Three Years Later
George had built a fine studio off the back of the manor with the money from the proceeds of his grand one-man show which had made him one of the most sought-after artists in Great Britain.
Two-year-old Augusta loved to play there when her father was painting—but always closely supervised by Nanny Wilkes so as not to topple one of Papa’s easels or get covered in paint.
They were expecting their second child in two months, and Lucy waddled into the studio with several pages of a children’s story she had been working on.
“George, Augusta seems to like this bedtime story so much I wrote it down for my next book. I would love for you to take a look at it and let me know what you think.”
“Can you put it on my work table? I shall take a look at it later this evening perhaps,” he responded.
“Maybe you could read it to Augusta at bedtime. Then you can get a sense of whether it works for a child or not, as it is written.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
Lucy wandered over to where Nanny was pulling a jumper over Augusta’s head as it had grown cloudy and a little chilly even though it was early summer.
“Honey, it is almost naptime,” Lucy said. “Do you want to come with mother now and we can play a little game before I tuck you in?”
“Oh, yes, mummy. Can you show me how to do the cat’s in a cradle again please?”
“I do not see why not.” And she leaned over to pick Augusta up but decided against it when the baby kicked again.
“Are you all right?” George asked, with some concern, as he saw her wince. He came over and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Just the baby kicking. Caught me off guard. I am quite well.”
“You know, I promised I would not paint your portrait again until you were a successful author. And I believe it is time. And besides, we need an official portrait of the new Duchess.”
Lucy turned to him and put her arms around him. “But my novel never came to anything. I was never able to finish it.”
“But your children’s stories have become phenomenally successful. They have sold more than any children’s book in British history.”
“But they are just for children. I never expected to become a children’s author.”
“But, nonetheless, you have.”
Lucy became shy. “Can we wait on the portrait until after the baby comes? I look so large.”
“No. I want to capture your beautiful maternal glow now. I can focus on painting your face, to begin with, and I promise, you shall be as svelte as a doe when the portrait is finished.”
She sighed. “Very well, if you must.” She turned to Augusta and offered her hand. “Come along, dear one. It is naptime for you, young lady.”
Lucy decided to start a new tradition at Grayson Manor. She had always been enchanted by Midsummer’s Night and decided that this year there should be a family celebration.
The sisters and their families gathered once a month for Sunday dinner at the Manor. This evening, Lucy was seated next to Charlotte, and she turned to her and said, “I seem to remember we were to have a picnic at Cranborne Chase a few years ago but it never came to pass. Do you remember that?”
Charlotte laughed. “Oh, yes, I do. Ann and I were conspiring to entrap Mr. Beaumont at the time. But it rained, and we had to have our picnic in the conservatory at Brookdale.” She turned to Ann who was seated across the table from her. “Do you remember that, Ann?”
Smiling, Ann replied, “Oh, please do not remind me. How obsessed we were. I can never quite forgive myself for that time. And I am so happy for you now, dear sister. It is clear you were the right one for your dear Beaumont.”
Never had there been such a change in a person, Lucy thought to herself, as she studied Ann. Never married, Ann had decided to start a school for the children of the tenant farmers. And the work had transformed her. She had lost her harshness, acquired a softened demeanor, and appeared to have accepted her lot in life, seeming to be at last content.
“Why do you ask about the picnic?” Ann asked.
“I was thinking we should go as a family to Cranborne Chase for a Midsummer’s Night picnic. It is such a lovely time of year and it will not get dark until after ten o’clock. I am sure the children will love it.”
“But are you not due about then?” Charlotte asked.
“Oh, no. Not until at least a month or six weeks later.”
Beaumont leaned forward to look around Charlotte and said to Lucy. “I think that sounds like a jolly idea. It has been more than three years, and we still have not gone there.”
Betsy who was seated on the other side of Lucy spoke up, “I know of a lovely wooded area on a rise with an extensive view of the hills. I know Harold will want us to go.”
“And exactly what does one do to celebrate the Midsummer’s Night?” Ann asked.
“I think one sheds all one’s clothes and dances around in a circle naked under the moon,” Beaumont offered hopefully.
“And I think one drinks many tankards of ale,” Harold said with a laugh.
