AN: I'm sorry for the long delay in posting, but my beta-reader left me because of real life trouble. So you'll have to bear with my English and the mistakes I always make. I'm sorry, but English isn't my native language!

Disclaimer at chapter 1

Crossing the Siegfried line

Chapter 6: Until death may part us …

The first weeks after Siegfried and Caroline had come home together hadn't been easy. In public they'd managed to keep the facade of the happy couple up, but behind closed doors, alone with each other, Siegfried had sometimes found it even difficult just to be polite. He'd tried to overcome his disappointment and hurt, but sometimes one line from Caroline, one wrong word had been enough to make him lash out on her what almost always had ended with her fleeing into her room for crying.

He knew that they couldn't go on like that. The failure of their marriage certainly hadn't been only Caroline's fault. They'd been in trouble long before Edmundson had come into the picture and so it was entirely unfair to put all the blame on Caroline and to thread her like a villain. If their arrangement was to work out – and it had to because of Tim – he had somehow to overcome his grudge and make admissions towards Caroline.

However, it was so much easier to think so as to do so! Siegfried's last visit on this day had been the Sittlow farm – one of the places where he always parked his car with the bonnet in the direction of the gate so that he could leave as quickly as possible afterwards. And with Sittlow it was always the same: He only called the vet when he'd tried every quack remedy he knew of – and in this account his knowledge was as great as his arrogance – without success what almost always meant that Siegfried and his colleagues found a dying animal at the Sittlow farm. In most cases the only thing they could do there was helping the poor beast by ending its pain as quickly as possible –what proved to the Sittlows then that vets were absolutely useless.

At this evening the visit at the Sittlow farm had even been worse than usual because this time it hadn't only been the farmer and his five children standing around as Siegfried had put six already half-dead piglets down, but "Ma Sittlow" too. She was the proud possessor of what was probably the vilest tongue in the Dales and if Siegfried's sister-in-law would have heard her she'd probably have reconsidered her ideas about Siegfried always being the winner in verbal battles. With Mrs Sittlow he didn't stand a chance because she simply didn't listen to what he tried to say, but ranted away unimpressed about how vets were only after their clients' hard-earned money and how they spend it for shining cars and horses their poor clients could never afford because they were always "robbed off" by the vets and how Siegfried and his colleagues had probably never done one handclap of "honest work" in their lives. Siegfried had really felt tempted to use his human killer not only on the poor piglets, but on "Ma Sittlow" too and so he'd fled the Sittlow farm without bothering to change his Wellingtons, covered in pig faeces – the poor creatures had suffered from diarrhoea.

Coming home, he'd finally got out of the Wellingtons, putting them in front of the houses' backdoor for washing them later. On socks he'd entered the scullery and thrown his dirty work coat in the sink as Caroline had come in from the kitchen. She'd greeted him with a "hello", and then she'd looked out through the still open door, seen his Wellies and taken them with pointed fingers, put them in the other sink and started to wash them. She hadn't said a word, but Siegfried's patience had already been stretched to the limits by the Sittlows and so he'd felt provoked and had promptly hissed: "Don't play the martyr! I can do that myself! You know, I'm used on it."

Caroline had only shaken her head and sighed, but left him the Wellingtons, standing at his side while he cleaned them. "Would you like to have your dinner now or do you want to take a bath first?" she asked then.

"Oh, don't you worry – you mustn't bear with a stinking husband! I'll have my dinner in the kitchen", he snorted.

"Siegfried ..." She sounded begging.


"I suppose your day was hard, but I wish you wouldn't let it out on me," she slowly said, her eyes already filling with tears again.

"I probably wouldn't if you wouldn't show me your disgust about my work every single time you're confronted with it!" he hollered.

"I only wanted to help!" she tried to defend herself.

"Ah, you're doing the little housewife act today?" he asked sarcastically. "You mustn't bother with that, Caroline. I'm now used on your ways."

With that he'd hit the jackpot once again. Caroline looked at him, started to cry and ran up the stairs, leaving him to a solitary dinner – or better said: To pick in the stew the housekeeper had prepared because his appetite was gone (and besides he'd never liked stew much). Afterwards he got himself a brandy – a triple one because he knew himself that he'd screwed up once again. Caroline really tried and she tried hard – and what more could she have done?

Slowly going up the stairs he found himself in front of the door to her bedroom. She was still sobbing – he could hear it through the door. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply, knocked softly and entered.

It was months since he'd last been in her bedroom and he hadn't even known that she'd redecorated. The green and blue curtains were gone, instead she'd put up something in crème and burgundy, giving the entire room a more female note.

She lay on the bed, her face buried in her pillows and she obviously hadn't heard him entering. Sitting down next to her, he put his hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Caroline. I really shouldn't have let my frustration out on you."

She didn't turn, but only shrugged her shoulders. "You're right – I'm a failure as a wife. I can't do anything right. But I really only wanted to help you!"

