Rose finished knitting a scarf for Kitty, the other house maid when she heard the door slam shut and heard the heavy tread of her mother's feet.
From experience, she knew her mother's mood from her footfalls. If Mum was happy, her feet trod lightly. If she was mad, the sound of shoes treading heavily on the dark, polished wooden floor would be heard.
Rose looked up from her finished handiwork as her mother walked into the small library.
"Are you all right?"
Her mother didn't reply for a moment, her troubled face showed signs of upset, yet she was also lost in thought.
"Mum?" Rose tried a third time.
At the third attempt, Rose finally got through her mother. "What's the matter?" she wanted to know. Her mother sat next to her on the window seat. "Did I bring you up well?" she asked Rose, who was startled with such a question. "Mum! Of course! You and Dad have given us a magical childhood, you've sent us to good schools, and in my case, and you allowed me to go to university, which is more than I can ask for! Why do you ask?"
Helena sighed. "Alasdair came today, demanding how Charley got to marry Andrew. But before that, when poor little Milly told him he wasn't welcome, he threatened to slap her, and called her names no gentleman could be expected to utter. And he even called my new daughter-in-law a wh—…"
"Whore," her daughter finished for her. Then Rose sighed. "Oh, Mum. We know she isn't. Charley, I mean." Helena sighed again. "I know. But after the scene Alasdair made, it made me wonder where I went wrong with him." Rose put her hand on her mother's, to reassure her. "Oh Mum. I don't think you went wrong with Alasdair. It's just that…when Alexandra came into our lives, he's changed. For the worse, unfortunately. And suddenly, so it seems. And…I hear she's pregnant too."
Helena's head snapped up. "Who? Alexandra?"
Rose nodded. Helena put her hands to her face. "I wonder what kind of child she'll bring out into the world," she said finally. "How did you know?" she asked.
"Oh, I saw her the day after Andrew's wedding. At Eleanor Page's charity dress show. We didn't get to talk, however, nor did I want to, anyway."
"What on earth is a dress show?" Helena asked, diverted.
"Well, it's…like…you wear clothes…new fashions for the year." Rose informed her.
"That's got me curious darling, but new clothes, just when our country is just recovering from a war seems rather ghoulish."
Rose nodded, considering her mother's comment, but went on, "Well, it's being put up to help sort out funding or ways to help veterans. Eleanor Page told me that there are vets, who, for some incomprehensible reason, couldn't find jobs when they've come home. Some of them, she said, were down and out in so many ways."
"It's a good cause, then, I suppose," Helena replied meditatively.
"It is," affirmed her daughter. "I know we should all be soberly rebuilding a new world after the war, but…I think a little bit of fun would be welcome, every now and then."
The same day, in the afternoon
"My lady," George Biggins murmured, as he handed a silver letter dish to the lady of the house.
Surprised, Victoria Rankin looked at the silver dish, then took the envelope from it. She opened it with the letter opener on the tea table. "Ah!" she exclaimed to her husband, "A telegram from Charley."
The message read: DEAR MUM AND DAD STOP ANDREW AND I ARRIVED SAFELY IN PORTSCATHO STOP THANK YOU FOR BEING THERE AT MY WEDDING STOP IT MEANS THE WHOLE WORLD TO US STOP PLEASE GIVE MY LOVE TO DAVID LILLY PATRICK AND FRANCIS STOP CORNWALL IS JUST AS DIVINE AS I REMEMBER IT TO BE STOP ANDREW SENDS HIS LOVE STOP CHARLEY
"So lovely of Charley to get in touch," the Duke murmured, before taking another sip of his tea. "Portscatho is a lovely place, and I wouldn't be surprised if she decides to come back there. So far, so good, she seems to be happy with her new husband." He set his teacup down. "Well, off I go. I need to talk to the estate agent, as I need to discuss things with him. Biggins, please ring for Treadaway, and tell him I'll be needing a car to the Estate Office again now. He got up, and proceeded to his wife, and kissed her on the forehead, then strode out of the drawing room. "See you before dinner," his wife called out.
The Duke was walking out into the hallway when he heard a voice call out to him. "Daddy, you aren't going to have tea with us?"
It was his youngest child Lilly, now the Viscountess Axford, carrying her two year old son, Francis. She kissed him on the cheek, and so did his grandson. He returned both kisses before replying, "Unfortunately, I've had to have tea earlier than usual. The estate agent arranged an urgent meeting," he apologised.
