Early Spring 1822
Mimi walked down the hall of the large plantation house she lived in with her husband and up the narrow back staircase to the third floor nursery. She pushed on the partially open door and went inside. Her children played inside.
“Maman.” Her oldest son, Richard, dropped his toy soldier and ran to her throwing his arms around her legs. He was four years old and the spitting image of his father. “Will you play, Maman? I have my whole army marching to Waterloo. I intend to smash the French.”
“Well, I don’t know where you got that idea.” She looked at Mrs Reilly and winked, “But why don’t we work on drills and such. There will be quite enough time to smash the French another day. Don’t you think?”
“But Papa said …”
“Right now it is Maman who is speaking, Richard.” She leaned down and kissed her son on the top of his head. “There, there, soldiers have many duties, mon petit chou. They must be very disciplined and obey orders. Do they not?”
The little boy nodded and went back to his play in a calmer mood.
Mimi’s second child was Marie, named for Mimi’s mother who had come to America to live with them. The little girl was possessed of the same dark tresses, black eyes, and alabaster skin as her mother and grandmama.
The baby at eighteen months was named George for Richard’s father and brother. He was also ginger like his own brother and father.
They were healthy, happy children who also enjoyed the attention that came with having inherited the above average looks and charm of their parents. Mimi smiled at them and sat on the rug in the middle of the floor with them gathered around her. She loved spending time with her children. They brought a semblance of selflessness to her life. She often thought that although she was exceedingly blessed, if she had nothing else, her children would fulfill her. As would her husband.
“What shall we do tonight when Mrs Reilly says it’s bedtime, children? Maman must entertain her guests with your daddy. You must promise me you will mind Mrs Reilly. If you do, you will have a special treat tomorrow. Does that sound fun?”
Little Marie and Richard jumped up and down clapping their hands. “Yes, Maman. We promise. We promise, Mrs Reilly. We’ll be good!” Baby George cooed and turned his toy horse over and over in his chubby little hands.
“Very good. That makes me very happy, my darlings.”
“Mimi?” Marie’s voice carried into the room followed in short order by the woman, herself.
“There you are, mon ange.” She picked little Marie up and nuzzled her. “How is my petit chou? Mimi dear, Amy wants to know if you would prefer the rose gold silk or the silver and white tulle.”
“I shall go to my rooms, Maman. I think the rose gold, though.”
Marie glanced up from the children and nodded. “Yes, it’s your colour.”
Mimi left the nursery and went downstairs to her own room directly below. She thought about how nice it was to have her mother back again. The former Marie. The one who enjoyed her life and wasn’t constantly in a state of anxiety about what would happen to her in her old age. Marie Hancock seemed sincerely happy once again.
She’d told Mimi that she realised her family meant more to her than any man. And she’d broken her engagement with Mr Carnaby and had followed her only child to America. She was now engaged anew to a planter who was a neighbour and friend of Mimi and Richard.
Everything was wonderful. Since Marie had arrived in Savannah, she’d found peace. She was once again the woman Mimi had known before Mr Hancock had died. Mimi shook her head to push away the memory of her father and went into her room to change for the ball.
The ball was in honour of their, hers and Richard’s, five years of marriage. Five whole years married and living in Savannah. Three babies and Marie living with them.
Then there was Nancy and Kirby who had married and come to Georgia as well. They lived in a lovely house on a small plantation. And Nancy was expecting their first child.
And there was Mrs Reilly who insisted on acting as governess to Mimi and Richard’s children. She’d was being courted by the foreman from Nancy and Kirby’s place.
And Giselle, who lived in the town of Savannah. She’d met a doctor who fell in love with her and her with him. They were now married as well.
Mimi was living an extraordinarily happy and full life. And she was sincerely grateful to have most of the people she’d loved in England here in America.
She shook her head to lose her rambling thoughts. “What do you say, Amy? The rose gold? I can’t help it. I’m always drawn to rose. And gold.” She laughed.
