A Few Months Later
Henriette probably loved Christmas more than Michaelmas. There was something about coming together as a family, having a large meal, giving gifts, and sitting before a warm fire that made her feel wonderful. It was also her last memory of her mother before she passed away, so she hung onto it as she grew older. They had a new family member this year, and everyone was excited. It turned out that Henriette had been pregnant and further along than she had thought. She should have picked it up earlier, but the business had kept her so busy that she hadn’t noticed the changes in her body. Fortunately, Jane had been beside her to help her through her pregnancy and the birth of her son.
I shouldn’t forget how attentive James was. At times, I had to tell him to calm down and allow me to breathe. I think he was afraid for me.
Henriette smiled and shook her head. Her husband was undoubtedly one of a kind, but she wouldn’t change him for the world. He was everything she could have wanted in a life partner, and she was grateful every day that he was in her life.
“Still wrapping gifts, I see,” Jane said, sitting beside her on the floor.
“Before you say anything, I am not stressed,” said Henriette. “I’m sitting on the floor because it feels more comfortable while wrapping the gifts. John also prefers the floor.”
Jane laughed. “How does a baby know the differences between a bed, chair, and floor?”
“My baby is remarkably intelligent,” said Henriette. “Just try to move him, and you’ll quickly find out how vocal he can be about being moved.”
“Could it be the puppy that keeps him entertained?” Jane asked.
Henriette watched the little pug dance around her son. John kept gurgling and kicking his feet in the air whenever Moo-moo got close to him.
“Moo-moo does have a way with John, doesn’t he?” said Henriette. “I was worried when Papa brought him home, but he was right about every child needing a dog. Moo-moo and John will grow up together and keep each other company.”
Jane shook her head. “I still do not know what kind of name Moo-moo is.”
“That was the first thing John said when he saw Moo-moo, so we stuck with it. I think it rather cute. How is Ephesus?”
“Getting older by the day, but Luke is so patient with him,” said Jane with a fond smile. “Marrying an animal doctor was the best thing I ever did. I wonder what he’ll do once he has a human baby to take care of?”
Henriette gasped. “You’re with child?”
Jane nodded. “My mother was the one who figured it out before I did. She’s so excited to have her first grandchild. Papa is strangely excited as well. I thought he’d be indifferent, but he has changed significantly over the years. I think having someone watch over his bullying behaviour has done him a world of good.”
“I’m so happy for you, Jane. If only we could have been pregnant at the same time!”
“Maybe next time,” said Jane. “I think our children will be a year and a half to two years apart, which is not too far from each other.”
“I suppose not,” Henriette agreed. “You also live nearby, so they’ll have a chance to see each other often.”
“Precisely,” Jane agreed, taking some brown paper from the low table behind them. “May I wrap something? I do not like to be idle.”
“Fortunately, I’ve wrapped all your gifts already, so you have no chance of taking a peek. I’m busy with Mary, Papa, and a few of the servants’ children’s gifts. The string is also behind you.”
“How would you like me to wrap everything?” Jane asked.
“Everything that is shaped oddly will get put in a box so no one can tell what it is,” Henriette explained. “Everything else will have the brown paper directly wrapped on its body. The girls’ gifts will get pretty bows, and the boys will get sprigs of fir trees. The green ribbon is for Papa, and—”
“One thing at a time, please!” Jane begged. “I’m afraid my memory has become a little foggy since falling pregnant. Mama says it’s normal.”
“I was the same with John,” said Henriette, recalling her embarrassing moments. “I’d be walking somewhere and forget where I was going. It was infuriating.”
Jane laughed. “I’m not quite so terrible yet, but I do recall how angry you would become. Only a kiss from Mr Marksman would calm you down. I once had a servant call him from the office because you were on the warpath.”
Henriette grimaced. “Do not remind me. I didn’t think a woman with child could act like that. It was even worse when I was hungry or craved something odd. Do you recall how I sent James out for soil after it rained? I have never eaten soil in my life, but I suddenly wanted it after smelling it outside the parlour window.”
