Three-year-old Abigale took a tumble running through the Honeyfield entry hall, but she was immediately picked up by her five-year-old brother, Matthew, who was following behind her.
“There, there,” he comforted—brushing down the young girl who was more startled than hurt. She was on the verge of tears but thought better of it because what she really wanted was to see the new puppy her father and mother just brought home.
It was already an exciting day because it was her birthday and the puppy was the present from her parents. She had decided to name it Puff—a name suitable for either a boy or a girl.
Mrs. Samuels suddenly appeared. “Did I hear running?” she asked, commanding an answer.
Abigale and Matthew stopped dead in their tracks.
“No, ma’am, it was just a slip and a fall. These stones can be slippery, you know.”
Mrs. Samuels glared at them. “Hum. Hum. Maybe. But I better not hear anything that even resembles running. You understand?” She asked fiercely, but with just the faintest of smiles.
“Oh, yes, ma’am. No running.”
And the two took off walking as fast as they could through the kitchen, out into the yard, and toward the stable where the pup was being kept in an enclosure.
Edwin and Lydia were crouched down before the terrier puppy. Abigale, seeing the puppy, ran forward, shouting, “Puff. Puff.”
“Happy birthday, honey,” Lydia said, taking hold of her daughter and squeezing her tightly.
“Mamma, stop. I want to hold Puff,” she complained.
Lydia released her and Abigale picked up the dog and cuddled it.
Lydia and Edwin stood up.
“Be careful not to hurt him. He is still a little baby.”
Edwin turned to his son, “Matthew, you watch your sister. Do not let her harm the puppy or herself.”
“I always do.”
Edwin nodded. “You are a good brother.”
Matthew looked up and smiled.
The nanny, Miss Stevens, came out of the kitchen door and headed toward the stable. Edwin saw her and waved.
“Good morning,” he said as she approached.
“Good day, sir. And this is where they have got to, is it? I was looking everywhere.”
“Birthday present. Give them a few minutes then you can take them back inside.”
She nodded. “I will.” She turned to the children. “Now, do not get too comfortable. We still have lessons this morning.”
Abigale piped up, “Ah, but it is my birthday. No lessons today for me,” she insisted.
“This morning, yes. But you are excused for the afternoon.”
“Me too?” Matthew asked.
“Yes, you too.”
“Hooray,” the two youngsters shouted.
“What time are the guests arriving?” Edwin asked Lydia.
“The party starts at three o’clock. But we should be all ready by two-thirty.”
“I was so happy to see Ellen and Ethan,” Edwin said, as he put his arm around Lydia’s waist. “I was just sorry Bartley could not make it down from London.”
They left the stable and headed toward the orchard. Lydia went over and inspected several of the new fruit trees.
“We are going to have a grand harvest this year. This is the second harvest for most of the new trees. Do you think we will need to bring in any additional pickers for the harvest?” Lydia asked.
“I can bring some of the lads up from the warehouse. It would be for only a couple of days—yes? Three… four?”
“That should be about right.” She took Edwin’s hand. “You will stop work in time for the party?”
He smiled. “Of course. I am not going to miss my baby girl’s birthday party. And what are your plans for the day?”
Lydia gazed out over the vastly expanded vegetable fields. “I found caterpillars on the tomato plants. I was thinking to assign a couple of the ladies to see if we can get rid of those. And Jenny and the children are coming before the party. We haven’t visited for several weeks and we need a good old natter.”
Edwin laughed. “I love seeing the two of you together. You have such fun, and she is so delightfully irreverent.”
“I know. And it seems she gets more outrageous over time.”
“Do you think you would have any time this morning to visit me at the greenhouse? I want you to look at the citrus trees. It looks like we might be getting some kind of blight.”
“Oh… then I best come now. We do not want that to get out of hand if that is what it is.”
As they walked to the greenhouse, they passed workers in the vegetable field picking a number of different vegetables and placing them in boxes to be carted to their distribution warehouse later that afternoon.
