Ten Years Later
A nine-year-old boy trailed by a seven-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl burst into the study where the Duke and Duchess of Gwyndonmere were going over the tally of the spring livestock births. An eight-year-old boy ran after them with an apologetic expression on his face.
The Duke looked over his half-moon glasses at the small horde that had invaded his inner sanctum. “Master Gwyndonmere, Lord Harper, Lady Harper, and Mr. Hammonds Minor, I trust there is an emergency that warrants this unseemly outburst?”
Celeste, Duchess of Gwyndonmere, was holding a baby over her shoulder, and had been absently patting her back when the three older children burst through the door. A three-year-old boy looked up from playing with a litter of fat puppies in one corner of the study, and a toddler bounced up and down on wobbly knees while holding onto the rail of a playpen. Wakened from being nearly asleep, the baby began to wail.
David Hammonds came up from the rear, panting. “Sorry, Your Grace. They are excited. The silkworms in the new orangery are hatching.”
“Ah. Well, that does warrant some excitement.” Jonathan then addressed the children, “But you see now you have made extra work for the Duchess, and you have excited the puppies.”
The puppies were, indeed, excited. They bounced around the children barking little squeaky barks and bowing down with invitations to play. One of them started tugging on the hem of Lady Cece Harper’s skirts. Completely unworried by this minor attack on her garments, the five-year-old picked up the puppy and began to croon to it while two others jumped up and down trying to get her attention.
“I told Jonnie we should go in the back way and then knock. But he couldn’t wait,” the diminutive Lady said in a self-righteous voice.
“Which way did you come in, Lady Cece?” the Duke asked, with mock severity.
Master Jonnie was the one to answer, however. “We came in the front door, Father. Mr. Hammonds the Elder says says that Dukes should come in the front door because they are the owners of the house.”
The Duchess, Celeste, who had by now quieted the baby, corrected gently, “Mr. Hammonds the Elder no doubt meant that a Duke who is dressed for affairs of state should decorously use the front door. I cannot think that he meant that a young rapscallion such as yourself and a ragtag of younger siblings and friends should track mud across the foyer, up the stairs, down the hall and wake their youngest sister.”
The Duke suppressed a smile. “Your Grace, what do you think should happen to a rapscallion and his ragtag followers?”
“I think that they should scrub up their tracks, making sure to not leave a single trace on Miss Martha Sedgewick’s clean floors then get themselves cleaned up for tea. But first, let’s go see the silkworms because I do not think that will wait.”
“Hurray!” Jonny shouted, tossing his cap into the air, catching it and then hugging his mother, disregarding the muddy smears he left on her morning gown.
Celeste shifted the baby into a tightly wrapped plaid and secured it over her shoulder so that she could have her hands free, and Jonathan picked up the toddler out of the playpen. Mr. David Hammonds, who was now the children’s tutor, offered the three-year-old a pick-a-back ride. The whole family then set off for the orangery.
As they left the study, Mr. Hammonds the Elder, the family’s dearly loved butler, came shuffling up at the best pace he could muster. “I am so sorry, Your Graces,” he apologized. “I tried to stop them, but they were much too fast.”
“Sometimes they are much too fast even for Young David,” the duke returned. “Do not worry about it, Mr. Hammonds. And tell Martha not to touch those tracks. The young miscreants that made them will clean them up. Their mother has said it is to be so, therefore it shall be.”
Mr. Hammonds got on his very best butler face, but he could not suppress the slight crinkling around his eyes that gave away his desire to laugh. “The Right Honorable Dame Celeste, Duchess of Gwyndonmere has spoken, and it shall be done as she directs.” The old butler started to bow, but stopped as his back gave a creak.
Celeste patted the old retainer on the shoulder, knowing that to rub the aching spot on his back or to give him a hug would offend his dignity.
“Do not trouble yourself, Mr. Hammonds,” the Duke said. “They are each one as much of a handful as three young lads you once directed through the finer points of etiquette. Your grandson has his work cut out for him.”
“Since he was just such a harem scarem lad not so many years ago, he should well know how to forestall footprints in the front hall.”
“Yes, Grandfather,” David Hammonds said.
“We’ll try to do better, G-pa,” the eight-year-old said. “Sorry Uncle David.”