“I recall you said it tasted heavenly,” Jane said. “Would you still be able to eat it now?”
“Sometimes, I go out into the garden and look for the juiciest piece of soil I can find,” Henriette confessed. “I suppose some cravings never go away. Have you had any odd cravings?”
“Not yet, but I hope to never eat soil,” said Jane. She picked up a teapot and admired it. “Who is this for?”
“Mrs Reed. It goes with teacups, saucers, sugar pot, milk pot and pretty little spoons with her initials engraved at the top.”
“How lovely!” Jane exclaimed. “I think Mama would love something similar, but in a different colour. Where did you get it?”
“The chinaware is from our warehouses, but I had the spoons specially made for her. What colour would your mother like? I’ll get the gift for you.”
“Would you?” said Jane. “That would be wonderful! Mama loves pink, so a light pink set would be marvellous. I bought her a scarf, but this would be much better. Would you be able to get it so close to Christmas Day? It’s only five days away.”
“I had a few put away while choosing Mrs Reed’s gift,” Henriette told her. “I’ll ask James to bring a few home for you to choose from. Come by tomorrow afternoon to select which pink one you favour more.”
“That would be lovely,” said Jane. “I should stop talking and wrap these gifts, or I’ll never get anything done.”
“Talk and wrap at the same time. I usually wrap while talking to John. Not that he responds in a way that I understand, but at least he’s listening. James takes his place when he returns home.”
“When will you return to work?” Jane asked, picking up a book.
“January, I think, but James and Papa would prefer I stay home,” said Henriette.
“That’s because raising our baby and running the household are just as important,” said James, walking into the room.
A big smile stretched Henriette’s lips. “You’re home! Is something wrong at the office? You don’t usually come home so early.”
“It’s nearly Christmas, and I want to be with my family,” James explained. “How are you, Mrs Heslop?”
“Wonderful, thank you,” Jane replied.
James leaned down and raised Henriette’s chin before giving her a kiss. She immediately blushed. He had no qualms over showing his affection for her in front of others, but she still wasn’t used to it even after two years of marriage.
“Why don’t I take John with me?” James suggested.
“Moo-moo is keeping him company, but I’m sure he’d like to spend time with his father,” said Henriette. “Please take Moo-moo with you. He keeps trying to steal the string and ribbon and hiding it under the armchair.”
“He’s still a puppy and likes that sort of thing,” said James reaching down to pick up their child. “I’ll buy him a few toys or get a cow’s hoof for him to chew on.”
Henriette grimaced. “A cow’s hoof? That is bound to stink. Some soft rope should do him just fine.”
“Noted,” said James. “I’ll see you a little later. Come, Moo-moo.”
The puppy obediently trotted behind him, its curly tail wriggling this way and that.
“That dog listens to him more than he listens to me, and yet I spend the most time with him,” Henriette complained.
“Isn’t that always the way?” said Jane. “Even Ephesus will abandon me the moment Luke returns from work. I should get a cat just to spite him.”
Henriette chuckled. “Don’t do that. You’ll cause much jealousy between them. Our animals think they can walk all over us because they know we’re always around. However, if we leave them for just a day, they’ll pine away for us. The same goes for our husbands. I once visited Mary for a day, and James sulked because I wasn’t home when he returned from work.”
Jane laughed. “Luke is the same! We should plan an outing for only women and see how they manage without us. A weekend away should remind them how much they need us.”
They both laughed at the idea but knew they likely wouldn’t go through with it. Henriette was happy with her married life and knew Jane was the same. Their lives were complete with their husbands, and having a child only brought more blessings. Henriette couldn’t wait for Christmas day when all her loved ones would come together and spend time with each other. The only thing that she regretted was James not having any communication with his brother. Henriette had put the past behind her and forgiven her brother-in-law for what he did. James had no idea where Henry was, but Henriette prayed he would reach out and bring more joy to her husband’s life.
