Twelve years had passed since the most incredible day of Tess’s life. She had married the man of her dreams—doing something she had never anticipated and had never wanted to do. And yet, she had no regrets at all. Instead, she simply wanted to enjoy the rest of her days with him, loving him even more than she had the day before.
And it had proven to be possible. She had enjoyed the previous twelve years through the ups and the downs of marriage, through the hard times and the wonderful times. And she mad made it through each of her four pregnancies without incident, thereby calming all fears that Milton had once held.
“So, you and Papa married one another after all that?” Harriet asked, the eleven-year-old child always full of boundless curiosity.
“Indeed, my love, we did. Your father and I were able to reconcile the fact that neither of us had wanted to be married, and we were finally able to enjoy that very thing we had both once feared. I know it sounds silly now. After all, you see us as we are. We are happy, we are in love, and we constantly enjoy the company of one another. You might never suspect that there had been a day in which we did not wish to be married at all—much less to one another,” Tess said, laughing.
“No, Mother, I never would have believed that. You and Papa are so lovely together. I hope that, one day, I might find such a wonderful husband and that the two of us will have a nice story to tell as well,” Harriet said.
Tess smiled and glanced over at the boys, who were playing with one another, roughhousing and indulging in a bit of time outside in the garden where Tess and Harriet sat.
Maggie, the youngest, was inside sleeping. She still took excellent afternoon naps, for which Tess was grateful. At just two years of age, Maggie’s boundless energy was far more akin to that of her brothers than of Harriet. In all, Tess was quite frequently exhausted by the handling of her children, but she enjoyed every moment of it, wishing that she might have the opportunity to have a fifth one day when Milton was prepared to handle another.
Her pregnancies had not only been easy to survive, but they had been easy throughout. Tess felt awful at times, having seen the difficulties that Rue had endured throughout her childbearing. The nausea, the pains, the difficulties with the actual births themselves. It was not easy for her, but she had given birth many times, regardless.
“What are you thinking about, Mother?” Harriet asked.
“Oh, I was thinking about Lady Haverdell. It is nearly time for us to depart to go and visit her. What do you say? Shall we make ourselves ready?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, Mother! I would love to go and see Lady Haverdell. Is Lord Haverdell ready for us, do you think?” Harriet asked.
“We must make ourselves ready, and then we may ask. I expect that he probably shall be very soon,” Tess said.
She led the three eldest children to prepare themselves and, by the time Maggie woke up, James was ready for them all. Milton came out and took Tess’s hand and kissed her cheek.
“You look beautiful, my dear. Are the children ready?” he asked.
“Indeed, they are,” she said.
It was a joyful thing, any time they were able to have dinner or visit with their friends. But the children loved to spend time with James and Tess’s children, and that brought Tess and Milton a good deal of happiness. It was wonderful that their children might be so close to the children of such dear friends. Tess was happier than she could express when they arrived, and she got to sit and speak with Rue for a while while the children ran off to play together.
“Our lives have certainly changed, have they not?” Rue asked, shaking her head as she watched the little ones run around together.
“They have, a good deal. There are times when I miss being young and unhindered, but I often find that there is nothing that brings me so much joy as the opportunity to be with my children,” Tess said.
“Yes, well, that is certainly something we may agree on,” Rue replied.
“Are there ever times when you think that you misunderstood what motherhood would be like?” Rue asked.
“Frequently. Honestly, when I had determined that I would never marry, I expected that it would be the same for having children, naturally. I thought that if I was unwed, I would never be a mother and that, as a woman with too much independence, it would suit me better that way,” Tess said.
“And what changed for you?”
“Soon after getting to know Milton, I understood that I was not half so independent as I always believed. Well, no, I suppose I cannot say that. I was still independent; I just realised that there was something I wanted more than my independence. I wanted marriage. I wanted Milton,” she said.
“So then, because I knew that I was marrying him and that I was giving up a certain aspect of my freedoms, I had to consider what I truly wanted. Did I want to maintain the rest of them? Or did I wish to enjoy my life in a new way? And, ultimately, I chose to move on and to give myself the opportunity to explore the desire I had always pushed aside,” she explained.
“So you always wanted motherhood? You just didn’t see that side of yourself before that?” Rue asked.
