A Wallflower for the Marquess,
Two Years Later, Woolfe Manor
“Are we too late? Are they gone already?” Theo cried, almost falling out of the carriage.
“Have a care, Theo!” Henry yelped. “We are not too late. See, they haven’t left yet.”
Theo let out a sigh of relief. Her back was aching horribly from even the short carriage ride, her swollen belly impossibly heavy. She ran an absentminded hand over the swell of her stomach, imagining the child kicking inside. It was due in a month, and both she and Henry had narrowed down the possible names to two each.
It was a fine, spring day, perfect for a bittersweet goodbye. Nicholas’ carriage stood waiting by the front door; Vincent’s suitcases already loaded up onto it.
He would be eight in only a matter of weeks. Where had the time gone? Where was the tiny baby Theo had held in her arms? It was hard to see him in the growing boy in front of her.
But she couldn’t allow herself to get misty-eyed and maudlin today. This was going to be a rough parting, everyone knew that. Theo and Henry needed to be strong.
The family had gathered on the front steps. A few of the upper servants were peering out from the hallway, whispering to each other and dabbing their eyes. Vincent would be sorely missed.
The day was finally here – Vincent was leaving for boarding school. It couldn’t be put off forever. Seeing him now, looking young and vulnerable in his brand-new uniform, hair newly slicked back with water, Theo felt something clench inside her. He was so young. How could they have ever thought that he was ready to be sent away when he was five years old? Judging by the distraught expression on Nicholas’ face, he thought the same.
Vincent brightened at the sight of Theo and Henry.
“Uncle Henry! Aunt Theo! I was afraid you wouldn’t come!”
He went racing towards them, skinny knees visible under his short trousers, and threw his arms around Henry first, then Theo. He laid a palm tentatively on the curve of her stomach, hoping to feel the baby kick. Swallowing down the lump in her throat, Theo placed a hand over his.
“I shall write to you every day,” she promised, “And tell you exactly how the baby is doing. I expect you to tell me everything. Everything.”
Vincent’s eyes were wet with tears, and he scrubbed at them with the heels of his hands.
“I already promised to tell Mama everything, and Papa, and Verona. That’s going to be a lot of letters. Can’t I write one big letter to everyone?”
They chuckled at that, and Vincent smiled weakly.
Henry squatted down in front of him, taking the little boy’s hands.
“Now, let me tell you some things about boarding school. At first, you might be frightened, but once you settle in…”
Theo slipped past, leaving Henry and Vincent to talk. She put her arms around Evangeline, who looked entirely distraught.
“I’m afraid that this isn’t a good idea.” Evangeline whispered. “And of course…” she paused, swallowing hard, and nodded towards the side of the house.
Theo had spotted Verona immediately, before she even climbed out of the carriage. The little girl was sitting behind a bush at the side of the house, back turned. She was taking the departure of her twin badly.
“I’ll talk to her.” Theo murmured. She picked her way down the steps and squatted down with difficulty beside her niece. “Hello, Verona.”
“You shouldn’t crouch down like that when you’re expecting a baby.” Verona said, her face still turned away. “It’ll hurt your back.”
“Hm, I see. Well, why don’t you escort me somewhere better, then?”
Verona said nothing for a moment, and Theo was afraid that her gamble might not pay off. Then the little girl got to her feet and looped her arm through Theo’s. She drew her off towards a stone bench and gestured for Theo to sit.
“You know that you won’t miss out on any education.” Theo said quietly. “Your Uncle Henry and I will take charge of your education. Everything that Vincent learns, you will learn.”
“It’s not that.” Verona whispered, eyes filling up with tears. “I’ll miss him so much.”
A hard lump formed in Theo’s throat, one that refused to go down, no matter how vigorously she swallowed.
“I know, darling. I know.”
“Will he be happy there? At the school, I mean.”
“Your Papa thinks so.” Theo said gently. “But Vincent is always honest with us. If he isn’t happy, he’ll tell us, we know that.”
Verona nodded, looking a little better. “I’m glad he didn’t go before.”
“Yes, so am I. Come on, look, he’s getting ready to leave. You don’t want him to leave without saying goodbye, do you?”
Verona sucked in a breath, leaping down from the bench without another word. She went hurtling back up the steps, flinging her arms around her brother. They stood there for a moment, clinging onto each other, while Theo made her slow, heavy way back up to the front door.
“Nicely done.” Evangeline murmured. “Verona always listens to you. She loves you; you know.”
“Well, I don’t think she’ll love me once Henry and I start teaching her really complex subjects. Algebra, Greek, and Advanced Latin will start next.”
“Good heavens. My poor little girl.”
Nicholas stepped forward, clearing his throat. “It’s time to go, Vincent.”
Vincent paled. “You’re… you’re still coming with me, aren’t you, Papa? To introduce me to the headmaster?”
Nicholas crouched down in front of him, taking his son’s face in his hand.
“I promised, didn’t I? I always do what I promise, you know that. You’re very brave, Vincent.”
He sniffled. “I’m not brave. I’m scared.”
“That’s what makes you brave. Now, come on, say goodbye to everyone. We have a picnic basket to eat on the way, just the two of us.”
Vincent hugged each one of them fiercely, except for Theo. He was always very careful about hugging Theo, just in case he made the baby uncomfortable. Theo had assured him that he would do no such thing, but he insisted.
He hugged Verona last of all, of course. The twins stood a little way off from everyone else, whispering to each other quietly enough so that no one else could hear. None of them intruded on the private moment.
Then, in a flash, it was over. Vincent was bundled into the carriage, and Nicholas climbed up behind him. The carriage began to move back down the drive, and the goodbyes were over.
Verona stood there for a long time, long after the carriage had disappeared. Since Evangeline was still busy blowing her nose into a handkerchief, Theo and Henry moved over to Verona’s side.
“It’s alright, darling.” Theo murmured. “You’ll see him again soon.”
“How about some Algebra, to take your mind off it?” Henry suggested.
Verona had to laugh at that, though.
I hope you enjoyed “A Wallflower for the Marquess, Theodosia”. I would love to know your opinion!