Odile sat by the fire, looking out across the drawing room. It was springtime, and the long velvet drapes were drawn back, the room bright and sparkling. She was feeling a little cold, and had settled her chair beside the fireplace, but it was a warm day. She could see her guests seated all around the room, talking excitedly.
“Auntie? Can we play ball?” Alexander asked Harriet, who was sitting with Cornelius on her knee. Both strong and sturdy, the boys never tired of playing with one another. Harriet grinned, nodding sleepily.
“I’ll bring you down to the garden, Alexander,” she agreed. “But we’ll sit here for a while longer—I dearly want some tea.”
Odile grinned to herself. She looked at Frederick, who was looking out of the window, talking with Hal. They were planning a walk later on, starting at the new water-garden. Odile felt her heart lift with excitement.
Her gardening project—which had consumed her energy for the last few summers—was completed. She and Frederick had designed everything afresh, and the rose arbor and the tumbledown walls were replaced with a beautiful rose garden and water-garden, the roses all replanted in a more natural way, the bushes of scented lavender growing in among herbs and tufty grass. It was Odile’s favorite place.
“May we have some cake?” Cornelius asked. He was a beautiful child—dark-haired and solemn, with chubby cheeks. He had always loved eating, and Harriet was sure he would be as tall as Elmore—which was, Odile thought, unsurprising—he was bound to be taller than Harriet, who had always been small and delicate.
“Cornelius, dear…you’ve eaten so many bonbons—how can you have room?”
“If we’re going to play, we need plenty to eat,” Cornelius declared firmly. “Or how will I have the strength to beat Alexander at a game of pall mall?”
Odile giggled. Pall mall was the boys’ new pastime. They were only six years old, but Frederick had already had a set put out, and they spent hours out there, passing a ball from one side to another, playing or shouting in glee or annoyance, depending on their scores.
“I’m so glad we’re staying here,” Harriet confided, as Odile poured her some tea. “My son loves being here. It’s so good for them to play. I think he felt a little concerned when Adelie was born.”
“I know,” Odile nodded. Her sister had mentioned her son had been afraid she would not live through the birth and had refused to talk, hiding in his room. He had recovered when Harriet was fine—as Odile had known she would be—and they had convinced him she would stay well. He was coming to terms with his sister, but he benefitted a great deal from being here, with Alexander, his friend.
The boys were more like brothers, Odile thought, watching them play. She watched little Alexander, who had his father’s eyes and her own paler hair, walk over to join them.
“Papa? Can you take us on the horse?”
She smiled as Frederick’s eyes widened. “Son, are you sure you want to go out again? You’ve been out once this morning.”
“We want to go to the river!” Alexander declared. It was the furthest the boys were currently able to ride. He looked up boldly, and Frederick chuckled, lifting him up.
“Off we go, then,” he declared, holding him and going to the door with him tight in his arms, while Alexander shrieked and whooped.
“Let me down! No, Father…We can go later,” he said, laughing as his father threw him playfully into the air.
“In about ten minutes, son,” his father promised. “Let me finish my tea. Uncle Hal and I have some things to talk of.”
Odile grinned across at Hal, who looked radiant. He had started communicating with Frederick soon after she had been abducted, writing urgently to tell him that his suspicions about Frederick’s school friend had been unfounded, and confiding his suspicions that it was someone they knew well. Frederick had forgiven him.
Hal had been a frequent visitor, but then had taken to going to London—despite his fever, which still recurred regularly. They had found out later the object of his visits—a beautiful young lady, the daughter of a miller who had come into wealth during the recent expansions in trade. Hal had fallen in love with the quiet, reticent girl. He was here after a holiday to celebrate their union.
Odile smiled at Hal. His wife was sitting with Harriet, discussing embroidery. She was shy and sweet, and had thick glossy hair and a friendly grin. Odile could see that Hal was in love with her, and she was so pleased that he had found someone.
“My dearest,” Frederick said, coming over. Hal followed him, bowing to Odile. He still had a great deal of respect for her, Odile noted, and she would never forget how he’d helped.
“We are going to have to take the boys outside, I can guess,” Odile chuckled. Alexander was already trying to provoke little Cornelius, who pushed him, giggling, and made him fall over in a laughing heap, clutching his friend so he tripped, too.
“Yes,” Frederick said, poised to go over, but the boys were clearly laughing, so he left them to play and wrestle without disturbing them. “I said I’d take them riding.”
“I know,” Odile said gently. She stood, her long olive-colored gown rustling as she did. She took his hand.
“Shall we bring Amie with us?” he asked.
“No, dearest,” she said. “I think it’s too cold outdoors.”
Amie, their little daughter, was just over a year old, and it was difficult to keep her tiny body warm against the cold wind. Odile went to the door. “I’ll go and check on her, and then we can go walking.”
“Of course, dearest,” Frederick said. “Shall I come with you?”
Odile nodded, and they tiptoed into the nursery. Frederick waited by the door, and Odile gestured to Addie, who was sewing, keeping an eye on the baby who slept in a little bed by the fire.
