“Love is a Choice”, Ch. 37 (PG-13) End: Our Story Ends with Love in Abundance, September 3, 2013 (Post #445)

“Love is a Choice”, Ch. 37 (PG-13) End:  Our Story Ends with Love in Abundance, September 3, 2013  (Post #445)

(An original story by Gratiana Lovelace; All Rights Reserved)

aaaLove_is_a_Choice_story_logo_Mar1313GratianaLovelace225x280[From time to time, I will illustrate my story with my dream cast of:  Richard Armitage as Lord Rafe Wingate, Carla Gugino as Lady Katharine Southwick Wingate, Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Plunkett, Lady Violet Henderson as Lady Leonora Wingate, Emilie Francois as the child Anna Wingate and Samantha Mathis as the young lady Anna Wingate, Mark Strong as Sir Collin MacGregor, Alan Bates as Lord Charles Wingate, Christian Bale as Stuart MacGregor, Daniel Day-Lewis as Sir Antony Southwick, Michelle Pfeiffer as Lady Charmaine Southwick, Catherine Deneuve as Lady Esmѐ Sinclair, Julian Sands as Sir Percival Southwick, Samantha Morton as Lady Lucinda Southwick, Raymond Coulthard as David Harriott, Rosamund Pike as  Fanny Miller, Brendan Coyle as Uncle Miller, King William IV and Queen Adelaide as themselves, Princess Victoria as herself, Kirsten Dunst as Cassandra Hatch, Matthew MacFadyen as Fr. Robert Hatch, Dominic Cooper as Algernon Percy Lord Lovaine, Rose Byrne as Lady Marjorie, and others, etc.]   [Story Logo 1abcd]

Author’s Mature Content Note:  “Love is a Choice” is a story of love and romance set in the early to mid 1800’s.  I like Regency sensibilities with regard to comedy of manners, but Romantic period modes of dress.   Ha!  As such there will be some passages in this story involving heartfelt love scenes (perhaps some R rated) and some passages involving highly dramatic moments.  I will label the maturity rating of those chapters accordingly.  Otherwise, the general rating for this story is PG or PG-13 due to some mature situations and topics.  If you are unable or unwilling to attend a movie with the ratings that I provide, then please do not read the chapters with those labels.  This is my disclaimer.

Additional Disclaimer: The Wiki and other reference links I cite contain general information merely to indicate that a place, person, or artifact, etc., possibly existed.  Though I try to use real locations in England and I make reference to some historically complementary information whenever possible, the fictionalized history that I write about for these towns, towns folks, and areas in my story are mostly figments of my imagination and should not be taken as fact.

Author’s Recap from the previous installment:  Almost seventeen year old Anna Wingate, Baroness of Warwick and twenty year old Cadet Stuart MacGregor became engaged during the annual Dearing Manor Wingate family and friends Christmas 1831 holidays gathering.  Her good friend Lady Marjorie Fotheringay also became engaged to Lieutenant David Harriott.  A year long engagement filled with wedding planning will culminate in Anna and Stuart’s marriage after she turns eighteen in January 1833–though the young lovers are eager beyond words if their Christmas kisses are any judge.  But careful planning does not always lead to smooth results–to a few people’s chagrin.

“Love is a Choice”, Ch. 37 End (PG-13):  Our Story Ends with Love in Abundance

Sitting at the breakfast table at the hunting lodge this mid January 1832 morn, is Lord Rafe, Lady Katharine, the now seventeen year old Baroness Anna, and her siblings, four and a half year old twins Lord Richard and Lady Aurora (nicknamed Rori), and nearly three year old Edward Bennett (nicknamed Eben) nosh happily on scones and scrambled eggs–no bacon for the twins to duel with.  Anna becomes instantly riveted to their butler Smithers as he walks slowly into the room carrying a tray of post that he offers to Lord Rafe.   You see, almost as soon as Baroness Anna and Cadet Stuart became engaged at Christmas in 1831, they had to part as Stuart returned to the academy to finish his year of training.   So, letters between them will have to fill the initial void.  Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine exchange small smiles as he slowly goes through the post.

Anna:  “Are there any letters for me, Papa?”  BaronessAnna asks anxiously. It his been two weeks since she last saw her betrothed Cadet Stuart MacGregor who had to return to his military training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.  Not even her birthday festivities quelled her disappointment at not having a letter from Stuart.

Lord Rafe:  “Are you expecting a letter, Anna Sweetheart?”   He asks mock quizzically.

Lady Katharine:  “From Lady Marjorie, perhaps?”  Though Lady Katharine knows that Anna received a letter from Lady Marjorie last week.

Anna’s parents’ light teasing of her heightened interest in the post every day since the Christmas holiday gathering was over is buffered by their hope that she does receive a missive from Stuart soon.

Anna:  “Marjie already tendered her thanks for her visit with us, Mama.”  Anna glances briefly at Lady Katharine as Anna sits as taut as a bowstring, leaning forward, straining to see if any of the four letters set before her Papa are forher.

Lord Rafe:  Lord Rafe holds up a letter–suspending it in the air as if it could float where he to let go of it.  “My Angel, you have a letter from your Mama.”

Anna: “Hhhhh!” She exhales heavily in disappointment.

Lord Rafe  hands the letter to Anna to his right and she passes it to her Mama without even looking–her elbow almost connecting with little Lord Edward’s forehead as he sits next to her eating his breakfast.

Lady Katharine: “Thank you, Anna Sweetheart.”  She smiles, recognizing the longing in her daughter’s eyes.

Anna:  “Is nothing for me, Papa?”

Richard:  “Anna, you ask the same thing every day.  If you want Stuart to write to you, then why do you not write to him?”  He whines.

Aurora:  “Richard, she cannot.  Stuart must make the first ova … over …  Mama?”

Lady Katharine:  “Overture, Rori Dear.  Stuart must write first.”   Society has its rigid rules now and again that must be followed.

Edward:  “First!”  Little Lord Edward tends to repeat the last thing he hears.

Anna:  She nods and pats her brother’s shoulders.  “That is right, Eben.”

Richard:  “But why?  Stuart is busy and Anna is not.”  He sneers, even though he knows very well that Anna and his Mama visit the Dearing estate tenants who are sick and in need every week to make sure that they have the food stuffs and wood and blankets for warmth that they need.  “Maybe Stuart is waiting for Anna to write him?”

Anna:  “Oh Mama! Do you think that could be right?” Anna pouts to Lady Katharine.  “Should I write to Stuart?”

Lady Katharine: “Hardly my dear.  Stuart will write to you soon.  Count upon it.”

Lord Rafe:  “Ah!”  Lord Rafe holds up another letter.  “And soon means now.  Here you are, Anna Sweetheart.”  He smiles broadly and hands her letter to her.

Anna:  “Oh!   Thank you, Papa!”  Then she turns to Lady Katharine again, Anna asks politely.  “Mama, may I be excused to read my letter in private?”  She asks hopefully.

Lady Katharine: Exchanging smiles with her husband Lord Rafe, she nods to her daughter. “Yes, Anna Dear, you may.”

Anna:   “Thank you, Mama and Papa!”    Anna jumps up from her place at the table in a most unladylike fashion, rattling her china plate and silverware in the process.

Then Anna dashes out of the breakfast room to go to the sitting room window seat to read her letter from Stuart MacGregor.

***

Settling herself comfortably with cushions at her back against the window seat frameAnnamage9a-isSamanthaMathisasAmyin1994LittleWomenJun2913nytimescom-GratianaLovelaceCapCrop2Hi-res and a blanket over her legs to keep the chill  from the window glass from enveloping her, Anna [(2) right] slowly breaks the letter seal in heightened anticipation as she unfolds her one page letter from Stuart to read it.

Stuart’s letter to Anna, January 1832:
“Anna My Love,

My joy is unbounded that we are engaged to be married in one year’s time  when you turn eighteen–felicitations on turning seventeen.  The memory of your kisses lingers upon my thoughts. I miss you terribly.  Knowing that we will be married in one year’s time is still no consolation for us being separated until I graduate from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst [(3)]  in May.  I wish that I could find a way to see you before then, but attending to my duties here will hopefully insure my prospects for a good posting in the Autumn prior to our marriage.  However, I must tell you that patience is not a virtue that I possess.  And I do so long to see you, to hold you in my arms, and to kiss you tenderly.
With All of My Love, Stuart”
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Anna: Clasping her handsome and romantic Stuart’s [(4) right] letter to her bosom, she lets out a girlish.  “Ohhh!”

Lady Katharine:  Having slipped into the sitting room unnoticed to check on her daughter, she asks her.  “Did Stuart send you a nice letter, Anna Dear?”

Anna: Looking up a bit startled, Anna blushes.  “Yes, Mama.  He says he misses me.  And I miss him.”  Anna says longingly.

Lady Katharine: “Of course you do, my Dear.  So!  When will you write back to him?”

