Five Years Later
“Henry!” Cecilia called after her four-year-old son, “Come here right now.”
Henry entered the drawing room with his eyes downcast. “Yes, mother?”
“Nurse Evans tells me that you have been pulling your sister’s hair today,” Cecilia said in the sternest voice that she could muster, “is that true?”
Henry continued to look down at the floor, avoiding his mother’s eye. Cecilia watched the top of his head, covered in a mop of unruly auburn curls, much like his father’s.
“Henry?” she said once again, now feeling genuinely frustrated, and allowing it to come through in her voice. “Did you, or did you not, pull Alice’s hair?”
“Yes, mother,” Henry said, his childish voice sounding sullen, “but only because she would not let me have a turn on the rocking horse! And it is my rocking horse anyway, she should never have been on it in the first place!”
Cecilia could not help but laugh at his childish sense of righteousness.
“Oh, my love, you must try to remember that your sister is not even two years old—she does not understand what it means for something to be yours and not hers. She does not understand what it means to take turns.”
“I know, mother,” Henry said, sounding frustrated. “I promise I shall not pull her hair anymore.”
“Thank you, Henry. I love you,” Cecilia told him.
“I love you too, Mama!” he replied, reverting to the way he had addressed her when he was a much smaller baby. Cecilia missed him calling her “Mama” and felt a warm surge of affection when he said it now. She smiled at him fondly and told him to return to the nursery.
A moment later, Cecilia’s mother-in-law entered the drawing room and sat down opposite her. She was dressed all in black, in mourning for her husband. She was a widow now, and the Dowager Duchess of Huxley. But more than that, she was a grandmother to Cecilia’s children, and she took this role very seriously.
“Cecilia,” she said calmly, “I’ve just spoken to Henry and he told me of the conversation you and he just shared.”
“Ah,” Cecilia said unsure of where this conversation could be heading. “Did he tell you that I am a terribly strict disciplinarian because I told him not to pull his sister’s hair?”
“I do believe it was something to that effect,” the Dowager Duchess replied, with a laugh. “In any event, I think that he shall manage to survive it.”
Cecilia laughed at this, and said, “I certainly hope that he will!”
“You are doing a wonderful job, raising very fine children, Cecilia,” her mother-in-law said quietly.
“Thank you!” Cecilia said, quietly, genuinely surprised that her mother-in-law would say anything so kind to her.
“I suppose that ever since…” she gestured vaguely around the room, “ever since he died, it has made me appreciate even more, how lucky Nicholas was to marry you for true love, and now you are such a wonderful mother in addition to making Nicholas so happy.”
“Thank you,” Cecilia said once again, sounded appreciative rather than shocked this time.
“Well,” the Dowager Duchess continued, “I must go and get ready for Parliament.”
“Yes, I must get ready as well,” Cecilia said, “and I shall let Nurse Evans know to get the children ready as well.”
Nicholas had come into his peerage a few months ago when his father had finally succumbed to a prolonged illness. Isobel had eased his pain more effectively than any doctor with her tinctures and herbal supplements, but in the end, neither she nor the doctors had been able to stop the spread of the disease.
Nicholas had mourned the death of his father, as any dutiful son should. In fact, he still mourned the loss. But today would be his first day attending the House of Lords as a voting member. Cecilia, the children, and his mother would be attending today to provide moral support.
Nicholas would not have admitted it to his mother, but he had confessed to Cecilia in the sanctuary of their bedroom last night, that he was nervous for his first day in Parliament. He worried that the other Peers would not take him seriously as a new member. His father had been quite conservative, and while Nicholas was hardly a rebel, his positions were quite a bit more progressive than his father’s had been.
Cecilia debated whether she ought to tell Nicholas her good news before or after his first day at Parliament. She did not wish to make him flustered before such a big event. Before she could make a decision, though, her mother-in-law asked her, “Will you tell Nicholas about the baby before or after Parliament?”
Cecilia stared at her mother-in-law in shock for a moment. She considered denying it, but of course, this type of information can only remain a secret for so long before it becomes entirely obvious.
“I am not sure what is best,” she said hesitantly, “but how did you know?”
Her mother-in-law looked at Cecilia and raised an eyebrow, “I suppose I just have a woman’s intuition about this sort of thing. Besides, you are glowing, and you have eaten nothing but plain toast at breakfast for the past three weeks.”
Cecilia laughed at this, because she knew that it was true. She doubted whether Nicholas had come to the same conclusion that his mother had, but it was only a matter of time. She had best tell him today before he went to Parliament for the first time. Cecilia was not nervous to tell her husband about her third pregnancy—she knew that he would be just as delighted as she was.