“She’s sleeping,” Addie whispered. Odile nodded, and pressed a finger to her lips. Frederick grinned.
They tiptoed out and went to the drawing room, where Frederick lifted his son onto his shoulders.
“Come on, my fine young fellow!”
“And me! And me!” Cornelius yelled, laughing as his friend sat on the high summit of his father’s shoulder. “Me too!”
“I’ll take you, young man!” Elmore said, and whisked his little son onto his shoulder. The two boys shrieked and giggled, and Odile and Harriet followed them out, Hal and Becky walking behind slowly.
They went down to the stables, where Odile watched Frederick lead his horse out, the two boys clamoring for their pets excitedly. They didn’t have full-size horses yet—Frederick had insisted it was too dangerous, and invested in some pit-ponies. The boys were delighted.
“Hurray!” they shouted, and Odile and Harriet walked along, while Frederick and Elmore led the boys at a walk, going down towards the river. Odile followed, glad to be in the fresh air.
“I’m glad our daughters are both so relaxed,” Harriet grinned. Her baby—a year older than Odile’s—was sleeping upstairs, too. “I have barely enough energy to keep up with our fine Cornelius.” She chuckled as the boy yelled, whooping with joy about something.
They shared a smile, walking along the path. Harriet was wearing a cream-colored gown, a bonnet shading her eyes from the sun. Odile had a bonnet loosely tied around her neck, but she hadn’t put it on—she didn’t have the pale complexion of Harriet.
She turned to see Hal and Becky catching up. Becky was grinning excitedly.
“We saw a rabbit,” she giggled. “It was so adorable, with the little furry tail. I miss rabbits—I am so glad to be out in the countryside.”
“Me too, Your Grace,” Hal agreed, grinning at her.
Odile smiled. She was so happy to see the pair of them so contented. She watched as Hal took Becky’s arm. They walked slowly together, stopping to look at the grass. Odile was sure they had found some flower of interest.
“She is a dear,” Harriet said. “I am so glad she found somebody who understands her. Hal is so attentive!”
“Yes,” Odile agreed. “He seems a very thoughtful man.”
“I am so relieved that the physician has found something to help ease his sufferings now.”
“Me, too,” Odile agreed. Mr. Alford had become friends with Hal, and the two of them had spent hours in discussion. A treatment for the liver seemed to have helped Hal, and together they often discussed herbs and worked on trying to find something to ease his symptoms. Odile was so pleased the last time he stayed, that he had only a mild bout of the summer fevers that he suffered.
They followed Frederick and the boys, who were keeping their ponies’ stride slow, as Frederick had instructed. She was so glad that they both adored him, and unsurprised. He had a way of inspiring respect.
It seemed that he had grown even more confident in the last years, and had been attending to his duties with a calm, balanced manner. He had lost some of his reluctance to be around people, and Odile was delighted to see him taking joy in his life and living it so fully.
“Hold on, there!” he shouted, laughing, as Alexander and Cornelius dismounted from their horses, and ran into the river. They had taken off their boots, but their trousers would get filthy, Odile thought, hiding a grin.
She watched Frederick lift his son up, swinging him around and setting him on the bank. Cornelius walked out to join his friend, and soon they were playing in the grass, trousers rolled up, little feet bare.
“I am glad I shan’t be the one washing those trousers later today,” Harriet said with a laugh. Odile nodded feelingly.
“I am so glad Addie stayed on.” She smiled gently. Addie had married one of the men from the nearby farms, and she had agreed to stay on and work for Odile, who had been pleased to have her work with the children. She thought that she would trust nobody as much as she did her good friend and confidante, who had been her maid.
“Me, too,” Harriet agreed. “She is so kind, and the children love her.”
“And the boys love her as much as the little ones.”
Odile watched Alexander and Cornelius running about. Frederick was very relaxed, happy for them to play and tussle, not one for strictness. She was so pleased. They had both had difficulties, growing up—he with losing his parents and being left to the uncaring eye of his tutors and uncle, she in taking over the household so early on—and they wanted their children to be freer.
“Uncle Hal!” Alexander yelled, running to Hal. “Can you tell us a story?”
Hal, laughing, lifted Alexander up, making him squeal with delight.
“Yes. I’ll tell you a story about the big rhinoceros I saw.”
“What’s a rhinoceros?”
Odile laughed as Hal grinned. “It’s as big as that horse there, and it’s got a huge horn on its nose and a scaly skin.”
“What? No! You’re just teasing us, aren’t you, Uncle?” Alexander said levelly. “There’s nothing like that.”
“No, really, there is.” Hal grinned. “I’ll take you to the library and show you a picture of one, if you like. Frederick!”
Odile laughed as Frederick and Hal conferred, and then Hal and Becky ran to the house, the boys, laughing and shouting, running after them.
“Uncle Hal! Uncle Hal! Tell us something else!”
“Does it eat humans?”
Odile couldn’t help grinning. Harriet laughed, “Those boys are so curious,” she said. “Cornelius already said that he wants to study geography when he grows up. He wants to learn all about other countries.”
