A Spinsterfor an EligibleBachelor
Four Years Later, Lowater Manor, Kent
It was going to be a hot summer, everybody said so. Julia fanned herself, watching the children play on the lawn.
The Lowater Manor gardens were small and sweet, and they had recently cleared away a space in front of the house to make space for the children to play.
Lady Ellesmere came bustling out of the house, beaming. Her legs were giving her trouble these days, and with her very real joint problems, Lord Ellesmere’s digestive issues had melted away while he cared for his wife as diligently as she had cared for him. Julia couldn’t help but smile whenever she thought about it.
“Oh, look at them playing!” Lady Ellesmere exclaimed. “They do love their Grandpapa.”
Julia turned to look at the children playing on the lawn. They were playing at Lions, by the looks of it.
Lord Ellesmere and his son-in-law were the Lions, of course, growling ferociously and chasing the children all over. Roscoe was the chief – what were the children, exactly? Lion tamers? Lion hunters? Smaller, more ferocious lions? Julia wasn’t sure. Anyway, Roscoe was leading the attack on their Grandpapa. He was closely followed by Julietta, who was, at three, one year younger than her older brother and precisely twice as ferocious. The baby, Russell, was just short of two years old. He appeared to have no idea what was happening but toddled after his older siblings with great enthusiasm.
“Do you know,” Lady Ellesmere said meditatively, “If somebody had told me six years ago that you, Julia, would be married and have no less than three children, I would have laughed in their faces.”
“So would I.” Julia said equably. “Are Toby and Milly here yet?”
Lady Ellesmere shook her head. “One of the twins has a cold. It’s nothing serious, but you know how Milly worries. All in all, they were delayed by a day. They should arrive sometime in the afternoon. Hopefully they’ll be here before evening, but you know what their timekeeping is like.” She took a seat beside Julia with a sigh of contentment, stretching out and reaching for a cup of tea.
Julia tipped her head back, closing her eyes and enjoying the sun on her face. She listened to the squeals and cries of her children, and the corresponding roars (which did not sound like a lion at all, more like a very sick dog) of Lord Ellesmere.
Julia and Ross had started hosting their annual summer get-together when Roscoe was one year old. It was somewhat famous in Kent, with lots of families angling for invitations. There were suppers, walks, games, and, of course, dancing. Julia made sure to save invitations for her friends, first. Bell and her equally lazy husband could never bother themselves to come all the way out there, but Frederika and James were always certain to attend, with their sickly little boy in tow. Cora and her husband wouldn’t be able to attend this year, as Cora was too heavily pregnant to travel. After five years of marriage, they were thrilled to welcome their first child into the family.
Julia began to mentally review the guest list for tonight’s supper party. There’d be local families, of course, as well as everyone who was staying with them. Oh, and she had better invite the vicar and the curate, along with their wives. And what about…
“Asleep already, Julia?”
Julia smiled without opening her eyes. “I thought you were supposed to be tiring out the children, Ross. We’ll need them safely tucked up in bed before the guests arrive. You know how naughty Roscoe and Julietta can be. Last time…”
“I know, I know, last time Julietta stepped on Lady Eversham’s gown and tore it, and Roscoe split a punch on the vicar’s lap. I recall that horrifying evening. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
Julia opened her eyes. Ross was standing in front of her, in his shirt sleeves and sweating from his exertions in the game of Lion. He made a curt bow to Lady Ellesmere, who smiled and sipped her tea.
“Care for a turn about the garden, Julia? I desperately need to get away from our children. I do think that they might actually kill me.”
Julia snorted but got to her feet. “Let’s let Papa handle them.”
They left Lord Ellesmere playing with his grandchildren, and Lady Ellesmere looking on with a smile. Arm in arm, Julia and Ross headed towards the little wilderness on the edges of the garden.
The wilderness was entirely Julia’s construction. She preferred a wilder, more natural garden, rather than the severely manicured and structured grounds that other great houses seemed to favour. The grass grew waist-high here, on either side of a path wide enough for two people to walk side by side.
Rabbits, badgers, and even foxes nested in the wilderness. It was lush with flowers, some wild and some carefully manicured. Right now, in the height of summer, the wilderness was a blaze of colour. As they walked, Julia counted flowers in the grass. Poppies, bluebells, daisies, daffodils, primroses, forget-me-nots, flowers that the gardeners insisted were weeds but grew just as tall and colourful as the “proper” flowers.
