Five Years Later…
Meredith lay curled up in bed with two lists of names in front of her. Next to her were several stacks of books that she was searching through to find baby names.
“If it turns out to be a girl, you could name it Philippa!” Philippa offered.
Meredith threw a cushion at her, “Absolutely not!” she laughed. “What if she grew up with the mistaken impression that you were her real mother?”
Philippa giggled as she picked up the cushion Meredith had used as a projectile against her. “Oh! You could name her Catherine, after Mrs. Oakley, if you like.”
“That is quite a pretty name. Although I think we need to focus on growing the list of boy names for now. So far I only have a handful.”
Just then, their master bedroom door flew open and in came Anthony with little Matt riding on his shoulders.
“Tony! Do be careful!”
“I am being careful, Mere.” He grinned, “Besides, we’re celebrating! Matt, show Mommy what you did.”
Matt proudly waved a piece of paper back and forth.
“I can’t see what it is, dear. You’ll have to come closer.”
So Anthony set him down and the boy immediately ran to Meredith’s side. In many ways, he was a wonderful mix of both Anthony and Meredith. He had Anthony’s brown hair, but with a tinge of red. He had Anthony’s green eyes, but Meredith’s smile.
Indeed, Meredith felt certain that he was undoubtedly the most beautiful child on earth.
He passed her the paper. On it was scrawled in very squiggly writing, Matthew Ambrose. Meredith felt herself begin to tear up. Anthony sat on the edge of the bed closest to her and pulled Matthew onto his lap.
“Isn’t it amazing, Mere? I always knew he was exceptionally bright for his age! Schools will be begging for the chance to claim him as their pupil!”
Meredith laughed, “Anthony, he’s three years old! It’s far too early to start talking about school. In fact, I’d say our most immediate concern is right here.” She nodded towards her protruding belly.
He smiled, “What did you think about the list of boy names I put together?”
Meredith shook her head. “You mean this list? Anthony, you wrote down the name ‘Herbert’. Herbert!”
“Yes, well, I really like how it sounds!”
“I know, but in case you have forgotten, we still have a cat of the same name living right here. How could any son of ours be named after a cat?”
He shrugged off her remark. “If people ask, then we’ll just say that we named the cat after our son.”
“I like the name Cecilia,” Cecilia called from the door.
Anthony narrowed his eyes at her, “Absolutely not! That would just be confusing.”
Even though she was only ten-and-seven, Cecilia had already begun to blossom into the most perfect lady.
“Aunty Cecilia!” exclaimed Matthew as he ran towards her.
She patted him on the head and said, “See? Matthew apparently likes it.”
Slightly annoyed, Anthony replied, “We already said no, Cecilia. We’ll come up with something other than Cecilia.”
As Matthew came back to her side as he watched Cecilia and Anthony bicker, Meredith whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry, dear. This is just how siblings are. You’ll understand soon enough.”
She kissed his forehead and lovingly ran a hand through his hair to fix it.
“All right, you two! That’s enough.” She smiled, “Tony, can’t you see that Cecilia’s only teasing? Now if you don’t mind, please massage my hand, it’s aching me for some reason.”
Anthony clicked his tongue. “I see that Her Grace has become accustomed to being waited on hand and foot,” he jested.
Meredith grinned. “Oh, not at all. I never ask Philippa or anyone else for anything. It’s just you that I feel comfortable pushing around.”
He took her hand and massaged it as requested.
“I suppose that’s fair enough. After all, you’re the only person I allow to push me around.”
Meredith leaned further into the several pillows that were supporting her back and chuckled, “Yes, I’ve noticed. But perhaps that is simply the way all marriages should work. I daresay the results have been quite positive for us.”
Cecilia, who by now was elegantly seated by the fireplace, enthusiastically concurred.
“Indeed! In fact, I hope to have a similar rapport with my husband someday.”
Anthony immediately stiffened. “Now Cecilia, it is far too soon to be worried about such things.”
Meredith gently squeezed his hand. “Anthony, she’s not a little girl anymore. I think it’s prudent, even necessary, for us to begin having these sorts of discussions over the next few months so as to be able to find her the best possible match.”
As was his custom anytime he felt anxious or overwhelmed, Anthony immediately sprang to his feet and began pacing around the room.
“It’s quite difficult to accept how Cecilia will soon be old enough to— No! I’d rather not discuss this matter at all.”
