One Year Later
“Careful, Bea!” Eleanor called to her sister. She stood at the end of the kitchen garden, watching as Bea helped dig in the ground next to Miriam and two of the gardeners of the Windhaven estate.
Bea looked up from where she had seeds in her hands and offered an innocent look at Eleanor. “I know what I am doing,” she insisted and rolled her eyes.
Miriam laughed at her side and nodded. “She’s learning more and more.” She smiled and urged Bea to plant the seeds in her hands.
With autumn heavily set in and winter not far off, it was a rush to get planted in time the herbs and vegetables for next year. Eleanor smiled as she watched her sister work, impressed by just how much she had learned this last year.
Eleanor had continued to be her tutor, even after marrying Nathaniel, but now, Bea had more than just one teacher. Miriam and the gardeners frequently taught her things about the land, and occasionally she would go out onto the estate with Nathaniel, too, where he would teach her things about the tenants and land management. She was growing up to be quite accomplished and Eleanor didn’t doubt that she would one day be known as a very highly educated and clever woman in the ton.
Eleanor moved to the end of the kitchen garden and sat down on a bench, looking around the part of the estate she could see from her position.
Once Nathaniel had reclaimed the house from Mr. Briarhurst, he’d put a lot of money into restoring the old Tudor manor to its former glory. He had taken out some of the rather tacky renovations Mr. Briarhurst had made and put money into the parts that truly needed work, such as subsidence on one side of the building. Now, the building stood tall with the work complete in the last light of the day, the red brickwork shining in the orange light. It was a beautiful place to be, and Eleanor found she truly loved her home—though it had more to do with the people that were in it rather than the building itself.
Peeling open the letter in her grasp, Eleanor looked down at her father’s letter, eager to read his news.
My dearest Eleanor,
What a journey this has been! When you spoke of your travels to America, how long the ship ride was, how nauseous you felt, and how unbearable the heat was in this part of America, I must admit, I did not believe the true extent of your words—but how right you are! This country truly is a shock to my senses, and I am loving every moment of it.
I have been to check on all of my investments and have looked in on some of Nathaniel’s business matters, too, while I am here. What good fortune we are having. It is a wonder to see these businesses grow, and to see how well these people are looked after, too. I have seen firsthand how the care Nathaniel takes with his tenants back home is matched with the people who work in business with him here. Not a day goes by when I have not enjoyed someone’s company here.
Her father went on at great length over the next couple of pages about all that he was loving of life in America. His trip was to last two months, and he would be home in time for Christmas, he promised.
Assure Bea I will be there for Christmas Day. Knowing her heart, she will worry, but I will be there, I promise you both.
I look forward to seeing you both soon.
Your loving father,
Eleanor smiled as she lowered her letter and looked at her sister at work in the garden. It was hardly necessary for a girl of her position to do any work, but Bea enjoyed learning about the natural world and Eleanor was happy to encourage it. When Bea managed to spill a seed packet all over her and Miriam, the two fell about laughing together.
The sound of a horse nearby roused Eleanor. She stood from her place in the kitchen garden and hurried toward the driveway, stepping out through the brick-walled enclosure and toward the vast lawns. Passing under archways of yew bushes and an ornate courtyard that was full of rose blooms in summer, she hastened to the driveway.
A horse came to a steady hall, flicking his ears back as the rider got control of the animal. Nathaniel tipped his hat back, his eyes hurrying to meet Eleanor’s.
Eleanor had some news for him, but for now, it could wait. First of all, she had to hear his news. She hastened toward him as he jumped down from the horse. The stable boy appeared and eagerly took the reins, leading the horse away.
“Eleanor.” Nathaniel turned toward her, a happy smile in place. He moved to kiss her and her hands curled around the tops of his arms, clinging onto him. The same thrill passed through her as it always did whenever he kissed her.
She held onto it for a little longer, making him smile in their kiss.
“I take it you missed me,” he said playfully, pulling back from her.
“A little,” she said with mischief and hooked their arms together. “Come, walk with me and tell me your news. You have been gone all day.”
“There was much to do.” He sighed rather heavily and yawned, clearly weary of work, but he walked with her, nevertheless. They passed through the kitchen garden first, where he asked how Bea was faring and waved at her.
Just the day before, Nathaniel had found time to play with Bea again, despite his heavy workload at the moment. The fact that he always spared the time for Bea, no matter what was going on, touched Eleanor greatly. His kindness was one of the reasons she loved him so much and had been so happy this last year.