Anna: “Right away.  Letters take ever so long to reach their destination.  Stuart’s letter was written a week ago.” She pouts.

Lady Katharine: “Well, I suspect that the military delays sending their officers’ and cadets’ letters as a security measure against time sensitive and confidential information inadvertently being shared.”

Anna: “But Stuart only says that he wants to hold me in his arms and kiss me again.  The military can not think that is confidential–except to us.”

Lady Katharine:  Lady Katharine’s eyebrows raise at Anna admitting to being kissed by her fiancé Stuart. “No, indeed.” Lady Katharine smiles knowingly.   “Anna Sweetheart, perhaps we should have a little talk.  Hmmm?”  At 24 years old, Lady Katharine is perhaps a bit young to be on the brink of such a talk as with her step daughter, Anna. But there is nothing for it, and she must venture forth.

Anna:   “What about, Mama?”  She looks at her curiously.

Lady Katharine: “Well … I am glad that you and Stuart are a love match.”

Anna: “Oh, Mama!   I do love him so.  And he loves me.   Stuart kisses more divinely than I would have expected.”  Anna tilts her head and looks wistfully up at the ceiling.

Lady Katharine:  “Yes, well, that is nice.”  Lady Katharine smiles primly.   “But you must temper your loving tendencies toward each other until you are married.”

Anna:  “But we will not be married for a year!   I cannot go without kissing Stuart for a year.”

Lady Katharine:  “Kkkhh!   Quite!   However, your behavior must be above reproach.  You are a lady and he is a gentleman.  I am certain that Stuart knows society’s censure that would befall you were it even known that he kissed you.  You must be ever vigilant to behave modestly, my dear.  A lady’s virtue and her reputation are everything, sweetheart.”

Anna:  Anna remembers her good friend Lady Marjorie’s shock and dismay at being kissed by Lord Lovaine for the very same reason.  Then Anna’s face clouds over with another recognition.  “You refer to the circumstances of my birth.  That I was born out of wedlock.”

Lady Katharine: Embracing Anna’s shoulders Lady Katharine says comfortingly.  “Not   … solely.  Whereas a man may exercise his prerogative discreetly without society’s censure, a lady cannot.”

Anna:  “And by prerogative, do you mean a man lying with a woman whom he is not married to?   Like David Harriott has?”

Katharine:  Her eyebrows raise.  “My!  I did not think you were aware of such things.”  Lady Katharine blushes, because when she was Anna’s age, Lady Katharine had no such inklings of understanding.

Anna:  “Mama, just as you are fearful about gossip being said about me, last season after I came out, I heard about gossip about David.”

Lady Katharine:  “And is that why you chose not to accept his proposal of marriage in favor of Stuart?”

Anna: Anna shakes her head.  “David never proposed to me.  He merely paid his addresses to me.”

Lady Katharine: “Ah!”  Is all Lady Katharine says, for she knows that David Harriott had asked for permission to court Anna with the intent of proposing to her–and Lord Rafe had reluctantly agreed, to the courting.  But then happily, Stuart MacGregor finally came forward to plead his case and Lord Rafe allowed Stuart to ask  Anna for her hand in marriage.

Anna: “Besides, Marjie was in love with David, and he liked her very much.  So it seemed best that Stuart and I make our match.  And then happily, I realized that Stuart is the person I loved all along.”  Anna smiles dreamily.LadyKatharine-image-is-Carla-Gugino-asNanin1995TheBuccaneersMar1413vlcsnap-2013-03-14-09h48m37s235byGrati-croptooval

Lady Katharine:  Stroking Anna’s hair, Lady Katharine [(5) right] smiles. “You are very wise, dear daughter.  Pray tell me how you came to be so?”

Anna:  “I guess it is because I know of the heartache from making the wrong match.   You see, my Mama Fanny loved my Papa Rafe till the day she died.  But she did not find happiness and joy with him–as you have, Mama.  And I know that she missed him.”  Anna’s eyes are filled with tears.

Lady Katharine: “Oh!”  Lady Katharine tears up.  “I am so sorry, Anna.”  What can Lady Katharine say to a deep regret not of her making?

Anna:  Hugging Lady Katharine, Anna sighs.  “You have nothing to be sorry about, Mama.  It was all so long ago when my Mama Fanny and my Papa Rafe were together as lovers and then parted.  And please do not tell Papa what I have said.  I do not want him to feel badly about my Mama Fanny.  She used to say that I was her joy and her happiness–her gift from my Papa.”

Anna smiles up at Lady Katharine, who nods her acquiescence to her as she caresses Anna’s face.

***

And in the empty hallway, just outside of the sitting room door where Lord Rafe has been standing–not wanting to intrude upon Anna and Lady Katharine’s private conversation, but unable to prevent himself from hearing it–Lord Rafe leans back against the wall and closes his eyes as his tears fall unbidden down his cheeks and he covers his face with his right hand.  If he has one sorrow in his life, it is that he could never make amends to Fanny.

Then a tiny hand pats Lord Rafe’s left hand hanging at his side.   Lord Rafe looks down to see his nearly three year old son, Edward/Eben smiling up at him–after having slipped through the watchful defenses of his nanny.

Edward: “Up Papa!”   Eben smiles broadly as he raises his arms to his Papa.

Lord Rafe:  Lifting his son into his arms and embracing his beloved little boy, Lord Rafe walks away from the sitting room doorway.  “Edward!  My boy!  You have been wandering again.”  Lord Rafe whispers and kisses his son’s cheek.

Nanny:   Hurriedly walking downstairs, she spies her charge in his father’s arms.  “I am ever so sorry, Milord.  He ran ahead of me.”

Lord Rafe:  “He is a rascal.  But he is still very young and could get himself into trouble with his wandering.  So please take greater care and keep a closer eye on him in the future.” He admonishes her.  She nods and curtsies.  “I will take Edward with me for now.”  He nods curtly.

Lord Rafe walks outside into the brisk but not chilly January air, heading toward the stables.  Lord Rafe always finds that a ride calms his heart when sorrow engulfs him.  Little Edward pats his Papa’s face and kisses his cheek.   For as a happy child, Edward knows that he is loved and cherished–and his Papa is his whole world, next to his Mama.

Edward:  Upon entering the stables, little Edward is agog. “Horsies!   Me ride, too, Papa?”  He asks excitedly.  It is a treat to go riding with his Papa, only something he has been allowed to do recently–since he became a bit older, at almost three years old.

Lord Rafe:  “Yes!  Lets!”

After the stable groom saddles Lord Rafe’s steed, Lord Rafe mounts it.  Little Edward is handed up to him and Lord Rafe encloses him in his riding overcoat for warmth as he cradles Edward in his arms as the boy sits across the saddle, ladies style.

Edward: “Ha ha ha ha ha!” Edward giggles at this unexpected treat and clings to his Papa’s waistcoat.

Then Lord Rafe gently canters his horse out toward the nearby river paddock to enjoy the beautiful snow dusted scenery on this warmer than usual Winter’s day. His thoughts are of his first love Fanny, and of his current loves–his wife Lady Katharine, and their children, Anna, twins Richard and Aurora, and little Edward.  Lord Rafe knows that he is a blessed man and he is very grateful.

***

After Lady Katharine leaves Anna to herself in the sitting room to ponder what they discussed, Anna pens a letter of reply to Stuart.  But then Anna hatches an idea, and stops writing briefly to visit the kitchen and her bed chamber before continuing her letter. Then when she is done writing, Anna folds and seals her letter, she sprinkles it with rosewater, she addresses it, and she puts it on the hall table for the other outgoing post before looking for four and a half year old twins Richard and Rori to play with.

Three days later, Cadet Stuart MacGregor receives his post after a long day of drills and lessons on canons [(6)] and their firing trajectories.  Though this required Stuart to dust off his mathematics skills, he does not mind this useful application.

Lying on his barracks cot, a lone candle lighting his eyes while others around him sleep, Stuart retrieves Anna’s letter from his boot where he had hidden it.  Stuart detects a hint of rosewater scents emanating from Anna’s letter and smiles remembering his first encounter with that scent while kissing Anna’s neck after they became engaged at Christmas time.  And upon breaking the letter’s seal and unfolding Anna’s letter, Stuart blushes to see a reddish imprint of lips on one of the inner folds that he quickly shields–lest any of the lads creep up on him and see such a bold expression of Anna’s feelings for him.  Then Stuart reads her letter with a growing smile on his face and a warmth that extends throughout his body for her slightly scandalous musings.

Anna’s letter to Stuart January 1832:

“Dearest Stuart,

I adored receiving your letter.  Please write often to me and then it will not seem as if we are so far apart–with you South in Berkshire at Sandhurst [(7)]  and me North near Warwick in Warwickshire.  Though, I suppose that you are only half a day’s carriage ride away, were Papa to arrange for the family to visit.  Would you welcome our visit in March or April  after the snow has melted making travel easier?

