“So… I left the letter in the notch of the tree, not thinking anything would come of it, but hoping desperately that it would,” Ivy said.
“Then what happened?” Clara asked in earnest, her eyes wide and curious, much like her father’s.
“Well, for a long time, I didn’t check the tree. You see, I had many things happen all at once. My mother wouldn’t allow me to leave the house for a while and then I got ill and couldn’t go out,” Ivy told the three little ones sitting before her in the yard.
“You were ill?” Jeremy piped up, his voice high-pitched and confused, as if there was something truly horrific about this fact.
“I was, indeed,” Ivy said.
He looked at her as if she must be a leper. Ivy grinned at her son, the youngest of her brood. He hated the idea of being ill, and she couldn’t blame him for that. He had caught a cold three months before and was ill enough that they had to call for the doctor. But at just three years of age, he was a sturdy boy. He overcame a dreadful fever that could have claimed his life.
“You need not worry, Jeremy. I am healthy now. It was not so bad as you might think and certainly nothing like what you endured,” she said.
This seemed to settle him, but Maggie—who was barely a year older—was grumpy that he had all the attention. She stretched out her arms to cuddle with Ivy and Ivy responded, scooping Maggie into her lap.
“May we please hear the rest of the story now?” Clara asked, clearly annoyed at her brother and sister for distracting her.
“Yes, yes, very well. Now, I left the note in the tree, but it was something like six months later when I finally checked to discover that there had been a reply!” she exclaimed.
“There was? Who wrote it?” Maggie asked, looking up at Ivy and stroking her cheek with stubby little fingers.
“It was Father!” Clara exclaimed eagerly.
“Excellent guess, my dear! It was indeed your father. He was deeply poetic and clearly well-educated in his writing. There was something about it that struck me and I wanted nothing more than to learn about this gentleman and what sort of man he was. You cannot imagine how glad I was to write back and forth with him,” she said.
“So it was only letters?” Clara asked.
“At first, yes. But then, one day, I stumbled upon him, leaving a letter at the tree. There he was, terrified like a deer who is caught by a traveller! I was kind to him, of course, and we spoke and got to know one another. Oh, it was quite a wonderful season,” Ivy said.
She knew that the children would want to know more, but decided that she had best save the rest of the story for another time. After all, they were still so young and she appreciated that they knew nothing of class and intolerance, of division and arrogance. She could not abide being the one to teach them about those things.
But she did not have time anyway. Birch came out of the house and he was ready to spend time with them, enjoying the air outdoors.
“Father! Mother just told us part of the story of how the two of you met and fell in love. May we go and find the tree?” Clara asked.
Birch started to laugh. It was clear that he had not been prepared for this request.
“Perhaps the next time we go to visit your grandmama and grandpapa, we may do just that,” he said. “That lovely branch that your mother decorated over the hearth? That is from the tree.”
“But I wish to leave a letter for a stranger, and I cannot do so on the branch,” Clara said.
“Me too,” Maggie echoed, trying to be like her big sister. Jeremy, on the other hand, was trying to catch a grasshopper and no longer paid the others any mind.
“What if we take a look around here? We just might find a tree with a decent notch in it,” Birch said.
“What a wonderful idea!” Ivy exclaimed, thinking it was positively genius.
The five of them immediately began to wander, searching for a tree with a decent-sized notch. As they scanned the edges of their property, where there were thick patches of trees around, Ivy found the perfect option at last.
“Here!” she shouted.
The others came running over.
“What do you think?” Ivy asked.
“Perfect. It is low enough that they can reach it and large enough for each of the children to leave a letter when they wish,” Birch said.
“Excellent. Now, we have a new family tradition. Whenever we wish to write to one another, we may leave the letter here,” she said.
“Yes! I will write one to Maggie because she is my sister and I love her very much,” Clara said.
“I am glad to hear that, my dear. And Maggie? Will you write to Clara?” Birch asked.
“Yes. And to Jeremy because Clara will not,” she said.
“I never said that I shall not write to him, only that I wish to write you first,” Clara argued.
Ivy and Birch looked at one another knowingly. They understood that there would always be silly little spats between their children and their daughters already showed evidence that it would be quite a trial at times. But having three children in three years was bound to cause them some excitement in life.
