Hyacinth sat in the drawing-room, looking out the window at a warm early autumn day. She breathed in, feeling exhausted, but content. The golden sunshine poured in through the long windows that filtered through the long needles of the fir tree that grew outside. She leaned back on the comfortable velvet of the chaise longue she sat on and gazed out at the beautiful afternoon.
She glanced at the sewing she’d been working on, an embroidered embellishment for a gown, and wondered if she had the energy to complete the work. She felt so deliciously sleepy in the drowsy autumn weather that it was tempting to rest her head and let her thoughts float.
“My lady?” A voice spoke from the hallway. Hyacinth looked over to see her newly employed maid, who was a distant relative of Harriet’s; someone Harriet had been pleased to introduce her to. “Sorry to disturb you, my lady. New linen arrived.”
“Oh. Grand,” Hyacinth said, feeling pleased. “Please have it sent up to the attic room at once.” She smiled as the maid went out again. She was pleased running her own household.
Lady Rallden, Nathaniel’s mama was more than happy to give most of the duties of the daily running of the household over to Hyacinth now that she resided at the country estate. She still planned dinnertime menus with her though, and Hyacinth genuinely enjoyed it. Nathaniel’s mama was more direct than her own, but she had a merry laugh and liked her company. Lord Rallden, Nathaniel’s father, was a pleasant man, if a little distant in his manner. Hyacinth liked him too, and she was glad of that.
“My lady?” Miss Hendersley, the new maid said again coming back to the door. “Sorry to disturb you. He’s woken.”
“Oh!” Hyacinth stood, feeling her heart flood with warmth. She walked with Miss Hendersley up the stairs to the attic room, feeling love so strong it was like an ache.
Her little son, named Henry after her father, was sleeping in his cradle. She came in and he opened one eye showing he hadn’t been sleeping after all. Miss Hendersley said he’d woken from his afternoon resting.
“Henry,” she greeted him affectionately. He looked up at her, his eyes clouded and uncertain. “How is my fine little chap, eh?” she asked him.
“Uh…” He murmured, stretching, and looking up at her with eyes unfocused. Hyacinth looked down into his eyes and her heart flooded with warmth. She could not express her feelings in words; they were too strong.
“Here we are, little one,” she said fondly. She bent down and picked him up. He was dressed in a little nightshirt that Harriet had helped sew for him. The collar was embellished by her own work. She breathed in the warmth of his skin and held him tight. “Did he rest long?”
“A full twenty minutes, my lady,” the maid said. She grinned, her face lit with brightness.
“That’s grand,” Hyacinth said. She held him against her, looking down into his little face.
It was still a little rumpled since he was only three months old, but he resembled her in the shape of his eyes, and his father’s nose and chin. She could see that at once, and even now.
“You’re a handsome little fellow,” she told him lovingly as he gazed up at her confusedly. “A handsome little fellow.”
“Uh,” he said.
Hyacinth felt an ache of love as he moved his lips. She was sure he was smiling, or trying somehow to talk. She had said that to Nathaniel before, and he was sure she was right.
“I’ll take him into the drawing-room,” Hyacinth said to the nursemaid, who nodded.
“Of course, my lady,” she said.
Hyacinth walked carefully to her room and sat on the chaise-longue with Henry in her arms. He looked up at her with eyes bright. She gazed at him, amazed by how beautiful and tiny he was. He had grown considerably in the last month or two, but his hands were still so small, and his perfect little nose was barely a half-inch in size.
She sat singing to him, and she was sure he was listening because his little eyelids started to shut again. She looked up when she heard footsteps in the doorway.
“Nathaniel,” She whispered. Her heart lifted as she saw the handsome, dark-eyed face of Nathaniel in the doorway. “There you are. How did the river seem?” she added, carefully settling Henry on the chair, resting on his back, before she stood. Nathaniel took her hands in his.
“It seems good. It doesn’t require any reinforcement on the bridge…it seems to be holding up well.”