I miss your kisses, too.  And I put terrible tasting beet juice on my lips and kissed this note for you.  I just hope that the reddish stain will wear off of my lips soon–or my brother Richard will tease me endlessly about it.  I fall asleep at night clutching my extra bed pillow, wishing I was in your embrace.  I look forward to when we are married and I can kiss you goodnight before we fall asleep.  I know that we have a year to wait until we are married–until after I turn 18.  But I will talk to Papa to see if we might be able to marry in the coming Autumn, so I can join you at your first military posting right away.  I will still only be seventeen then.  So he might not agree right away.  But I will try to convince him.  I can be quite persuasive–and afterall, Papa is agreeable in most things.

And though I know that you want us to live simply–as do other junior officers and their wives–I hope that your posting salary might allow us to employ at least one ladies maid and housekeeper.  You know that I can cook–well, desserts mostly taught by my Mama Fanny with some meals taught to me by Mrs. Plunkett–but I have few other domestic skills.  I burn every handkerchief I try to iron–so, do not even let me near clothing.   And I am hopeless in keeping track of my monies.  Papa says that if I gave away less of my allowance, then I would have more left to spend.  But somehow, I cannot think about purchasing a new pair of gloves when someone else needs new shoes. Perhaps I cannot forget my childhood years of growing up without the comforts that I now enjoy–and my knowing that others are in need.  But I will try to at least keep better track of where my money goes–even if I still give it away to those in need.  My Mama Kathy and I continue to take weekly food baskets to our tenants  who are ill or infirm.  And Papa makes certain that every tenant has coal  to warm their homes in Winter.  The tenants work so hard on the estate during the long agricultural season that Papa says it is right and just for us to look out for them in the other months.

But I am prattling on.  It is just that I miss you so very much, my dearest.  Write to me soon. Love Always, Anna”

Stuart kisses Anna’s letter where her lip print is.  Then he tucks her letter back into his boot for hiding and he drifts off to sleep dreaming of Anna becoming his wife soon.

***

Stuart and Anna continue to correspond with each other–sending letters back and forth nearly weekly.  And true to her word, Anna asks her Papa about visiting Stuart as Spring approaches in March.  Lord Rafe agrees to think about it.  It is a Wintery mid February evening–after putting their little ones to bed and telling bed times stories–that Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine are  are finally returning to their own bed chamber to have some private time together to confide in each other–among other things.

Lady Katharine:  Removing her dressing gown, Lady Katharine is revealed to be wearing a pale pink silk nightgown with a low back.  She smiles, knowing that her husband is watching her every move as his own movements in the room have stilled and he makes not a sound.  “Rafe?” She asks in a slightly seductive tone that he knows very well.LordRafeImageisRichardArmitageasLucasNorthinSpooks9Promo-45Mar2913ranetCropTatoosRemovedGratianaLovelaceFlipClr

Lord Rafe:  Flinging off his dressing gown to reveal his bare chest over his night pants, Lord Rafe  [(8) right]  eagerly and lustfully strides purposely to his wife’s side by their bed, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and tenderly kissing her bare shoulder.   “Yes, my Angel?”

Lady Katharine:  “Our children are getting older now, Rafe.”  She turns in his arms and faces him.

Lord Rafe:  “Indeed.  Little Edward is starting to speak in sentences and such.”

Lady Katharine:   “Yes, he messes himself less often at night–and not at all during the day anymore.” Lady Katharine clings to him closer in his embrace and smiles hopefully at her husband.

Lord Rafe:  Lord Rafe raises his eye brow saucily and asks teasingly.  “And is that … significant?”

Lady Katharine:  She bites her lower lip.  Lord Rafe finds his wife so charming when she does that.  “It is just that …  Edward  is no longer my baby anymore.”

Lord Rafe:  “Ah!”  He smiles.  Then his voice growls his lusty intent. “And would you like us to have another child, my love?”

Lady Katharine:  “I would.  Would you?”

Lord Rafe: “I think that I can be persuaded.”  He nuzzles her neck.  Then he guides her to slide into bed and he joins her–and they continue their  … discussion.  “My beautiful Katharine.”  He sighs and he proceeds to kiss and caress his beloved wife.

Lady Katharine: “Hhhhh!”  She sighs.  Then she remembers her original purpose and redirects her thoughts as she taps his head most amusingly.   “However, there is an impediment to our plan for a baby.”

Lord Rafe:  Raising his head from her neck, he looks at her in quizzical bemusement.  “Oh?”

Lady Katharine:  “If we seek to conceive a child now, then it will likely be born near Christmas time–just before Anna’s planned January 1833 marriage to Stuart after her eighteenth birthday.  I will not be well enough to tend to the wedding planning in the final months as I would wish to, nor will I be able to attend her wedding and the festivities.”  She pouts.

Lord Rafe:  “Hmmm.  But I sense that you have a solution to propose.”  He smirks at his pun.

Lady Katharine:  “I do.”  She smiles, also at her pun.  “Were Anna and Stuart to be married in the Autumn as they both wish–so they may begin married life as he begins his planned new posting–then the timing would be perfect.”

Lord Rafe: Moving to lie on his side, with his head resting on his left hand even as his right arm holds her flush against him, he voices his concern.  “But Anna will not yet be eighteen then.”  He feels that he has to object for forms’s sake–before he acquiesces to Anna’s repeated requests for an earlier wedding date.

Lady Katharine:  “But Stuart will be twenty one years.  And Anna will be just three months shy of her eighteenth birthday if they wed in September.  That is more than a year older than when Stuart’s own parents wed when they were just sixteen.”

Lord Rafe:  “I suppose us moving up Anna’s wedding date to the Autumn was inevitable.”  He rolls his eyes at how neatly the two of them–Anna and Lady Katharine–have accomplished their goals.

Lady Katharine: Kissing him gleefully, she squeals.  “Thank you my love!  Anna and Stuart will be ever so grateful.”

Lord Rafe: “Of that I have no doubt.”  He smiles wryly.  “Kate, will you at least tell them that I put up a bit of a struggle before I relented.”  He smiles mischievously.

Lady Katharine:   “I will do anything you want!”

Lord Rafe:  “Anything?” He smoulders.  She nods with desire in her eyes for her loving husband.  “Now!  Where was I?”

Lady Katharine: “Ha ha ha ha ha!”  She giggles as she draws her husband to lean over her again and they kiss each other adoringly.

And Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine continue their loving evening with a renewed sense of purpose in hoping to have a baby in the new year–or sometime soon thereafter.

***

Anna and Stuart will get their wish to marry in the Autumn of 1832.  Anna wants to tell Stuart directly, so the family will travel down to Sandhurst where Stuart is training at the Royal Military Academy in early April for a weekend visit.  But the Friday morning that they are to leave, an express mail letter arrives at the Hunting Lodge bringing unsettling and worrisome news as they are all sitting around the breakfast table.    Their butler Smithers walks in hurriedly carrying a single letter on a silver tray and offers it to Lord Rafe.

Smithers:  “An express has come, Milord.”  An express postal message usually brings distressing news.

Lord Rafe:  Lord Rafe snatches the missive off the tray and opens it unceremoniously.  After reading the terse missive, he exclaims. “No!” All eyes turn to him.

Lady Katharine:  “What is it, Rafe my love?” She asks worriedly since her Grandmere Lady Esme’s health has been on the decline for many years now.

Lord Rafe’s head is slightly bowed, but his eyes look up at his wife Lady Katharine and gently shakes his head no.

Lady Katharine: “Hhhh!”  She sighs in relief.  “But …?”

Lord Rafe:  Then Lord Rafe turns his gaze upon Anna.  “I have some bad news for you, Anna.”

Anna:  “Papa?”  Anna looks stricken–for the only bad news she could ever receive would be about her betrothed, Stuart.

Lord Rafe:   Clasping Anna’s hand in his, Lord Rafe summarizes the contents of the short note in as calm a voice that he can muster. “Sir Collin writes that there was a dormitory fire at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst late Thursday night.   Stuart was injured in rescuing others. They do not know how badly and Sir Collin and Lady Frances are rushing to his side.”

Anna: Bursting into tears, she cries.  “Oh Papa!  I must go to Stuart!   What if he dies?  I cannot live without him!”

Lady Katharine:  Lady Katharine swiftly moves from her end of the table to comfort Anna in her embrace.  “There there, Anna.  All will be well.” Then Lady Katharine looks up questioningly at her husband.   “Rafe?”

Lord Rafe:  He nods and clasps his daughter’s hand in his.  “We will go to Sandhurst this morning as planned–to see if we can be of assistance.”   And he prays to god that Stuart is not as gravely injured as he fears.

***

Since their carriages are already packed with their trunks–their needing two carriages, one carriage for the twins and their governess Miss Colton, and a nanny, and one carriage for Lord Rafe, Lady Katharine, Anna and toddler Edward–they set off on their journey to Sandhurst almost immediately.  It is an uneventful half day morning ride with Anna mostly crying with worry about Stuart while Lady Katharine tries to comfort her.  Lord Rafe sits across from them with his son little Eben snuggled against him.  Just as Lord Rafe wishes no harm to befall his little son at his side, Lord Rafe is just as protective of his god son and future son-in-law Stuart.

