Three years later
The spring day had dawned bright and fresh and even slightly milder than of late, with a gentle breeze blowing away the last of the London fog from the previous day. As the day wore on, the sun grew strong.
A gentleman and two very excited toddlers were playing with a ball on the small patch of lawn in the walled garden behind a regal four-storey town-house. The grass was a little long and overdue a good scything. However, buttercups and daisies opened their petals to the sunshine as the last remains of the morning dew evaporated into thin air. A butterfly dried its wings while clinging to the wall, and a dandelion clock floated by on a breeze. The younger of the two toddlers, the little girl, squealed with delight and chased it around the garden until she managed to catch it.
The child carefully cradled the seed-head in her tiny hand and took it to show her uncle. But as she held it out for him to see, the breeze tickled at it and took it away again.
Her little face started to crumple as, with dismay, she watched it fly out of her reach and over the wall. She quickly looked at her uncle in case he had an explanation for her.
He knelt so that he was almost at the same height as the child. “That was very clever of you to catch a fairy like that,” said her uncle, smiling.
“A fair-wee?” she said, changing her mind about crying.
“Yes, but you must be very careful with them, for fairies do not like to be trapped.”
“Why?” she said.
“Because they do not wish to break their delicate wings,” he replied, giving the girl a cuddle.
“Why?” she said.
“Because then she will not be able to fly. That is why the fairy that you had flew away as soon as she could.”
“Fair-wee,” said the child, nodding her head in her most grown-up fashion.
Suddenly, as though from nowhere, the ball the children had been playing with hit the man on the side of the head. He feigned shock and collapsed in a heap as the little boy squealed with laughter. Seeing her cousin laughing so caused the little girl to join in too. And before long, they were all laughing and rolling on the floor and getting covered with grass.
“We had better go inside and get ready for luncheon,” said the man, jumping to his feet and brushing down his clothes. He helped the two children to their feet too and also brushed the grass from their little outfits.
“Fair-wee!” said Katharine, smiling up at her uncle.
“No,” said the little boy, who was slightly older. “Fair-ree, not fair-wee!”
Katharine frowned at him and said, “Fair-wee!”
“Dylan,” said his father, “if your cousin wants to call it a fair-wee, you should let her.” He clasped both children by their hands, and they started to wander towards the house.
“Why?” said Dylan.
“Because she is younger than you are, and she is only just learning.”
Dylan snatched his hand out of his father’s and went to pick up his ball.
“Ball!” said Katharine, pointing at the ball with her free hand. Dylan took her free hand in his, and the three of them indeed went back to the house.
Lady Rose Moore, the Marchioness of Norwich, was seated at a highly polished desk writing a letter to her sister. Lady Beatrice Patton, the Countess of Yarmouth, and her husband were enjoying a second honeymoon. Not that they had had their first honeymoon right after they were married. No, their first honeymoon had happened when the Earl of Yarmouth, Lord Oscar Patton, had finally taken up his long-overdue responsibilities to both his wife and his estate, which was a good eight months after their marriage.
The couple had certainly made up for lost time, going on a grand tour of Europe that had lasted for three months. When they had returned, Lady Beatrice was pregnant with their first child, Katharine. And now, there they were, enjoying another honeymoon, this time touring the highlands of Scotland. In the meantime, they had left their daughter in the care of Lady Rose and her husband, the marquess, Lord Edwin, in their London home, for their county home was still being rebuilt after a devastating fire.
Lady Rose tickled her cheek with the feather of her quill pen as she mulled on the Norwich estate. Lord Edwin had assured her the house would be fully repaired in only a year or so, and yet four years on, they were still working on the building. She took a deep breath and glanced down at her letter, reading it through to see if there was anything else she wanted to write.
She had told her sister to, by all means take her time on this holiday, for she and Lord Edwin were managing with Katharine just fine. In fact, it was doing Dylan the world of good having his little cousin to play with. There were only four months between the two children, but Dylan was shooting up much quicker than Katharine, and already he looked as though he was at least a year older. He was clever, too. Quick and bright and good with his words. He would need a tutor soon, for she had no doubt that he would be early with his reading.
Little Katharine was proving to be bright as well, but in a different way. She was curious, always pointing things out and asking about them. And she liked to practise her words all the time, especially if she had just learnt a new one.
As Lady Rose read through the letter, she played with a fine, silver chain that hung around her neck. On the end of this chain was a little silver key, and she could often be seen twisting this between her fingers or sticking it into her mouth. The surface of the key was growing smoother with her almost constant fiddling. But she often forgot it was there and did not notice that she frequently played with it.