“Think of it this way, Tony,” Meredith gently called out. “Don’t you remember how happy we were on our wedding day? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Cecilia could experience the same joy for herself?”
The tension in his shoulders visibly relaxed and he seemed to momentarily lose himself in his memory of it.
“Yes,” he said quietly, “it really was a perfect day, wasn’t it?”
The wedding had been simple and sophisticated; a blur of white tulips, delicious food, tears, and laughter. Mr. Fletcher and Ma’am Tabitha had served as the main witnesses, but of course, Joyce, Philippa, Kenneth, Ian, and Mrs. Oakley were also present.
Meredith could see that she was making progress in changing his mind.
“Absolutely! And it was very kind of you to suggest that we have the reception in the orphanage, as well. I don’t think I have ever seen so much dancing in my life! The children seemed as elated as we were.”
Anthony grinned widely.
“Yes, unsurprisingly, they were all quite nimble and lightning fast. Speaking of the orphanage, how are Joyce and Ma’am Tabitha getting on with the new caretaker? No problems, I hope?”
Meredith put a hand to her forehead.
“Oh! I forgot to tell you. I actually received a letter from Joyce yesterday saying that Mr. Mitchell is doing a fantastic job. Ma’am Tabitha still insists on occasionally doing a bit of sweeping or baking, but it’s truly wonderful that she’s finally free to put her feet up after all these years.”
Pleased to hear this, Antony replied, “That’s a relief. I liked Mr. Mitchell during our interview with him, but I wasn’t entirely sure if he could handle the demanding workload. So it’s marvelous that he was up to snuff after all. Although, we should probably consider arranging for an assistant of sorts for Fletcher. After all, he’s getting on a bit as well.”
“With all due respect, Your Grace, I do believe I am still, as you have expressed so modernly, up to snuff,” huffed Fletcher as he and Jenny brought in trays of fruits, biscuits, and tea.
Anthony pretended to gasp in horror.
“My words could not have been more ill-timed! Oh, woe is me!” he jested, but when he saw that Fletcher was still a bit peeved and grumpy, he changed tactics.
“Come now, Fletcher. You know I didn’t mean it like that at all. After your many decades of unwavering attention and dedication to your duties, it is about time that you free up more time to concentrate on yourself. Isn’t that right, Mere?”
To tease Anthony, Meredith simply replied, “Now don’t you try to get me mixed up in your mischief, Tony. Unlike you, I think Mr. Fletcher is as spry and fresh as ever.”
Her words achieved their purpose and Anthony instantly narrowed his eyes at her to indicate his annoyance at being left very much in the lurch by Meredith. She couldn’t help but laugh. Even after four years of marriage, she still felt giddy with glee whenever she pulled his leg.
And Fletcher soon revealed that he was doing the same thing when he said, “I’m only jesting, Your Grace. Of course I understand your perspective and I sincerely appreciate your concern. However, if it suits you, I would be honored to continue serving in this capacity for as long as possible.”
At once Anthony put an arm around Fletcher’s shoulder and exclaimed, “Why, of course! That goes without saying, Fletcher! Again, I was simply trying to say— Oh, never mind! Let’s just drink our tea in peace.”
“Is something wrong, Anthony? Are you having trouble falling asleep?”
Presently, Anthony sat on the edge of the bed with his mother’s wooden correspondence box on his lap. It was made of sturdy yet elegant mahogany. And unless one had been there when Anthony, along with the servants had dug it up, one wouldn’t be able to tell that the box had been wrapped up in canvas and buried underground for several years.
Anthony had initially been unsure regarding what to do with the scandalous documents and letters that Colin had viciously sought to acquire all those years ago. So he had hidden them at first. However, as soon as it was discovered that Meredith was pregnant with Matthew, he at once threw the papers into a fire and never looked back.
That isn’t to say that he never thought about Colin anymore, however. In fact, Anthony was even delighted to see that Mother had kept all of the letters that he had written to her over the years because in them he often detailed the adventures and escapades that he, Kenneth, and Colin had gone on.
True, one of us is currently imprisoned indefinitely for his insanity, but at least the other two have settled down with families and now have children of our own.
Anthony finally understood what Colin had meant when he said that day, that most of their friendship was real. It definitely was real; for the most part, that is.
It is often said that ignorance is bliss, but my, we were afforded such utter and complete bliss in the form of a solid friendship throughout the years.