 

After they arrive at the city of Sandhurst and settle into their several reserved rooms at its best hotel, Lord Rafe, Lady Katharine, and Baroness Anna take one of their carriages to the Royal Military Academy’s infirmary to discover Stuart’s condition.  It is the only hospital for miles around.     Once there, they find many families also awaiting news of their sons in a makeshift receiving area in a large exercise room.  The families are distraught and on edge–not the least of which for the lack of any attention to their needs for seating, let alone, even water to drink.  The Academy has been so focused on the injured and containing the smoldering fire that the families have been left to their own devices.  Seeing the families’ need, Lady Katharine swiftly dispatches their footman with their carriage to purchase some much needed food and drink refreshments for the families while Lord Rafe and other fathers go to several nearby classrooms and move chairs and tables into the exercise room.

Anna watches all of this dispassionately–knowing that it needs to be done for the comfort of the grieving and distressed families, but finding little solace in its doing as she has yet to receive word about Stuart.  She twists her fine linen handkerchief in her hands, nearly ripping the lace edging from it.

Just then, Anna eyes are riveted to two parents standing in the corner who begin wailing and crying as a doctor informs them that their only son has not survived his injuries.   The bereft mother collapses and the father catches her and crumples to the floor with her.  It is a scene of such devastating heartbreak that Anna begins to cry as well for their loss.

Then Anna spies Stuart’s father, Sir Collin MacGregor, appearing at the exercise room’s door across the room and she rushes over to him.  Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine swiftly follow her.

Anna: “Sir Collin!  Do you have news!   Is Stuart alright?”  She begs news of her beloved’s condition.
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Sir Collin:  “Anna!  Rafe!   Lady Katharine!  Stuart is alive and not injured as severely as some others.  But he is injured. His mother is with him now.”  Sir Collin [(9) right] sighs heavily as he and Lord Rafe clasp arms.

Anna, Lord Rafe, and Lady Katharine:  “Thank god!”

Anna:     “May I see Stuart?”

Sir Collin:  He looks over at Lord Rafe with a firmly set jaw, then more tenderly back at Baroness Anna.  “I would not advise it at present, Baroness Anna.  His bed is situated amongst several more gravely injured cadets. I would not expose you to such sights.”

Lord Rafe:   Nodding back at his old friend Sir Collin, Lord Rafe puts his arms around his daughter Anna’s waist and holds her hand.  “He is right, Anna.”

Anna: “But …”

Lady Katharine:   “Anna Sweetheart, let the doctors care for the wounded unhindered by extra people in the room.  Perhaps you can see Stuart later this afternoon?”  Now she embraces her daughter as Lord Rafe moves to stand next to his old friend Sir Collin.

Sir Collin:  “I hope so.  In the meantime, I will let Stuart know that you are here.”

Anna:  “Please give him my love!”  She pleads.

Sir Collin:  “I will.  And thank you for organizing for the comfort of the families.  Everyone has been so focused on the injured that we did not have time to do it.” Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine nod.  “I will return to Stuart.  Rafe, will you walk with me?”

Lord Rafe:  “Of course.”

***

Lord Rafe follows his lifelong friend out of the exercise receiving room and into the hallway.

Lord Rafe: “Tell me truthfully, Collin. What are the extent of Stuart’s injuries?  Was he burned?”  He asks with trepidation.

Sir Collin:  “Only marginally on his hands as he shoved fallen timbers blocking their escape path out of their way.  But it is the smoke that he inhaled from the fire that is giving him much difficulty.  The doctors say that Stuart must purge his lungs of their soot or they fear that his breathing will forever be compromised and weaken him.”

Lord Rafe:   Intuitively guessing the answer, but asking the question anyway.  “And will Stuart be able to continue his path in the military?”

Sir Collin:  “It is not likely.  His damaged lungs will prevent him from meeting the physical demands of a military officer in battle, or even in ceremonial parades.  Indeed, Stuart will take several months to recover.”

Lord Rafe: “But he will recover?”  He queries.

Sir Collin:  “To a degree.  But physical exertion of any kind will be impossible for some time–if at all.”  He states cryptically.

Lord Rafe:  “What are you saying?   Will Stuart be an invalid?”

Sir Collin:  “He will not be confined to bed after his initial recovery period.  But he will have a more restricted and  less physically active life than he had previously enjoyed.  And he will also need to stay away from large cities where the air is not as clear and clean as it is in smaller cities and in the country.”

Lord Rafe:   “Well, Stuart never struck me as one who enjoyed London all that much anyway.   Is there something else.”

Sir Collin:  “It is unclear if Stuart will be recovered by the Autumn–in time for his and Anna’s hoped for wedding.”

Lord Rafe:  “That will be disappointing to them, but Anna will understand the delay.”  Lord Rafe acknowledges.

Sir Collin:  “Rafe, I hesitate to broach this topic with you, but Stuart bade me to do so.  With his injuries having weakened him for life, Stuart fears that he will not be capable of being the vibrantly healthy husband that Baroness Anna deserves.  He does not want to saddle her with someone who cannot dance merrily by her side.  He will understand if she wishes to break their engagement.”  Sir Collin says this stoically, but his heart grieves for the plight of his only child, Stuart.

Lord Rafe: “You cannot be serious!   I doubt even Stuart in a wheelchair would keep Anna from him.  Stuart is just being melancholy for his changed circumstances–as anyone would be.”

Sir Collin: “Then … you do not … object to their betrothal continuing?”  He asks hesitantly.

Lord Rafe:  “Not in the least, old man!  Anna and Stuart are a love match.   Their love will be tested by his injuries, to be sure.  But their love will sustain them.”

Sir Collin:  “Hhhhh!  Thank you, Rafe!   I feel that Stuart knowing that he still has his Anna, will help him recover much more speedily.”

Lord Rafe:  “And if fresh country air is what he needs, then we invite Stuart and you and Lady Frances to stay with us at Dearing Manor Estate as he convalesces–since Oxford being a large city has less clean air.”

Sir Collin: “Thank you! You are most kind.  I will have to travel back and forth to Oxford for my Magistrate duties, but we will be greatly relieved to have Stuart in a place where he can convalesce more easily.”

Lord Rafe:  Smiling wryly.  “And I doubt that Anna would have it any other way than for she to play nursemaid to Stuart.  Besides, seeing each other daily will give them time to accustom themselves to each other–good practice for marriage.”

Sir Collin:  “I will inform Stuart that the betrothal continues.  But I will let you and Anna inform him of his convalescing location.”  He smiles.

***

In the early evening hour around 6 o’clock of Friday–ten hours after Baroness Anna had learned that her betrothed Stuart had been injured in a fire–she is finally ushered in to see him with her father, Lord Rafe by her side.  Stuart is resting with his eyes closed, perhaps sleeping. And his Mama Lady Frances puts her finger to her lips, then stands up to allow Anna to take the chair at Stuart’s bedside.  Lady Frances hugs and kisses Baroness Anna, smiles at Lord Rafe, then steps out into  the hallway to take a short respite.  Lady Frances had not left her son’s bedside since they arrived this morning.  Anna sits down in the offered chair and she lightly places her hand on Stuart’s elbow since his injured hands are bandaged from the fire.  Lord Rafe stands discreetly off to the side, noticing Stuart’s very pale countenance.  Stuart smells Anna’s scent of rosewater and thinks that he is still dreaming.

Stuart: “Anna.”  He sighs, but does not open his eyes.

Anna:    She leans forward “I am here, Stuart my love.”  Anna gazes upon Stuart’s still form worriedly.   She has never seen him look this pale.

Stuart:  Stuart’s groggy eyes flutter open.  He is still feeling the sedating effects of the small dose of laudanum he was given for the pain in his hands.  “My Love.” He sighs.

Anna:  Eschewing decorum, Anna leans forward and gently places a soft kiss upon Stuart’s lips.  “I have been so worried.  But you will be well again after you convalesce for several months.”

Stuart:  Now feeling more alert, he seeks reassurance from her.  “But Anna, have they told you that I will not be completely well?”   He asks.  He does not want Anna to remain betrothed to him simply out of a sense of obligation.  “I cannot remain an officer. But they will let me finish my final exams over the Summer, so that I may at least graduate.”

Anna:  “I know. And I am sorry that you will not get to be an officer as you had wished.  But in truth, I am relieved that you will not be going to war should war be declared again.”

Stuart:  “Anna, I know Papa said that our betrothal is to continue, but I want to hear it from you. I will not fault you for having second thoughts about having a sickly husband and I will release you from our promise.”

Anna:  She stamps her foot.  “Stuart MacGregor!  You will do no such thing!   We are betrothed and we will be married.”

