It was the Christmas holidays. Phoebe had planned a large party for the staff of her house and Mary’s. They spent so much time running back and forth between the two places that Tom and Atwater joked about building one giant townhouse in London and one huge manor house in the country.
“Tommy, help Mama, please.”
The six year old, who was the spitting image of his father, answered her. “What shall I do Mama? What do you need?”
“Run and get Abby. Tell her Mama needs assistance with her toilette.”
The little boy ran to the nursery where Abby played with his little brother and sister. Abby’s two little ones were there also, as well as Susan and Jimmy’s baby. “Mama needs you, Abby. She needs help with her let,” the little boy called out loudly, and Abby put a finger to her lips but burst into laughter anyway.
Young Thomas Weston, Marquess Hempstead, was a sweet child. It was just that he hadn’t learned anything about voice modulation yet.
“Yes, My Lord. I will go straightaway, just as soon as Nora comes. She went to get dinner for you and your brother and sister.”
“Very well, Abby. I will help you.” The little boy ran into the hall and yelled over the balcony. “Nanny, Abby needs you.” It had been impossible for Abby to catch the boy before he’d yelled, and everyone in the house who heard him ducked their heads to hide the tender smiles that were brought to their faces. Little Tommy loved to help the people he cared about.
There was a ruckus at the front door, and Terence went to answer. He looked up on the balcony to see his wife, Abby, hurrying to Her Grace’s chamber. She looked at her husband and blew him a kiss over the railing.
“Your Grace? The young Marquess told me you need me? Is it the dress I put out? Would you care to wear something else?”
“No. Thank you, Abby. The dress you chose is just fine. I have a new year’s gift for you is all.” She handed the woman a small box wrapped in deep blue paper.” It’s a small token of my esteem for you, not only as a member of the staff here, but as a member of the family.”
“Your Grace. I don’t know what to say.”
“Say nothing. Or open it, and say you like it. This is a personal gift, Abby. It is not a holiday bonus for your hard work here. That is to be presented this evening at the party. This is a gift for you because I feel we are friends. I value your friendship greatly, Abby.”
“Your Grace, please speak no more about it.”
“Well, I must. You see, Abby, Mrs Crabtree will be leaving us. She has given me her notice. Her fine gentleman, Mr Davenport, has proposed. She is to be a Lady of her own household.”
“Why how very lovely for her.” Abby smiled.
“Yes, Your Grace?”
“I would like you to take over as housekeeper here at Regent Street and at Hempstead Hall.”
Abby inhaled sharply. “Oh, my word, Your Grace. But I haven’t been trained as a housekeeper. I wouldn’t know the first thing about it.”
“Oh, but you know all you need to know. Abby, Mrs Crabtree suggested you as her replacement.”
“I don’t know what to say, Your Grace.”
“There’s nothing to say. We are all very happy with your work here. Beginning on January 2, Mrs Crabtree will begin to train you for one week. She’s been busy copying her herbal lore and knowledge into a book for you. All of her recipes for every ailment under the sun will be included.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“Will you open your present now?’
“I will, Your Grace.” Abby tore the paper from the box and opened it. “Your Grace!” Inside the box was a set of blue sapphire earrings. The light blue stones were surrounded by tiny diamonds and set in gold. They were exquisite. “May I put them on now, Your Grace?”
Abby put the earrings on and tossed her head from side to side to watch in the looking glass as the sapphires caught the light. “Oh, they are so beautiful. So fine.”
“I noticed you would often admire them when you’d put my things away. I wanted to give you a gift that has meaning. These earrings belonged to my mother.”
“Your Grace! I’m moved. Thank you.”
“You’re most welcome.”
“If you will excuse me now, Your Grace, I will be getting back to the kitchen to help Mrs Crabtree.”
“By all means, Abby.”
“Thank you again, Your Grace.”
Phoebe watched as Abby walked from the tiny sitting room, her hand unconsciously going back and forth between her ears to fondle the sapphires.
