Five Years Later
“What do you think?” Henry asked, as he opened the carriage door and gestured to the estate before them. After how long they had been gone, it had changed very much, but all for the better, with the grounds coming into their own with tall yew trees and sycamores, with the driveway up to the house bordered by beautiful rowan bushes as well.
“Well, it does not have the heat of India, but I think it will do very nicely indeed,” Sarah said with a giggle as she outstretched her hand to him. He took it quickly and kissed the back before helping her down from the carriage. “Oh, be careful with me.”
“I’m always careful, love,” he said kindly, helping her forward. He could see Sarah was getting much bigger now, merely days away from when they expected her due date to be. Ordinarily, they never would have taken her out during her confinement, but the journey from India back to England became necessary to sort out business, and it was only after they had arranged the journey that they had discovered Sarah was carrying their second child.
As Sarah placed her feet on the pebbled ground, Henry turned her hand to be through the crook of his arm, steering her forward to the house. The Lakefield’s estate was a grand one, and in the years they had been gone it had clearly been looked after very well by the steward, for the estate was doing well.
“It is beautiful,” Sarah said, as together they walked up the front steps, past the white pillars of the Palladium-like structure. As they walked in through the front doors, the entire staff was there to greet them.
“Andrews, it’s been too long,” Henry said, reaching forward to shake the hand of his steward.
“It has indeed, my Lord. May I be the first to welcome you home,” the steward said with glee in his tone.
“Thank you,” Henry said.
“Where is the young master?” the steward asked, clapping his hands together. “We have been impatiently awaiting his arrival.”
“Indeed we have,” the housekeeper said at his side.
“Mrs Oates, how are you?” Henry asked as she hurried to curtsy for the two of them.
“Well, my Lord. Though I have not stopped wondering what the little one looks like. Tell me, does he have your hair or the lovely Countess’?” Her joyful words made them both chuckle.
“Mine,” Sarah said with pride as Henry turned his eyes on her. The birth of their son, Robert, or Bobbie as they often called him, three years ago in India had been the event that Henry thought made him happier than he ever had thought possible. Yet with a second child on the way, he was beginning to see that a happy life was a boundless thing. “He is a little terror though I warn you, Mrs Oates,” Sarah said. “He is one for mischief.”
“Oh well, he was just the same when he was little,” she said, pointing at Henry, making him laugh once again.
“He’ll grow out of it then.”
“Will he?” Sarah asked with her own mischief twinkling in her eye.
“Mrs Oates, could you send for the physician, please? My wife has been traveling a long time and I wish to ensure both she and the baby are safe.”
“Of course, my Lord.” Mrs Oates curtsied and hurried off to abide by his wishes.
Together, Henry and Sarah walked down the rest of the staff, exchanging warm pleasantries before they reached for the staircase and Henry helped her up it.
“I do not think I will be settled until Bobbie is back with us,” Sarah said, wincing a little as they walked up the steps. Henry placed an arm around her, helping her up the stairs a little more.
“Do not you worry. My Aunt and Anne will bring him later today when they come. It was best that we had two pairs of eyes watching over him. You slept for most of the journey!” he said, to which she tapped his arm in reprimand.
“You try carrying a child. It takes it out of you.”
“I know love. Here, come have some rest now.”
Once they reached the landing, he helped her through the corridors, heading straight toward their bed-chamber at the far side of the house in the grandest wing of the estate.
In the five years they had been away, they had been back just once before to see friends. On that occasion, they had stayed at the Lakefield’s estate and spent nights in the bed-chamber before. Yet that didn’t stop Sarah from making awed sounds as they stepped in.
“Have you forgotten it?” Henry asked as he helped Sarah onto the bed.
“A little, I guess,” she said with a smile. “Some days I wonder if I could stay here forever. Then I remember what awaits us outside the door, and it reminds me that India has to be our home.”
The words pulled at Henry’s heartstrings a little as he helped Sarah lean back onto the cushions. They both loved their lives in India and had enjoyed the time greatly, but it was clear they were both reaching a stage where they missed England. It was partly to do with Bobbie as well. Though he was having a different upbringing in India, they both talked often of how much it would mean to them for Bobbie to spend time in England too.
“Maybe it is not an impossible idea to come back here,” Henry said as he sat on the cushions beside her. She rested her head back and closed her eyes as he placed a gentle hand to her temple and brushed the loose locks of hair back from her forehead.
“You know it is,” she said softly, smiling a little though she kept her eyes closed. “I do not want Bobbie or this little one –” she paused and laid a hand on her stomach “– to grow up with that gossip.”
“I know, love. I was just wondering if there was a way.” He placed a gentle kiss to her forehead. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” She smiled again as she tried to sleep. “Now, go and leave me in peace,” she said playfully.
