Ten Years Later
Evelyn looked up from the ledger she was writing in, and smiled as her co-teacher entered the small office just off the kitchen. He was also her husband, sometimes her mentor, her lover, partner, and father of her children. Were that not enough, he was also the Earl of Hillsworth, innovator, entrepreneur, and member of Parliament.
In spite of the many hats he wore, Mayson never failed to make time for her and for their children. The kitchen skills program was but one of many innovations at Hillsworth, with a recent extension into Tolware Village where the Duchess of Tolware taught deportment and conversation to young ladies who wished to become companions, and oversaw the gardening classes.
“How was London?” she asked.
“Crowded, grubby, and noisy, as always,” Mayson replied, drawing her in for a kiss.
“Mayson! I’m here to teach a class. What if one of the students should stop in?”
“Early? I’m fairly certain we have a classroom of ten o’clock scholars, most of whom cannot tell time.”
Since reading the big kitchen clock had been a recent lesson, Evelyn had to laugh. “Perhaps we should have a bell tower installed. Then everyone would know what o’clock it is.”
“Then we would be inundated with one of the noises of London. No, I shall simply commission the clockmaker who assembled Dr. Alton’s new pocket watch to make clocks for the village squares in Hillsworth and Tolware. That way he will make a profit and we will be able to justifiably insist on punctuality.”
Evelyn gave him a mischievous smile. “Do you think it will work?”
Mayson laughed. “No, but we can then exact reasonable punishments for those who arrive late, such as making them stay late and practice their penmanship by writing sentences such as, I shall not be late for school.”
“Oh, Mayson. Only you would think of writing as a punishment.”
“Better by far than extensive application of the ferule. I do not subscribe to the philosophy that knowledge must be beaten into scholars.”
“Thank goodness for that!” Evelyn exclaimed. “Otherwise your second child would never sit down, his backside would be so sore.”
“With that one, I am questioning the reasoning of sparing the rod. If I learn that he has been chasing Mr. Graylock’s peacocks again, I shall have no choice but to give him a few firm whacks across his backside.”
“Oh, Mayson. He did not intend to harm them. He only wanted one of the pretty feathers for the blacksmith’s daughter.”
“Who is a charming young minx at ten summers, and is likely to get herself and some lad in grave trouble before she is six-and-ten. I’ve had a word with her father. He was not best pleased, but she teases all the schoolboys, setting them one against another. Are you certain that teaching all the children together is a good idea?”
“I think it is their best chance of learning,” Evelyn replied firmly. “Have you visited those so-called schools for young ladies?”
“I left that in your capable hands, Beloved. What did you learn?”
“They teach sewing, embroidery, deportment, and conversation. The classes in arithmetic end when the young lady can tote up accounts for her own household. No law, no medicine, no argumentation. They will be as ignorant as I was when John became ill. More so, for I had the experience of working in my father’s shop.”
“Speaking of daughters, where is Adelaide? I came through the kitchen and Cook Master Zhao Bai Li said that she had completed her studies with him for the day and was supposed to report to you.”
“She is with the Dowager Duchess, reading from the late Duke’s journals, no doubt.”
Mayson looked amused. “I only hope the Dowager does not share the love letters she exchanged with the late Duke.” The Duchess had generously offered to share them with Evelyn and Mayson when they were newly married.
“Of course she would not, Mayson. But I do wish I had seen Blanche’s face when she read some of the antics Darrius’ parent had gotten up to. Small wonder he grew up with some very odd ideas.”
Mayson sat down in the recitation seat, and leaned on his wife’s desk. “Odder than mine?”
Evelyn brushed his cheek lightly with ink-stained fingers. “My dear, you have no idea. Blanche had questions that she did not feel comfortable asking her mother or the Dowager. Since I had been married before, she asked me. Poor little mite. She had been so sheltered, she was bothered by the most natural things. If I had not firmly intervened, they might not have had an heir at all.”
“Speaking of whom, is George doing better now that he is taking his classes here?”
“Do you know, I had thought fostering to be an outdated, medieval practice. But in George’s case, it has wrought miracles. Disciplined sessions with Master Zhao, lessons on estate management with you, reading and literature with me and the village children as well as our own, and he is blossoming. He has lost that pinched look that reminded me so much of his mother when I first met her.”
“He does seem to have inherited her nervous disposition, and was in a fair way to imitate his father’s narrow-minded perception of the world.”
