It was a month before Andrew and Charley finally agreed that they would permanently live in the house they stayed in for their wedding trip, and weeks before arrangements were made as to who would be using the house in London, as well as persuading both sets of parents that moving to Cornwall was the best step to take.
Andrew offered to buy the house from George—he still had trouble calling his father-in-law by his first name. George, however, persuaded Andrew to accept the house as a gift—the house was rarely occupied, and it was the kind of house that needed to be inhabited, which Andrew agreed. As well, it was a perfect home for a young family, and it was just as well that Andrew and Charley decided to move further south.
As for the now uninhabited house in London, David, Charley's brother offered to rent the house. It was small enough for one person, and large enough to make a room for another working area. David was now determined to take a more active role in the management of the estate, working on making it more sustainable. He had the family's London property at his disposal, but he thought that it was impractical, as the house was too large for one person to inhabit, and too costly for a large staff to serve. So, he offered to rent Andrew's property, and to keep the remaining household staff. Mrs. Gibson remained, as cook and housekeeper, as well as Jenny, who would continue to serve as a maid. Polly and Timothy were to make the move to Cornwall with Andrew and Charley. Some of the staff at Tarleton house would move into the house at Ranfurly Road, some would remain at Tarleton House, and the others were dispatched to Tarleton Keep in Yorkshire.
For weeks, the entire household were busy with packing, buying, and sewing. The house at Cornwall was of course, fully furnished, but it lacked the more home-like touches of the London home. The contents of Andrew's library and study were packed in boxes. And the arrival of a baby in seven months' time meant that there was a need to put up a nursery. This gave Lilly and Victoria a reason to go shopping with Charley. Both ladies persuaded Charley that they purchase an entire new wardrobe for her as a gift. "Yes, you're a simple person with simple tastes," Lilly matter-of-factly opined, "but as a wife of a successful lawyer, you have to look the part. You're not the housekeeper anymore. Besides, everyone knows that you've finally been found."
Charley sighed. Her sister was right. But she found that she enjoyed the shopping expedition herself and admitted that shopping with her mother and sister for nursery things had been great fun. Then they had lunch at the Ritz.
"We're celebrating finding you, darling," Victoria murmured. "And may you have a healthy and happy pregnancy."
"I am, I promise. Andrew has been very solicitous in his care for me, and makes sure that I have everything I need," Charley assured her sister and mother.
"Do you not get sick often?" Victoria worriedly asked.
"Not anymore, Mummy. I've never felt better, to be honest," Charley smiled, eating her forkful of Dover sole meunière.
"Helena Farnsworth told me that her other son Alasdair was infuriated he wasn't invited to the wedding," Victoria murmured in passing. "But she assured me that she turned him out of her door with the proverbial flea in his ear. Has he tried to contact you dear?"
Charley's face blanched, which made Lilly kick their mother's knee. After swallowing her lemonade, Charley quietly replied, "He hasn't, Mummy. It would be better for all concerned that he hasn't. And let's not talk about it here and have half of London listening."
Victoria winced. Of course, that was a thoughtless question to make, and her elder daughter was right. She sighed. People loved to gossip. It was one thing she really didn't like among the ton, even after years of being part of it, through marriage.
After lunch, the three of them continued with their shopping; more clothes and nursery items were procured. They had a quandary with regard to baby clothes, as they did not know if the baby was a boy or girl, and they had no way of knowing as well. Lilly solved the problem by suggesting they buy clothes in different colours. As the clothes were packed away in boxes, Charley ruefully remarked, "There are enough baby clothes to see us through until a second baby comes."
"Do you want another one?" Lilly asked, as they watched their mother sign a check and hand it to the proprietor of the shop.
"Well, I would, at some point. If Andrew wants it," Charley shrugged. In a whisper, she added, "The child may be Alasdair's naturally, but Andrew has claimed it as his own. Which makes sense, as he's one the who will help me raise it."
"Are you happy with him? Truly happy?" Lilly asked her older sister worriedly.
"Andrew is a good man, and he has been very kind and caring towards me. For now, that's the answer I can give you," Charley assured her. "I like talking to him, and spending time with him. I think he feels the same—and that's that."
"That's good," Lilly replied cautiously.
"Oh my, look. Lusitania sank," murmured Lucy Woodward, Charley's fellow VAD, as she read out from a newspaper.
Charley was washing bedpans while Lucy read out from the newspaper. Someone had given Lucy a copy of The Daily Sketch. A new recruit, possibly, fresh from England as newspapers rarely came by the field hospital.
"Only a German could murder little children," Lucy read the headline. Charley paused from her washing to get a look at the newspaper. A picture of two dead children was at the centre of the photo spread of victims and survivors.