Atwater was in the mews waiting for Jimmy. Dan had moved over to the house on St James where his wife was the housekeeper. Atwater had been sad to see the man go, but Dan had trained Jimmy so well, that now the lad was almost nineteen, he was able to take over. Atwater wondered if he might need that giant house to share with the Radcliffes after all.
Jimmy was engaged to Lady Mary’s personal maid, Susan. But Susan had come so far along on the piano that Mary was wanting to give the girl a space in London where she might tutor the female children of the bon ton. If that were the case, Atwater faced the possibility of losing Jimmy.
After looking around, Atwater had been made aware of a small two storey townhouse just behind his own facing the next street over. The mews met behind both houses. Jimmy could still work for him, and Susan could give lessons and tutoring sessions from the new house. So he’d bought it.
Jimmy drove the small cart down the passage from the area to the mews.
“Hello, Your Grace. I’m so sorry to keep you waiting. Are you going to Brooks’s? I’ll have the carriage hitched up in under ten minutes. So sorry to keep you waiting, Your Grace.”
“No Jimmy. I have been waiting for you, but not for a ride. I have something for you.”
“For me, Your Grace?”
“Yes. I’m very proud of you, Jimmy. You were a small street urchin when my, ah, when the old Duke brought you home. You’ve learned your trade well. And I happen to know you plan to ask Susan to marry you.”
“I was going to come and talk with you about that, Your Grace. You will not be losing me. I’m hoping you will see fit to keep me here even after my marriage.”
“I do, Jimmy. And that’s what I would like to speak with you about.”
“Yes, Your Grace?”
The Duke handed Jimmy a folded piece of paper. The boy opened it.
“Why it’s a bill of sale. I don’t understand, Your Grace.”
“Look through the mews and across the back street. Do you see the mews and the house facing the other way?”
“Oh yes, Your Grace. I know the place. A fine, sturdy little house it is.”
“And there is an extra room off the area, in the front of the house. The woman who lived there previously was a dressmaker. At one time she had her shop in that room.”
“I see, Your Grace.”
“And I’ve thought that the room might be put to good use by a piano teacher perhaps.”
“Would the new owners be wanting to let the room, Your Grace? How kind of you to think of something like that. You mean that I might let the room, and my wife could ply her trade there? Thank you for such a wonderful idea, Your Grace. I will go to see the new owner tomorrow, in the morning.”
“Well, that’s just it, Jimmy. You don’t need to see the owner and ask anything.”
“Why is that, Your Grace? Have you spoken to him already?”
“No Jimmy. You need not ask the new owner anything because you are the new owner. Well, almost.”
“I’m sure I don’t understand, Your Grace.”
“I have bought the house, Jimmy. And I have signed the deed over to you. All you need do is sign that paper you hold in your hand, and the house belongs to you.”
The lad looked about to faint. “Your Grace. I don’t know what to say.”
“Think of it as an early wedding gift. Now you can still work here, and Susan can teach at the house.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. No one has ever been as kind to me as you have. Your dear father, rest his soul, brought me home and told old Mr Sheridan to find a place for me. When the old Duke found out I’d been put to work in the mews, he was never more than cordial to me. Believe me, I was grateful. Here I went from the street to having full-time employment, a room off the stable, and a full belly. But the Duke never spoke to me, beyond the usual talk a Duke gives a groom, once I took up with the horses. And your brother, the Marquess, well.”
“I know he beat you a few times, Jimmy. He was jealous of your skills. I couldn’t stop it. I lived in his future home. I was the second son. It is only by accident that I became the Duke of Atwater. But since I am, I can do as I please around here. And I don’t want to lose you, Jimmy. You’re the only person I know who has a better way with horses than myself. Dan was fine, and he taught you well, but you have a natural ability and a way to communicate with the animals.”
“Your Grace, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Well get on with you then. Go over to the Radcliffes. Take the open carriage. I daresay you will want to propose to Susan now that you are a homeowner.”
