Henry beamed down at Rose as she stood there beside him with a glowing smile of pride. ‘We are to have another?’ He asked.
‘Yes, my darling,’ she replied, rubbing her belly absently, though there were no signs of pregnancy yet.
Lifting his hands, he cupped her face and kissed her tenderly, the touch of her soft lips sending a ripple of pleasure through him as they always did. ‘I am so lucky I have you, my sweet Rose,’ he whispered against her cheek.
Pulling his face away, her cheeks bloomed, but it was no longer a blush of embarrassment. Now, she coloured with the sensation of pleasure and contentment, or so he had noticed, because now, after all their tribulations and troubles, they were finally happy and settled.
Though the earl and countess had offered Rose and Henry to move into Sandon Hall with them, for there was indeed plenty of room. Henry had wanted a completely new start for them. More for Rose than himself, for having talked things over, Rose had mentioned how very strange it would be to live in a house where she had previously served. How having the servants that were once her peers suddenly be beneath her, serving her needs each day.
Henry had not thought about those circumstances. Given his own station, he could not have had such a perspective. Yet understanding Rose’s concerns, he had spoken to his mother and father and decided a place of their own would be more suitable. Rose had suffered enough, and going forward, Henry only wanted his new wife to be happy.
Their home was only a few hours from Sandon, a large manor with roving gardens front and back and stables for the horses and carriages. Employing new staff with no connections to Rose at all, she delighted in the fresh start, and it came as no surprise that she struggled to treat the staff as employees rather than friends.
Eleven months after their wedding, Rose had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Eleanor had brought them great pleasure over the last year and a half and, having just learned to walk, kept everyone on their toes. Rose had teased Henry on numerous occasions, for he could not deny that he spoilt his beautiful little girl. She was indeed his pride and joy, and he loved spending so much time with her. He now had two extraordinary women in his life, and on his journey to be a better person and make far more prudent choices, he was determined that they were both always protected and loved.
‘We have good news,’ Henry announced as he and Rose walked into the drawing room where Jack sat sketching designs for his new carvings. Rose’s grandmother, Nana and Miss Palter, their nanny, sat on the floor playing with Eleanor.
‘What news?’ Jack asked as he looked up.
‘Yes, what news?’ Nana added.
‘We are to have another addition to the family,’ Henry grinned, looking proudly down at Rose, who still appeared to be glowing with delight from just a moment earlier when she had disclosed the news to him.
‘Congratulations,’ Jack declared with a broad smile while at the same time putting his utensils down on the sofa beside him and moving toward Henry and Rose.
Nana also pushed herself from the floor, and for several moments there were hugs and handshakes all around. Of course, Eleanor wanted to know what all the fuss was about and, leaving Miss Palter’s side, pushed herself up and toddled over. Henry bent down and lifted her so she was the same height as all the others.
‘You are going to have a little brother or sister, Eleanor,’ Henry said softly. He knew well she did not have the first notion of what he was talking about, but still, he desired to involve her.
‘Papa,’ Eleanor said. Speaking one of the limited words she had learnt in the last few months. It had been a topic that Henry had teased Rose with, for Eleanor had said Papa before she had said, Mama. Henry had made a point of saying that it was because their daughter loved him more. For the most part, Rose only smiled, rolled her eyes and shook her head at him, knowing he was trying to get a rise from her. Yet, his beautiful wife was far too clever for that.
After much congratulations, they spent the afternoon in the garden. Nana and Eleanor had gone for an afternoon nap while Jack, Rose and Henry drank tea and took refreshments on the terrace at the rear of the house.
‘How about a ride out tomorrow, Jack?’ Henry suggested. ‘Hunting season is upon us, and you could do with the practice,’ he smirked.
‘My aim is getting better, Henry,’ Jack cocked his head with a smirk. ‘Yet, more practice would certainly do me no harm.’
‘Sometimes it is hard to believe we are having such conversations,’ Rose sighed contentedly. ‘Three years ago, you would have struggled to walk more than half a mile. Now, you are able to mount and unmount a horse with ease, Jack.’
‘My legs are getting stronger all the time. Yet, I only have Henry to thank for that.’
‘I am only glad we managed to discover a physician who was able to help you, Jack. It does not bear thinking about you having to spend the rest of your life in such discomfort thanks to the quacks who had seen you before. That is no reflection on you,’ Henry offered quickly. ‘Of course, you could not have known.’
‘Do not concern yourself, Henry. I would not take offence at such a statement.’
It had been by a strange stroke of luck that Jack had come to the attention of the earl’s physician. Henry’s father had been receiving a regular check-up at Sandon Hall when Jack, Rose, Henry and Nana happened to be visiting. Rose had been heavily pregnant at the time, and Dr Forbes had commented on how healthy she appeared. As Jack had walked into the room, leaning as always on his cane, Dr Forbes had engaged him in conversation as to his condition.