“I believe Miss Marie to be right when she says rose is your colour. It suits you very well, Miss Mimi.”
“Oh good. I’m glad you think so. Help me on with it, will you.”
Mimi reached her hands over her head and Amy brought the shimmering fabric down over her head. She looked into the full length looking glass. “Oh, dear. It seems to be a little snug …” She gasped.
“What is it Miss Mimi? Your dress looks beautiful. You look beautiful. The frock doesn’t look snug.”
“No, but it feels snug.” Mimi grasped Amy’s arm. “Amy, this is how I knew I was with child when I was newly married. My dress was snug across the front.”
“It doesn’t show, Ma’am. Do you think you are with child?”
Mimi sighed and smiled. “I do, Amy. Please don’t tell anyone. I want Mr Warren to hear it from me.” She turned sideways, still studying her image and stroking her hands across the fabric that covered her abdomen.
“Yes, Miss Mimi.”
“This is wonderful. I’m very pleased. And to find out on the night of our party celebrating five years of marriage. ”
“It most certainly is wonderful, Ma’am. Do you wish for a girl or a boy?”
“I don’t have a preference. I only want my children to be happy and healthy. However, I think my daughter would be happy to have another brother. She likes to be the centre of things.” Mimi chuckled.
Amy smiled. She went over to the dressing table to fix Mimi’s hair. As she crossed the room, movement outside on the big drive leading up to the house caught her eye.
“Look, Ma’am. The guests are beginning to arrive.”
Mimi ran to the window. “That’s impossible; they aren’t to be here until eight o’clock. It is six by the clock on the mantle. How strange.”
“Shall I go and see who it is?”
“Mmm. No, not yet, Amy. Fix my hair, and then you can go and find out who it is. I’m sure Peter will come up to alert me.”
“As you wish, Ma’am.” Amy went about creating a lovely hairdo for Mimi by creating a bun that sat on top of her head and cascaded into shiny curls over her ears.
“You are such a fine hairdresser, Amy. I love that you can copy the styles I like from the French magazines. You’re quite talented. You may do the hair of my friends if you like, Amy. They will pay you. You could save a little extra money. Would you like to do that? I know how much you enjoy doing hair styles.”
Amy smiled and nodded. “Yes, Ma’am. Thank you, Ma’am.”
“There is no thanks necessary, Amy. I like you. I like you very much. You are wonderful with my babies; you’re talented. We are very lucky to have you as part of our family.”
“Thank you, Miss Mimi. Come to the glass. See how lovely you look.”
Mimi stood and walked over to the full length glass and did a twirl, looking over her shoulder as she did so. She was able to get a passable glimpse of herself from all directions and was pleased with what she saw.
“You’ve done it again, Amy. If I do say so myself, I look lovely.”
The women laughed, but they heard a knock sounding on the door.
Peter opened the door and spoke from behind it, “Mrs Warren, early guests have arrived.”
“Come in, Peter. How many have arrived?”
“A couple, Ma’am. A lady and a gentleman.”
“Who, pray tell, are they?”
“I’ve never seen them, Miss Mimi, but I’ve put them in the parlour.”
I specifically said on the invitations I sent out that eight o’clock was the time to begin arriving. I’d hoped to put the children to bed with Mrs Reilly.”
“The lady says it is a surprise, Miss Mimi.”
“A surprise? Whatever does that mean?”
“I’m sorry, I’m only relating the lady’s words, Mrs Warren.”
“I know, Peter, I know. I suppose I’ll just go down and see who it is. I’m all dressed. I’ll take them on a tour of the house. Maybe bring them up to meet the children. They’re in the drawing room, is that right? I mean the parlour?”
Mimi hurried down the back staircase to the main floor of the house and made her way down the corridor that led to the entry hall. To the left of the massive double doors stood the parlour.
She approached the parlour and slid one of the pocket doors back into the wall. She walked into the room and looked around. No one was there.