“That’s good,” Hyacinth said. Nathaniel had ridden to inspect a bridge that had been threatened by a rushing river after the latest downpour. The residents of the small nearby village had feared that their access road would be cut off, but Nathaniel had gone to check the bridge and arrange for craftsmen to come up from the larger town of Newgate to reinforce it with wooden beams if needed.
“It is,” Nathaniel agreed. He went to the chaise-longue, voice softening and melting with warmth as he saw who was there.
Hyacinth felt her own heart ache with love as Nathaniel bent to kneel beside the chair, wrapping his arms around the tiny sleeping baby.
“Henry,” he said softly. “How is my little fellow faring?”
“He is well,” she said in a gentle voice. She came to stand beside him, and they both gazed down at their little sleeping son; his face reposeful and sweet as he drifted slowly back to sleep once more.
“I’m glad he’s sleeping a little,” Nathaniel whispered to her as he carefully stood up. He did not make any sudden movements that the not quite asleep baby might recognize.
“Me too,” Hyacinth said. Henry had woken more than usual the previous night, and the maid who had cared for him had brought him several times to their chamber. Unlike most of the nobility, Hyacinth refused to give him to any other woman to be cared for, and she herself oversaw most aspects of his nurturing. Nathaniel was in absolute agreement.
Nathaniel and herself had been raised with more closeness to their own elders than most other nobles who only met their parents when they were about twelve. Even then it was only at mealtimes. They both enjoyed a close bond with their parents and wished for Henry to have the same experience.
She could not imagine anything better than to spend time with Henry and Nathaniel.
Hyacinth turned towards the door after hearing the familiar steps of the housekeeper, Mrs. Davison, where she waited in the doorway.
“Yes? What is it?” Hyacinth asked kindly.
“My lady? Should I hold the tea for later this afternoon?”
“Please,” Hyacinth agreed. She glanced up at Nathaniel who nodded.
“The roads are very fair,” he said. “I am sure that the pace of the coach will be the same as usual.”
“Good,” Hyacinth said. She felt relieved. “When we need tea, I’ll send word Mrs. Davison,” she promised.
“Thank you, my lady,” Mrs. Davison said, and left, letting them both return to staring lovingly at Henry.
“They should be arriving at five o’clock,” Nathaniel confirmed. “I trust we can wait until then for teatime?”
Hyacinth chuckled. “I would say we should take a slice of raisin cake before that, but I don’t think I could digest it now.”
Nathaniel made a small, amused sound. “I’m sure…I know how you feel!” He gestured to the comfortable chairs around the fireplace. “Shall we settle there? You can see Henry, so we’ll know if he’s in any danger of falling.”
“Indeed,” Hyacinth said. She hesitated to let him lie on the chaise longue without her beside him, but then again he could not sit up or make any movement unassisted so she was sure he would be safe where he was. Perhaps a cushion beside him would ensure he couldn’t roll off.
She went to join Nathaniel by the fire.
“It’s a fine day,” Nathaniel said. “You would like to go riding?”
“Tomorrow, certainly,” Hyacinth agreed. She had started to ride again, but she felt sleepy today. Nathaniel had taken great delight in her being able to accompany him. She was excited to be able to share one of his most enjoyed pastimes with him on the estate too.
“Grand,” Nathaniel said. He was leaning back, his long, tall form warmed by the firelight. It was a fine day, and the sunlight fell warmly through the long windows onto the pale silk rug on the floor, making the room seem even more comfortable and luxurious.
They sat and talked together for a while longer, and Hyacinth blinked in surprise as the butler hurried in.
She’d been so distracted by Henry and talking with Nathaniel that she’d not been thinking about the arrival of their visitors.
“The coach is here, my lord. My lady,” he announced carefully. “Should I show the guests in?”
“Please do,” Nathaniel agreed. He glanced over at Hyacinth, whose face flushed with excitement and warmth.
She glanced over at Nathaniel who stood up as they heard footsteps in the hallway.
“Lord and Lady Harfield,” the butler announced.
“Mama! Papa!” Hyacinth greeted, rushing forward to embrace her mother. Her mother’s blue eyes were damp as she held her close.
“I’m so pleased to see you, my dearest daughter.”
