Three Years Later
Maxwell looked out the window at the passing landscape. It had snowed the previous night, and the roads were covered in a beautiful white blanket. He glanced to his right and saw his wife, the Duchess, asleep. Her hand was resting on her rounded belly. He leaned over and made sure she was covered with the blanket that had slipped off her shoulders.
She stirred as he did so and opened her eyes.
“I am sorry, I did not mean to wake you, my love. Go back to sleep, we are still a few hours away from the Chatterley’s estate.”
Alexandra instead stretched her arms and yawned. “It is quite alright. I am awake now. Where are we?”
“Just past Andover. Look outside, isn’t it beautiful?”
She did as he asked and took in the wonderland outside. It was the evening before Christmas Eve, and they were on their way to the Marquess and Marchioness of Chatterley’s to spend Christmas at their estate in Salisbury. He had worried that the journey might be too taxing for his wife as she was several months into her first pregnancy, but she appeared to be holding up quite well.
“How lovely it is. I cannot wait to see this tree Lady Chatterley has displayed inside the house.”
Maxwell grunted, “A tree inside the house. I shall never understand what she finds so wondrous about it. A tree belongs in the forest or the fireplace. Whatever is wrong with a good yule log?” Alexandra grinned at him.
“I am certain they will still have a yule log, fear not. Your traditions are not being forgotten. She is simple being innovative in her discoveries of other customs. I believe her journey to the continent has greatly affected her sense of fashion.”
“Indeed. I wonder what other surprises she will have waiting for us.”
“I am sure there will be many. You know as well as I that whatever Lady Chatterley’s heart desires, the Marquess is sure to make it happen.”
Maxwell laughed, for that was true.
“If she requested an entire choir to serenade her with Lemons and Oranges he would be sure to have it happen. Yes.”
He fell quiet and smiled at his wife. “I do not know if you are aware that they have been my inspiration, the Chatterleys. When I first fell for you, I saw them and I could not help but think how much I would like to have with you what they have with one another. And now I do.”
She reached across to him and held his hand.
“Yes, you do. We both do. And soon there will be an heir to join us.” She patted her stomach.
“Yes, indeed.” He sighed. His thoughts traveled to his mother who had passed away the previous spring. She would have loved to have seen an heir to the Gatterlen name come into the world. Alas, it was too late.
“You are thinking of your mother,” Alexandra said as she squeezed his hand.
“I am indeed. I know she was not an easy woman to know and to like. By Jove, I struggled my entire life to do so, but she was still my mother.”
Alexandra clasped his hand.
“I understand; it has been a challenge without her, I must admit. I never quite understood what large a role she filled in the running of the estate and the upkeep. As well as her standing in society.”
Maxwell squeezed her hand. He knew it had been a difficult journey for her, becoming the new Duchess of Gatterlen. His mother, while not well liked, had been respected in society and it would have been difficult for any wife if his to follow in her footsteps. The circumstances of their union had of course made it all much more difficult.
“You have done a wonderful job and the tenants adore you. As does your husband.”
They fell silent and sat hand in hand in the carriage as the landscape outside passed by. The snow had turned the journey into a ride through a winter wonderland which provided them both with a sense of peace.
Upon arrival at the Chatterly’s Salisbury estate, Maxwell tensed. Alexandra, noticing the change at ones, turned to him.
“What is the matter?”
He nodded up ahead and she followed his gaze. There, front of the old manor home, was a carriage. Emblazoned on the side was the Coat of Arms of House Cladborough.
“Faith, I cannot imagine the Chatterley’s would have invited Lord Cladborough. Certainly not for Christmas and without telling us. Not after everything that has happened.” Alexandra shook her head in disbelief.
While they had kept the truth of the events three years ago quiet, revealing only what they had to, the Chatterleys were among the few who knew the truth.
“Perhaps they thought enough time had passed?” Maxwell exited the carriage cautiously and rushed around to assist Alexandra as she exited herself. Alexandra took a few steps forward. Her gaze peeled on the carriage. As they stood, the door opened and she saw a man step out, followed by a woman. Their faces were hidden by the carriage, but it set off just then and…
“Hendley!” Maxwell exclaimed. Alexandra heard the relief she felt in his voice. She had not looked forward to having to converse with Cladborough. She’d managed to avoid him as much as possible. In fact, she had not seen him since his daughter’s wedding.
Lord Hendley smiled broadly when he saw them. Lady Frances walked beside him, her dress one of blue muslin, covered by a beautiful white coat. Just like Alexandra, she wore a matching muff to keep her hands warm from the freezing weather.
“For a moment, I feared it was your father-in-law who was joining us for the Christmas season.” Alexandra was about to alert her husband to the fact that the comment was rather uncalled for, given Lord Cladborough’s daughter stood before them, but he noticed the error himself.