"Caroline!" He turned her around, pulled his handkerchief out of his chest pocket and reached it to her. "I'm certainly not up to win an award for being an ideal husband either. I'm really sorry, Caroline – I was probably rather unbearable the last months."

"Siegfried!" Suddenly, she was in his arms, clinging to him as for dear life. "I love you. I love you so very much." And then she kissed him and her hand landed on his thigh, gliding up the inside.

For a moment he was completely gobsmacked. He certainly hadn't entered her bedroom with the intention to start the intimate part of their marital life again. But he was a healthy, red-blooded man in his forties who hadn't been with a woman in over a year. And Caroline knew him well. She knew that the side of his neck was one of his erotic zones and she was just sucking there and she also knew how sensitive the insides of his thighs were and what her hand there did to him. Besides she'd already undressed and wore only a rather flimsy shirt. He could feel her firm breasts pressing against his chest, he could feel the warmth of her skin under his fingers and even if he would have wanted to resist her – the part of him Caroline used to name "not so little Siegfried" certainly didn't want to. He was up and straining against the fabric of Siegfried's trousers almost painfully.

There had been something desperate in their love making. Caroline had held on to him as if her life would depend on it and all the time she'd been telling him how much she'd missed him and how deeply she loved him. Yet he'd been fighting with himself because he hadn't only felt desire and passion, but something like fury too. Something in him had wanted to take her with force, had wanted to drive every thought of Edmundson finally out of her head and although he'd still been not sure of still loving her, he'd felt possessive with an urgency which had shocked him. He'd always prided himself on being a civilized, well-mannered human being and on having excellent bedroom manners. Now he'd gotten to see a side of him he certainly didn't like much.

Caroline had finally fallen asleep in his arms with a happy, little sigh, her head on his shoulder and her arm over his chest, her hand resting on his heart. Yet he was wide awake and finally almost glad as he heard the phone in his room ringing. He tried to get out of her embrace without wakening her, but she felt him moving and as he turned the light on the nightstand on, she looked at him out of sleepy, but happy eyes. "Emergency call?"

"I'm afraid so." He kissed her forehead. "I need to go to the phone."

"Poor Siegfried!"

Picking up his trousers from the floor he slipped in and dashed through the hall to his room. Helen was on phone, sounding anxious: "It's the Edginthon stud, Siegfried – a flash of lightning. The mares' stable is burning. They've already gotten most of the mares out, but some are injured and at least one seems to have gone in premature labour due to the shock. I've gotten Callum out, but I can't reach James – he's to a calving over at Pimslow's place."

"Callum already gone?"

"No, he's just coming down the stairs."

"Tell him to bring as much sedative as possible and at least two sets of instruments, as many sterile drapes as he can find and the headlamps from the garage. I'll meet him there!" Siegfried said while in the same time trying to reach to his socks drawer and opening it. Fishing a pair of socks out he locked the receiver between his jaw and shoulder and tried to pull a sock on while balancing on one foot. "And Helen: If James comes in, send him out too, will you?"

Caroline came into his room, wrapped in her dressing gown. As she saw how he sat down on the bed for getting his second sock on, she opened his closet, got a shirt out and a tie out. Reaching him the shirt she put the tie around her own neck, knotting it. Loosening the knot again she pulled the tie over her head and then over his, shoving the knot up under his collar. Running back to the closet she got him a vest and a jacket, then ran out of the room and into hers. Coming back with his spectacles and his watch which had laid on her nightstand she quickly kissed his cheek. "I hope it's not as bad as it sounds."

Siegfried wouldn't have thought it possible, but becoming intimate again bettered their situation. Although he still worked long and hard, having him back in her bed obviously helped Caroline to cope. She hadn't hired a new nanny, but spent a lot of time with Tim, besides she tried to come closer to Helen – and Helen who'd certainly felt how deep in trouble Siegfried and Caroline had been, tried her best to finally befriending Caroline. At least once a week the both women did their shopping together and Caroline even learned a bit of cooking from Helen.

Things had definitely improvised during the summer. Even the information that Richard Edmundson was back home too hadn't bothered Siegfried much, though he'd thought the man rather brass as he'd called at Skeldale only just two weeks after his return because of a lame horse. Helen had been in, working at the bills, so she'd taken the call and told Siegfried about. He'd shaken his head, murmured "The cheek of the man! It's amazing" – and then he'd simply asked James to take over. Of course, it had gotten him James' usual "But you're better with horses, Siegfried!" A look of Helen had stopped James and he'd sighed: "Oh well – I'll do Edmundson's horse. But could you perhaps take over Biggins for me?"

Since then it had always been James who'd done Edmundson's animals. Of course, sometimes when riding out, Siegfried couldn't avoid seeing Caroline's former lover from afar, but he always managed not to run directly into him.

However, coming back to Skeldale after his afternoon round on a rather nippy October day, Siegfried was aware that at this night he probably wouldn't be able to talk to Edmundson. Lady Hulton was to celebrate her birthday and had invited all of her neighbours and friends, including of course the Farnons.

