“Edward? Is that you? Edward! Where’d you go? Oh! There you are!” Eliza said, playing peekaboo with her impossibly small but incredibly charming baby boy, named after her brother of course. At just three months of age, there wasn’t much baby Edward was capable of besides babbling and smiling, and yet even so Eliza couldn’t take her eyes off him. He was simply the most beautiful, magical being she’d ever laid eyes on.
Derrick also was settling into fatherhood quite well, and was very taken with his young son. The pregnancy had happened quickly and they had both been hoping to enjoy married life just a little longer, but as soon as they met their adorable boy, they knew they were bound to have a big family. One child would never be enough for them, and they had sufficient love for a whole wild brood of children.
“Did I hear someone calling my name?”
Eliza turned to see none other than her own brother Edward standing in the nursery doorway, holding a perfectly adorable and tiny blanket for the young baby.
“Oh Edward! How are you?” Eliza said, standing to embrace her brother.
“Very well thank you, especially now that I’ve laid eyes on this perfect creature,” he said, leaning down to kiss his nephew gently on the forehead. “And where’s Derrick on this fine afternoon?” he asked.
“Just in his study, taking care of some business I presume. I’ll have someone call him out. Charlotte, would you watch baby Edward for a moment? I’m going to take a turn around the gardens with my brother.”
The wet nurse nodded with a smile and picked up the baby as Eliza kissed him goodbye and made her way out with Edward.
“Come to think of it, why don’t we go to Derrick’s study ourselves? He’ll be so pleased to see you! What brings you to our fine home today, Edward? Just a social call?” she asked, curious. After the arrival of baby Edward, she’d been far too overwhelmed to keep up with the news from London and the family business. Edward visited when he could, as did her mother and father, but work kept them all very busy. Even just running the Blackwell Estate was almost more than Eliza could handle on her own. She had no idea how her mother had taken care of a country house as well as a London home with not one, but two children. Thinking about it now, she had a great deal of respect for everything her mother had put up with.
“Yes, a social call, but I have a good deal of news to relate as well,” Edward said as they approached the door to Derrick’s study. Eliza gave a cursory knock, but opened the door without waiting for a response. Derrick was accustomed to her interruptions, and indeed he looked forward to them.
“My dear! Is that you? What a pleasant surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Derrick said when he saw his wife’s sweet face.
“I have a surprise visitor for you! Would you like to take a walk about the garden with us?” Eliza asked, moving aside to open the door further and reveal Edward behind her.
“Well if it isn’t my favourite brother in law!” Derrick said, standing quickly to greet who was in fact, his only brother-in-law.
“Derrick, you’ve somehow grown handsomer since I last saw you,” Edward said, embracing Derrick. The friendship that had grown between her husband and brother since her marriage brought great joy to Eliza. Derrick had really taken Edward under his wing, especially since Ashby had dragged him down such a dangerous path.
Together, the three of them walked out towards the garden, which Eliza had really taken an interest in since coming to live at Blackwell Estate. Winchester boasted some of England’s finest gardens, and she wanted the Blackwell Estate beds to compete with the finest in the area. With well-pruned, French-style hedges amongst wildflowers, there was something quite transformative about the gardens Eliza had designed. Honoria disapproved of them at first of course, but after hearing how others in the county praised the Blackwell gardens, she came around quickly.
“Edward says he has a spot of news for us,” Eliza said to Derrick once they were a distance away from the house, slipping her arm into her husband’s.
“More than just a spot, I must admit,” Edward said, intentionally building the suspense of the moment. For many months now, Eliza had been expecting him to propose to Hattie, though that joyous day had yet to transpire. Hattie was too nervous about her parents granting permission to marry him, as technically Edward did not have a title. Eliza had tried to convince her that given the success of the Dowling factories, her father would likely be in favour of the match, but still Hattie put it off, and Edward grew nervous.
“Well do tell!” Derrick urged him on.