Henriette looked at the clock on the wall and smiled. It was finally four o’clock and time for their Christmas feast.
“Why don’t we all move to the dining room?” she said. “Our meal awaits us.”
Mary, her fiancé and parents, Jane and her husband, and her father and his current love interest followed her into the room where a buffet-style meal sat on a groaning table. James stood beside her with their baby as he had refused to go to sleep due to the festivities. Babies seemed to know about such things even though they couldn’t quite understand what was happening.
“Your names are on your plates,” Henriette told them.
Everyone looked for their places and sat down as they kept the conversation going. Some believed the reverend was tipsy during his morning sermon, while others thought he was just happy.
“I smelt liquor on his breath, I tell you,” her father said to Mrs Dalrymple, a widow.
The woman was thirteen years Henriette’s father’s junior and had been a widow for the last five years. Henriette did not know where her father met the woman, but she was happy if he was happy. After discovering his last love interest was a well-known actress and courtesan, she learned to ask fewer questions. Ignorance was bliss.
“Oh, my lord, that could be the desecrated wine,” said Mrs Dalrymple.
Henriette winced. Mrs Dalrymple had a way with words, or rather, she often got them mixed up. Henriette had grown tired of trying to correct her because the woman simply continued saying the wrong thing.
“I think I saw a flask hidden in his robes,” Mary’s father added. “His cheeks were abnormally pink as well. Terrible thing to have the reverend drink on such a holy day.”
“It’s very un-Christmas like of him,” said Mrs Dalrymple.
Mary leaned towards Henriette. “She means un-Christian like, doesn’t she?” she asked.
“I think so, but do not think much of it,” Henriette warned. “You’ll soon grow tired of it. I know I am.”
Mary giggled and turned to her fiancé when he asked her a question. The pair met several months ago and had just two months of courtship before he asked for Mary’s hand in marriage. Henriette was glad her friend had met someone who cherished her and looked forward to her wedding day.
“Would someone say a prayer before we eat?” Henriette asked.
“I do not mind,” Luke said.
Henriette nodded. “Thank you.”
“Let’s bow our heads,” Luke ordered. “Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing us together on this special day. We pray for Your blessing upon every soul here and a blessing over the food we will feast on. We ask this in the name of Your Son. Amen.”
Everyone chorused ‘Amen’ and attacked the food. That was the only word Henriette could use to describe how her guests launched themselves at the platters of food. Venison, roast beef, goose, pheasant, swan, and capon were prettily garnished down the centre of the table, while vegetables like carrots, Brussels sprouts, squash, and potatoes supplemented the meat. Wine flowed freely, and the wassail bowl was available for those who wanted something with more heart. Henriette was looking forward to dessert because Cook had made all her favourites—shortbread, gingerbread, trifle, syllabub, and the traditional Christmas pudding. Everything was perfect because she had inspected and tasted every dish before it made its way to the table.
“Are you not going to eat something, my love?” James asked.
“I will, but I’m just admiring everything. What would you like to eat? I’ll fix you a plate.”
“Just a little meat and some vegetables,” he replied. “I’m saving my belly for the desserts.”
Henriette chuckled. “I was thinking the same thing, but don’t tell the others. I want them to get full on the savoury part of the meal so I can have more dessert for myself.”
“And me!” James exclaimed. “You wouldn’t leave your dear husband out of your plan, would you?”
“Never, my beating heart,” she said, tapping his nose. “Let me get you some food so I can take John from you. He’ll have his hands in your food before you know it. Are babies usually this active? I think our son is rather special.”
“That is precisely what I said to myself the other day,” James said.
Henriette smiled. “How can he not be special with parents like us? Just a moment, dear.”
She got up and added a few pieces of meat and a spoonful of vegetables with a healthy serving of gravy. Henriette didn’t want the servants serving them as it seemed more personal to do everything themselves. James still wasn’t accustomed to having others do things for him, but he was learning to let certain things go.
“Let me take John,” she said, putting her husband’s plate in front of him.
