The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)(7)

By: Julia Brannan

“Didn’t one of your servants have a baby?” Sir Anthony asked, breaking into her thoughts. She realised she was smiling foolishly, and bestowed the smile on the infant in her arms, where it would be understandable.

“Martha,” Beth said. “Yes, she did, but when she got pregnant she was disowned by her father, and went away to her aunt’s to have the child. It was over a year before Thomas managed to track her down, and Ann was nearly two before Martha could get away from her aunt. She was a horrible woman, insisted that Martha owed her a lifetime of slavery because she’d allowed her to have her bastard child in the house. Children are quite different when they’re two,” she pointed out.

“So I assume Martha’s not gone back there then,” Sir Anthony asked.

“No, that was the first place Thomas asked. She’s just vanished. It’s very odd.”

As Caroline was looking confused, Beth explained about Martha’s resignation after an altercation with Richard, and her inexplicable disappearance.

Little Frederick, or Freddie as Edwin was already calling him, had now gone to sleep on Beth’s knee.

“I’d like to get accustomed to babies,” she said wistfully, looking down at him.

“My advice is to take your time,” Caroline said. “Get to know each other first. Because once a baby arrives, you’ll have no time for anything else.”

“Unless you hire a nurse,” Anthony said.

“Yes. But I didn’t want to do that, not straight away, at any rate. Your attitude is a relief, to be honest, Beth. I thought I was the only woman in the world who didn’t know much about babies. I’ve been learning as I go along. It’s fun, but exhausting, too. I though Edwin would be able to help more than he has. He really wants to, but what with the gin tax, all the argument about whether England should be paying for Hanoverian troops who are doing nothing at the moment, and now the imminent invasion, we hardly see each other.”

“How is the invasion?” Sir Anthony asked, as though enquiring after the health of a mutual acquaintance.

“Still imminent, as far as I know,” Caroline answered. “I’ll worry about it when the French are hammering on the door. To be honest, by the time Edwin gets home he’s too tired to talk about it, and I’m too tired to listen. But there was a letter from a spy at Louis’ court which pretty well detailed the whole plans, and gave a list of Jacobites who have since been rounded up. A lot of troops are being mobilised, and the navy is preparing. Or is prepared, probably, by now. Oh, and the king has written to Louis to demand the removal of the Pretender’s son from French soil.”

“Louis will like that,” Beth said.

“He did. He’s written back, basically saying ‘go to hell’. Something on the lines of ‘you abide by your treaty with us, and we’ll abide by ours with you,’ you know the sort of thing. And more than that I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll find out at the dinner. I thought you’d already know everything anyway, Anthony. You’re normally very well-informed.”

“Ah, but I’ve been out of the country for six months, my dear. I am completely ignorant of current developments.”

“But not of how to stop babies crying. Before you go, just show me exactly what you did to bring the wind up so spectacularly.”

He did, and Caroline bent over to relieve Beth of the burden of the child.

“Have you got any silver, Anthony?” Beth asked suddenly.

“Why do you need silver?” Caroline asked.

“I must give the baby some.” The baronet having come up with nothing, Beth unclasped the slender chain from around her neck, and pressed it into the baby’s hand. “It’s a Scottish custom, very unlucky if you don’t,” she explained. “My mother told it to me. You’ll have to take it off him straight away, though. I don’t want him to swallow it.”

Caroline looked at Sir Anthony, who was debating whether to don his soiled coat or put up with the cold for the short journey home. She was clearly remembering that he too had given the child a silver coin on his previous visit, saying only that it was a family custom. He smiled vacuously at her, then slung his coat over his arm, and opened the door.

* * *

To Beth’s relief, not only Caroline, but also Edwin turned up for the meal. He looked tired and a little harassed, but he was there. Which was as well, when you looked at the other ‘dear friends’ of the Peters’ that Isabella had thoughtfully included. Lord Bartholomew and Lady Wilhelmina Winter; Anne Maynard; Lydia Fortesque and her father Thomas, who Beth had met briefly once, and who Edwin spoke highly of. And an elegant man in late middle age of medium height with intelligent brown eyes, who she had never met before, but who nevertheless looked vaguely familiar, and who was soon introduced by Sir Anthony as William Barrington, Earl of Highbury.

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