Mr. Hammonds the Elder blinked once or twice. It must have been something in his eye, for so venerable and experienced a butler would never tear up on the job.
“See that you do, Greg, see that you do. And say hello to your mother and father when you go home. Remind them that they should come see me more often.”
A young housemaid with fly-away hair came running up. “Miss Martha says you forgot your cane, sir.”
“Thank you, Dolly.” Mr. Hammonds took the cane gratefully and used it to steady himself. “Say hello to the silkworms for me. I’ll tell Martha to save the tracks.”
As the family trooped outside, Young David Hammonds came up beside the Duke. “How long will you keep him on, Your Grace?”
“For as long as he wishes. We have been trying to persuade him to train a couple of under-butlers, but it upsets him, so we don’t try very hard.”
“I would like to be a butler like G-pa,” said eight-year-old Gregory Hammonds.
“Me, too!” shouted Jonny. “I could be a better butler’n’you, Greg.”
Gregory Hammonds turned his gaze upon the heir. “You can’t be the butler, silly. You have to learn how to be the Duke. But I could be the butler or I could be the steward, like Mr. McAhmladhson.”
“Maybe you should be the Duke and I the steward,” Jonny said, completely ignoring consanguinity.
“I don’t think it works like that,” piped up Hannah, the tiny lady who had been playing with the puppies.
Celeste looked down at the flock of children, suppressing a smile. “Where are the rest of you, today? I don’t see the McOwens or Greg’s sisters.”
Greg looked embarrassed. “Mama was mad cause we all went swimming in our small clothes. She said that the girls couldn’t play with us until we learned to act like gentlemen.”
“Hmmm,” said Jonathan. “Yes, that would have made your mother, Sally Ann, very angry. I think your father and I need to get all of you boys aside for a long talk. And the McOwens?”
“They’ve got the mumps. They get to eat lots of blanc mange and stay in bed all day.”
“I want mumps! I want mumps!” seven-year-old Mark jumped up and down and shouted.
“No you don’t,” Jonny poked him with an elbow. “Your throat hurts and your tummy doesn’t feel good. That’s what Dr. Dermott and Dr. Young said.
“Oh, dear. I hope that doesn’t mean that all the village children have mumps. Have you had them, Jonathan?” Celeste asked anxiously.
“I have. Rest easy on that score, my very dearest. You will not be nursing me through a bout of adult onset mumps.”
“Thank goodness for that!” Celeste visibly relaxed. “I should ask the cook to be ready to make up large vats of chicken soup and blanc mange all the same. Mothers who are busy nursing mumpy children have little time to make extra delicacies.”
By now they had reached the new Orangery where Gran’ther Tim and his team of gardeners had planted mulberry trees. There was not a great deal to see from the big window that overlooked the silkworm nursery, so Gran’ther Tim brought out a leaf and a large magnifying glass so that the children could see the tiny worms munching away on it.
“And they make silk?” Hannah asked.
“That they do. They spin a thread finer’n any made by even the best human spinner. Spider silk is the closest thing to it.”
On the walk back, the youngsters settled down. When they entered the great front hall of Castle Gwyndonmere, Jonny groaned. A large pail of sudsy water, scrubbing brushes and drying cloths waited beside a trail of muddy footprints.
“But I’m going to be the Duke,” Jonny whined. “Why do I have to clean up mud off the floor?”
“You get to clean up mud because you didn’t remember to use the foot scraper and wiping mat. Next time you will remember,” his mother said tartly.
Celeste and Jonathan went up the stairs to the family dining room where Celeste helped Martha and Dolly set the big table. They laughed and chatted as they prepared for afternoon tea, a far different atmosphere from the one to which Celeste had been introduced so long ago.
“Mr. McAhmladhson and will be coming to tea today,” she told Martha. “He has a work crew repairing the fence around the Lolly Mire. It seems that it has eaten another one.
Martha Sedgewick shuddered at the mention of the Mire. “I’m so glad the Duke decided to put in a fence well away from the Mire. It is always a worry that one of the castle or village children will try to explore it. Bad enough when the sheep make their way in.”
“It would be more accurate to say that he fenced the outer edge of the village. The Lolly Mire seems to have a way of eating up fences, posts and all.”