“I’m delighted to see you,” Hyacinth said sincerely. She went to embrace her father, who was smiling. He was already looking over at little Henry.
“There’s that little fellow,” he said with delight in his tone.
Hyacinth felt her heart flood with warmth as she watched her father crouch down by the chaise longue, looking lovingly at the little child.
“You can pick him up,” she told her father warmly. “He’s already slept for twenty minutes.”
“I wouldn’t dare disturb him,” her father said softly. “He needs his sleep.”
Hyacinth smiled warmly at her father who stood up and moved with exaggerated quietude over to the chairs by the fireplace. He greeted Nathaniel warmly, and Nathaniel inclined his head in respect.
“Good afternoon, Lord Harfield. Lady Harfield,” he greeted them politely.
“Harriet is in the coach,” Lady Harfield said when Hyacinth glanced over at her. “She was busy with her luggage so we came in ahead.”
“Of course, Mama,” Hyacinth said. She felt her heart race. It had been so long since she had seen her dear friend.
“It’s grand that you have somewhere for them to stay,” her mother added. Nathaniel grinned.
“Everyone needs to see new things occasionally,” he said. “We’re pleased they could come and visit us.”
“Of course,” Lady Harfield said.
Hyacinth felt a twist of excitement in her stomach. She was grateful to her parents for agreeing to allow Harriet and Mr. Sidney to accompany them in the coach. She knew that her friendship with Harriet was unconventional, but then her parents had always understood and always ensured that their own companions had been pensioned well on the estate.
She looked up as she heard footsteps in the hallway.
“Harriet!” She let out a small shout of delight as she saw her friend in the doorway. Harriet was wearing a long cream-coloured travelling gown and a bonnet with white ribbons covering her thick curls. Hyacinth took her hands, delighted to see her.
“Lady Ramsgate,” Harriet greeted her, squeezing her fingers warmly. Her eyes were bright despite the formality of her tone. “It’s so, so grand to see you.”
“And you,” Hyacinth said. She saw Harriet glance towards the door.
“I’m waiting for James to come up,” she said. James, she knew, was Mr. Sidney’s first name. She smiled warmly, seeing the joy on Harriet’s face.
“Grand,” Hyacinth said. “Please, come in.” She gestured to the chairs by the fireplace. She saw Harriet look a little uncomfortable. Taking tea with her former employers in the drawing room was not something she could have anticipated. But Hyacinth knew that she had a brave nature, and she was pleased when she came in and sat down on a chair by the fire.
“Tea just arrived,” Nathaniel said, smiling warmly at Harriet. “I trust your journey was good?” he added in a friendly tone, looking at all the guests.
“It was very good,” Lady Harfield said, smiling warmly at Harriet to put her at her ease. “Such a good road too. We could all get some sleep on the way here. No rattles and judders in the coach for a good mile or two. Very nice,” she added, sounding pleased.
Hyacinth smiled warmly at her mother, who was always friendly to everyone. She appreciated it so much. Especially that her parents had brought Harriet and Mr. Sidney all this way.
She turned as Harriet stood to go to the door.
“James!” she said, gesturing for Mr. Sidney to come in. “We’re invited for tea. Come and sit.”
Mr. Sidney’s squarish face shifted from a joyful expression to an uncertain one. He was carrying a small bundle in his arms, and Hyacinth felt her heart leap seeing the care with which he held it.
They must have brought their baby.
Hyacinth could see how difficult it would be for him to take tea in a house where he was employed, but after a long wait he came over and sat down beside Harriet.
“It was very nice weather,” Lady Harfield commented, including Mr. Sidney in the conversation by directing a warm gaze at him.
“It was, my lady,” Mr. Sidney said. His voice was soft. “It truly was.”
Hyacinth gazed down as Harriet passed her the tiny bundle she had just taken from James.
“This is Beckie.”
“Oh, how beautiful she is.” Hyacinth breathed the words. She stared down at the baby, who was just a little smaller than Henry was, but who already had a fine head of dark hair and deep brown eyes like Mr. Sidney’s. “She’s so fine.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Harriet said. Her eyes were full of love as she gazed at the tiny baby who rested, still half-asleep, in Hyacinth’s arms.