“So? How did you fare?” she asked eagerly as they passed out from the kitchen garden and into the wider estate. The autumn leaves had fallen now and strewn the ground with their russet and red hues.
“Very well.” He nodded. “First, I went to check on the farms. Trevor says the crops were excellent this year, and we have high hopes for the next. There are a few changes I’d like to implement.” He went into detail over the land management, how he wished to make sure the tenants had a greater cut of the profits the next year, for he felt he’d not given them enough this year. He also talked of techniques he had learned in America that he hoped could help to improve the crop yield even more.
“And then?” Eleanor asked, her hand curling through his own. “How did you get on with Mr. Briarhurst?”
“Surprisingly well.” Nathaniel smiled.
Eleanor didn’t know what to think of this cool friendship between Nathaniel and Briarhurst. It had started after they were married. Nathaniel had reached out to Briarhurst, and he kept saying it was for his brother’s sake. Once a week, he’d shared a drink with Briarhurst and asked how his business affairs were. He even occasionally offered Briarhurst some advice on what investments to avoid and what he could consider. Slowly, Briarhurst’s financial situation had started to recover.
“I do not know how you can stand to share a drink with that man after what he did to you.” Eleanor shook her head. “How can you bear it?”
“I think I made a choice last Christmas.” Nathaniel looked ahead at the trees as they walked. “I could either hate Briarhurst forever, throw more and more anger and revulsion his way, or I could choose to attempt to forgive him.”
“And you chose the latter?” Eleanor asked in wonder. “What made you make that choice?”
Eleanor stopped walking, turning to face him fully.
“When did I?” she asked in bemusement, for she could not remember saying such words to him.
“You didn’t so much plead it,” he explained, “but something you said made it happen for me. You remember Christmas Day? Your father had given his blessing, and we awoke late after our late night. We were opening our presents, and you said something to Bea as she opened hers, for she declared she wished to always be this happy. You said that sometimes happiness was as much a choice as it was down to our situation. We could hold onto our resentments, our disappointments, and our anger, or we could look to the future. To hope.” He smiled broadly. “You were right. At that moment, I decided I would talk to Briarhurst and see what I could do for him. Now, I do not declare that we will ever be the closest or dearest of friends. Some things cannot cross this bridge between us, but if I can do something for him, then I will be content.”
“You are still the kindest man I know, love,” she whispered softly, taking his arm and walking on with him. “There’s a benevolence in you that few others have.”
“It is nothing.” He shook his head. “And as I said, you are the one who led me to it.” He looked at her as they walked. “This last year, you have made me truly happy, Eleanor. More so than I can have possibly imagined.”
“I am happy too,” she assured him, her tone soft. “Speaking of which, I have some news for you. Some news I hope will make you even happier.”
“Is that possible?” He laughed warmly and turned to face her, coming to a halt at the end of the tree-lined path. “What is your news? Have you heard from your father?”
“I have, but that is not the news I wish to share.” She chewed her lip, wondering how to tell him. “You know how you are with Bea? How you’re always happy to play with her, to teach her things, to comfort her when she’s sad?”
“I am.” He frowned a little, plainly confused about where she was going with this.
“Would you be happy to be that way for another? To be just as caring, just as devoted? To be… to be a father?”
At her quiet words, his eyes widened. Those dark orbs then shot down, looking at her stomach. Such a smile spread across his face that his scar crinkled. He moved toward her, resting his forehead against her own.
“We are to be parents?” he whispered excitedly.
“We are,” she said and giggled. “I have wondered for the last few weeks or so, but I am now certain of it. We will have a child, Nathaniel.”
He kissed her at once, not holding back, and Eleanor clung to him, basking in the thrill of that kiss.
“I was wrong,” he said eventually when he did pull away.
“It is possible to be even happier. And you have just made me so.” He bent to kiss Eleanor again and she clung even more tightly onto him than before. “And I make you this vow now. Whatever argument we may have with our child in the future, I will not let it drive us apart. I intend to keep my family close, indeed.”
“Then that is what we shall be—a close family,” she promised and embraced him tightly.
Despite how much Nathaniel had corrected the wrongs of the past, the disagreement with his family would always be in the back of his mind. She hoped that from now on, they could look to the future and forget the sadness of the past.