“Excuse me, Lady Frances, I did not mean offense.”
She shook her head, light hair peeked out from beneath her bonnet.
“I am well aware of my father’s reputation among my husband’s friends and I do not fault you. Do not fret, Your Grace, my father and mother have decided to spend the Christmas season in Scotland, visiting my mother’s family there.”
“Before he departed, the old hornswoggle agreed to loan us his carriage. It makes for a rather more comfortable ride in this kind of weather.”
Beside him, Lady France frowned and nudged him in the arm. “My Lord, please refrain from calling my father such names. He has his good sides; after all, he loaned us his carriage.”
Lord Hendley appeared genuinely crushed at having upset her and bowed his head.
“My love, I am ever so sorry. I shall be more careful.”
She smiled at him, all forgiven. Alexandra felt pleased every time she saw the two of them together. They appeared as in love and content as they had been when they first began their romance, shortly after the end of the original match.
“By Jove! You have all arrived!” The Marquess of Chatterley’s booming voice came from inside the house. “I was just informed.” He greeted each of them joyfully as they had not seen one another for some weeks, ever since parliament closed at the end of the Season.
While Alexandra enjoyed their time at Hawthorne House, she did miss the social atmosphere, and the ease with which she could see her friends. When everyone stayed at their country homes it was not as simple as making a morning call. Meetings and visits had to be carefully arranged.
It was because of this that she had been so looking forward to Christmas at the Chatterley’s estate. Aside from the hosts, Lord Hendley and Lady Frances as well as a few of their London friends would join them. Among them the Earl of Somerset, one of Alexandra’s former clients, as well as Lord Hendley’s sisters and their spouses. It looked to be a full few days among friends.
“I was sorry to hear your father is not able to join us, Your Grace,” Lord Chatterley said, addressing Alexandra. She was still not used to being called by the title, especially not by their friends. It felt rather odd.
“So am I. Alas, he has been held up in Shropshire on business. He hoped he may be able to join us for Twelfth Night.”
Lord Chatterley’s face brightened. “That would be rather splendid! Lady Chatterley sends her apologies. She has been unwell, which is not uncommon, given she is with child again. She will join us later. Now, I shall let you all freshen up. Lady Chatterley has many plans, I hope my fellow Lords are prepared to go into the woods tomorrow to assist me in selecting a yule log for Christmas Eve?”
Alexandra smiled widely at her husband, who looked relieved. That was until Lord Chatterley added, “As well as a tree for inside the house.”
Lord Hendley was the one who spoke up next, utterly perplexed.
“A tree? Inside? Whatever for?”
“My question exactly,” Maxwell replied. Lord Chatterley sighed.
“I have asked and received a rather lengthy answer which I would much like to spare you. Sufficient to say, Lady Chatterley is enamored by the idea and what the Lady wants, the Lady gets. Including a tree in the parlor.”
The group laughed, making Alexandra’s heart swell with joy. She and Lady Frances proceeded to follow the housekeeper to their bedchambers to freshen up. Once Lady Chatterley, who had gone into town with her mother, returned they would join her for an afternoon of games and tea while the men went for a hunt. Once more, Alexandra marveled at the way her life had changed. She still recalled the last time she’d been received at a country home as a commoner, when the Dowager Duchess had attempted to reduce her to the rank of a servant.
What a difference a few short years can make.
“Hendley, how have you been? It seems as though it has been forever ago since we last spoke.” Maxwell rode alongside his friend as they searched for game in the woods.
“It has, Gatterlen, it has. Married life surely changes everything, does it not?”
Indeed, it had. Maxwell had to agree.
“I never thought I would enjoy it quite as much as I do. Although it must be said, my wife is rather delightful.”
Hendley laughed and maneuvered the horse to the right, following the rest of the hunting party.
“She certainly is rather entertaining. Say, old chum. I am seeking to make a match for my sister, Mary. Now that I no longer penny-pinched it should be rather simple to find her a good match. Do you imagine Her Grace may feel inspired to matchmake once more?”
Maxwell frowned in surprise. He had not thought about his wife’s former profession for some time. In the early days of their courtship and marriage, when many of the ton had turned against them as a result of the scandal their involvement created, she had been vexed by her change in status. She had always aimed to be the number one matchmaker in London, and suddenly she had hardly a client.
Over the years, she had adjusted to her new life and given up the business entirely. When he brought up the subject, she’d often declined to discuss it, too difficult were the memories of those long-gone days. Although perhaps, for an old friend, she may do so.
“I shall ask her, Hendley. Now, say, what is it that held up her father so he could not join us? I imagine it was not business to do with the vineyard, not at this time of year.”
