Holton Park, Chapter Seven

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 7

Oxford and Holton Park: July 20 – August 8 2008.

Beth made her trip to Bramthorpe in the first week in August, after the Reimers went back to Canada.

Matthew and Emma went to Scotland for a week for their honeymoon, and the Reimers took the opportunity to do some more touring, making a trip down to the West Country to visit some historic places and enjoy the spectacular scenery of the south coast. Beth had thought about going with them, but she came to the reluctant conclusion that Claire would very quickly get bored, as well as being disoriented by the experience of sleeping in a different bed every night. So she decided to stay in the Oxford area, and Tom and Wendy immediately said they would stay with her.

“You don’t have to do that!” Beth protested. “I know Becca, and Owen and Lorraine, and I can look after myself, as long as you don’t mind leaving me the key.”

“We’d be quite happy to leave you the key,” Tom replied, “but we’ve seen the West Country many times, and we don’t often get to see you.”

“But you’ll miss spending time with Joe and Ellie.”

“I think our friendship will survive. Anyway, we want to show you around Oxford, and we know where all the child-friendly places are.”

And so Beth and Claire spent a leisurely week in the Oxford area. They spent a couple of days strolling in the city centre, going into any college that happened to be open and looking around it until Claire got bored, at which point they would find the nearest piece of grass to run on (preferably with swings and slides and climbing bars close at hand). They spent an afternoon at Cutteslowe Park in north Oxford, feeding the ducks, splashing in the splash park, and riding the miniature railway. This was the outing in which Tom firmly established himself as one of Claire’s favourite adults by going into the splash park with her and joining her in jumping up and down until they were both soaking wet. From that point on, she would take his hand without hesitation and go with him wherever he wanted to take her.

One afternoon Wendy took Beth to visit her college, Merton; they wandered through the fourteenth century hall, sat for a while in the quiet of the chapel, explored the various quadrangles, and ended up having coffee and a long visit in Wendy’s rooms. At the end of the afternoon, they went over to Magdalen College and walked for half an hour in Addison’s Walk, before going home to enjoy a meal which Lisa had prepared for them all with Claire’s assistance.

Lisa was back staying at Tom and Wendy’s house now that Emma was gone, and Beth found herself warming to her. Lisa was not sitting around while she waited to hear about her job application at the EU parliament; she was doing freelance translation work to support herself, and the spare bedroom had quickly become her office as well.

One night they all went out to Cumnor Hill, west of Oxford, for a family gathering of the Masefields at the home of Tom’s brother Rick. Tom’s mother was there, along with Becca and Mike and their son Luke, and Rick and his wife Alyson and their daughters Sarah and Anna (their son Eric was living in London, they explained, and didn’t come home very often). The weather was fine, and they ate on the patio, after which Beth wandered on the grass for a while with Sarah, who had visited Meadowvale with Tom three years ago.

On the Friday night they went over to Owen and Lorraine Foster’s house to share a meal and play some music. Tom, Owen and Wendy were a folk band, ‘Lincoln Green,’ and they sang some of their traditional songs for a while. But Beth had brought a guitar with her as well, and Owen was keen to hear her play. “I’d love to hear that arrangement you used to do of ‘Lakes of Pontchartrain,’” he said, and so Beth played the song for him, and afterwards everyone was very appreciative.

Matthew and Emma returned from their honeymoon on the Sunday afternoon, obviously aglow with each other’s company; they were scheduled to move into their flat in London on August 1 but had planned to spend the last week of July in Oxford so that they could visit with Emma’s Reimer relatives before they went back to Canada. On the Monday of that week Emma took Beth and Claire away by themselves for the day; they went canoeing on the Thames — “Or the Isis, as it’s known in Oxford, the home of all things pretentious!” said Emma with a grin — followed by a trip out of town to a riding stables where they all enjoyed a couple of hours on horseback, with Claire sharing a saddle with each of them in turn.

The Reimers flew back to Canada on the Wednesday of that week, and on the Friday Matthew and Emma went down to London to move into their new flat. Beth and Claire stood with Tom and Wendy and Lisa in front of their house, waving as Matthew and Emma’s car drove off down Bowness Avenue, with Emma waving back at them from the passenger window. They turned right at the corner onto Headley Way, and after a moment Tom gave a heavy sigh. “Well, there she goes,” he said. “My little girl is now Mrs. MacFarlane, and she lives in a different city than me.”

“Are you finally having a midlife crisis?” said Lisa.

“You’re bad, Lisa Howard!” Tom replied with a twinkle in his eye.

Wendy put her arm around him and kissed him on the cheek. “What are we going to do to stave off your melancholy for the rest of the day?” she asked.

Tom grinned at Beth. “I know what we’ll do,” he said; “We’ll plan a trip to Bramthorpe to see Holton Park. What do you think, Beth—would Monday suit you?”

“Absolutely! I was beginning to think you’d forgotten.”

“Not a chance. Let’s go and book ourselves a couple of hotel rooms in Stamford, shall we?”

***

They were able to get two double rooms at an old hotel in the centre of the old town of Stamford. It was a two-hour drive from Oxford, but they broke the trip up near Northampton with a stop for lunch and a few minutes for Claire to run around. Tom and Wendy split the driving between them, with Beth sitting in the back with Claire, reading to her and playing car games, and doing her best to keep her from getting bored.

Beth enjoyed the fact that the road was open, with no embankments obscuring her view. The countryside was mainly flat or gently rolling, the fields divided by lines of trees or hedgerows, and every few miles a village with houses of red brick or grey stone, and always the churches with their spires or towers pointing to the sky above.

They arrived in Stamford early in the afternoon. Tom and Wendy had been there before and were familiar with the town, so they found a place to park and walked around for a while. They stopped for a very expensive coffee at an ancient coaching inn, then wandered again, crossing a stone-walled bridge over a small river. Away on their left was a wide green meadow, while ahead, above the houses, Beth could see several church towers. “What river is this?” she asked.

“The Welland,” Tom replied. “The meadow’s really quite lovely, isn’t it?”

“It really is.” She looked around her at the narrow streets lined with buildings of grey stone. “You must really have gone through a culture shock when you moved to Canada, Tom,” she said.

“You’ve noticed the differences, have you?”

“Everything’s so green here. And of course, the buildings are so much older. Everything’s so young where we live.”

They stopped on the bridge, resting their arms on the stone parapet and looking down at the slow-moving river below. Tom lifted Claire up so she could see the ducks and coots floating lazily by. “Do you like it, Miss Claire?” he asked.

“It’s really nice.”

Wendy was standing beside Beth as they looked down at the river. “How are you feeling?” she asked in a quiet voice. “It must be a moving experience to know that your great-grandmother was born not five miles from here.”

Beth nodded slowly, her eyes far away. “I just realized that,” she whispered. “She mentions coming into Stamford many times in her journals. I wonder if she ever walked across this bridge?”

“It’s the centre of the town, so it would be a surprise if she didn’t. You’re probably standing in a spot she knew well.”

Beth looked at Wendy in silence for a moment, shaking her head slowly. “It seems so unreal,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m actually here.”

***

They had known beforehand that Holton Park was closed to the public each day at five, so they had decided not to try to fit in a visit on their first afternoon. They checked into their rooms at the hotel just after three, spent a little while getting settled in, and then went for a drive out toward Bramthorpe, just two miles north of Stamford on a narrow, tree-lined road. The first thing Beth noticed when they drove into the village was an old stone church on the left. “That’s St. Luke’s!” she exclaimed. “That’s where the family attended church on Sundays.”

“Were Joanna’s parents married there, I wonder?” asked Tom.

“That I don’t know.”

“Shall we stop and have a look? Some churches are open during the day; we might be able to go in.”

“Would you mind?” asked Beth.

Tom laughed. “This is your trip, Bethie; we’re going to stop wherever you want to stop and look at whatever you want to look at.”

They pulled the car up against the sidewalk and got out in the afternoon sunlight. The churchyard was surrounded by a low stone wall with a gated entrance; they went through it and followed the path round the side of the building to the stone porch with its old wooden door. Tom tried it and found that it opened easily. “Our lucky day,” he said.

Inside, the air smelled of wood and furniture polish. The wooden pews had red kneelers in front of them, and there was a matching red carpet leading up the aisle to the front, where the altar stood at the east end. The pulpit, off to one side, had a wooden sounding board above it; the lectern across the aisle was small by comparison, with a wooden hymn board on the wall behind it.

Off to her right, Beth saw a stone memorial set into the wall of the church, beside one of the stained-glass windows. Moving closer, she read out loud.

“Sacred to the memory of the men of this parish who gave their lives for king and country, nineteen-fourteen to nineteen-eighteen.”

She counted; there were thirty-two names, in alphabetical order. She scanned the list and found the name she was looking for. “Rowley, E.R.,” she whispered, “August thirty-first nineteen-seventeen.”

“Joanna’s brother Edward,” said Tom.

“Yes.”

“It’s rare to have dates given. Most war memorials just have names.”

“Joanna’s father put this up. He must have done the research.” She searched the list for the other name, and quickly found it. “Robinson, S.C.,” she said, “September tenth nineteen-fourteen.”

“Will’s brother,” said Tom. “He must have been in one of the very first battles the British Expeditionary Force fought. I remember the day Joanna told me about him.”

Beth reached out and put her finger on the two names, one after the other. “My relatives,” she whispered.

“Mommy, what is that?” asked Claire.

Beth stooped and lifted her up. “A very long time ago, there was a great war fought,” she said. “Many, many people died in it. This is a list of people from this village who died in that war.”

“These are their names?”

“Yes. Two of them are our relatives. Your great-great grandma and great-great-grandpa were both born here, and each of them lost a brother in the war. This stone is a memorial to them.”

“What’s a memorial?”

“It’s something their families put up so people wouldn’t forget them. It’s a long time ago now, and probably no one is still alive who knew them, but we can remember their names anyway, because they’re written on this memorial.”

Claire looked into Beth’s face. “Mommy, are you sad?”

Beth smiled through her tears. “Maybe a little bit sad, and a little moved. I’ve come a long way to see things like this, and it means a lot to me. Don’t be scared, sweetie; you’ll probably see me crying a few times, but it doesn’t mean I’m upset, okay?”

“Okay.”

Wendy wandered off to the front of the church and sat down in one of the pews. Tom put his arm around Beth’s shoulders. “This is just the beginning, Bethie,” he said.

“Yeah, I know. But even if this was everything, it would be enough. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think I do.” Tom held out his arms to Claire. “Come to me for a few minutes?”

“Okay,” the little girl replied.

“Shall I carry you, or shall we walk?”

“Walk. Can we go back outside?”

“Sure.” Tom nodded at Beth; “We’ll leave you to it for a few minutes.”

“Thanks, Tom.”

***

They spent a couple of hours wandering around Bramthorpe. The streets were narrow, the houses built mainly of the same stone they had noticed in Stamford; they were mainly small to medium sized, but now and again they came across a more substantial property, often set behind a low stone wall with a wider expanse of lawn around it. On a street with some newer houses, they passed a primary school, set back from the road behind a playing field, and a little further on, a modern building with a sign out front advertising it as a veterinary clinic.

They found the little river Gwash on the edge of the village: it was only a few feet wide, and for a few minutes they stood on the bridge, leaning against the parapet and looking across at the fields and woods on the other side. “Steeple Farm is over there,” said Beth; “I remember its location from Google maps.”

“That’s the old Robinson farm, right?” asked Tom.

“Yes.”

“Shall we go and have a look?”

“Maybe tomorrow some time. I don’t want to rush things today.”

“Understood.” Tom glanced at his watch. “A little after five,” he said. “What do you say we go back to Stamford and eat at the hotel. Tomorrow, maybe, if the day goes well, we might find a pub out here and have a bite. What do you think?”

Wendy took his arm. “You’re a genius, as always,” she said with a grin.

“I agree,” said Beth, “although I’m not sure if I’ll sleep a wink tonight.”

“Excited, are we?” asked Tom.

“Just a little.”

***

The next morning dawned clear and bright. They left the hotel just after nine-thirty, and within a few minutes they were heading north toward Bramthorpe. On the passenger side of the car, Wendy had her window down and her arm resting on the frame. “I think it’s going to be a warm one today,” she said.

Tom glanced back at Beth in the back seat. “So—we’re going to Holton Park first, then?” he said.

Beth nodded. “The first guided tour starts at ten; we should be there on time, I think.”

They drove through the village of Bramthorpe and then followed the narrow road in a northwesterly direction. On their left was a line of trees, with a low hedge on their right, and beyond it, farmland stretching off into the distance. The countryside was flat, the crops in the fields golden under the morning sun.

Two miles north of Bramthorpe they passed a small private entrance to the Holton Park estate. They drove another mile, and then on their left saw an open gateway with a large sign:

Holton Park

A Stately Home for All Occasions

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.

Tom turned in at the gate, and they followed the road westward for a mile or more across open fields to a thick stand of trees. Their way led through the trees for another half mile until they came to a more substantial entrance, with a sign welcoming them to Holton House. The wrought iron gates were already open, and Tom steered the car slowly through them. They passed a couple of buildings on their right, and then on their left, as they came out of the trees, they saw for the first time the large three-storey manor house. When Beth had seen pictures of it on the Internet, she had thought the stonework was grey, but now as she gazed at it in the morning sunlight, she saw that it was a richer, more mellow honey-colour, with a high red roof topped by tall Tudor chimneys. The house had four large gables with wide latticed windows, and its main entrance was on the ground floor of the second gable.

“Well, this looks grand,” said Wendy. “When was it built again?”

“In the sixteenth century,” Beth replied. “I think in the time of Elizabeth the First.”

“That looks about right,” said Tom as he pulled up beside four or five other cars already parked in the parking area in front of the house. He turned off the engine, then glanced up at Beth’s face in his rear-view mirror. “Do we just go right on in?”

