Two Years Later
Susannah had decorated the nursery all on her own. It had been the first room that she had done without assistance. She had known immediately how she wanted things done. The walls in there were pale yellow, and the carpet was a soft cream color.
Susannah held her son in her arms as she rocked in the chair. John was nearly nine months old. He was asleep, his chubby fist wrapped around her finger. She felt such love for him. She hadn’t known that she could be any happier than she had already been.
The door to the nursery opened quietly. She glanced up to find that Adam had entered. She smiled at him, then looked down at the drowsy baby in her arms.
“I’ve got a surprise for you, my love,” Adam said, placing his hands on her shoulders. He kissed her on the cheek.
“Really?” she asked. He was always surprising her with thoughtful gifts, outings.
“One moment,” she murmured. “I’m just putting the baby to sleep.”
She placed the sleepy child into the cradle and stepped back. The two of them watched their son fall asleep. Her husband wrapped his arm around her waist, and they stood there as John dozed off with his thumb in his mouth.
She and Adam planned to have at least four. Five, if they could. Malmore House would soon be overrun with tiny children. They were both looking forward to it.
Quietly, they both stepped back, then crept from the room. The nurse curtsied to them both as she went to take up her place in the room, sitting in the rocking chair, knitting. Susannah always put the baby to sleep so that the nurse could go and eat her supper. The door to the nursery closed softly.
“Now,” Susannah said, turning to Adam. “What’s this surprise?”
“A poetry reading.”
“Whose?” She put her hands on her hips.
“Melbourne Bryce.” He raised his eyebrow.
“He’s finally left Italy?” she asked. Melbourne Bryce had left England about the time that Susannah had married Adam. He had been staying in Rome. Adam had offered to take her on holiday, but she had become pregnant with John.
“You dear thing.” She kissed him. “I’ll go and get ready.”
The reading was being held at a hotel in downtown London, in a ballroom with a black and white tiled floor. The room was crowded with members of the ton, all of them gathering on chairs which had been brought in.
It was easily a crowd of nearly a hundred people, all of them listening to Bryce.
Susannah and Adam sat toward the back. Adam held her hand. She was wearing a soft-yellow silk dress and her hair was arranged in ringlets around her face.
The poet was eccentric with an air of wild panache. He was dressed in an aubergine velvet suit with a cream silk shirt. His hair was swept back off of his head. His eyes seemed almost wild. They were a brilliant blue. He glanced around the audience, making eye contact with each member. It was the most exciting reading that Susannah had ever attended.
“Is he everything you’d hoped?” Adam whispered to her as the poet finished his reading, to thunderous applause.
“Indeed, he is.” Susannah beamed as she clapped. “I now know how the poems should sound.”
“Not like you imagined?”
“Not at all.” She laughed. At times, Bryce had been yelling like a madman. It was all vastly exciting.
Afterward, she and Adam approached the poet. Susannah was excited to meet him. Especially since his was the book that Adam had given her. She had never abandoned her desire to become a literary patron. She was slowly making the acquaintance of all of the London literary elite.
Soon, she would host a reading, gathering as many as she could into the ballroom at Malmore House.
“Lord Malmore,” Bryce said. “I didn’t know that you were a reader of poetry.” He held out his hand, shaking Adam’s quite thoroughly. Susannah knew that Adam had run into Bryce before, during his Oxford days.
“I’m not,” Adam replied, “my wife is.”
“Lady Malmore,” Bryce said, bowing to her gallantly. “I am your humble servant.”
“My husband’s first gift to me was a volume of your work,” she said. “The illustrated version of All and Sundry.”
“My Lady,” he said, bowing again. “It is an honor to meet such a fan.”
“Don’t you know who she is, Melbourne?” Lady Catsmore asked. She was standing nearby, dressed all in black satin. She held a fan of cream lace, fanning at herself assiduously.
“No,” Bryce replied, his eyes wide. “Who is she?”
“She was Lord Malmore’s housemaid when they first met.” Lady Catsmore stage whispered. Susannah saw Adam’s face fall into a scowl. Lady Catsmore had never invited them to any of her parties. Susannah had suspected that her former employment was the reason.
Susannah smiled at Lady Catsmore. She had learned how to never allow the ton to treat her in this manner. “And yet, I am now the Countess of Malmore.”
“What a charmingly romantic tale,” Bryce said, beaming happily. “Please tell me the whole of it.” He offered Susannah his arm. She slipped her hand into the crook of it, her eyes meeting Adam’s. He smiled, then turned to Lady Catsmore.
Susannah heard him say, “Lady Catsmore. Still alive, I see.”
Susannah glanced back, to see Lady Catsmore frowning at him.
“Don’t listen to them,” Bryce whispered to her. “They’re all frightful bores. They’re the reason that I ran away to the Continent. They think that a hereditary title is what makes someone interesting.”