Edwin and Lydia entered the greenhouse. It was warm and humid inside. The glazing shut out most of the outside noise and it was quiet, except for the sound of a worker watering.
“Over here,” Edwin said, leading Lydia to the citrus grove. “Here.” He pulled down a branch for Lydia to examine.
She turned over a leaf. “Hum. Let me take this as a sample and I will look in my book on citrus infections.” She turned to leave. “I best go. I want to get the women started on the tomatoes and then I want to visit with Ellen and Ethan.”
“I will not be up for dinner at noon. I want to work through until the party,” Edwin said.
Lydia turned back and gave Edwin a kiss on the cheek. “Until later, then.”
Lydia knocked on the door of Ellen’s old room.
“Come,” Ellen called out.
Entering, Lydia found Ellen at her desk. “Are you nostalgic for your life at Honeyfield?
Ellen looked up. “A little. But I am so happy with my current life—it is only a passing fancy.”
“Do you think Ethan would want to join Matthew and Abigale for morning lessons? Or is he too young?”
“He’s about Abigale’s age. I think he would enjoy being with them—if Miss Stevens would not mind taking him on. He can be a bit ornery with strangers.”
“I think she can manage. Both of my young’uns can be ornery as well.”
“Then maybe tomorrow morning. It is a bit late now.”
“Mommy, Mommy,” Ethan called out as he came over to Ellen. “I got a bugger.” He held out his finger to his mother and she took out a handkerchief to manage the discovery.
“There, now go finish the drawing you started.”
“Yes, Mommy.” And he retreated.
“Oh, I have something for you,” Ellen said. “I found it when I was unpacking.” She got up from the desk and went over by the bed and picked up a book. “It’s my second one—The Idle Temptress. And look, it is dedicated to you.” Ellen handed Lydia the book.
“Oh, Ellen this is delightful. I cannot wait to read it. And is there to be a third?”
“Why ever not?” Ellen asked.
“Well, you are a mother now. I just wondered…”
“Nothing keeps me from my writing. It is too much fun, and I must say, it is rather flattering to be a London sensation.”
“Is it to be another of your saucy romances?” Lydia asked.
“Oh, yes. My publisher insists it be as naughty as possible.”
“And what does Bartley think about that?” Lydia asked chuckling.
“He does sometimes wonder where I get my ideas. He says there are things in the book that he has never even heard of, let alone done. And he asks, with some suspicion, I might add, where I get my ideas. And I, of course, reply— ‘with my writer’s imagination.’ However, I am not sure he quite believes me.”
They both laughed.
Edwin was behind the house organizing the rides and games for the children. Mother’s pony had been requisitioned as one of the rides. And a very patient older sheep had been bridled as a second ride.
The party was being held in a parlor, mostly emptied of furniture and anything breakable, and Lydia was setting up parlor games like pin the tail on the donkey with her mother’s help.
“What have you done about a cake?” Mother asked.
“Cook has done a marvel—pink and Yellow frosting. She even managed to write Abigale’s name on it.”
“I would love to see my other grandchildren soon. I have not even seen Margaret’s latest,” Mother said, already exhausted and collapsing onto a window seat.
“Then you should go. Take a trip. Stay for a month and visit both your daughters. It would be fun.”
“Would you go with me?”
“Mother, you know I cannot.”
“But I do not think I could manage alone. Public transportation is just too awful.”
“I can talk to Edwin to see if he could spare a carriage and driver for a month. Would you go then?”
Mother took out her handkerchief and dabbed at her forehead.
“Perhaps. I do not know.” She sighed. Maybe the Duchess would like to go with me. What do you think?”
“Ask her, Mother. How would I know?”
Lydia had made some streamers out of colored paper rings and was trying to pin them to the curtains.
“Could you help me, please,” she asked.
Mother reluctantly stood and went over to help.
Then a cry came from the entryway.
“Lydia? Lydia? When in heaven’s name are you?” It had to be Jenny.
“In here,” Lydia called.