“Maybe all of the above,” George offered, having picked up on the plans for the picnic.
It took four carriages to carry all the families and the servants who were to serve the picnic. Families with children were no longer content with just a picnic basket on a blanket. There needed to be a pavilion erected, tables and chairs to accommodate the Dowager Duchess, and Nanny Wilkes to supervise Augusta; Betsy and Harold’s boy, Philip; and Charlotte and Beaumont’s, Susan and William—a rowdy group of youngsters.
The sun was still well above the horizon even at five o’clock when the picnic began. There were soft floating clouds but no sign of rain. Her Grace sat at a table with an unobstructed view of the gently rolling hills with Flossy next to her.
“How are they going to keep the dinner warm?” she asked George.
“Mother, it is a picnic. Nothing is to be served hot.”
She mumbled, “Oh, I do not know. Why bother is what I say. A picnic? What an absurd idea.” She turned to Flossy, “Did you bring my smelling salts?”
“Yes, Your Grace. Just as you instructed.”
Betsy’s child, Philip, came over to the Duchess and laid his head in her Grace’s lap, asking, “Have you got sweeties?”
Her Grace always kept a pocket filled with hard candies for the children, and she surreptitiously slipped him one.
Betsy saw that and wagged her finger at her mother for slipping treats before a meal. Betsy had spoken to her mother about that many times before but to no avail.
George found a moment to walk aside with Harold. He put his arm around Harold’s shoulder and asked, “How are we setting up for workers for the shearing? Are we going to need to take on some extra hands for the work like we did last year?”
“I do not believe so. I have been retraining a few of the lads from the stable to help out for the few weeks of shearing.”
“And who will tend to the stable?” George asked with some concern.
“Well, I was thinking that would be you since you have turned your old studio into a dovecote and are out there every day. What do you do with all those birds?”
“Well, some go to the dinner table and some special ones I use as messengers.”
“And how does that work?” Harold asked intrigued.
“I have certain gentlemen I regularly correspond with by pigeon. The Dorset post takes forever, and I find the use of pigeons to be much swifter.”
“Well, well. What an age we live in. What will they come up with next—devices to talk to folks—who knows where?”
“It is truly an age of marvels,” George said. “And how are things with you and Betsy in your new house? Does it suit?”
“Very well. With the dowry, we were able to buy it outright with no mortgage. It should last us a good long while—unless we have all the children Betsy wants us to have. And then… who knows?”
“I am happy for you, Harold. You have done right by yourself and by my sister. I am pleased my faith in you was well founded.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.” Harold clasped George on the shoulder and went off to find Betsy.
George had noticed, while he was talking to Harold, that Beaumont was standing close by as though he wanted to speak. As Harold left, Beaumont came over and sheepishly asked, “Might I have a private word, old man?”
“Of course, Beaumont.” And they walked further apart from the picnic.
“I ah… well, you see, my father… he has decided to cut off my allowance.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
“He wants me to come into his firm.”
This troubled George as he was concerned for Charlotte and their children. “I thought you had an independent living.”
“I am afraid the inheritance from my grandmother… well, it is used up.”
“And Charlotte and the children?” George asked, angry at Beaumont’s carelessness. “Your father would let your family suffer?”
“Not if I came into the firm. But that would mean moving back to London. And Priscilla still has no husband, and I really love being here. Is there any way you could help me out of this mess?”
George was greatly troubled by this news. “Let me think on it. But what I advise for now is you to go to London and speak with your father. I believe it is up to you, as head of your family, to make this work. Please do not think that I am here to bail you out. You must be responsible for your own life, Beaumont.”
Hanging his head, Beaumont said, “But Charlotte and the children? Certainly…”
“My man, I know for a fact that my mother gave you a considerable sum to marry Charlotte. And there is her yearly income… What has become of all of that?”
“I made some unfortunate investments.”
“Something like that…”
“Then what I suggest is that Charlotte and the children come to the Manor and you get your butt off to London and make something work. For if you do not, then do not return. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
As Isabell was always considered family, she, her husband, and Chrissy had been welcomed on the picnic. Isabell went over to Lucy who was with Stevens conferring about the serving of the meal.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Isabell asked.