“Yes. There’s a reception area just inside. I’ve already paid for the tickets; we just need to pick them up.”

They got out of the car, and Tom held out his hand to Claire. “You want to walk with me?”

“Sure”.

Beth and Wendy led the way, with Tom and Claire bringing up the rear. The front door was already open; inside, they stepped into an entrance hall with wood paneling, a tile floor, and an ornately carved ceiling. On the other side of the room, a richly carved staircase led up to the next floor. On the walls were a couple of portraits that looked to Beth as if they dated from the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries.

There was a small table in front of them, and a young woman dressed smartly in skirt and blouse was standing behind it. “Welcome to Holton Park,” she said. “Are you here for the guided tour?”

“We are,” Beth replied. “I bought tickets online last night. My name is Beth Robinson.”

The young woman looked down at a list on the table in front of her. “Ah yes—three adults and one child. I’ve got your tickets here.” She handed the tickets to Beth and gestured with her hand toward a doorway opening off to her right. “That’s the entrance to the great hall,” she said. “The guests are gathering there; the tour will be starting in about five minutes. It’s a smaller group this morning, so you’ll probably get to ask more questions.”

“We should just go on through, then?” asked Beth.

“Absolutely.” The young woman hesitated, and then said, “If you don’t mind me asking, are you from America?”

“My daughter and I are from Canada, but my friends are from Oxford.”

“Oh, right. Sorry, I thought…”

‘Don’t worry about it; a lot of people get the accents confused.”

Beth led the way through the doorway into the great hall. The room was two storeys high, with dark wooden panelling stretching up as far as the bottom of the latticed windows, and then a pale cream coloured plaster reaching up to the ornate ceiling. The walls were covered in paintings, some of them obviously dating back to Tudor times, others more recent. Beth was particularly struck by a large family portrait on the west wall; it looked like a husband and wife and seven children, and from the clothing styles she guessed it to be from the eighteenth century.

Tom came over and stood beside Beth, with Claire still holding his hand. “Quite a culture shock for Joanna,” he whispered.

“No kidding.” She glanced down at Claire. “You okay with Uncle Tom?”

“Uh-huh.”

Wendy put her hand on Beth’s arm and pointed out a small piano in one corner of the room. “That’s a Georgian piano, isn’t it? The sort that Jane Fairfax would have played in Emma?”

Beth laughed softly. “I wonder if it’s genuine, or if someone threw together a replica for effect?”

There were already eleven other people in the room, strolling around and looking up at the paintings. After a moment a smartly dressed middle-aged woman came in. “Good morning, everyone,” she said. “My name is Sandy Matthews, and I’m on staff here at Holton Park. I’m going to be your tour guide for today. Toward the end of our tour, we’ll be joined by Edwin Rowley, our estate manager. He’s the son of Robert Rowley, the current owner of Holton Park, and he’ll be glad to answer any questions you might have about the family history.”

The people in the Great Hall gathered around as she continued. “Holton Park was originally an Augustinian monastery, Holton Priory, founded in the eleventh century. It was destroyed at the dissolution of the monasteries, and the estate was given by Henry the Eighth to Sir Philip Rowley in fifteen-forty. It was actually a reward for loyalty; the Rowleys had been loyal supporters of the Lancastrian and Tudor causes all through the Wars of the Roses. At the time it was a sizeable estate of two thousand acres of excellent farmland; some of that land has been sold off through the years, but there are still fifteen hundred acres remaining.

“Sir Philip built this house between fifteen fifty and fifteen fifty-eight, using mainly stone from the ruins of Holton Priory. By then of course King Henry was dead, and the years when the house was being built were times of conflict, with Henry’s young son Edward reigning for a few years, then Bloody Mary, and finally Queen Elizabeth the First, who stayed in this house several times, as Sir Philip was a particular favourite of hers.

“One of the things that makes this house so special is that its structure is substantially the same as it was in Elizabethan times. The decorations and the furniture have changed, of course, and a new wing was built in the eighteenth century, which is now used by the family as their private apartments. But the main house is very much as it was when it was first built. Now, let’s have a closer look at some of the features of this hall.”

She spent a few minutes pointing out various architectural details, and then took them round the hall to look at the paintings. As Beth had suspected, the family in the large painting on the west wall were from the eighteenth century, and there was also a striking sixteenth century portrait of Sir Philip Rowley hanging above the fireplace. But as they got closer to the northeast corner of the room, Beth’s eyes were drawn to another portrait hanging beside the latticed window. It was a family group in formal Edwardian attire; a father and mother and four children. The youngest daughter, who looked as if she would be about nine or ten, was standing beside her father; she was wearing a plain white dress reaching to her feet, and her father’s hand was resting on her shoulder. The girl’s face looked vaguely familiar to Beth; she looked up at her for a moment, and then felt Tom’s hand on her shoulder. “I’m pretty sure that little girl is Joanna,” he whispered. “If I’m right, that must be her family.”

Sandy Matthews came and stood under the painting as the people gathered around. “This is one of the most recent paintings,” she said. Pointing up at the figures, she continued, “here we see Sir Robert and Lady Rowena Rowley. Sir Robert was born in eighteen-sixty. He was actually the second son, so it wasn’t anticipated that he would inherit the estate.  However, in nineteen hundred his older brother was killed in a riding accident, and so when their father died in nineteen-oh-one, Robert inherited the estate.

“Robert married Rowena Courtney, daughter of the Earl of Devon, which was quite a step up for him. You see their four children here: Edward, Edith, James, and Joanna. In a way, history repeated itself; Edward should have inherited the estate, but he was killed in the First World War, so the estate went to his son James, and James was the father of our current owner, Robert Rowley.”

Sandy paused for a moment, and Tom spoke up. “Can I ask a question?”

“Of course, sir.”

“We always hear about the boys, but do you know what happened to the girls in the painting?”

Sandy shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir—I don’t know the answer to that. But perhaps Mr. Rowley will; you’d be welcome to ask him when he joins us at the end of our tour.”

“Right; thank you.”

Sandy gave everyone a bright smile. “Well, if there are no more questions, we’ll go through to the library, shall we?”

***

Sandy was a careful and thorough guide, and she was obviously very knowledgeable about the house and its history. She showed them the library, which was furnished mainly with Regency-style tables and chairs, with a couple of larger couches by the fireplace. Many of the books were very old, dating back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a couple even earlier than that.

There was a formal drawing room with a white chalk fireplace and a gilded ceiling, and a smaller sitting room with a number of comfortable chairs grouped around another fireplace. Upstairs there was a fine minstrel’s gallery looking down on the Great Hall, and several large luxurious bedrooms, their furnishings rich but somehow subdued, as if the interior designer was intentionally trying not to appear ostentatious. At the other end of the house, they went into the room known as ‘the Queen’s Room’; this, apparently was the room used on several occasions by Queen Elizabeth the First. “Not that the family has always respected its history,” Sandy added. “Mr. Rowley senior tells me that when his father was a boy, it was the children’s playroom.”

“So Joanna would have played in here,” Beth whispered to Tom.

“Apparently.”

After an hour and a half of walking around the house Claire was starting to get cranky, so Beth was relieved when the group went outside. Sandy walked around the formal gardens with them for a while, recounting their history and pointing out some of the more striking arrangements. She pointed to a low stable block on one side of the gardens. “That stable block was renovated about ten years ago and converted into office space for the estate. The family still keeps two or three horses in there, but the rest of the building is offices now.”

She took them to see two or three other buildings, including an old tithe barn that had been converted into a modern wedding venue. Claire was now riding on Tom’s shoulders, and he was keeping to the edge of the group because she was beginning to get more vocal about her complaints. “Are we done yet?” she said to him for the third or fourth time.

“I think we’ll be done very soon,” he whispered. “You’re being amazingly patient, Miss Claire. I promise you that if you just hold out for a few more minutes, we’ll find a place where you can have a big piece of cake, or maybe even an ice cream. I see there’s a tea shop over there—it might have something delicious for you.”

“Ice cream!”

“Maybe—or cake.”

“I like ice cream!”

“I know you do, but I think cake is better.”

“Ice cream!”

“Cake!”

“Ice cream!”

“Cake!”

Wendy laughed softly at them. “Tom, you’re winding her up!”

“Hey, if you think this is bad, wait ‘til she gets a bowl of ice cream inside her!”

At the edge of the group Sandy glanced at her watch. “Well, I think Mr. Rowley will be ready to meet us now. Let’s go back to the Great Hall, shall we?”

In the Great Hall a man was standing by the fireplace looking up at the portrait of Sir Philip Rowley. He was of medium height, with wavy brown hair parted in the middle; he was wearing a white open-necked shirt and a light grey summer blazer. He turned and smiled at them all as they came into the hall. “Hello there, everyone,” he said. “I’m Edwin Rowley; I’m the estate manager here at Holton Park. My father Robert Rowley is the owner. Have you all enjoyed your tour?”

They were murmurs of appreciation, and then Claire, who was still riding on Tom’s shoulders, said, “I’d like some ice cream, please!”

Everyone laughed, and Edwin walked over and grinned at Claire. “What sort of ice cream do you like?”

“Chocolate!”

“Well, this might be your lucky day, because I believe we’ve got some chocolate ice cream at the tearoom today.”

Beth was shaking her head. “I’m sorry!” she said, her face colouring in embarrassment.”

“Not at all,” Edwin replied. “I’m a father of two myself. They do come out with the most embarrassing things sometimes, don’t they?”

“They sure do!”

Sandy Matthews moved over to stand beside her employer. “Perhaps you could tell us a bit about the modern Rowley family, sir?” she said.

Edwin smiled again; Beth noticed that he had a winning smile, and she thought he probably knew it. “Don’t worry,” he said to the people, “she only calls me ‘sir’ when there’s a crowd around!” He glanced around the hall, gesturing toward the paintings on the walls. “These paintings make our family seem like the stuff legends are made of, but of course we live in the twenty-first century, not just the sixteenth and seventeenth. I expect most of you booked your tickets for today’s tour online, and some of you have come from a long distance to be here. The world is changing fast, and many of those changes have happened in my father’s lifetime.

“Sandy’s probably told you that my dad became the owner of Holton Park by accident. His grandfather Robert had two sons and two daughters: Edward, Edith, James, and Joanna.” Edwin pointed to the painting in the corner. “You’ve probably already seen the family portrait over there. Edward was the oldest, but like so many other young men of his generation he was killed in the First World War. In those unenlightened days there was no question of women taking over the property, so James became the heir to the estate, and in nineteen-thirty-five, when his father died, he became the owner.

“Of course, it wasn’t long afterwards that the Second World War broke out. Holton Park was lucky; it was at the extreme end of the range of German bombers, and it didn’t receive any damage, even though the house was requisitioned for use as a military headquarters while the war was going on. But by nineteen forty-five the place was a mess; the army weren’t exactly model tenants, shall we say? It took several years to get the place back on its feet, and it became very obvious to James that he needed to find some reliable sources of revenue, since farming wasn’t making anything like the amount of money it once had.

“James was the one who first opened our house up to the public, at first just for two months of the year, but later for longer periods. He was the one who converted the south wing into family apartments so that the family would have a place to live while the rest of the house was opened up to folks like yourselves. He was the one who founded a dairy on site that now produces milk and eggs and ice-cream,”—here Edwin grinned at Claire, still sitting on Tom’s shoulders— “and he also bought a kiln and opened up an artisan pottery business. Also, it was in James’ time that the house was first used as the location for a couple of very successful feature films—an idea that we’ve really built on in recert years.

“James had four children: Helen, Elizabeth, Robert, and Harold. Helen married a Scottish aristocrat, Sir Frederick Lindsay, in nineteen forty-nine; he was the younger son of the Earl of Crawford, and became a distinguished member of the diplomatic corps. We didn’t know anything about that, of course; we just called him Uncle Freddie.”

There was some quiet laughter around the room as Edwin continued. “Tragically, my aunt Elizabeth was killed in London in a bombing raid at the age of twelve, in nineteen forty-two. My father was the third child, and last came my uncle Harold, who joined the British Army and rose to the rank of Major-General.

“And that brings me to my father. He was born in nineteen thirty-three, and in nineteen fifty-nine, at the age of twenty-six he stood for election to parliament, an election that he won. All told, he served as a Conservative M.P. for eleven years, and he was very proud of the fact that he never actually lost an election. But in the end, he got tired of politics, and he loved Holton Park, so in nineteen-seventy he decided not to run again. He moved back to Holton to help his father run the estate.

“My father was the one who marketed Holton Park as an event location. He brought in car shows and dog shows, and he opened the house up as a wedding location. That part of the business was so successful that eventually he had to build a second facility; he found an old tithe barn, had it moved here, and renovated it as a second wedding chapel—the first one being this Great Hall, of course. They’re busy every weekend from April to October, and sometimes during the week as well.

“My grandfather died in nineteen seventy-eight, so that was when my father became the owner of this estate—thirty years this year. My mother came from a local Peterborough family; her father was a developer and he’d done pretty well for himself. My mother and father got married while he was still an M.P., and they had four children. I’m the second one, and I’ve always been interested in the estate; I’ve been working alongside my father now since I was twenty-five, which is longer ago than I care to admit, I don’t mind telling you!” He gave the same diffident grin, and Beth smiled to herself; he knows he’s doing it, she thought.

“I have three siblings,” Edwin continued, “all of them gainfully employed. I’m especially proud of my little sister Diana. I don’t know if any of you are classical music fans, but she plays violin with a London ensemble you may have heard of, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.” A few heads nodded in the audience, and a couple of people made appreciative comments. “Thank you,” said Edwin. “Every now and again she brings a few of her friends up for the weekend and they put on little concerts for us in this hall. We feel very lucky, I can assure you.”