It took some time, but Anthony believed his words in the end. He believed that in spite of it all, the support, patience, kindness, even love, that Colin had displayed for him over the years had been genuine. However, he found it necessary to remind himself that his old friend was long gone, replaced instead by a ruthless would-be killer.
At the end of the day, what matters most is that my household, my family, is safe.
On this night, Anthony had been going through the far more lighthearted letters that his mother had retained over the years.
He had lit a candle instead of a lamp because he didn’t want to disturb Meredith or Matthew—who was fast asleep on his own child-sized bed in the other corner of the room.
For this reason, he whispered his reply to Meredith as quietly as possible, “I’m sorry, my dear. Yes, I couldn’t sleep and my mind kept going back to our conversation today about how Cecilia is old enough to officially ‘come out’.”
“And I suppose that in addition to not wanting to admit how much she has grown, one significant reason I objected to the notion is because I know nothing whatsoever about how to go about arranging Cecilia’s debut. I thought perhaps I could go through some of Mother’s letters because, of course, she would know what to do.”
Meredith yawned and began to sit up. She, too, whispered. “And did you find anything?”
He shook his head, “Nothing at all. I mean, yes, here are a handful of letters from her friends talking about how their daughters got engaged, but they usually only mention the engagement in passing and then go into great detail about their future sons-in-law; it’s not at all what we’re looking for.”
“Well, I know for a fact that there are books on this sort of thing. And, of course, I’m sure Mrs. Ramsbury would be delighted to help us out.”
Anthony rubbed his eyes, “I suppose you’re right.”
“You don’t seem as pleased as I hoped you would be. Is there something else bothering you, Tony?”
He brought the box closer to her so that she could see for herself.
“To tell you the truth, Mere, yes. Come, look at some of the addresses on these letters. Here are three from one of her friends who lived in Spain. Here are two letters from Athens, Greece. And this one? Venice. And these four are from different cities in France. Do you see what I’m saying?”
Meredith yawned again, “I don’t know if I’m following you exactly, dear. Also, it’s very late. Could you possibly elaborate?”
He lowered his voice even more, “Don’t you remember, Mere, how we made plans to travel and see the world, the stars even, and—” He paused to look at Matthew, happily asleep.
“It’s not that I don’t love our lives now. I do, I really do, Mere. But my mother, like me, never left England. She passed away hearing and reading about these fantastic places in books and letters. So it’s really a pity that my Father never took her—or any of us—anywhere outside of England. I don’t want to make that mistake as well.”
Meredith covered her mouth to muffle her chuckles, “That sounds wonderful, Tony, but in case you haven’t noticed,” she gestured to her protruding belly, “I’m not exactly in the right condition for treks across the world. And neither is Matthew, for that matter.”
“Not to mention, we were just discussing how we need to first help Cecilia establish herself as a young genteel lady here in England in order to aid her in her search for a suitable spouse. Wouldn’t you agree that we should do so before planning long tours to far-away places?”
He acquiesced with a sigh.
“I know you’re right, Mere. I just want to make sure that I keep the promises I made to you when I proposed. Do you still remember what I said?”
Meredith smiled, “Of course, silly! What kind of wife would I be if I forgot? You said you were going to give me the world. And do you know what?” She reached for his hand. “You’ve given me so much more than I could ever want or ask for already. In my eyes, you fulfilled that promise the moment you married me.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh my, we’re in quite a lovey-dovey mood tonight, aren’t we?”
She pinched his arm lightly, “You started it! You with all your whimsical talk about stars and foreign lands.”
He put a finger to his mouth to remind her to keep her voice low lest she wake up the sleeping child. But even Meredith’s happy outburst didn’t wake Matthew up and Anthony whispered, “Like you, he sleeps like a stone.”
She pinched him again, “I think you’ll find that, in fact, he gets it from you. And at least a stone is still and quiet, you, on the other hand, have begun to snore,” she laughed.
After a few minutes of bickering and conversation, Anthony at last began to feel sleepy. As he returned the letters to the box, he asked, “Just one more question, Mere. Once Cecilia’s settled and our children are old enough to come along, we shall set off on our travels?”
She stifled yet another yawn, “Precisely, Tony. You have my word. One thing at a time! I learned that from being with you, taking life one adventure at a time.”
He grinned, “I shall hold you to that promise, my love.”
“Likewise, my dear.”
Ah, before you go...
Please don't forget to follow me on Bookbub to get all my latest news and updates ♥