"The Germans are really cracked in the head," Charley cried in frustration. "Those poor, poor children and their parents."
"I know," Lucy replied darkly, rolling the newspaper and thrusting it in her apron pocket. Charley continued her washing. "I'd like to borrow that newspaper for a while when I'm done with this bedpan. I've got my tea break now, thank goodness," she informed her colleague and friend.
"Suppose you'd hurry with your washing and be on with your break. Someone's waiting for you," Lucy idly observed, as a soldier made his way to the washing area. "Your beau?" she asked.
"For someone who calls me her friend, you'd best remember I don't have any beaux. He's my sister's beau," Charley snorted, as she now had a clearer of what the soldier looked like. She wiped her hands on a towel nearby and walked to the tents.
Patrick rushed to her. "Good God, thank goodness you're alive," he said while enveloping her in a hug. Getting a hug from Patrick, Charley thought, felt like getting a hug from her brother David. Even though they had broken their engagement when war broke out, they remained good friends. Patrick was only one of two people Charley wrote to when she left her parents' home in Yorkshire.
"I told you I was all right," Charley reproachfully reminded him.
"All the same, one would want to make sure that his future sister-in-law would be all right."
"You're engaged?" Charley asked Patrick, squeezing his hand in delight. "Very much so," Patrick grinned. "I'm glad I've met your approval."
"Oh but of course. I'm so happy for you both. Well…it's why I ran away." The cat's out of the bag now, Charley thought.
"What do you mean?" Patrick was puzzled.
"Lilly. She fell in love with you the moment she clapped eyes on you. I've told Mummy over and over that she made a mistake in arranging that match between you and me. She wouldn't listen. I had Daddy's support, but she wouldn't hear of it. You're happy with Lilly, aren't you?"
"Yes of course, but I don't see how you running away had anything to do with…" Realisation dawned on Patrick. "Oh…of course. I understand now. Oh, Charley, you didn't have to."
"I do. Not just for you and Lilly, mind you—but for me, too. I've always wanted to be a VAD since the war broke out and Mummy and Daddy wouldn't hear any of it. I never wanted any of the fancy balls and parties. I just wanted to go to Oxford and study history, but they always said no. I need to make my own way in the world."
"Will you be able to come to the wedding? It's likely to be a small one, in November."
"I can't," Charley bit out miserably. "As much as I love you and Lilly both, I can't. I'm not ready to go home and have Mummy and Daddy twist my arm into quitting, not when I've just started making a difference. Not just when I've started making sense what I really want to do with my life. But promise me something, dear brother?"
"Please take care of darling Lilly. With you, I know she'll be in good hands."
"I will, I promise. Come home soon, dear sister."
"I'll try, Patrick. I'll try. But not now. I'm not ready." Charley hugged Patrick again. "Take care, brother dearest."
Charley was jolted back into the present by Lilly and their mother, as they started to leave the shop.
"I suppose we'll have to nip back to the Ritz for tea," Lilly cheerily slipped her arm in the crook of Charley's. "I'm starving."
"That makes you and me," Charley giggled. "Aren't we always hungry?"
Their mother looked at them mock-disapprovingly. "For young women whose favourite pastime is eating, your figures are remarkably slim." But she had to smile as each one of them slipped their arm in the crook of hers.
Lilly mock-sighed, in response to Victoria. "As much as we hate corsets, Mummy, we can't deny its supernatural powers to keep our figures in check. We owe it all to the corset."
Even Victoria laughed at that.
After a rather heavy tea, Victoria and Lilly dropped Charley off at Ranfurly Road. They could not stay long as it was already dark and there was still a lot of packing to be done by Charley.
"Send Andrew our dearest love. We'll invite ourselves in Cornwall the moment you tell us you've settled in," Victoria teased her daughter.
Andrew opened the door when Charley knocked. "I'm sorry I've been out so long," she apologised. She didn't want him to think she bolted out of the blue.
"No, no. I know you've been out shopping," Andrew answered ruefully. "Mrs Gibson told me. Poor Timothy looked like he was going to keel over and faint when he saw the number of boxes to be brought in, but thankfully the delivery man decided that he would bring the packages in himself."
Andrew helped Charley out of her coat. "Did you have a nice day?" he asked.
"Oh yes! Mummy sent you her dearest love, and she even joked about inviting herself and Lilly to Cornwall the moment we tell them we've settled in," Charley laughed. "Did you have a nice day at work?" she asked in return.
"Quite well," Andrew replied, as they walked to the sitting room. "Today is my last day at work, but tomorrow there's a send-off party and they would like you to be there," he informed Charley, who grew quite pink.