Beautiful. Julia smiled to herself, leaning to rest her head on Ross’ arm.
“I love this place,” she confided. “It’s so peaceful, and not at all perfect.”
“You don’t like perfection? That’s strange. You married me, after all. Ouch! You pinched me.”
“I shall pinch you again if you claim to be perfect, you dreadful man.”
The was a comfortable pause, and the couple walked a little further, until the cries and squeals of their happy children faded into quiet.
Quiet was something Ross and Julia did not often encounter these days. They didn’t miss it, however. Julia was, after all, most at home in the middle of a noisy, chaotic ballroom. The noise and energy of children was easy enough to manage.
“Did your father reply to you?” Julia asked and felt Ross’ arm stiffen.
“Not this year, he said,” Ross answered, his voice sounding cold and clipped. Julia sighed.
The Duke and Duchess had not raised any objections to their son marrying Julia, but it was apparent that they thought he could have done better. They saw the marriage carried out and came in person to greet their first grandchild.
They hadn’t bothered with the others. The Duke did not like Julia, claiming that she was an outspoken shrew. That, of course, had led to a rift between father and son. While they still exchanged curt, informative letters out of duty, they never visited.
“Mother wrote me a letter.” Ross added. “I think she wanted to come. She was more open about wanting to be here, too. I think she might come next year. I can’t say about father, of course, but… well, it’s progress.”
Julia squeezed Ross’ arm. “It is progress. Don’t let it ruin our week. Do you promise?”
Ross pressed a kiss to the top of Julia’s head. “I promise, darling.”
They kept walking on, the comfortable silence enveloping them again. Julia took in a deep breath of warm, country air. She was surrounded by warmth and colour, in the gardens that she lovingly tended herself. She had her beloved husband on her arm, and their children, friends, and family waiting back at their home.
“I’m happy,” Julia said aloud.
Ross chuckled. “Don’t sound so surprised.”
She snorted. “You are incorrigible. No, I just… I sometimes can’t quite believe that all this is real. You, me, our children, our home. I never dreamed that I would have such a peaceful, happy life. I never thought it would be enough, you know.”
“I recall. You wanted to spend your life dancing at balls and flirting with gentlemen.”
“Yes, and now I can only flirt with one gentleman, and it must be the same one every time. It’s very upsetting.” Julia glanced up at him with mock sorrow.
“You are a terrible wife. I shall push you into the brambles.”
“You wouldn’t dare. If this dress gets bramble stains on it, Suki will kill you.”
Ross pulled a face. “Yes, I think she would.”
Julia glanced up at him, tilting her head to one side curiously. “Are you happy, Ross?”
“Happy? Yes, darling, I am. I didn’t think that I would find any one person who could make me happy, but then I was cursed to meet – I mean, blessed to meet – you.” Ross grinned down at her, making sure that his joke had been observed and enjoyed.
Julia chuckled, smiling. “That’s good. What time is it? How long have we been walking?”
“Not long. Perhaps fifteen minutes, I think. Why are you getting nervous about leaving our brood of horrors with Grandpapa and Grandmama?”
“No. Well, yes, actually. There is a big difference between dandling Roscoe on one’s knee for half an hour at a time and actually spending an afternoon with the rascal. I really wanted to get home when Milly and Toby arrive. I’ve missed her so much.”
“I know, I’ve scarcely seen Toby since the twins were born. I’ve missed him terribly, too.” Ross gave a sigh of contentment. “We have plenty to look forward to, don’t we?”
“Yes, and a lot to organise. I never realised being a host would be so difficult. There’s so much to do, and so much to consider. Do you remember Lady Wilding’s balls and parties in London?”
“Oh, yes. They were marvellous.”
“Yes, weren’t they? How on earth did she manage it? It’s so difficult.” Julia sighed, shaking her head. “Even so, I have to say being a hostess is strangely enjoyable. Is that too strange to say?”
“Probably, but that’s never stopped you saying anything strange before.”
Julia chuckled. “You know, Ross, I truly don’t know how I could ever be happier than I am in this moment, right now.”
“Hm.” Ross said thoughtfully. “Don’t you? Shall we make a wager on it?”
I hope you enjoyed “A Spinster for an Eligible Bachelor”. I would love to know your opinion!