“It’s not,” she agreed.
“Quite right,” Melbourne Bryce said. “It’s character. And I can tell that you have it.”
“Thank you,” Susannah demurred. She was pleased to find that her favorite writer was kind hearted.
“My dear, you and I are going to be famous friends,” he assured her. “I am going to help you become a legend. The ton will never be able to look down their noses at you, ever again. Now,” he said, “how did you meet Lord Malmore?”
“Well, I ran away from my parents’ home up in the North,” she said. “I waited by the inn all night.”
“Oh my! Were you frightened?”
“Not for my life—not until the day when I arrived in London and got lost within the first five minutes.”
Susannah and the poet spoke until her husband came to collect her. It was, in all, a pleasant evening. Melbourne Bryce had agreed to come to one of the readings that Susannah had begun hosting at Malmore.
It was nearly a year later when Susannah received Melbourne Bryce’s opus. He had been telling her that he was writing a tome of epic proportions, but he refused to tell her what it was about.
By this time, Susannah was pregnant with their second child and was due in a few months. Susannah had the strongest feeling that it was a girl.
Lucy had left about a year prior. She had fallen in love with and then subsequently married Mr. Hunt, Adam’s business associate. They had two children, darling twin girls, who had Lucy’s blonde hair and wide blue eyes.
Windham Tobacco was thriving due to Adam’s device. Adam’s parents, Lord and Lady Wiltshire came into town once a year to see their grandson. Adam and Susannah traveled to the countryside during the summer to visit them in Wiltshire. Susannah’s own parents wrote to her often. When Susannah and Adam were in the country for the summer, they always made a trip up to Lidcote to see them, as well.
Adam had completed several more inventions. He was always hard at work, but he was always able to spend plenty of time with his fast-growing family. He and Susannah were still as in love as they were when they first married.
Mr. Howard carried in a silver tray. On top of the tray, was a book-sized package, wrapped in brown paper. “For you, My Lady,” he said, smiling at her warmly. “It came just now, in the morning post.”
While he might not have originally approved, Mr. Howard had become one of Susannah’s biggest supporters. The two of them worked together to run the household as smoothly as possible.
She picked up the package. “Darling, it’s from Melbourne,” she said, unwrapping it to find that it was a book. She opened it, finding that Melbourne had written an inscription in the inside cover.
It is with the utmost pride that I tell you—I have written a work of prose in your honor. Lady Catsmore can swallow her false teeth, since it will be the book of the century.
Your dearest friend,
Susannah held the volume—a red leather book, with gold-edged pages. The title read, in gold letters: Lady Susannah. She flipped to the first page and began to read.
The story began with a young woman, hiding in the woods while she escaped the small village, where her father, a vicar, had been trying to convince her to marry a vicar-in-training.
“Oh my,” she said, her hand going to her mouth as she realized what she was holding in her hands.
Adam peered over the top of his paper. He arched his eyebrow in question. “What is it?” He picked up his coffee cup, taking a sip.
“He’s written our story,” she said, then began to read. “Here in your hands is the story of how an Earl fell in love with his maid.”
Adam reached out, and she handed it to him. He opened it, flipping all of the way to the back.
“You can’t read the end!”
“I can and I will.”
Susannah waited while he read it, a smile crossing his face as he did. The nurse brought the baby in. Susannah held her arms open wide to her son, who was growing so fast.
“Here’s the young Lord,” Nurse said, cooing.
“Good morning, love,” Susannah replied, taking John into her arms and settling him onto her lap. “You dear thing.” The baby wrapped his fingers around her index fingers. He was a happy, plump toddler.
Still Adam was silent, reading the final pages of the book. So intent was he, that she wondered what could be happening. She waited until she couldn’t stand it, anymore.
“Well?” she asked.
He looked up at her, grinning.
“‘Susannah and the Earl lived happily, until the end of their days,’” he read. “‘The ton learned to accept her, for she was the brightest of all of England’s jewels. Not a single person had a nasty thing to say about her, for she was the kindest, most deserving lady of all their acquaintance.’” Adam beamed. “That should put Lady Catsmore in her place.”
She laughed, throwing her head back. “Melbourne always does like to have the last word,” she agreed.
Adam reached across the table, taking her hand in his. “I love you,” he said, looking down at the book. “He’s right you know.”
“You are the brightest of all England’s jewels.”
“You would do well not to forget it.” She looked down at her son, who was smiling from ear to ear. She was, indeed, happy.
She thought back to the night that she had run away from Lidcote. The night that she had spent hiding in the woods while she had waited for the coach to arrive. It had been worth it. She was glad that she’d taken things into her own hands. It had taken bravery, but it had all been worth it.
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