The two children were rolling on the grass laughing and squealing with delight. Juliet Colquhoun watched a little apprehensively, the young nurse stood a few steps ahead, charged with the care of the perambulator.
‘This is normal, I suppose,’ Juliet asked her.
‘Oh ay, Madam, they do it all the time, it’s good for them, you know how annoying they are when they’re stuck in all day.’
‘I wonder that it’s quite ladylike for Elizabeth to join in so.’
‘Look about madam, lots of girls are doing the same, she’ll still grow into a fine lady if you let her be a child today. I’m sure you frolicked about the same when you were a girl.’
‘No, I don’t think so. My sister, Frances, is only two years older than Elizabeth and I don’t recall my mother allowing her to behave in such a way.’
‘Ay but they’re country folk madam. Much more room for them to go about in, you’ve got to allow the weans in the city the chance to roam free, you don’t want them to be sickly from being stuck indoors.’
‘No, I certainly don’t want that, but…’
She did not continue, only wondered how easily the garments would wash. She was glad it was something she wouldn’t have to do personally. She also felt a great deal of relief that her mother wasn’t witness to this, she could imagine her disapproval.
She looked up from the frolicking duo at the sound of a male voice. Recognising the ruddy, cheerful face of Mr Neil Darroch, she smiled and waved.
‘good afternoon to you,’ he said, tipping his hat, ‘what a change in the weather, I thought I’d walk this way to see if there was any damage done to this beautiful park in those terrible winds last night.’
‘Yes indeed,’ said Juliet, looking round to see for herself, ‘it doesn’t look too bad.’
‘No,’ he agreed, ‘I see a few bent saplings back there but nothing too serious. I hope our mutual connections at Tharstaine have been equally fortunate. That great estate is very exposed, I feel certain they must’ve suffered some loss.’
‘Yes, I had not thought on that. You’re probably right. I should write to mother later, though if there is anything to report I expect she’ll have written me already.’
‘And have you met the new Mrs Cranston?’ inquired Neil.
‘No, not yet. This is my first day out, since my confinement. I may have the strength to travel there soon, though I thought my uncle Henry might have had the courtesy to bring her to visit me, after all my condition dictates that I am unable to make an early visit.’
‘My brother and I are hoping to travel there soon also, to meet the lady and to finalise the wedding plans.’
‘Oh good, I am so glad you are doing it so correctly. You heard I suppose about the ridiculous fashion in which my uncle married this woman, his last minute imposition on my Archie, it seems so very underhand.’
Juliet walked a little along the path as she spoke, moving out of earshot of the nurse.
‘I did hear, I thought it somewhat odd. I always thought him a man of strong character and sound principles. This hasty marriage does seem unlikely.’
Juliet sighed, ‘one doesn’t like to jump to erroneous conclusions, especially as the woman in question is unknown to me, but it’s hard not to suspect the worst in such a case. I only hope my uncle realises what a difficult position he’s placed us in, I do feel extremely foolish not knowing anything about the affair. I’ve already been asked on several occasions about it and what should I say? It’s really too vexing. I hope it hasn’t affected your opinion of Arabella.’
Neil blushed slightly, ‘no indeed, nothing should change my opinion on that score.’
‘Well, that’s a blessing at least. And how is your brother? I used to see much of him at parties in town but as I’ve been out of society for a while I haven’t seen him for an age.’
‘He’s…’ Neil hesitated, Juliet saw something was troubling him.
‘He’s not ill?’ she asked.
‘No, but he’s much depressed, I’ve never seen him in such low spirits. I think it’s partly my fault. My marriage will mean much upheaval and change for him, I don’t think he is bearing it well, it makes it very hard for me.’
‘Indeed,’ said Juliet, her tone soothing, ‘but he will be fine, I always thought he would make quite a spectacular marriage, he is blessed with fine looks and he always talks so very amusingly.’
Neil hesitated once more, ‘I think he hopes to pay addresses to your sister, Miranda. Do you think your mother would be conducive to that?’
‘I see no reason why not, I believe she always liked him. I had no idea my sister was of any interest to him, is this a new scheme?’
‘No, no, I think he’s admired her for some time, he thought she was perhaps a little young.’
‘She is young, but then I was married at 17 and so was my mother, so that in itself shouldn’t be a problem. I merely wonder… does he wish to profit from my uncle’s generosity, as you and Arabella have?’
Neil shifted uneasily, ‘I’m sure I don’t know.’
‘I just wonder if my uncle’s new wife will cause problems. Arabella has written to me about her several times. She says his wife is like a guard dog, she defends his money even more than he does himself. If he wishes to make a good impression, I think he should seek to impress her rather than my uncle. If Arabella is to be believed my uncle has become a doting fool in his wife’s presence. She needs only command and he obeys on bended knee.’
Neil took a deep breath, ‘indeed, she sounds like a paragon to be reckoned with. I shall relay this information to my brother and I thank you for relating it to me so frankly and generously.’
They exchanged farewells and Neil made his way towards the park gate. The information he’d received did little to cheer him. The only part that suggested any hope was that it was the new wife that seemed now in control of the Cranston fortune, that at least would please George. His famed charm could surely break down the defences of any woman. Neil didn’t find much comfort in this however, the idea of his brother marrying an unsuspecting young girl filled him with sorrow. If only he had the courage to prevent it. He may then save the girl but what of George. His brother had his faults, but what man didn’t. He couldn’t abandon him, it was impossible, it was a base betrayal of the promise he’d made to his dying mother to take care of George. A betrayal of a brother he’d grown up with and shared memories that couldn’t be replaced or removed without pain and grief.
The feelings of joy and anticipation that should accompany his impending nuptials were stained by those of uncertainly and worry.