“Christopher Hammonds will be here, as well,” Martha noted. “He will, no doubt, want time with the Duke so that they can go over the season’s proposals and movements before he heads back to London.”
“It is always good to see Christopher. He is a fine representative for us. I’m sure his family will be glad to see him, as well.”
“I know Mr. Hammonds will be. He has been fretting of late that Christopher won’t be home in time to see him again.”
Celeste paused, a little shocked. “Has he really?”
“He has, indeed. Small wonder he should feel the cold winds of time blowing on him. He was butler here when I came into service, and that has been a good thirty years ago.”
“Dear me. I had no idea. We should honor him in some way. He is the house anchor, and we should be lost without him.”
“Young Greg is the only one of his grandchildren who has shown the slightest interest in being a butler. He is proud of Christopher and David, but I think it is something of a disappointment to him that neither wish to follow him into service.”
“We should make a point of allowing him time with Gregory then. I’m not sure of the formal parts of being a butler, but it seems to me that Mr. Hammonds brings a great deal more to the job than just the formal training.”
“Indeed he does, Celeste. Remember how he chivvied us all about to try to keep us safe? He had his eye on Warner, but Mrs. Whitehurst was a surprise.”
“She was a surprise to all of us, and not a pleasant one. What a complete tangle. And to think that Warner was Jonathan’s half-brother.”
“The late Duke did have a roving eye, and Mrs. Whitehurst was a lovely young woman when she was just a housemaid here. I did always wonder how it was that she was taken back into service after leaving in disgrace. Now it seems we know.”
Celeste sighed. “Warner is a cautionary tale. He had potential. So much came out in the trial. He trained as an apothecary, but started experimenting with his fun mixtures. That got him kicked out of the medical guilds. When Margery pretended to marry Jonathan – the Duke, that is, she needed a way to keep Warner with her, and insisted that the Duke needed a better valet, so Warner was hired on.”
“That always did seem odd to me,” Martha commented.
“Margery needed Warner to make up the drugs that kept her stable. But more importantly to her, Warner was her husband. In their strange, twisted way, they loved each other, even though neither of them had much regard for the rest of the world.
“How is she, Celeste?”
“She seems well enough. Dr. Young and Gran’ther Tim have managed to wean her completely off laudanum, substituting chamomile, St. John’s Wort and valerian to help with the mood swings and anxiety. The judge was very understanding of her case. She is, however, under permanent house arrest.”
“And the Gentle Sisters act as her jailor and caretaker.
“I do not think they find it overly difficult. She is most effectively restrained by the state of her body. Mother Sarah still has hopes for the state of her soul, even though Parson Graves considers her unredeemable. But you know all this, Martha.”
“I do, but Dolly does not. She needs a little background, and she also needs to understand that we don’t talk about these things with the villagers.” Martha looked pointedly at the young maid.
“Yes, Ma’am. I mean, no, Ma’am I won’t talk about it in the village.” The girl colored up with embarrassment.
Just then Jonathan came in with Mr. David Hammonds, the children’s nursery maid, and all the children. “We should have put the extra leaves in the table,” Celeste fretted.
“There will be room enough,” Jonathan assured her. “this is so much better than the old days when the servants stood about, ate left-overs, and the food was always cold.”
“I think you might be right,” Celeste admitted, looking through the new dining room door to the warmth of the nearby kitchen.
“I know I am,” Jonathan said. “I am mistaken about many things, but there are two things of which I am sure.”
“Oh?” Celeste looked up at him.
“I am a very lucky man to have been given a chance to marry for love.” He touched her shoulder lightly, a promise of things to come later when they were alone.
“And the second thing, Your Grace?”
“You are far less likely to be poisoned by those who must share the same food as you at the same table. And that a man who can trust those with whom he dines is a very lucky man, indeed.”
“That makes three things, Your Grace.”
“So it does. And it is said that good things come in threes.” He smiled at her, and in spite of being surrounded by servants and children, he bent down and kissed Celeste.
“Ew, lovey stuff,” Jonny scoffed. Everyone laughed, and Jonathan ruffled the boy’s hair. “Just wait a few years, Jonny. Kissing will be a lot more interesting then.
There was another round of light laughter and the household sat down to share a meal even as they shared their lives.
Ah, before you go...
Please don't forget to follow me on Bookbub to get all my latest news and updates ♥