Ten Years Later
Violet Lovell paid her sister, Dahlia, Duchess of Shelthom, a morning visit. Peter, who was a little grayer and moved even more slowly than he used to, ushered her through the great estate house and into the extensive gardens.
“Violet!” Dahlia exclaimed. “You are just the person I want. Come see the orangery that Roger had built for me.”
“Where is Roger?” Violet asked. “I need him to look at a horse I am thinking of buying.”
“He has gone to the upper pastures to talk with the steward about the grass growing there.”
“Aunty Vi! Aunty Vi!” Two little girls came pelting around the large glass building and ran across the lawn as fast as their little legs would carry them. Behind them came Miss Emma, with a small boy clinging to her fingers.
Violet crouched down to catch the two little girls in hugs. “Serena! Esme! How are you my darlings?”
“I caught a fish, Aunty Vi,” the taller of the two announced.
“Serena caught the first fish,” the shorter of the two girls tipped up her little nose in an air she must have observed from one of Lady Amory’s friends, “but I caught the biggest one.”
“Who took them fishing?” Violet asked.
“Roger and Herbert. Roger said that if they were going to play near the brook, he wanted to be on hand to pull them out if they fell in.” Dahlia smiled indulgently at her daughters who continued to chatter away, even though an adult conversation was going on over their heads.
“So who really fell in?” Violet asked.
“Roger, of course. It was a good thing Herbert was along because I think their father is a trifle over-large for the girls to fish back out of the brook.”
“Oh, dear,” Violet laughed. “How is the Dowager?”
“She is doing well, most days. Sometimes she loses touch with present day a little. A day or two ago she called little Al, Roger.”
“Al. I can’t believe you named that poor boy Aloysius, and I’m equally surprised that Roger wasn’t offended.”
“Aunt Amelia has no children. She seemed pleased that we named our boy Aloysius. Roger didn’t mind. He is just glad to not be quite so out-numbered.”
“Aunt Amelia. Now there is a woman who is a conundrum. She has such a sense of humor and practical approach to things. Being married to Mr. Garrity must have driven her mad.”
“Oh, not quite that,” Dahlia protested, “By all accounts they got along quite well. Oh, look, there are Roger and Aaron.”
The two gentlemen rode alongside a flock of sheep that had silky coats that gleamed from brushing. Teaseling, Aaron called it, because they cleaned the brushes after each session, and this was the way they got the best wool.
The gentlemen got down off their horses, and after handing them off to the grooms, let themselves in through the gate. Roger strode over to Dahlia, kissed her, then picked up Al and tossed him in the air, eliciting squeals of pleasure from the small boy.
“Me, Father,” Esme demanded, “Me, next.”
Aaron hugged his youngest sister, and gave Dahlia a peck on the cheek. Then he gravely shook hands with Serena. “How are you, niece?” he asked.
“I am quite well, Uncle. I have completed the set of exercises you left for me, and conjugated the verbs. Do you have more?”
“Ah, there is the thirsty little mind. Your mother used to beg for my school notes.”
“I still enjoy reading the journals you bring home, and the newspapers to which Roger subscribes,” Dahlia said. “I wish there was a college for young women. I believe that both my girls would thrive on learning. They will have a hard time learning by borrowing Al’s schoolwork since he is the youngest.”
“Perhaps one day, there will be such a school,” Roger said, balancing both his younger two children on his shoulders. “In the meantime, we must make do with the able teachings of Miss Emma and our own eclectic learning. I cannot think that we do a poor job of teaching our youngsters.”
“Have you heard from Rose?” Violet asked.
“I have, indeed,” Dahlia replied. “She is close to time for her lying in. She seems quite content with her country squire.”
“Isn’t it strange?” Violet commented. “She was always the one who wanted to marry a rich man with a title, and you were the one who wanted to run away to sea or something.”
“But you are following your star, little sister,” Aaron put in. “You who have not one, but two scientific articles published in a well-known paper.”
“They would discredit me fast enough if they knew that V. Lovell was a woman. But I am content. My words and ideas are before the world. Perhaps one day I will be able to claim them as my own.”
“Will you stay to dinner?” Dahlia inquired.
“Will I ever! I thought you would never ask. No matter where I travel, the food never tastes so good as it does here. I’m not sure what your cook puts in it.” Violet delicately licked her lips. “He even makes Irish stew delicious.”
“How fortunate that I believe that is tonight’s soup,” Dahlia commented. “It is almost as if we knew you were going to visit.”
“Oh, you!” Violet said. “I do have a reason for dropping in this time, however.”
“Oh?” Dahlia said.
“Lord Goldstone’s obituary was in the paper last week. It seems that he grew tired of life in prison and hanged himself.”
