Two Years Later
“You said we could go fishing.” Henry’s voice sounded put out as he stood tall by the front door, clinging to the fishing rod.
“That I did, and we will.” Thomas moved toward his adopted son, admiring how much the boy had grown these last couple of years. “Yet we can hardly run out of the house before your mother and sister are ready, can we?” he asked as he picked up some of the fishing tackle and tucked a second basket under his arm. “What would they say to that?”
“My sister can’t say much yet,” Henry pointed out. “Other than gurgling and gargling.”
“She can say one word very well, and you know it,” Thomas reminded him playfully, watching as the boy’s smile broadened. It had been a couple of weeks ago when Rose had managed her first word. They had just arrived back at Montbury Hall for their visit. The baby had been thrust into Simon’s hands, who longed to see the child, only for the girl to grow restless. With small grabbing hand movements, she had leaned away from Simon, wanting to be with her brother. Abruptly, she had called out, ‘Henry!’
“She said my name.” The boy beamed with pride. “Clearly, she has good taste in people.”
Thomas tilted back his head and laughed.
“You grow wittier every day.” He patted the boy on the head in approval. “Now, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll carry the fishing rod for you, if you could carry this small basket for me.” He proffered the smallest basket to Henry, who seemed proud with his charge and held it high in the air.
“Is Uncle Simon coming too?”
“He’s joining us later. He has a visit to make first.” Thomas kept the truth of where his brother was a secret, knowing that Simon was really rather nervous about the turn that had happened in his life as of late.
After the debacle of the betrothal with Rosalind, Simon had vowed to keep to himself and not to love again. Now he and Thomas had grown much closer. On more than one occasion, Thomas had sought a private conversation with Simon, where he revealed that he had made such a resolution once, but to look at him now? He had a wife he not only adored but a family he was completely devoted to. He wished for the same happiness for his brother.
For a long time, Simon cut himself off from people, despite Thomas’ urges not to do so. He often remained at his own country residence until Thomas had invited him to Montbury and Sheffield repeatedly to see the family. Slowly, Simon had been drawn out of himself once more. The day he’d met a young lady in Derby, when out escorting Emily on a shopping trip, everything had changed. The lady’s name was Lady Arabella Swift. The daughter of a local landowner, she was a quiet girl who had charmed Simon within minutes. Thomas had seen them together a few times and was pleased to see the young woman’s devotion to his brother was genuine.
If all goes according to plan today, I will soon have cause to call her my sister-in-law.
For Simon had gone to visit her father, with the express purpose of asking for his blessing to have her hand in marriage.
“Who else is coming?” Henry asked, pushing open the door and carrying the basket. Thomas held the door ajar, stopping it from opening further, in a silent reminder they had to wait for Emily and Rose.
“Your cousins. Mary and Joseph will be there, and of course, Abigail and Mr Colebrook too. You remember them, don’t you?” Thomas said, watching as the boy nodded eagerly. “They will join us by the river for our picnic.” Henry’s smile faded briefly as a memory clearly occurred to him.
Thomas had decided long ago that he didn’t want the boy to feel conquered by fear. With that in mind, at their house in Sheffield, he had taught Henry to swim in a lake and how to fight the water, if he ever found himself in its depths again.
“Will you be all right at the river?” Thomas asked, his voice kind.
“Yes,” Henry agreed, pushing away his nerves. “I know how to swim now, so nothing will happen.”
“This is taking forever.” The boy sighed deeply and looked to the stairs. “How long does it take them to get ready?”
“Rose needs preparing before she leaves the house. I daresay you were just as much trouble at her age.” Thomas’ words made the boy wrinkle his nose.
“I doubt it.”
They laughed together just as a bundle of people appeared at the top of the stairs. The nursemaid was the first to appear, carrying down a bag in which there were spare blankets and milk packed for Rose. Behind her, Emily appeared, holding their daughter. At the back of the group was Portia, who hurried on with much to say.
“You’ll be careful, won’t you? By the river,” Portia said in fear.
“Have no fear, Portia,” Emily said calmly. “I plan on not putting Rose down, not for a single second.”
Thomas laughed, along with Henry. The two of them had often observed as of late how protective Portia was with Rose. She worried for her, fussing in a way that not even Emily and Thomas did. Seeing her so affectionate warmed Thomas’ heart more than he had thought it could. He could still remember the cold attentions of his mother growing up. It seemed with the coming of a grandchild, a lot of that harshness had softened. Every now and then, she would transfer that worry to Henry. As they descended the stairs, she moved to Henry now, checking his coat was straight. Henry wriggled under his step-grandmother’s attentions.