“Boo!” The sound came from behind her back, and Mimi jumped and let out a startled yelp. She swung around. “How dare you scare me this way!” The words escaped her before she even saw who was in the room with her.
The couple now standing in front of her were laughing, the woman slapping her leg in an effort to control her mirth.
“Bella? Bella! Is it really you? Francis! How, when? I didn’t know you were planning a trip here! How wonderful to see you. It’s been so long. So long. When did you get here? Why did you not let me know before now? Oh, never mind, it doesn’t matter. You’re here now. This day just keeps getting more and more wonderful.”
Bella embraced Mimi; tears sprung to her eyes. “I’ve missed you so, Mimi. Your many letters these last five years have caused me to miss you even more.”
“Well, the two of you may stay as long as you like! I am beside myself with joy at the sight of both of you. And you can meet my children. You must have left your babies in London, I take it? Are they with your parents?”
“Nothing of the sort,” Francis chimed in. “We have them with us. All five!”
“That’s right, Mimi. All of the children will meet and then play together all the time. I simply cannot wait.”
“I don’t understand, Bella. Such a long journey to bring all the little ones on. This will have to be a very long visit indeed. Oh, you can stay through the holidays. And the bank, Francis. How is the bank?”
“I have sold my shares in the bank, Mimi. And I’ve taken a loan from my esteemed father. My father’s generosity has allowed Bella and me to make this change in our lives.”
“Yes, I see. Changing careers. That is a big step. A big change, indeed.”
Francis looked at Bella. “Darling. Shall I tell Mimi the news? Or will you?”
“Tell me what news. Francis is your wife waiting for another baby?
“No, it’s not that. Bella?”
“Very well. We are staying, Mimi!” Bella hugged her friend again.
“Yes, I know. Through the holidays. I thought we just said that. I’ve told you, you can stay as long as you like. Stay past the holidays. Have you looked at this house? It’s like a castle. You can have your own wing!”
“Then how do you feel about forever?” Bella looked at Francis and winked.
“Forever? Bella. What are you teasing at? You want to move in here forever? Please. It would be grand!”
“We’ve come to America, Mimi. To stay.”
“You mean to say you’ve relocated here, to Georgia?” Mimi smiled broadly. “Why, that’s splendid!”
“Francis, it turns out, had a distant cousin. The man passed away three years ago at the ripe old age of ninety-one. It took time for his will to be gotten through, but he had no next of kin except for Francis. It took the lawyers two years to find us. This lovely cousin left his entire estate to Francis. It is just over in the next county. Just twenty miles away. It is a cotton farm. So that, along with my father-in-law’s loan to Francis enables us to make a new start.”
“I am ecstatic. Oh, Bella. Our children will grow up together the way we did. It’s just so wonderful. Francis, would that I had known your dear cousin, I would have gone to see him.”
“He had a very happy life and passed away peacefully in his sleep, I’m told. He was a second cousin to my mother’s mother. He came here almost seventy years ago. This place was wild and untamed when he built his plantation house.”
“Richard will be so pleased to learn of your good fortune at the hands of your benevolent cousin and your father.”
“And remember your dear father, Mr Hancock. He gave me a chance at the bank. Everything, businesswise, that has transpired in the last ten years has been mainly due to my position at the bank. And Richard’s father kept me on there after your father’s demise. I am and have been a very lucky man, Mimi.”
She looked down and wiped the tears from her eyes. The gratitude of her friends moved her. “Look at me, forgetting my manners. Please sit down, both of you. I’ll ring for some refreshment. Richard will be along shortly. He was out in the fields today the same as every day.”
“Did I hear my name invoked?” Richard peeked his head around the parlour door. “Bella, Francis. How wonderful to see you here.” He strode into the room, and after kissing his wife on the cheek, he embraced Bella and then Francis. “This is fine, indeed. When did you get here?”