He looked around at the people. “Well, I think I’ve gone on for long enough, and my young friend on her grandfather’s shoulders over there is longing for her ice cream, so I’d better stop. I’d be happy to answer any questions, though.”

Beth took Tom’s arm. “I guess that makes you my dad!” she whispered.

“Well, that’s what I always wanted, you know!  We tried to buy you a couple of times, but your mum and dad weren’t selling!”

They both laughed softly, and then Tom raised his hand. “I have a question about the painting in the corner,” he said. “Actually, my friend here—I wish she was my daughter, but she’s not, so I’m only an honorary grandpa to Claire here—but I think Claire’s mum has a question about the painting in the corner.”

Edwin gave an embarrassed grin. “Sorry about that—should never assume…”

Beth shook her head. “No worries. I was just wondering what happened to the girls in that picture. We know Edward was killed, and James became the owner of Holton Park. Do we know what happened to Edith and Joanna?”

“You’ve got a good memory for names,” Edwin replied. “The answer to your question is that we know what happened to Edith; she married a landowner in Leicestershire, Reginald Willoughby, and they founded a tribe that’s still flourishing to this day. Actually, one of Edith’s great-granddaughters, Danielle, started working for our tech department a few months ago, and very good she is, too.

“But Joanna we don’t know about. All I can tell you about her is that she moved away when she was still young, and the family completely lost touch with her. We don’t know what happened to her. Sorry.”

Beth nodded, suddenly unable to speak. Tom put his arm around her and smiled his thanks at Edwin, who was still looking over at them. “Hopefully that’s answered your question, at least partially.”

“We’re fine, thank you,” Tom replied.

“Any other questions, then?” Edwin asked.

Another woman raised her hand. “Are you going to be the owner one day, then?” she asked.

“Ah, well, I’d love for that to happen, but it’s all up to my father. My brother John is the oldest son, but of course we’re not the royal family, the law of male primogeniture doesn’t apply to us, and anyway, John’s having a lovely career as a stockbroker in London. I think I might get it, but I don’t want to jinx it, so I’ll leave it at that, shall I?”

***

“Do you think Edwin was telling the truth?” asked Beth.

They were sitting in the little tearoom; Beth and Tom were drinking Café Americano, Wendy was sipping a cup of tea, and Claire was eating chocolate ice cream. The remains of a light lunch were sitting on the table in front of them.

“About Joanna, you mean?” said Tom.

“Yes. Do you think they really have no idea where Joanna and Will went?”

“Hard to say. Certainly Joanna and Will never gave them any help in the matter. They cut themselves off very thoroughly.”

“But Will corresponded on and off with his father over the years. Couldn’t the family have put some pressure on the Robinsons to tell them whatever they knew?”

“You’re assuming they’d want to,” Wendy observed quietly. “From what you’ve told me, I don’t get the impression that they would.”

“No—at least not at first. But if there had been a change of heart later on…”

Tom put his hand on Beth’s arm. “Bethie, don’t tie yourself up in knots,” he said. “If you really want to know, there’s only one way to find out.”

Beth stared at him. “You mean, to introduce myself, and ask up front?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head decisively. “I’m not ready for that yet, Tom.”

“I absolutely respect that, but I do find myself asking, why not? After all, you’ve really taken to this story, and anyone can see how important it is to you.”

“Yeah, but you saw that place! What could I possibly have in common with people who own a place like that?”

“I thought he was a rather charming young man, actually,” Wendy replied. “He certainly went out of his way to make his guests feel comfortable.”

‘He was very charming,” Beth agreed, “and I’m pretty sure he knows it, too!”

They all laughed, and then Beth sat back in her chair, her face suddenly thoughtful. “Of course, I’ve only seen how one half of the family lived,” she said.

“The Rowleys,” Tom replied.

“Yeah.”

“Are you ready to go and have a look at Steeple Farm, then?”

She grinned at him. “Just let me finish my coffee, and then we can be on our way.”

Tom winked at Claire. “Horses!” he said.

***

The afternoon was warm as they drove back into Bramthorpe.  They went down to the crossroads near the centre of the village, turned right, and took the road west across the little river Gwash. Within a minute they were in the country again, driving between flat open fields. A couple of miles out of town they saw a large Tudor-style farmhouse on their right; behind, they could see a modern stable complex. The sign by the side of the road said, ‘Steeple Farm Riding School and Livery Stables.’

Tom stopped the car by the side of the road and glanced up at Beth in his rear-view mirror. “What’s the plan?” he asked. “Shall we go in?”

“Would you mind?”

“Not at all.”

He turned into the driveway, and a moment later turned into a small car park. They got out of the car and wandered over toward the house.

“That’s bigger than I was expecting,” Wendy observed.

“I thought so too, when I saw it on the Internet,” Beth replied. “I guess it was built with a substantial family in mind.”

There was an open field off to one side, and they could see two or three children on horses, with a couple of adult instructors watching them and shouting occasional instructions. They walked over to the fence to watch, and after a moment a young man in riding boots came around the house, saw them, and walked over to meet them. “Can I help you?” he asked.

Beth hesitated, and then said, “Do you work here?”

The young man gave her a grin. “Sort of; I’m one of the owners.”

“Right; sorry.” She held out her hand. “My name’s Beth.”

“Justin,” he replied, taking her hand, “and I’ll go out on a limb and say that I don’t think you’re from around here!”

She smiled awkwardly. “No—my daughter and I are from Canada. We’re visiting with our friends here. Would you be willing to indulge me for a minute and answer a couple of questions about this house?”

He raised an eyebrow. “The house?”

“I know, it’s weird, you don’t know me from a hole in the wall, but trust me, I don’t have any sort of sinister motive.”

He grinned good-naturedly. “Okay—fire away.”

“Well, I looked at your website and saw that this farm has been in your family for a long time.”

“It has; my great-uncle bought it from the Holton Park Estate forty years ago, and my partner and I bought it from him in twenty-oh-four.”

“Do you mind my asking—was your great-uncle a Robinson?”

“He was and he is. Why is that important to you?”

“Do you mean he’s still alive?”

“Yes. Again, why is that important to you?”

Beth glanced fearfully at Tom, and he smiled reassuringly. She took a deep breath and turned back to face the young man. “I think my great-grandfather was born in this house.”

He stared at her. “And you’ve come all the way from Canada to look for it?”

“Well, I actually came for another reason, but I thought while I was here I might as well have a look.”

He put his hands in his pockets. “What was your great-grandfather’s name?”

“Will Robinson. He was born in nineteen-oh-four, and he left for Canada with his wife and a one-year-old boy in nineteen twenty-nine. The one-year-old boy was my grandfather, Mike Robinson.”

Justin frowned; “I’m not well-versed in the family history that far back. I know a bit more about the Berry family—my grannie was born Eleanor Robinson, you see, but she married Arthur Berry, who was a vicar, and they moved around a fair bit. Grannie died about seven years ago, and Grandpa about seven years before that. Grannie was Uncle David’s sister—I call him Uncle David, but he’s really my great-uncle. He’s seventy-six now; Grannie was eight years older than him. What a pity he’s gone away; I’m sure he would have loved to meet you! He just lives in the village, but he’s gone up to Inverness to stay with his son for a few weeks.”

Beth shook her head; “Is that far?”

The young man grinned apologetically; “Sorry, I shouldn’t assume you know British geography. Yes, it’s in northern Scotland, about four hundred and fifty miles from here.”

“I guess he won’t be coming back for a quick coffee, then.”

“Coffee—there’s a thought! Wait—no, I can’t right now, I’ve got a student coming in a few minutes.” He smiled at them all. “You don’t like to ride, by any chance, do you?”

“I’ve been riding since I was about four,” Beth replied, “and Tom rides too.”

Justin stretched out his hand to Tom and Wendy. “Sorry,” he said, “Justin Berry.”

Tom took his hand with a slow smile. “Tom Masefield, and this is my wife, Wendy. Beth and I are related too, but it would take way too long to explain how.”

Justin laughed as he shook hands with Wendy. “You’re not a rider?”

“Afraid not, but I love to watch.”

Justin raised an eyebrow at Tom again. “Tell me honestly—how good are you? Could you manage a full-sized horse?”

“Oh yeah. I’m fifty, and I learned to ride when I was in my mid-twenties, when I was living in Beth’s hometown of Meadowvale, Saskatchewan.”

“Wow—you folks are full of good stories! So, here’s the thing: my lesson will take an hour, so can I put you in saddles and let you ride around for an hour? The fields are big, as you can see, and there’s a nice trail along the river for a couple of miles that we’re allowed to use. Then in an hour I can make us some coffee, and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get Uncle David on the phone, and he can say hello. How does that sound?”

Beth smiled. “That would be amazing!”

***

There was a big oak dining table in the centre of the farmhouse kitchen, with six matching chairs scattered around it. Wendy ran her finger along the surface. “This is beautiful work,” she said. “Is it bespoke?”

“Uncle David made it,” Justin replied as he poured hot water into a big French press. “He’s good with his hands.”

“My son makes bespoke furniture for a living,” said Wendy. “He’d love to see a set like this.”

“What sort of things does he make?”

“Cabinets, mainly.”

“That’s good work, if you can get it.”

“It’s what he’s always wanted to do.”

“I was that way with horses; always wanted to work with them.”

He put some mugs on the table, and a plate of digestive biscuits. He put the lid on the French press, moved it to the table, and brought out milk and sugar. “Now, what about you, little Claire?” he asked. “You look too young to drink coffee.”

“Yeah, I don’t like coffee. I like tea, though.”

“Do you? Well, I can make you a cup of tea; would that be okay?”

“Sure.”

Beth raised her eyebrows at her daughter. “Aren’t you forgetting an important word?”

“Please!”

“That’s better.”

Justin poured some of the remaining hot water into a tea pot, brought it over to the table and set it down beside the French press. They all sat down around the table, and Justin grinned at Beth. “The ride was alright, then, was it?”

“Oh yeah; the horses are beautiful. You’ll have to let us pay you; I’m sure you don’t normally let people ride your horses for free.”

“I think I can make an exception in this case. What did you think of the trails by the river?”

Beth sat back in her seat and shook her head slowly. “I think this whole country around here is magical.”

“You like it?”

“I really do. I come from the Canadian prairies, and we never see the kind of green you guys get around here. And our trees are different; we have poplars and aspens, and some evergreens, but we don’t get these oak and ash and chestnuts you guys have, and we don’t get the hedges either. I love it here.”

“Well, that’s nice to hear. Most of us take it for granted; we’d love to see mountains and snow and all that.”

He poured the coffee, passed the mugs around, poured Claire’s tea and passed it to her, and then took his mobile phone out of his pocket. “Let me see if I can raise Uncle David,” he said.

Beth watched as he punched in the number, and after a few seconds he said, “Andy? Yeah, it’s Justin. Is Uncle David around?” He was quiet for a few seconds, and then said, “Yes, I just need to talk to him for a minute, if I could. Nothing urgent.” He covered the mouthpiece, nodded at Beth, and whispered, “He’s there!” He waited, then said, “Uncle David? Yeah, I’m fine, nothing’s wrong. But listen, you’ll never believe what happened today.” He winked at Beth. “This gorgeous girl from Canada wandered into the farmyard; she told me her name’s Beth Robinson and that her great-grandfather was born at Steeple Farm.”

Beth raised an eyebrow, and Justin grinned and whispered, “Every word was true!” He was quiet for a moment, and then said, “Actually, yes, that is the name—Will.” He nodded at Beth; “He knows the story.”

“Really? Oh my God!”

“Here.” Justin held the phone out to her. “You can talk to him if you want.”

Beth took the phone tremulously and raised it to her ear. “Mr. Robinson? This is Beth. I really think we’re related!”

“So you’re Will Robinson’s great-granddaughter, you say?”

“Yes—you know about him?”

“Only a bit.” The old man was speaking in a broad Midland accent, and Beth had to concentrate hard to follow him. “Ee were me dad’s younger brother, you see? Me dad were born in eighteen ninety-six, and Will were born in oh-four, so me dad told me. Does that sound right, like?”

“That’s exactly right.”

“Me dad told me they ‘eard from ‘im for a few year; not that any o’them were much for writin’ letters, or writin’ anythin’ for that matter. But me granddad and Will, they wrote back and forth for a few year, so dad told me. I never seen the letters, you understand. It’s just what they said.”

“This is amazing, Mr. Robinson. I never expected the story to be well-known.”

“Ah—I don’t think there’s many as knows it, love, and them that do probably don’t know the ‘alf or it, you know? So, tell me— ‘ow do we get from Will to you?”

Beth laughed. “Will and Joanna had five children: Mike, Sam, Tom, Shirley, and Mary, and they all had big families. There’s quite a tribe of your relatives in Saskatchewan now! Mike was my grandfather. He married Rachel Wiens, and they had four children: Don, Ruth, Steve, and Jean. Don is my dad; he married Lynda Miller, and they had my older sister Amy and me. I’m a nurse, and a single mom; I have a little girl, Claire, who’s here with me today; she’ll be four in a couple of weeks.”

“And did you come all the way from Canada to find us?”

“Partly. I actually came for a dear friend’s wedding, but I decided to have a look while I was here. But there’s something else I should tell you about. The reason I’ve gotten interested in this is that this year, for the first time, I read my great-grandmother’s journals.”

“You mean Will’s wife? We don’t know nothing about her.”

“Right—so the family doesn’t know anything about who she was?”

“I s’pose me dad might have known more, but he never said nowt to me about it.”

“Right. Well, I do know more about that, but maybe I shouldn’t tell you that part right away, because there are other local people involved in the story.”

“I understand, me duck. It’s not goin’ to kill me not to know; I’ve managed fine wi’out it so far, if you know what I mean?”

She laughed. “I do, and thank you for it.”