“How is she?” Thomas asked, shifting everything in his arms as he came to look at his daughter.
Wrapped up in Emily’s arms was their beautiful daughter. Bearing a mop of dark hair, just like Emily’s own, with each breath the baby took, one of these dark curls moved back and forth. Her blue eyes which were like his were closed, for she slept peacefully.
“She is resting. I am not surprised, from how much she cried in the night.” Emily sighed at the idea. “I remember you when you were like this,” she said to Henry, nodding straight at him.
“Me? I was never that bad!” he insisted.
“I’m afraid you were,” she said playfully. Henry pretended to be affronted and strode out of the house.
“What did we say about walking off, Henry?” Thomas’ call made the boy freeze on the front step. “Now, something tells me we’re still missing one.”
As if on cue, there was a crash from a nearby doorway. They all turned their heads, looking toward it as the butler hurried out, falling over something under his feet. A bark followed, and Dash appeared, managing to run in a tight circle around the butler, nearly knocking him over once again before he darted to the door.
“Dash!” Emily and Thomas called at the same time. Fortunately, Henry caught him. Dropping the basket he had hold of, Henry caught the dog before he could go anywhere and fastened a lead to his collar. “You’re getting better at keeping hold of him, Henry,” Emily praised him for it.
The boy stood tall and smiled under the praise.
“Shall we go for this picnic now? I’m starving!” Henry led the way as he hurried out of the door. Portia waved them off, bearing an easy smile that Thomas couldn’t remember seeing from her before he had married Emily and brought children into their lives.
On the path, as Thomas carried the fishing rods and the picnic basket, his eyes travelled over Emily at his side. Despite their restless night, for each time the baby had stirred, Emily had stirred too, refusing to leave the cries to the nursemaid alone, she did not look too tired. There was a serene beauty to Emily’s countenance that he had only seen since Rose had been born. The pleasant smile on her lips as she cooed down at their daughter, kissing her on the head, made Thomas move toward her. Hitching the basket under his arm, he wrapped an arm around Emily and drew her into his side, kissing her temple.
“Aww,” she murmured, looking up at him. “What was that kiss for?”
“Love, as always,” he whispered to her. She giggled before standing on her toes to kiss him back, holding Rose between them. Only when Henry made his usual ‘eww’ sounds did they pull apart from each other, smiling. “Are you looking forward to being in the woods again?”
“I am.” Emily stood tall with a contented smile. “As much as I love our daughter, the confinement period is hard. I was so heavy with her I could not walk far, even when I tried to.”
“You were not that heavy,” Thomas insisted, to which she eyes him warningly. “Very well, you were a little heavy.”
“I was very heavy! But I will concede to your kindness in pretending I was not.”
As they walked to the river, they continued in this manner, talking of the woods and the last time they had walked here. It was some months before Rose had been born, and Thomas had sat with Henry by the great rocks, instructing him how to fish once again. By the end of the session, the boy was so accomplished that he could practically prepare everything without assistance.
Emerging by the river, they heard voices in the distance. Thomas leaned up the rods and the picnic basket against a nearby rock, then reached into the basket for a blanket and laid it out on the ground. Henry sat down heavily, delving into the basket before the rest of them had even sat.
“Henry, save some for the rest of us,” Emily warned softly. In the end, Henry took out the smallest morsel he could find, a chunk of cheese.
The voices grew closer, and Thomas turned to greet those joining them for the picnic. Mary and Joseph were the first ones to arrive, with Joseph tripping over a nearby rock in his enthusiasm to wave. Mary caught him barely in time, before they hurried to the blanket.
“Emily! My dear, oh look at this little one in your arms. It’s so good to see you again. May I hold her?” Mary ran on from one sentence to the next so fast, it was impossible to keep up with her questions.
Thomas smiled and turned his attention to Joseph, who bowed in greeting. Thomas bowed back before they turned their attention to Henry.
“Goodness, Henry, look how you’ve grown.” Joseph dropped to his knees, pretending Henry was much taller than him. “A year or two more, and you’ll be as tall as your papa.” He gestured to Thomas at his side.
“Papa says it may take a few years yet,” Henry said, folding his arms in disappointment, before he embraced Joseph in greeting.
Thomas felt a warmth spreading through him at hearing the words. It had only been a month or two after he and Emily had married that Henry had begun to call him Papa. Thomas had not wanted to ask for such a thing, for though he felt like a second father to Henry, he never wanted the idea to be pressed upon the boy. Yet Henry had done it all of his own accord.