Entering the house Siegfried heard cheerful sounds. The children – and he immediately recognised his son's voice in the choir – were playing in the living room while from the kitchen he heard Caroline and Helen laughing and then, as he was just to open the door, Caroline's voice: "I think he'll forgive me that I told you first. I simply had to, you know? I would have burst if I couldn't have shared my big news with someone!"

Opening the door finally Siegfried stepped in, smiling and the women. "What big news?"

"You were eavesdropping!" Helen laughed. "He always does!" she said towards Caroline, but then just patted Siegfried on the shoulder and disappeared through the back door. "I need some rosemary for dinner!"

Caroline smiled almost shyly at Siegfried. "I was seeing Dr. Allinson ..."

"Oh?" He took her hand and pulled her towards him. "And when am I to become a father again?"

"You were really eavesdropping!" Caroline accused him, but in the same time snuggled closer to him.

"I wasn't. But getting the connection between 'big news' and you seeing the quack isn't too hard, is it?" He kissed her forehead. "Are you well, Caroline?"

"I'm fine, Siegfried – fine and very happy." For a moment she leant her forehead towards his. "And you? I knew we didn't plan to have a baby, but ..."

"Hush!" He kissed her once again and then laid his hand on her flat belly. "Whoever's in here – I'm very much looking forward to meeting her or him. When are you due?"

"Six months," Caroline answered. "You know, I didn't notice this time because I didn't feel sick in the morning. Actually it was Helen who said I should see Dr. Allinson as I told her that I'm already a few weeks late. I really didn't believe I'm pregnant again, isn't it? What would you like better? A boy or a girl?"

"You're repeating yourself, darling! You asked me that first time too," he remembered her. "The answer is still the same: I don't care. I only want a healthy baby, the gender really isn't important."

"But if you could something about the gender – what would you want?" Caroline insisted.

"Probably a girl this time. Having a son is splendid, but whenever I see James with Rosie ..."

Caroline laughed. "I actually hope for a girl too. Considering how Rosie wraps you around her fingers, a daughter of ours would probably be able to make you jump through hoops for her."

"If she'll become only half as lovely as her mother, I'll probably will!" he complimented her. He actually hadn't thought of another child, but now he found that he liked the prospect very much. Perhaps a little girl was just what they needed for overcoming the rest of their difficulties.

"I love you, Siegfried!" Caroline whispered.

Still he couldn't get himself to give the statement back, so instead he kissed her tenderly.

"Pops, why you're kissing mommy?" Tim had entered the kitchen and was looking up at his parents out of big eyes.

Siegfried bent down and lifted his son up. "It's fun kissing your mom, don't you think?"

Tim considered for a few seconds. In the moment he wasn't much in kisses, but had even told his aunt Catherine that as a boy he didn't think it appropriate to become always cuddled and kissed like a baby. But his mother obviously was something different and so he generously granted: "It's okay to kiss mommy."

"I'm glad you approve!" Siegfried chuckled. "And how do you think about your mother giving you a little brother or sister?"

"Am I to become a big brother like Jimmy?" Tim's eyes were beaming.

"Yes," Caroline answered. "In six months you'll be big brother too – and I'm sure you'll be wonderful."

"Yes! And then I'm allowed to stay up longer, am I not? And I'll get a bike!"

"How so?" Siegfried asked amused.

"Jimmy got a bike as he became a big brother!" Tim stated.

"I didn't get one as your uncle Tristan was born," Siegfried held against.

"That was unfair!" his son said firmly. "You wouldn't be unfair, Pops, would you?"

Siegfried put Tim down on his feet and ruffled through his hair. "We'll see, son. You know, we'll still have six months to wait until your little sister or brother will be there."

"But until then – can I come with you on your round tomorrow? Jimmy and Rosie will go with Uncle James tomorrow, so I'd like to go with you!"

Caroline looked a bit worried – she'd always been afraid of cows and the big cart horses and therefore didn't like the thought of her son running around between these dangerous animals.

"Don't you think one of us should keep your mother company?" Siegfried asked.

"Huh ..." Timmy sounded unhappy, but then he smiled again. "Mommy can come here and be with Aunt Helen while we're out."

"You know what, Tim?" Caroline laid her arm around his shoulder. "I have a better idea: If the weather isn't too bad tomorrow, we'll both join your father on his morning round – if he wants us to, that is."

"Of course I'd want you to!" Siegfried nodded.

Caroline in the meantime looked at her watch. "What about the both of you going upstairs now for a bath while I help Helen with dinner? She's invited us, Siegfried and she'll look after Tim tonight. So I've brought your tails and my dress and we can start to the party from here."

After the excellent dinner Siegfried actually would have liked to put his feet up in front of the fireplace, but Caroline was obviously very much looking forward to show her new robe – very elegant in silver, modelling her perfect figure – and Siegfried certainly hadn't wanted to spoil her fun at this night. So a few minutes after eight he stopped his car in front of the Hulton estate, helped Caroline out. And as in old times she kissed his cheek and whispered into his ear: "I'm going to enjoy all the other women envying me for having gotten the most handsome man on my side!"

