Georgette hugged the sleeping toddler in her lap closer as the carriage made its final pass down the lanes toward their home. She looked down at the little boy’s face and smiled.
“He’s finally asleep,” she whispered, “just in time for all the bustle of our homecoming to wake him again.”
The Duke looked at his wife with a gentle smile. “He doesn’t like to rest,” he explained with a teasing raise of one eyebrow, “because he’s like his father—never one to admit when he needs a break from the demands of high society.”
Georgette rolled her eyes, comfortable as always with the gentle, teasing way of her husband. She could hardly imagine that only a few years ago she had been shaking in her shoes for the official welcoming interview; that she’d been at the mercy of frozen water and burnt meals from a household she now ran alongside the Duke; that she’d been only the governess, where now she filled the roll of mother as well for the two girls leaning against her on either side.
She nodded at them now with a smile. “How come I have all the sleeping children, and you inhabit the seat across from me with such comfort?”
“Any person who calls a carriage ride back from Beddgelert comfortable is mistaken on more than one point,” he answered her. “Besides, I like to watch you with the children. Our son is such a plump little fellow. I’ll think that means he’ll grow up to be strong.”
“Or he’ll grow up to like cakes and dumplings,” Georgette said. It was one of her favorite ways to tease the Duke, implying that any of his offspring would be less than handsome always got under his skin.
His eyes flashed with a slight competitive spark and he leaned forward a bit in the seat to meet his wife’s gaze. “You’d never let that happen.”
“Since you’ve allowed me to continue the girl’s education after our marriage, I can only assume you will allow the same for our son,” she said with wide, innocent eyes. “Therefore, if there’s anyone who is going to make a plump scholar out of your strong warlord, it’s going to be me.”
“Dyna’ch barn chi, fenyw wyllt,” he said half under his breath, looking out the window with an impish smile as he spoke.
That’s what you think, wild woman. Georgette smiled, as she always did when she heard her husband embracing the language he had once outlawed in his home. His grammar wasn’t always the best, and his vocabulary was limited, but she had fun with him nonetheless.
“Peidiwch â rhydio i ddŵr dwfn os na allwch nofio,” she answered back. It was a saying that she heard often when she visited Eleri and Ffion’s hometown in Wales, a saying that essentially translated to, “don’t wade into deep water if you can’t swim.” As much as the Duke had been studying, she knew from her role as his teacher that he wouldn’t be able to decipher the vocabulary or grammar quickly enough to understand.
She levelled a gaze in his direction and he met her eyes with that wild, teasing expression that she so loved.
“That’s not fair,” he said softly.
“Don’t mock me in a language I understand more than you,” she answered with a cocky tilt of her chin. “You forget that I have been teaching your two nieces since before you had ever noticed me, truly, and therefore I have a significant edge on you in this matter.”
“Now that can’t be true at all,” he said, pretending alarm, “for I ‘noticed you’ on the very first day you walked into my life.”
She shrugged, the movement rolling her son’s sweet little head back and forth on her shoulder. “I don’t remember it that way.”
“Let me remind you.”
He moved as though to cross the expanse of carriage between them and kiss his wife, but when he did so Georgette felt little Eleri shift at her side and waken. The young girl was older now, and more self-possessed. She opened her eyes, caught the impending kiss, and then shut them just as quickly.
“Ach,” she groaned in the sweet accent of her homeland. The girl’s way of speaking was always stronger after the family returned from vacations to Wales, and neither Georgette nor the Duke minded it one bit. “Byddwch i ffwrdd â chi.”
The Duke looked at Georgette with a question in his eyes, and she translated with a laugh, “Be off with ye.”
“I see,” he said with mock severity, tugging at one of Eleri’s pigtails. “That’s how it is, you little scamp.”
The girl giggled and pretended to swat at his hand.
Georgette watched the scene with a growing sense of peace and belonging. She could hardly reconcile the warm and giving man who sat across from her now with the man who had fired her from his household so shortly before the happiest day of her life when he proposed to her in Wales. The Duke was so glad, so full of joy; so confident in the love of his sister, Georgette, and now the two little girls that had been left behind to him in tragedy all those years ago.
Their trips to Wales were a regular affair now, a chance to take the children to their homeland and remind them of their parents as the years passed. The Duke had decided that he wanted to do more than allow them their heritage—he wanted to keep it alive with regular trips to their birth home, correspondence with the people who knew Josephine and Carwyn there, and education about their language and culture.
During this last trip they’d been allowed the chance to meet family from the girls’ father’s side of the family, which, though painful for the Duke, had been a healing and beautiful reunion to see.
Georgette reached across and clasped her husband’s hand as the carriage pulled to a stop in front of their house.
“You’ve done well, love,” she said gently.