“Thank you, Your Grace. Thank you.” The boy threw his arms around Atwater in a bear hug.
Throughout the day, Atwater and Phoebe gave New Year’s gifts to their friends and staff, and after a late dinner, guests began arriving for the party.
Phoebe and Mary were in the nursery. The Radcliffes’ two little sons were to spend the night on Regent Street, as were Tom and Mary.
“Now give Mama a kiss, and Aunt Phoebe too.” Mary sat on the edge of the bed the boys had been tucked into. If you get scared or need anything, Nora is just through that door.”
“Actually, My Lady. I will sleep on the chaise in here. That way if any of the babies need me, I am right here.” Nora looked at little Weston and his baby brother, Robert. “Is that fine with you, Lord Weston?”
The boy giggled and dove under the covers. Mary’s children had spent the night with Phoebe’s children many times, at one or the other of their houses. Tonight, though was a big party. Mary and Phoebe both looked radiant, and the children picked up on the excitement.
The women said goodnight to their children once again. They said goodnight to Nora and then they looped arms and headed for the ballroom on the second floor. It would be a fun party, indeed.
As they walked down the corridor to the stairs, Mary marvelled over how fast the time had flown by.
“Oh Phoebe, it’s so wonderful that everything has worked out. All the goings on with Charlotte Evans seem so far away, finally. And, I suppose if not for it, you would not have met Duke Atwater.”
“Yes, things have a way of working out.”
They went into the ballroom. The musicians were, as usual, hidden behind translucent screens that showed them as shadows. They were tuning their instruments in preparation for the party. There were potted plants in front of the screens that created the look of a mirage that emanated music.
“I didn’t ask Susan to play because I wanted her and Jimmy to enjoy themselves at the party. I’m hoping that she’ll want to play towards the end of the night. That way she can start drumming up customers. And yes, I planned the pun.”
Mary’s bell-like laughter erupted. “Phoebe, stop now. La, you make it difficult for me to get my breath when you joke like that!”
“Has Susan given her notice, Mary?”
“We talked about it. She wants to stay until she has some clients. I mean, I’ve told her she can teach from Wimpole Street, but she won’t hear of it. She won’t be leaving until after she and Jimmy are married. And who knows when that will be? They’re so young. And what will happen here? I know His Grace has just lost Dan.”
“Robert bought the house behind ours.”
“The one where the seamstress lived? La, remember how we used to sneak over there when your father was asleep to get your frocks done over.”
“Phoebe, I can afford new frocks for my only daughter,” Phoebe imitated her father’s voice. “He never imagined we were making the dresses over for you, Mary.”
The women laughed at the bittersweet memory. Phoebe missed her father a great deal. She wished she’d had the opportunity to speak to him one more time. Mary saw the faraway look in her friend’s eye.
“The first Duke of Carlisle would be so proud of his grandchildren, Phoebe. And of you. You’re a wonderful mother. And having Abby teach all of our children to speak Spanish. Why they can go visit Judith and Jorge in Seville. It’s just so wonderful how everything worked out.”
“Not to mention the second Duke of Carlisle. I had a holiday letter from Her Grace, Olivia Carlisle, regaling me with details of life at Duncan Castle. She loves it. And she loves my cousin too, in spite of his corpulent belly which has returned with a vengeance now that he’s happy again.”
They laughed again. “But, in all truth, Mary. Everything has worked out so wonderfully. For all of us. Even Charlotte Evans, in the end, got what she wanted. Colonel Drake told His Grace that he’d had a letter from Charlotte. She’s married to a very rich man who owns a, a cotton plantation, they call it, in America. No one knows of her humble beginnings or her criminal ways, which she told the colonel she was through utilizing. In fact, in her letter she said she had two children. A girl and a boy.”
“That is good news indeed. But what of little Roberto Perez?”