Aaron looked up from the pattern he was constructing with sticks for Serena. “Really? How very odd.”
“It seems that he was going to be re-tried for treason,” Violet said. “but the really interesting part was that he wrote out a full confession just before he did the deed.
“And how was it you learned of this?” Dahlia asked.
“Oh, a little bird named Major Tomlinson paid me a morning call, and told me all about it. Better yet, he had his secretary copy it out in a fair hand, since much of it involved Dahlia and Roger. He said it was a much belated wedding gift.”
“I’ve brought the copy. You can read it or put it in the library for posterity.”
“It sounds like a most interesting bedtime story,” Roger said. “Perhaps you can read it to me, Dahlia?”
“To each their own,” Violet commented. “I can think of better bedtime stories. Is there really Irish stew?”
“There is,” Dahlia reassured her. “There is also spring lamb, new peas and new potatoes. The Reverend from the local parsonage will be attending, as will the Venerable Lisa.”
“I am amazed that the Venerable has not been arrested for witchcraft or at the very least for practicing medicine without a license.”
“The Duke of Cottleroy put in a good word for her. She is now licensed as a midwife and nurse,” Roger said.
“Will she attend Rose’s lying in?” Violet asked. “Or will her squire insist on some fashionable doctor from London?”
“Old Doctor Bailey from the village is nominally her physician, but the Venerable Lisa has already taken up residence as her midwife of choice. The Venerable is happily driving everyone in Rose’s house moderately insane with her insistence on scrubbing everything in sight with lemon grass and peppermint.”
Aaron spoke up. “At least it smells nice. I was there visiting yesterday, and the whole house had the aroma of a cup of herb tea.”
“Will Rose and her squire be here for dinner?” Roger asked.
“She is the primary reason that the Venerable will be with us,” Dahlia replied. “The two are never far apart now that her time is so close. Just think, Your Grace, you shall soon be an uncle.”
“As father to as lively a brood as ever walked, I believe I can tolerate it.” Roger carefully set Esme on the ground and handed Aloysius to Miss Emma.
“Come, everyone,” Dahlia said. “Come see the orangery. Father’s gardener sent some baby orange trees, and the tuberoses are blooming out nicely.”
The inside of the orangery was a wonder. While outside the English spring was just beginning, inside the glass house it was already summer. A hypocaust, modeled after the Roman hypocausts, kept it warm without the fumes and ash associated with most fireplaces. The air was redolent with the scent of tuberoses and hyacinths. Table trays of lettuce, cabbage, and sand tubs of carrots were tucked in amongst the flowers and young trees. There was even a tub or two of love apples, carefully trained up and positioned where they could make the best of the weak English sun.
“Are not these poisonous?” Violet asked, drifting over to them.
“Just don’t serve them on a metal plate,” Dahlia said.
Aaron added, “The tomato has been eaten in the central parts of the Americas for centuries without harm. But if you place it on a metal plate, the metal reacts to the acid in it. It is becoming all the rage in Italy where they use it to make the most amazing sauces.”
Esme walked carefully over to Timothy, the Gardener, and asked, “Please, may I have a tomato?”
“Just a small one, if your mother permits it,” the gardener said gravely.
The little girl nodded gravely. Walking over to the plant that was covered with bloom, green fruit and red, she thoughtfully selected one small red fruit and carefully picked it. “May I have one for Serena and for Al?” she asked.
“If Timothy Gardener says yes,” Dahlia said. “Timothy, do not let them tease you if the plant is not ready for picking.”
“Hit be fine,” Timothy nodded gravely, as if they were deciding the fate of nations. “I sent some up to the cook just this morning. They’s prime, Yer Grace.”
“They were sneaking them before we were even sure that they were safe,” Dahlia said. “I am just grateful that we have nothing truly dangerous planted in here. They love to walk through and sample.”
“Their sampling was endangering some of the more tender growths,” Roger added. “It was only by appealing to their stomachs that we were able to persuade them that they needed to ask a grown up before snacking on the vegetable tables.”
“But they are so good, Father,” Esme said, clinging to the seam of his pantaloons.”
“Dood,” Aloysius echoed.
“They taste better when we eat the vegetables here,” Serena said calmly.
“Begging yer pardon, Yer Graces, Gentlemen, Ladies,” Timothy said, “They do taste better right off the vine.”
“It makes sense, I suppose,” Violet said thoughtfully. “Food taken directly from the plant would retain more of its essence.” She surveyed the dark green plant with its blooms, paler green immature fruits and additional fruits in various stages of ripening.
“Is that another paper coming on?” Aaron asked jovially.
“Perhaps,” Violet’s brow creased in thought. Then she turned abruptly from the plant to look at her sister. “How is your book developing??”
