Children were running through the Annabel Chamberlain School as their parents walked through the schoolrooms with glasses of punch in hand, examining their children’s drawings on the walls and chatting with the teachers.
It was the five-year anniversary of the school’s opening. The Headmaster, Simon Chamberlain, and his wife, Fiona, were talking to a group of prospective students and their parents who were interested in enrolling. Fiona had her eye on their three-year-0ld son who was prone to quietly slipping away when he wasn’t being watched closely.
“Excuse me,” Fiona said, breaking away from some of the parents from the class she taught and raced after Donald, catching him just as he was about to crash into a teacher’s desk trying to escape her.
“Donald Whitley Chamberlain, how many times have I told you to stay right by my side?”
“No, buts,” Fiona insisted. She looked around the room and spied the ten-year-old Elizabeth talking to a group of her classmates from the school.
Fiona went over and, pulling Elizabeth aside, asked, “Could you please watch Donald for me? He’s more than a handful this afternoon.”
“Happy to,” Elizabeth said, taking hold of Donald’s hand.
“Have you seen your mother?” Fiona asked. “The parents I’ve been talking to would like to meet her.”
“I’ll see if I can find her,” Elizabeth replied.
Elizabeth was a tall and willowy young lady now. Her dark hair was long and her brown eyes shone with a bright intelligence. She moved gracefully through the throng and soon found her mother in earnest conversation with a group of the older students.
As Elizabeth approached, Susan turned to greet her.
“Hello, my dear, quite a robust crowd, wouldn’t you say?”
“Very. Aunt Fiona is with a group of parents who wish to speak to you.”
“I’ll be right with them,” Susan said. She hesitated and then added, “I’m sorry we had this scheduled on your birthday. This is no way to spend your special day.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I don’t mind at all. I love our school. Who knows I might even end up teaching here someday.”
“Oh, I don’t know how your father would like that. I believe he’s imagining you marrying into some aristocratic family with crusty titles and miles upon miles of revenue yielding land.”
She leaned in and whispered, “Mommy, he’s a snob.”
Susan laughed. “But remember, he married me.”
“That’s true. At least he did one thing right.”
“Now. Now. He’s your father and you owe him respect.”
“Sorry. I know. It’s just… sometimes he can be so….”
“Difficult. But then so can I,” Susan said.
“Yes, but you’re more sensible—mostly.”
“To be continued,” she said, patting Elizabeth’s cheek. “I must go speak with Fiona’s group.” She leaned down and ruffled Donald’s hair. “Hi, Donny. You being a good boy?”
“I’m always good,” he said grumpily.
As Susan was leaving, Elizabeth asked, “Are Katherine and Roger coming to my birthday party this afternoon? I’ve missed seeing her lately.”
“They are. And I know Toby will be happy to see you too.”
“Good. He loves to ride Scrawny. I’d like to let him ride her.”
“Only if you have time. It’s your birthday. You’ll have a lot of guests.”
“Yes, but he’s such a dear—he feels like another little brother.”
Susan waved, “Bye-bye, need to go.”
She then went over to Fiona, Simon, and the group of parents. “Did you have a question?” Susan asked as she approached the group.
“How was the school event?” John asked as Susan came into their rooms as he was dressing for Elizabeth’s birthday party.
She went over to him from behind and put her arms around him, laying her head against his back. He turned around and put his arms around her too, kissing her forehead.
“It went splendidly. It looks as though we might have another five to seven day students and up to ten boarding students.”
“You must be very pleased to see your dream coming true.”
“Ah, but it’s your dream more than mine.”
“But it’s your successful teaching methods that are drawing so many new students. Word is spreading.” He leaned down and kissed her. She melted into his arms and reached up and rubbed the back of his neck the way he liked.
“I need to change,” she said, breaking from his embrace.
“What time is Elizabeth’s present coming?” she asked as she headed to her dressing room where her maid was waiting to dress her while she continued her conversation with John.
“The trainer should be here about four. The party starts at three?”
“Then she’ll be surprised. That’s good. Do you think she has any idea of her gift?” John asked.
“I’ve said nothing,” Susan added.
“But they’ve been readying the stall in the stable. Might she not be suspicious?”
Susan smiled. “It wouldn’t surprise me. It seems nothing gets by her. I’ve given up trying to hide anything from her.”
There was a knock at the door and Clarissa came in with four-year-old Clarence.
“Look who’s up from his nap and excited about his sister’s party,” Clarissa said.
“Hello, darling,” Susan said, coming from her dressing room and kneeling and holding out her arms for her son, who came rushing to her.
“Mommy, Mommy has the party started yet?”
“Not yet, but very soon. Aren’t you going to get dressed up? You look like a little ruffian. Go with Aunt Clarissa and she’ll help you get ready.”
Clarence squirmed in her arms. “I don’t want to get into those clothes. I don’t like the collar, it hurts my neck.”
Susan looked up at Clarissa, who shrugged. “Maybe just this once?” Aunt pleaded.
“Very well—nothing formal.”
“Yea,” Clarence said, as he broke from his mother and rushed to his father, shouting, “Horsey-ride, horsey-ride.”
John caught him and hoisted the boy to his shoulders and jogged him a few times around the sitting room of their suite in an exaggerated trot. John tried to put him down, but Clarence demanded, “More, more.”
“Enough, for now, son. You don’t want to miss any of the party do you?”
“No,” he answered, as John put him down and he ran off to Aunt Clarissa.
As they left, Susan went over to John, and putting her hand through his arm, asked, “When should we make the announcement? Should we do it at the party, do you think? My parents will be here—Katherine and family—Simon and Fiona.
“Might that not take away from Elizabeth’s special day?” John asked.