For the rest of the day, they continued playing outside, with Birch going back in the house off and on to take care of a variety of other projects. He was still working on an expansion of his shop in London and there were often things that popped into his mind that he was eager to write down before he forgot about them again. Ivy loved how he had followed his dream and turned it into such a success. He was tremendous at what he did and was finally receiving the recognition for it.
As Ivy walked around the yard with the children once more, she glanced up at the tree and saw that there was already a letter there. She wondered if Birch had helped Jeremy write one when he took their son inside for his nap.
Wandering over and pulling out the letter, she saw that it was addressed to her. She unfolded the paper with a smile, glad that her girls were distracted for the moment.
My Exquisite Ivy,
Seven years have passed since we married, nearly eight since I first discovered a letter in a tree. To think of all that has happened in the time since then, I am still in awe. I am grateful for the life we have built and all that has come to pass as a result of our love.
All those years ago, I told you frequently what I loved about you. They are all still true. But here are a few things that I have fallen in love with since then.
First, I love that you are still sensitive and kind, even when you are exhausted by a long day of handling petty arguments over toys and trying to keep the children clean.
Second, I love that you love them so well, that you are always eager to make something that they will enjoy or to find a new activity for them. I love that you are always willing to cuddle with them, even if it is not convenient for you.
Third, I love that your figure bears the marks of our children. You may not love this, but I do. It is a reminder of how miraculous you are that you have carried and delivered them.
Fourth, I love that, although you are a tremendous mother, that is still only one part of you. You shall forever be a mother, but you shall also forever be Ivy. I love that you are always you, no matter what.
Honestly, my dear, there are hundreds more little things I can list, but this is a brief excerpt of the letters to come and the many, many things I adore about you. Keep your eyes open for the notch in the tree.
Ivy swooned. It amazed her how Birch still caused her heart to race and for her to feel so loved.
When she went inside later to get ready for the dinner party, she quickly wrote him a reply and rushed outside to leave it in the tree for him to find later when he was outside again.
Within a few hours, Blythe and Clark arrived with their son, David. Blythe was just a few weeks away from the delivery of their second child and she looked both happy and ready for the pregnancy to come to an end. She was quite obviously eager to deliver soon.
“We are so happy that you were able to come,” Ivy said.
“As am I. I know that some women enjoy confinement, but I do not. I was desperate to get out for a little while,” Blythe said.
Ivy understood that very well. She had detested confinement and the fact that she had been forced to remain inside without going to see anyone. When she had visitors, they only stayed for a short time. Her mother, thankfully, had spent a good amount of time with her. It had been both a surprise and a blessing.
They all sat down to dinner, with David and Maggie arguing in the way they always did. Clark always made jokes about how their petty arguments would be ideal for marriage, particularly because the two of them always made up quickly and considered one another dear friends.
“Oh, dear. Another domestic spat?” he teased.
The little ones looked at him and glared, although they did not understand what it was that he was teasing them about. Still, the others were amused, and Ivy was grateful for the laughter.
For a long while, they reminisced about the past, telling the children more of the details about Blythe and Clark having been a part of their love story as well.
“So you were always there? With Mother?” Clara asked Blythe.
“I was. I was her lady’s maid,” Blythe said.
“I thought only noble women had lady’s maids,” Clara said.
“How do you know anything about noblewomen?” she asked.
“I do see friends, Mother. And Grandmama is a noblewoman. That is why she is always dressed in such finery and her estate is so large,” Clara observed.
She was a clever child and Ivy realised that she would not be able to protect her daughter forever from the ugly truths of society and all of its judgement. The time would come when Clara would be forced to accept that her mother had given up a position of power and authority all for the sake of love.
It was Ivy’s greatest wish to raise her children so that they cared little for such things as status and a great deal more for character. This was the most important thing and she believed that she would be able to instil in them this gift of depth.
The evening ended rather early as they all knew how important the following day would be. They needed a good amount of rest so that Clark and Birch could be of assistance and perform their duties well in support of the groom. Likewise, Ivy and Blythe were going to assist the bride and it meant that they, too would need rest. Ivy’s mother would be there as well, of course. After all, it was her sister who was marrying William Dorset.