"They want me there?" Charley asked.
"Yes, why ever not?"
"Oh…no reason. I…uh...I never thought I'd warrant a lot of interest from your colleagues." Charley all but stuttered.
"I think they want to meet the girl who's finally put a smile on my face," Andrew tried to joke. This made his wife blush all the more.
"Do I really do that?" Charley asked, shyly. "Put a smile on your face?"
It was also Andrew's turn to blush. "Oh, yes, you do. I hope you don't mind knowing."
Charley smiled a little, then sobered. "Not at all. It's just that…well, growing up, attending those dinner parties set by my parents, I've heard gruesome tales about husbands and wives hating each other despite being married to each other. Mind, Daddy and Mummy have a happy marriage, but…well…most of their guests do not. Then again, it's London high society."
Andrew nodded. He read a lot of these in the newspapers and heard a lot about them while at work. He never had a chance to handle divorce cases, thank heaven. He had heard tales from his colleagues about having to duck while the parties to the divorce cases threw things at each other.
"Yes, I understand," he murmured. "Look at the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough."
"I know them both," Charley said quietly. "That one was rocky from the start. Mummy was at their wedding. She was visiting her mother in New York at that time, but she managed to get an invitation. Everyone who was at the wedding knew she had been crying before she walked to the altar—she was probably still crying when she was already at the altar. And I saw her once at one of the house parties my parents hosted in Yorkshire. She is indeed pretty, but she always looked sad."
Tarleton Keep, Bradford, West Yorkshire
It was a lovely late summer afternoon. Everyone else had gone hunting, most especially the men. The women stayed behind the house, and they were all talking languidly about the fashions, gossiping, or partaking tea.
Charley was allowed to be with the adult company—after all, in a year (or two) from now, she would be presented in society. While observing them, she quietly and quickly made a sketch of the women, who were sipping tea, talking and wearing their lovely frocks.
After sketching, Charley happily settled on watching the women while sitting on one of the rattan chairs outside.
"You draw well," a soft, sweet feminine voice spoke. Charley looked up and saw the Duchess of Marlborough. Startled, Charley curtsied to her. "Your Grace," she respectfully murmured.
The Duchess laughed merrily, and for once, Charley saw her laugh heartily—a real laugh, one that also involved her eyes and not just her lips. "Good heavens dear, no need for that. Your father is a Duke, you are by blood, a Lady. You are the elder daughter, aren't you?"
Charley nodded and replied shyly. "Yes, Your Grace. I am the elder daughter."
"Having a brother and sister must be a great deal of fun. You are Charlotte, aren't you?" the Duchess inquired. The Duchess sat beside Charley, who was thrilled—who wouldn't be thrilled when THE Duchess of Marlborough sat next to you?
"Yes, Your Grace," was Charley's response. Oh, if she could only say something clever!
"Dear me, 'Your Grace' sounds awfully awkward. I know I'm not born an aristocrat and I am breaking a million rules of protocol and etiquette, but just between us, you can call me Lady Consuelo. And I can call you Lady Charlotte?"
"I'm actually Christina Charlotte. But I also go by just Charlotte, if you don't mind, Lady Consuelo."
"Well then. That's settled. How old are you, Charlotte?"
"I'll be seventeen in November. I've got a year left in school before Mummy decides what I do after that. But I would like to go to Oxford and read history. So many girls go to university now, Lady Consuelo. Lord Dawson's daughter Anne is at Oxford, reading English."
"I know, a lot of them do, and good for them. I wasn't lucky enough to be able to go to school or university. Everything I know has been taught and drilled to me by an army of governesses, tutors, and my mother," the Duchess dryly replied. "Any plans to take society by storm after that?" she teased.
Charley shook her head frantically. "I only want to attend university. But I'm afraid Mummy would say no. She's perfectly adamant about making me take my bow in London after I've finished school."
"Well, frankly, I think she's making a mistake. But I'm regrettably not your mother, dear one, that's a sad fact, or I would have packed you off to university. I suppose you have no plans in marrying young?" the Duchess queried further.
"Not at all, Lady Consuelo. Well, I hoped I'd put that off until…I'm twenty. And…and…I hope to marry for love." Charley confessed. "Mummy and Daddy married for love. Daddy always said that the moment he saw Mummy, it was love at first sight for him. And it was the same with Mummy."
"Your parents are incredibly lucky. I hope they know that. I—I'm not as lucky. Sunny—that's my husband—needed money to save his home and his family's fortunes. I think that's practically public knowledge by now. And my mother wanted me to marry a Duke. I loved someone else, and so did Sunny, who made that clear to me the moment we were engaged. I know brides should be glowing with happiness on their wedding day. But I wasn't. I was crying my heart out on that day, and I was miserable. I don't wish that kind of wedding day or marriage to anyone, not even my worst enemy. Don't allow your parents to impose that on you, you dear sweet girl."