“Not to worry. Judith had a letter from Charlotte also. She’s changed her name. Fancy that! She thanked Judith and Jorge once again for saving her first child. She said that even though she’s rich now, she has her other children to think about. And her husband. It seems the cold-blooded Charlotte has finally found love. It was quite touching actually. Judith wrote that Charlotte asked that Judith never tell Roberto the truth. She was reiterating what she’d already stated seven years ago. But if a day should come that Roberto might hear something, or that he might come to Judith with questions, Judith was to say that Charlotte had died. And Charlotte also asked that if it should ever come to that would Judith make sure that Roberto knew his mother loved him very, very much. She’d loved him enough to give him up to a family that could take care of him and give him the sort of life Charlotte’s other children had. And she closed the letter saying that she would never be heard from again.”
“Do you really think she would have killed you, Phoebe?”
“I’ve thought about it many times, and to be truthful, no. I don’t think she could have. She was a manipulative con artist to be sure, but I don’t think she would have killed me. Bruce Wallace might have, but for all his big talk, I don’t know. He could have killed us all that night, but he didn’t. He kept waiting. I think he was a very confused individual. But he, too is married now. After His Grace dropped all charges with the stipulation that Wallace stay out of London, or more appropriately the country of England, Wallace moved to Dublin and found a little wife. It seems as if we’ve all come around a full circle.”
“Delightful. One happy new year after another. And may they all get happier and happier.” Mary hugged Phoebe, and the ladies sat on a little upholstered seat by the window enjoying ratafia until the guests should begin to arrive.
After Atwater had given Jimmy the deed for the new house, he’d gone to find Terence.
He knocked at the door of the butler, and Terence answered. “Yes,Your Grace? What can I do for you? Please, come in.” He’d been going over the books, and there were ledgers and papers everywhere in his tiny office and sitting room.
“So Terence, there are to be some big changes around here in 1830.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“I realize you and Abby haven’t been married long. Has it been two weeks?”
“Yes, and the two of you staying apart as you have is not an ideal arrangement to say the least.”
“I’m moving the two of you to the third floor chambers at the back of the house. There are five rooms and a great deal of sunlight. My grandmother lived there when she resided with us; I barely remember it. The rooms will be redecorated according to your wife and your specifications.”
“Your Grace. That is too much.”
“No, Terence it is not. You’ve served here long and well as your father did before you. I can’t very well have you or Abby living outside of the house, we need you so often. So you shall have your own set of rooms within Regent Street. In the country we’ll do the same. Of course you will still have the butlery and your office and room here. But you will live upstairs.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“You are most welcome. The day after tomorrow some people will be coming to see you and Abby. Painters, cabinet makers, wallpaper purveyors. I want you and Abby to make the rooms your home. I want you to have them done over exactly as you would like them to be. Spare no expense.”
“But, Your Grace?”
“Think of it as a wedding gift. And speaking of weddings, I must speak to Mrs Crabtree.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Atwater waved as he walked out of the servants’ hall. He headed out to the herb garden in the back. “Mrs Crabtree.”
She was turning the soil in preparation for the early planting. She stood and wiped her hands on the front of her apron. “Your Grace. Is everything well? Does Her Grace need me?”
“No. Mrs Crabtree. I have something here for you from my wife and myself.”
“I don’t understand, Your Grace.”
“Do you recall the small estate my father kept on the northern end of Hempstead?”
“I recall you speaking of it once or twice, Your Grace. I recall Her Grace’s father going to a few parties there. Before Hempstead was purchased. Windhill. Yes. I do remember now.”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Mrs Crabtree thought that the Duke might have dipped into champagne for the party a bit early. She eyed him quizzically.
“Here then, this is for you. I know your mister has a lovely townhouse. Now he shall have a small country estate. Of course the estate will belong to you and you alone, but he will be your husband and will reap the benefit.”
“Your Grace?” Mrs Crabtree accepted the paper Atwater proffered.” What does this mean,Your Grace?”
“You own Windhill, Mrs Crabtree. The estate is yours.”