“Precisely. I had not known that it was what I wanted until it became the thing right before me. And when it did, when I had it at my fingertips, there was nothing that could stop me from giving in. And then, after having Harriet, I knew without a doubt that I was meant to be a mother. It is the most wonderful thing. I have lost some of my independence, to be sure, but I have gained a whole new part of myself that I never knew existed,” she said.
“I suppose I understand what you mean by that. I love my children a great deal, and there are times, of course, when I struggle with being so engaged all the time and not being allowed a moment to myself, but then, I think about what my life would be like without them,” Rue said.
She had always thought children must be an inconvenience. She now knew that this sort of business and this level of constant interaction was actually a gift. It was a gift that she had never expected, but she was entirely thankful for it.
“May I be honest about something?” Tess asked.
“Of course, please do. You know that you may share anything with me, Tess,” Rue said.
“Very well,” she replied. “I have actually been hoping to have another child soon. I know that Maggie is still quite young, but I would love nothing more than to enjoy a larger family, more like the one that you have.”
“It is not easy, but it is worthwhile. Do you believe that Milton also wants another child?” Rue asked.
“I hope so, but I cannot be certain. He seems to have recovered from the fears of the past, but there are times in which I do not wish to push him, you understand. I would not like it if he was stuck with those fears, as I am overjoyed for the fact that I have another child in my womb. If he has even the least bit of discomfort, I would understand,” Tess said.
“Well, you must talk to him about it. The curse he feared was something he grew up hearing about. No matter that it sounds like nonsense to the rest of us. If he had been told, repeatedly, that it was true, that is all he can believe,” Rue said.
“Precisely. And I do not wish for him to think that I am mocking him if I do not show it the proper consideration that it requires,” she said.
“You are a good wife to him. I am sure that he appreciates it very much,” Rue said.
“I do hope so,” Tess replied.
Just then, Harriet came running into the room, her laughter filling Tess’s ears like little tinkling bells.
“Oh, Lady Haverdell! We have had the most wonderful morning. Well, first of all, Jude just put an entire wooden doll into his mouth, and it was most impressive,” Harriet said.
Rue and Tess looked at one another knowingly and silently laughed at the bit of information.
“And I also wanted to tell you about a story that Mother shared with me this morning. Did you know her when she and Papa first met and fell in love?” Harriet asked.
“Indeed, my dear. I did know them both. It was a most wonderful time for us all, and I was very glad that they should find one another and fall in love,” Rue said.
“Oh, but it was not so simple as that! She and Father went through so much difficulty. You would never know it now, but they experienced very much, did you not, Mother?” Harriet continued.
“Indeed, my dear,” Tess replied.
“So, Lady Haverdell, you must hear the story. It is remarkable. My mother and father met each other and fell in love when neither of them wished to be married. They decided to marry eventually anyway, but that was not their plan. Can you imagine it? I am shocked that they really felt that way because you know that they are now very much in love,” Harriet said, recounting much of what she had just heard that morning.
Tess couldn’t help but smile, thinking about all of it through the innocent mindset of her daughter. It was wonderful to share the story in its purest, simplest form with Harriet and know that she and Milton had truly been through a great deal but had eventually found their way to one another.
“Yes, well, it is a good thing that Lord Stanton did not manage to get what he wished for,” Rue said.
Tess grimaced, not liking to hear that man’s name, even now. She had left him out of the story with Harriet, but it was clear that Tess’s daughter would not allow for that to remain a secret for long.
“Who is Lord Stanton?” she asked.
Rue looked at Tess with an apology, and Tess simply shrugged that it hardly mattered.
“Lord Stanton was a very bad man. In fact, he still is a very bad man. He is not kind at all. His father defends things that are unkind to people, and he does as well. Not only that, but he loved your mother, although not in the same way that your father does,” Rue said, trying to explain things simply.
“But he loved Mother? I do not understand. Who is he? What makes him think that he can love her when that is Papa’s job?” she asked.
“Men like Lord Stanton believe they may have whatever they want in the world, my dear. And he is no exception. You see, he is an unkind man, and he took his time to try and ruin the happiness that your mother and father felt. But he was eventually scared off by your father,” Rue said.
At last, Harriet appeared to be appeased, and she went scampering off once more with the other children.
Tess took a deep breath and released it.
