Three Years Later
“My dear,” Andrew said to Rebecca, walking up the hill of the emerald green lawn with a small, wriggling creature hoisted over his shoulder. “Your daughter is the most willful, headstrong and opinionated creature I have ever known.”
He swung the little girl down, who shrieked and giggled at the motion.
“Again, papa!” she squealed, holding her chubby little arms up to her father. “Again, again!”
“She takes after her mamma,” he continued, sitting down upon the grass beside his wife and picking his daughter up once again to toss her into the air. “And I could not be prouder.”
“She’s a spirited little thing,” Rebecca agreed, chucking her two-year-old daughter under the chin and pausing for a second to tug on one of her little golden curls. “I hope that we should never have cause to argue with her, for I suspect she will always win.”
“As you did, my dear daughter,” the Earl of Sheffield interjected.
He was sitting in a comfortable chair on the sunny terrace, enjoying the sight of his elder grandchild playing on the lawn, while the younger, the future Duke of Leinster, now six months old, lay cooing in his wicker basket.
“I hope that she will take a little after her papa as she grows up,” Rebecca observed. She turned to smile at her own father. “And her grandpapa, of course.”
Rebecca’s relationship with the Earl had been frosty in the year following her marriage and for a long while she had believed that she did not want to have anything to do with her father. He for his part had not made any effort to repair the breach.
All that had changed, however, when Rebecca and Andrew’s first child, their little daughter Lydia, had been born. The Earl had paid what he insisted in advance would be a very brief visit ‘to see how the bloodline was progressing’ and fallen entirely in love with the little creature.
Since then he had scarcely left Godwin Hall, and his love for the little girl had softened his crotchety personality to the point that he had become a kindly and generally agreeable old gentleman.
It helped, of course, that now Rebecca was married there were few things that she and her father needed to agree upon so they could confine themselves to trading affectionate remarks about the children.
“And that victory was a very fortunate one,” Grandmamma Horatia spoke up. The little girl ran over to her and climbed into her great- grandmother’s lap, and pleasure filled the old lady’s face, smoothing away the wrinkles and making her look quite young again.
Grandmamma Horatia seemed to have scarcely aged a day since Rebecca and Andrew’s wedding, although the events that had immediately preceded it had impacted her a great deal. Since her great-grandchildren had been born, however, much of that old sorrow seemed to have been done, or at least healed somewhat.
“Indeed, it was, Grandmamma,” Andrew agreed, leaning over to kiss his wife on the cheek. “If Rebecca had not had the spirit to stand up for her own beliefs, then it is very possible that none of us would be here today.”
Ever since the day of their wedding, Andrew had indeed honored every vow that he had made. Not just those vows that appeared in the Church of England wedding service, but those other, more private promises that he had made to Rebecca in that letter, and again on that wonderful day when they had been reunited after his imprisonment.
If you take me as your husband, I will never attempt to bully or domineer over you. I will never claim my judgement to be superior to yours, nor will I dismiss you because you are a woman and I am a man.
Those words were written on both of their souls and formed the foundation for the mutual love and respect that had characterized their three years of marriage. Of course, things were not always straightforward and two wills as strong as theirs were bound to encounter the occasional disagreement from time to time.
But because they engaged with one another as equals and always on the common understanding that they were more committed to one another than they ever were to one particular point of view, they were always able to resolve their differences of opinion in a timely and loving fashion.
The fact that their union had been so quickly enriched by the birth of their children made the fact of their happiness even more plain to see, and they both often marveled that, despite the difficulties they had had in the early days of their love, they had found such good fortune in other ways once they were married.
Rebecca hoped that there would be plenty more children to come, but she was glad that so far she had both a son and a daughter. She hoped that the legacy of Godwin Hall would never be affected by the misery of two brothers being pitted against one another.
“I believe that all should have turned out well in the end,” Rebecca replied, reaching into the woven basket to pick up her son, who was just starting to squall for attention. “Despite… ah… the best efforts of certain persons.”
Relations were still cool between Lord Peregrine and the Godwin family, but they had thawed somewhat since little William had been born. Perhaps now that Andrew had an heir, Lord Peregrine had accepted that he would never be the Duke of Leinster after all and had moved on.
He had recently visited Godwin Hall for dinner and pronounced his great niece and nephew ‘the most charming children he had ever seen’. This had earned him some favor with Andrew, although Rebecca was more reluctant to offer her forgiveness. Or rather, she was capable of forgiving, but she was far too wise to ever forget.