“First of all, Eliza, our father has finally made the decision to retire from the business. As of the first of next month, I will take over the daily affairs, though of course I will consult him on any and all important decisions,” Edward said. “I know I’ve not always been perhaps the most dependable or dedicated businessman, but I intend to do our family proud, and I’ve already made some investments that I think will pay off in no time at all.”
Eliza’s heart soared with pride to hear that her brother had taken such a step. It was true that in the past, affairs of business had always seemed more of a bother to him than anything else, but now he seemed truly eager and enthusiastic about his newfound responsibilities.
“Congratulations, Edward! What wonderful news indeed!”
“Absolutely, I can’t think of a more deserving man! If you even need any advice or so forth, please don’t hesitate to ask. Our families have conducted business together for many years now. But of course, I suppose our families are one and the same now!” Derrick said, almost as excited as Eliza was about this turn of events.
“You may regret that you ever offered, Derrick. I might be here every day of the week with some request or other! Thank you to you both, however; I much appreciate your support. I believe much can be done with the Dowling name. In fact I’ve already made an investment in a stud farm, under the advice of your cousin Leo,” Edward said.
“Leo? How is he? I only see him when I’m in London, and I’m never in London enough,” Derrick said. Eliza knew he was only saying this to please Edward. In actuality, Derrick was happier in Winchester with her and the baby than he ever was in the bustling city.
“Under the fine tutelage of Olivia Price, our Leo is doing very well indeed. He still has a tendency to gamble of course, and I think he always will, but Olivia has evened him out nicely. They have a child on the way now, finally, and I don’t doubt that will calm him down even more,” Edward said.
“Part of me was surprised he ever settled down at all, but then again, Olivia is the kind of woman to keep a man on his toes. Life is never boring with the likes of her,” Eliza said. Indeed, she wished she could be better friends with Olivia, but the distance to town had kept them from growing closer. Whenever they were so lucky to have seen each other at society events and the like, they had fought the urge to spend the entire evening in each other’s company. She was a charming woman, and only the likes of Leo Blackwell would ever entice her to marriage.
“And? Don’t keep us waiting, my good man, what is the next piece of news you have for us?” Derrick said impatiently, nudging Edward to continue on with his tales of town.
“Ah, well, the next piece of news is really just a boring real estate announcement. You know the bit of land next to yours here, to the east?” Edward said, gesturing away from the Dowling property, towards where Ashby had supposedly bought land the previous year.
“Of course, the Ashby estate. We haven’t seen any sign of him, so we weren’t sure what had become of the house or the land.”
“Well, since Ashby’s been banished, it’s fallen into disrepair, but… well, only just last week, I made the decision to buy it myself. It will take quite a bit of work to get it into living condition, but I have high hopes for it,” Edward announced, a far off look in his eye. Eliza wondered what he was considering.
“Whatever became of Ashby?” she pondered aloud.
“I’ve heard he ran away to France, though I was under the impression he had few allies there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had seduced some vulnerable woman and is now relaxing in the countryside, eschewing any and all responsibilities. Though of course I hope for much worse for him,” Edward said.
“I hope he is rotting in a French prison,” Derrick said sharply, though an amiable smile returned to his face almost immediately. “More importantly, however, it makes me tremendously happy to hear that you are going to be our neighbours! To have even more family close by will be such a relief.”
In all the talk of Ashby, Eliza had almost forgotten that her brother had purchased the property himself! “Indeed! Edward, even further congratulations are in order! When will you take over the ownership? But I must also ask… the property is so large. Will you live there all by yourself?”
A blush started rising up Edward’s face, and a slow smile spread across his face.
“Edward, why are you so quiet all of a sudden?” Derrick asked, starting to smile himself.
“Forgive my bashfulness, it’s just that I… well… I’ve finally done it. I asked for Hattie’s hand in marriage. And we’re to be married next month!” he exclaimed, almost as if he was ready to shout his love out to the world. All of his shyness disappeared as he spoke of Hattie, replaced with an overwhelming joy.