“As you wish.” He kissed her forehead one last time before he turned to leave the room, hovering in the doorway for just a few minutes before he left her.
Henry was unnerved. After the physician had arrived for a check-up, it was clear he was not leaving for some time. More than once had Henry sent Mrs Oates to check on matters, but each time she returned to say that all was in hand and the physician just wished to stay with the Countess for a while, to keep an eye on things. It did not settle Henry’s mind at all.
He paced up and down the library a few times, trying to concentrate on the shelves of leather-bound books on mahogany paneled walls, but it was no use. He was either looking to the doorway in expectation of news from the physician, or he was looking out of the window, hoping for a carriage to appear on the driveway at any moment, bearing his son home with Catherine and Anne too.
A carriage did eventually make an appearance, only it was not the one Henry had been expecting. He hurried out of the library and onto the front steps in the dying light of the evening, hoping to see Bobbie, only when the door opened, it revealed a different face altogether.
“Lord Hector!” he said in surprise, striding forward.
“I had to come,” he said, jumping down and walking forward too, until they met in the middle and clasped hands to shake in greeting. “Too long, my friend.”
“Too long indeed. How are you?”
“Good.” Despite the word, he glanced back at the house, impatient for news from the physician. “You could have come tomorrow? We might have been able to greet you altogether then. Bobbie is due soon with Catherine and Anne.”
“Oh, I will come back tomorrow with Dianne. Miss Hampshire is staying with us at present and will no doubt wish to come too,” Lord Hector said as Henry beckoned him to come into the house, out of the chilly evening. “I had to come tonight, because there is news I have received that I felt you should know as soon as possible.”
“Oh? What is that?” he asked, hesitating in the doorway.
“It concerns the Duke of Huntingdon.” Lord Hector’s words made Henry lift his hands in objection.
“I do not want to hear it.”
“No, my friend. It is good news,” Lord Hector said revealing a smile. “You may remember I wrote to you and said that the Duke was courting a lady at last.”
“Yes, I remember telling you to warn the lady off.”
“So I did,” Lord Hector said, his smile growing. “She said at the time she would not be swayed, that she had heard all the tales about the Duke but intended to go forward with the marriage regardless. You can imagine my surprise. Another lady even took to the scandal sheets this last year, calling out the Duke again for his odious behavior, but it was not enough to dissuade the lady. Now, I understand why.”
“You look delighted by the idea,” Henry said with intrigue, folding his arms.
“It is because I am.” Lord Hector nodded. “The lady was what one might call a swindler, it seems. She married the Duke and transferred his assets into her name, then stole not only his money, but had accomplices take a fair amount of his things too.”
“Is this real?” Henry said, tempted to laugh. The idea that the Duke had finally had his comeuppance, in the place where it would hurt him most, his finances, was most satisfactory.
“It is. Not only that. She sold her story to the scandal sheets afterwards, telling every secret the Duke had, including his willingness to push her in private into giving favors she didn’t want to give, and the way he pursued other ladies at the same time as her. His reputation is ruined, my friend. Sarah’s word has been vindicated at last.”
Henry felt the flicker of a smile and his breath leave him in a rush.
The threat of the Duke was gone. How was that even possible?
“My Lord, my Lord!” The words were harried. Henry turned to look at the staircase where Mrs Oates was hovering in the middle of the staircase, all flustered.
“What is it?” Henry asked.
“She has given birth, my Lord! You have another child. You must come!” she called to him.
Henry felt the clap of congratulations from Lord Hector on his shoulder, but he didn’t wait to hear anymore. He ran through the house, taking the steps two at a time, and even sometimes three at a time, before running across the corridor and finding his chamber on the far side of the house. He pushed open the door, aware of a baby’s cry and the heaving gasps of someone in exhaustion.
Half way into the room, he came to a stop, watching as Sarah came into view, resting back on the pillows and cooing at a bundle in her arms.
“Henry?” she called to him. He staggered forward, feeling the same buzz through his veins that he felt when he met Bobbie for the first time. “We have a daughter.”
“A daughter?” he asked, breathlessly as he reached toward her. He kissed Sarah quickly first, full of so much love that he couldn’t stay away, then he looked down at their baby daughter, with a small mop of dark auburn hair and her forehead.
He had his family now, and with so much good news going around, he couldn’t wait to tell Sarah that they didn’t have to go back to India. If she wanted to stay in England, then they could. The Duke couldn’t come near her again and his reputation was ruined.
“What do you say to calling her Catherine?” Sarah asked. “We owe her our lives together, after all. It feels right to name our daughter after her.”
“I think it the perfect thing.”