Lilly smiled. "Not to worry, Daddy. We'll see you at dinner, or before, at least," she assured him.
"Of course, darling. See you. Where's Patrick?" he asked, looking for his son-in-law.
"In the library, talking to Davey. Estate matters and everything in between," Lilly let her father know. She kissed her father on the cheek again. "Your car's here. See you later, father dearest."
"All right, darling. Enjoy tea."
Lilly saw her father out, carrying her son in her arms. Little Francis was blowing kisses and waving alternately; his doting grandfather waved back and played at catching kisses until the car was out of sight.
When she went back in, her husband and her brother were already in the drawing room, her mother, apparently, was sipping her third cup of tea. Lilly smiled, remembering her days while growing up. Afternoon tea was her favourite time of the day—food was free flowing, especially when there were guests. Lilly loved to eat, and at this precise moment, she missed her partner-in-crime where food was concerned. Charley, like her, also loved to eat, but no one could tell, especially if the casual observer would look at their figures. At least now, her sister was found, and Lilly could look forward to more times they could eat and confide in each other.
David and Patrick, seeing Lilly enter the drawing room rose on their feet. Patrick took little Francis from his wife's arms. "I wave Gampa goodbye," gurgled his son.
"Ah!" Patrick laughed. "So you did. What did he do?"
"'e was catching my kisses," the toddler giggled.
"So you were throwing them about?" his father joked. "Will you spare a few for me?"
His son nodded and giggled again. Carrying his son, Patrick sat on the chaise, his wife sitting beside him. Lilly tucked in food, with her usual gusto.
David, noticing his sister's pause, inquired, "Where's Dad off to?" he asked. Lilly sipped tea before replying, "Off to a meeting with the estate agent." Eyes narrowed, she trailed off another question. "Not to be rude…but shouldn't you be there?"
Her brother shook his head. "No. But I think I know about that meeting. Mr. Bailey wanted to talk to Dad about the tenants. Around a majority of them are vets, with a leg or arm blown off, leaving them unable to farm. I asked him to give these tenants around six months to a year to recover, you know, to get their back life together, the best way they can." Seeing the confused look on his sister and his brother-in-law, David clarified, "Well, we're thinking of suspending the collection of rents. Come to think of it, you're right, Lilly, I should be there." He stood up, smiled at his mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew. "See you all in the evening." His nephew gave him a toothy, dimpled smile, and gurgled his goodbye.
After her son left, Victoria turned to her daughter and her family. She smiled. Charley was right. Lilly and Patrick were perfect for each other. And their son was a happy, lively baby. A baby knowing he was loved.
Although little Francis wasn't a baby anymore.
"Such a darling little boy," she murmured, taking the toddler from his father's arms, and settling it on her lap. "Let Granny get to know you a little more you precious darling," she cooed. The little boy cooed and giggled. "Yeth, yeth," he responded.
Andrew borrowed the car from Mr. Carey, with the promise that the car would be kept in good nick while out driving. Beside him was his wife—his new wife—he could still hardly believe he got married again, and this time, to a much nicer girl. He had lovely days with Charley so far, and it surprised him—he remembered receiving cruel words and cold silences with his former wife, and it had been a relief to sign the divorce papers.
He could admit that now, Andrew thought. Everyone he knew, who heard of Alexandra's faithlessness pitied him. Andrew never said anything ill about his former wife, nor did he let anyone do so, even his sister and mother. He shook his head, as it to clear it of negativity. Those cold and awful days are behind him now.
Mum and Rosie approved of Charley; that was a good sign, Andrew thought. Rosie, who had worked with Charley as a VAD had nothing but good words to say about her. "Your new wife is no stranger to hard work, Drew. I think I see good days for you in the future. She's a good egg, that one."
Charley glanced at him, and murmured, "You're very quiet. Is everything all right?"
Andrew nodded. "Yes, of course. I hope you don't mind that we took one day off from our honeymoon to visit a friend." His wife was surprised, and exclaimed, "Good heavens no, it's perfectly all right. I'm glad you want me to meet your friends, too."
"That's good. Are you feeling a lot better now?" Andrew asked. A few days ago, Charley had another bout of morning sickness, making her unable to get out of bed, as it had been very severe. The poor girl looked very tired out, Andrew thought. Charley smiled. "Well, yes. A little better. It certainly looks like I'm having the worst of it now, but truth be told, it's not as bad as it was the first time." Andrew nodded. He remembered that time. She also had the Spanish flu at the same time; it was a wonder how the baby inside his wife managed to survive.
