Redruth Manor, Cornwall—late spring, 1821
Lady Elspeth Rowe and her husband, Lord Bryce Rowe, ambled along arm-in-arm through their new wildflower meadow, chattering and laughing amiably about anything they liked. The meadow had once been a field that lay between their ancestral homes, and after Bryce had taken over management of the Redruth estate, the field had been planted with potatoes.
The potatoes were initially planted so that the estate would start to earn some revenue quickly, and it had been too late in the year to cultivate the once overgrown and neglected field and plant anything else. Potatoes had the added benefit of saving Bryce from having the field ploughed, for the tubers broke the earth up admirably, allowing one to sow practically anything the following year. Aside from bringing the entire estate back to life, the estate was also in dire need of new machinery, and Bryce simply could not stretch the funds to buy a new plough. Now, three years later, a shiny new horse-drawn plough resided in one of the new barns, but the potato field was no longer required to boost funds and at his wife’s request had been given over to the wildflowers.
The blue cornflowers were her favourite, as blue had always been her colour. But she also thought that the pink and white daisies were pretty and cheerful. She was still learning the names of all the indigenous flowers that they had sown, but she knew that if she was particularly stumped, then her darling studious sister would come to the rescue with not only the Latin name but also the common name.
With one two-year-old twin each holding their free hands and toddling along beside them, progress was slow, especially if little Charlie spotted a ladybird or a bumblebee. He wanted to stop and point and learn its name, while little Caroline was more interested in the pretty colours of the flowers. More than once, Caroline stumbled and sank down onto her bottom, but instead of frowning or crying, she laughed, a lovely little gurgling laugh, and she plucked at the petals of the surrounding flowers, letting them drop into her lap.
Suddenly, Bryce let go of Elspeth’s arm and stooped to gather up a big bunch of the cornflowers and daisies. With a bow and a laugh, he presented them to her, and she took them with pleasure, holding the blooms to her face and breathing in the earthy, peppery smell of the cornflowers.
Caroline was still sitting on the ground, and so her parents joined her, although Charlie remained standing. Elspeth placed her bouquet to one side and picked a dozen daisies. Then she made a daisy chain, joined the ends together, and placed the coronet upon her daughter’s curly blonde head.
From where they were sitting, if they looked one way, they could just see the upstairs bay window of Redruth Manor, newly painted and with sparkling new glass panes. If they looked the other way, they could see quite clearly, the grand turret of Hatton House. As children themselves, Elspeth and Bryce would often meet up in almost this very spot, right at the halfway point between the two homes.
Elspeth lay back in the soft, meadow grass and sighed. “Oh, how I dreamed of this day in all the years that you were away.”
Bryce lay down beside her and replied. “Memories of here and of you kept me going during those war years.”
The conversation was brought to an abrupt halt when little Charlie saw his parents lying down as the best excuse in the world ever to jump all over them. Little Caroline sat, looking regal in her daisy-chain crown, and gurgled with laughter at them all.
Half an hour later, the family reached the ha-ha that surrounded the grander, more manicured grounds of Hatton House. In the old days, both Elspeth and Bryce would simply jump over the dyke that separated the agricultural land from the private garden but really served to stop any sheep wandering onto the lawn and desecrating it to within an inch of its life. The Finch-Hattons employed enough groundsmen and gardeners that the grass was scythed regularly. They did not need any help from the livestock.
Today, however, they had the twins with them. And so, they walked along the edge of the ha-ha until they reached the little ornamental bridge that crossed it, walking over it one at a time as it was only supposed to be decorative and not functional.
“I remember how you would hold your skirts up above your knees and fly over this,” said Bryce fondly. “With your long hair flowing free behind you.”
“I bet I could still jump across it without falling in,” she teased, reminding them both of the time he’d missed his footing and fallen in when the dyke was filled with peaty water.
He looked at the dry bed of the dyke. “It would not matter now if you did fall in.”
“Fall in!” echoed Caroline.
“I found fwog!” said Charlie, holding out a muddy frog to show them.
“It must be looking for water,” said Bryce, again noting the dry bed of the ha-ha.
“Then we will take it to the house and find it some,” said Elspeth.
On the other side of the dyke, they followed a grass path to the main drive so that they could enter the house in style through the front door. A grand, stone staircase to one side of the house led through a pair of double doors into the small dining room. But this was no longer Elspeth’s home, and so she afforded her sister and her husband the respect of going to the main entrance instead of barging straight in as though she lived there still.
A lone horseman was ambling down the long driveway towards them. As they met, the man tipped his hat.
“Hello, you two,” he said.
“Hello, Tobias,” said Bryce to his cousin.
Elspeth smiled at him and held a hand over her eyes to shade them from the sun.
“Look at you!” said Tobias, pointing and laughing. “You have grass stains all over your clothes.”
Elspeth looked down at them all. “They will wash,” she said.
