“Look at them play.” Phoebe was standing at the kitchen window watching the children outside. She turned back to Owen and smiled. “Are we not the most fortunate parents on this good earth?”
At five years old, Bartholomew was a handsome, playful and curious child who enjoyed examining insects and rolling down hills. He had Owen’s dark hair and Phoebe’s long lashes.
His sister, Martha, only three years old, enjoyed precisely the same pastimes, but she would also pester Phoebe for another bow in her hair, even when she had two in already. Her dark hair was a mess of curls and her smile was radiant.
They lived in the Scottish vale of Gilmakie where life was slow and easy and almost all the inhabitants were farmers. Owen spent his days studying and reviewing his father’s legal documents while Phoebe spent hers painting, drawing, researching, and keeping a watchful eye on the children.
They owned a simple stone cottage that drew no attention from their neighbors. The rooms were small but the gardens large. Phoebe loved to let the wildflowers grow. She would often sit outside for hours drawing the wealth of wildlife she saw there.
Their children would often make games of chasing the wild rabbits or hiding in the wild lavender and heather.
“We’re very fortunate,” Owen agreed. He came to stand by the window with Phoebe and put his arm around her shoulders. “They have not a care in the world. As children should be.”
“Bartholomew is already reading so well.”
“I know. And I believe Martha will take after her mother when it comes to artistic talents. I’ve seen her holding a sheet of parchment with her tongue stuck out, trying to draw birds as you do.”
“I keep and treasure everyone.”
“It is hard to believe we were like them once. We used to play and laugh as they do now.”
“You speak as if our time for joy has passed,” Phoebe said. She looked up at him and smiled. “And it isn’t true at all. I am more content now than I have ever been. Every day brings new pleasures.”
“You’re a wonderful mother,” Owen said. “They adore you.”
“They adore us both.”
As the years passed, their fortunes had grown. They had a steady income from Owen’s shares in his father’s company and his legal work but had also garnered great wealth through his publications, which had been hugely popular in political and social magazines and were quickly becoming standard resources for those studying law.
He'd work from his drawing desk in a study at the back of the house where Phoebe could spend as much time with him as she desired. While he worked, she would bring him tea and homemade rock cakes or he would sneak up on her while she was in the kitchen to wrap his arms about her waist and kiss her behind the ear.
Phoebe did not earn much of an income but she filled their home with color both through her paintings and armfuls of wildflowers she would collect and display around their home.
She enjoyed collecting rare ornithological books and replicating the images, adding to anatomy studies whenever she found an anomaly or missing feature. Other times, she would simply paint with watercolors because they were beautiful.
She gave all her devotion now to Owen and their children.
Three months after their wedding, prior to their visit to Evan and Matsu, Lord Wycliff had passed on from the troubles with his heart. He had died with Phoebe holding his hand.
She counted herself blessed that she had been able to share his final moments with him. On his deathbed, he had told her how much he loved her and how proud he was. He had laid his hand upon Owen’s head and gave him his blessing and his thanks.
Owen was left all her father’s shares of his company and they earned a passive income from the company’s affairs, even though Evan and the Duke oversaw the big-picture running of the business while Roger handled much of the day-to-day company affairs. They were also left a great sum of savings that the Earl had acquired in his lifetime; it was enough to ensure they could live in comfort for the rest of their lives and that their children should want for nothing.
The Duke and Duchess were still in Bentley, and still married enemies, but it was too late for them to change. They would never risk social disgrace through a divorce and so they tolerated one another.
The Duchess had lost both her sons through her vindictive nature and now she spent great deals of time alone. Phoebe knew this because of her correspondence with the Duke. She regularly sent him letters and little paintings and drawings that the children had made.
They were very close and her heart ached for how the Duchess’ malice had isolated him from Phoebe, Owen, and their children, as she knew how much Bartholomew and Martha would have loved their grandfather. Perhaps when they were older, she would return to Bentley and make an introduction.
Of course, the Duke had been invited to visit them but had not yet made the journey, perhaps because he was growing old. Phoebe and Owen did not yet want to bring their children to Bentley. Their son and daughter had no idea of the wealth that was tied to their family name, add they did not wish them to know.
Right now, their world was full of wonder and endless opportunity. Neither of them wished to steal such innocence from their children, not when they were so free.
Looking out the window, Phoebe chuckled. “Look who it is, Owen, Farmer Redmond’s boy.”
With his arms about her waist, Owen followed her gaze. “I have to keep my eye on that boy.”
Phoebe laughed. “Why?”
“Because he reminds me far too much of me when I was his age, and Martha reminds me far too much of you.”
“They are five and seven years of age! Everything between them is only play and childish frolics.”
“Until they reach their adolescence and it becomes much more.” He kissed her neck and gave her a tight squeeze. “Then they will fall in love as we did.”