Being in an exceptional good mood he twinkled at her. "I don't think so. However, I believe that all men will wonder how I managed to catch the beauty of the ball."

They were just entering the house where a footman waited already for helping them out of their coats. By stepping into the festively decorated reception hall, Lord Hulton's butler announced their arrival: "The Honourable Caroline Farnon and Mr Siegfried Farnon, M.R.C.V.S."

Only five minutes later – Siegfried and Caroline were just chatting with Catherine and her husband – Siegfried saw from the corner of his eyes how a tall, white haired man entered, a brunette at his arm. She was behind the butler, so he didn't see much of her. Without much interest he heard the butler calling out: "Her Grace Majorie Duchess of Hartford and Thames and His Grace Thomas the 7th Duke of Hartford and Thames."

Caroline looked at the couple and suddenly exclaimed: "I don't believe it – look, Siegfried, who's just arrived!"

Turning around, Siegfried felt like he'd have become hit with a club. The woman about whose hand Lord Hulton just bowed for a kiss was no one else as Majorie – his Majorie. And she looked breathtaking in dark red velvet, embroidered with hundred of tiny silver stars and a tiara with diamonds and rubies in her dark hair. The man at her side, though not young anymore with his white hair, made nevertheless a dashing figure in tails with the red band of the Bath Order over his chest. Watching how he smiled down at Majorie Siegfried felt a rush of jealousy and possessiveness almost taking his breath away. And now the Duke laid his hand on Majorie's naked back and Siegfried balled his fist. He would have liked to attack the white haired man and to beat the smug smile out of his face. How dared this aging Apollo touching Majorie like that?

"Siegfried!" Caroline was tugging at his sleeve.

Tearing his eyes away from Majorie and her husband, he looked at his wife. "Yes, Caroline?"

"Did you know your old flame is back and married?" There was a hint of jealousy and even schadenfreude in her voice.

Before Siegfried could answer, George Hulton had taken Majorie's arm and was steering her towards the Farnons, exclaiming happily: "Look who's here, Siegfried!" Smiling at Majorie's husband he explained: "Since you're to live here, you must meet Siegfried who isn't only an old friend of Majorie and mine, but a brilliant vet and great horseman. You can't get anyone better for your horses! Tommy, may I introduce you to Siegfried Farnon and his enchanting wife Caroline? Caroline, Siegfried – meet my cousin Thomas Hartford-Thames! And here are the Rees-Claris – Catherine and Jonathan."

Siegfried forced himself to smile politely. "You'll forgive for me first paying my compliments towards the Duchess?" He took Majorie's hand and bent over it, formally just kissing the air over it. Nevertheless the slight trembling of her fingers in his and her still so familiar smell made him almost dizzy. "Congratulations on your marriage, your grace!"

Her voice – the velvet alto he remembered so well – was soft as she said: "Thank you, but I'm still Majorie, Siegfried." And still she managed to make the name he'd never liked sound like an endearment.

Siegfried couldn't bear looking at her. Turning to her husband who'd just kissed Caroline's hand he bowed. "Your Grace ..."

The Duke – and why had he to be so tall? Siegfried had never liked men towering over him – offered Siegfried a kind smile and his hand which was amazingly strong and firm. "Considering that you're an old friend of my darling wife – and she's already told me that you're a miracle worker when it comes to horses and other animals – I'd like you to call me Tommy as all my friends do. I hope we'll become friends now that Majorie and I are to settle down here."

Politeness let him only one answer and so Siegfried forced a smile and nodded. "Then you must call me Siegfried."

Caroline saved him. Smiling at Majorie she asked: "Where you're to live, Majorie? At your place?"

"Yes," Majorie confirmed. "I've missed it so very much!"

"And I was kind of homesick for Yorkshire too," her husband added. He made a gesture covering all of the room and the house. "Here's home for me. I grew up in this very house and this made probably for me feeling more connected to the area here as to Devonshire where my family actually comes from. And, "now he smiled at Majorie again and put his hand on her back, "with being married to a Yorkshire woman who's got a really lovely place here we decided that we'd love living here much better as in Devonshire."

"How did the both of you meet, Majorie?" Catherine asked. "I mean to remember that your husband was once our Ambassador in Oslo.

"Yes, indeed – but that was before the war. After the war I was sent to Japan and that's how I met Majorie. She officially was press consultant in my staff, but actually she was my eyes and ears among the Japanese."

"I didn't know you speak Japanese!" Caroline looked at Majorie. "How does one come to learn that?"

Majorie looked a bit awkward, shrugging her shoulders. "Actually it's my grandfather's fault. He was a merchant and did a lot of business with Japan and so he learned the language and fell in love with the Japanese culture. He brought some very beautiful drawings and other works of art home – and as a child I was totally fascinated by these things. I wanted to know what was written on the drawings and so my grandfather taught me some Japanese. And during the war White Hall was a bit short on translators for Japanese and Chinese, so I learned a bit more of it."

