Seven Years Later
Arabella kicked up water with her feet, splashing her husband, who had fallen asleep beside her.
“How does a man fall asleep with his feet in the water and the sun full on his face?” she asked.
“Like this,” Francis mumbled. “We rarely have a little peace and quiet, and I wanted to take advantage of it. Also, the sun feels wonderful, and the water is cool. It’s the perfect combination.”
“My skin burns easily, so I beg to differ,” said Arabella, twirling her parasol in her hands. “I envy how your skin takes on a lovely golden colour whenever you spend time in the sun. Our sons are the same.”
“I prefer your milky skin, so we both win,” he said. He turned to his side and propped his elbow to hold his head up. “Will you miss this?” he asked.
Arabella looked around, memorising every bit of the land. “I called this home for the last seven years, so of course, I’ll miss it. However, I’m excited about our new adventure.”
After years of planning and doubts, they were moving to India for ten years. The decision hadn’t come easily as they had to think about their children, the estate, and the family they were leaving behind, but Francis had convinced her that it was the right time to finally fulfil her last dream. Arabella never believed it was still a possibility, and she had been happy to leave it at that, but Francis had refused. It was wonderful to have a husband who understood her thoroughly and pushed her to do what she wanted. He could have just ignored that dream and continued to live happily in England, but he wasn’t content to forget about her first love— adventure.
“In just six days, we’ll be boarding a ship and saying goodbye to everyone and everything,” said Francis. “But at least your grandfather will be there to greet us. One familiar face in a sea of thousands.”
“Grandfather will be happy to meet his great-grandsons,” said Arabella. “It will be his first time.”
“I wonder if meeting his grandsons will be enough for him to forgive me for taking you away from him?” said Francis. “I do not think he was entirely pleased when he found out you were staying behind. At least he decided to stay until the wedding.”
Arabella laughed. “I wouldn’t be worried about that. Grandfather knew I was in love with someone well before he met you. He was pleased to put a face to the man who had stolen his granddaughter’s heart.”
“Then why did he glare at me right through the wedding?” Francis asked.
“He was trying not to cry,” Arabella explained. “I’ve told you this before. Do you doubt my words?”
“No, but it’s good to be careful,” Francis replied. “You might have misinterpreted your grandfather’s expression because you were so happy. At least your father was all smiles that day.”
Arabella recalled how happy her father had been. “Papa couldn’t stop laughing and talking. Mama, too. I suppose they were happy their daughter was finally marrying a suitable man and was staying in England. Telling them that we wish to live in India for ten years must have shocked them.”
“I do not blame them,” said Francis. “Charles will be sixteen, and Henry will be fourteen when we return. They’re missing out on a chunk of their childhood.”
“We’ll document it well, so we’ll have all sorts of things to show and tell them,” Arabella said. “India will be a good learning experience for the boys. Hopefully, they’ll pick up a native language and learn about the culture around them. I certainly will. I might even dress like them on occasion.”
“You looked pretty in the outfits I once saw you wear a few years ago,” Francis told her. “I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You looked so different.”
“The colours are rather vibrant, aren’t they?” Arabella agreed.
“Maybe you should wear them again, but only for my benefit,” said Francis, wriggling his eyebrows.
Arabella patted her husband’s chest, frowning as she prodded the area. “Your muscles grew. What on earth have you been doing? Lifting rocks?”
Francis grinned. “Have you forgotten already?”
“The bet we made three months ago,” said Francis. “We said the person who said ‘I love you’ first on our anniversary would have to agree to the other person’s whims. I said it first straight after breakfast, but I already knew I’d lose. Saying ‘I love you’ is like breathing.”
Arabella and Francis were always betting or daring each other to keep things interesting. Once, she had lost to him, and he had demanded she kiss him every time he sneezed. Arabella didn’t expect him to stick his nose in flowers so he could sneeze throughout the day.
“Ah, yes,” she replied. “You have to carry me to bed every night for six months. I didn’t realise you would develop such muscles. Let me feel them again.” She reached out and squeezed his chest. “Impressive. I like this. How didn’t I notice them before?”
“The boys tire you out, so you rarely notice anything about your poor husband,” Francis complained. “My feelings are hurt.”
“Aw, my love,” she cooed, blowing kisses at him.
“I would prefer a real kiss. Those pretend ones cannot appease me.”
Arabella giggled as she pulled her feet out of the water and crawled across the small space between them. She took his face in her hands and peppered him with kisses until he burst out laughing.
“You’re under my spell, do you know that?” she said, gazing into his eyes. “Does that make me a witch?”
“I don’t care,” Francis replied. “I like being under your spell, but I just think I’m so in love with you that I’m willing to do anything for you.”
“I love it when you say such things,” she gushed. “It puts me on a fluffy cloud while igniting a fire within me.”
Francis smiled. “I like the fire part in particular, enough that I was wondering if you wanted to have another baby.”