Stuart: “But we might have to delay our marriage past the Autumn.”  He looks up at her tiredly.

Anna:  Caressing his cheek, she smiles.  “We shall see.   With me nursing you back to health at Dearing Manor Estate, you might just find yourself even more eager and wanting to marry at the end of Summer.”  She flashes her eyes at him cheekily.

Stuart:  “What?”  He looks at her quizzically.

Lord Rafe: Stepping forward, he smiles at his godson.  “Tis true, Stuart.  I have invited you and your family to stay in the country with its fresh air.  It will do you good.”

Stuart: “Thank you, Uncle Rafe!”  Stuart sighs. But he is getting very tired again as his eyes droop.

Anna:  “Stuart, we will leave you to rest now.  But in a day or two, we will travel home to Dearing and then you will be under my care.” She stands and kisses him on his lips once more.

Stuart:  Gazing at his beloved Anna adoringly, Stuart smiles. “And I will certainly recover with such tender care.”

Baroness Anna and her Papa Lord Rafe leave Stuart to rest as Lady Frances returns to sit by her son’s bedside.   As they leave the hospital ward, Anna finally focuses her gaze upon the numerous other injured cadets covered in bandages in nearby beds.  A tear falls from her eyes in compassion for their pain and suffering. And she gives a silent prayer of thanks that her Stuart was spared even greater injury.

***

Five days later, the Wingates and the MacGregors travel North to the Dearing Estate near Warwick to settle Stuart and his family in the Dearing Estate Manor house for his convalescence.  And Anna unofficially moves back into her childhood bed chamber in her Grandmama’s home to tend to him.  Anna’s reason being for scandalously staying john-william-waterhouse-lady-violet-henderson-8668Mar1213paintingsfordiscountunder the same roof as her betrothed is that if Stuart needs care in the middle of the night, she can tend to him.  Anna is devoted and will not be swayed.  And Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine are content that there will be sufficient other adults around–such as her delighted Grandmama Lady Leonora  Wingate [(10) right], Lord Rafe’s Mama –that Anna will be well chaperoned, such that no gossip will ensue.  That is their thinking anyway.

For the rest of April and for most of May, Stuart is cautioned to stay abed to rest his lungs.  At first, Stuart is too weak to protest and sleeps much of the time–when he is not coughing and hacking up the vile soot that fills his lungs.   Though a footman helps Stuart attend to his personal necessities, Anna is with Stuart and cares for his other needs each day.  Unbeknownst to her parents and grandparents, Anna has even taken to sleeping on a pallet at the foot of Stuart’s bed so that she might assist him in the night and call for the footman should Stuart have a need.

One such night in Mid May, Stuart’s health is beginning to return, but he cannot sleep–for he dreams of the nightmare of the fire, and his friends who were injured so grievously, and of the one cadet who died.  Sensing his restlessness, Anna rises from her pallet bed, puts on her dressing gown, and goes to Stuart’s bedside.

Anna:  “Did you have another bad dream, my love?”  She asks tenderly as she strokes his hair.

Stuart:  “I did.  I wish I could put the images from the fire out of my mind, but I cannot.”  He turns his head away from her as he holds back his tears–him thinking that it is not manly to cry.  And Stuart feels that not only is his body still somewhat weak, but he cannot seem to control his thoughts and forget the fire.  But it was such a traumatic experience, one would not expect him to recover emotionally from it so quickly.

Anna:  “I am so sorry, Stuart.”  She leans forward and kisses his temple. “I wish that I could make your pain go away.”

Stuart: “You do, Anna–simply by your tender care of me.” He smiles wanly.

Anna:  “My love.”

But Anna can sense that Stuart is trying to be brave for her sake.  Then she does something impulsively–impulsiveness being  well associated with her character–as she walks to the other side of Stuart’s bed and slides onto the bed covers toward him.

Stuart:  Surprised and thrilled all at once, Stuart asks in alarm. “What are you doing?”

Anna: As she settles on her side, leaning against him with her arm across his chest, Anna says caringly.  “I will tell you a bed time story to replace your bad dreams.  Now close your eyes and sleep.”  She slowly draws her hand down his face, urging him to close his eyes.

Stuart:  “Hmmm.”  He sighs wearily, but contently as Anna’s embracing him soothes  him. And he puts his arm around her back.

Anna:  “There once was a little girl who felt lost in the world. She had no home and no friends.  But when she found a new home, she also made a new friend–in a young man who accepted her without hesitation, and without question about her origins.   The young girl liked the tall shy boy who was nice to her and did not pull her hair like other boys did.” Stuart smiles in recognition for Anna telling how they met.   “They began to write letters to each other and after several years, the young girl grew up to be a young lady.  And the boy grew up to be a young man.   And then, they realized that they were in love with each other and became betrothed.  Their wedding in the Autumn of that year is a festive affair and the young couple began their married life together.  Upon their first anniversary, the young wife shares her gift with her husband, that she is expecting their first child.  He is overjoyed and they soon welcome a son that he as Papa will teach to play croquet, fly kites, read books, and dance waltzes for the time when their baby boy will someday meet and marry his own true love.  And they live happily ever after.”

Anna smiles, recognizing the deep breathing of her sleeping beloved, Stuart.  Then rather than extricating herself from lying in Stuart’s embrace–fearful of waking him–Anna closes her eyes, lays her head upon his shoulder, and she sleeps–to dream of the wonderful future that she and Stuart will have together as husband and wife.

Stuart sleeps soundly the rest of the night–and so does Anna.  So much so that when the footman arrives in Stuart’s bed chamber at his appointed early morning hour to assist Stuart with his morning toilette, he finds the betrothed couple sleeping soundly together.  He smiles kindly upon the scene and backs out of the room quietly to await their awakening.

But Lady Leonora having risen early and not finding Anna in her bed chamber goes looking for her in Stuart’s bed chamber.   The foot man bows to her as he stands guard at the door.  Lady Leonora looks at him questioningly, then he steps aside and opens the door for her.  Seeing her granddaughter Anna sleeping in her dressing gown above the covers, with Stuart sleeping underneath the covers, Lady Leonora smiles for the couple’s tender yet chaste embrace–knowing that Stuart is in no shape to take advantage of Anna, nor would he if he were recovered.

Lady Leonora:  Gently shaking Anna’s shoulder to waken her, she whispers.  “Anna Sweetheart.  It is morning and you need to dress and let the footman assist Stuart with his morning waking routine.”

Anna:  “Grandmama?”  Anna looks up at Lady Leonora and blushes.  Then she explains her compromising position while Stuart yet sleeps.  “Stuart had a bad dream about the fire and could not sleep. I  … comforted him.”

Lady Leonora:  “Yes Dear.  But come away for now. You can return to breakfast with Stuart in a little while.”

Anna nods. But before she leaves Stuart’s side, she kisses his cheek and his eyes flutter open.

Anna:  “Good morning, My Love.”  She caringly caresses his cheek.  “Did you sleep well?”

Stuart:  His eyes only focus on Anna’s lovely face before him.  “I did, for once.  Good morning, My Darling Anna.”   He reaches up to cup her face in his hands and they tenderly kiss each others’ lips for several moments.

Lady Leonora: “Kkkhhh!”  She coughs discreetly.

Stuart:  Instantly releasing Anna from their kiss, Stuart looks mortified at Lady Leonora.  “I beg your pardon, Lady Wingate.”

Lady Leonora:  She smiles benevolently at him.  “Do not trouble yourself, Stuart.  Anna explained about your bad dreams about the fire.  But you can appreciate that Anna needs to leave you briefly now to get dressed while the footman attends to you.  Then she will join you again for breakfast.”

Anna:  “I will be back soon.”  Anna sits up reluctantly and smiles shyly at him.  She has lain all night in her beloved’s arms–chastely, but lovingly.

Stuart: “Until I see you again.” Stuart kisses Anna’s hand and smiles at her.  Stuart feels that he is growing stronger every day with his Anna’s tender care and loving ways.

Anna and her Grandmama Lady Leonora walk down the hallway to Anna’s bed chamber door.   Lady Leonora says not a word about the impropriety of Anna sleeping with her betrothed–however chastely.  Instead, she cups her granddaughter’s cheek in her hand, then gives her a wryly knowing prim smile with a bemusedly raised eyebrow.  Anna blushes and nods her acquiescence to refraining from sleeping with Stuart again until they are wed.  So much can be conveyed with gentleness and kindness as Anna’s Grandmama displays. Then her Grandmama kisses her forehead and Anna goes into her bedchamber to dress and to prepare for the rest of her her day.

Stuart’s recovery during the remaining months and through the Summer continues to improve greatly with Anna’s tender care.   Such that they decide to retain their September Wedding date–however difficult waiting several more months to wed will be on the young lovers to be.

***

Though Stuart MacGregor has returned to a manageable state of health by early September–just one week before his wedding–he still becomes winded if he overexerts himself or tries to do too much.  His energy levels will never be as high as they were before the fire.  And stress and anxiety also seem to exacerbate and weaken his condition.  It seems like a vicious cycle–his health causes him to worry, which causes him stress, which causes his health to be weakened.