“That’s fine. Listen, talking on the phone costs money, so we shouldn’t go rabbiting on for ever, but maybe you’d write to me, would you, and tell me more? I’d write back, of course.”

“I’d love to write to you!”

“Tell Justin to give you my address, and leave your’n wi’im too, if you would?”

“I will. It was lovely to talk to you, Mr. Robinson.”

“No need to be all proper-like, love; ‘David’ will do fine.”

“Alright, David, and I’m Beth. ‘Bye for now.”

“Goodbye, me duck.”

Beth closed the phone and handed it to Justin with a puzzled frown. “I think he just called me a duck.”

Justin laughed. “Did he call you ‘me duck’?”

“That’s exactly what he said!”

“It’s a term of endearment around here; lots of the old ‘uns say it.”

Beth grinned; “Well, it was a new one on me!”

“You’re going to write to him, then?”

“I am.”

“Good—he’ll like that.” Justin took a sip of his coffee and eyed her thoughtfully. “So, there’s some sort of mystery about Will’s wife, then?”

Beth glanced at Tom, and then nodded. “I feel bad about it, but there are other people around here involved, and I just don’t feel right about talking to the Robinsons about it, before I’ve talked to the others.”

“And are you going to do that while you’re here?”

She shrugged helplessly. “I honestly don’t know.”

***

On the night before Beth and Claire flew home to Canada, they both went to bed early. They fell asleep quickly, but at about three in the morning Beth found herself unexpectedly awake. She tossed and turned for a while, but eventually she got out of bed as quietly as she could, pulled on a pair of socks, checked to make sure Claire was still sleeping soundly, and then slipped quietly out of her bedroom and down the stairs to make herself a cup of tea.

To her surprise she saw a light under the kitchen door. She pulled the door open gently and saw Wendy sitting at the kitchen table in her pyjamas, wearing her reading glasses, a cup of tea at her elbow and a book open in front of her.

“Hey,” said Beth quietly.

“Are you alright?” asked Wendy.

“I woke up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. How about you?”

“The same. There’s tea in the pot; would you like some?”

“Thanks—I’ll get it.”

Beth poured herself a cup of tea, put a spoonful of honey in it, and sat down at the table with Wendy, glancing at the book in front of her. “The Bible?”

“The psalms. My old friends in the night season.”

“You like the psalms?”

“They’ve got me through some very difficult times over the years, Beth.”

“I get that.”

“How about you—what do you like to read when you can’t sleep?”

“Lately when I’m awake in the night I tend to write rather than read.”

“Do you journal?”

“On and off. I’m not an every-day writer, but two or three times a week, usually in the night. It’s not very literary, though; I hardly dare to read it afterwards, and I’m for sure going to burn it long before anyone else has a chance to read it.”

Wendy looked at her in silence for a minute, and Beth sipped her tea and avoided the older woman’s gaze. Eventually Wendy said, “It’s been so good to have you here, you know. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to Tom, for you to come and spend this time with us. We knew you were going to come for Emma’s wedding, but we never expected you to stay so long afterwards.”

Beth was quiet for a moment, and then gave a heavy sigh. “To be honest, I needed to get away.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Again, the silence hung between them for a moment, and it occurred to Beth that she had rarely encountered a more patient listener than Wendy. Eventually she looked up and met her gaze. “It’s been a really hard couple of years for me.”

Wendy nodded slowly. “When did your divorce come through?”

“April.”

“In the middle of your grandma’s last illness.”

“Yeah—the timing was crap. Of course, the divorce just made it final; I was dumped two years before that.”

“That must have been awful for you.”

Beth nodded. “You think you know someone, and you think they love you…”

Wendy spoke softly. “What did he say?”

Beth found herself speaking in a matter-of-fact voice, and she knew she was steering as far away from the emotion as she could. “He said he’d realized that he never really loved me, and he’d known Michelle since they were in university together, and now they had something really good going, and it was better and deeper and stronger than what we had. And he told me very considerately that he hoped one day I’d find that kind of love with someone, and maybe it would be best for us to break up, so we could find the people we were really meant to be with.”

Wendy shook her head. “He really is a self-centred bastard, isn’t he?”

 “He’s a piece of shit. Sorry, Wendy, I don’t normally use that kind of language, but…”

“Don’t apologize; my daughter has given me a fine appreciation for the power of scatological terms.”

“She likes the f-word, doesn’t she?”

“I’m afraid so. In many ways she’s a genteel Oxford girl, but when she gets the slightest bit annoyed, she starts sounding like a docker.”

“Like a rig-pig, we’d say.”

“Expressive; I like it.” Wendy put her hand on Beth’s arm. “You know none of this is your fault, right?”

Beth shook her head. “I wish I could be sure of that. Maybe I wasn’t giving him the attention he needed. Maybe, with a new baby, and then going back to work to help pay our mortgage—our lives were so busy, Wendy, when we lived in the city. I can’t deny there wasn’t much romance going on.”

“And you’re prepared to take all the blame for that, are you, as if his emotional well-being was entirely your responsibility, while you were trying to care for a little child and hold down a full-time job?”

“When you put it like that…”

Wendy was quiet again for a moment, sipping her tea, and Beth suddenly realized she was enjoying those minutes of silence. To be able to sit with Wendy at her kitchen table in the middle of the night, sipping tea with her, and not to have to say anything, suddenly seemed like one of the most peaceful experiences she had ever had.

Wendy seemed to have made her mind up about something. “So, I was reading the psalms,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“I got into the habit of doing that after Mickey and I broke up. I don’t know how much Tom has told you about the absolute disaster of my first marriage.”

“I know it was an abusive relationship.”

“Yes. When I was a teenager I fell head over heels in love with Mickey Kingsley, even though we were very different. I was a vicar’s daughter, and he liked to play hard rock and ride a motor bike. I found him intoxicating, and I loved it.

“But gradually, as time went by, I realized he was a drug addict and a drinker, and when he was stoned or drunk, he got angry more easily. One day in my last year in Oxford he took an overdose, and my eyes were opened and I realized what a disaster it all was, so I broke up with him. And then Tom was there for me, and for a few months we were close friends, and very briefly, more than close friends, which, as I think you know, is how Lisa happened.”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t find out I was pregnant until Tom moved to Meadowvale, and through all the years he lived in Canada I never told him; in fact, I cut him off, because I went back to Mickey and asked him to take us in, my unborn child and me. He said he would, on the condition that Tom would never know the child was his. So I agreed, and we got married, and I thought things would be okay between us.

“At first they were, and we had some good times, but gradually I realized he was more controlling, and more angry, and more in love with power. And then he started to hit me, and we went into that cycle of abuse and repentance and honeymoon, abuse and repentance and honeymoon, over and over again. I was in that cycle for about twelve years. It was a nightmare, Beth.”

“Oh, Wendy.”

“Eventually one day he hit Lisa and me so hard that we had to be taken to hospital. That was actually the first time he’d hit her; he gave her a concussion, and he broke my jaw. He went to jail for that, and the kids and I left London and moved back to Oxford, where I was lucky enough to get the Merton job.”

Wendy took another sip of tea, her eyes far away. “We’d moved, and Mickey was in jail, but I was still terrified. I held it together during the daytime for the sake of the kids and my job, but the nights were bad. Specifically, the nightmares; they were awful.

“But gradually, something unexpected happened. Somewhere deep inside, I began to remember the prayers my dad and mum had taught me, and the comfort I’d found in them. After a while I started going to my college chapel. The chaplain noticed, and we started talking, and gradually, I found my way into faith again. Not quite the same flavour as my dad’s faith, though; he was more evangelical, but I found myself drawn more to silence, and contemplative prayer.

“And part of that was praying the psalms. The chaplain told me about them, and I started to read them, and the rawness of them really spoke to me. They spoke for me. They were real, honest prayers, from the middle of the mess, and I loved them.

“So that’s what I started doing when the nightmares came. I would wake up terrified of falling asleep again and finding myself back in the same dream, so I would get up and go down to the kitchen, make myself some tea, and then just read the psalms. Somehow, they calmed me down and helped me face my pillow again. They still do.”

“Is that what was happening tonight?”

“Yes. I very rarely have nightmares anymore, but once in a while I do.”

Beth looked at her, shaking her head slowly. “You’re awesome, you know.”

“No, I’m not, Beth. Don’t put me on a pedestal, please.”

“Okay, but…”

“No buts—let’s just be two friends, helping each other along the way.”

“I don’t think you need my help, Wendy.”

“Perhaps not today, but the time may come.”

Again they were quiet for a few minutes, and then Beth said, “I have a crazy idea.”

“Tell me.”

Beth smiled. “Where to start…”

“As close to the beginning as you can.”

“Okay. Well, here it is: I love my mom and dad, and my sister and her family, and my friends. But I really miss my grandma, and my husband dumped me and made me feel like a piece of shit, and even now, after seven years, I’m not really over Kelly’s death…” She looked at Wendy nervously, and the older woman nodded. “I understand. Emma and I have had this conversation.”

“Emma’s so lucky to have you, Wendy.”

“I’m lucky to have her, but it works because I never, ever try to be her mum.”

“Right.”

“Anyway, tell me more about your crazy idea.”

“I’ve had such a good time here. I’ve loved seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I’ve loved the countryside and the history and the old buildings and the little pubs. I think I’d like to live here for a while.”

“Beth, are you seriously…?”

“Maybe.” She stared off into space. “When my mom and dad got married, they went to the Arctic for five years. My dad often says they were ‘having their adventure.” But I never did anything like that. Greg and I got married in Vegas, and then we came home and went right back to work.”

“So you think it’s time for you to have your adventure?”

“I think I need to find a way to pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together again. And maybe it would help if I wasn’t surrounded by a hundred reminders of my old life every day.”

“Your parents will miss you and Claire.”

“I know that; that’s what makes it hard to think about. I’d have been totally lost for the past two years if it hadn’t been for them. With my sister Amy it’ll be different; she’ll be so mad she won’t talk to me for a week, but then it’ll blow over and she’ll be rational again.”

“Is this something you’ve already made your mind up about?”

“No, but I’m thinking about it.” Beth looked at Wendy in the dim light of the kitchen. “Tell me honestly—am I crazy?”

Wendy shook her head slowly. “Emma would be thrilled to have you closer, and my daughter likes you a lot, so she tells me. And Tom and I would be thrilled, too. Also, if you were living over here for a while, it would be easier for you to take the next steps with the Robinsons and the Rowleys in Bramthorpe.”

“I’ve thought of that.”

“But how easy would it be for you to come?”

“As far as I can tell, there are three hurdles. The first is getting a visa, but it turns out that’s not so difficult. The UK has something called an ancestry visa; if you’ve got a grandparent who was born here, you can come and work here. And my grandpa Mike was a one-year-old when he left the UK, so I qualify.”

“Excellent. What’s the second hurdle?”

“To work here as a nurse, I’d have to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and there’s a twenty-day course I’d have to take. And of course the third hurdle is Claire, and day care, and then school coming up before too long.”

“That course you mentioned—is it offered in Oxford?”

“Yes; Oxford Brookes is one of the places that offers it.”

“If you come, come here, Beth. You could stay here until you find your feet. Tom and I are both working, so we couldn’t be full time babysitters, but we know lots of people who use childcare, and we’d be able to help you find what you need. Also, your dad and Tom are old friends, and I think it might be easier for your mum if she knew you were close to us.”

“Wendy, that would be so great. Are you sure?”

“Well, of course, I’d need to consult my husband, but he’s been telling me for years that he’d like to adopt you, and besides, he appears to have taken to Claire in a big way.”

“I’ve noticed that.” Beth drained her mug, smiled at Wendy, and said, “Well, time for me to head for bed again, so that I can negotiate a transatlantic journey tomorrow.”

“Me too, I think. Thanks for this chat, Beth, and don’t be anxious about this so-called ‘crazy idea’. One way or the other, I’m pretty sure you’ll make the right decision.”

“I hope so.”

They both got to their feet, and then they turned and put their arms around each other. “Thank you,” said Beth.

“Not at all; as I said, I’m so happy you came.”

“Me too.” Beth stepped back and smiled at her.  “Sleep well, Wendy.”

“You too.”

Holton Park, Chapter Six

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 6

Holton Park, Bramthorpe, Lincolnshire – August 1st 2008

On the morning of Friday August 1, Edwin Rowley got up at his usual hour of 6.30. He washed and dressed quickly in his small bedroom on the top floor of Holton House, then opened the curtains and looked out over the ornamental walled garden below. The sky was mainly clear, with a slight wind lifting the branches of the trees. A good day for visitors to the grounds, he thought to himself. He turned from the window, pulled on a wool sweater and went through to his private living room, where his three border collies, Angus, Stella, and Maggie, were waiting eagerly, tails wagging in anticipation of their morning walk. He stopped for a moment to greet them. “Yes, yes,” he said. “I know, I know—it’s that time of day. Come on then!”

He led the dogs out onto the narrow landing. His little apartment was under the roof, in what had once been the servants’ quarters of Holton House; most of the bedrooms up here were garret rooms with sloping ceilings, and the narrow central landing ran the whole length of the attic. He led the dogs to the main staircase and ran quickly down four flights of stairs to the ground floor two storeys below, where he let the dogs out at a small back door and followed them onto the south lawn. The dogs ran off down the path towards the footbridge over Manor Brook, while Edwin followed at a more leisurely pace, whistling under his breath and enjoying the fresh morning air.

South of the brook was a small lane with a row of old farm workers’ cottages. As usual, Edwin’s brother Dan was standing in the window of one of them, a mug of coffee in his hand; they gave each other a cheery wave, and then Edwin set off down the footpath across the fields toward the woods that marked the southern boundary of the Holton Park estate. He and the dogs did the two mile walk every morning, unless the rain was truly torrential, which had happened a few times already this year.