James handed their son to her, and she walked around the room with him, hoping he’d fall asleep. She might as well have been asking for summer during winter because he refused to close his eyes.
“You’re stubborn just like me,” she told him. “Why can’t you be more like your father? You certainly look like him, but you have my eyes and chin. Maybe I’ll have a little sister next time, and she’ll look just like me. Someone needs to continue your grandmother’s beauty legacy.”
Henriette wished her mother could be with them, but she believed she was here in spirit.
“When will you eat, Henny?” her father asked, appearing beside her.
“Oh, Papa,” she said. “Have you already finished your plate?”
“No, but I can’t stand one more wrong word from Mrs Dalrymple,” he complained. “She’s fun to be around, but my patience is wearing thin.”
Henriette chuckled. “Why did you invite her?”
“Because I knew she would be lonely this Christmas. Her children are all married and spending Christmas with their in-laws. She didn’t want to travel, so I invited her here instead.”
“I thought you were sweet on her,” said Henriette.
“For all of five minutes. I’d rather have the actress.”
“I’m a lonely man, dear,” he said. “I need some female company in my life. You should find a suitable wife for me, preferably one who isn’t one foot in the grave.”
“So, in other words, a younger woman?”
Her father smiled. “Precisely. Anything from ten to twenty years younger will do for me. I do not mind travelling between counties if need be.”
“Oh, Papa,” said Henriette, shaking her head. “I suppose I’ll see what I can do, but I will not choose someone twenty years younger than you. That would make her nearly my age!”
“Perhaps twenty is a little too young,” her father admitted. “Well, I suppose I need to return to my guest. I’m abandoning her at my first chance.”
Henriette shook her head as her father walked away. He hadn’t been like this until recently when he realised he had not been living life to the fullest. Henriette was happy for him, but she hoped he wouldn’t overdo it.
The main meal eventually gave way to dessert before everyone retired to the drawing room to give a toast and open presents. Everyone agreed it was a beautiful evening as they retired to their rooms around midnight, but no one could have been happier than Henriette.
“You cannot stop smiling,” James commented as they got into bed.
“I’m just so happy,” she said. “Everything went well. What more can I ask for?”
“You should plan more parties. Perhaps you can throw a ball to mark the beginning of spring.”
“Goodness, no!” Henriette exclaimed. “Lady Copeland would have my head if I did that. The first ball of the spring Season belongs to her.”
“Then you can throw the second one,” James suggested.
“Maybe,” said Henriette. “Let me enjoy this success before I think of doing any other parties.” She paused for a moment before she said what was on her heart. “There is one thing I would have liked to happen this Christmas.”
“What is that?” James asked.
“To hear from your brother. Don’t you think it’s time we put the past behind us? I wish he would reach out to you.”
James smiled and drew her into his arms before he settled against the pillows. “Well, your wish came true. I was going to tell you about it tomorrow, but now is good.”
“Indeed? Did you meet Henry?”
“No, but he did send me a letter. He is doing well in Italy and is married with two children. He also said he was sorry for everything and hopes we can forgive him.”
Henriette sat up to look at her husband. “Did he leave his address?”
James nodded. “He did.”
“You should write and tell him to come and see us,” said Henriette. “He and his family. I have nothing against him, and I’m sure Papa no longer feels the same way.”
“Do you really want that after all he did?” James asked.
Henriette nodded. “He is your brother, which makes him my family. I just want us all to be together.”
James’ eyes watered before he hugged her close, hiding his face from her. “What did I do to deserve you?”
“I could ask the same thing,” she countered. “So, will you write the letter?”
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” James promised. “Thank you.”
He kissed her head, but she pulled away to kiss him on the lips. “No, thank you. You’ve made me a happy woman, and I have loved every second of being married to you. You’ve given me the perfect adventure.”
“It’s our perfect adventure,” he added.
Henriette nodded and held him close. It really was their perfect adventure, and there were still many more years to look forward to.