However,  Anna is the most determined bride in all of Warwickshire.  Nothing can dampen her spirits at the prospect of marrying her Stuart.   But Anna does find herself a bit perturbed when Stuart begs off not long after dinner each night to retire to bed–and she has to take the carriage home to the Hunting Lodge, since once Stuart had more energy and was out of bed and joining them downstairs, the family did not think it appropriate for he and Anna to be sleeping under the same roof anymore.  Then two nights before they are wed–and with all of the extended family and friends having arrived, including the Throckmorton’s, Harriott’s, Southwick’s, Fotheringay’s, and Hatch’s–they have a final large pre-wedding celebration.  After the men return to the ladies in the sitting room after dinner, the speeches begin.

Lord Rafe:  “My wife and I could not ask for a finer son-in-law to be than Stuart for our beloved eldest daughter, Anna.  Raise your glasses to Anna and Stuart.”

Everyone:  “Here, here!”  And they raise their glasses, then sip their champagne.

Sir Collin:  “When Lord Rafe and I became lifelong friends in school decades ago, we could not have envisioned our lives becoming so wonderfully entwined as we find with our children to be wed.  My wife and I have always wanted a daughter and we are overjoyed that Anna will be our heart’s fondest wish.   To Anna and Stuart!”

Everyone:  “To Anna and Stuart!”  More champagne sipping ensues.

Stuart:  Standing with his arm around his Anna’s back, Stuart smiles at their gathering of family and friends.  “Thank you for joining Anna and I for our wedding in two days, everyone.   We feel most blessed to have you with us to share in our joy.”

Anna:   Beaming gazing up at her Stuart, Baroness Anna adds.  “The day after tomorrow we will be married!   I can hardly believe that it is so near.”

Stuart gently squeezes Anna’s waist.  And seeing the clock face revealing it to be 10 o’clock this fine September evening, Stuart once again begs off to retire early to conserve his energy–for his wedding night, but he will not reveal that.

Stuart:  “But the hour grows late, and I fear that I must retire to rest.”

Lady Charmaine:  Lady Katharine’s Mama, Anna’s Grandmere who had her own long recovery experience from her stroke five years ago concurs.  “Of course, mon cher.”  Her husband Sir Antony Southwick squeezes her hand and brings it to his lips for a kiss.

Everyone nods their understanding of Stuart’s still recovering health–except that is, Anna.

Anna:  “Oh!  But Stuart, can you not stay up a little past your usual  bedtime to enjoy the festivities?  We only get married once.  And we will not see each other tomorrow due  to tradition.”  She whines.  With Stuart’s health mostly returning–and Anna being a bride–she can be forgiven for wanting him to join in the fun.

Stuart:  “Anna, you stay and enjoy the party.  I am very tired.”  He whispers into her ear.

Anna:  “Alright.   I understand.” She smiles agreeably.

Anna wonders if something is troubling Stuart since  he has been on edge of late.  She cannot imagine what can be bothering him.  Well, she is a young bride–and focused on her beautiful wedding gown, the flowers, etc.  Whereas Stuart is focused on their wedding night.

So Stuart says his farewells and he heads upstairs to his bed chamber–removing his cravat.  He waves away the footman who has also been serving as valet to him after helping him during his recovery.  Stuart looks at himself in the mirror and smiles. In less than two days, he will be Anna’s husband and she will be his wife.  It is what he has been dreaming of and waiting for these past two years–really since he was first smitten with Anna when they met when she was eleven and he was fourteen six years ago.  He just hopes that his health will not interfere with what should be a night of love for them.  Stuart removes his shirt and other outer clothes until he is just in his drawers.

Preparing to get some sleep, Stuart walks to his bed when there is a soft knock on his door.

Stuart:  Thinking it is his valet returned to take his clothes to be cleaned and pressed, he turns toward the door and says.  “Enter!”

Anna slips into Stuart’s bed chamber and shuts the door behind her.  Stuart looks at her shocked.

Anna: “Now do not be upset with me, Stuart.”

Stuart: Trying to find something to cover himself with, he settles on a pillow.  “Anna!  You should not be in here!  Were your father to find you here, he would be most rightfully angry.”  He blanches in embarrassment to be found so unclothed by her when they are not yet married.

Anna:  Walking toward Stuart, Anna has a twinkle in her eye.  “Good!   Then maybe we could be married tomorrow and not have to wait any more.”  Anna loves her Stuart and cannot wait to be his wife.

Then Anna flings her arms around Stuart’s neck.  And she reaches up on her tippy toes to kiss him soundly.  He responds in kind and pulls her to him–the pillow serving as their only barrier from behaving totally wantonly with each other.

Stuart: “Oh Anna, Anna.  What you do to me.”  He sighs, breathing heavily–but not in distress.

Anna:  “What you do to me, Stuart.  I hope that when we are married you do not want to go to sleep early.  I want to spend more time with you.”

Stuart:  Leaning his forehead against hers, he sighs.  “Once we are married, I will be at your complete disposal.  But, I must pace myself so that I have enough energy to get through the next two days.”  He has become so accustomed to restricting himself because of his injury to his lungs, that it is a difficult habit to break.

Anna removes the pillow in front of Stuart and she embraces his bare chest.   Feeling Anna touch him in this intimate way for the first time, Stuart cannot help himself but to have a loving response as he embraces her back and draws her even closer to him and he tenderly kisses her forehead.  Then Stuart leans further down and he and Anna share a deeply sensual kiss that sets them both on fire.  Were her parents–and his parents–and everyone else not down below, they might act on their desires.  Afterall, they will be wed in two days anyway. That is the logic running through Stuart’s mind–and hers.  Stuart is panting now–but for all the right reasons.

Anna:   Looking up at him coquettishly, Anna smiles.  “Stuart, you do not seem to in need of rest now.”

Stuart:  Stuart bursts forth with a spirited deep throated laugh.  “Ha ha ha ha ha!  You bewitch me, Anna.  You are my tonic for getting well.”  He sighs deeply.

Then Stuart leans down to kiss Anna again. But she places her small index finger on his lips and she gently but reluctantly pushes him back from her.

Anna:  “Remember that when I vex you in the future–as I most certainly will as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow.”  Then she hands him his bed pillow again.   “You had best get some sleep if you are to be well rested for our wedding the day after tomorrow.

Stuart:  Stuart smoulderingly gazes at his beloved Anna.  “I fear that I will not be able to sleep … now.”

Anna:  “But at least we know that well rested or not, you seem to have plenty of energy.”  She smiles, having made her point to him.  “I will see you at the altar the day after tomorrow, My Love.”

Stuart:  “You can count on it!”  Stuart smiles, him now also feeling more confident about his health and their upcoming amorous wedding night.

***

Anna’s and Stuart’s wedding ceremony turns out to be more of a family parade than she intended–but happily so.  When Anna invited her best friend Lady Marjorie Fotheringay to be her Maid of Honor, Anna felt that she could not leave out the little girls in the family for fear of them feeling slighted.  So Anna is preceded down the aisle by no less then five flower girls–her cousin by her Papa’s sister, the nine year old Lady Charlotte Throckmorton, her cousin by her Mama’s brother the seven year old Lady Eliza Southwick, her Mama’s best friend’s daughter the seven year old Miss Beatrice Hatch, her Mama’s sister the five year old Lady Rosalind Southwick, and Anna’s sister the now five year old sister Lady Aurora Wingate.

And not wanting to slight the boys either, Stuart chose Lieutenant David Harriott as best man, with the following groomsmen/boys:  Anna’s cousin by her Papa’s sister the eleven year old Henry Throckmorton, Anna’s brother Lord Richard Wingate, Anna’s Mama’s brother’s son the four year old Arthur Southwick, a four year old Hatch boy named Thomas, and Anna’s  three year old brother Lord Edward Bennett Wingate as the official ring bearer.

The wedding party may have looked like a school room–and the congregation was replete with various governesses and nannies ready to retrieve someone who became unruly–but Anna would not have it any other way.  And in the end, the children were as good as gold.

Anna’s gown is of the finest white silk organza over white satin–with delicate silk thread embroidery of flowers embedded with seed pearls along the scalloped neckline.  Lord Rafe had joked earlier to his wife Lady Katharine that Anna’s dress should be considered part of her dowry so dear was the cost to have it made.  But Lady Katharine rightly reminded him that a young bride’s wedding gown was of singular importance.  And Anna’s golden hair has a coiled braid from which springs her lush ringlets, and around which she wears her Grandmama Leonora’s diamond tiara.  The flowers are white and yellow roses, with a hint of pink for color.