In truth, Jack had not been able to tell him much, for the so called doctor who had seen him many years before had simply prescribed powders to Mr and Mrs Price, and Jack had been taking them ever since. Dr Forbes invited Jack to come and see him in his clinic for a complete examination. It transpired that Jack had both rickets and tuberculosis, neither of which had been either noted or treated by the doctor who had seen to him as a child.
By order of Dr Forbes, Jack was instructed to eat a better diet of fish and dairy products and take a daily dose of cod liver oil. He was also instructed to get out in the sunshine more often, which would heighten his levels of vitamin D. After a year of doing as he had been instructed, the difference in Jack had been monumental. The cane became redundant, and as Jack built strength back into his limbs, he went from walking to running to eventually being able to ride a horse. All the things he could never have imagined he would be able to do in his lifetime.
Jack had continuously expressed his gratitude to Henry, and yet Henry had only been delighted that Jack’s quality of life had been improved. It had also given him a riding and hunting companion, which had drawn them even closer as brothers-in-law. Deep within him, Henry was relieved that he had been able to do something that may count as some penance for his previous wrongdoing. However, he did not express such things, for Rose would not allow him to dwell on those times. In her mind, they had moved on. They had grown together in their love and affection, and looking back was neither helpful nor productive.
As Henry continued talking to Jack about the hunt, Rose set up a new canvas beside them on the terrace. Since becoming a lady, she had found she had more time on her hands and had discovered that she had quite a talent for art over the last couple of years. Painting, more specifically. Her work was so good that she had already sold several pieces and had been commissioned to do several more.
It came as a surprise to the buyers that Rose had received no training in her skills, and Henry had noticed that it seemed to make her pieces appear even more valuable. In conversation with Lady Willoughby a few months ago, the older lady had relayed such to Rose and Henry when she had come to visit.
‘Do you know how difficult it is to discover such natural talent these days?’ she had said. ‘I think you will find, my lady, that your pieces will be well sought after. One cannot teach such skills as you possess.’
Rose had beamed with delight at the comment, and Henry had been so very proud of her at that moment. It was strange to imagine that if they had never married, it would have been a talent that would have stayed hidden for the rest of her life, for any job she would have been employed in would certainly not have given her the time to discover it.
The following week after discovering Rose’s condition, the whole group took the carriage and made the journey to Sandon Hall. Eleanor’s grandparents always delighted in seeing her, and Henry and Rose wished to relay their news to all of them in person. The visit was even more fruitful given that Mrs Price was able to see her family also, and though she had refused to come and live with Henry and Rose in their new home, for she did not desire to retire just yet, the earl and countess always took her from her duties when they came to visit, enabling them all to spend their time together.
Once Mrs Price joined them in the drawing room, Henry and Rose sat together and relayed their news to all of their parents.
‘Oh, this is wonderful news,’ the countess cried.
‘Congratulations to you both,’ the earl nodded with a broad smile.
Mrs Price did not say anything at first, only looked at Rose with a great sense of pride before her eyes watered and tears slowly trickled down her cheeks. At that moment, Rose stood from the sofa and, moving across the room, lowered herself down beside her mother and hugged her tightly. ‘I am so very proud of you, Rose,’ Mrs Price murmured.
Mrs Price’s display suddenly started Henry’s mother off, and soon, both of the mothers were in tears.
‘I thought this was supposed to be a happy occasion,’ Henry chuckled.
‘Of course, it is a happy occasion,’ the countess sniffed with a broad smile. ‘These are tears of joy,’ she said, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. ‘And look at my beautiful princess,’ his mother held her arms out to Eleanor, who, being let go by Miss Palter, slowly waddled over to her grandmother. ‘Look how big you have grown already, my darling,’ the countess continued as she lifted Eleanor upon her lap.
‘Say hello to Nana Lucille, Eleanor,’ Henry encouraged.
‘Nana Lulu,’ Eleanor said simply. She had not yet mastered her grandmother’s name, and yet the countess did not seem to mind. In fact, Henry’s mother had stated previously that she rather liked her new name.
‘Now, say Bonjour,’ Henry said.
‘Bombom,’ Eleanor said, sending warm chuckles throughout the room.
‘You are starting with the French already, Henry?’ his father looked a little surprised. ‘Do you not think she ought to learn English first?’
‘I have been reading an article recently, Father. It relayed the experiences of some children in Europe who are taught both languages simultaneously. It is meant to be easier to teach them. I suppose only time will tell. Anyway, Eleanor is like her mother, a very clever little girl. I have no doubt she will pick it up rather quickly.’
Rose beamed a smile toward him. ‘Yes, only Eleonor will not have to poach on the studies of others for her education.’
Everyone chuckled at this comment, for they all knew well that was exactly what Rose had done as Henry had received his lessons in Sandon Hall as a child.