One day, Thomas had taken Henry for a walk on the Sheffield estate, when Henry’s feet had gotten caught in a boggy section of ground. He had been trying to rescue Dash from its clutches. Henry had called out to Thomas for help, and as Thomas had pulled him free, the dog, too, the word ‘Papa’ had fallen naturally from Henry’s lips. Since then, Thomas had always been Papa to Henry.
“Here we are, the stragglers of the group.” Joseph stood to his feet and beckoned to the last to arrive. Dash barked in greeting, urging Henry to bend down and pat his head, prompting him to quieten.
Around the last curve in the path, Mr Colebrook and Abigail appeared, with a clear reason for why it had taken them so long.
“Oh, do be quiet, Father,” she bemoaned, glaring at her father. “I cannot walk as quickly as I used to.” She was round with child and clinging onto her husband at her side, who helped her every step of the way.
“My dear, you are quite glowing.” Emily appeared and moved to kiss her on each cheek. The baby had been passed into Mary’s hands, who cooed down at the child as she roused from sleep, with her blue eyes staring at the world in wonder.
“Do we get to have food now?” Henry asked impatiently. Thomas laughed and encouraged him on.
“If you serve others too, I don’t see why we can’t begin.”
A few minutes later, all were settled. Abigail had the largest food pile beside her, especially as Mr Colebrook kept passing her his own portion. She smiled sweetly at him in thanks as he talked enthusiastically to Joseph about the affairs of the church. Mary busied herself with little Rose, pulling faces and prompting the girl to giggle.
When Henry was done with his food, Thomas watched him prepare the rod, noting the boy barely needed any assistance, for he was so accomplished these days at the task. Once he was set up, with Dash at his side chewing on a sausage the cook had thrown into the basket at the last minute, Thomas stood to his feet.
“Give me a shout if you catch anything, won’t you?” Thomas asked.
“I will, and I won’t fall in.” Henry looked at him, clearly recognising the question Thomas really wanted to say, call me if you need help.
“I’m sure you won’t.” Thomas tapped him lovingly on the shoulder and then returned to the group, though he glanced back at the boy every now and then, wanting to be certain he was truly safe and comfortable. When he reached the blanket, he sat down beside his wife. She leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder, revealing how tired she was after the restless night. “Tired, love?”
“Perhaps a little,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Yet I have no wish to leave. I am too happy.”
“I am glad for it.” He moved his lips swiftly to her forehead and kissed her there, watching as her eyes opened and she looked up at him. “I hope she starts to sleep through the night soon. We both need a little more sleep.” At his words, he yawned too.
“Perhaps we do,” she agreed with a giggle, “though I regret to inform you that even if she does sleep through the night soon, it will not be long before we are up at night again.”
“Why is that?” he asked distractedly, for his eyes watched Henry and Dash as the dog caused a fuss and nearly fell in the water. Henry managed to pull Dash back at the last minute, stopping him from falling in.
“Ha! Cannot you guess from what I said?” At her question, he turned to look at her quizzically. “Let me stress my hint to you, of we will be up all night again. It will not be too long either until I am waddling as poor Abigail is doing now….” Her clue hung in the air. As everything clicked into place, Thomas’ eyes widened.
“Do you mean to say… you’re –” His tone became ridiculously excited, before she shushed him.
“Shh, I do not want everyone to know yet, only you,” she whispered for his ears only. The hand that he had lifted to go to her stomach, he used to find her palm instead, and he laced their fingers together.
“We are to have another child?” he said, his tone ecstatic despite its quietness. His eyes glanced between Rose in Mary’s arms and Henry as he fished by the water. He could not imagine a better future than adding another to their family. “When I was young, I always liked the idea of a large family.”
“Well, now we will have one!” she said with delight and reached up, kissing him on the cheek. “Oh, and one more thing.” She moved her head to whisper in his ear. “I do not know why, but for some reason, I’m quite confident this time it will be a boy.”
“Another boy?” Thomas shifted his eyes from Henry back to his wife, whispering to her. “Then I will have two sons to teach how to run estates and take care of their tenants.”
“Just so,” she said with a giggle. “I just hope Henry takes to having a brother very well.”
“I do not doubt he will.” Thomas’ smile continued to grow. More than once had he found Henry trying to pick up Rose, wanting to carry her and play with her too. He’d had to show Henry carefully how to hold her and when to put her down, for Henry was too small to carry her for very long. “I reckon Henry will be his greatest protector. I’m confident of it. Well, greatest apart from me, that is.”
“He could not wish for better.” Emily kissed him on the cheek, and he kissed her back, quite certain he had never been as happy as he was in that moment, with his family around him.