Three years later…
Robert brushed the sweat off his brow as he and John surveyed the pear orchard. The place had been transformed and expanded over the last three years. The two-year-old saplings were growing well and would be ready to produce fruit in the next three years.
“They are doing nicely,” John said, nodding to the third terrace they had constructed below the original two of the main orchard.
“Yes, thank you for all your hard work, John.” Robert sighed with contentment. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined he would be running a farm, overseeing a thriving pear orchard that was growing more profitable by the year. Country life suited him far better than life in the city, and he was grateful when his father and mother-in-law had given management of Harris Manor over to him and Esther.
“I do believe you have visitors coming, Robert,” John said with a smile.
Robert turned to see Esther walking down the path, hand in hand with Ethan. Esther cradled the newest addition to their family close to her chest, their two-month-old daughter, Caroline. Ethan’s older sister, Abigail, trailed a few paces behind, carrying his two-year-old daughter, Genevieve.
Robert waved in greeting at the happy little caravan as they made their way toward the meadow. He and Esther had adopted Ethan and Abigail a few months after getting married, eager to start a family and make a difference for the children. They had brought no end of joy to their lives, albeit with some challenges as well. Their lives had taken another adventurous turn when Esther discovered they were expecting during Christmas, just six months into their marriage. It was a good thing he had always dreamed of having a big family, and he hoped there would be even more children to grace their family as time passed.
He walked up the path to meet them, taking little Genevieve from Abigail, who looked to have been struggling with the little girl’s growing weight.
“Hello, there, my princesses!” He said, tucking Abigail under the chin. The ten-year-old giggled and skipped ahead on the path toward the meadow. Robert tousled Genevieve’s dark ringlets. “And how are you, Mistress Genevieve?” He asked.
Genevieve wrapped her chubby little arms around his neck. “Papa!”
Robert chuckled and hugged her close. “Oh, I needed that. Are you ready for luncheon?” he asked.
“Mama said I could have two biscuits if I eats all my lunch!” Genevieve announced.
“Two biscuits? Well, this is a special day!” Robert replied. He fell into step beside Esther and took Ethan’s hand for the rest of the journey.
Esther shifted the baby against her chest, giving a tired sigh. “Thank you,” she said. “She’s getting heavy.”
“She eats well,” Robert replied. Caroline was undoubtedly a very chunky two-month-old with lots of adorable rolls.
“I’ve invited Sarah and Mrs Brown for tea this afternoon. I hope you do not mind?” Robert asked. The Brown family often spent the afternoons with them. Robert had taken a vested interest in Sarah’s education, especially when it came to her art. Over the last three years, she had blossomed as an artist. Not only did she paint beautiful watercolours, but she had also taken to painting China tea sets and had expanded into portraits in oil paint. When she came of age, he planned to send her and her parents to France so she could continue her education in the arts.
“Oh, I never mind. You know they are always welcome,” Esther beamed. “I’ll send Nanny up to the house and order more sandwiches and sweets.”
“We cannot dawdle this morning,” Robert warned. “We are due at the Easter Fair at ten.”
“Oh, yes, of course. We won’t be long. The children are beyond excited for the egg race.” They entered the meadow where the nanny and Abigail had already set out a blanket. Soon they were all settled down on the blanket and enjoying tea and treats. John, Mrs Brown, and Sarah soon joined them but decided to take their refreshments on the way to the village. Everyone was eager to head down to the fair.
Once they had eaten their light breakfast, they all set off for the village green. When they arrived, they were greeted by Esther’s parents and Clarissa, her husband and baby boy. Robert’s parents were not long behind them.
“Well, isn’t this a pretty family tableau?” Bridgett Weatherford said as they joined them. The vicar came trailing behind, carrying their young son on his shoulders.
Robert went over to greet them. “And nearly compete, now that you are here, my friends,” he greeted them.
The vicar took their son off his shoulders and held him in his arms. He shook hands with Robert, beaming in the warm sunshine as his and Esther’s families caught up with one another.
“Who are we waiting for?” the vicar asked.
Robert warmed at the familial way he said we, for it seemed that he and Bridgett were as much a part of their family as anyone.
“My brother Charles and his new wife should be here any minute,” Robert replied.
As if he had conjured them by his words, Charles’ carriage appeared, rolling down the country lane about fifty yards away. Charles poked his head out of the carriage and yelled across the green to them, announcing their presence in his boisterous manner.
Robert laughed and shook his head. “Speaking of my brother.”
“He certainly has a flare for making an entrance,” the vicar laughed.
Esther came to Robert’s side at that moment. “We should hurry, my love. The egg race is about to begin.” She snuggled Caroline close and started to move away.
However, Robert wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close. He planted a kiss on her cheek, drawing a laugh from his beautiful wife. “What was that for?”
“Isn’t a man entitled to kiss his wife on a fine spring day?” he asked. He leaned closer, his whiskers tickling her ear. She giggles in response. “I was just remembering the first Easter Fair the year we met. You are every bit, if not more, as beautiful than you were then.”
Esther rolled her eyes, waving him off. “Oh, go on with you, Mr Montgomery. I’ve had two children since then.”