Charlie ran up to his uncle, holding out the frog. “I found fwog!” he said, causing Tobias to pull a face and lean back a little, as though the little boy could reach him upon his saddle.
“Oh no!” Tobias jested, feigning terror. “Keep it away from me!”
“Daisy!” said Caroline, taking her daisy-chain crown off and holding it out to Tobias.
“That’s very fine,” he said, with a grand look on his face. Then he laughed when she put it back on her head, and it fell down over one ear. “Your crown has slipped, my Lady Caroline,” he said, and she looked to her mother for some help.
“Is my sister home?” she asked Tobias.
“She is, and she has news,” he replied.
“Are you riding far?” asked Bryce.
“I will be back before you go,” he assured them. “We have a number of visitors here at the moment,” he continued. “I am simply taking a breather.”
That was unusual, though Elspeth. Her brother-in-law was usually the life and soul of the party.
As they reached the steps that led to the main entrance, the door opened, and the countess, Lady Tricia Rowe-Sinclair, tripped down the steps to greet them, giving her sister a big hug.
“Tobias tells us that you have news,” said Elspeth, after all of the usual pleasantries had been doled out.
“Yes!” said Tricia, her bright eyes looking from first her sister to her brother-in-law and back again. “I am finally with child!” she announced.
“Oh!” said Elspeth, placing a gentle hand on her sister’s stomach. “That is indeed wonderful news. You must both be thrilled.”
“We are,” said Tricia, smiling through tears of happiness.
“Congratulations!” said Bryce.
She caught hold of the children’s hands, one on each side, and led them into the house.
“I found fwog,” said Charlie.
“Then we must go and find some water to put him in,” said Tricia, almost echoing her sister’s very words.
“How is everything else?” Elspeth asked her sister’s back.
Tricia looked over her shoulder as she replied. “Everything is wonderful. Tobias is a changed man since we found out that I was pregnant.”
“Yes,” mused Elspeth, looking in the general direction they had only just seen her brother-in-law riding in. “I think you may be correct.”
“Will you be staying in Cornwall for your confinement?” asked Bryce.
The Earl and Countess of Launceston shared their time between their London house, Tobias’s family seat in North Devonshire, and Hatton House here in Cornwall. When they were not at any of their residential properties, they were usually touring distant and interesting corners of the world, such as the Holy Land or Egypt or even Turkey, such was their mutual interest in all things ancient.
“I think so,” she replied, taking them all into the drawing room and arranging for drinks to be served. Then she asked for one of the servants to come and relieve Charlie of his new pet. “I find I need a rest from both society and all of our travelling of late,” she said when the frog had been taken away. She sat down on the carpet so that she could play with her nephew and niece. “Especially with a little one on the way.” A box of wooden building bricks sat in the corner of the room and kept the children occupied for hours whenever they came to visit, especially the ones that had pictures or letters painted on them.
“Tobias said that you had guests,” said Elspeth, looking about her at the guest-free room.
Tricia pulled a face. “Mother is entertaining them in the parlour.”
“Who is here?” asked Bryce, out of interest.
“Oh, the usual,” said a mildly disinterested Tricia. “My mother-in-law and some of her friends.”
Elspeth had a good idea who those friends might be. “Will Mother be staying with you?” she asked her sister, drawing amusement from them all.
Lady Louisa Finch-Hatton had resisted all attempts of the family to get her to move into the pretty little dower house on the Hatton estate, even staying at the London house for most of the year in order to remain resolute. If Tricia and Tobias were moving back to the country in order to bring up their family, then Lady Louisa would have less of an excuse to remain in the city.
“She is already here,” said Tricia, pulling a face. Elspeth did not blame her, for her sister had been the one to suffer their mother’s company the most in the years since both sisters had married, only a day apart.
As if on cue, the door to the drawing room burst open and in walked Lady Louisa herself. “Did I hear Elspeth?” she asked. Then she rushed to join her grandchildren and their aunt on the floor, giving Tricia a chance to stand up again and entertain her visitors more properly.
Lady Louisa and the children played for a good twenty minutes or more before Charlie got a little bored and went in search of spiders.
“You will not find any spiders in Hatton House!” laughed his mother.
“Not like at home in Redruth,” agreed his father, getting up from his seat so that he could supervise his son in the unfamiliar property. There were so many priceless antiques and ornaments in Hatton House, he would hate for any of them to be damaged due to either of the twins.
“Shall we come and help?” said Lady Louisa to Caroline as she heaved herself up off the floor.
“Yes!” said Caroline, nodding her curly blonde head.
“I should like to speak with you both,” said Lady Louisa to Elspeth, who also got up out of her seat, and they all traipsed out of the drawing room and into the conservatory. When she was certain that they were alone, she said, “I do love to visit our lovely ancestral home. However, I should like it very much if I could also visit Redruth Manor again.”