“Now,” the Dowager Duchess said, “I assume that you have spoken to Isobel already. But if you haven’t, you really must see her soon.”
“I hadn’t planned to tell Isobel, yet,” Cecilia said with a smile. “But I had to ask her for some herbs to treat nausea last week, and she knew immediately.”
“Of course, she did. My daughter has always been exceptionally clever.”
“That is very true,” Cecilia agreed, “but with a newborn baby of her own, she is also quite exhausted. I am impressed that she was able to find the correct herbs, let alone deduce why I needed them!”
The two Duchesses laughed together at this, genuine affection between them, in spite of how their relationship had begun.
Cecilia peeked into Nicholas’ study before going to her bedchamber to dress for Parliament. He was sitting at his desk, reviewing some letters from his new colleagues. Today he would be voting on legislation regarding standardization of weights and measures.
Many of Nicholas’ colleagues found this type of matter rather mundane, but as the daughter of a merchant, Cecilia knew that these seemingly mundane changes could have significant impacts on business. Unscrupulous vendors had been swindling common people by short-selling them since the beginning of time. This legislation was an opportunity for Nicholas to make a real difference in the lives of many people.
“Hello, darling,” Cecilia said, smiling at her husband as she entered the study.
He looked up at her and smiled, “Hello, Love!”
“Are you ready for your big day in Parliament?” Cecilia asked.
Nicholas sighed and gestured vaguely at the papers scattered across his desk. Cecilia had built this desk for him when they first moved into the townhouse, and he always said that he had never enjoyed working until he could do it at a desk made by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
“I suppose that I am as ready as I shall ever be,” he said.
“I know that you shall be marvelous,” Cecilia said. “Your arguments have never failed to convince me, after all.”
“Well,” Nicholas said, “that certainly is saying something. You are much harder to convince than many of the Conservative Peers.”
Cecilia laughed at that and walked toward him. When she reached the desk, she leaned over it and kissed her husband on the lips. They had been married for five years now, but she never tired of kissing him, and did it at every opportunity.
With a pang of regret, Cecilia pulled away from Nicholas and broke the kiss. “We really must get ready to go,” she said, “I’ve told the coachmen that we plan to leave in an hour, and I still need to dress. Papa and Mrs. Williams will meet us there.”
They had been married shortly after Cecilia moved out, and Mrs. Williams had asked Cecilia to call her Agnes. She usually respected this wish, but still forgot from time to time. She had called her Mrs. Williams for nearly twenty years. Of course, she was Mrs. Baxter now, and she was quite as excited as her husband to be connected to a member of the Peerage.
When Cecilia had explained the details of the Weights and Measures Act to her father, she had expected him to be as bored as she had initially been. But, in fact, he had realized right away how important this legislation could be to a merchant such as himself.
Agnes had been delighted to learn that there might be new protections for her as well. She was convinced that the miller was selling her less flour than he ought to. So, Cecilia’s father and stepmother were excited to be coming to Parliament to witness this particular debate, and Cecilia was delighted to give them the opportunity.
“All right,” Nicholas said, “I suppose we shall have to wait until tonight to finish that thought.”
“Before we go, though,” Cecilia said, “there is one thing that I would like to talk to you about.”
Nicholas smiled at her, “What is it, darling?” he asked.
“Well,” Cecilia said, “I don’t want to distract you on such an important day, but I have some rather exciting news, and it seems that I won’t be able to keep it secret much longer.”
Nicholas smiled at her rather knowingly, “Does it have anything to do with the packet of herbs that you brought home from your last visit with Isobel?” he asked.
Cecilia looked at him, nonplussed.
“Perhaps your news might explain why your figure has grown fuller in the past month?”
“I didn’t think that you would notice!” Cecilia replied, feeling honestly surprised by his powers of observation.
“I notice everything about you, darling,” Nicholas said, looking her up and down. “After five years of marriage and two pregnancies, I know when something has changed in you, and what it means.”
“Why didn’t you say anything before now?” Cecilia asked.
“It is your news to share,” Nicholas said, earnestly, “I did not wish to push you until you were ready.”
Cecilia smiled at him with a heart full of love. She wondered, as she so often did, how she had come to be so incredibly lucky.
“Do you know?” she asked Nicholas. “I believe that I am the luckiest wife in all the world?”
“Well, that is quite a coincidence!” Nicholas said.
“A coincidence?” Cecilia asked, sounding confused.
“Yes,” Nicholas replied. “It is a coincidence that the luckiest wife in all the world should be married to the luckiest husband in all the world.”
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