Susan considered that. “But I think it would add to her delight knowing she’s about to have another brother or sister early next year.”
“Then, if you think that, then yes, let’s announce it.”
Elizabeth came up to her father as the party was just getting underway with her guests being mostly children from her school and a few adult relatives. She had Katherine’s son, Toby with her.
“Papa, Toby wants me to give him a ride on Scrawny, would that be all right?”
John smiled enigmatically, and said, “Why don’t you wait just a little while, your guests are still arriving and they’ll want to wish you a happy birthday. Wait just a bit longer.”
“Very well,” she said, then knelt down to Toby and told him she’d take him later. He went running over to his mother who was chatting with Susan.
“Hey, dolly boy,” Katherine said, picking him up and holding him, as he laid his head on her shoulder. She turned back to Susan. “Are your mother and father going to be at the party?”
“Oh, yes. But knowing Papa he was probably late getting started.” She leaned in and said softly, “How would Roger feel if we offered Toby our pony? Elizabeth’s outgrown her and we’d like to see her go to a good family.”
“Oh, Susan, that sounds wonderful. But let me talk to Roger first. I don’t want a certain someone to get excited if it’s not going to happen,” she said indicating her son Toby.
“Just let me know,” Susan said, and then whispered. “We’re going to have a special announcement later.”
Katherine leaned back and stared. “Are you…”
Susan nodded and put her finger to her mouth, indicating she didn’t want Katherine to discuss it with anyone. Katherine crossed her heart.
Just then Mamma and Papa arrived and after rushing over to the birthday girl and offering her happy wishes, they came to Susan.
“I’m so sorry we’re late, your father…” Mamma fussed. “And we didn’t know what to get Elizabeth for her birthday, so I’m working on a sweater, but it’s not ready. Do you think she’ll mind?”
“Not at all, and I’m glad you both could make it.”
“Daughter,” Papa said, patting her shoulder. “Your brother and sister send their best. But we got an injured lamb and Jacob needed to stay back, and our Louisa’s got a colicky young’n.”
“But I’m so happy you both came. Enjoy the party” Susan said giving them each a kiss on the cheek.
Aunt Clarissa was overseeing the party, and as it was time, she clapped her hands for attention and called out, “Cake!”
The children gathered around as the birthday cake was brought out with the ten candles blazing. Everyone sang, “For She’s a Golly Good Fellow,” and applauded as Elizabeth cut the first slice.
John and Susan came forward and kissed her and wished her a happy birthday. And as the cake was being served to the guests John said, “My darling daughter, would you like to fetch Toby now for his ride on your pony?”
Elizabeth seemed a little puzzled at the timing but went to get him from Katherine. When she returned she asked, “Do you think some of the other children might like to take a ride as well?” she asked her father.
“Aren’t most of your friends a little too old for a pony?”
Elizabeth nodded. “You may be right.” She turned to Toby and asked, “Are you ready?”
He nodded eagerly.
John and Susan led the way out toward the stables. When they got outside, standing before them was a handsome black mare, saddled and ready to be ridden.
Elizabeth stopped and stared. “That’s not Scrawny,” she said feebly. She turned to her father.
“You get to name this one too,” was all he said.
She shot a quick glace to Susan who nodded, and then she rushed over to the horse, took the reins from the groom, and mounted the beautiful animal. As she sat in the saddle she leaned forward and ran her hand along her neck and whispered in her ear, “They thought it was a surprise, but I knew you were coming.”
She snapped the reins and shot off across the park for a short distance, then turned and returned back to her parents.
“She’s magnificent,” she said as she dismounted. She rushed over to them and hugged them both at the same time. “Thank you.” Then she kissed each one.
“I want to ride more, but I’m not dressed properly and I have guests.”
“We’re happy you like her,” Susan said.
“Lightning,” Elizabeth said as they were returning to the house. “That’s to be her name.”
“Hey, what about my ride?” Toby shouted as he came running after them, and grabbing hold of Elizabeth’s hand to stop her.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You didn’t get your ride, did you?”
Then Elizabeth got an idea. She turned to her parents. “What if we gave Toby the pony? I’m not going to be riding her anymore.”
“Yea, yea,” Toby shouted.
Susan smiled. “Pumpkin, we’ve already made just such arrangements.”
“You were going to give Scrawny away without asking me first?” Elizabeth asked in mock horror.
“We know your good heart, and anticipated your response,” Susan said, patting her hand.
Elizabeth stood between her parents and put an arm around each one and they walked back to the house to continue the party.
“Elizabeth said that our announcement of the new child was even better than her beautiful horse,” Susan said as she sat in her rocking chair with her hands resting on the child growing within her.
John was standing by the fire. He’d adopted his father-in-law’s taste for the pipe and was tamping the tobacco in preparation for a smoke.
It was much later that night and the great house was silent. All but these two were asleep. But a few restless servants would need to be stirring in a few hours to start up the business of the house—even before the sun was up.
“Boy or girl?” John asked.
“How would I know?”
“No. I was asking if you preferred a boy or a girl,” John clarified.
“Elizabeth was your daughter by Annabel. Clarence is our son, so I guess I would like the two of us to have a daughter together.”
“Do you resent that Elizabeth is not yours?” John asked.
Susan looked shocked. “Not at all. You know that. I love her as my own. But I would also like to have my own daughter, as well.”
John went over to her, and, leaning over, kissed the top of her head and put his hand on her back.
He leaned in to her and whispered, “I rejoice every moment of every day that you are in my life, Susan. I love you and all of our family—and, yes, even Simon and the whimsical Fiona, with all my heart and being. And I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Isn’t it time for bed?”
Ah, before you go...
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