“It’s a long story, and we have already regaled your wife with it. We’ll get around to it again later. In the meantime, Richard, how are you?” Francis smiled.
One of the housemaids entered the room with a large tray holding lemonade, ratafia, ale, claret, and tea. The four friends continued in their endeavour of catching up on each other’s news until the first of the guests began arriving.
The moon was full and the glowing light shone down on the carriages coming up the drive. Every colour of full dress gowns, jewelled tiaras, and feathered headpieces, trousers, tailcoats, top hats, and waistcoats filled the carriages. The arriving guests appeared as magical beings as they alighted from the carriages in a gossamer mist and walked up the wide stairs into the house.
Mimi and Richard stood inside at the foot of the main staircase to the second floor and welcomed their guests. Almost everyone knew each other as they had either been born in Georgia or they’d arrived in their adopted country many, many years before. They had welcomed Richard and Mimi, and their friends who’d also come from London, with open arms.
It was a wonderful place to live. The weather was warm and balmy, with soft sunshine and coastal breezes. Mimi had decided she’d be content to never leave.
Every side table in the house held candelabra alight with beeswax candles. The huge chandelier in the ballroom had been lowered and blazed with the lights of fifty candles.
The musicians set up amid wall sconces that also sent the yellow flame and honey scent of the candles into the room. The men sat on a small slightly raised dais that enabled the notes to float out over the guests.
Waiters walked around the room with trays held high. Offerings of tiny sweets and savoury finger foods rested on the trays, and the men made little plates to bring to the ladies seated around the dance floor.
Everyone was smiling and happy, and Mimi felt for the first time that she was finally and truly home. It had taken five years in this place that was so different from where she’d grown up, but finally, it no longer seemed like a foreign place that she was on a permanent visit to.
The place had gotten into her blood.
“May I have this dance?” Richard stepped up behind his wife as she watched the dancers, a soft dreamy smile on her face.
She leaned back against him. “Yes, Mr Warren, you may.” She smiled and twirled around to face him, and he led her out onto the dance floor. A reel was about to start, and they took their places to begin.
As they parted, joined together, and parted again in accordance with the dance, Mimi was reminded of her youth in London. She and Richard had come together and drifted apart, it seemed, many times during their youth.
“Do you remember when we couldn’t dance more than two dances at any dance or we would practically be engaged?” Mimi dipped her head back and laughed.
“That I do. I never felt as if I had enough time with you. It seemed as if something, or someone, was always pulling us apart.”
“But nothing will ever pull us apart again, Richard. Not ever.”
“I would that it does not.” He grinned and gazed into his wife’s eyes.
The dance came to an end, and the couple walked out onto the porch at the back of the house.
“It’s so nice not to have to rush my time with you or look over my shoulder in case my mother should come to drag me into the house!”
Richard laughed. “That has been known to happen!”
“Yes, it’s funny now, but I spent many a tearful night trying to figure out your intentions. It seemed I was always trying to figure where I stood in relation to your feelings for me.”
“I loved you from the first day I saw you on the beach in Cromer. Do you remember?”
“Yes. I fell in love with you that day too. Remember your house of sand? You worked so hard on it and then the waves came and washed it away. The next day Bella and I went to see it again, but it was gone. After that it seemed that every time I needed you or wanted to see you, you had somehow vanished. Sometimes even when I stood right next to you.”
“There were some dark days, Mimi. I longed for you and prayed for you. And I prayed to find myself because every time you needed me I didn’t know it. I could never decide if you truly loved me or not.”
“I loved and love you most truly, my sweet Richard.”
“I am so happy we were able to find each other again, my darling. I give thanks to God each and every day that he helped us to find our way back to our true love.”
Richard reached into his waistcoat pocket. He withdrew a golden heart shaped locket with filigree design. The piece was worn from having been fondled so many times. But still it shone.
“What is that, Richard?”