“Do you still find the Duke to be narrow-minded?” Evelyn asked.
“Like a horse with blinders on, and about as trustworthy in an emergency. We are fortunate that Blanche forces him to the straight and narrow, else he would be a chancy sort of neighbor,” Mayson replied soberly.
Evelyn put down her pen, and gave Mayson her full attention. “I have often wondered at the magistrate’s decision to remand Darrius and Bruce to Blanche.”
“Blanche manages them both very well, I am glad to say. But there is something you might not realize, Evelyn. Bruce is the reason I am still alive.”
“Bruce?” Evelyn stared at him in disbelief. “But he helped kidnap you.”
“Yes, indeed. He is the one who carried me out of the house. He is also the one who found shelter when it began to rain, then found excuse after excuse for not strangling me before the searchers arrived.”
“The magistrate knew of this? Mayson, why am I just now learning of it?”
“Because, my dearly beloved, you can be quite fierce in your defense of those you love. I knew that we would have to meet socially with Darrius and Blanche. I knew you would be wary of him, but it was to no one’s benefit for you to understand just how willing he was to take my corpse to my uncle.”
“Mayson! That man is a member of Parliament.”
“So he is. So are a great many others, as well. Fortunately, he is more interested in his strawberries, carriages, and chasing the occasional chamber maid than he is in matters of state.”
“Still? But he and Blanche have been married for nearly as long as you and I. How distressing for Blanche.”
“I think he does it to get her attention. Shall I chase a few so that you will pay attention to me?” Mayson smiled winsomely at Evelyn.
“Oh, you! I shall sit you in the corner with the dunce cap on your head. Do not even think about trying such things.”
Mayson laughed. “The maids are safe from me. None of them can compare to you. Could not when you were the Dowager Duchess’ companion, and cannot now. Especially not now. You become more winsome with every passing year.”
“Oh, Mayson! I shall now add the fibber’s card to the dunce cap.”
“Not a bit of it, Evelyn. In my eyes, there is no one more beautiful, more clever, or more steadfast than you.” He circled the desk, put his arm around her, bent and kissed her soundly.
“Mayson!” she protested. “The students will be here any minute.”
The clock obligingly began to chime “The Westminster Quarters” while a little door to one side of the clock face opened and wooden figures of school children began to march around to the schoolhouse door on the other side.
Evelyn straightened her cap and made shooing motions with her hands. “Go, go, My Lord. I will see you at dinner tonight.”
“Very well, Lady Hillsworth.” Mayson stood, bowed low over her fingers, kissing them with fervor just as the first few students entered the classroom, led by Mayson and Evelyn’s oldest daughter. No few of them were both taller and older than the children who led the group.
Adelaide stopped, dropped a precisely correct curtsey, then poked first her brother, Barnard, then their neighbor, George, with her elbows, cueing them to make their bows.
“Good morning, Lady Hillsworth. Good morning, Lord Hillsworth,” she intoned. A chorus of greetings followed after, more or less in unison. Evelyn had a hard time keeping a straight face when she heard Barnard murmur, “Did you have to do that?”
And at Adelaide’s whispered, “Yes! Be a good example.”
She then led the group on into the room, standing behind her desk until Mayson advanced upon the upright harp in the corner and struck the opening chord for “God Save the King.” At the end of the song, Evelyn signaled for the students to be seated. “Take out your readers, turn to your current lesson, and begin reading.”
There came a pleasant buzz of voices reading out loud, perhaps trying a little harder than usual to prove that they were industriously engaged, since Lord Hillsworth did not usually hold class until the afternoon.
“I will be back to manage the advanced cooking class,” he said, under cover of the buzz of voices. “Are you sure we cannot just leave Adelaide in charge and slip away?”
“What a tease you are,” she responded, “Of course we cannot.”
“She seems to have firm control of the situation,” Mayson remarked.
“Yes, and it is not always convenient. Please do not give her ideas.”
“Very well. I will see you when the Cook Master sends up tea.”
“Going to your own lesson?”
Mayson sighed. “Indeed, yes. I think he forgets that I am no longer a cadet, and feels that I need discipline. I shall be late this morning, and will no doubt spend several minutes in horse stance to pay for my transgression.”
“Go, then, Lord Hillsworth,” Evelyn said sternly, but her lips twitched at the corners and her eyes twinkled.