"Actually she's learned Japanese so perfectly that people there always asked where in Japan she'd grown up!" praised the Duke his wife's abilities. "Without her understanding of even subtle things – and the Japanese are the masters in expressing the real important things between the lines – I couldn't have done my job."

While the Duke was talking Siegfried scrutinized him. He was indeed an elder man – probably already in his sixties. Although he kept himself straight and his face was tanned, he'd gotten a lot of little wrinkles around his blue eyes, but that didn't change the fact that he was a handsome man with his long, small face, an almost too perfect Roman nose, a generous mouth and high cheekbones. And in the contrast to Siegfried who'd become rather soft around the middle in the last months, Thomas Hartford-Thames didn't carry one pound too much. Besides he was really tall, standing at least one head even over Caroline – what made Siegfried even more aware of the fact that nature hadn't treated him too kindly in this account. While Tristan had luckily inherited their father's length, Siegfried came after their petite mother – and somehow most of the women he'd been with had been taller as he. In Caroline's case it was almost half a head though she always wore flat shoes when she was with him. Even in this Majorie had suited him better – she was a bit smaller as him, even now with wearing high heels.

To his relief Siegfried saw now another familiar form coming through the crowd towards him: Mrs Pumphrey, wearing a beautiful grey-blue gown, waved and beamed at him: "Mr Farnon, Mr Farnon! It's wonderful to see you and your enchanting wife!"

Her beloved Pekingese Tricky Woo had died a few months before, but luckily James and Siegfried had been able to persuade her to get another dog. Only she hadn't wanted a Pekingese again because "I'd be so reminded of Tricky Woo and I'd probably expect him to be just as my beloved Tricky!", so she'd gotten herself a beautiful Afghan who was in James and Siegfried's opinion the daftest dog ever decorating a posh sofa. Yet Mrs Pumphrey thought the world of him and took even the fact that her Aurelius – she'd named him after the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius because she found her dog so "majestic and noble" – was able to get lost in her garden as a sign of his outstanding intelligence. "He's always so deep in thought he simply can't get himself to bother about banal things!" she'd told James – and as he'd repeated the tale at the Drover's, Tristan had promptly considered if Aurelius and Siegfried were relatives.

But for now Siegfried was really grateful for Mrs Pumphrey and her waxing about Aurelius' newest achievements because it got him a chance to come away from Majorie and her husband. Besides with Mrs Pumphrey he only needed to say "yes, really?" or "how splendid" now and then while he could let his thoughts wander.

For years he'd avoided to think of Majorie. When he'd been on her estate, he'd never asked for her, telling himself that he didn't even wanted to know where she was and what she was doing. This chapter of his life was closed, wasn't it?

Seeing her again had shaken him to the core and he'd become painfully aware that he'd never really overcome her. He still loved her and, after he'd finally managed to go away from Mrs Pumphrey and had stepped out of the terrace for some urgently needed fresh air, he finally admitted to himself. What he'd taken as love for Caroline had mostly been physical attraction and his longing for a home and a family. But there had always been Majorie in the back of his mind and in a way he'd probably always compared Caroline with her – a comparison in which Caroline had never stood a chance.

"Siegfried?" Majorie had found him. Standing next to him on the terrace she looked out at the dark garden. "It's wonderful to see you again."

He thought he could feel the warmth of her body next to his. And there was her smell, this unique mixture from lavender, lilac and lemon he remembered so well. It played havoc with his senses and he wished nothing more as to take her in his arms and to kiss her passionately. He needed all his willpower for not pulling her in his arms and into the dark garden.

Instead he gripped the stone rails of the balustrade and slowly asked; his voice rather hoarse: "How long are you married now?"

"Three months," she answered. "We worked for three years together in Tokyo, then he was to retire and we decided to marry. He's a good and kind man. I'm sure you'll like him." Somehow she sounded sad, her voice radiating melancholy.

Bracing himself with both hands on the balustrade, Siegfried said coldly: "It doesn't matter if I like him. It's you who lives with him."

"Oh, Siegfried!" She fell silent for a moment and then, in a failed attempt to keep her voice light, she started again. "I believe I have to congratulate you. Caroline told me that you're having a son and that she's expecting again. I'm happy for you – you've always wanted children, didn't you?"

"I wanted them with you!" It was out before he'd thought about it.

"Good grief, Siegfried! You shouldn't say something like that! The both of us – that's history, long gone, water under the bridge. Don't you tell me you're still ..."

"I'm sorry." He swallowed and turned to her. "I really shouldn't have said that. Caroline tries her best – and I'm very grateful to her for Tim – that's our son – and the child she's expecting."

"I know you are," Majorie replied softly. She laid her hand on his arm. "Can't we be friends? Just friends?"

He nodded, feeling incredibly woeful. "Yes, let's be friends – that's all what's left for us, isn't it?"

She swallowed. "Yes, Siegfried – that's all what's left. And now we should probably go back before we're missed. Later we'll dance together and then, in a few days, Tommy and I are going to invite Caroline and you for dinner. And one day, dear, dear Siegfried, it really won't hurt anymore." And before he could answer to her, she turned around, her skirt swishing around her feet and hurried back into the hall.