“Well, it is always a bracing moment to think back to Lord Stanton and all the things he did and the ways he attempted to ruin us,” Tess said.
“Forgive me, I did not think about the fact that you may not have told her about him,” Rue said.
“No, it is nothing. It is simply the truth. He is a bad man and always will be. Regardless, I care not if she knows about him, so long as you explain it the way you did. I should hate for her to learn anything more about all the lies he told and the ways he tried to threaten and intimidate us,” Tess said.
“Yes, of course,” Rue agreed. “You know, I have seen him at balls I have managed to attend. He still prowls, looking for a young woman who may not have heard about him—someone who might fall for his lies.”
“Yes, I know it. I have worked hard to not attend any ball where he might be present, but there are times when it is impossible to avoid him,” Tess said, thinking back to a particularly nasty moment a few weeks ago when he had criticised her for not having returned to her former appearance from before she had children. But he had muttered it under his breath while passing by her, and Tess had no desire to share about it with Rue at that moment.
The problems with Lord Stanton did not stop at his insults, his prowling, or his general poor behaviour. The greatest problem that Tess still saw with him was that he had taken up his father’s cause and was still fighting against abolition, rather stating the importance of slaves at any chance he might find.
Tess was thoroughly disgusted by him, but she could say nothing. After all, he was simply airing his own views—views which she happened to find deeply flawed and immoral.
But Tess could not find a way to stop him, and she recognised that it was not her duty to do so. She was but a woman, and she was no longer a part of his life in the least. She had no reason to try and stop him when all she truly wanted was to be rid of him forever.
“Very well, enough about him,” Rue said.
“Yes, of course,” Tess replied.
Just then, as if they had read Tess’s mind, James and Milton came bursting into the drawing room to see the two women.
“My darling, you must hear this,” Milton said.
She straightened her spine and waited to learn what it was that they were so eager to share.
“Milton and I have been discussing a few matters, and we have thought about some ways in which we might be able to raise money for the sake of abolition. We could use this money for a great many things. Some could go to the churches who support the men and women who have been brought against their will—these are ministers who are fighting against the movement, of course. Or we could assist these men and women in getting their lives set up in London without having to struggle. We could even use some for the sake of ‘buying’, although only in order to give them their freedom papers,” James mentioned.
“Well, do you think it would work?” Tess asked.
Milton looked at her keenly.
“In truth, my love, we are still just learning what is the best route for us to take. But as we speak with some of these men and women, I expect that we will eventually find a way to fight together and ensure that England has a future free of the horrors of slavery,” Milton said.
Tess appreciated his enthusiasm and positivity. She wondered if there would ever truly be a day in which all things were equal. It was something to work towards, together with those who were already fighting and those who needed to be free.
She hoped that, eventually, England would denounce slavery and declare it illegal forever. But for now, Tess was proud to be married to a man who cared about this issue and was willing to spend his time with a dear friend thinking through some of the possible options for bringing it all to an end.
In the evening, Tess and Milton made their way home with the children, all of whom were sleeping by the time the coach arrived at the estate. Tess held Maggie and woke Harriet enough that she could walk inside on her own. Meanwhile, Milton threw Douglass over his shoulder and carried him while the footman carried Michael.
They laid all the children down for bed, and then Tess and Milton met back in their room, ready to get some rest for the night.
“Would you like to sit outside for a while first?” Milton asked.
Tess looked out to the balcony, her favourite place to be with Milton. She nodded and followed him out to the table.
“You know, tomorrow is the twelfth anniversary of our wedding day,” he said.
“Indeed, it is. I am terribly eager for it. I do love to celebrate with you,” she said.
“And what have you learned most over the past twelve years?” Milton asked, looking at her with a spark of mischief in his eyes.
“So many things,” she said.
It was difficult to bring them down into a simple list, but Tess wanted to make an effort. She hoped that she might be able to be romantic and help to entertain Milton with her answers, even if it was a bit silly, to begin with.
“I have learned that you are worth any change of heart. If I had not changed my thoughts towards marriage, I would have missed this. That would have made me miserable,” she said. “And you?”
Milton grinned wickedly and looked her up and down.
“I have learned that it is never too early to celebrate.”
With that, he led her back inside, and they danced against the candlelight.