Although they had managed to move on and to build a life for themselves that they all loved and felt content in, the scars of the past still emerged from time to time. Given the terrible things that had taken place in Godwin Hall, they knew better than to pretend that life could ever be perfect, nor to believe that perfection was desirable.
Rebecca still received monthly letters from the warden of the asylum where Caroline was being held. Andrew had discerned that, despite everything, Rebecca was still concerned for the wellbeing of a woman whom she had long regarded as a sister.
Though he would never be able to share the feeling, he quietly set up a substantial regular donation to the asylum, giving him such a degree of influence over its governors that he could ensure that the inmates were at least treated humanely.
Given how notoriously dreadful the various comparable institutions in England were, this was a great comfort to Rebecca.
The letters from the warden informed her that Caroline was doing well and that she occupied herself primarily with needlework and reading. They explained that Caroline had not uttered a word since the day that she had arrived in the asylum, but the warden professed that he hoped that she might, in time, make a full recovery.
Rebecca was not so sure that this would ever happen, nor if it was desirable. She was not sure that the ailment that afflicted Caroline was one that could ever be cured — how could a person be cured of their unhappiness?
The pity could not be reserved entirely for Caroline, of course, no matter how wretched her life had turned out to be. The deepest pity had to be reserved for the person who had not lived to see Godwin Hall become the happy and loving place that it was now.
The children had been taught to carefully tend to the grave of ‘Uncle Charles’ who had been laid to rest in a quiet and shady corner of Godwin Park. The small family walked there every Sunday on their way home from church, and little Lydia would solemnly lay a small posy of wildflowers on the grave of the uncle she had never known.
For Rebecca, this was always an ambivalent experience. She tried to remember the Charles with whom she had played as a child, and of whom she had always considered being the closest thing she had to a brother.
Sometimes, however, the memory of the unkind, domineering Charles crept in, the one who had treated her like a piece of property and tried to frighten her into doing what he wanted.
She was glad that she was older now, and things did not frighten her nearly as easily as they once had.
Besides, it was very important to Andrew that the family continued to honor his brother’s memory, though he was the first to admit that Charles had been a far-from-perfect person.
Rebecca stood up, with her little boy in her arms and passed him to his father to hold while she stooped to kiss her daughter.
When she had come to Godwin Hall for her marriage — although not the marriage that she had ended up with — it had been just the very end of autumn, with the park beginning to submit to the chilly grasp of winter.
Now it was high summer and perhaps the finest summer they had enjoyed since they had been married. It was a glorious season, made more delightful by the fact that little Lydia was now toddling about, and they spent all their days chasing her across the lawn, trying to keep up.
The nursemaid often complained that she had nothing to do, for Rebecca and Andrew were devoted parents who could scarcely bear to be apart from their precious little daughter and son.
Their delight in their children had caused them to sit down one evening and add another promise to their list of vows to one another. That was the promise that they would never try to force their children into situations that would make them unhappy, and certainly, they would never try to pressure their children into unwanted marriages.
“We have wealth and resources enough,” Andrew had said. “We do not need to seek to raise ourselves in society by trying to marry our children into more money and status. Your father and mine would have done far better to have been content with what they had, rather than allowing themselves to be carried away by greed.”
“Just so,” Rebecca had said, looking down into the sleeping faces of her babies and marveling at their perfect beauty. “As you said to me once, we cannot choose who our family is. But what we can do is create a family of our own, and in our family, I believe we should hold it as a sacred principle that happiness and love always come first.”
Andrew leaned over and kissed his wife.
“Well said, my darling Becca,” he said, looking at his wife with the same devotion that he had displayed that day in the gaol cell, and again when he had dismounted his horse to greet her in the pouring rain. “You always express things so perfectly. Our children are very fortunate to have such a wise mother.”
“Our children are very fortunate to have parents who love each other,” Rebecca replied. “Very few people grow up with such good fortune.”
“It is not just good fortune, my dear,” Andrew said, stroking her gently on the cheek. “It is the result of two people who knew what they wanted, and were prepared to risk everything to be together.”
“And now we are together,” Rebecca said, leaning against her husband and gazing into the fire. “All four of us.”
At this, the two of them shared a kiss. It was one of thousands that they had given each other since that day in the gaol cell, yet time had not diminished the depth of their passion in the slightest. They both vowed that it never would.
Ah, before you go...
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