Siegfried hadn't danced with Majorie. He hadn't trusted himself enough for coming so close to her. Instead he'd stuck to his wife and to Lord Hulton's champagne though he hadn't drunken as much as he'd made Caroline believe. He'd wanted to spend the night alone – and the best way to make sure that Caroline wouldn't approach him had been to look a bit blotto and to pretend falling asleep in the car on their way back.

Three days after the ball he was once again riding through the hills as his mare suddenly raised her head. Her ears were playing and then she snickered, her chest shaking with the force of it. Siegfried stopped her and looked around. It wasn't even six o'clock and he'd believed himself alone in this rather lonely area, but now he saw another rider coming over the top of the hill. He sat on a beautiful, black stallion who'd stopped now too and was raising up on his hindlegs as he heard the mare calling out for him. However, his rider obviously wasn't one to become scared about that. He simply bent forward, putting his weight on the black's shoulders. Getting him down this way, he sent him forward down the hill. For a moment he let him gallop, but then he straightened his back and slowed his horse down to a lovely, collected trot. It was a fine display of horsemanship und even by recognizing the stallion's master as Thomas Duke of Hartford and Thames – the last person Siegfried had wanted to meet – Siegfried could only praise him as he stopped the stallion a few steps in front of the mare. "Well done, Thomas. I really thought he'd bolt."

Thomas Hartford clapped his stallion's neck. "He certainly wanted to. He obviously thinks your mare very attractive." He laughed. "The boy's got taste, hasn't he? She's really a beauty. Out of the Golden Star line, I suppose?"

"A granddaughter," Siegfried confirmed. "Abdullah with a dame by Firestorm."

"Hmm – great horse, great pedigree. Will you breed her?"

"Perhaps next year," Siegfried replied. "She's just five. Your stallion – he's got a lot of blood, hasn't he? But I'm absolutely lost about his lineage. There's something on him what reminds me of Dark Ronald – the shoulder and backline. But this head and his gaits ..."

"You're good, Mr Farnon – damn good!" Thomas Hartford nodded. "He's indeed a Dark Ronald offspring."

"But I can't for the world make out over which line!" Siegfried admitted, feeling a bit miffed. He actually prided himself on his ability to recognize horses and their heritage.

"I don't think anyone around here could." Thomas Hartford laughed and again petted the stallion's neck. "You know, as a young diplomat I served at the German Embassy. So I got to know German horses – especially the Trakehners. In my opinion there are one of the finest breeds in the world. That's why I got this boy as a wedding gift to my wife. He's a Trakehner and indeed a great-grandson of Dark Ronald. I think he'll do fine with Majorie's mares." Thomas Hartford smiled and pointed to the path along the beck. "You're going there, don't you? Would you mind if I'd join you? The boy's a bit spooky when it comes to water, so I'd like to have calm company."

"Let's go down." Siegfried turned his mare. "Bonny actually likes water – she probably enjoys showing your boy how it's done."

By riding along the beck Thomas Hartford smiled at Siegfried. "How's your lovely wife doing? Much suffering from morning sickness?"

"Luckily not this time. With our first one she really had it bad, but number two isn't giving her any trouble. She sometimes even complains that she doesn't feel really pregnant."

"My first wife was always almost puking her poor stomach out – and when she wasn't hanging over a bowl, she cursed me for having gotten her into this condition." Thomas laughed. "The joys of becoming a father – but it's worth it, isn't it, Siegfried?"

"It certainly is," Siegfried confirmed. "How many children do you have?"

A shadow was gliding over Thomas' handsome face. "Two living – a son and a daughter. My second daughter died in a car accident together with her mother. She was just four years old."

"What a tragedy. I'm very sorry!" Siegfried didn't even want to imagine how it must feel to lose a child.

"It was ages ago," Thomas breathed deeply. "My son is in the navy now and my daughter is in London." He smiled proudly. "She's to become a colleague of yours, though I actually hope that she'll reconsider her plans about doing country practise. I'm certainly not one of these old-fashioned fathers who think a daughter should sit at home, doing needlework and boring herself out of her mind until the right man shows up and marries her, but the idea of my little darling becoming kicked by cows, bitten by sows and chased around by horses isn't exactly enhancing a father's rest at night. I've already gotten enough to worry about with Majorie insisting to break in her young horses herself. I'm probably a bit of a mother hen, but every time I see her with a bucking youngster, I feel like calling the doctor. Actually she's just at it again," he proceeded with a sigh. "Therefore she's sent me away – she says me hanging around twitching every time when her horse jumps makes her nervously."

"I'd twitch too!" Siegfried reassured him. He remembered that Majorie had gotten him to fear for her a few times – she sometimes liked to do risky things.

Siegfried hadn't wanted to like Thomas Hartford, but meeting him twice or three times a week by riding out had made for him learning that Majorie's husband really was a likeable man. There was nothing wrong about him – except of him being married to the woman Siegfried loved and longed for.