Jenny burst through the door with two little girls. “Oh, there you are. I was frantic thinking I would be late. I so wanted to chat before the party as I know you will be wildly busy when the other guests arrive.” Jenny then noticed Mother. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Fernside. I hope you are well.”
Mother waved her hand in the air. “It is the heat. My little cottage gets no air, and I toss and turn at night, like one of those horses you see on the roadside rolling in the dust.”
No one knew how to respond to that.
One of Jenny’s girls spoke up. “Where is Abigale? We want to play.”
“Just a moment. Mommy’s talking,” Jenny insisted.
“You are not. That other lady is.”
“Let me,” Lydia said, taking charge.
She turned to her Mother. “Will you please take these two young ladies to the nursery? Miss Stevens is in charge of the children until the party starts.”
“Oh, very well. Come along, my darlings.” Mother took the children by the hand and led them away.
Jenny let out a sigh and went over and threw her arms around Lydia.
“Reginald wants to have yet another one, and I said no, absolutely not. But he wants a son, so what am I to do?”
Jenny pulled away and wiped at her eyes and then examined the room. “This is looking nice. Do you need any more help?”
“The rest of the streamers need to be hung. Could you?”
They continued getting ready for the party.
Then Jenny asked, “How is Graham working out?”
Lydia answered, “Edwin says he is doing a great job as a manager.”
“He never liked the bank you know. And when Edwin offered him the job at the new warehouse, he was just so happy. I am so pleased he is doing well.”
“Is Reginald coming to the party?”
“He wanted to, but he is so busy at the office. He is thinking of even taking on a third doctor. We just keep getting more and more patients.”
“Well, that is good, is it not?”
“Yes, but I worry about him. He works such long hours and comes home exhausted.” Jenny giggled. “And the way things are going now we are never going to have a son or another daughter.”
“Make him take a vacation. Take another trip to Italy. You so enjoyed that.”
Edwin looked into the room. “The guests are starting to arrive. Oh, hello, Jenny. Miss Stevens is bringing the children down now. Where do you want everyone to gather?”
“In here. And the Duchess? Is she on the way?”
“I have no idea.”
“Could you have someone check on her?” Lydia suggested.
“I will.” He turned back to the entryway. “In here everyone. The party is in here.”
And the room began to fill with guests—children screaming and running in circles.
The party had been a grand success. All the guests were gone. Abigale was asleep in Lydia’s lap and Matthew sat, slumped over, on the floor against the wall—also asleep.
Edwin and Lydia were on a sofa pushed up against the wall. They were holding hands. And they were almost asleep as well.
Only the Duchess was still alert. She was standing at the gift table examining Abigale’s presents.
“The presents are rather skimpy for the scion of a Duke. Still… I guess it is not too disastrous.”
“Mother, the children need to go to bed. And perhaps you would like to take your tea now,” Edwin suggested.
The Duchess turned to her companion—a mousy, slight woman with watery eyes and flaccid skin. “Miss Dwight, I think we are being asked to retire.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
The Duchess took Miss Dwight’s arm and they left.
Miss Stevens came in right after. “I’ll take them up,” she offered.
She took Abigale from Lydia’s lap and helped Matthew up by the hand.
“Where is Puff?” Abigale asked, as she surfaced momentarily from her sleep.”
“He’s asleep,” Miss Stevens said.
“Ah…” Abigale said and fell back into slumber.
Then Edwin and Lydia were alone. Both were exhausted but could not summon the will to move.
Edwin turned his head and looked at his wife. “How are you doing, my darling Lydia?”
She managed to turn toward him and stared with sleepy eyes. “Is it over?”
“I believe so. At least until Matthew’s birthday.”
“Remind me. When is that?” she struggled to remember.
“Not until November.”
“Oh, good. It is not tomorrow then.”
“No, not tomorrow.”
Lydia smiled and said. “Good. Now could you call someone to carry me up to bed?”
“There is no need. That is my job.”
Ah, before you go...
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