He smiled in response.
The next day dawned bright and beautiful and full of activity. Georgette was used to these whirlwind days after trips, where the servants were busy reacclimating to a full house, all the suitcases had to be disemboweled and the clothes laundered; all the children were readjusting to the requirements of study and daily rhythm.
Daisy, who had stayed behind from the trip to Wales this time to accommodate her husband of six months and a new position as second to the housekeeper, showed up after the family’s breakfast to show the family into the parlor.
“Lady Cynthia left a note,” she said with a curtsy. “She says she missed the children terribly and will be coming over this morning for tea to hear about their trip.”
“Just like my aunt to tell rather than request,” the Duke said with a comical expression.
Georgette waved him off. “You know she’s always welcome, and I’ve missed her terribly as well. I will wait for her in the parlor.” She nodded at Daisy. “And please tell the girls to come down as soon as they’ve finished their reading.”
She walked to the parlor and played with her little son until he fell fast asleep in the window basinet. She pulled out her embroidery, but no sooner had she made a few stitches but Lady Cynthia arrived in a whirlwind of silk and energy, with the two girls trailing behind.
“We sighted her from the window!” Ffion said with an uncommon show of noise. “We ran down to say helo!”
“I’m glad you did.” Georgette rose and greeted the lady with a firm hug. “It’s so good to see you.”
“And you.” Lady Cynthia sailed further into the room and dropped a gentle kiss on her grand nephew’s serene forehead. She ran her fingers along his downy cheeks and then sat across from Georgette.
“Tell me everything, girls,” she said.
The two tumbled to the floor at her feet, speaking over one another at an almost unbelievable pace.
“We’d a grand time.”
“Beddlegert was colder than we expected.”
“I rode a ceffyl all over town, but Papa was angry.”
Lady Cynthia raised her eyebrows at Georgette. Thinking she was looking for a translation, Georgette answered promptly, “Ceffyl means horse.”
“I know that, my dear.” Lady Cynthia gave a practiced smile. “You’re not the only one learning Welsh to connect with these two angels. No, I was more interested in the prominent use of the word ‘Papa.’”
Eleri, picking up on the comment before Georgette could respond, spoke up shyly. “Uncle said we could call him Papa if we wished. We know our Papa died, and our Mama too, but God has given us another Papa and Mama, and we like to belong.”
Lady Cynthia smiled indulgently, and Georgette didn’t miss the little slip of her wrist that deposited wrapped candies in the girl’s hands. “I’m glad to hear that, dears. Now tell me more.”
The girls prattled on, building in enthusiasm as they spoke, and Daisy came in to pour the tea. She carried the tray somewhat more unstably than usual, and seemed relieved when it was sitting finally on the table in front of the women. Worried, Georgette watched as the sweet little maid picked up the teapot and attempted to fill two of the cups. After the second was brimming she set the pot down, her hands shaking, and seemed for a moment to almost lose her balance.
Georgette jumped to her feet, pretending to be interested in something outside so that Lady Cynthia and the girls both turned to look. Just as quickly, Georgette slipped a hand under the maid’s arm to support her and said, loudly enough for the others to hear, “I’m so glad you’re here, Daisy. I had a question for you in the hall about the new tapestries.” She tossed one last comment over her shoulder to Lady Cynthia, “I’ll be back in a moment.”
In the hall outside, when she was certain they were alone, Georgette led the maid to a nearby chair and handed her a glass of sherry from the counter.
Daisy looked at it, bit her lip, and then shook her head.
“It’s okay, Daisy. I know you’re not to drink on the job, but sometimes sherry can help to stabilize a touch of faintness.”
“I don’t think it will…” the maid paused in confusion, “sit well with me.”
Georgette took a step back in surprise. “Why Daisy, does this mean what I think it means? Is there something you want to tell me?”
Daisy blushed all the way to her neatly-pressed collar. “Perhaps,” she said with unusual coyness. “I may tell you something, but only if you admit the same.”
Georgette felt a slow smile overtake her features. “How long have you known?”
“I’m a ladies’ maid,” Daisy said with a casual shrug. “All the matters of the lady are my matters as well. I saw your symptoms as soon as you returned from Wales yesterday.”
“Well, don’t speak as though it’s so dreadfully obvious,” Georgette answered with a light laugh. “My husband hasn’t suspected a thing.”
“Ah, men are always the last to know,” Daisy said, immediately looking embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to insult the Duke, my lady—”
“Daisy, you know you have nothing to fear in that regard. The Duke would doubtless agree with you on this subject. Isn’t it grand, Daisy? It will be my second child, and your first, and we will be able to share the ups and downs of motherhood in his regard.”
Tears came suddenly into Daisy’s eyes.
“What is it?” Georgette cried in alarm.