"Babies can be resilient too, or so I have been told," Charley reassured him, gently rubbing her still flat abdomen.
They drove on in companionable silence. Andrew focused on his driving; Charley admiring the winter scenery. There was a faint sprinkling of snow on the road and in the trees; from a distance, Charley could see the sea, which looked grey and icy.
"Which one of your friends are we going to visit?" Charley asked Andrew.
Andrew glanced at her briefly, before replying, "Oh, that would be Tom Watts. He was my friend in Cambridge and we both studied law. His wife was his childhood sweetheart, they grew up together here in Cornwall, until he left for Cambridge. Tom wanted to fight in the War, but his asthma prevented him from enlisting. He instead joined the Voluntary Training Corps. He and his wife Pippa have six children. Pippa's a good sort, you'll like her." He was admittedly enthusiastic.
Charley's eyes grew wide as saucers, then she smiled. "Six children. How wonderful," she murmured. "How old is the eldest?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't remember," admitted Andrew. "Tom married Pippa three years after we graduated from Cambridge. So probably Antonia is around nine or ten. Then there's little Tom, who is eight, Michael, who is probably seven. Then there's Aurora and Camilla—they're twins, and the youngest, John, is just under a year old."
"They sound like a large, happy family," Charley mused, smiling.
"Not unlike yours, I'm sure," Andrew affirmed. Charley laughed and blushed. "Well, we may have the proverbial silver spoons in our mouth, but Daddy's Scotch side had a no-nonsense approach to child-rearing. Fresh air and games, and oat porridge with treacle for breakfast was Granny Verity's sure-fire way to make a child healthy, especially in the winter months."
Andrew had to admit that he relished this moment, getting to know his bride of a week and a half. So he let her continue.
"Besides, it was me and Davey who did most of the running around in our bare feet whenever we visited Granny Verity in Scotland. She had a huge estate, absolutely perfect for running around. Lilly rarely ran around—she was a perfect little lady." Charley ended her reminiscing ruefully. "By the way," Charley added, suddenly remembering something, "Granny Verity sends her regrets at not being present at the wedding. She was at Bournemouth at that time, and she and a group of friends set up a home for war widows and orphans. But she asks that the moment we are ready to receive visitors, she would be happy to visit."
"She will be very much welcome," Andrew promised. "But why is she in Scotland? Don't large estates like your parents have got dower houses or something of that sort?"
"Well, she didn't want to live anywhere Grandfather isn't present. When Grandfather died, she decided to go back to Scotland because she didn't want drown in memories, and have to cope with living without him. She and Grandfather were very inseparable, and were very much in love. She was so devastated when Grandfather died. Grandfather being Daddy's Papa. We call Granny Verity that because it's easier on the tongue," Charley admits, grinning sheepishly.
Andrew was right, thought Charley. Pippa Watts was a friendly, cheery young woman who devoted her energies into taking care of her husband and children, and the widows and orphans in Truro. It was hard not to like the young woman.
Charley also enjoyed getting to know the Watts brood, the eldest being the aforementioned Antonia, Andrew's goddaughter. The children were charming and refreshingly exuberant. The girls were excited to show her a new doll-sized china tea set given to them by their aunt; the boys wanted to include her into a digging expedition for earthworms. "Why would anyone want earthworms in winter? The ponds and lakes are freezing. It's impossible to go fishing in water like that," Antonia reminded her brothers.
Pippa Watts was also a good housekeeper and cook, despite having both, Charley observed. When tea was served, everyone flocked to the conservatory-cum-breakfast room—her shortbread biscuits were very much in demand, explains Tom. And they were very good. Sweet and buttery, and not very crumbly; and the other half dipped in dark chocolate.
"I'll share the recipe," Pippa promised, "and you'll have yourself making the same for Drew." Andrew Farnsworth, Pippa confided, was like another brother to her. They were sad for him when Andrew's wife left him for another man; upon learning that he married again, both Tom and she were eager to meet the new bride.
"And you aren't anything like the first wife," Pippa further confides. "She looks like a fashion plate all right, but she didn't look after him. All she wanted was the money he earned as a barrister. And Drew, like my Tommy here, is a damned good barrister."
"Andrew says that you're a Duke's daughter. Is that true?" Pippa Watts wasn't one to mince words.
Charley nods. "But in my defence, I am no stranger to hard work," she replied quietly.