“Oh dear.” The woman searched frantically in her pockets for her salts. “Oh dear. Your Grace. How will I ever thank you and Her Grace? Oh dear.”
Atwater stepped forward and caught the lady as her knees buckled under her. She’d nearly fainted altogether. But with Atwater supporting her, she was able to take her salts to her nose and inhale deeply.
Once she was stable enough to stand on her own, Mrs Crabtree burst into tears. Atwater produced a handkerchief and assisted her to a bench by a tree.
“Are you sure you are well, Mrs Crabtree?”
“Yes, Your Grace. I am so very moved.”
“Phoebe loves you as her mother, and quite frankly so do I, Mrs Crabtree. We want to keep you close and get to know your husband. He will be part of our family too.”
“God bless you, Your Grace,” the woman whispered and burst into tears again.
Lord Thomas entered Regent Street by way of the area. The staff and the Atwaters were so relaxed around each other that they all used the area most of the time.
When there was a party, such as this night, they all had to remember the strict codes of etiquette that existed between downstairs and upstairs at the townhouse or Hempstead, for that matter.
Tom took the servants’ stairs up to the second floor ballroom. There, on a loveseat by the window, Mary and Phoebe sat whispering and giggling behind their fans.
“And to what do I owe this lovely vision, ladies.” Tom smiled.
“Tom, darling. Come and sit. Phoebe promises me this party is to begin any minute although His Grace is shockingly absent.”
“May I get you ladies more ratafia?”
“Yes please,” the women said in unison and collapsed in peals of laughter.
Tom thought for a moment that maybe he should renege on the offer, but it was a party. It wasn’t as if they’d be leaving the house. “I’ll return shortly, Lady Mary, Your Grace.”
“Mary, do you remember when you first realized you had feelings for Lord Thomas?”
“Oh la, Phoebe. I think I fell in love with him the first time ever I laid eyes on him. He’d come here to accompany you to a ball. It was just before you went away to Paris.”
“La, Mary. I was eighteen. You were just fifteen.”
“Yes, and Lord Thomas was a mature twenty-four. He didn’t know I existed. And, well I was a maid, Your Grace.”
“What did I tell about that? Now we have proof that your grandfather was an Irish Duke. I believe we are all where we should be. We’ve all found love and happiness.”
“It is so very true. I am so grateful for my good fortune.”
“As am I. We have much to be thankful for Mary, indeed.”
“Here we are.” Tom had come back with two glasses of ratafia. “My lady. Your Grace. Where is Robert?”
“Oh Tom, he had so many things to do today, so many people to talk to. He’ll be along shortly.”
“Very good. Ah, and speak of the devil.”
Atwater was crossing the room. Phoebe caught her breath. She viewed her husband as the most handsome man she’d ever known. His chestnut waves, green eyes and dashing grin never ceased to cause her heart to flutter. She could be anywhere, doing anything, and when she looked up and saw him, it would happen.
“Darling.” He kissed her hand. “Lady Mary.” He brought her hand to his lips as well. “The guests should be arriving. I was sure to tell the staff, actually I ordered it, that they wear their finest. They don’t know we’ve hired staff to work for them. They get to dance and eat and have fun all night.”
Phoebe clasped her hands together. “This promises to be grand fun. But where is everyone? The musicians are set up.Oh, there’s one of the servers now. Champagne.” Phoebe waved the young man over. “Thank you.” She lifted two glasses off the tray while Atwater and Tom helped themselves.
One by one, the guests began to arrive. The little kitchen maid, Sally, was there in her finest frock, a dress Phoebe had given her at Christmas.
They went about dancing and chatting and laughing and flirting. Even Nora came down for a glass of ratafia while Mrs Crabtree stayed in the nursery in the event that one of the children should wake.
The doorbell chimed, and Colonel and Mrs Drake were announced followed by the young lieutenant and his lovely fiancée.
Jimmy and Susan could not leave the dancefloor for all the fun they were having. And Terence and Abby couldn’t get enough of each other as they sat gazing into one another’s eyes on a loveseat that was hidden behind a screen of potted plants.