“It’s just that you’ve always been so kind to me,” Daisy said with a short little sob. “You treat me like equals even though you’re a grand lady now and my superior in every way.”
Georgette stepped in and hugged her friend gently. “Daisy, you know better than anyone that I am no more your superior than I was before. I know what it is to be treated as though I was beneath everyone else, and I never want you to feel that way. I will not forget how kind you were to me when I first came as the girls’ governess. You showed a bigness of spirit that some of the grandest people in society have never known.”
Daisy wiped her eyes and smiled up at Georgette. “I’m telling my husband tonight. When will His Lordship know?”
Georgette looked at her with a small smile. “I’m waiting for the right moment.”
That moment came sooner than Georgette had expected. After the children were tucked into bed that night, the two girls in their silk-hung chambers and the little boy in his quiet crib, Georgette slipped downstairs for after-dinner drinks with her own husband by the fireside. She was still dressed in the simple white muslin day gown she’d worn since the morning, but she slipped a silk shawl he liked that was embroidered with the old Welsh symbols around her shoulders and tiptoed to his side by the fire.
He looked up before she announced herself.
“I hear you, little governess,” he said gently, using a term of endearment he’d fallen into as of late.
She smiled, watching the back of his head. “You’ve got good instincts.” Sliding a hand almost subconsciously around her belly she smiled to herself. “I bet nothing could surprise you.”
She dropped her hand and came around where he could see her. “Is there room beside you on the settee?”
“There’s always room for you.” He had a book in his hand. A collection of poems that she’d told him about before they were married.
“Would you like to share a part of what you’re reading with me?” She sat beside him and drew her legs up onto the couch beside them, letting the shawl drape down over her curled knees for warmth.
The Duke opened the book again with a gentle smile and began to read.
“’She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.’”
He paused and looked down at her face. She was watching the lines, which had once been so hurting and hardened against her, soften into the laugh lines she knew and loved so well.
“That’s very debonair of you,” she teased him, “using Byron to flatter me.”
“Who says I’m talking about you?” he teased. “This is about that fine new mare I bought in London two fortnights past.”
She laughed and playfully swatted him with her hand. He grabbed her wrist, kissed it gently, and then looked at her with a lingering soberness creeping into his clouding eyes.
“But in all reality,” he said hoarsely, bending low as he spoke, “never did a work of poetry more remind me of a person. All that’s best of dark and light meet in your aspect, my love. If they didn’t’, I don’t know how you ever would have saved me from myself.”
“I’m glad some of yourself remained,” she whispered. “I like yourself.”
He took a deep sigh and moved as though to continue reading, but before he did so Georgette reached out a slender hand in the firelight and took hold of the book. “One moment,” she said, sitting up a little further so as to meet his eyes. “I’ve something to tell you first.”
“Go on.” His eyes were languid; unsuspecting.
She reached back into her vocabulary and chose the simplest way to phrase the statement. “Mae gen i fabi y tu mewn i mi.” It was a crude way of telling him about the child, literally translated, “I have a baby inside me,” but she thought with his limited vocabulary he would be able to pick up on the meaning much more quickly.
Unfortunately, even with the amended vocabulary there was still a bit of a misunderstanding. His brow wrinkled.
“Did you say something about fabric?” he asked. He shrugged. “I’m trying to learn, but perhaps if you picked topics a bit more interesting than your clothing line to share with me in romantic moments like these, I’d be a quicker study.”
Laughing, Georgette dropped her head against his shoulder. “Silly man.”
“I’m insulted.” He draped his harm over her shoulder and hugged her close. “You know that I’m doing my best to learn this language and culture, but if you have something truly important to say to me I might suggest you use the speech of plebians to convey your message.”
Georgette stopped laughing and, taking his hand and placing it gently on her stomach, she looked up into her husband’s eyes and repeated the Welsh phrase, slowly, never dropping eye contact. Understanding washed over him, and a light filled his eyes.
“Do you still need a translation?” Georgette asked softly.
“I do not,” he said, a smile of uncontrollable joy tugging at the corners of his mouth. “My dear, I think you’ve just made me fluent in the language of the Welsh, right here and now.”
Georgette smiled and leaned in for a tender kiss. The Duke responded in kind, gently embracing her. When they broke apart he took her hands in his.
“Can I tell you something, little governess of mine?” he asked. There was a yearning and a vulnerability in his eyes that she had rarely seen.
“You can tell me anything,” she answered honestly.
“Then I shall tell you,” he went on, “that I have never been more happy than I am at this moment. Of course, I’ve said that before, time and again, and you keep surprising me.”
Georgette warmed under his kindness and answered him the only way she knew how.
“Then let us look to more happiness,” she said, “and more surprises from here on until we part.”