From the servant’s entrance, Rosa and Bridget walked, their arms full of picnic makings and treats, toward Glendenning Park’s expansive gardens. Since their marriage, the couple had been cultivating the gardens, and Harry had given Rosa full permission to buy whatever plants and flowers she desired.
So now, the gardens were filled with the scent of roses, lilies, and gardenias and those of lots of more exotic flowers imported from India and Russia, and France. She had even had a small maze created in box bushes, so their children could play in it.
And on days like this, the maze proved to be one of many popular entertainments for children and adults alike within the garden. Before she and Bridget reached the family, they could hear the excited shrieks of George, who was now five, and Arthur and Edward, the twins, who were almost three, as they lost themselves within the maze.
She did not need to see her husband to know that he was holding little Elizabeth, just eight months old, in his lap, letting her bounce on his crossed legs as he sat on the picnic blanket he had laid out for them, while she and Bridget had prepared the picnic lunch.
Sure enough, as they reached the small clearing where the maze was situated, she saw the heads of her boys bobbing as they chased each other through the small hedges. And there was Harry, sitting with little Elizabeth in his hands, facing her brothers and dribbling down her chin as she grinned innocently at them. Rosa stood back and watched her beloved family for a moment before following Bridget to begin spreading the picnic treats on the blanket next to Harry.
Elizabeth was the first to see her. She instantly began bouncing, so fiercely that Harry almost dropped her. Then, with the terror of nearly letting his daughter slip out of his hands, he looked up just in time to see Rosa laughing. She quickly put down her armload of items, which Bridget took without prompting and began arranging, and took the infant into her arms.
“Harry, darling, you must not fret so,” she said. “Did you learn nothing from watching the boys grow? A little tumble will hardly be of great harm to her.”
Harry pouted, clearly reluctant to give up little Elizabeth, even to her mother.
“She is my only daughter,” he said sullenly. “She is more delicate than her brothers, and she must be treated as such.”
As Harry spoke, Rosa sat down with the child, who realized that her mother was also on the ground, leapt from her arms, and fell face-first onto the blanket. Harry gasped, horrified, as the young girl lay motionless for a moment. Then, she pushed herself up on her chubby hands and knees, gave her head a shake, and giggled.
“Ooh,” she said, looking up at her father and laughing harder at his frightened expression. Rosa also laughed.
“Is she now?” she asked, touching Harry gently on the arm.
Harry tried to scoop her back up in his hands, but the young child quickly squirmed away from his grasp. She quickly crawled toward her brothers and, before Harry could chase her, George had gently pulled her up into his. He was big for his age, and even at five, he was easily strong enough to hold his baby sister without struggling to keep upright. Even more than the twins did, he doted on Elizabeth, and Rosa and Harry both knew she would be safe with him.
“Careful, you two,” George said in his most grown-up voice, wrapping his arms around his little sister and turning so that his back was facing the twins, who were now running up to him at full speed. “I am holding Elizabeth now. You must not crash into me and make me fall over and hurt her.”
Arthur and Edward exchanged devilish glances, and Rosa watched with amusement. Then, finally, they commenced running once more as though they did indeed intend to knock down their siblings. But at the last instant, as if executing a well-rehearsed dance step in a stage performance, the boys parted, moving around George on either side and giving him a very wide berth. Then they kept running, laughing uproariously as they headed for their parents.
Harry was still looking stunned when Edward launched himself into his father’s lap. Rosa burst into loud laughter as Arthur ran up behind her and wrapped his little arms around her neck. He squeezed tightly, as Edward did to his father from the front, and Rosa glanced at her husband. He was now smiling, clearly having forgotten the tumble their daughter had just taken.
“Edward, my boy,” he said, prying the child’s arms from his neck to kiss him on the cheek.
“Papa,” the little boy said, returning the affectionate gesture with a sloppy one of his own. “Can we eat now?”
Rosa giggled as Arthur swung himself in front of her, landing awkwardly in her lap and looking up at her with a questioning look that matched his twin’s.
“Can we, Mama?” he asked.
Rosa nodded, glancing at Harry, and winking.
“Of course, you can,” she said. “We have lots of sandwiches filled with worms, just for the two of you.”
Arthur and Edward exchanged horrified expressions.
“Ew,” they said in unison. “Gross.”
Harry laughed heartily.
“Worms are good for you, my boys,” he said, trying to make himself sound full of conviction. “Here, I shall prove it to you.”
While the young boys watched in horror, Harry reached into the basket and pulled out one of the sandwiches. It did, indeed, look like a piece of the fleshy worm was sticking out from between the pieces of bread, as the beef inside had been shredded, and a strand had slipped free.
Harry took a huge bite, earning mortified gasps and groans from the twins. Bridget and Rosa dissolved into giggles, Rosa so fiercely, she could not even speak up and save her middle children from the revulsion they were evidently feeling. Only Elizabeth, who had turned her attention back to her father, was laughing.
“Yay, Dada,” she said, clapping her hands.
As the day wore on, everyone they had invited to join them arrived. Barty and Mac arrived presently, with their wives and children. As did Helena, who was accompanied by the beautiful and precocious nine-year-old Emilia to Rosa’s delight. Rosa instantly rose as soon as her little sister arrived, scooping the girl up in her arms and kissing her on the cheek.
“Em, darling, how I have missed you,” she said.
Emilia squirmed to get free, pushing away from her sister.
“I am happy to see you too, sister,” she said, wiping her cheek. “But I am much too old for all that now. I am here to help look after the little ones.”
Rosa’s heart ached as she stepped away from Emilia, but it instantly warmed again when the child winked at her, grinning, and blew her a heartfelt kiss as she mouthed the words “I love you” to her big sister.
“Very well,” Rosa said, giving her little sister a deep curtsey. “Carry on with your important task, Lady Emilia.”
As the children all went to play together, Rosa sat with Barty’s wife Anna, Mac’s wife Judith, Harry’s mother, and Helena. As the women talked, Rosa could not help noticing how happy and content Helena looked. She remarked on it, and the duchess smiled.
“I am, my dear,” she said. “I feel horrible about the person I was before. Would that I could go back and change it all. I just hope you can see that I am truly sorry and never truly meant to harm anyone.”
Rosa shook her head and smiled warmly, taking her former stepmother’s hand.
“Of course, Helena,” she said. “Over these years, I have come to realize that you did not mean to hurt anyone. Especially my father. It was your duty, as a noblewoman, to marry well and rescue your family from poverty. It is just something that society expects of us. You had little choice. And you were good to Father, despite your lack of romantic love for him.”
Helena nodded fondly. “I did care for him,” she said. “And his love for me, I believe, kept me from becoming a monster as quickly as I did.” She paused, winking. “Do not misunderstand, though. I do still love fine things and fashion magazines.”
Shouting from the men drew Rosa’s attention, and she looked up to where they were engaged in a game of croquet. She watched, biting her lip as she saw Harry leaning over the ball and laughing boyishly, his hair falling askew across his forehead and into his face. She held her breath as he made a winning stroke, cheering himself uproariously. He was so handsome, and she fell in love with him even more.
When his eyes met hers, she impulsively blew him a kiss. He grinned, blowing one back and giving her one of his charming winks. Her heart skipped a beat. Could any woman ever be happier than she?
This is the end of my novel “Chasing Lady Rosa”. I hope that you enjoy it! Your effort to read it means a lot to me and I have to thank you for your love and support on these difficult days!
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