“She is beautiful,” Nathaniel agreed as he came over, bending down to look at the tiny child who blinked drowsily upward. “And already alert.”
“She never sleeps, milord,” Mr. Sidney said in protest.
They all chuckled. Hyacinth felt her heart lift seeing the tension that Harriet and Mr. Sidney had been feeling wearing away.
Nathaniel reached for the raisin loaf and cut several slices from it, allowing everyone to help themselves. He and Hyacinth took very informal meals at the house, something Lord and Lady Rallden also did when they were in. Nathaniel’s parents had gone to an estate to call on some acquaintances that day. They would return for dinner and Hyacinth looked forward to having all their parents there together. Mr. Sidney and Harriet might choose to dine elsewhere, but she was glad that they had accommodation in one of the cottages near the manor. She wanted to see them as often as possible while they were here.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she said.
“It’s grand to be here, my lady,” Harriet said. “And grand to see you.”
Hyacinth smiled at her fondly.
Henry was still sleeping on the chaise longue, but she went to fetch him and pass him to her mother and then to Harriet, who gazed down at him in wonder.
“He looks like his lordship,” she said, looking at Nathaniel across the table. “But also like you, my lady. He has your eyes.”
“I also think so!” Hyacinth exclaimed.
Nathaniel smiled at them both. He stood and went to the window to close it, shutting out a slight draught that was blowing in. Then he went to check on Henry, who was sleeping on Hyacinth’s knee.
“Such a grand little chap,” he said warmly, staring down at his son. Hyacinth looked up at him lovingly.
“Yes, he is,” she agreed.
They all sat and talked. Hyacinth took a slice of raisin loaf and chewed some of the sweet, rich sticky goodness. Harriet had immediately become comfortable with them, her natural exuberance making it easier. Mr. Sidney was a quiet sort, and Hyacinth could see he didn’t feel as well sitting there as she did, but she hoped that with time, he would become more comfortable with them.
She wanted Harriet to visit as often as she could.
“…and the season was grand for peaches, my lord,” Mr. Sidney was saying, focusing his talk on Nathaniel.
“I can believe that. Fine dry days,” Nathaniel agreed.
“But enough rain, my lord, to make a fine crop.”
“That’s very good,” Nathaniel replied.
Hyacinth smiled to herself. Mr. Sidney had learned as much as he could from a relative about growing fruit and vegetables, and now he farmed the property that the family had given him as a gift to thank him for his loyalty. It was financed in part by her own family, who gave it in gratitude for Harriet’s closeness to her in France.
Hyacinth felt her eyelids drooping in the drowsy warmth of the room. Henry had woken and made some small, contented sounds, but was drowsy again. Beckie was fast asleep.
“She’ll wake the moment we go down, trust me,” Mr. Sidney said, causing amusement to go round the room.
Harriet and Mr. Sidney went down to their cottage after a few more minutes, and all of them followed them downstairs and into the garden to take a walk about the vast estate. Hyacinth’s mama and papa wished to rest for a while before dinner, and she and Nathaniel showed them to their room in the guest suite and went back to the drawing-room.
“It’s pleasant to have Mr. Sidney and Harriet back,” Nathaniel said.
“It is. I’m so grateful that they could make such a long journey to come and see us,” Hyacinth replied. She was looking over at the fireplace where a fire burned low in the grate providing additional warmth on the sleepy, chilly afternoon. She turned to gaze at Nathaniel, her heart filled with love for him as she looked at his beautiful, familiar features.
“It is truly good to see them again,” Nathaniel said. “I’m so glad that they could come. I always loved how you don’t ever bow to convention. I love everything about you. I love you so much, my dearest,” he said, looking warmly at Hyacinth.
Hyacinth stared up at him, her cheeks flushed with warmth. She squeezed his fingers and felt her heart fill with love as she gazed at him; a love so big that no words could ever express it. “I love you too, Nathaniel. I love you, too.”
Outside, the sunlight shone on the fields, and inside they sat in the drawing room, utterly content with the world around them.