"I will remember, Lady Consuelo," Charley promised the Duchess. "I promise."
"And now, let's have some tea. I hear your sister is back from her walk. You can introduce me to her and the three of us shall have tea together, and hopefully, I can get to see more of your sketches as well."
"You have a faraway look in your eyes," Andrew observed as they were eating dinner in the small breakfast room.
"Am I?" Charley looked up, guiltily. "Sorry. I was just remembering the day that I met the Duchess of Marlborough."
"That must have been thrilling. Was she nice?" Andrew was curious about his wife's girlhood. He only knew bits from the stories she shared, but he still did not know a lot.
Charley nodded eagerly. "Yes, she was nice. She was a lovely lady. She also said something that I still remember to this day."
"That must have been really important if you remember it until now," Andrew replied, putting down his fork after eating a slice of chocolate cake.
"Yes. The Duchess told me how miserable she was on her wedding day. And she also asked me to promise that I should not allow my parents to tell me who I should marry and that I should marry for love."
"And have you?" Andrew asked, looking at her intently. Far too intently, Charlotte thought.
"I think so. If not yet, I've come close to it now. I am lucky to have married a lovely, lovely man. And I intend to look after that lovely man I married."
Andrew cleared his throat. "I don't want to rush you, Charley," he said quietly. "But I feel the same. I am glad to have a second chance at marriage, to marry a lovely girl, inside and out. I hope that one day, there'll be love in your heart when you look at me."
Charley nodded. "The more time I spend with you, I see the kind of man you are. And I think that one day soon, love might come for both of us." Then she sighed. "I think I should finally tell you why I ran away from home during the war. It wasn't just about wanting to be a VAD."
"I've always wondered. When you first came here, I didn't understand why you left your home the way you did." Andrew murmured.
"I think I told you about Lilly, didn't I? And her husband?"
"Yes, and I'm glad to have met them during the wedding. What about them?"
"Well, I knew how wildly in love Lilly was with Patrick. She still is. They are very much in love with each other. For a time, you see, I was unofficially engaged to him. It was all arranged by Mummy. Daddy didn't agree with her, but since Patrick was an awfully nice fellow, he thought that it wouldn't be so bad, so he eventually went along with it. But when I saw Lilly during the dinner party, I knew then and there that Mummy matched Patrick with the wrong daughter. Lilly fell in love with Patrick the first time she saw him. I sat across her at the dinner party. She was battling with herself to feel happy for me and wanting Patrick for herself. So I told Mummy so. I told her that she matched the wrong daughter. But she wouldn't hear of it, arguing that Lilly was too young to think of marriage. I never saw Patrick in a romantic light. Never, ever. Spending time with him was like spending time with my brother. He and Davey were friends in Oxford, you see, despite being in different colleges. And our mothers were friends as well, as they were both presented to court in the same evening. And he was unfailingly kind and gentle with Lilly, which was one of the things I appreciated about him."
Andrew nodded, listening. "Go on, dear. I'm listening."
"Before the war was declared, Patrick and I ended our engagement, as we agreed. We knew from the start that it would be foolish to push through with a marriage that would be only brotherly and sisterly at the very least. But I ended it with Lilly in mind. Because I thought that if there are two people who deserved to be together, it would be Lilly and Patrick. During the war, Mummy asked me when we would be arranging a wedding, and when would Patrick get his leave. I told her that there would be no wedding because firstly, I ended the engagement. Second, I wanted to be a VAD more than I wanted to be a wife, or a Viscountess, at that. You can imagine that there was a frightful row when I announced all that. Mummy was in hysterics and Daddy was really furious that I drove Mummy to hysterics. But I talked to him the night before I ran away—I've made up my mind to run away, to make a way for Lilly and Patrick to be together. There were only three people who knew of my plan—Granny Verity, my friend Kate, and Patrick himself. I wrote to the three of them, telling them what I intended to do. While they were initially disapproving, I told them that it was important that I carry it out. And it was successful, at least where my sister and my now brother-in-law are concerned. I made a terrible mess of things on my end, but at least two people who were meant to together do end up marrying each other."
"I hope that meeting me wasn't a part of that 'mess'," Andrew finally said when Charley ended her confession.
"No," Charley assured him. "I guess, in a roundabout way, I wouldn't have met you if I hadn't made an awful mess of things. But—but…I'm glad I met you."
"You're right. I don't know if we would have met under different circumstances, but I'm glad it was my door that you knocked on that night," Andrew admitted.