Lucy laughed. “You are a guest today. There is absolutely nothing for you and Carter to do but enjoy yourselves. In fact, we are to have a special treat this evening that you should all enjoy, so just relax.”
Isabell bumped her shoulder against Lucy’s and left to be with her family.
Having concluded her talk with Stevens, Lucy went looking for George. She found him with Augusta on his lap at their table.
She came over and sat down with a sigh, holding her belly after feeling the baby kicking again.
George looked at her and gave a sad smile. “I have just had a most disturbing conversation with Beaumont.”
George told her of Beaumont’s predicament.
“Have you talked to Charlotte about this?” Lucy asked.
“Not yet. But I will try to get a word with her later.”
Lucy was troubled by this news. She had never quite trusted Beaumont and was relieved she had not been the one to marry him.
“Boy or girl this time?” George asked, patting Lucy’s belly.
“Makes no difference to me,” Lucy said. “But I expect you want a boy. I know your mother does. Must have an heir, she keeps telling me as if I had control over the outcome.”
George laughed. “Well, she is correct about that. The dynasty must go on.”
“And a Duchess could not do as well as you?”
George leaned over and pinched her nose. “Well, one Duchess I know could do just as well, I am certain. However, I doubt she would be much interested in shearing sheep, mending fences, or mucking out the stables.”
“Oh, George, you do none of that. That is why you have Harold. Do not be such a hypocrite.”
“Oh, by the way,” George said, “Ann asked me if you would consider reading some of your stories to the children at her school.”
“Oh, what a lovely idea. I should love to. I will talk to her about scheduling that.” Lucy took hold of George’s hand. “You know, Ann has turned out so differently than what I expected of her.”
“The pressure to marry was hard for her, but once she gave up on that, it allowed her to come into herself, I believe.”
Lucy turned to face him. “You are so good at reading people. That is exactly what I have been thinking.”
“You two should become friends.”
“I do not know about that. She never really liked me very much.”
“But that was the old Ann. Give her a chance. Why not make the first move?”
Lucy lifted her chin in thought. “I was thinking that if we should have another girl, we might name her Ann. What do you think?”
“You know, if I had not married you, I would marry you right this minute. How can anyone be sweeter—and smarter—than you are?”
“Oh…” Lucy said, grimacing slightly.
“Another kick?” George asked.
The footmen then began to serve the dinner. It was far above the level of most picnic food, and the wine was exceptionally good—although those that drank ale had nothing to complain about.
After the food was finished, and the footmen began to clear the tables, the children ran rambunctiously around in the grass under Nanny’s watchful eye. They tumbled down gentle slopes and scrambled to the top to tumble down again. However, with such young children, they began to fade quickly, and Nanny packed them into the carriages and laid them out on the seats covering them with blankets.
The adults were savoring the early evening as cognac, port, and more wine was passed around. Several of the gentlemen lit cigars, and the Duchess began to nod her head, as she, several times, dropped off to sleep.
George helped Lucy to kneel and then lay down on a blanket spread out on the hillside. They knew what was coming next and wanted to prepare. Lucy lay on her side, snuggled up against George who was on his back with an arm behind his head.
Lucy dozed off for a short while and when she awoke it was almost dark. The stars were slowly coming out, but the evening was still warm and comfortable. George had disengaged himself from Lucy and was directing Nanny to waken the children and bring them to their parents.
No one, except the hosts, knew what was coming next. The moon was just breaking over the trees on the horizon when the first burst exploded in the sky. Then one after another the fireworks began to dazzle and delight the adults, but most especially the children.
George had come back to the blanket with Augusta, and the three of them sat and watched in wonder as the show proceeded to a climax at the end with multiple rockets exploding high in the sky then disappearing in a cloud of smoke with the smell of sulphur lingering in the air.
George and Lucy lay back down on the blanket with Augusta snuggled in between them.
“Your Grace,” George began, “Was this the celebration you were hoping for?”
“Ever so much better, Your Grace. And the fireworks were a lovely surprise. If I were any happier, I think I should ascend to heaven and tell them all to come back down here, for there is nothing more wonderful than the life I have here and now with my dearest Georgie and my darling Augusta—and whoever comes next.”
Ah, before you go...
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