, and I'd rather that you hear about it when you're sitting down. I'll tell you when we're at Dovecote."
Confused, Rose only nodded. "It's all right, brother dear. It can wait."
At lunch, a few hours later
Rose sat across Charley's older brother David, who was demobbed a month after the war. He was kind and polite, Rose thought, but she felt that it was for her new sister-in-law's sake. Especially when she had learned the truth from Andrew before the family sat down to lunch. Alasdair lied about himself to Charley, and seduced her. Alasdair also lied about having no brothers and sisters, and got Charley in the family way. Thank God that Andrew had been kind to offer Charley a roof over her head and employment.
It was Mrs. G who put two and two together and had suspicions about who the father of Charley's child was. But she didn't want to gossip and she was also fond of the young housekeeper. Charley's kindness, Rose found out, inspired loyalty from the household staff. With great reluctance, she told her employer about what she heard. Dear Andrew, Rose thought. She hoped that his second marriage would work this time.
After Andrew narrated the reason of their nuptials, Rose noticed that Charley looked worried. "I'm sorry. If that would make you think that I am some sort of scarlet woman, then I do apologise. And I promise to look after your brother."
"Nonsense," Rose replied briskly. To Andrew, she said, "If anything, Alasdair should have been hanged, drawn, and quartered. So that's why he's not welcome here."
Andrew nodded. "Exactly."
David George Edward Rankin, 9th Marquess of Torlingray, 8th Viscount Keelwhych was enchanted with the woman sitting in front of him. He later found out that he was Andrew's sister, who had just arrived back in England after being demobilised from her nursing service. Miss Farnsworth was quite diminutive, with hair the colour of roasted chestnuts, creamy alabaster skin, and eyes as green as newly sprouted leaves.
She was indeed beautiful, and David doubted that she knew it.
"Miss Farnsworth," David spoke quietly, "You must be happy to be back in old Blighty again."
"It's Rose, thank you very much, and I am indeed happy. My life is mine again," was the young woman's polite reply.
"What will you be doing when you get your bearings back?" David was curious.
"Hopefully go back to my employment. I used to teach school," Rose informed him. "But that was when the war was on, and the men might want their jobs back." She opened her mouth as if to say more, then shook her head and clamped her mouth shut. Then added, "I wanted to become a nurse because I didn't think taking the place of men while they were fighting in the trenches was enough."
"That is, if they are still alive or up to resuming their normal lives. Everything seems to be in shambles at the moment," David mused, before he put a forkful of steak into his mouth. "It took me a month to really recover. I still have nightmares. They are less in number now, but still, they are there, and I doubt they will go away."
Silence ensued; David observed that Rose Farnsworth looked down at her plate, and proceeded to cut the chicken breast into smaller pieces.
"I'm sorry," Rose replied, after swallowing her forkful of chicken, "I spoke before I thought."
"It's all right," David assured her. "Did you have some kind of training before you taught school?" he inquired. Rose nodded. "I went to boarding school in Kent, then to Oxford with my older brothers. My parents thought I should have the same opportunities as them."
Curiouser and curiouser, David thought. He said aloud, "It's unconventional, but good to hear." With a sigh and a shake of his head, "I wish it was the same with my mother. She wasn't what you call a huge supporter of higher education, which was strange, for an American. My father was perfectly happy to trundle Charley off to Oxford. She's a clever girl."
Sadly, Rose shook her head. "I know what you mean," she said. "When I first met your sister, she was full of questions about university life. When I asked her why, she explained that her mother doesn't support higher education, so she was living vicariously through me." Then she smiled. "Please don't worry about Charley. Andrew will look after her."
David sighed. "I hope so."
"No," Rose replied, and there was urgency in her voice. "Count on it. He will."