“Slowly,” Dahlia admitted. “Al had the croup a week ago, and Serena indulged in a new box of books until her eyes were red and her head ached. We have sent for the oculist. We think she might need reading glasses.”
“A downside to all these scholarly pursuits,” Roger said. “Fortunately, she has a soft spot for the lambs and colts, so I have been able to coax her into the stables. But even there I could not stop Serena from writing up her observations. I think she might take after you, Miss Violet.”
“A lady scholar has a lonely road,” Violet sighed. She held out her hand to Serena, who came and leaned adoringly against her aunt’s side. “But not so lonely if you have family.”
“So very true,” Dahlia said. “Come, Roger designed a sitting area in a patch of sun.”
When she saw the sitting area, Violet began to laugh. The area was surrounded with roses, violets, and most especially dahlias, all tastefully arranged in terracotta pots. At the center of this luxury was a small fountain encircled by a comfortable arrangement of wicker love seats, chairs and ottomans.
At one end of an advantageously placed love seat was a small writing table, on which sat a pad of paper and a neatly stacked manuscript, alongside a corked bottle of ink and several recently sharpened pens. At the other end of the love seat was draped a brocade smoking jacket. A wooden rack held several journals and newspapers.
“Might we have tea here, Mother?” Serena asked Dahlia.
“Of course, my dear,” Dahlia replied, reaching up to tug on an embroidered bell pull that hung near the writing desk.
Then she and Roger saw their family seated. Mrs. Garrity arrived shortly, wheeling the Dowager Duchess in an ornate wooden chair on wheels. Herbert followed shortly thereafter with the Duke of Cottleroy in a similar chair.
Behind them came a trio of maids bearing trays of cucumber sandwiches, small salad dishes and pitchers of lemonade.
“Wherever did you get lemons at this time of year?” Violet exclaimed.
“From Father’s orangery,” Dahlia said. “He has sent started plants for our little indoor orchard. It is his blessing for our family.”
“You were a willful, stubborn, wild daughter,” Cottleroy remarked, “but you are a wonder and a blessing to my old age, as is the son-in-law you have chosen.”
Roger raised a glass of lemonade and said, “I propose a toast. Here is to willful, stubborn and wonderful daughters and to fine, intelligent sturdy sons. To family!”
“To family!” they all echoed, clinking glasses of the sweet, tart liquid.
Roger and Dahlia snuggled together on their loveseat, surrounded by family. Ten years had seen not only their debts cleared, but those of Cottleroy, as well. Thanks to Major Tomlinson, the Duke of Cottleroy had been cleared of all charges, although he might have been sentenced as an accessory. The judge who had presided over the case ruled that a life sentence to a wheeled chair was sufficient punishment.
The happy couple was well content with their life. They had witnessed one sister wed, and the other well established in a secret profession. Aaron’s sheep prospered, and under his guidance, so had Roger’s horse breeding farms. From their bounty, they gladly supplied Violet’s financial needs.
As for their personal relationship, there had been quarrels and making up after the quarrels. There were days of utter bliss.
There were sad parts of their lives. Dahlia’s father would never walk again, and each passing year saw him a little weaker. He was Herbert’s full-time charge now, for Roger would trust his father-in-law with no other.
Mrs. Garrity spent most of her time with the Dowager Duchess. The sisters got on well enough, and Priscilla Kingman’s mind wandered a bit. Sometimes she asked for her husband, sometimes she railed against her captors.
Lloyd’s ships stopped disappearing after Lord Goldstone was locked away. Indeed, several of them were returned, albeit minus the cargo and passengers. A few of the passengers turned up in unlikely places such as Tahiti and Jamaica, known pirate holds. But one well-loved passenger would never come home, and Roger remained the Duke of Shelthom.
Dahlia nestled against Roger, and turned her face up to him to be kissed. Serena rolled her eyes, Al banged his spoon on his table, and Esme said, “Mother and Father are kissing!”
Cottleroy sighed, the Dowager Duchess remarked, “In my day we were not so open in our affections.” Violet and Aunt Garrity just exchanged tolerant glances, while Aaron looked on with a pleased smile, as if he had engineered the whole thing.
Roger murmured, “They are becoming quite a crew. Do you think we should risk making another one?”
“Too late to ask that question.
“Truly?” Roger smiled with delight.
“Truly,” Dahlia whispered, “but let’s not tell everyone just yet.” They snuggled, and Roger fed Dahlia a choice strawberry from the plate before them. “Our secret,” he whispered back. And he had that undecipherable expression on his face. Only by now, Dahlia knew that it meant he loved her and was wondering at the marvel of it. Best of all, she loved him back, and they were living happily ever after.
Ah, before you go...
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