The vicar excused himself as Bridgett called for him. “I am in charge of the egg race, after all,” he winked and headed off up the hill.
Robert and Esther stayed on the edge of the green to wait for Charles. His brother and sister-in-law were soon there, and Charles waved as he climbed out and helped his wife climb down. Robert could not have been more pleased that Violet Pembroke, his long-time friend, had become his sister-in-law nearly two years ago. It had taken some doing, but his brother finally convinced her that he had changed from the selfish young man their father had raised to a kind and generous young man of responsibility.
“Hello there!” Charles said, tucking Violet’s hand into the crook of his arm. Their nanny followed behind, pushing their newborn in a pram. “Brother!”
Robert waved, and he and Esther joined them on the dirt street that stopped just before the green. “Hello! We were waiting for you before we headed up to the egg race.”
“Ahh, very good. I have promised Ethan that I will beat him this year,” Charles teased.
Esther laughed at Charles’ antics. “It is for the children, Charles.”
“And the children at heart,” he argued. “I wrote to the vicar and cleared my participation in the event.” He gave a sidelong glance at his wife, “In return for a sizable donation to the orphanage, of course.”
Esther rolled her eyes, but Robert knew it was all in good fun. “You are incorrigible.” She stepped forward and kissed Charles on the cheek and then Violet. “Come, the race is about to begin.”
The ladies walked on ahead of him and his brother, affording them the chance to catch up.
“How is Father taking the Easter Fair festivities?” Charles asked. “As I recall, last year nearly did him in.”
“Quite a bit better than last year. I think Papa and Mama have realised that there is more to life than protecting one’s reputation. I blame the grandchildren.” Robert winked.
His parents had humbled themselves over the years. Being with family and enjoying their time together was a much more valuable pastime than caring what others thought. And Esther’s parents had become of the same kind as well. Now, the Easter Fair was a highlight of all of their year.
“Father made the comment that he was glad I ran away to be a gardener. We would never have ended up here as one big happy family if I had not.” Robert said with a shake of his head.
“And I will be eternally grateful for that as well. I would not have been knocked off my high horse and seen what a beautiful angel was standing right before me.” Charles motioned to Violet, still in raptures over her, even though they had just recently celebrated their second anniversary. “I fall more in love with her every day.”
Robert knew exactly how he felt. He had not thought it possible when he and Esther first married, but he grew more in love with her each day.
Soon they had arrived at the boundaries for the egg race, and Charles drew scores of laughter as he joined the line of racers. But of course, the vicar had to make it fair for the children, so Charles was made to race on his knees. Roars of laughter filled the air as the race began, and Ethan pulled ahead for the win. Robert met him at the finish line, picking him up and twirling him around in celebration of his victory.
“Well, my chap,” Charles said as he feigned disappointment at being bested once more by his nephew. “I bow to your superior skills in all things egg race.”
Ethan laughed. “It’s alright, Uncle Charles. You just have to practise more.”
Esther soon joined the men at the finish line, and they started toward the booths on the village’s main street. They made their first stop at Sarah’s booth. She had really outdone herself this year. She had completed three beautifully painted tea sets, each with different blooms to welcome spring. Esther was especially in raptures over a white tea set with bright pink roses and delicate pear blossoms and green leaves.
“Oh, Robert. Have you seen this? Sarah, I cannot believe you painted these. They are exquisite!” She picked up one of the tea cups, admiring it from every angle.
Sarah nodded shyly. “Thank you, Mrs Montgomery. It was Mr Montgomery who inspired it. He said offhandedly that pear blossoms would make a beautiful addition to the roses. I quite agree with him.”
“As well you should. You’ve done a brilliant job capturing the essence of our little village,” Esther said. She set the cup down, still looking at it with longing.
Robert stepped forward, motioning to the pear blossom tea set. “Have it wrapped and sent up to the manor, Sarah, if you please.”
“Oh, Robert. Are you sure?” Esther asked, but he could tell that her greatest wish was to have the set.
“Of course. Nothing is too good for my love,” he said. He paid Sarah handsomely for the set, and she began wrapping it right then and there.
They visited several more stalls and had their purchases sent up to the house: fresh apple tarts made from last year’s preserves, wild strawberry jam, and a woven basket for their frequent summer picnics. As they returned around the other side of the street toward the green, Robert nodded to the table where entries were being taken for the annual Easter Bonnet Contest.
“Well, my dear. Will you be entering the contest?”
Esther leaned into him as they walked down the hill. “Oh, goodness, no. I do not think I could ever design something more beautiful than the pear blossom bonnet.”
“I don’t think anything ever could,” he pulled out the watercolour that Sarah had given him all those years ago and showed it to her.
Esther gasped. “What is this? You’ve never shown it to me.”
“Sarah gave it to me the day I was forced to leave Harris Manor—the day I thought I lost you forever. Whenever I look at it, it reminds me to give thanks for all the Lord has blessed us with.”
He pulled her close, and she melted into his arms. “I love you, Robert Montgomery,” she whispered softly.
“I love you more, Esther Montgomery.” He then bent his head toward hers and kissed her, relishing in the warmth of her lips and the way she fit perfectly against his chest. He was truly blessed.