Stuart is dressed in his cadet uniform–him having completed his exams over the Summer and he belatedly graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst with honours.  Stuart proudly wanted to wear his military uniform for his wedding, because as he returns to private life and studies the law under the tutelage of his father the Lord Magistrate of Oxford Sir Collin MacGregor, this is the last time that Stuart will wear his red regimentals.  Stuart looks resplendent in his uniform that also carries a singular medal for valor due to his bravery in getting his dorm mates to safety at the risk to his own life during the fire last Spring.

With pride and love bursting from his heart, Lord Rafe [(11) right] escorts his daughter LordRafe-image-isRichardArmitage-asJohnThornton-in2004North&South-epi2-106Aug1213ranet--crop-hi-res-clr-brt-shrpBaroness Anna up the aisle of Warwick Cathedral as close family and friends looked on.  The pew rows are festooned with ribbons and delicate flower accents.  Stuart’s and Anna’s eyes lock when Lord Rafe hands her over to him at the altar.  Somehow, they manage to do and say the right things throughout their short twenty minute wedding ceremony.  And if they forgot, there was always little Eben–Lord Edward–to  remind them as he repeated every last word of each sentence Father Robert Hatch intoned throughout the ceremony, to the amusement of all.  It was a lovely wedding ceremony of heartfelt promises and vows.

Sadly, there was one person who could not join Anna and Stuart on their special day, but for the presence of her loving spirit that Anna feels keenly is always with her.  So on their open carriage ride home to Dearing Manor from Warwick Cathedral, Anna and Stuart take a detour to the Wingate family Cemetery.  And there, at her Mama Fanny’s grave situated under a now quite tall weeping willow tree,  Anna keeps one pink blossom from her wedding bouquet, then she lays her wedding bouquet upon her Mama’s grave.  It is a tearful moment, as Anna knew it would be.  But with her new husband Stuart standing by her side to support her, Anna and he whisper their prayers of love to Fanny for giving Anna life and love her first eleven years.

So Anna and Stuart are a little late to their afternoon reception–with some guests surmising that the newlyweds took a leisurely carriage ride to kiss clandestinely before their wedding reception responsibilities would be upon them.  However, Anna’s and Stuart’s family and close friends either know or guess where they were by their solemn demeanor when they arrive back at the manor house.  But with little ones whizzing about the party and asking for praise about how good they were at the wedding ceremony, Anna and Stuart are soon drawn into the joy of their wedding reception.

It is a perfect wedding day in every respect.

***
However, Anna and Stuart’s wedding night almost does not happen.  Having been told in general terms the story of Lady Katharine’s and Lord Rafe’s first  non wedding night and the marital happiness that followed, Anna decides to emulate it–to Stuart’s chagrin as he hopes to take her to their bed this night.  So on her wedding night after they are settled into a guest apartment at the Hunting Lodge, Stuart thoughtfully leaves the bedchamber to allow Anna to change privately.  Then Anna escapes from the Hunting Lodge–via a horse in order  to save her wedding slippers from destruction–and she heads to Mrs. Plunkett’s forest cottage for a lovely chat while she waits for Stuart to claim her and take her back to their marriage bed.

But Anna forgets one salient point–Stuart does not know the story.   So the frantic Stuart has no clue where his bride has gone to.  Fearing the worst–kidnappers–he races the open gig back to Dearing Manor, sheepishly admitting that he lost his bride to the still assembled wedding guests, who are mostly family at this point.   They howl with laughter.  And Lord Rafe looks over at his wife Lady Katharine with a gleam in his eye–noticing that she looks quite pleased with herself.  Lord Rafe has a chat with Stuart about where he thinks Stuart can find Anna and also tells him how the remainder of his own wedding nights one and two transpired seven years ago–in general terms.  Then Lord Rafe resolves to continue working with his lovely wife on their new baby goal this night.

So Stuart retrieves Anna from Mrs. Plunkett–finding her there with her wedding skirt and petticoats off with her silk drawers showing enticingly.  After she redresses, they return to their Hunting Lodge wedding apartment and proceed to have a picnic in their bedroom–with Anna wearing Stuart’s nightshirt over her chemise and drawers while admiring his bare chest–chatting and holding hands and kissing, but no more.

Anna:  “Is not this fun, Stuart!   I feel like we are being wicked sitting around picnicking in our night clothes.  Well, I am in your night shirt.”  She blushes.

Stuart:  “Yes. But do you not feel uncomfortable in all of that fabric, my Dear?”  He asks hopefully.

Anna: “No.” She smiles cheerfully.  “I am all warm and cozy.”  She snuggles up to her husband Stuart.  Then she worries about Stuart’s health with him being bare chested and not wearing his night shirt.  “Are you feeling chilled?”

Stuart:  He looks at her wryly.  “Something like that.”  Stuart could have sworn that Anna was as eager as he to discover the joys of love together when she kissed him the other night.  But he thinks that maybe he was mistaken and he needs to be patient with her.

Anna:  “Well then maybe we should go to sleep and get warm under the covers.”  She smiles brightly.

Once they get into bed Stuart lies there looking the epitome of a disappointed bridegroom, scrunching his eyes closed–trying to be gentlemanly and not ravish his lovely not quite eighteen year old bride Anna.  Then she makes it more difficult for him by scooting over to his side of the bed and cuddling with him.

Stuart:  “Anna!   You are killing me!   I am only human.  If you want us to wait to make love until tomorrow night, then you had best stay on your side of the bed.”

Stuart cannot believe that he just said that!  But he considerately wants to follow Anna’s wishes–hoping that by him waiting to exercise his husbandly privileges, that they will begin a long and happy marriage together.  Stuart has waited this long to learn the secret that all men know–the loving conjugation of husband and wife–that one more night will not make a difference.  Well, that is what he tells his eager self.

Anna:  “Stuart?”  She sighs while twining his spare chest hair around her finger.  Anna did not know that men have hair on their chests and she rather likes playing with it.

Stuart:  “Yes?”  His almost twenty one year old self whines as he turns his head to look at her.

Anna:  She smiles coquettishly, then kisses him sweetly.    “I am teasing about waiting until tomorrow night.  Ravish me, my love!”

Stuart:  “Thank god!” Stuart nearly pounces on his bride as he rolls onto his side and kisses her adoringly as she molds her body to his as she lies on her side facing him such that not even a whisper could pass between then.

Anna: “Ha ha ha ha ha!”  She giggles for his eagerness.  For all her maidenly virtues–untutored in the ways of love–Anna loves and trusts her husband completely.

Then Stuart proceeds to lavish his considerable loving and eager attentions upon his delighted young bride.  Though Stuart is not a rake as Lord Rafe was–far from it, with Stuart maintaining his own chastity before he and Anna wed, as was his father Sir Collin’s example.  So Stuart has never made love before–though most young men talk to each other and he has an inkling about what will happen, what he must do–what he and Anna will do together as they make love.  In truth, he has been dreaming about their lovemaking constantly in the hectic days leading up to their wedding.   Stuart loves only Anna and he has saved himself for her, as she has saved herself for him.

Stuart is as eager a bridegroom as there ever was. And he adores Anna in every way that has been mentioned to him–not realizing that sometimes there are combinations of lovemaking approaches, but not everything all at once.  Frankly, it is a good thing that Stuart is so well recovered from the fire, for he will need all of his powers of strength and vigor this night.

Stuart and Anna make love their first time for each of them this night in wonder and awe of the intimacies that they may now share as husband and wife.   It is a loving, tender, and sleepless night as they gradually realize that some things should be savored and they take their time to enjoy each new passion’s flame of desire.

Needless to say, dawn finally finds the exhausted bridal couple nestling happily naked in each others’ loving arms as sleep finally claims them.  They awaken several hours later, but stay indoors and in their bed chamber the whole of this new day–even forgoing the dinner hosted for them at Dearing Manor by claiming fatigue, which makes their families howl with laughter.  And characteristically, the men–Sir John, Sir Collin, Lord Charles, and Lord Rafe–make suppositions upon when Lord Rafe might expect his first grandchild.

And then that later that evening, Anna and Stuart take a long hot soaking bath together before bed–their second wedding night–which leads to them sharing more new marital intimacies.    And as with anything, practice makes perfect.  So much so, that by the end of their two week long wedding holiday idyll, Anna and Stuart both pronounce their marriage perfect.

To be continued with the Epilogue

“Love is a Choice”, Epilogue: One Year Later

Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine are blessed with another daughter whom they name Lady Gwendolyn the Summer after Anna’s and Stuart’s wedding.  Everyone is happy and healthy–children, parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents in the person of Lady Esme Sinclair who is now in her seventies.  Sir Antony Southwick dryly points out to his son-in-law Lord Rafe that his mother-in-law Lady Esme is too tough to die.  Well, it seems that her healthy constitution has been passed on to her descendants–to her daughter Lady Charmaine Southwick and to her granddaughter Lady Katharine Wingate.