“Robert, isn’t it lovely? We have a wonderful family. Don’t we?”
“We do. And I gave everyone their gifts today. It was most gratifying to see the joy in their eyes. We are so blessed with so many wonderful people to call our friends and family.”
Terence approached Atwater and Phoebe. “Your Grace, when would you like me to announce supper?”
Phoebe giggled. “Never, Terence.”
“Your Grace, I beg your pardon?”
A man no one knew came into the ballroom to announce that supper was served downstairs in the dining room.
Terence looked from Phoebe to Atwater. “You have the night off, my man.” Atwater grinned. Come. Get your wife. Let us go down to supper.”
The food was divine. White soup, cold chicken, cold ham, rolls, cheese, glazed carrots, savory tarts, sweetmeats, quiche, orange marmalade, dry cake, seed cake, apple tarts, champagne, tea, coffee, ale, shortbread, trifle and custard.
All present were relaxed and happy with flushed cheeks and full bellies. When everyone had had enough to eat, the men moved back upstairs to the drawing room while the ladies stayed in the dining room for their madeira. When the men were through with their brandy, they would move to port while the women would join them in the drawing room for sherry and Phoebe’s favourite card game, whist. They could also enjoy piquet, faro and loo.
As it got later, and the revelers began to tire, Atwater asked one of the hired servers to gather all of the hired staff in the drawing room. He called to the hired butler and asked the man to bring more champagne.
When everyone was assembled, Atwater poured a glass of champagne for every person present. He lifted his glass while the others waited.
“I would like to propose a toast for each and every one of you here tonight. From the members of the wonderful staff that was hired to work tonight so my regular staff could have the night off, to my regular staff members without whom my own life would not be so easy nor enjoyable. For those of you who take care of my children and the children of my dear friends the Radcliffes. To those of you who care for my horses, and those of you who keep mine and Phoebe’s home a clean and pleasant place to inhabit. To those of you who take care of our clothing, and those of you who make our meals and serve them. I thank you all, humbly, and from the core of my being. I am an exceedingly blessed man. Hear, hear.”
Everyone drank, and then they came to Atwater and Phoebe to give their thanks in return and to say goodnight. When everyone had left, the Radcliffes remained. They would stay in the guest room so their children could see them in the morning.
“Shall we have a nightcap, ladies?” Tom asked.
“Yes, we shall. Because Mary and I have a toast we would like to make.” Phoebe extended her hand to her friend who came to stand next to her.
Atwater poured four more glasses of champagne and handed one to Mary, one to Phoebe, and one to Tom.
Mary and Phoebe raised their glasses. Mary told Phoebe to go ahead and make the toast.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,Your Grace. You do it.”
“The suspense, I can assure you is driving us mad. Please. Someone make the toast.” Atwater laughed, and Tom joined him.
“Very well then. Mary and I would like to make a toast to the two little unborn beings that grow within our wombs right now. Hear, hear.”
Mary and Phoebe clinked their glasses and sipped their champagne.
Atwater and Tom were speechless and went to their respective wives and embraced them.
“This is too wonderful for words.” Atwater grinned. “I am to become a daddy for the fourth time. And you, Tom, this is number three for you. What a joyous moment this is.”
“And these children will be born within a week of each other. At least that’s what Mrs Crabtree says.” Mary smiled, and her husband kissed her hand.
Atwater wiped a tear from his eye as he held Phoebe close. The two couples walked up to the nursery to check on their children. The little ones were all asleep, their tiny heads looked as cherubs asleep on their pillows.
The couples parted, each going to their chambers. When Atwater and Phoebe reached theirs, they went into her room. He pulled her to him in a close embrace and kissed her deeply and tenderly. Then he whispered in her ear.
“I love you, my darling. You have made me a very happy man.”
“And you have made me a very happy woman, my love.”
They gazed into each other’s eyes complete in the love they had for each other and the love they would share for the rest of their days.