After dinner, Henry’s father took him outside on the terrace before they retired into the drawing room for cards. Clearly, whatever he wanted to say was for Henry’s ears only.
‘I heard some rather interesting news the other day,’ his father said, leaning on the terrace wall.
‘Something I assume you do not want the others to hear about?’ Henry offered.
‘Well, your mother knows. You know I do not keep much from her. Yet, I hardly think it is something that Rose or her family need to know about. Your wife is a very intelligent and compassionate woman. She has moved on from all that happened to her, Henry. I do not desire to bring unpleasant memories back for her or to make her feel uncomfortable.’
Henry’s curiosity had suddenly grown, and he wondered what his father was about to relay. By his words, he had some idea it must have something to do with what happened to Rose when those dreadful people he had brought back with him from France had been at Sandon Hall.
‘I was in the club last month, visiting London as I do on occasion. While there, I was talking to one of my associates after dinner. We talked about the usual business, to begin with, until he mentioned a name that I suddenly recognised. The Marquess of Exeter, to be precise.’
‘Lady Susannah’s father,’ Henry stated.
‘The very same,’ his father continued. ‘Apparently, his only daughter, the one we had the pleasure of entertaining,’ his father grimaced, ‘has been married for about a year. She returned to France, it would seem and, having courted a Frenchman, married him.’
‘Not Phillipe?’ Henry suddenly frowned.
‘No, no,’ his father shook his head. ‘Some baron or other, Hamelin perhaps. Though in truth, I cannot recall the man’s name. I am only certain it was not the Frenchman that was here. Anyway, this nobleman is not short of a penny or two. No doubt something the little madam was well aware of before she said yes to his proposal. However, all is not well in paradise, it would seem, for the baron is said to be as vain and arrogant as Lady Susannah. According to reports, she is now stuck in France and dreadfully unhappy, for her father refuses to help her after all the trouble she caused.’
‘Ha!’ Henry said with a feeling of delight. ‘So, she has met her match then, has she?’
‘I would say she has got what she deserves,’ his father added. ‘She was a wretched woman when she was here and clearly, did not learn any lessons.’
‘Lady Susannah was far too arrogant to be able to do such a thing, Father. In her eyes, she was blameless. Of course, I will keep this information to myself, yet I cannot say I am not delighted. I know that does not make me sound like a very good person, and yet…’
‘I do not see it that way, Henry. After what she put this entire family through, I am afraid I have no sympathy for her. One reaps what one sows.’
Henry could not agree with his father more, not just for Lady Susannah but also for himself. The difference was that he had seen the error of his ways and discovered a way to change. Clearly, Lady Susannah never would, and now, she was suffering as she had caused such suffering to others. Apart from John Blakely, it was the first he had heard about any of them since he had seen them off his father’s property. He had not gone looking, nor had he cared how their lives had turned out.
Since he and Rose had married, Rose had managed to convince Henry to contact John Blakely, for as kind as she always was, Rose was determined that he, out of all of them, deserved a second chance. Henry had been reticent to do so at the beginning, but finally, after much of Rose’s persuasion, he had relented and sent a missive. It had not been anything overly familiar, for Henry at the time had not yet decided that he wished to renew his friendship with John. Yet, over the last year, that feeling had passed. In fact, such had the connection been renewed that John had come to visit them only a few months ago.
Though it had been a little awkward at the beginning, once more, Rose had taken the lead and, acting as though nothing had ever happened to cause her such distress, welcomed John warmly. Over the couple of weeks that John had stayed with them, much was discussed between him and John alone, and when he left, Henry could easily say their friendship was stronger than ever.
As usual, Henry had Rose to thank for that, and while it had been as much of his own guilt that had stopped him from reconnecting with John as it had been John’s behaviour, he had bid farewell to John in the knowledge that he had made the right decision. Rose had encouraged Henry to forgive John as she had so graciously forgiven him, and in the light of second chances, Henry could say he was more than blessed. Their family was whole, and he and Rose were closer than ever, and with a new addition to the family to look forward to, Henry could not be more content.
The following afternoon, the entire family spent their time together in the gardens. Jack, Henry and Rose played merrily on the lawn with Eleanor while their parents enjoyed refreshments on the terrace.
‘Is this the very ball we used to play with?’ Rose asked, clearly recognising the toy passed from one to the other.
‘It is indeed, my darling. Do you remember me sending it to the cottage?’
‘I do. What memories we have in these gardens, Henry,’ Rose suddenly looked over at him. ‘I can hardly believe this is our life now.’
‘Yes,’ Henry smiled at her wistfully before walking to stand beside her. ‘We have come full circle, my darling. I think, given the circumstances, that these very toys we both grew up with ought to become heirlooms for our children.’
‘That would be delightful,’ Rose smiled warmly as she looked up at him.
‘I love you so very much, my darling Rose. You have given me everything I could wish for and more,’ Henry said before he lowered his mouth upon her soft lips and kissed her tenderly.