Ch. 15

That was a golden summer.

James grew stout and strong. Adele ran and sang and showed off how much she had learned at school. I was particularly proud of her latest embroidery and her paintings.

Even the weather was exceptionally fine.

In August Edward and I hosted our first social gathering since James' birth. We gave a dinner in honor of Chauncey Wheeler's departure. The young man had now turned sixteen. As his brothers had promised he was to sail from Portsmouth to Gibraltar. There he would join his brother Kinsey and sail to the Far East. James of course was too young to attend, as were Nicholas and Caleb Spencer, but I gave special permission for Adele to stay up past her bedtime so she could be there.

All of our neighbors—the Whites, the Langs, the Buntings, and of course Captain and Mrs. Spencer—were there. Maria prepared a special dinner, and afterwards there were many toasts to the young man's health and happiness.

As a parting gift, Edward and I had chosen a fine gold chain to accompany the new pocket watch Chauncey's sister had given him. The young man had just opened it and expressed his pleasure and surprise when I saw Adele slip from the parlour.

I followed her and found her sitting on the stairs, heedless of her new blue dress. Her dark head was buried in her folded arms.

She had been behaving beautifully all summer. Clearly she had taken my conversation with her the previous spring to heart. She had not given Master Chauncey so much as an extra ounce of her attention. But clearly her feelings for him had not changed.

I sat down beside her and gave her my handkerchief.

"It is all right to be sad, Adele. It is always sad when we are parted from someone we care about."

The child lifted her head and snuffled loudly. "I am sorry, Madame."

I placed my arm about her.

"We must endeavor to be happy for him," I counseled. "He has talked of nothing else all summer. Think how happy he will be, out on the open seas again."

Adele sniffed again. "I know. I am happy for him. But I am sad, because I shall miss him so."

"I know, my dear one. I know. But you will see Chauncey again some day."

She brightened a bit. "Do you really think so?"

"Of course. He has a wide circle of family and friends here. He will not stay away forever." I patted her arm. "Now come back inside and give Chauncey your regards before you go up to bed."

Adele nodded, and, brave little soul that she was, did as I bade. She marched right up to the tall boy and gave him her own best wishes. He nodded politely.

Quick as a wink she stood on her toes and give him the fastest of pecks on the cheek. Blushing scarlet, she then hurried from the room.

Chauncey himself turned pink, but the adults in the room only laughed.

Edward looked at me questioningly. I just shook my head.

"I fear all this attention shall go to my brother's head," Catherine said as she came to stand next to me.

She had seemed a bit out of sorts all evening. I led her over to the fireplace where we might speak more privately.

"You must be very sad, Catherine. You have been like a second mother to that boy."

"Oh, I shall miss him, of course. But this is what he wants. And I trust Kinsey shall return him to me in one piece." Her gaze grew distant. "I'm afraid it is another separation that troubles me."

I understood in a trice. "The Captain?"

"He received his orders from London this morning," she said softly. "He asked me not to say anything tonight so we did not spoil Chauncey's party."

The Captain had been home for over a year. He talked often of going back to sea, but I knew the parting would be a bitter one for Catherine. She would be alone with her two boys again, and this time without her brother for comfort.

"Do you know how long he will be gone?"

"Six months," she said flatly. "Perhaps longer."

I squeezed her hand in my own. "Do not worry, Catherine. The Captain has been gone that long before, and you know Edward and I shall be just over the hill if you need us."

"I know, Jane, and I do appreciate it. But it feels…different this time. I've had him home for all these months." She tried to smile. "I've grown used to him, that is all."

I laughed, and a moment later she did as well.

"I am being silly, I know."

"Nonsense," I consoled. "Any wife would feel the way you do."

"I am resolved to think on it no more," she stoutly declared. "This is Chauncey's evening."

And so we returned to the others, and continued our happy celebration long into the night.

One fine day, perhaps a fortnight after Chauncey's departure, my little family and I were in the garden. Adele was attempting a watercolor of the lush green trees, and Edward, the baby, and I sat on a blanket enjoying the sun. Autumn would soon be full upon us, and I was determined to enjoy the last days of this glorious summer.

Edward and James had just invented a new game. It involved Edward moving James' toy rabbit a few inches away from him. James would then carefully push himself up onto his chubby knees and quickly crawl after it, crowing with joy at his newfound mobility. After a few minutes James lost interest in the toy, and the game began again.