Returning to the house at about 7.15, Edwin let himself and the dogs into the family apartment in the south wing. In the spacious newly renovated kitchen on the south-east corner his mother, Evelyn, was standing at the counter by the window pouring hot water from a kettle into a French press. She was still wearing her bathrobe, but her short grey hair had been carefully brushed back from a face that looked a lot younger than her sixty-six years. “Good morning, Mum,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. “You look wonderful as usual.”

“Thank you; what’s it like outside this morning?”

“It’s going to be clear and warm, I think,” Edwin replied, running water from the tap into a jug and stooping to pour it into the dog dishes on the floor. “What sort of night did Dad have?”

“He was up a few times, so I’m letting him sleep for a while now. Are you ready for some breakfast? What would you like?”

“Toast and coffee will be fine, but don’t worry about me; I’ll make my own toast.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

“Alright. What have you got planned for today? Before your brother and sister arrive tonight, I mean?”

Edwin opened a cupboard, took out a bucket of dog food and poured it into the food dishes on the floor; the dogs quickly crowded around and began to eat. “Meeting with some film people at eleven, then a few house and garden tours, and meeting some time this afternoon about next weekend’s dog show. After that, I’ll make myself available to greet Dan and Diana and the rest.”

“Appropriate, since they’re coming for your birthday!”

“And so they should; it’s not every year a man turns forty, you know!”

They both laughed, and she gave him an affectionate kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday, Edwin.”

“Thank you, mother. I don’t feel a day over thirty-nine, actually!”

She laughed again. “You’re looking extraordinarily well-preserved, if I may say so.”

“You may say it as often as you like, since my fragile ego needs all the help it can get.”

“Fragile, you say? Not exactly how I would have described it.”

“Now, mother—John’s still in charge of the abuse department, you know!”

“And it’s often reciprocated, but of course, I’ve said that before.”

“You have, but today is my birthday and I’m feeling magnanimous, so I’m not going to get on my high horse about it.”

“Good. Is there anything I can do to help out today?”

Edwin put a couple of slices of toast in the toaster. “I’m meeting with Amanda at eight-thirty, then at nine we’ll have a quick team huddle; if you’re not busy and you want to join us, we can get some idea of when the house tours will be this afternoon. I know Sandy’s always glad to have you on board, but if Dad needs you, don’t worry about it; I can step in for a few minutes to say my piece.”

“Right; I’ll sit with you while you have your breakfast, and then I’ll see how things go with your father; he’s very tired and I’m loath to wake him up until he’s ready.” Evelyn took two mugs down from the kitchen cupboard, poured coffee into them from the French press, and handed a cup to her son. “There you are,” she said.

“Thank you. Is the home help coming today?”

“Yes, she’ll be here at nine-fifteen.”

“Good. I think you should consider extending her hours, Mum.”

Evelyn shook her head; “Not while I can still do things for him.”

“But it’s going to get worse, you know; that’s the nature of Parkinson’s.”

“I’m well aware of that; let’s not argue about it any more, alright?”

“As you wish.” Edwin took his coffee and sat down at the breakfast table, glancing at the front-page headlines in the copy of ‘The Times’ that his mother had placed beside his plate. After a moment the toast popped, and he got up again, buttered the two slices and took them back to the table. “I assume you’re not having breakfast yet?” he asked as he opened a jar of marmalade.

“No; I’ll wait and see what time your father feels like eating.”

“Of course.”

***

Edwin finished his breakfast quickly, talking intermittently with his mother and skimming the newspaper at the same time. At about eight o’clock he excused himself, the dogs at his heels, and went through to the main part of the house, to the rooms open to the public. He spent a few minutes walking quietly through the length of the house: the formal dining room, the Tudor great hall with its open fireplace, rich wood paneling and many paintings of ancestors, the library with its shelves full of books dating as far back as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the large drawing room with its chalk fireplace, rich carpets, and antique furniture. He then went back to the entrance hall and out through the formal front doorway of the house, stopping for a moment to enjoy the vast green expanse of the front lawn, stretching north past the driveway half a mile to the lake, with the line of trees beyond it that marked the road. Away to his left, partially hidden by another row of trees, was the old tithe barn his father had moved onto the estate years ago and converted into another banquet hall that could seat a hundred and forty guests in a fashionably rustic country setting. To his right, just north of the walled garden, was the stable block that now housed the offices of Holton Park Estate.

He made his way along the path to the stable block, reflecting, as he often did, on how well the conversion had been accomplished. The old exterior was still there, with only the modern windows betraying the fact that inside, approximately three quarters of the old stables was now a suite of offices. The eastern side of the stable block still housed two or three horses kept by the family for riding, while the remainder of the building provided workspace for the administrative staff who ran the house and organized the many public events that were at the heart of the life of the estate.

Edwin unlocked the front door and turned off the burglar alarm; he went through the reception area and up the stairs to his office on the west corner of the building, the dogs still at his heels. The room had windows facing west and north providing excellent views of the house and grounds; it was furnished with an antique desk and a modern computer station at one end, and at the other a meeting area with four armchairs set around a low round table. It was, he thought, a comfortable and yet suitably dignified office for the manager of an estate that dated back to the sixteenth century.

He opened a window to let in the fresh morning air, sat down at the workstation and turned on his computer. Around him in the office the three dogs wandered around aimlessly for a moment, as they usually did, before settling themselves into their customary spaces. Later in the morning, when outsiders began to arrive for meetings, he would take the dogs back to the family apartments at the main house, but he liked having them around him for the first part of the morning; they were friendly and well-behaved, and the staff enjoyed them as much as he did.

He spent a few minutes checking his email and responding to some messages that needed an immediate reply. He checked the estate website, and the Facebook page his communications manager had recently created, noting a couple of new comments left by people who had visited the previous day. He took a quick look at his calendar for the day, noting that Amanda Scott, his Personal Assistant, had added another morning meeting at ten o’clock with the estate’s building surveyor, Hugh Molyneux, who happened to be married to Edwin’s ex-wife, Liz. He scowled momentarily at the computer screen; there was no doubt, he thought, that Molyneux was one of the best building surveyors around, but that didn’t change the fact that it was an awkward situation.

There was a knock on his office door and Amanda came in, dressed formally in skirt and blouse, her long blonde hair pulled back severely from her face and tied behind her neck. “Good morning, Mr. Rowley,” she said as she put his mail on his desk. “Happy birthday.”

“Thank you, Amanda; it’s good of you to remember.”

“It’s hard to forget, when you gave me such a nice invitation to the come and go tea tomorrow!”

“Right. On another subject, what does Molyneux want?”

“Drains, so he said. He told me to tell you it was important but not catastrophic.”

“I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies.”

“Yes. How many cups of coffee have you had this morning?”

“One, so I’d be glad of another, if you’re pouring?”

“I just made a full pot, so it’s nice and fresh. I’ll go and get it, shall I?”

“Excellent.”

Edwin got to his feet, stretched his back, and glanced at the letters she had placed on his desk. Two of them he recognised as being from the estate solicitor, and he had a pretty good idea what they were about. There were also two letters addressed to his father; for a couple of years now, by mutual agreement, he had been screening his father’s correspondence and weeding out items that the old man was no longer capable of dealing with. Today he recognised the writing on both envelopes; one letter was from his father’s only surviving sibling, his younger brother Harold, a retired military officer who at seventy-three was in excellent health and enjoying life in Hastings on the south coast. The other was from a retired politician who had served with his father as a Conservative M.P. in the late sixties.

Edwin was just scanning the second letter from the estate solicitors when Amanda returned with two mugs of black coffee, which she set down on the table in the meeting area. “Are you ready for me, Mr. Rowley?” she asked.

“Just about.”

“Right, I’ll get my notepad and files.”

As she slipped out of the room again, he picked up his day timer and a couple of file folders; moving over to the meeting area, he took his seat in one of the armchairs and picked up one of the mugs of coffee. Amanda came back into the room, took her seat across from him and opened her notepad.

“So,” he said, “tell me more about today.”

“Well, as you know, there’s a team meeting at nine in the boardroom. I’ve got a note from Sandy saying there are three tour groups coming through this afternoon, and she’ll want to make sure we’ve got everyone we need for each group. I hear that Mrs. Summerfield’s still sick, so I expect Sandy will have a backup plan to make sure the shop is staffed.”

“Who was the person they had yesterday?”

“Her name was Judith Edwards; she belongs to the Friends of Holton Park. She seemed quite knowledgeable. I don’t know if she’ll be back today, but I think we can leave that in Sandy’s capable hands.”

“Of course. Now, what’s this about drains?”

“Mr. Molyneux was here two weeks ago for a routine inspection of the exterior of the main house.”

“I remember that.”

“He says there are a couple of drains that are deteriorating and will need some work.”

“Not catastrophic, you say?”

“That’s what he told me in his email yesterday. He didn’t mention a figure to me, though.”

“Will we be able to deal with him in an hour before the film people get here?”

“He knows that he can have no more than forty-five minutes of your time.”

“Excellent. Now, remind me which film people we’re talking to today?”

“Strictly speaking, these are television people, not film people. They’re connected with ITV and they’re in the early stages of planning a miniseries set in the time of James the First.”

“So they’re following ‘The Tudors’ with ‘The Stuarts’, are they?”

“Something like that. We’re at the very early stages of planning and they’ve asked for a preliminary meeting; they want to outline what they have in mind and find out what we can offer and what sort of costs they’d be looking at.”

“Is there anyone coming to the meeting who we’ve worked with before?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Barry Desmond’s going to be in on this, I take it?”

“That’s right.” She handed him a manila file folder. “This is all the information I’ve got so far. I’ve sent you an electronic copy, too.”

“Good. Have you and Barry talked about it?”

“I had a very brief conversation with him yesterday, but he’s had copies of all the emails so he’s well-informed about what’s been talked about so far.”

“So, Barry will take the lead on this meeting, and I’ll just be there to add a word here and there, and to take the temperature?”

“Exactly.”

“Right. And what time is the dog show meeting this afternoon?”

“Four o’clock. Barry thought it would be a good idea for the team to get together, so everyone knows how everyone else’s preparations are going. He can take the lead if you need to be at one of the house tours.”

“Let’s see what Sandy has to say about timing and take it from there. My mother told me she might be able to step in to one or more of the tours, depending on how my father is when the time comes.”

“How is he today?”

“Still sleeping when I left this morning, but thanks for asking. Okay—what else do we need to be working on today?”

They talked for a few more minutes about various items on the agenda for the day, and Edwin jotted down some notes. When he was satisfied that he knew everything he needed to know, he said, “So, are you going to be able to drop by tomorrow afternoon?”

She gave him a shy smile. “I was going to ask you about that. You see, I’ve met someone…”

“Ah—you want to bring a date, do you?”

“Would it be alright?”

“Absolutely.”

“Only, I know your mum and dad are so conservative about these things.”

“That’s true, but you know, my cousin Martin is coming with his partner Charlie.”

“I don’t think I knew you had a gay cousin.”

“Did you not? That’s right, I don’t expect they’ve been up since you started working here. Yes—he’s the son of my father’s brother Harold. He’s an actor in London. We’ve all been getting on famously for years now.”

“What about your parents?”

“As you say, they’re conservative on these matters, but they aren’t nasty about it. At least, not to Martin’s face. So, what’s the name of this lucky person you’re bringing tomorrow?”

“Noor.”

“Noor? That’s Arabic, isn’t it?”

“Her parents are from Iran, actually, but she was born in Leicester.”

“And absolutely none of that is my business, but I would be delighted to have her at my birthday come-and-go.” He gave a little frown. “I should, however, warn you that among their many other charms, my parents are ever so slightly racist.”

“Really? I’m surprised to hear that.”

“I’m sure they would deny it, but there you are. I’m afraid it’s the age they grew up in, you know.”

“Right. Tell me honestly, would you rather I didn’t bring Noor? It’s not that we’ve been together for a long time or anything, but I’ve told her about this fabulous place where I work, and I’d love her to have the chance to see it.”

“You should definitely bring her; I’d love to meet her, and I honestly don’t think Mum and Dad will say anything offensive to her. But sometimes you don’t need to say anything, if you know what I mean.”

“I do.”

“So, tell her from me that she’s more than welcome, if she wants to come.”

“Thank you, Mr. Rowley; I’ll pass that on.”

***

The day went smoothly for Edwin, and he was able to excuse himself toward the end of the dog show meeting to go back to the main house and say a word at the end of the final tour of the day. Group tours of the house and grounds were common all through the spring and summer, and Edwin always liked to arrange for a member of the family to say a few words at some point in each tour; it was a custom his father had started years ago, and he was glad to continue it. He or his mother usually looked after it, as his brothers John and Dan and his sister Diana all had full-time jobs. John, the oldest in the family, worked as a high-end stockbroker in a well-known London firm. Dan, two years Edwin’s junior, was an architect in a small practice in Peterborough. Diana, the youngest of the four siblings, was a classical musician in London, where she played violin with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

During the winter months, when the house was not open to the public, the family often had their meals in the formal dining room, but during the season they usually ate in the smaller dining area in the family kitchen, unless they had guests for supper, in which case the room would be too small. On this weekend the family was planning on celebrating Edwin’s birthday with a come-and-go tea on Saturday afternoon, but his brother Dan and his sister Diana had also decided to join them for supper on Friday night, along with Dan’s two children and Diana’s husband. His older brother John and his family would join them on Saturday, along with Edwin’s two teenage children Alexander and Ashley.

 The cook, Mrs. Hedges, and the household manager, George Pascoe, were the last vestiges of the enormous staff of butler, housekeeper, footmen, and maids who had served the needs of the family a hundred years ago, and even these two were employed by the estate and not just the family. Mrs. Hedges worked with the catering companies that served wedding receptions and other large events on the estate, and also with the staff of the tearoom on the east side of the building. George Pascoe looked after the needs of the family, but he also took the lead in running the public areas of the main house.