Hendley shook his head.
“It was not. Lately there has been another money lender moving in on our clients and Lord Alderth has had his bristles set up about it. As I am sure you can understand. There has been tension and some aggression. You may have heard about the troubles in St. Giles.”
Indeed, Maxwell had. There had been a number of fights in the area, greater than usual and more violent. He’d had an idea that Lord Alderth was somehow involved.
“It sounds as though it is rather serious. I hope you are not in danger, old chum.”
To Maxwell’s surprise, Lord Alderth had taken quite the liking to Lord Hendley, upon meeting at Maxwell and Alexandra’s wedding.
Hendley had always been a keen gambler, and through his time at White’s he had a good idea which Lords may be in need of Lord Alderth’s services. Thus, he had begun referring several Lords to Lord Alderth for their money lending needs. This in turn had inspired Lord Alderth to recruit Hendley and groom him to be his second in command, and heir apparent, should Lord Alderth choose to retire.
Up until this recent trouble, the arrangement had worked out well, though Maxwell still found the entire business a little uncouth. Now with the latest troubles, he worried for his friend. Hendley, however, seemed entirely unconcerned.
“Do not fret. Lord Alderth is making an agreement with the other esteemed gentlemen as we speak. They will perhaps split territory. I am certain there will be an agreement. You know, your-father-in-law is rather adept at his business. Fear not, he will be around for many years to teach your future child all about money lending and wine making!”
“By Jove! Let us hope he does neither! I should rather prefer he spoil the child rotten with sweets and toys than tales of the underworld of money lending.”
Hendley laughed out loud and then charged ahead.
“Enough chatter, Gatterlen, they are getting away!”
With that, Maxwell and his horse followed, going as fast as the snowy ground would allow.
“My dear Duchess, I cannot believe we are both with child at the same time. Imagine if you had a boy and I a girl! We could employ your skills as matchmaker and arrange a match from a very young age!” Lady Chatterley laughed at her own joke, her hand in front of her mouth.
She had at last appeared to join her guests, having been too unwell to rise for almost two days. However, she seemed to be feeling much better on Christmas Eve and had joined them in the drawing room for the lighting of the yule log.
“Another request for matchmaker!” Alexandra chuckled. “I shall have to go back into business soon.” She noted Lady Chatterley’s confused expression and explained. “Lord Hendley is seeking a match for his sister, Mary.”
“He is? So is my sister, Elizabeth. At long last she feels she is ready. Perhaps it is due to my parents pressuring her, but no matter. The lady my parents employed to find a husband is utterly useless. The ton really has no idea what it’s lost when you closed your business.”
Alexandra smiled sadly. She did miss her work sometimes, though she could not imagine going back to it the way she had in the past. Although she had to admit, an occasional match for friends and family did rather entice her.
She spotted the Duke parting ways from his friends with whom he’d engaged in a game of cards and stood herself up. He caught her gaze and nodded with his chin toward outside. He mouthed at her to join him.
“If you’ll excuse me, Lady Chatterley,” she got up and walked toward the Duke.
“I would enjoy taking in the air. Join me?” he offered his arm to her. Together they stepped outside. The air was crisp and cold. Alexandra felt the tip of her nose become cold almost at once, but she did not mind.
They walked along the path that lead to the park behind the manor house.
“It is a lovely evening, is it not?” he asked.
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “It is wonderful. And you see? The tree in the house is not that terrible of an idea. I should rather like it at Hawthorne Hall next year, when we host for the Christmas season.”
She laughed as his eyes grew large.
“By Jove, I sincerely hope it is you tease me, my dear.”
“Indeed, it is. It is a rather hideous thing, but it pleases her so. Do not fret, we shall have a yule log, and a yule log only.”
They exchange a smile and continued on their walk when suddenly he stopped.
“I wanted to tell you, my love, that I saw you talking to Lady Chatterley by the fire. I saw our child under your heart and in your care, and I never felt happier or more in love with you. That was my true reason for asking you to come on this walk with me.”
“Oh, what a beautiful thing to say. I must say, just last week I wrote to Mr. Holmes that I am the happiest I have ever been. I did not imagine I would find such joy from being with another person. I thought I would be alone all my life. I was content with the thought, but you’ve shown me there is more to life. I shall always be grateful to you for that.”
They stopped and clasped each other’s hands.
“You truly are the love of my life, my dearest.”
She smiled at him. “As you are mine.” They kissed in the snow, getting lost in one another as they often did.
They stood and held each other for a long time, until the snow began to fall. At last, their lips parted. With a smile on their faces, they turned and rushed back toward the house to join their friends and family for what would indeed be a very merry Christmas.
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