It brought a lump to my throat to see James' first efforts at crawling. It seemed like only yesterday he had been a tiny newborn. Soon he would be walking, and then…

I looked up to see Mrs. Fairfax striding across the lawn.

"Beggin' you pardon, Mr. Rochester, Mrs. Rochester. Mrs. Spencer is here to see you."

"She and the Captain made excellent time back from London," Edward observed idly.

"Please ask her to join us," I told her, picking James up before he crawled off the blanket entirely. He squealed in protest for a moment, but quickly settled down in my arms. Thankfully, although James was the image of his father, he was not nearly as stubborn.

Mrs. Spencer arrived, sat down, and held her arms wide for her godson. She kissed James soundly.

We exchanged a few pleasantries. The journey to Portsmouth had been an excellent one, with Chauncey in high spirits and the roads perfectly dry. Captain and Mrs. Spencer had entrusted the boy to the care of one of the Captain's brother officers for the first leg of his journey, and both felt confident in their choice.

"Actually, it is on another matter entirely I have come today," Mrs. Spencer explained. "The Captain and I shall be having a house party, the week after next. We do hope you will come. All of you," she added when she saw Adele's excited expression.

"But, my dear Catherine, will that not be too much work for you? Surely you shall be busy preparing for the Captain's departure."

"Jane is right. Perhaps a smaller dinner party?" Edward suggested.

But Mrs. Spencer shook her head. "No, I am afraid a house party it must be."

Edward and I exchanged puzzled glances, but our friend did not keep us in suspense long.

"You see, no sooner had we returned from London then we found a letter from the Earl waiting. Evidently he got wind that the Captain was to be leaving again soon, and he insisted on a visit beforehand. He rather," Catherine looked thoughtful, "well, I daresay he rather invited himself, but in such a gracious way I could scarce refuse him."

I had nearly forgotten about the Captain's brother, the seldom spoken of Edmund Spencer, Earl of Strathclyde.

Mrs. Spencer had begun plucking at the blades of grass next to her. "After all, as I told the Captain, he has not seen the Earl in years, not since just after we were married. The Earl has never seen either of our sons." She could not meet either Edward's or my own eyes as she spoke.

Edward nodded sagely. "And you are having other families down as well? The Whites, perhaps?"

"Oh, all our neighbors. And a friend of the Captain's who was many years his first lieutenant on the Hastings. There shall be games and sport and a ball in my brother Spencer's honour."

"It sounds lovely," I said, determined to sound cheerful for my friend's sake. "My cousin Diana Rivers is expected here at Atherton that week for a visit."

Catherine's face fell instantly. "Oh, dear me, of course if you have family coming…"

"Nonsense. I am sure Diana should love a house party," I said firmly, determined not to disappoint my friend. "With your permission, she shall accompany us to Lansdowne."

"Oh, of course," Catherine breathed relievedly. "We shall be happy to have her."

"Then it is settled." I nodded firmly.

But later that day, as Edward and I were in the nursery laying James down for his nap, I could not help but remark on the Earl's presumption in inviting himself to –shire.

"I imagine an Earl is used to going where he pleases whenever he pleases," I said softly as I drew the covers over the baby.

James was sucking on his fist, a sure sign his morning's play had worn him out. But he was struggling to keep his dark eyes open as long as he could. It was a battle we fought every day. I usually won.

"The Earl did so because he knew perfectly well it was the only way he'd ever be invited to Lansdowne," Edward answered.

He was also keeping his voice soft, and he began to gently rock James' cradle with the toe of his boot. Our nursemaid, Sarah, was of course still with us, but Edward and I cherished these small moments when we cared for our son by ourselves.

"Has the Captain ever spoken of his brother to you?"

Edward shrugged. "Very little. I know there is some ten years between them. To hear the Captain tell it they have not seen eye to eye on anything since the day they were born."

"That is rather sad." I reached down and smoothed James' dark hair away from his round face. His eyes popped open again, but only for a moment.

"Blood connection does not ensure compatibility of temperament, Jane. Some siblings are as different as chalk and cheese, and there is nothing one can do about it."

"Then I fear it shall not be a very pleasant party."

"No, I expect not. But that is exactly why we have been invited. With a house full of people it shall be easier for the Captain to avoid the Earl. If he is very careful, he may be able to pass an entire day without spending more than a few moments in his brother's company."

"We shall do our best," I vowed.

James' fingers had finally slipped from his rosy mouth, and he was breathing deeply.

Edward and I quietly left the room.

Another small battle won.