Ivy and Blythe rode in the coach with Ivy’s mother and her aunt Gwyneth. They reached the church and Gwyneth was clearly eager and anxious about being a bride and marrying the man she loved.
It had been at Birch and Ivy’s wedding that they first met, but Will had not allowed himself to hope that Gwyneth would have an interest in him. After all, her father was nobility. But when they reconnected just two years ago, it was clear that there were still sparks between them and he decided to be brave and pursue her.
It was not long before they professed their love for one another. Yet, even then, Will had feared that a marriage would not be agreeable between them. When Gwyneth finally came to him telling him that she wanted to either be married or be forgotten, he proposed.
At least, that was the story that Gwyneth always told. Will’s version was a good deal more complicated, involving his uncertainty as to whether or not Gwyneth actually had an interest in marrying him at all.
But all of it had culminated to this. It was a wonderful day and the couple looked lovelier than ever as they met at the altar and declared their vow to love one another for all time.
“I now pronounce you man and wife,” the minister said.
Bells rang out and a roar of cheering sounded in the chapel. Birch held Ivy’s hand and gave it a squeeze. They could never attend a wedding without thinking back to their own. It was precisely what they had always hoped for—a love that did not diminish with time.
No matter how much had passed between them and no matter how many days they had experienced with trials and challenges, Birch and Ivy remained strong in their love for one another. It was a joy to see their friends and family feel the same.
During the reception, Ivy glanced over to her own mother and father, curious as to how they felt about one another these days. Having grandchildren had certainly softened her mother and Ivy had noted that there was a difference in tone between them. There was a great deal more care and concern that passed through their interactions.
Her mother came over, upon seeing Ivy watch them.
“How are you, my dear?” she asked.
“I am well, Mother. And you? How are you and father?”
Her mother took a deep breath and smiled.
“We have never understood one another more than we do now. I know that it may not carry the romance that you prize so highly, but it is a kind of love. In its own way,” she said.
Ivy nodded, understanding precisely what her mother meant. Even if Lady Nara and Lord Duncan were not the sort to express any romantic notions, they respected one another for the first time in their many years together. That was its own kind of progress.
The celebration continued for quite some time, with dancing and singing and laughter. Blythe tried to dance, but she was clearly too exhausted, and the other women all told her to sit and rest if she did not wish to go into labour at once. Ivy promised her that she would dance again soon enough, and Blythe consented to resting.
As Ivy and Birch dated the waltz, arm in arm, she felt as though she were floating on the wind, so smooth were the motions. Birch was an exquisite dancer, and this was better than any ball that she may have missed out on in her younger years. She cared nothing about those days any longer. There was only this. There was only the love she felt.
In the evening, Ivy and Birch returned home and got the children down to bed. It had been a long, eventful day. There was so much excitement in the air and Ivy wondered how they might be able to convince the children to sleep after so much stimulation. However, the exhaustion quickly overwhelmed them, and Ivy and Birch were on their own once more.
“Shall we?” Birch asked, taking her hand and leading Ivy outside to be near their new letter tree.
She laughed as he spread out a blanket for them to sit on and then Birch pulled out supplies. He had paper and ink and pens, but he also had a stack of their past letters to one another.
“I thought that we might read some of what we have written to one another in the past and then write a new letter. We may bypass the tree just this once,” he said, grinning.
Ivy nodded, loving the idea. She went through the letters, reading hers aloud to Birch as he read his replies. They went back and forth until they had finished every last page of the abundant notes that had passed back and forth between them since the very first one Ivy left all those years ago.
“Shall we write?” Birch asked.
Again, Ivy agreed and she crafted a letter expressing all her love and care for him. She told him how deeply she loved him, how fatherhood had made such a remarkable change for the better when she had believed he could not possibly get any better than he already was.
The letters were full of care and romance and reminders that they would always fight to be together, no matter what.
Once they concluded, they each folded up the letters they had and sat for a moment.
“Well, time has changed many things, but at least we still have this,” Birch said.
“Indeed, my love. We will always have this,” Ivy said.
Birch leaned in and kissed her sweetly on the lips before handing her the new letter, and Ivy handed him the one she had in reply.
Her heart leapt with excitement that, once more, she could read the words of the man she loved and know that their life together was nothing short of destiny.