“Do you think it quite proper to let the children run like that?” Penelope bit her lip and looked at her sister. “I worry about them when they go full speed in such a fashion. What if they should fall and hurt themselves?”
The sisters were in Yorkshire for the summer. Penelope had only just had her second child and was cradling the babe in the shade of a fine tent, while the elder was toddling about in the grass at her feet. Juliana’s children, however, were running back and forth across the field. Maxwell was hot in pursuit of his youngest sister who, though short-legged, had the wind of passion beneath her wings and was keeping well away from him.
“It is good for children to run,” Juliana said. “They never injure themselves horribly when we are here to watch.”
Penelope raised her eyebrows in her sister’s direction. “I appreciate that you are so comfortable with motherhood, but I don’t know that I would feel right letting my little daughter run in her skirts. It isn’t quite proper. Isn’t there a better way of teaching her to enjoy herself?”
Juliana looked over at Lord Tindley and her husband, who were playing a game of chess close at hand. “What think you, my dear?” she asked Horatio.
He looked up with a laugh. “I think that summers in Yorkshire are made for mad runs through the open fields, and if my daughter wants to skip along at her brother’s side, it will only make her stronger.”
Penelope sighed. “Your husband has become a regular rebel, my dear.”
“And you have become a woman of unexpected peace,” Juliana teased her in response. “It feels like yesterday that you were clamouring for me to stand up for myself and make waves in society. Now you are following the rules to the utmost.”
“Not quite.” She raised her eyebrows, eyes twinkling. “After all, Lord Tindley’s family is still not quite happy with his choice of wife. It is so nice to be here in Yorkshire, where I feel accepted. I think it will be some time before they have come around to the current state of affairs.”
“Oh, let them be.” This, from the dowager countess, who all parties had thought was fast asleep under her sunshade in a nearby chair. She opened her eyes and smiled at Juliana. “Not all people are quick to know when good things are thrust upon them, but it is the surest way of convincing your family to allow them to see your strength, and to see how much their son loves you. Those are the two things that convinced me.”
She shared a warm glance with Juliana, who felt the tender friendship that had been growing between her and her mother-in-law. Juliana smiled.
“That convinced you, certainly, but the addition of grandchildren was also a boon.”
“Of course,” the dowager answered with mock severity. “And don’t forget it.”
The two women laughed and went back to watching the frolicking children in the distance. All of sudden, the little form of Lilian, Juliana’s eldest daughter, went down quite suddenly out of view and there arose a cry of alarm from the children. Juliana stood to her feet, as did Horatio. But before they could set off after the cry, Maxwell appeared over the rise of the hill, pulling Lilian after him by the hand.
The girl was crying and holding a hand to her cheek. Horatio ran out to meet them and knelt down for a moment, too far away for Juliana to hear what was going on, to inspect the wound. Then he picked up his daughter, speaking tenderly to her, and brought her back to the safety of the tent.
“She tripped over a rock,” he said as he brought her near for inspection. The girl was only six years old, and as she looked up from tear-stained cheek, Juliana’s heart melted. She reached up and held out her arms.
“What has happened, my darling?” she asked.
Lilian slipped from her father’s arms and pulled her hand away from her cheek. “I hit a rock,” she said.
“Tripped over too,” Maxwell interjected with a worried expression. Clearly, he feared that his own involvement in the play would bring the responsibility of the wound down on his own head. Lilian’s cheek had suffered an abrasion and a minor cut. It looked nasty enough, but it would heal.
Juliana had the footmen bring a bowl of water and some bandages, all the while holding her daughter carefully on her lap and encouraging her. When the bandages came back, she went about work carefully cleaning up the wound. Lilian had large tears lingering in her eyes, and when she was done Juliana kissed her and said, “My dear, why do you cry?”
“The cut on my face, Mama,” the girl answered. “What if it keeps me from doing all the things I wish to do?”
Juliana looked over at Horatio, her heartstrings tugged by the girl’s innocent question. Horatio stepped in, kneeling down to look his daughter in the eye. “It will not, little love. Think of your mother’s face. Has she ever been held back from doing all the things she wanted to do? It is not a bad thing to have a scar, and though I have no doubt your little scratch will heal up very quickly, I would not have you worry about it. Some of the best people I know have injured faces.”
Juliana smiled tenderly at him. He was, as always, the one with the words and the charm. Lilian, however, seemed unconvinced. She frowned up at him and held her hand to her cheek again.
“I’m not worried about looking like Mama,” she protested. “I like the scar. I am just afraid that you won’t let me run with Maxwell anymore.”
Horatio tipped back his head and let out a laugh. “Well, you need not worry about that. I misjudged you, daughter. Hurry on with your games, and only return if your face starts aching or you need to put any of us back in our proper places.”
When she had hurried off again, he turned to Juliana with a look that made her knees feel weak.
“We have a good daughter,” he said with a smile.
She smiled. “I do appreciate your speech about scars, even if it was unnecessary with that child in particular.” She stood up and linked her arm in his, walking a little way out from under the tent and away from the ears of the others. She leaned her head against his arm. “You are very good to me, Horatio.”
“You are easy to be good to.” He reached down and tilted her chin up with the tips of his fingers, looking her deeply in the eyes before planting a tender kiss on her lips. They pulled apart and looked out on the scene with delight. Yorkshire spread out in front of them, greening and healthy at last.
The management of the estate had come more and more easily to Horatio as the years passed, and now his father’s legacy had been preserved even better than it was when he had been alive. Juliana sighed happily.
“We have a good life here,” she said quietly, “better than I ever could have hoped for.”
“Looking back, I have much to be thankful for,” Horatio echoed gently. “But I confess when I think about the height of our happiness, I know that the future holds even more beauty than this present moment.”