He dangled the bauble from his hand. “It is the locket you sent me. So long ago. It was just after your dear father passed away. Your mother took you away to Paris. You sent this to my house. I kept it with me always. When I was away at the war, the thought of you would give me some solace from the constant trauma that was all around me.”
“Yes. I remember. I needed to give you something so that you would know, wherever you might find yourself, that I loved you with all of my heart.”
“Do you still love me with all of your heart?”
Mimi hid behind her fan and flirted with her husband. Her dark eyes smiled mischievously. “Oh, I don’t know. I reckon I just don’t know!”
“You don’t know? Come now, Mrs Warren. You need to come up with a better story than that.” Richard grinned.
“I love you with all of my heart, Richard. And with all of my soul. Is that story to your taste?”
“It is. And you love me as I love you.” He leaned forward and hooked the locket around Mimi’s neck. It rested at her throat with a shining warmth.
“Why do you give it back to me, dear heart?” She placed her hand over the golden heart.
“I have you with me now. I kept your locket when I didn’t have you. It reminded me of your love. I thought to myself if you loved me that much once, then surely you could love me like that again. When you were not near me or with me, I had this locket to soothe and comfort me.”
“I never stopped loving you, Richard.”
He took her fingers in his hand and brushed them with his lips. “I know you haven’t. But I can’t forget that there were times when I couldn’t see you whenever I thought of you. And now, I can see you whenever I have the wish. I can dance every dance with you if I choose. I can be alone in the carriage or in the garden with you. And I can hold you close to me whenever I choose. You belong to me as I belong to you. Now and forever.”
The music stopped. Richard and Mimi went back inside to the ballroom. Marie and Bella went up on the little dais by the musicians.
“Marie spoke. “Excuse me everyone. Please, if you don’t have a beverage, please see one of the waiters and help yourselves. I wish to make a toast to my daughter, Mimi, and her husband, Richard.”
The revellers took a moment, and when each one had their glass in hand, Marie went on to make her toast.
“I not only want to toast my daughter and her husband. I wish to apologise.”
There was a slight murmuring in the assembly, and then everyone came to attention.
“I did not help my Mimi and Richard to find each other. In fact, I did just the opposite. For a long time I endeavoured to keep them apart. And when I saw the error of my ways, I believed it to have been too late for these two dears. But the fates would not take no for an answer. And against many odds, Mimi and Richard were able to make their love permanent. Richard came back one last time to find Mimi. And today, five years to the day they eloped at Gretna Green, Scotland, I wish to ask your forgiveness, and I wish to congratulate you on this anniversary. To my daughter and my son-in-law, I wish you many more years of happiness, health, and love.”
The guests clinked their glasses, and Mimi went to her mother and
Bella and embraced them.
“This is the most beautiful day. I will always remember it. Forever.”
The musicians began to play again and couples drifted out onto the dance floor. Richard scooped up Marie and twirled her out for a waltz. Mimi, Bella, Camille, and Giselle all went into the dining room for a little supper. They relived the last five years in each of their lives for each other. And they were each happy beyond words that they had all reunited here in another part of the world.
The talk went on until half past one in the morning when the guests began to depart. Marie kissed her daughter and the other women goodnight and went upstairs to bed. Amy got Bella and Francis settled in for the night. Mimi intended to have breakfast with her friends, so they stayed.
Some servants came in from their quarters behind the house to take over from the ones who’d been working all night. The candles were extinguished, the wispy smoke tendrils rising up into the air. The floors were swept, and glassware was collected from various areas around the rooms.
Mimi and Richard stood on the front porch and waved goodbye to their friends amid promises of future summertime balls, dances, and barbecues.
The last carriage was riding away from the house, the wheels crunching the pavement of the drive. She and Richard walked up to their chamber arm-in-arm. They walked past their door and up the servant stairs to the third floor and the nursery.
Mrs Reilly was working on needlepoint in the rocking chair by the window. She smiled when the couple came into the room. They went to each little child in turn and kissed the tops of their sleeping heads.