Pippa was chastened at her own forwardness. "But of course. Drew told us you were a VAD during the war. I imagine that's a lot of work, and no less traumatising." She took Charley's hand in hers. "All we want is our adopted brother of sorts is to be happy," she said seriously.
"And I will work towards that," Charley assured her new friend in a low voice. "He is certainly a very lovely man. A very good husband, despite what he knew about me. You see, his brother seduced me, and when Drew found out that I was carrying his brother's child, he offered to marry me, as it turned out that his brother lied to me about not being married. It's not because of the baby I married Andrew. Andrew Farnsworth is a man any woman would be proud to be married to. I was already working as a housekeeper when I found out I was on the family way, and I was so mortified that I'd get sacked, because not only he was a very good employer, he was a very good man—I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel giddy whenever he talks to me about anything apart from household matters. And I thought that a fine, upstanding man who finds out that I was carrying his brother's child might feel justified to remove me from his employ. But he didn't. He asked me to marry him."
"How did you end up working as a housekeeper in Drew's home?" Pippa was curious.
"Oh…that. I was lost in London. I was supposed to go to a school chum's mews flat. She also served in the same unit as me in the nursing regiment during the war. But it was so late in the evening now, and I was dreadfully hungry and cold, and he took me in so I have a roof to stay in during the night. Unfortunately, my friend was still in France. She was one the nurses who came in around 1916 or 1917—the relatively newer ones were usually demobbed the last. I went on duty before Christmas in 1914. Anyway, I was about to find temporary lodging but Andrew offered me a place in his household staff as a housekeeper. I have to admit that I ran away from home to serve—my parents at that time were dead set against allowing me to do anything more than spinning the tombola at a charity fundraiser. It was only recently that my parents have found me, and I am glad that they were present at my wedding. I'm sorry you and Tom weren't able to come."
"Oh, do I know it. But poor little Michael had the 'flu. And we all had a harrowing time of it, as we were all afraid he'll be taken from us. Anyway, here you are, visiting us," Pippa said comfortingly.
Andrew, however, went out walking with Tom. For some reason he couldn't explain, he found himself wondering whether his bride noticed he disappeared. Before he could do anything about his thoughts, he heard Tom say, "She looks like a sweet, pretty little thing." Andrew raised his eyebrow in inquiry.
"Your bride. She seems to be a nice sort."
"Not like Alexandra, you mean."
"Exactly so. She's the Duke's daughter, isn't she?" Tom asked, pushing his gloved hands into his coat pockets. Andrew nodded. "And a girl who isn't a stranger to hard work. She's a lovely girl inside and out, and she needed to be looked after. To be honest, I think that had Alasdair not been married, he'd still leave her in the lurch."
"Then again, your brother is a nasty piece of work, Andrew. We all know that." Andrew said nothing. His friend uttered the truth. What surprised him was his best friend's remark. "You seem awfully smitten with the girl."
"Is it written all over my face?"
"Yes. I hope she will look after you the way Alexandra never did." Andrew sighed. "I have come to this realisation. It is really ironic that women like Alexandra—who don't care for anything except money and whatever else she can get from a man usually gets all the attention. While girls like Charley—Charlotte, born in the lap of luxury, wanting no more than an ordinary, happy life, with perhaps a chance to go to university to make something of themselves barely get a second glance."
"I didn't know she wanted to go to university."
"She did. Her brother and father would have happily supported her, but her mother thought it was unnecessary as she was expected to marry one of her kind."
"She's very unusual," mused Tom. Andrew nodded. "Her brother told me she has always been interested in history. And politics, too."
"A girl with brains. Just like my Pippa," grinned Tom. "Well, I took you out here because I have a proposition to make."
"What is it?" Andrew asked.
"Have you ever thought about working in a smaller firm? And settling down in the country? No—don't say a word until I finish. One of the older partners of the firm I work for is going to retire. His son was supposed to take over, but Charles Baines applied to be a professor in Cambridge, and was accepted. So he couldn't take over his father's practice, and asked to have a job on a consultant basis instead. Since there's a vacancy, Mr. Baines senior asked me to find someone I can trust to fill in my spot—he said that with his retirement and Charles' professorship, I'll get the senior partner position in a month's time. I know it's a bit of a step lower than what you had at Gray's Inn, but opportunities for a more senior partnership are very good. Talk it over with Charley, and let me know as soon as you have both decided."
"All right, then."
"I'll look forward to hearing from you, you old boy."