“Finally! I thought this day might never come, but I’m ever so glad it has!” Eliza said, rushing over to embrace her brother. “Hattie didn’t say anything to me.”
“I begged her not to, as I wanted to deliver the news myself. Think of it! Soon enough we’ll be living right there next to you, only a short carriage away. Your baby Edward will have a cousin to play with in no time at all,” Edward responded.
“And what of Hattie’s parents? They didn’t object to the match? Not that they should have, only that it was such a concern for such a long time,” Derrick asked.
“I happened to conduct a spot of business with her father, and I’m pleased to report that I made a very good impression and in fact dissuaded him from a bad investment. He has considered himself indebted to me ever since, so my lack of title hardly seemed to bother him at all. Pure luck, really, but I’m grateful nonetheless. If you have a daughter, you’ll have to name her Harriet, in honour of her aunt-to-be, Hattie,” Edward said with a grin.
“We’ll have to have two daughters, as I’m not sure we’ll be able to avoid naming one of our children Honoria,” Eliza said with a laugh.
“My mother wouldn’t mind if we named our next son Honoria,” Derrick said, playing along.
“Well Hattie and I will be sure to produce our fair share of Elizas and Derricks, have no doubt!” Edward said proudly.
They all laughed and together walked back to the house, taking their time to look down towards Ashby’s old estate next door when the view afforded it. It gave Eliza a sense of relief knowing that she would, in all certainty, never see that man again. Aware that his property lay just next door had always served as a haunting reminder of her time with him, but now that her brother had bought the house and land, she wouldn’t have a reason to think of him even once more. He was gone, just like that, replaced by the most perfect inhabitants she could have longed for.
Edward stayed for dinner before leaving for the neighbouring Dowling estate. It was lovely hearing all the news from town, and gossip about who was courting who and so forth. But once her brother left, laying safely in her warm bed with Derrick, Eliza was ever so grateful that her life had become much quieter since leaving London.
“I don’t think we could have planned it more perfectly, could we?” Derrick said, softly stroking the inside of Eliza’s wrist as they lay together.
“What do you mean?” she asked, snuggling in towards his shoulder.
“I mean how terribly convenient that your brother is taking the Ashby Estate, and that he will be marrying none other than one of your dearest friends. If you were ever worried about a lack of company here in the country, you never need to again,” Derrick mused.
“Indeed, we are very lucky on many accounts. Have two people ever been surrounded by more love than we are?” she asked, turning her head up towards her husband’s face. He kissed her lovingly, and for a moment, she thought that was all the answer she might get.
“In short, my dear Eliza, no. The Greeks wrote of love, but what we have just here is more than they ever could have conceived of,” Derrick responded.
Eliza turned away, looking up at the ceiling above them, carved with classical looking floral arrangements in the crown moulding. Outside the window the moonlight streamed in, and she thought of their perfect son in the next room, sleeping peacefully. In the morning, his cries would start, and there would be endless decisions for her to make regarding menus for upcoming events and how much wine ought to be ordered for the next month. One of the servant girls was proving to be a nuisance, and a decision had yet to be made about whether or not to keep her on.
And then there was the matter of the grounds, and how best to keep up the gardens with the upcoming winter. Christmas was just around the corner, and Honoria would doubtlessly have many opinions on how they ought to celebrate. She ought to write to her father and congratulate him on his next phase of life, retiring from the business. He would likely be at a loss for how to keep himself busy, but might appreciate more time with his grandson.
There were a thousand thoughts to keep her up at night, but resting in the arms of her husband brought Eliza unparalleled peace. Here, she was safe, and whatever they might face in the morning would be faced together. He had not left her side, not since they were children. Even when his mother had ordered him to abandon her Derrick had refused, unable to imagine a life without Eliza in it. And so they would carry on, challenging anything that life threw at them with a united front.
“I love you,” Eliza said, a haze of sleep taking over her tired eyes.
“I love you too,” he whispered, kissing her forehead and holding her close.