As the final tour was leaving, Edwin made his way to the main kitchen, which, like many of the more functional parts of the building, had recently been renovated under his brother’s supervision. The two young people who ran the tearoom were just getting ready to leave, and Mrs. Hedges, a widow in her late fifties, was putting the finishing touches on a fruit salad; she glanced up when he came into the kitchen, smiled at him and said, “Hello, Mr. Rowley. Is there anything I can get for you? A nice cup of tea after a busy afternoon, perhaps?”

“No thank you, I’m going straight through to the apartment, but I just thought I’d drop in on the way and make sure everything’s all right for tonight.” He sniffed at the air. “Is that a curry I smell?”

She laughed; “I thought you’d like it, and I know your brother and sister like it too. Don’t worry—I’ve cooked a nice shepherd’s pie for your father and mother.”

“Very wise.”

“I thought with it being a warm day, though, a nice fruit salad with some ice cream would go well for the sweet?”

“Excellent; thank you very much.”

“I’m assuming you’d like wine with supper?”

“That would be nice.”

“Do you want me to make the choices, or will you do that yourself?”

“You’re so good at it; I’m sure I can safely leave it in your hands.”

“Very good. Both red and white?”

“Yes, please.”

“Have you heard from everyone yet about what time they’re getting here?”

“I expect Dan and his children will be here any minute. Scott and Diana told us to expect them around six, so we’ll eat at six-thirty, shall we?”

“Very good.” She gave him a sudden smile. “Diana’s husband’s such a nice young man, always very polite. I’ve never asked you what he does; is he a musician, like her?”

“No, he’s an estate manager, like me. Do you know Kenwood House in London?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“It’s an old stately home on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Scott’s the general manager there.”

“Really? He seems young for a job like that.”

“Ah, but my spies tell me he’s very good at what he does!”

“I suppose you would have a lot in common, wouldn’t you?”

“I can assure you, we’re never short of things to talk about. Anyway, I’d better go through.”

“Right you are, Mr. Rowley.”

Edwin slipped out and made his way down the corridor to the family living room where his parents were sitting in easy chairs on either side of a large window, with a small antique coffee table between them. The window looked south toward Manor Brook and the cottages beyond, and on this warm summer evening it was open to let in the fresh air.

Edwin’s mother glanced up from their crossword puzzle and gave him a warm smile. “I thought I heard you coming; would you like a cup of tea or something?”

“Actually, I’m going to have a whiskey. No, Dad, don’t get up,” he said as he saw his father struggling to sit up in his chair. Robert Rowley was seventy-six and had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease ten years previously. He now rarely walked without a frame, and was beginning to have some difficulty with speech and cognitive functions. Nonetheless, he was dressed semi-formally today in a blue blazer, white shirt and cravat, and Edwin could see that he had been trying to help his wife with the crossword puzzle. The old man smiled up at his son and said slowly, “Did you have a good afternoon?”

“Very enjoyable. The first tour group was a grammar school party, and they were excellent. The last lot have just left. The dog show meeting went very smoothly.” Edwin went over to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a whiskey. “Anyone else want anything?”

“No thank you”, said Evelyn.

“Where are the dogs?”

“Dan and the children came over early and asked if they could take them for a walk down to the woods.”

“Ah, they’re already here, then?”

“Yes, and Diana called a couple of minutes ago to say that they just got off the train at Stamford. They’re taking a taxi, so they’ll be here shortly.”

“I would have gone into town and picked them up.”

“They know you’re busy, and they don’t mind the taxi.”

Edwin heard the back door open, and a moment later the three dogs ran into the room, their tails wagging madly. They ran from person to person for a moment, and then Edwin heard his brother Dan’s voice. “Come back here, you scruffy lot—there’s water out here for you!”

The dogs ran out of the room eagerly, and a moment later Dan and his two children, nine-year-old Lexy and seven-year-old Jason, appeared in the doorway. “Uncle Ed!” Jason cried.

“Mister Jason! Have you been walking my dogs?”

“We took them to the lake, but Daddy wouldn’t let them run into the water!”

Edwin grinned at his brother. “I wish you’d share your secret with me; one word from me and they do as they like!”

“It’s simple: they’re afraid of me, and they’re not afraid of you. Happy birthday, by the way.”

“Thanks.”

The two brothers hugged briefly, and then stepped back and looked at each other. Of the four Rowley siblings, they were the ones who looked the most alike: they were both of medium height, with strong facial features, wavy brown hair, and a tendency to grow a five o’clock shadow at the end of the day.

“Any idea when the sister unit’s arriving?” asked Dan.

“Any moment now, apparently. Do you want a whiskey?”

“No thanks; I expect we’ll be having wine with the meal, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll probably wait for that, then.”

They took their seats around the room, joined a moment later by the three dogs, who went from person to person, looking up expectantly for attention. Edwin took a sip of his whiskey and grinned at his brother. “Busy day in the architecture business?” he asked.

“Average. In the office in the morning, then out to some building sites this afternoon. The last one was in Stamford, so I was able to get home a bit earlier than normal.”

“And you lot?” Edwin asked his niece and nephew. “Mooching around with your other grandma?”

“We went to Nene Park,” Lexy replied.

“Because it wasn’t raining,” Jason added.

“Oh, right—it’s been raining a lot, hasn’t it?”

“Almost every day,” said Jason.

Evelyn glanced out of the window. “Ah, here’s the taxi.”

Dan raised an eyebrow. “Diana and Scott?”

Edwin nodded. “They came up on the train and then got a taxi at Stamford.”

***

Much later that night, the three Rowley siblings sat around the kitchen table, talking together in low voices. Their parents had long since gone to bed, as had Diana’s husband, and Dan’s children had bunked down on the third floor in the room beside Edwin’s apartment. But the three siblings were hungry for more of each other’s company, so they had gravitated to the kitchen. Edwin had initially suggested more whiskey, but Diana and Dan had asked for hot chocolate instead, and Edwin had decided to join them.

After they had caught up on each other’s news they were quiet for a moment, and then Diana asked, “When are we expecting John and Juliet and the children?”

“Early afternoon, I think,” Edwin replied. He gave a little frown. “Speaking of John, I need to talk to you two about something. I’ve got a feeling it won’t be long before our brother asks Mum and Dad for financial help again.”

Diana laughed softly. “Our brother the high-end stockbroker needs financial help?”

“I didn’t say he needed it; I said I thought he was going to be asking for it.”

“Forgive me, Eddie, but as a classical musician I’m having a difficult time summoning up any sympathy for him.”

“I’m on the same page as you, sis.”

“How can he possibly need financial help? He lives in a mansion in Mayfair, and he and Juliet both drive Jaguars. And didn’t they just get back from a holiday in the Caribbean or something?”

“They did.”

Dan frowned. “What’s going on, Ed? Is it something to do with the crash?”

“That, and their persistent habit of living beyond their means. And I should clarify: John hasn’t specifically asked for help yet, but he’s been fishing for it. He’s asked me a couple of times how the estate is doing financially, and last week he almost asked me how much money Mum and Dad have got in the bank.”

“How do you ‘almost’ ask a question like that?”

“He asked me how much money Mum inherited when Grandpa Cartwright died. He already knew the answer to that, of course, so it wasn’t a real question.”

“Is the crash really affecting his bottom line, then?” asked Diana.

Edwin nodded. “It’s getting serious, Di. Stock prices are collapsing all over the world, and some of our financial institutions are starting to look quite precarious. It’s especially bad in America, but that has a knock-on effect over here, too. I suspect John’s really feeling the pinch.”

“But he’s got lots of room to consolidate, hasn’t he?” asked Dan. “That house must be worth a couple of million at least.”

“I don’t expect Juliet’s eager to sell.”

“And what about her?” said Diana. “Her family’s not exactly poverty-stricken.”

“No, but I think John and Juliet may have gone to that particular well too many times already.”

Dan stared at his brother. “How do you know this, Ed?” he asked.

“I don’t know it, but John has dropped hints.”

Diana sipped at her hot chocolate and sat back in her chair, stretching her legs out under the table. “Have you talked to Mum and Dad about this?”

“Yes, and I think they feel torn about it. Dad wants to help, but he knows John’s got to learn to live within his means. Mum’s being Mum, of course; John’s her oldest, and she’s inclined to be supportive of him, but even she knows there’s got to be a limit.”

“How many times has this happened before?” asked Diana.

“Two or three that I know about, but I think there may have been one or two earlier occasions, before I started running the estate.”

“Is he pulling the older brother on you?” asked Dan.

“He’s tried that once, and I shot him down right away. This is the twenty-first century, and we’re not the Royal Family; there’s no law of primogeniture for families like ours. Ever since he went off to university John’s taken absolutely no interest in Holton Park except when he needed cash; there’s absolutely no chance that Dad would leave him any sort of interest in the estate.”

“You’re sure about that, are you?” asked Diana.

“I’ve seen their wills.”

“You’ve seen their wills?”

“They revised them last year, and Mum consulted me about them. There are legacies for all of us, but Holton Park stays in my hands.”

Dan nodded. “That’s as it should be. After all, you’ve done all the work.”

“I can see John challenging it, though, when the time comes.”

Dan raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“He might claim I’ve exercised undue influence on Dad and Mum.”

Diana frowned. “But surely this is all very premature, isn’t it? I mean, we all know Dad’s health is precarious, but Mum’s still young and strong. She could easily live another twenty years or more.”

“Exactly,” Dan agreed.

“The three of us know that,” said Edwin, “and John does too, but that won’t stop him dreaming. Meanwhile, though, he’s going to keep coming after Mum and Dad. Has he asked either of you for money?”

Diana burst out laughing. “Have you got any idea how small my bank balance is, Eddie?”

Edwin smiled. “I can guess; I know you don’t make a lot of money.”

“He hasn’t asked me either,” said Dan, “but then, he wouldn’t take that approach, would he? If he knows you’re not sympathetic, he might try to use us to go around you and put pressure on Mum and Dad.”

“I wondered about that,” Edwin replied. “He hasn’t done it yet, though, has he?”

Dan and Diana both shook their heads. “He probably knows he’d get no sympathy from me,” said Diana. She glanced at Dan. “He might come after you, though. After all, Christians are supposed to be generous.”

“To the poor,” Dan replied, “not to the extravagant rich!”

Edwin smiled. “Well said, little bro! I’m rather relieved to hear you take that line, actually.”

“Surely you didn’t think I’d cave in to him?”

“No, not really, but I’m glad to have my opinion confirmed.”

“I don’t want to be mean to him, of course. I mean, he is our brother.”

“And if he asked me for financial advice, I’d be happy to give it to him,” said Edwin. “That’s the sort of help he really needs, but I’m afraid he’s not going to come begging for it until things get really desperate.”

Diana drained her hot chocolate and stifled a yawn. “Well, boys…”

“That time of night, is it?” asked Dan.

“I think so; I’m for my bed.” She smiled at them both. “God, it’s good to see you two. Not to get all sentimental on you, but I miss you.”

Dan put his hand on hers. “Miss you too,” he said. “And I was glad to see you brought a violin with you. Dad always enjoys it when you play for us.”

“I know; that’s why I brought it.” She got to her feet. “Okay, you two are turning into small little dots in the distance, so I’ve really got to find my bed while I still can.”

“Yeah, I should get my two up and take them home,” said Dan.

“Do you need to?” asked Edwin. “They’re fine up there by my room, and it’s not as if they’ve never slept there before.”

“True, but they’re sleeping in their underwear right now.”

“Run over and get their pyjamas, if you like, and I’ll put them by their beds in case they wake up in the night. Anyway, I think Lexy’s probably got at least one dog in bed with her.”

Dan laughed. “You’re probably right about that. Okay, I’ll run over home and get their pyjamas, and then perhaps I’ll leave them in your capable hands, Ed, if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. I know where to find you if I need you.”

Holton Park, Chapter 5

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 5

Oxford and London, England.

On the Thursday night before Emma’s wedding, Tom and Wendy Masefield had supper by themselves. Emma had been staying with them for a few days, but she had gone over to her grandmother’s house for supper, and afterwards was planning on spending some time with her cousin Sarah. It had been a dull and rainy sort of day, cool enough for Tom and Wendy to be wearing sweaters when they took their coffee through to the living room after cleaning up the dishes together.

“What time is Beth’s first flight?” asked Wendy as they took their seats across from each other.

“They’re probably just about to take off from Saskatoon. I think they’ve got a couple of hours on the ground in Toronto before they take the overnight flight.” Tom grinned at Wendy. “I think this will be Claire’s first plane flight.”

“I hope Beth has an easy time with her. You never know, with young children.” Wendy frowned thoughtfully. “Tom, do you think Beth’s alright?”

“Generally, you mean, or specifically with Rachel’s death?”

Wendy shrugged. “I suppose I meant with Rachel’s death, but now that you ask, I wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts on ‘generally,’ as well.”

“Hard to say. She doesn’t talk to me about personal stuff as often as she used to.”

“I’ve noticed that.”

He took a sip of his coffee, and then wrapped his hands around the mug. “Mind you, I was always the second fiddle; Kelly was the one she was really close to.”

Wendy frowned again and shook her head. “It didn’t seem that way to me the year we went over there just before we got engaged. I remember you and Beth having a couple of long talks, and it didn’t sound to me as if they were just about news and gossip.”

“Well, that’s true.”

Wendy stretched her legs out a little so that their feet were touching. “So, what do you think?”

“I do have some ideas, but I’m really not sure about them.”

“Share them with me, if you want.”

He smiled at her. “Did I ever tell you that Beth was born in the Arctic?”

“I think so; remind me how that came about?”