“Thank you, Mrs Reilly. Good night.”
“Good night, Miss Mimi. Good night, Mr Richard.”
They left the nursery and walked down to their bedchamber. Once inside, Mimi went to her dressing table and began to take down her hair. Richard had thrown his clothes on the chair and lounged on the bed, sipping one of Nancy’s possets. She’d made it before leaving the party and left it for him.
Richard had found that the possets the former maid concocted were more effective than alcohol at easing the pain in his leg when it came around. As a result, Nancy would make the possets whenever she had opportunity to be at Warren Hall which, thankfully, was quite often. However, she’d shown an interest in teaching the recipe to Mimi, and Mimi was quite amenable to the idea. They planned to make more of the soothing drinks the next week.
“It was a wonderful party, Mimi. Did you enjoy yourself?”
“I did. It was so nice to have all our friends here to celebrate with us. The rooms looked gorgeous, as well. The staff did such a nice job with everything. And Bella is here. I wouldn’t think that anything would or could make me happier than I am at this moment.”
“I feel the same. I can honestly say that I am happier at this time in my life, actually the last five years inclusive, than ever before. I feel if I had any more happiness I might burst from joy!”
Mimi laughed. “I will not let you burst, my dear. But I will keep you as happy as I can.”
“Thank you, darling. Something else I noticed tonight was our well behaved children. They went to bed for Mrs Reilly. When I spoke to her earlier in the evening, she told me that little Richard told her that they were going to be extra good and do whatever she told them to do because it was Maman and Daddy’s special night. Now how do you reckon he came up with that?”
“He’s seen all the preparation that’s been happening all week. He’s very observant, dear.”
“Yes, he takes after me in that.”
“Does he now?”
“Oh yes. I’m quite observant. You forget I studied the law when I was younger, my dear.”
“That’s right, but there is something you haven’t observed tonight.”
“What do you mean? What happened that I missed? Is anything wrong?”
“No, no, no, dear. I’m teasing you. But you have missed something.”
“What is it? What have I missed?”
“Well, look at me.” She stood, still in her rose and gold dress, and did a slow pirouette for him.
His heart skipped. “You look beautiful. I didn’t miss that, darling. Did I not tell you how extraordinarily beautiful you look. And it’s not just your lovely frock, the way you had your hair, or with your hair long. You glow, darling. Like the bright moon that shone on us all evening. You glow.”
“Thank you, Richard. But is there anything else?”
He burst into laughter. “Is that not enough?”
“You’re right it is. But do you find this dress slightly, um, snug on me? Perhaps across the abdomen?”
He shook his head slightly, “No. I don’t think it looks snug. I dare say it fits you perfectly.”
She tilted her head, “You don’t think it’s a bit snug. Not even a little?”
“No, I honestly do not. Hold on, did you say snug? Mimi?”
“Yes. Is it?”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying, dear wife?”
“Yes, darling. I’m saying that my dress is a tiny bit snug. Across the abdomen.”
“Oh, my darling. Is it true? Are you …”
“Yes, Richard. I am with child, darling.”
“This is most wonderful news.” He crossed the room in two strides and wrapped his arms around her. “We should have announced it at the party. Who else knows? Anyone? Is that why Bella is here?’
Mimi’s tinkling laughter filled the room. “Amy already knew. Even before I did. But otherwise, this is our secret. At least for tonight. We can begin telling our friends at breakfast, or maybe dinner tomorrow. It is already three o’clock. We should get to sleep.”
“That sounds like a perfect plan. I’m afraid I must burst from happiness if I don’t relax. But it’s just all so glorious.”
“Yes, it is glorious. I love you, Richard. Now and until the day I die.”
“And I love you the same, Mimi. My Mimi.”
He held her for a long moment, then gently lifted her and carried her to their bed. And they fell asleep, holding each other and dreaming of the future that belonged to them.