The door to the parlour suddenly crashed open, and the two toddlers rushed into the room with Lord Edwin hot on their heels. Dylan was throwing a ball up into the air and making a great show of catching it, apart from when he missed it, and it bounced on the floor and rolled away from him. Katharine came rushing up to her.
“Fair-wee!” she said. “Fair-wee.”
Puzzled, Lady Rose looked to her husband for an explanation.
“Our little Katharine caught a fairy,” he said.
For a moment, Lady Rose did not know what he could mean. But as she looked out of the window for inspiration, a dandelion clock drifted by on the breeze.
“Ah,” she said, turning to face her husband again. “A fairy.”
Katharine saw that her aunt was busy, and she turned towards her cousin, who was lying on his belly trying to retrieve the ball from under a settee. Quick as a flash, she was at his side and also rolling about on her stomach, the two of them squealing once again with laughter.
Seeing that the children were well occupied, Lord Edwin came to stand at his wife’s side, next to the bureau. She glanced down at his breeches and cocked an eyebrow. “You have grass stains on your knees,” she said, looking up at him again.
“Do I?” he said, seeming surprised. He bent down to brush at the stains, but of course, they would not budge. “I thought I had escaped.”
“Did you and the children have fun in the garden, my love?” she asked, taking his hand and kissing the back of it.
“We did. I trust it gave you some time to write to your sister?”
“Yes, I am almost finished.” She pointed at another letter that lay open on the desk. “I have had a letter from my father,” she said.
“How is he?” asked Lord Edwin, picking the letter up but not reading it.
“He is well,” she replied. “He has news of our Mr Thorne.”
For a moment, Lord Edwin made a show of trying to remember who this Mr Thorne was. “Ah yes,” he said at last. “Your former intended.”
“Oh, you!” said Lady Rose, tapping his leg with her quill pen. “He was never my intended.”
“Or you were never his, more like,” he replied, grinning at her. “In any case,” he continued. “What about him?” He scanned the letter as though to find the part that referred to his former competitor.
“He has been made a baron,” she replied.
“That will no doubt make him very happy,” he said, giving up on the letter and putting it down on the desktop again. “Did he ever marry that old widow?”
“I do not believe so,” said Lady Rose. “And in any case, my father tells me that he has recently wed the daughter of another earl.”
“Then the man should be double-pleased,” said Lord Edwin. “Anyway, enough about him. I have news of my own.”
“Let me just finish this letter to my sister, and you can tell me all about it,” she said. “Perhaps you could ring for the nanny to come and take the children while I do so. They will need their hands and faces washing before they have their midday meal.”
Lord Edwin perched on the edge of the settee, and Lady Rose turned in her seat to face him.
“You have had a letter?” she asked him.
“Yes, my steward has written to me to let me know that the repairs to the house are now complete.”
“That is indeed good news,” agreed his wife.
The marquess had arranged for the servants’ quarters to be completed first so that he might employ a staff ahead of moving his own family into the mansion. Those servants who had not also perished in the fire were given the option to return, but many of them had already found alternative employment during the months when Lord Edwin had gone missing four years earlier. Everyone thought that he might have died in the fire himself, and so there would not be any work for them. Lord Edwin did not blame them and was glad they had found alternative situations.
To the families of those who had perished with his own family, the marquess had awarded gratuities in consideration of their losses, both familial and monetary. And to those who decided they would like to return to the fold, he had offered promotions on their former positions. The steward had been his father’s head groom, and the new head groom, Mark Gibbs, had been in position as soon as there was somewhere suitable for him to live. Until then, Mark had stayed with Lord Edwin and Lady Rose at the London house, for the marquess had his own mews at the back of the property where he kept a small carriage and just two horses for when they were in the city.
Lord Edwin’s father-in-law, the Earl of Fordcomb, had gifted the marquess and the marchioness with three horses from his own stable just as soon as the stable block in Norwich was ready. And Lord Edwin himself had supervised the horses’ transport from Kent to East Anglia himself, with assistance from his new head groom.
“He says,” said Lord Edwin now, referring once more to the letter he had received from his steward, “that it was almost as though the fire had never happened.”
“I am so happy to hear that,” said Lady Rose, reaching over and catching hold of her husband’s hand. “I sense a sadness in you still, though,” she said.
“I am a little sad, yes,” he agreed. “I cannot help remembering my family and how they must have died when I think of the fire.”
“It was indeed a great tragedy,” said Lady Rose, squeezing his fingers.
“But we will make it a happy home once again,” he said, more brightly now. “It is a shame that there are no paintings left. We will have to commission some as soon as we are settled.”