“Don and Lynda were teaching in Coppermine, on the Arctic coast. They spent five years there after they first got married, and Amy and Beth were both born during that time.”

“How old was Beth when they moved back south?”

“Just over a year, I think. Don and Lynda both got jobs in Meadowvale. They bought a house just round the corner from Mike and Rachel’s, and somehow, Mike and Rachel both hit it off with little Bethie. Rachel wasn’t working outside the home, and she loved looking after her grandkids. Amy would have been four, so Rachel babysat her for a year before she went to kindergarten. But Beth had just turned one, so Rachel had her all day long for four years, and they got to be really close.

“That’s how it started. Rachel taught Beth to cook and sew, and play piano, and when she got a bit older, she liked hanging around in Mike’s workshop and watching him build things. And then when she was four, Rachel started taking her to church. Rachel was one of the main pianists at Meadowvale Mennonite Church, you know.”

“I remember her playing the piano when we were visiting.”

 “That’s right, she did. Anyway, Beth never had any sort of a dramatic conversion experience; she just inhaled Christian faith by being around Rachel and the folks at church. And she was lucky in having Rob Neufeld as her pastor when she was growing up. We all were, of course. Well, you know—you’ve met him.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve heard Beth say more than once that her grandma was her best friend.”

Wendy raised an eyebrow. “Do you think that’s really true? I know lots of kids are close to their grandparents, but I don’t know about being best friends.”

 “I don’t know how literally to take it. There were a couple of girls Beth was always hanging around with when she was a kid, and one of them, Jenny Ratzlaff—Jenny Sawatzky as she is now—is still her close friend. And she’s close to Amy, too. I guess I’d describe Rachel more as her mentor than her friend; to me, friendship implies equality, and I don’t think Rachel and Beth had an equal relationship.”

“Rachel was always the senior partner?”

“Exactly.” Tom frowned again. “There was trouble when Beth and Greg got married. They met in Saskatoon, and they fell for each other in a big way, but it was obvious from the start that they were very different. His family was made of money, and that was important to them. He wasn’t a Christian—he was never disrespectful of Beth’s faith, he just didn’t share it—and we’d all been formed with the idea that it wasn’t a good idea for Christians to marry non-Christians.”

“Is that an Anabaptist thing?”

“I think a lot of traditional Christian groups had that view; some still do. The idea was that if you couldn’t share the deepest factor in your life with your marriage partner, it could be a pretty lonely experience. I certainly believed that. I know I was really thankful that Kelly and I had faith in common, and I’ve been grateful for it with you, too.”

Wendy smiled and nodded. “Likewise.”

“And Beth and Greg’s wedding was weird. We found out later—because she told Kelly about it—that they’d been sleeping together for a while. Beth felt guilty about it, but Greg wanted it, and she loved him, and so she went along with it.”

“They wouldn’t exactly have been the first couple to sleep together before they were married.”

“Agreed, but, you know, traditional Mennonite upbringing…”

“…would have frowned on that—of course. I think we’ve had that conversation before.”

“We have. Anyway, they went down to Las Vegas on a holiday, and on a whim, while they were down there, they got married in one of the wedding chapels. Beth just wanted to make their relationship right as quickly as she could, so she wouldn’t have to feel guilty about sleeping with him any more, and so when he suggested it, she was really happy. But the shit hit the fan when her family found out about it.”

“They were angry? Really?”

“Lynda was hurt rather than angry. She was always the sort of mum who looks forward to planning her daughter’s wedding with her, down to the last detail. She had a grand time when Amy and Luke were married, I can tell you! So she felt cheated of that, and as for Don, he was just plain angry at Greg—and, by extension, Beth too. And Rachel didn’t talk to Beth for months, she was so upset.”

“I noticed you said ‘upset,’ not ‘angry.’”

Tom took another sip of his coffee, sitting back in his chair and stretching his legs out a little further. “Your feet are nice and warm,” he said.

“Are you cold?”

“I am a little, for some reason.”

“It’s not exactly been a warm summery day.”

“No.” He frowned again. “Here’s my theory, and I’ve never asked Rachel about it, though I did run it by Beth once and it made sense to her. Beth wasn’t the first one in her family to marry someone who wasn’t a Christian; years ago, Rachel had done it too. She’s always been very devout, but Mike wasn’t. His mum and dad, Will and Joanna, were strong Anglicans, but they weren’t successful in passing their faith on to their kids. After he left home, I don’t think Mike ever went to church again other than Christmas and Easter. He was a great guy, and I know he and Rachel loved each other their whole lives long. But I suspect that Rachel found it lonely not to have a husband who shared her faith. And I think she was disappointed for Beth, knowing she was going to feel the same loneliness.”

“You talked to Beth about this?”

“I did. She and Greg kept their marriage a secret at first, but they came to my fortieth birthday party, and that was the day Beth told Kelly about it, and Kelly told me. And then a year went by, and we didn’t see much of Beth—she was living in Saskatoon, and she and Greg were newlyweds, and Meadowvale had become a little uncomfortable for her, which was tearing her apart because she loved the people so much.

“The next summer came, and out of the blue she called me from the city; she was coming up for a visit and wanted to know if we could go for coffee together at the Beanery. So we did, and that was when she had it out with me. She was amazing. She told me she wanted to do what was necessary to get things back on track between us, and she asked me to be honest with her about what I was thinking. So, I spoke my piece about it not being a good idea for Christians to marry non-Christians. I did it gently, and she listened carefully, and then, without raising her voice at all, she tore me off a strip. She accused me of being arrogant—of believing that anyone who approached the subject thoughtfully and prayerfully would just naturally come to the same conclusion as me. She told me she’d prayed about her marriage, and she and Greg loved each other, and she had an easy conscience about it, and she wanted me to respect that.”

“Wow. How old was she?”

“Let’s see—it was the summer of ninety-nine, so she would have been about twenty-one. Mind you, keep in mind that for years she’d been part of the Sunday night group Kelly and I hosted, and we’d always encouraged the kids to speak their minds, so she knew she could do that with me. And the truth is, she knew Kelly and I loved her as if she was our own daughter.”

“But that might have brought some baggage with it, too—she might have felt she had more to lose.”

“True enough. Still, that’s what she said, and I realized she was right, and we made up. After that, we talked a lot. We were really close when Kelly was going through her cancer—I know that was excruciatingly hard for her, but she wanted so much to do whatever she could to help Kelly, which was a beautiful thing to see. And after Kelly died, she kept an eye on Emma and me, like a lot of other people were doing, and we appreciated that. Whenever she came to town she brought her guitar with her, and you know, she always liked traditional folk songs, so we played together at singarounds from time to time, with Don and Lynda looking after Claire.”

“But since she and Greg broke up…”

He gave a little nod. “Yes. She still calls, and we still talk, but something’s in the way again.”

“Do you think she’s afraid you might have been right, and she doesn’t want you to say, ‘I told you so’?”

“I would never have said that, even before I had a change of heart about her and Greg. Lots of marriages between Christians and non-Christians survive and thrive—I know that now—and I certainly wasn’t predicting that Greg would cheat on her and run off with another woman like he did. Mike would never have done that to Rachel—although I do know Christians who’ve done it to Christians, which is a little awkward for traditionalists to explain.”

“Right.”

“I have a hunch, though.”

“And what would that be?”

“That she’s struggling with the breakup of her marriage on a deeper level than she’s letting on. I’ve never had any indication from her that she’s losing her faith, but I think she’s disappointed with God, and I’m not sure she wants to talk about it with me, or at least, not yet.”

Wendy tilted her head a little to one side. “Do you think she’s talking to anyone about it?”

“I honestly don’t know. As I said, she and Jenny Ratzlaff are still good friends, but I’ve no idea how deeply they talk these days. I know she talks to her Aunt Ruth…”

“Ruth is Don’s sister, right?”

“Yes, so Ruth and Kelly were cousins, because Sally Reimer and Rachel Weins are sisters.”

“Right—got it.”

“Ruth married John Jantzen; they’re great people—Kelly and I were really close to them—and Ruth’s the only one of Rachel’s kids who kept up with Christianity after she became an adult, although she ended up following the Mennonite side of the family tree, not the Anglican, because she married a Mennonite. Their family used to sit in the pew across the aisle from us in church—John and Ruth and their three kids, and Rachel and Beth.”

“That’s lovely.”

“Yeah. But I don’t know if Beth has talked to Ruth about any of this. I just don’t know.”

“She’s going to be with us four weeks. Are you hoping…?”

He gave a heavy sigh. “I don’t know, Wendy—maybe I am. I know I’m not in control, and I know the last thing I need to do is push her about it.”

“Does she talk to Emma?”

“I know they talk a lot, but I’ve never asked Em what they discuss. Nor would I.”

Wendy nodded. “I get that. That was one of the things I loved about you and Emma when I first got to know her.”

“Thanks.”

At that moment Tom’s mobile phone began to ring. He took it out of his pocket, glanced at the name on the screen, and smiled. “It’s our other daughter.” He put the phone to his ear. “Lisa Howard. How’s the Reimer tour of London going?”

“Well, I think I can truthfully say everyone’s suitably impressed!”

“You’ve been showing them all the sights?”

 “I met them at Heathrow at lunch time yesterday, and we haven’t stopped since. We’ve seen Buckingham Palace, and we’ve been in Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London, and the National Gallery, and we’ve done the river tour to Greenwich. But, you know, the weather hasn’t been the best, and Sally’s arthritis is acting up, so now we’re all curled up by a fireplace in a pub after a nice meal, and I thought I’d just give you a bell about tomorrow.”

“Are you coming home with them?”

“That’s the thing. Joe’s hired a van, but there are ten of them, so they take up all the seats. I can easily take the train, and I’m happy to do that, but if you’re picking Beth and Claire up at Heathrow…”

Tom laughed. “You want to hitch a ride?”

“Would you mind? Could I meet you at Terminal Three?”

“Sure. Let’s check with Beth, though, before we decide what happens next. She might be looking forward to some one-on-one time with me on the drive home. Well, as much one on one time as you can get with a chatty not-quite-four-year-old in the back seat.”

“That makes sense. Remind me what time the flight gets in?”

“It’s Air Canada from Toronto; I think about eleven-thirty, but there’ll be passport and customs time, too.”

“So it’s basically the same flight the Reimers were on yesterday?”

“Correct. Shall we meet a bit earlier? How about eleven o’clock at the arrivals lounge? If I remember correctly, there’s a coffee shop in the corner where you can get a really good Americano. Let’s meet there.”

“Sounds lovely. I feel like I’ve been running around for ages without a real chance for a good visit with you.”

“I know what you mean. And before long I’m going to have to make an appointment to see you in Brussels!”

“Don’t jinx it, Dad—we don’t know for certain whether that’s going to work out yet.”

“Right. Really looking forward to seeing you. Do you want to say hello to your mum before you go?”

“Yes, for sure.”

“I love you, my girl.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

“Here’s your mum.”

***

It was Lisa who first caught sight of Beth and Claire coming through the double doors into the arrivals lounge. She was standing with Tom behind the rope barrier, surrounded by others waiting to meet people from the Toronto flight. A good number of passengers had already come through, and Tom reminded Lisa that the cabin crew might have asked parents with young children to wait until the rush subsided before moving into the aisle. At that moment Lisa caught a glimpse of a familiar face pushing a baggage cart through the doors. “There they are!” she said. “Wow—Claire really grew!”

“Well, you haven’t seen her since she was one!”

“True.”

Beth and Claire were both dressed simply in tee-shirts and jeans; Beth was carrying a backpack on her shoulder, and the baggage cart held a full-sized suitcase, a smaller backpack, and a hard-shell guitar case. They came to a stop, and Beth scanned the crowd anxiously; Lisa gave them a cheery wave, and almost immediately Beth saw them. Her face broke into a grin, and she pushed the cart over toward them, with Claire following behind. Tom held out his arms to them. “Ready for a hug?” he asked.

Beth dropped her backpack onto the floor and moved into his embrace. “From you? Always.”

They held each other tight for a moment, until Claire tugged on Beth’s arm. “Me too!”

They all laughed, and Tom released Beth and looked down at the little girl. “Do you remember me?”

“I think so.”

“I saw you last summer when Wendy and I came to Meadowvale. But you were a lot shorter then. Do you want to come up?”

Claire hesitated for a moment, and then nodded decisively. “Okay!”

Tom reached down, lifted her up and gave her a warm hug. “I want to introduce you to someone, okay? This is my daughter Lisa; she’s heard a lot about you.”

Claire looked over at Lisa. “You know about me?”

“Well, I actually met you when you were very little.”

Claire’s eyes grew wide. “I don’t remember.”

“No, because you were only one. But you and I don’t really know each other well, so perhaps if it’s alright with you, I’ll just give you a kiss on the cheek right now. After we get to know each other better, we can try out hugs. What do you think?”

“Okay!”

Lisa leaned forward and kissed the little girl gently. Tom turned to Beth. “You remember Lisa?”

Beth smiled at the other girl. “I do. Are you living in London now?”

“Actually, I spent the last year in France, but now I’m back in Oxford.”

“What were you doing in France?”

“Taking courses to upgrade my French. I want to work at the European Parliament in Brussels, but you need two official EU languages to do that. My Russian and German are both really good, but Russian isn’t an EU language, so I needed to do some work on my French.”

“Right—you’re a translator, aren’t you?”

“Yes. So now I’m just waiting to hear back about my application, and meanwhile I’m dossing down at my brother Colin’s flat in Oxford while Mum and Dad’s house is full of wedding guests. But I’ve been in London for the past two days, showing the Reimers around.”

“Will and Sally?”

“Yes—and Joe and Ellie and Jake and Jenna, and Steve and Krista and Mike and Rachel!”

Beth laughed. “Did you hire a limo?”