They both put in a busy day, going about their duties. Later, after dinner, Evelyn asked, “Did you have to spend time in horse stance?”
“No. Much worse,” Mayson replied. “I was dragooned into going over the kitchen accounts. Is there a reason why you have curtailed the purchase of certain spices?”
“Yes, Mayson. They have become quite dear. More than that, some of them come from plantations that are known to use slave labor. I am sorry to have upset Master Zhao, but I cannot condone it.”
“Very well. I will explain it to him tomorrow. Perhaps the two of you can discover local substitutes?”
“We can try. But I fear we shall have to resort to growing some of them, which will mean an even greater expense.”
“How is that, Evelyn?”
She sighed. “Much as I hate to endorse anything that the Duke does, his greenhouses are an extremely practical solution. Master Zhao’s beloved turmeric, for example, must have a warm, moist environment. A greenhouse or orangery is the only possible answer for growing it here.”
“So, so,” Mayson commented. They walked on in silence for a way. Then he said, “I do not wish to be in competition with Darrius. We shall not grow strawberries.”
“Then what shall we grow, my husband?”
“Oranges, I think, and turmeric. Other spices. Yes, I think that would serve quite well.”
“Do we have the funds to invest?” Evelyn asked.
“If we are not making expensive purchases from the East India Company, I believe so,” Mayson replied.
“But what of the seeds and roots to plant?”
“Hmmm. Wife of mine, how would you like to travel to New South Wales? Or perhaps to the Far East?”
“But who would take care of the estate? Mayson, we cannot just run away as we dreamed of when we were thinking of being married.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice,” Mayson mused.
“You made the logical and only choice,” Evelyn replied. “How could you possibly have left your Uncle Leroy in charge? Snakes for pocket change, indeed!”
Mayson laughed. “His last letter indicated that he was doing well, and that he has an extensive holding. He still assures me that he meant me no harm. Perhaps we should stop by and see him.”
Evelyn shuddered. “Must we? I did not find him a pleasant person.”
“No, we need not, if you dislike the idea. It is a wide world.”
“Thank you,” Evelyn said. “Who would you leave in charge?”
“I will divide it about, giving people charge of different parts. Master Zhao in charge of the house and grounds, Mr. Petersen in charge of the landscaping. I will take a leave of absence from Parliament, or perhaps incorporate that business with our trip.”
“You already had this planned!” Evelyn glared at him. “What about the children?”
“What about them? We shall take them, of course. They will learn a great deal. Can you imagine what it might have been like to travel at their age?”
“But the hazards! Mayson, sailing is risky business.”
“It gets safer every year,” Mayson reassured her. “We will sail on our own ships, of course, and we will put into port and stay a while when the seasons are stormy or hazardous. Evelyn, it is not completely planned. If you dislike it, we shall not go.”
Evelyn thought about it. “It would be an adventure. We shall write about it, and send the packets to the Duchess. She does love travelogues.”
“We will do that,” Mayson assured her. “But, dear love, you must brace yourself. The Duchess is becoming quite frail. She might not still be here when we return.”
“All the more reason to send her accounts of our travels. I only wish I could read them aloud to her.”
“Your sister is a good reader. She will do the honors for us. Or perhaps Mr. McElroy can tell the Duchess some of his famous travel tales. You know that Betty will take care of her physical needs and that Jemmy will keep her well-fed.”
“We can truly do this?” Evelyn held out her hand to Mayson.
“We can, and we will.” Mayson pulled her to him, and kissed her, oblivious to the servants who were still clearing the dining table.
“Mama! Papa!” Adelaide exclaimed. “The servants will see you!”
They broke apart. “So they shall,” Evelyn replied. “But, my dears, we are celebrating.”
“What are you celebrating?” Barnard asked.
“We are going on a grand adventure,” Mayson announced.
“All of us?” Adelaide asked.
“All of us,” Evelyn confirmed. “Oh, children, we shall have such fun! I think we might see kangaroos and elephants.”
“Can we ride on an elephant?” Barnard wanted to know.
“I am sure we can ride on elephants, and perhaps on camels,” Mayson replied.
“You can ask for them when you say your prayers,” Evelyn said. “For now, it is time for bed.”
They all four walked on up the wide staircase to the sleeping rooms located in the second level of the sprawling mansion of Hillsworth, happily planning their future.
Ah, before you go...
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