Four Years Later
It was an absolutely perfect day. The sun was shining, although the heat was not too oppressive, and it was a fabulous summer’s day.
The gardens at Red House were not exactly extensive, but Elizabeth prided herself on keeping them neat but natural. At the moment, piercing screams were echoing through the open window of the library, coming from the garden.
Abandoning the pamphlet she was trying to write – the cause of votes for women had caught Elizabeth’s attention, and she was keen to get involved in the work – Elizabeth leaned back in her seat, watching with a smile.
In the lawn underneath the window, her oldest child, Frances, was racing around in circles as fast as her tiny chubby legs could carry her and was being pursued by her Uncle Henry.
At the age of twenty-two, Henry had finally come into his inheritance a year ago but was entirely content with his sister being left to manage the estate on his behalf and give him an allowance while he travelled the world. It made sense, since Elizabeth had always been the more business-minded out of the two of them.
“I see Henry is making the most of seeing his niece for once.” Observed a familiar voice from behind her.
Elizabeth twisted to smile up at her husband. William had slipped into the library behind her, the sleeping baby Alexander in his arms.
“He’s here for another week before he leaves again.” She observed. “Straight to Spain next, I believe. I can’t believe he’s been here for a whole month. It feels as though I’ve barely seen him before he’s off again.”
She swallowed hard, a lump forming in her throat. It was wrong, she knew, to hold back her brother from what he wanted to do. Henry wanted to travel, he’d always wanted it, but…
“I’m going to miss him.” She continued; her voice quiet. “More than he can know. I worry that something will happen, that there will be an accident, or… oh, I don’t know.”
“Well, at least he has a sensible valet, at least. Edward won’t let him get into trouble.”
Elizabeth had to smile at that. Robinson, on one of his visits, had suggested a valet for Henry – one Edward Smythe, a young man a few years old than Henry. The two men got on well, and it was reassuring to know that he had somebody sensible packing his bags, at least.
“And sooner or later, he’ll come home and get married.” William continued, squeezing Elizabeth’s shoulder.
She grimaced. “I doubt it. I don’t think Henry is the marrying kind. Uncle Charles was a confirmed bachelor, and I think perhaps Henry might have followed his example. Or perhaps not, I can’t say. So long as my brother is safe and happy, I don’t mind. Truly, I don’t.”
William bent down, careful not to jostle the sleeping baby, and pressed a kiss to her cheek.
“Either way, shall we go outside? I thought we could take tea on the terrace. That pamphlet will be waiting for you when you get back.”
She smiled wryly at him. “I think that’s a good idea. My hand is starting to cramp.”
Hand in hand, the pair made their way down the hallways of Red House, in comfortable silence. Elizabeth watched her husband fuss over their newest baby, smiling down at the little thing and adjusting the blankets, and she thought once again about how lucky she had been, and how much she loved the man she had married.
“Do you ever wonder how we came to be here?” Elizabeth asked suddenly.
William glanced questioningly down at her. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It just sometimes feels like life rushes on, with or without you, and it’s rather frightening. Sometimes I feel like a child at my parents’ funeral again, raised by my uncle, and terrified of losing him, too.” She reached up to tweak Alexander’s nose. “I remember when Frances was as small as Alex, and it’s frightening how quickly the time has gone by. I daresay I’m being silly.”
William shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think you are too sensible to ever be silly, by the way. No, I think time truly does fly past. I remember my brother saying something like that at one time. Oh, before I forget, Richard and Sarah want us to dine once they get back into town. They’re bringing the children, too.”
Elizabeth nodded, smiling. “That would be nice. It’ll comfort me once Henry has gone. Do you think we can convince him to stay another month?”
“We can certainly try.”
They reached the morning room, where large French doors opened up onto the terrace, pleasantly warmed by the sun.
Frances was running in ever-tightening circles, apparently trying to keep her treasure of a small bunch of flowers away from her uncle. She gave a shriek of delight at the sight of her parents, and Henry snatched her up off her feet, tossing her into the air. She squealed again, kicking fat little legs, and he hugged her tightly and set her back down on her feet.
Frances came racing towards them, her small face beaming up at them.
“Look, look, Mama!” she burbled. “Papa, look!” she held up the neat posy of flowers for their inspection, and Elizabeth knelt down to take them.
“Those are beautiful, darling.” She said with a smile, kissing her forehead.
Pleased with the effect her present had had, Frances immediately headed back towards the flowerbeds, clearly intending to pick another handful. Elizabeth straightened up, breathing in the aroma of the flowers.
“Has she exhausted you, Henry?” William asked with a grin, seeing the young man limping towards them.
“Rather.” Henry said, wincing and grabbing his side. “I’ve got a nasty stitch. She’s lovely, truly she is. I can’t believe how quickly she’s grown up since I’ve been away. Next time I come home for a visit, she’ll be eighteen and ready to come out.”
Elizabeth snorted. “Don’t even joke about that. I was just speaking to William about how quickly time goes by. Here, would you like to hold your nephew before he grows up, too?”
Henry chuckled and held out his arms for the baby. William carefully handed over the still-sleeping Alexander, and stepped back, taking his wife’s arm.
“Did you read about Lady Holloway in the scandal sheets?” he asked, his voice low.
“That she’s eloped with some stable boy? No, a groom, wasn’t it?” Elizabeth winced, shaking her head. “I didn’t like the woman, but this won’t make her happy. I’m not gloating, if that’s what you mean.”
“It’s not, but still…” William sighed, shaking his head. “I’m sorry for it, that’s all.”
She squeezed his arm, tilting her head to look up at his face. “Do you spend a lot of time thinking about Lady Holloway, then?”
It was a joke, albeit a bad one, and William snorted and elbowed her in the side.
“You’re a wretch.”
“Yes.” She responded comfortably. “I am.”
He kissed the top of her head, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “And the answer is no. I don’t. Why on earth would I be thinking about Lady Holloway when you, the love of my life, are right here?”
“That’s what I thought.” She said, chuckling.
Glancing briefly over at Henry – whose back was turned, thankfully – William bent down and kissed Elizabeth, their lips brushing together in a light, gentle kiss which never failed to send Elizabeth’s heart pounding, despite their years of marriage.
“I often think,” William murmured, his fingers grazing the side of her cheek, “that marrying you was the greatest thing I have ever done, and that I was lucky beyond measure to find you again.”
Elizabeth smiled up at him, smoothing her palms against the soft wool of his morning-suit. “You were lucky beyond measure. And so was I, when it comes down to it. Sometimes I sit in my library and think about how my life has changed, and how you, you wretch, have come along and changed it all.”
“With my terrible spelling?” he queried, grinning, and Elizabeth laughed.
“With your terrible spelling.” She confirmed, standing up on her tiptoes to kiss him again. “I love you, Will.”
“And I love you too, Elizabeth. Even if you do insist on making me get up far too early on a morning.”
She gave a gurgle of laughter, dropping back onto her heels again.
“Are you two coming along, or are you going to stand there kissing and sweet-talking all day?” Henry called back, having progressed almost to the end of the terrace.
There was no bite in his words, and he was smiling at them, holding Alexander safely to his chest. Frances was racing towards them, a posy of daisies in her little fist. Elizabeth leaned against her husband, his arm around her shoulders, hers around his waist, and took a moment to congratulate herself on her remarkable good fortune.
“We haven’t decided yet!” she called back.
This is the end of my novel “The Spinster’s Gamble”. 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 these difficult days!
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