Arabella widened her eyes. “We cannot think of that right now. Not when we’re about to leave for India.”
“But I’d like a daughter,” Francis insisted. “A little you running around and wrapping us around her little finger.”
“I do not know …”
“At least think about it,” said Francis. “One more child will only add to our happiness. We have so much to give that we could have five more children and still have more to give.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Arabella. “We’ll discuss the baby once we get to India.”
Francis narrowed his eyes. “Do you promise?”
“I give you my word.”
“Seal it with a kiss,” he insisted.
“Yet more excuses to have me kiss you,” she said, playfully rolling her eyes.
“Very well,” he said, getting to his knees. “Let me be the aggressor this time.”
“Aggressor seems too harsh,” she complained. “I feel like you’re about to attack me.”
Francis nodded. “That is the idea. I’ll give you a head start to run away from me before I catch and ravish you.”
Arabella slowly rose to her feet. “Do you think you can still run with all that added bulk?” she asked. “You might not be able to catch me. I’ve become much faster since running after our boys.”
“We’ll just have to see, won’t we?” he said, still kneeling. “You have a five-second head start, my love. Best you make the best of it because I’m going to catch you.”
“I like a confident man,” she said, starting to walk backwards. “But I also like to win!”
Arabella lifted her dress and took off running, keeping to smooth paths. Her ankles tended to give in whenever her feet touched an uneven surface, so she was careful to avoid holes and dips in the ground. Before she knew it, she could hear a light footed person catching up to her. Giggling, she picked up her pace and saw the house was close enough. The one to touch the wall first would win.
“I’m almost beside you!” Francis called out.
“Almost doesn’t count!” she yelled back.
Just a few more steps, and she would win. Arabella stretched her hand to touch the wall, but a pair of strong arms suddenly lifted her right off the ground and trapped her.
“What did I say?” said Francis, close to her ear. “I win.”
Arabella went limp in his arms to make herself feel heavier and slipped out of his arms. She used that momentum to close the distance between her and the wall and gave a big ‘whoop’ once her palms touched the slightly rough wall.
“I won!” she cried, turning around to see her husband.
She didn’t count on him being right behind her and quickly pressed her back against the wall.
“What was that, my love?” he asked, grabbing her around the waist. “You won?”
“It’s rather obvious,” she said, breathing hard. “I won the race, but it seems like you’re still about to pounce on me.”
“Clever wife,” he said before lowering his head and kissing her silly.
Arabella sank into her husband’s arms, briefly wondering how she could be more in love with him despite seven years of marriage. People often say a couple’s love grew colder with time, but the opposite had happened to her.
I suppose we’re one of the lucky few.
Arabella couldn’t recall the departure day being this chaotic or difficult seven years ago. Back then, she had packed her bags at the last minute and had her room upside down, trying to decide what she should or shouldn’t take with her. This time, they were ready on time and were on their way to London, but she still felt like a headless chicken. Perhaps it was because she had two sons and a husband to think about, which meant more to worry about. Although Arabella was going with Francis and her sons, she believed the stress she was feeling was similar to how her parents had felt and how desperate they had been to keep her safe in England. She considered forgetting the entire trip and just staying safe in their home, but this was what she wanted, so it was no use turning back.
“They’re fast asleep,” she commented, pushing a lock of hair away from her youngest son’s face.
He was lying in her lap while their eldest slept in Francis’ lap. The boys had been so excited about finally leaving that they had hardly slept and spent the night jumping about in Arabella and Francis’ bed.
“You should sleep too, my love,” said Francis. “I’ll wake you up once we get to the dock.”
“No, I do not think I’ll be able to sleep a wink,” said Arabella. “My mind is too full of thoughts.”
Their family had held a going away party the previous day, and it had been challenging to say goodbye to their loved ones.
“You’re thinking about our friends and family, aren’t you?” said Francis.
Arabella nodded. “I won’t see Charity and Seth’s new baby, and we’ll miss Madalene and Percy’s yearly anniversary party. We’ll even miss Ralph and Dorothy’s Christmas celebration.”
Ralph eventually married a young woman from his home town a few years ago and settled in Hertfordshire with her because he had grown to love the place. Everyone was married and happy, and now they would be separated for ten years. There was no telling what Arabella would miss while they were gone. At least Christopher would follow them in a few months.
“We took all these things into consideration when we decided to go to India, my love,” Francis reminded her.
Arabella sighed. “I know. It just seems so much more challenging to leave everyone than I imagined. What about my parents? They were nearly beside themselves yesterday. You would think we were going to our death.”
“That was a little emotional blackmail on their end,” said Francis, grinning. “They were likely hoping you would see their tears and stay. After all, it’s not just their daughter going to India, but their beloved grandsons as well.”
“I know, and I feel terrible about it, but our lives cannot be controlled by how others feel,” said Arabella.