“Really?” said Bryce, completely puzzled. In the three years that they had been married, Lady Louisa had avoided staying at Redruth at all costs, using the excuse that they were still so busy renovating it.
“Yes, really,” said Lady Louisa, keeping half an eye on her granddaughter whilst Elspeth did the same with Charlie.
“Of course, you are always welcome, Mama,” said Elspeth, looking quickly at her husband. “Although you must remember that things are quite…different in our household. We are not as…pampered as you might be here or in London.”
“Oh, I completely understand,” agreed Lady Louisa. “Nevertheless, I feel I must admit that I could do with a little break from the comings and goings here at Hatton House.”
Bryce raised an eyebrow. “How long have you all been here?”
“Only a day,” said his mother-in-law. “You see, I thought that it would be quiet and peaceful after the madness of London society. I fear that I may be growing too old for all of the excitement. However…” she trailed off.
“However…?” prompted her eldest daughter.
“However…London society seems to have followed us here, and I find that I simply wish to be able to…” she shrugged her shoulders. “Breathe.”
“I see,” said Bryce, pulling a face.
“What on earth is going on?” said Elspeth. “Everyone seems to have tired of London life.”
Bryce turned to his wife. “What is the likelihood of London Society rolling up at Redruth Manor?”
Elspeth made a great show of giving it some serious thought. “Ooh, I would say…nil?”
“Oh, I sincerely hope so,” said her mother with relief.
“Well, you will be very welcome, Mother,” said Elspeth. “Will she not, Bryce?”
Lady Louisa and Bryce locked eyes as the history between them crackled. It had taken a long time for Elspeth’s mother to accept Lord Bryce as a potential suitor for her daughter, to the extent that she had even hidden letters Bryce and Elspeth had sent to each other when Bryce was away with the army. While all of that may have been forgiven by now, it certainly was not forgotten, by either party.
The older woman continued to hold Bryce’s gaze as though awaiting his approval. With a slight nod, he held out his hand to his mother-in-law, and after a very slight pause, she took his hand in hers, and they squeezed each other’s fingers.
“Do not worry, my lady,” he said, letting go of her hand. “I will not let you walk to the manor. If you can bear it here for one more night, I will send the carriage for you in the morning.”
“A carriage?” said Lady Louisa with a laugh and an amused glance at her daughter.
“Oh yes, Mama,” replied Elspeth. “We do have a few luxuries.”
Bryce could see through the front window that his cousin was returning down the long drive on his horse. “Tobias is back,” he said to the room.
Tricia and Lady Louisa looked up from their place on the floor with the children, then looked at each other.
“I suppose that we really ought to rejoin our guests,” said Tricia.
“When Tobias is with us,” agreed Lady Louisa. “There is no rush.”
“It is almost time for luncheon,” said Tricia, getting to her feet and brushing imaginary dust from her skirts.
Bryce helped his mother-in-law up off the floor before turning to his wife. “I expect that that is our cue to leave them to their company.”
Elspeth remained seated in the armchair, from where she had been keeping an eye on everyone as well as joining in with the conversation. She made no move to stand up. “I expect that you are right,” she said at last with a sigh.
“Will you not come and say hello to your aunt, Bryce?” said Tricia, with hope in her eyes.
“I think that if my aunt wished to see me, then she would have visited Redruth Manor and not Hatton House,” he said with a smile.
Disappointment flickered across her face. “Oh,” she said simply. She too, sighed.
“We are hardly dressed to greet your guests,” said Elspeth, pointing at the stains on her skirt and on her husband’s trousers.
“They probably will not even notice,” said Tricia sadly.
“Oh, they will notice,” said Lady Louisa, contradicting her youngest daughter. “They may not make a comment, but Lady Beatrice will certainly notice.”
Elspeth stood up now and made an attempt to brush off some of the grass stains. It did not work.
“Fwog!” yelled Charlie, as the twins also got to their feet. Caroline was tidying the building blocks away like a proper little housekeeper.
“Oh yes,” said Tricia, pulling the service chord. Catching her sister’s eye, she added, “I take it you would like to take his new pet home with you?”
“Of course,” said Elspeth, ruffling her son’s hair. “Can you imagine if we tried to leave it here?”
“Lady Beatrice would no doubt have a fit if she happened upon a frog in the house,” said Lady Louisa.
The family visit finally came to an end as Tobias returned to the fold, and he and his wife and his mother-in-law graced their London guests with their presence once more. They all agreed that they had had a most delightful time. Elspeth and Bryce walked arm in arm across the meadow, watching their children run towards home. Caroline stumbled and fell, landing on her bottom, but she was up in a flash and running after her brother again, gurgling and giggling like a little giggling machine.
Bryce brought his wife’s hand up to his mouth and kissed her fingers. “You are not the only one whose dream has come true,” he said.