He was glad that he rarely got to see her – she obviously was still busy with her young horses and therefore not accompanying her husband on his morning rides. Siegfried was sure that even with his new developed liking of Thomas he would have found it exceptionally hard to see Majorie and him together.

It was enough torture to think of the two of them as a couple when Siegfried was driving through the Dales on his rounds and every time when Thomas asked about how Caroline was doing, Siegfried feared that he'd announce that Majorie was pregnant too. Siegfried knew that she loved children und she was still young enough to bear her husband one or two. He wished her to be happy, but the thought of her having children with another man, even with someone as nice as Thomas, hurt.

It was an odd summer, Siegfried often thought. Becoming friends with the husband of the woman he loved, suffering agonies of jealousy while in the same time hoping that Majorie had found what she needed – that was one part of it. Another was his family life which had definitely improved with Caroline's pregnancy. In the first weeks of it she'd even sometimes accompanied Siegfried on his rounds – much to Tim's delight who liked nothing better as to be with his father. Although he was only just learning to read, pestering his parents all the time about teaching him, he was already able to keep the bottles and jars in the boot of Siegfried's car apart and nothing could make him happier as being trusted with fetching something for his father. Now he was mostly alone with his father – after a few rounds with Siegfried and Timothy Caroline had gotten, that Siegfried looked carefully after his son and that it wasn't only him who had always an eye on Timmy, but the farmers too. Even the most unapproachable ones who'd hardly uttered more as grunt to welcome their vet, smiled when they saw Timothy climbing out of Siegfried's car and undoing his shoes for slipping in his Wellies – he insisted on doing it exactly like his father and he'd of course insisted on not to get "childish" Wellingtons, but black, stout one like Siegfried's. And like Siegfried Tim finished the job always with just putting his second boot an then jumping up for slipping in by already dashing in the direction of the patient.

When coming home after their rounds, Timothy had always a lot to tell his mother and somehow his happiness was spreading. Siegfried was awfully proud on him and his joy about his son got Caroline always to smile. On the other hand her now visible pregnancy stroked a chord in Siegfried. He was looking forward to their second child – and there was something else: His longing for Majorie didn't only make for a bad conscience towards Caroline, but for finally forgiving her the affair with Edmunston.

There was only one problem: For the first time in his life Siegfried had trouble by performing in the bedroom. It certainly wasn't because he didn't find Caroline attractive anymore, just on the opposite. Pregnancy suited her, filling her up just on the right places and making her gloom and it certainly wasn't him lacking tender feelings for her either – though he didn't love her anymore, he was still fond on her. But he was occupied by his longing for Majorie – and sleeping with Caroline would have made him feel like using Caroline and betraying Majorie.

Luckily Caroline didn't mind his reserve in this account very much. She'd come around morning sickness this time, but the heavier she became, the more she suffered from backache. That made her more interested in a backrub as in anything else – and backrubs were something Siegfried always happily provided her with.

As always in the Dales the winter had come quickly and stormy. Now, in the first days of December, it was already snowing. Nevertheless Siegfried's horse needed its exercise only that at this time of the year even he didn't like riding out in the early hours of the morning anymore. As a vet he knew of course that his horse wouldn't have a problem by going through darkness, but he didn't like it and so he gave up his usual after lunch nap for taking his boy out. Unfortunately this change in his schedule made for him not meeting Thomas anymore – he probably still did his exercises in the morning.

After a few days Siegfried started to miss his older friend. It had been nice to have him for company and to talk to him about this and that. Siegfried even missed Thomas so much that he found himself considering riding to the Edgerthon stud for asking Thomas if he wouldn't like to ride at the afternoon now and then. Yet the thought of meeting Majorie kept Siegfried back. Thinking of her all the time was already something what lasted hard on his conscience – he was after all a married man whose wife was to have her second child soon and in a way he'd become a friend of her husband – and therefore seeing her was definitely out of the question. It would add fuel to the fire he tried to extinguish and so he got himself used to riding through the barren land on his own again.

Coming back home at the first Sunday of December he found Caroline on the sofa, looking rather pale. It was four days before she was due and so he immediately asked her if she was in labour. Caroline tried to laugh. "Siegfried, I've still four days and considering it's your child I really can't imagine it will be punctual. You remember, Timmy made us wait for two weeks over his date." She shifted, bracing her back with her hand and moaning. "With Tim I thought already I would have to keep him in until he would start school!" Once again she moved. "Good grief – my back's killing me."

"Shall I give you a backrub, dear?" Siegfried offered.

"That would be wonderful – only you'll first need to help me up and that will probably break your back. You know, I feel like an elephant."

Bending down he kissed the tip of her nose. "I don't have much experience with elephants, but you're certainly a very pretty one." He took both her hands and pulled her up from the sofa and into his arms. For a moment she leaned on him and then she laughed. "It's rather funny, isn't it? Your arms don't even reach around me anymore. And," she bent forward and kissed him lightly, "kissing you is quite an effort."