“Precisely!” Francis exclaimed. “You need to do what you believe is right, my love. We didn’t decide upon India in a day. It took years of decision-making to reach this point. We know what we’re doing because we’ve prepared for it. Don’t doubt yourself now.”
Arabella nodded. “You’re right. I suppose I’m just worried about the unknown. So many things out of our hands could go wrong, but so many things could go right. I must keep reminding myself of the wonders that await us ahead rather than focus on the perils of travel.”
All sorts of worries had clouded her mind during these last few days. Arabella had thought about tempests at sea, one of her sons falling overboard, growing sick in India, being attacked by tigers, and everything else that could go wrong. She didn’t want to think about these situations, but her mind couldn’t help conjuring them up. Perhaps being a mother had made her a fretful woman because it was no longer just about her life but that of her family.
“You’re the one who convinced me to go just by listening to your passion for the country,” said Francis. “Also, I still feel a little guilty that you didn’t get to go because you married me. This is my way of making up for that. I’m ready to start a new adventure with you and our sons, my love. I’m also scared about the ‘what ifs,’ but I’m more worried about what we’d become if we didn’t take this step.”
“What do you mean?” Arabella asked, frowning.
“What if we grew to resent each other?” said Francis. “Or what if we regretted not going? I do not wish to live with resentment or regret, so this is one way to avoid that.”
Arabella stretched her hand, prompting her husband to give her his. “I would never resent you, Francis. I married you knowing I was giving up India but gaining much more. I do not regret my decision one bit. This life with you has been far more rewarding than any voyage to a different country could be. I’m much happier that I can fulfil this childhood dream with you and our sons, although it also frightens me a bit. Our sons are also excited, and they’ll learn so much. They’ll return to England full of life experiences and respect for other people who are different from them. That in itself is richly rewarding.”
Francis smiled. “You must keep reminding yourself of all the good that awaits us ahead. No more doubting yourself.”
“Oh, I see what you did there,” she said, laughing. “You listed a few negative things, so I could give a list of positive things. How sneaky of you, Husband.”
Francis shrugged. “I’m just trying to help my darling wife recall her love for adventure and why we’re doing this.”
“Thank you,” said Arabella. “I do feel a bit improved, although I’ll feel even better once we’re on board and on our way. I keep thinking we’re leaving something behind, but it will hardly matter once we’re on the ship.”
“We checked all our luggage before they were loaded on the carriage,” he reminded her. “Fey also ensured we included everything on our list. She is more than capable, you know.”
Fey was also accompanying them to India, although it had taken much convincing. The woman had also developed a love for adventure but never considered crossing the seas to find it. She agreed to accompany them once she was assured that she could still find a husband in England if she still wished to marry. Wilson was also with them, travelling in the same carriage as Fey, with a young nanny completing their group. They couldn’t find a tutor willing to travel with them, so Arabella and Francis would teach their sons the basics until they hired one in India. Her grandfather had assured her that the boys would lack no education while in India as many scholarly men lived in the country and could be hired at a reasonable price.
“You’re ticking things off in your head again,” said Francis.
“I know. It’s a habit. I’m running through all the things we would have to get in India once we land. Fortunately, Grandfather has an estate big enough to accommodate us all or we’d have been forced to find a place upon arriving.”
“Why don’t we enjoy the rest of the ride, my love?” Francis suggested. “Let’s breathe in the English air and appreciate its beauty one more time before we leave.”
Arabella chuckled. “I was still worrying, wasn’t I?”
“You cannot help it,” he said. “Being a wife and mother has given you more worries, but I hope the blessings far outweigh them.”
“They certainly do,” she replied sincerely. “Which is why I shall try harder to just enjoy this. I’m excited to be doing this with you, Francis. I couldn’t have found a better partner to go on all my adventures with me.”
“I couldn’t have met a more wonderful woman to share my life with,” he said, smiling at her. “Why don’t we both take a nap so we can be refreshed when we step onto the ship?”
Arabella nodded. “We should. We didn’t get much sleep last night.”
They smiled tenderly at each other before letting go of their hands and resting their heads on the seat. Arabella fell asleep quickly, but it seemed like she had hardly got any sleep when she was gently shaken awake.
“We’re here, my love,” said Francis. “Time to board the ship.”
Arabella came awake with a start, finding her sons were also awake and eagerly looking outside the window at the large ship. They all climbed down the carriage and first secured their luggage before boarding the ship. The boys were taken to their cabin while Arabella and Francis stood overlooking the sea and the land they would soon leave.
“Any regrets still?” Francis asked, holding her close to him.
Arabella shook her head. “No regrets. It seems all my worries have left me for a moment. Perhaps being on the ship was enough to finally convince me that all is well.”
Francis kissed the top of her head and pulled her in closer despite the presence of other onlookers. However, Arabella didn’t mind. She was too preoccupied with her happiness and the journey ahead to care. It was like the last piece of the puzzle had settled into place, and now her life was complete.
We’re coming, India.