“That sounds good,” Odile said, laughing. “Alexander wants to become a sailor.”
They both shared smiles with each other. Odile was sure that Frederick could organize something—some position with the defense fleet. Frederick had a good deal of influence, especially in Army circles. He had also made considerably good investments, and they were even more prosperous than they had been.
She walked slowly beside her sister, going back to the house. Elmore and Frederick came to join them, leading the ponies, and she took her husband’s hand.
“It’s a fine day, is it not, dearest?”
“It’s a little warm. Are you sure you are not overly hot, my dearest?” Frederick asked, taking her arm. “We should have brought some water.”
Odile smiled. “I’m fine, dearest,” she replied. Frederick had always been extremely caring, and he hadn’t changed, if anything, being more attentive than ever. She walked with him, watching Harriet and Elmore.
After bringing the ponies to the stable, the two of them went to sit in the garden, while Odile followed the path to the house, feeling in need of the shade. Frederick walked up the steps with her and they went into the coolness of the house.
The drawing room was full of Hal, Becky, and the boys—the latter wide-eyed as he paged through an illustrated encyclopedia, showing them pictures of all sorts of creatures of the world. Odile and Frederick stood there, watching, and then tiptoed away, going to the nursery.
“She’s awake, now,” Addie said, carefully passing the sleepy bundle to Odile, who held her daughter. She stared down at her, with her heart almost too full of love to speak. Her eyes were a steady blue, though Odile thought that they might yet change, going either more towards the brown of Frederick’s or her own green ones. She could keep them, though, she thought—Harriet had blue eyes, and so had their mother.
“Let me hold her.”
Frederick cradled the baby to his chest, and Odile watched lovingly as he stared wonderingly. He let the child take his finger, and the two of them stood together, both hesitant and joyful, as they renewed their connection with each other. Odile’s heart was flooded with love and caring. Children grew so quickly, she thought—she had discovered that with Alexander. Every moment with them was so precious, something one should never rush.
She watched Frederick gently pass the baby to Addie. Odile sat with her, holding her finger out so her daughter could grip it, until the little one slowly settled back to sleep.
She and Frederick tiptoed downstairs, where Harriet and Elmore had come into the drawing room, and were sitting with Hal and Becky, while the boys lay on their tummies on the floor, staring at the pictures of wondrous creatures.
Odile and Frederick sat with them for a while, talking, low-voiced, about the plans Harriet and Elmore had to alter their gardens, and how Hal wanted to redecorate the house.
“I get tired of the way it looks,” Hal explained, grinning. “You know how it is—when you are on a ship, you see new things every day. You want your house to look different on occasion.”
“Not too different.”
Hal chuckled. “No. And, frankly, I find it doesn’t bother me nearly so much now,” he added. He gazed lovingly at Becky. “I don’t really feel that urge to travel. Not even when the boys remind me of how exciting it is.” He chuckled, glancing over to the other side of the drawing room, where they lay on their bellies, talking about how big tigers were, and whether they lived in jungles or grass.
“Oh, Hal,” Becky said. She squeezed his hand and Odile could see the love they shared.
She and Frederick had tea, and then, when their guests were resting, had some time alone.
Odile snuggled against Frederick, relaxed. It had been a beautiful day, she thought, tucking her feet up closer so they would be warm. They had spent almost the whole day outside with their guests, or in the drawing room, having tea. They had discussed so much, and played with the children, and walked endlessly.
“It is so much fun, having Harriet and Elmore here,” Odile murmured, feeling sleepy.
“And Hal and Becky, yes.” Frederick squeezed her hand fondly. “I thought the boys would never leave them alone. They are so fascinated by all his tales of traveling.”
“And yours,” Odile reminded. He had told them some of his stories, edited carefully, she was sure, to leave out the dangers and frightful things he must have seen during the fighting. He laughed.
“I know. But I never saw rhinoceroses.”
They both laughed, and she snuggled closer, so happy to have time alone with him. She loved the guests, and all the fun that they could have with them here. But her time with Frederick was the most precious thing in her life, and she was glad to have more to spend with him.
He drew her close, kissing her face, and she flushed and rolled over, looking him in the eye.
“I sometimes wonder how I was this blessed,” Frederick murmured.
She chuckled. She stroked his hair back, looking at that handsome face she loved so well. It did seem strange, she thought, and wonderful, to have found him. “I am also blessed.”
“Maybe,” he agreed, laughing as he wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close.
“Very much,” she said, pressing her lips to his. He grinned and rolled over, so that she, breathless, was held on his chest, looking down into his gaze, his arms gripping tight.
“I love you, my dearest,” he murmured, his lips so gentle as they kissed her neck, nibbling in a way that sent joy searing through her, heart tingling with delight. “I am so, so grateful that you are here, with me.”
Odile smiled and held him close. She felt exactly the same way, her heart flooding with love. “And I love you too, my dearest. My heart is yours.”
“And mine is yours,” he said, wrapping her in his arms and holding her there, the safest, sweetest place she knew.
Ah, before you go...
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