Lady Rose dropped his hand and clasped her own hands in her lap. “That reminds me,” she said. “You did not lose all of the paintings. We still have the ones here.” She waved a hand about her as though they were surrounded by portraits. “And you did collect those miniatures from this house before you went on your little disappearing trip.”
“Yes, but the large paintings should really stay here, and the miniatures are only for displaying on a tabletop or a desk, or similar.”
“Well,” said Lady Rose, clapping her hands together with glee. “I sent those miniatures off to an artist in town. I have commissioned her to copy the portraits but in a larger size. If they are any good, perhaps we can hang those.”
“Surely you mean you have commissioned him?” asked her husband, smiling at her.
“No, I have commissioned her,” she replied. “Her name is Lady Selina Hancock. She is the Duchess of Westcott, and she shares her time between London and their estate on the coast, in Devonshire. The duchess specialises in miniatures and landscapes, and she apparently sells her wares in a little shop in the north of Devonshire as well as in a gallery here in London. She comes highly recommended.”
“Then I am certain that the results will be perfect,” said Lord Edwin.
“I am too. I would so like to be able to display them in the Norwich house after we have moved in.”
Lord Edwin gave her a sad smile, and then he took a deep breath. “Thank you for the thought!” he said. They shared a moment, each with their own thoughts, then Lord Edwin stood up from his perch on the settee, holding out his hand for her to stand up too.
The door to the parlour crashed open once again, and the two children came dashing in again, this time wearing clean and freshly pressed outfits. Their nanny was behind them, peering nervously into the room.
“Good lord,” said Lord Edwin. “Have they finished their meal already?”
“They asked if they could come and eat with the two of you, My Lord,” said the nanny.
“Come in, come in,” beckoned Lady Rose to the woman, inviting her to come into the room. “Are you happy for them to have their meal with us, Nanny?” she said. “For it is you who is in charge.”
“If it is what the children want, My Lady, and if you and His Lordship do not mind, then far be it for me to intervene,” she replied, smiling.
“Then let us retire to the dining room,” said Lord Edwin.”
“Yay!” cried Dylan.
“Ay!” said his cousin.
Lady Rose raised an eyebrow. “Yay!” she shouted, laughing.
After luncheon, when the children had been cleaned up once again, Lady Rose asked, “Who would like to go for a ride into town?”
“Me!” said Dylan, looking at Katharine, nodding and nudging her.
“Meeee!” agreed Katharine.
Lady Rose gave her husband an enquiring look. “How about you, my love?” she said. “Shall we take the children for a ride in the phaeton? We can go for a drive around the park.”
“On one condition,” said Lord Edwin.
“And what, pray is that?” she asked him sweetly.
“That you do not drive!” he said.
“Very well,” she said, laughing. “If that is all, then I am certain that I can accommodate you if it means a nice run out in the fresh air.”
“Yay!” said Dylan.
“Ay!” echoed Katharine.
And this time, it was Lord Edwin to add the final ‘Yay’.
With their light coats on, the four of them went out of the house and made their way to the mews at the back, where word had already been sent to ready the phaeton for them.
“Fair-wee!” said Katharine, pointing at a dandelion clock as it floated by.
“Are you going to try and catch it?” asked her aunt.
“Oh, no,” said Katharine, furiously shaking her head.
“Why ever not?” asked Lady Rose.
“Bwake deck-ee-lat wings,” she replied, clamping her lips together and nodding now.
When Lady Rose turned to the marquess for an explanation, she could see that he was trying to hide a laugh.
“What is she saying?” she whispered. “It must be something that you said to her when you were outside playing.”
Making sure that the little girl was watching the ‘fairy’ and not looking at them, Lord Edwin hissed back, “I told her that she might break the fairy’s delicate wings if she trapped it for too long.”
“I see,” said Lady Rose, not seeing at all. “And why would you tell her that?”
“She was about to throw a tantrum when the fairy that she caught escaped and flew away.”
“Ah,” said his wife, laughing quietly now. “I see. What stories you fill their heads with!”
“They are children but for a short time,” said Lord Edwin. “For as long as they will enjoy the stories, I will continue to fill their heads.”
They walked on a little more until they turned at the end of the garden wall towards the mews. The London groom was only just leading the phaeton out, along with two jet-black horses that had cloths on their backs bearing the Norwich coat of arms.
“Thank you,” said Lady Rose softly to her husband.
He looked at her while still keeping half an eye on the children. “For what are you thanking me?” he asked.
“For choosing me over your past.”
He picked up her hand and drew it to his lips, kissing the soft skin. “It is I who should be thanking you,” he said. “For rescuing me.”