"It's entirely a question of technique, my dear." He stepped to her side, laid his arm around her waist, pulled her close and kissed her tenderly. "See? It works quite well this way."

Suddenly Caroline twitched. "Uh!"

"You are in labour!" Siegfried stated and reached with both hands for her belly. Furrowing his brow he checked it and then looked at his watch.

"Siegfried, I'm not in labour! That was simply your offspring giving me another kick in the stomach!" Caroline took his hand. "What about the backrub you offered me?"

Siegfried didn't let himself become distracted so easily. His left hand rested still on her abdomen. "Caroline, I think I'd better drive you to the hospital. You don't want me to deliver our child, do you?"

"Oh, it would perhaps be interesting," Caroline tried to joke. "I'd like to learn how you'd like it – I mean, compared to your calves, foals and lambs."

Siegfried rubbed her back. "At least our little one won't be as heavy as a calf or a foal. On the other hand: It won't be up on its feet after 10 minutes either."

"And I'll certainly need more time to give birth as your average cow." By saying so Caroline twitched again and then, shaking her head, she sighed. "It seems you're right again. That really felt like labour."

"Then it's the hospital for you, my darling." Siegfried was already shoving her towards the door. "You'll sit down on the chair in the hall while I call Helen. She'll come to get Timmy and then I'll fetch your bag and drive you to the hospital."

Caroline pulled him back. "Please, Siegfried – not the hospital yet! Last time I was wandering through the halls there for almost four hours before they even got me a bath!"

"Second births are usually quicker as the first," Siegfried called over his shoulder, already running through the hall to the phone.

This time Siegfried's prognosis had been wrong. Allegra Daphne Farnon hadn't been in a hurry about coming into the world. She'd made her mother struggle until half past six in the morning while her father was half the night wearing the linoleum of the hospital's floor off by pacing in front of the surgery door like a caged tiger.

However, as Siegfried arrived in front of Skeldale house around eight o'clock, he wasn't in the least tired, but almost bursting with happiness. He'd left Caroline peacefully sleeping off her exhaustion and he'd already gotten his daughter to hold – and in the contrast to Tim who'd been all crumbles and odd grimaces little Allegra was a perfect beauty with big, blue eyes and a head full of golden, blond hair.

Switching the engine of his Rover off, Siegfried heard the braces of another car stopping behind him. Climbing out he turned around and saw his friend and neighbour Dr. Harry Allinson getting out of his car. Grinning at him he cheerfully greeted him: "Morning, you old quack. Have you already killed someone today?"

Harry Allinson produced a very lopsided grin. "Killing patients is your speciality, cow-arse-specialist. Mine do the killing themselves." His face became serious and he stepped closer to Siegfried, putting his hand on Siegfried's shoulder. "You were a friend of Thomas Hartford, weren't you?"

"I was?" Siegfried felt as if a cold hand had reached out for his heart.

"Yes, Siegfried, was. Tommy is dead. He's shoot himself just this morning. I'm in the moment coming back from his place."

"He shot himself?" Siegfried felt as if someone would have kicked him in the stomach. Leaning against his car, he shook his head. "But why?"

Harry Allinson sighed. "A tumour in the brain – malign and inoperable. It was diagnosed around two years before and was the reason why he retired. Actually the thing wasn't growing as fast as I'd expected it, but in the last weeks it spread and Tommy suffered from severe pain. Besides he was losing sight and his ability to move. In a few weeks he'd been a blind man in a wheelchair, needing help in every aspect of his life."

Slowly Siegfried said: "I didn't know. He never said a word."

"He told no one, except his wife of course. He was a very brave man, Siegfried."

"Shooting himself – that needs some guts, doesn't it?" Siegfried swallowed and looked at Harry Allinson.

"Certainly, especially when you do it as well-planned as Tommy. He left the house before dawn and put a note at the door of his horse's stall, ordering the grown to call me and to send me down into the little forest behind the big pasture. There I found him. He was already dead. The groom thinks he's heard the shot shortly after he came into the stables around six o'clock. Tommy obviously wanted to make absolutely sure that it wouldn't be Majorie who'd find him."

Siegfried had a lump in his throat and felt his eyes burning with tears. "But she knows now?" he asked.

"Of course." Harry bent down for lifting his bag out of the car. "He doesn't look too bad. The bullet went through his left sleeve – he was left-handed – and straight out behind his right ear. I cleaned the wound, covered it and got his grooms to bring him home. While they carried him up, I told Majorie. Yet she'd already suspected something like that. She knew him well enough. It was clear to her that he would have loathed to become a burden to her. They loved each other very much – I think Majorie even looked him so much that she was able to let him go. As I talked to her she was collected and calm. Only as the men brought Tommy's body in, she lost it and started to cry." He sighed once again. "Poor Majorie! She doesn't have much luck with men, does she? I wondered once why a woman as bright and beautiful as her hadn't married earlier and she told me that the war had separated her from the man she'd thought her great love. Honestly, this man must have been an idiot for letting a woman like her go!"

To be continued