And Anna’s bedtime story about their past, present, and future to Stuart recovering from his injuries after the fire is not too far off the mark.   Though she is not certain of any baby news by their first wedding anniversary, the following week she is.  And Anna catches Stuart off guard with her announcement as he returns home  late after clerking for his father in court in Oxford where they have settled in a small rented one bedroom cottage with one servant–a ladies maid cum housekeeper cum cook–while still not dipping into their respective dowry monies other than using the interest incomes they provide to supplement Stuart’s salary.  This is how Stuart’s parents started out, and he and Anna are quite enjoying their freedom from owning a large home with all of its attendant responsibilities.

Arriving home late this night, Stuart hangs up his outer coat and sets his briefcase on the hall table.

Stuart:  “Anna, I am home.”  He calls out to her.

Anna: “Hmmm.” Anna stirs from her nap while lying on the sette by the warm and cozy fire in their small sitting room.

Stuart:  Smiling, Stuart walks over to his wife lying on the sette.  He kneels down and he kisses her forehead.  “Anna.”Anna-image-is-Samantha-Mathis-asAmyin1994Little-WomenSep0113fanpopcom-croptooval

Anna: Anna’s eyes flutter open.  “Stuart!  You are home!”  Anna [(12) right] sighs with abundant cheerfulness as she sits up. Her face full of hope and love.

Stuart:  “I am.  But I fear that I have interrupted your rest.   You are very sleepy these days, My Love.  You should not wait up for me when I have to stay late at court working on a brief for my Papa.”

Anna:  “But I want to wait up for you.”  She pouts cutely.

Stuart:   Stuart kisses the tip of her nose.  “All evidence to the contrary.”

Anna:  “Speaking of which, I need some legal advice.”

Stuart: “Oh?  You have not forgotten to pay the butcher again, such that he wants to take you to court for payment due?   Ha ha ha!”  He jests.

Anna:  “Noooo!”  Anna rolls her eyes convincingly.  Then she makes a mental note to actually pay the butcher tomorrow.

Stuart:  “Well then?”

Anna:  “I fear it has to do with my dowry.”  Stuart nods.  “The principle cannot be touched until I am twenty five–unless, of course, there are extenuating circumstances.”

Stuart:  “That sounds wise.  What are these extenuating circumstances?”  He sits down on the sette next to her as they cuddle.

Anna:  “Well, if we were to emigrate to another country.”  Stuart shakes his head with a bemused frown.  “If we had to pay off a large debt to keep us from prison.”

Stuart:  “Just remember to pay our bills, dearest, and we will be fine.”  He smiles knowingly–while making a mental note to help his wife do the accounts this weekend to make sure that they are current on all of their payments.  “Is there another reason?”

Anna:  “To buy a bigger house.” She smiles sweetly.

Stuart:  “Are you not happy with our snug little cottage?   I thought that you liked it.”  He asks with concern.

Anna:  “I do like it.  But I fear that it will be too snug for us very soon.”  Stuart looks at her quizzically.  “We will need a home with several bedrooms–for our baby’s future brothers and sisters.”  She states triumphantly.

Stuart:  “Our baby?”  He looks at her wondering if he has not heard her correctly.

Anna:  She nods her head sweetly.  “In the Spring, April I think.”

Stuart:  Stuart pulls Anna to sit on his lap and embraces and kisses her warmly.  “Oh Anna, My Love!   A baby!  I am more happy than I can say.”  They kiss some more.

Anna:   “Ha ha ha ha ha!   I am happy, too.  I love you so, Stuart.”

Stuart:  “I love you so, Anna.”  They kiss again tenderly.  “I am going to pamper you as you have never been pampered before, My Darling.”

Anna: “I know.”  She squeals gleefully.  Then Stuart lifts his Anna into his arms and walks her into their bedroom for a loving night.

The End

Author’s Note:
Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for reading and commenting upon my original story, “Love is a Choice”.  When I began writing this story last Spring, I had no idea how long and involved it would become.  This is my longest story to date–391  single spaced typed pages, in novel length territory.  Ha!  But as I added generations and friends characters and such, I interwove all of their lives together–I hope as realistically as possible.  And as always, my goal with this story was to reflect the ways that love touches our lives–bringing us joy, adding complications, and deepening our understanding for and our appreciation of each other, etc.
So as with these characters Lord Rafe and Lady Katharine, and Baroness Anna and Stuart–and other characters revolving around them–I wish for you to be able to find that love is a choice, whether you define love as friendship, parenting, or romance, etc.
Cheers!   Gratiana Lovelace ;->

                                   References

1)      “Love is a Choice” story logo is a composite image comprised of:
a) Gold wedding gown (cropped to fabric of skirt) found at http://0.tqn.com/d/honeymoons/1/0/C/w/belle2.jpg
b)  Oval picture frames were found at http://www.inlineovals.com/product_images/q/675/602agp__91104_zoom.jpg

c)  Image (cropped, masked, brightened, color) representing Lord Rafe Wingate is that of Richard Armitage as John Thornton  in North & South  (BBC, 2004) episode 2, picture 66 was found at http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode2/ns2-066.jpg

d)  Image (cropped, masked, brightened, color) representing Lady Katharine Wingate is that of Carla Gugino  as Nan St. George in “The Buccaneers” (1995),  Episode 1 vlcsnap-ooh09m21s203 Mar1313 Gratiana Lovelace screencap (my cap)

2) Anna Wingate at 18 image is Samantha Mathis as Amy (my cap) in the 1994 film Little Women and was found at http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/133561/Little-Women/overview ; http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/133561/Little-Women/trailers

3) Information about the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Military_Academy_Sandhurst

4) Stuart grown up image is Christian Bale as Teddy in 1994’s Little Women was found at

http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/img-thing?.out=jpg&size=l&tid=4233855

5) Lady Katharine image is Carla Gugino as Nan in 1995 The Buccaneers Mar1413vlcsnap-2013-03-14-09h48m37s235byGrati-crop to oval

6)  Information about canons is found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannon
7) Information about Sandhurst in Berkshire isfound at x1–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhurst,_Berkshire

8) Lord Rafe naked image is Richard Armitage  as Lucas North in Spooks,series 9 Promos, pix 45 found at http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/Spooks/spookspromo/album/series9-45.jpg

9) Sir Collin MacGregor image is of Mark Strong as George Knightly in 1996’s Emma Mar2513 was found at http://cps-static.rovicorp.com/2/Open/Ernst%20Seibold/Jane%20Austen’s%20Emma/_derived_jpg_q90_250x250_m0/Emma%20Kate%20Beckinsale%20Mark%20Strong_809869.jpg?partner=allrovi.com

10) Image for Lady Leonora Wingate, Mama to Lord Rafe and GrandMama to his daughter Anna is a painting titled “Lady Violet Henderson” by John William Waterhouse that was found at
http://paintingsforsalediscount.com/image-paintings/john-william-waterhouse/john-william-waterhouse-lady-violet-henderson-8668.jpg

11) Lord Rafe Wingate image (cropped, brightened, sharpened, color) is Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North & South (2004) episode 2 pix 106, and was found at  http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/images/gallery/nands/album/episode2/ns2-106.jpg

12)  Anna image is Samantha Mathis as Amy in the 1994 film Little Woman and was found at http://images2.fanpop.com/images/polls/114433_1220730465733_full.jpg

“Love is a Choice”, Previous Story Link to Ch. 36 is: https://gratianads90.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/love-is-a-choice-ch-36-pg-pre-christmas-1831-brings-clarity-to-annas-choice-for-her-husband-august-28-2013-gratiana-lovelace-post-443 /

About Gratiana Lovelace

Gratiana Lovelace is my nom de plume for my creative writing and blogging. I write romantic stories in different sub genres. The stories just tumble out of me. My resurgence in creative writing occurred when I viewed the BBC miniseries of Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North & South in February 2010. The exquisitely talented British actor portraying the male lead John Thornton in North & South--Richard Crispin Armitage--became my unofficial muse. I have written over 50 script stories about love--some are fan fiction, but most are original stories--that I am just beginning to share with others on private writer sites, and here on my blog. And as you know, my blog here is also relatively new--since August 2011. But, I'm having fun and I hope you enjoy reading my blog essays and my stories. Cheers! Grati ;-> upd 12/18/11
This entry was posted in "Love is a Choice" story, Creative Writing, Family, Fiction, Love and Relationships, Period Drama, Richard Armitage, Romance and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “Love is a Choice”, Ch. 37 (PG-13) End: Our Story Ends with Love in Abundance, September 3, 2013 (Post #445)

  1. aj daisy says:

    Brilliant Grati I have really loved this story and what an happy ending. Thank You

    Like

  2. Ania says:

    Thank you for giving your story a happy ending, Grati! To be able to read the story it was a real pleasure, and I thank you for that. :-)

    Like

  3. Kitty says:

    I loved it, Gratiana! Thanks so much for sharing.

    Like

  4. February 24, 2017–Thanks for all of the readership this weekend of my original historical fiction Regency romance “Love is a Choice”! I’m glad that you’re enjoying it! Cheers! Grati ;->

    Like

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