LADY ANNE and I had settled nicely into a gentle friendship and she was very happy to hear that Charles and I were to marry.
The wedding was not a grand affair. There were some people who were shocked that the Viscount Bowerly was to wed the woman who had been governess in the Hall. It was circulated that I was penniless and a gold-digger by a few society ladies.
We ignored all the gossip. The villagers and the staff at Bowerly were all delighted with our news and that was enough for us.
Mary was ecstatic that her father and I had fallen in love. She made a beautiful flower girl at our wedding, scattering rose petals before us as we walked up the aisle in the ancient church on the Bowerly estate.
Mrs Bidens was a guest of honour and couldn’t have been more delighted for us both. She would miss me living with her but promised she would visit often.
Mary hugged me tight after the ceremony.
“Can I ask you something please, Amelia?”
“You can ask me anything you wish,” I said with a smile and kissed her soft cheek.
“May I… may I call you Mama?”
I hadn’t expected that. My eyes were shiny as I replied.
“I love you as if you were my own daughter. I should like to be called Mama.”
She paused, her brow creased in thought, before she gazed up at me.
“You know I shall never forget my real mama; it’s just that I only have a picture of her, and I never knew her. She won’t mind if she shares me with you, will she?”
“No, darling, I don’t think she’ll mind one little bit. I expect she’s looking down at you from heaven right this minute and she’s glad because you are happy.”
As Viscountess, I was able to help Lady Anne, my new mother-in-law, with the everyday running of Bowerly Hall.
One of those tasks was the preparation of the weekly menu. Anne confided in me that she found dealing with Mrs Bell quite horrid. I didn’t much like it either, but since she and I shared a secret to her detriment she was polite and deferential to me.
Still, no-one was as relieved as I when one day she announced she was retiring to live with her cousin in another village further north.
The new cook, Mrs Freeman, was younger and much jollier.
It was many months before Anne felt able to unburden herself. We were sitting in the drawing-room, concentrating on our embroidery.
“Charles has told me that Francis will not return to England,” Anne said suddenly.
I glanced at her but her gaze was downcast upon the circle of colourful threads. .
“That is news to me,” I said, surprised my husband had not told me. “I thought his intention was to return after his journeys.”
Anne put down her embroidery and sighed. She looked straight at me.
“We both know that Francis did not go to America of his own free will,” she said, “although I do believe that he has decided to stay there because he has a future which he may not have here.”
“You know about the break-in at Bowerly? And that Francis was the thief who stole from houses across the county?” She nodded.
“I always had my suspicions about him but I didn’t know the truth at the time. I am quite aware of my nephew’s shortcomings, but I am terribly fond of him. I felt there was something wrong but I suppose I wanted to believe that Francis’s money problems would be solved… that he would find a way to make his land pay or to manage his inheritance better.”
“Did you know about the caves?”
“I didn’t know he had taken things and kept them there. But I knew he spent hours there. That’s why I tried to deflect you from going to the beach.”
Anne’s had been the face at the window that I had glimpsed, I realised.
“I was nervous when he came to dinner and wanted to speak with Mrs Bell,” Anne went on. “It didn’t make sense. He didn’t know her that well. If I had known he was going to break in to our home I don’t know what I would have done.”
I didn’t blame Anne for any of this. She had done nothing wrong except love her nephew and ignore her instincts.
Another year passed quickly until it was once more summer. Sarah came to visit, bringing her new baby boy.
Marriage and motherhood suited her well. She and James were frequent visitors and we were likewise often at the vicarage.
Charles came to me after Sarah had left that afternoon after approving warmly of the decorating of the hall.
He kissed me tenderly and I felt the tingle of attraction that only intensified the longer I knew him.
“Did Sarah approve of the alterations to the entrance hall?”
“She liked the new colour scheme immensely,” I said. “I fear for James as it has quite put in her the mood to refresh her own house.”
“Did you show her the rest of the redecorating?” my husband asked.
I walked with him upstairs to the bedroom next to ours.
“No, I didn’t mention this to Sarah,” I said, leaning comfortably into his side, “I wanted to keep our very good news all to ourselves for now.”
I reached up on tiptoe to kiss him. Charles smiled and put his hand on my stomach.
“We’ll tell Mary tomorrow about her new brother or sister.”