“There is no saying they will fall in love. Perhaps their affections for one another will fade with time.”
“Perhaps. But still, I will watch him. Martha is my daughter, after all.”
“You would never stop them in any case!” Phoebe chuckled. “You and I will not be as our parents were.”
“No. I do not intend to be.”
“There shall be not a single obstacle between them. Let Martha marry the farmer’s boy, as long as he makes her smile then as he does now.”
“And whom shall we find for our young Bartholomew?”
“Nobody at all, for he shall find his own love—but not yet. He still has a world of learning and growing to do before he falls in love.” She smiled. “That reminds me…”
She went to the living room and picked up a letter she had received that morning. “I have had word from Miss Bennet.”
“How is she?”
“Let me read.” Phoebe cleared her throat and read the letter aloud.
“My dearest Lady Phoebe,
Last week Mr. Forthwright and I were married in a small ceremony with only Edward and Alice as our witnesses. As his earnings are sufficient enough for us both, I shall not be returning to governess work, but shall instead lend my services as a seamstress within his establishment.
It feels good to be so close to family and in a place of such wonderful natural beauty. My Forthwright is a kind, sweet gentleman who makes me laugh so. It is a great wish of mine that one day you should meet him.
We will be trying for a child before my age can stand as any impediment to motherhood. He and I both long for a family of our own. With God’s blessing, I will soon be a mother. I know I will be prepared for having already seen a beautiful and charming young lady grow.
Please tell me, how are Bartholomew and Martha? I should like to send them a small gift for Easter as I have not seen them in so long.
Tell me how life is in Scotland.
You are greatly missed, my dear Lady Phoebe, but I hope you are happy and well.
I send a world of love to you and Lord Boltmon, and my very best well wishes.
Owen smiled. “She’s happy.”
“She sounds so, doesn’t she?” Phoebe’s eyes filled with happy tears. “I miss her so, but my heart is full right now. She was so wonderful in caring for me, her child will be blessed to have Miss Bennet as his or her mother.”
“While we’re reviewing letters, have you heard from Roger lately?”
“Yes, a few days ago. He’s doing very well. He’s met a sweet young lady through some social affair or another and is courting her. He’s decided to join the army.”
“He would suit the army well.”
“I think so, too. He tells me life has become bland since Father died and we moved away. He feels it is time for him to move on also, to find new company in some brigade or another.”
“I pray he’ll be safe.”
“As do I.”
“What of Wycliffe Manor?”
“I suppose Roger will wish to keep it in the family, although I would feel no remorse if it were sold. Perhaps it would be nice for it to be maintained in case our children should wish to visit there one day.” She smiled. “We could show them where our love blossomed.”
“Our official love, or our secret meetings at the grove?”
Phoebe laughed. “All of it. Why not? Our children shall be no prudes; we agreed on this long ago.”
“So much has changed in so little time. Five years ago, you were walking up the aisle toward my brother. Now, he is wed with children of his own living in Asia and we are in Scotland with a son and daughter.”
“My father has passed on and Roger is joining the army.”
“Lady Ann is now the Countess of Langborough. Roger has told me she has become quite the socialite; she has overtaken even my mother in her social standing. He says she is well-loved within her borough and has a reputation as kind and generous.”
“It is a fair reputation. She is a sweet, dear lady. I hope we shall see her again soon.”
“And now we hear that Miss Bennet is married also.” He smiled with contentment. “It seems it is a happy ending for all.”
“Who’d have thought it after how we struggled to get here?”
“Do you think we’ll ever return?” Owen asked her. “Do you ever miss it? The balls and social occasions, the grand manors and glass houses, the jewelry and fine dresses?”
Phoebe lifted her gaze to watch her children playing outside and she shook her head with a smile. “How could I? I have every blessing a human soul could wish for right here.”
“We’re sitting on a fortune we’ll never use.”
“We will find good causes support discreetly.” She smiled back at Owen. “Have you seen Miss Goodwin’s daughter in her funny little dresses?”
“Funny in what way?”
“Why, she makes them herself! She is only fourteen and they are misshapen creations; they are wild colors as she uses what she can and begs scraps of cloth from around the town. Perhaps we could pay for some lessons for her? I would love to see just what she could do if she had the means.”
“That’s a splendid idea, darling. I’ve always admired philanthropists. I suppose I should live as I preach, social justice and social equality.”
Phoebe turned and pressed her hands against his chest. “Would you think me foolish to want to spend so much of our money on charitable deeds and kindnesses when there are carriages that could be bought, and fine houses, and parties to be thrown?”
He laughed. “We both have had it all, my love, and have we ever been happier than now?”
“Then let us share the good fortune that has come to us in the hopes that more shall find the kind of happiness we’ve been blessed to know.
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