“We’ve been using public transport to get around in London, but Joe hired a van to drive everyone to Oxford this morning.”

Tom put his hand on Beth’s shoulder. “We don’t need to stand here talking,” he said. “Let’s go find the car and get on the road. Unless you need a bite to eat or something?”

“We were well fed on the flight, thanks.”

“Excellent. Let’s get going, then, shall we?”

Lisa caught Beth’s eye. “Listen—do you mind me catching a ride back to Oxford with you and Dad? I came up to town on the train, and I’m happy to go back that way if you’d prefer to have some private time to visit in the car.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Beth replied. “It’s good to see you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Alright then—thank you.”

***

The skies were overcast as they took the M40 northwest from Heathrow towards Oxford, and by the time they passed High Wycombe the drizzle had turned to a steady rain. Beth was in the back seat with Claire, while Tom and Lisa were in the front.

“Sorry about the weather,” said Tom. “It’s not looking too promising for Emma’s big day tomorrow, either. What was it like in Meadowvale when you left?”

“Hot and thundery,” Beth replied. “We were in shorts and tee-shirts.”

“I hear Rachel’s funeral was well-attended.”

“Yeah, there were a lot of people there. Joel came from Dubai.”

“I would have liked to have come, but we were so busy with wedding stuff around here.”

“Everyone knew that, Tom. All kinds of people told me to say hi to you for them; I’d hate to even start naming them for fear I’d forget some.”

Lisa turned in her seat so she could see Beth’s face. “Is this your first trip to England?” she asked.

“Yeah, it is.”

“We could have taken you to Oxford by the slow and scenic route, but we thought you might like to get there as fast as possible today. We’re actually passing through some beautiful countryside right now, but you can’t see it because of the embankments.”

“What I can see looks pretty good; we don’t get trees this green in Saskatchewan unless we’ve had a really wet summer, which doesn’t happen very often. But we don’t get this much traffic on our roads, either.”

“It’s a small country, with a lot of people in it.”

“Right. So, who’s going to be here for the wedding?”

“My mum’s brother and his family are coming up from Essex,” Lisa replied, “and all Dad’s immediate family are going to be there. Then there are some of Emma’s friends from work and church, and of course Owen Foster and his family. You know Owen, right—Dad’s oldest friend from his school days?”

“Yeah—he and Lorraine used to come to Meadowvale every couple of years to visit Tom and Kelly. The first time I ever heard traditional folk music was at a house concert they put on while Owen was visiting.”

“Sweet!”

“Getting back to the wedding guests…”

“Well, of course, there are lots of people from Matthew’s side of the family, but I don’t really know who they all are, only that there are a lot of them.”

Beth frowned. “I thought Matthew just had the one sister.”

Tom gave a chuckle from the front seat. “He does, but his parents both come from big families, and all their siblings have children, so there are rather a lot of cousins.”

“Right.”

“And then, as you know, we’ve got some Canadians too!”

“And we’re delighted to be here!”

“And we’re delighted to have you. I wish we could have everyone to stay at our place, but it’s not very big. Will and Sally insisted on getting their own hotel room, but Mike and Krista and their kids are staying at Merton, Wendy’s college—like a lot of Oxford colleges, they rent out their student rooms for tourists in the summer. And Joe and Ellie and their two are staying at my mum’s house, which is about a ten-minute walk from our place in New Marston.”

“I thought your mom lived out of town?”

“She sold the old place in Northwood a couple of years ago—it was getting too big for her to keep up. But she made a nice profit on it, so she was able to get a reasonably sized three-bedroom place in town.”

“Is Emma staying with you?”

“Yes—she’s been in Oxford since last weekend. She’s camping in the spare bedroom, and you and Claire are in what’s normally our office—we did a little furniture shuffling to make room.”

“I hope I’m not putting you out.”

“Not at all. Wendy’s university term ended in mid-June, and I finished yesterday, so neither of us needs an office for the next few days. You will, however, have to put up with the crowded bookshelves, but knowing you, that won’t be a problem!”

Beth laughed; “Some things never change, Tom!”

“That’s what I thought.” He glanced at Lisa. “When Beth was Emma’s babysitter, she was always raiding my bookshelves.”

“And his record collection,” Beth added. “That was a huge part of my cultural education.”

***

After the wedding rehearsal that evening, Matthew MacFarlane’s parents hosted a light supper in the church hall beside Banbury Road Baptist Church, where Matthew’s father Jim was the pastor; Tom and Emma had started attending there a couple of months after they had moved to Oxford in 2003.

Matthew and Emma were not planning a big wedding. Emma’s cousin Jenna Reimer was her maid of honour, and Matthew’s oldest friend Adam Byrne was his best man. There were no other people in the wedding party because, as Emma had said to Matthew, “we both have so many cousins that once we start asking people, we won’t be able to stop without upsetting someone!”

This meant that, in theory, the wedding rehearsal did not need to be a big affair. However, in practice, a lot of people came to it because they had been invited to the supper afterwards. Beth knew all the Canadian visitors well, and she had also met Tom’s sister Becca, his niece Sarah, his mother Irene, and his friend Owen. But there were other Masefield relatives she was meeting for the first time, including Tom’s brother Rick (Sarah’s father) his Scottish wife Alyson, and their other children Eric and Anna. “And the whole family’s not even here yet,” Rick said to her after they had been introduced. “We’ve got quite a few aunts and uncles and cousins coming tomorrow, including some I barely know!”

At that moment a tall man with close-cropped grey hair wandered over and grinned at Beth. “Well, here’s a familiar face,” he said in a broad Oxfordshire accent.

“Hello, Owen!” Beth replied as they gave each other a warm hug. “It’s so good to see you again!”

“You too. And this is Claire, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem that long ago that we heard she’d been born, and what is she now—four?”

“Four next month.” Beth smiled down at her daughter. “This is Mr. Foster,” she said; “He’s Uncle Tom’s oldest friend.”

Owen crouched down so that he was at eye level with Claire and spoke to her in a quiet voice. “Are you meeting lots of new people, Claire?” he asked.

She nodded solemnly. “Lots and lots.”

“And you must be tired after your long flight.”

She shook her head decisively. “I’m not tired!”

“Right—that was silly of me, wasn’t it? Do you like to sing?”

“I like singing songs in church. And my mommy sings and plays guitar, and sometimes I sing along with her.”

“I’ve heard your mummy sing lots of times; she has a lovely voice, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah.”

Owen got to his feet again, glancing around the room at the tables and the people waiting for the meal to start. “Has anyone claimed you?” he asked Beth, “because if not, why don’t you come and sit with Lorraine and me?”

“I’d love that. Where are your kids tonight?”

“Oh, they’re out with friends, doing the teenage thing, you know? Just wait ‘til Claire hits that age; that’s when the fun starts!”

“That’s what I hear.” Beth stifled a yawn. “Excuse me!” she said with an embarrassed grin. “I only slept on the plane for about four hours, and my body clock has no idea what time it is. To be honest, I’m so tired I barely know where I am!”

Owen put his hand on her arm. “Go and sit down with Lorraine over there, and I’ll get you a cup of tea. And if you get so tired that you just have to get out of here, let me know and I’ll run you back to Tom and Wendy’s—okay?”

“That would be great, Owen; thank you!”

***

The supper consisted of cold cuts and assorted salads, washed down with coffee and tea, and juice and cold water. Owen got food for them all, and when he had brought it back to their table and passed it around, he took his seat across from Beth and Claire. “Enjoy!” he said.

“Thanks, Owen,” Beth replied.

“So—I hear you’re making a trip over to Bramthorpe to check out Joanna Robinson’s family tree?”

“Did you ever meet her on your trips to Meadowvale?”

Owen and Lorraine glanced at each other. “We’ve been trying to remember if we met her more than once,” Lorraine said. “We do know that she came to that concert Tom and Owen did at Pastor Rob’s house back in the late nineteen-eighties. Do you remember that? I think you were there.”

Beth nodded. “Of course,” she said to Owen, “that was the first time I heard you and Tom play music together. But I’d forgotten that Great-Grandma was there.”

“I’m inclined to think that was the only time we met her,” Owen replied. “But of course, Tom’s told us lots more about her since the story of the journals came out. It’s an amazing story, isn’t it?”

“Really amazing. I’ve been slowly reading through them, and I still can’t quite take it all in.”

“Did she live in Bramthorpe her whole life ‘til she moved to Canada?”

“Until she married Will. After that they had a rather unsettled couple of years, living in farm cottages while Will got casual work. But yeah—for her first twenty-one years she lived at Holton Park, which is quite near Bramthorpe.”

Owen nodded. “I’ve got a friend in the area, actually.”

“Oh yeah? In Bramthorpe?”

“No, in Stamford, which is quite close by.”

“Yeah, I know about Stamford.”

“Her name’s Helen Francis, and we were in medical school together, so she’s about my age. She’s a general practitioner, like me, and she’s part of a local medical practice. She’s been there for years, so she’s well established in the town.”

“Have you been there, Owen?”

“Stamford? Not much. A couple of times over the years we’ve stopped to visit with Helen and her family on the way through, but it’s been a long time. Lovely area, though. Stamford’s very historic.”

“Have you seen Holton Park?”

“No, I’m afraid not. There’s another very historic stately home near Stamford—Burghley House. It goes back to Tudor times, too; it was built by Queen Elizabeth’s chancellor, if I remember correctly. Helen took us there once.”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole area. I’d love to get a clearer picture of how my great-grandmother grew up.”

“I’ll bet. Quite the adventure!”

“No kidding!”

“So—how are all the Wiens’ and Reimers and Robinsons and Millers and Janzens and all the other Meadowvalers?”

Beth grinned. “How long have you got?”

“You’ll probably fall asleep before I lose interest, Beth.”

“Alright then—let’s see how long I can stay awake!”

Holton Park, Chapter Four

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 4

MEADOWVALE, SASKATCHEWAN.

The funeral of Rachel Robinson was arranged for Saturday July 12, a full week after her death; the delay was mainly to accommodate the timetable of her grandson Joel, who was working for an oil company in Dubai and needed a few days to arrange a trip home. Amy’s husband Luke Bernard drove from Calgary to Meadowvale the day before the funeral. As for Amy and Beth, they spent the intervening time visiting with the relatives who were slowly gathering, taking their children to play with family members and friends, and helping their father and their aunt clean out their grandmother’s room at the special care home. Beth was also still working, so she left Claire with Amy and her children a few times when she went up to the hospital for her shifts.

The two sisters continued to skim through Joanna Rowley’s journals, looking for references to the unfolding story of her relationship with Will Robinson. By the time the day of the funeral arrived they had already reached the point where Will and Joanna were married, had been ostracized by their respective families, and were beginning to make plans to move to Canada. To get this far they had skipped a lot of the story, but each night in bed Beth had begun to read the journals slowly, word for word, savouring every little detail of the daily life Joanna recorded. Mindful of her father’s interest, Beth talked to him regularly about the things she had discovered in her reading, and she knew he was sharing the stories with other family members, especially his sister Ruth.

Three days after Rachel’s death, while Amy and Beth were having coffee with their parents, Don put his hand on Beth’s. “I had a phone call from Tom,” he said.

She looked at him nervously. “Oh yeah?”

“We talked for a long time. He told me the whole story, Bethie.”

She shook her head. “I’m so sorry, Dad,” she whispered.

“No, no—you’ve got nothing to apologize for. I knew Tom and Grandma had been close, and he explained to me that she really wanted to protect us all from being hurt like she’d been hurt. I don’t understand her logic, but when Tom was done explaining it to me, I told him I thought it was an amazing thing that he’d honoured her wishes and kept the secret for eighteen years.”

“I know.”

“He told me an interesting story. He and Kelly and Emma went on a trip to England the summer Grandma died. He told me Kelly asked him about looking for Holton Park while they were there, and he told her he didn’t want to. Do you know why?”

“I think I can guess, but go on, anyway.”

“He told Kelly he was uncomfortable that he knew more about our family history than Ruth and I did, and he was already finding that a hard load to carry. He said he didn’t want to make it even harder, so he’d prefer not to learn any more than he already knew.”

“Tom’s a good man, Dad.”

“I know; he’s been my friend for over twenty-five years.”

“I was worried this might cause a rift between you.”

He shook his head. “I was upset at first, but he talked me out of it.”

“I’m glad.”

“Me too.”

***

One night after the three children had all gone to bed, Beth and Amy huddled around the laptop on the kitchen table while Beth introduced her sister to the website of Holton Park. The main page showed a front view of the three-storey grey stone manor house, with its tall, latticed windows and imposing Tudor chimneys. An aerial shot showed a large ornamental walled garden on one side of the manor, a little stream running at the far end of a large lawn space behind the house, and farm buildings nearby. Beside the walled garden they could see what looked like a stable block.

“So that’s where it all began!” Amy observed with a smile.

The website bore the title ‘Holton Park: A Stately Home for All Occasions’, and had obviously been designed to advertise the house to prospective users; it mentioned weddings, conferences, banquet halls, musical recordings, and filming. But one paragraph was of particular interest to Beth and Amy, and Beth read it aloud:

“Holton Park was built by Sir Philip Rowley between fifteen forty-two and fifteen fifty-eight, and the house has been in the Rowley family ever since. The current owner, Robert Rowley, is a direct descendant of Sir Philip, and lives in the family apartment at Holton Park. His son Edwin Rowley is the current manager of Holton Park Estates.”

“So the family’s still there,” said Amy.

“That’s what I told you.”

“You didn’t mention the son, though.”

Beth shrugged. “I didn’t think it was important, I guess.”

Amy was scrolling through the photo gallery. “Look at these rooms!” she exclaimed.

They browsed through a series of pictures of the Tudor-style great hall with tall windows, a fireplace, rich wood paneling and many paintings on the walls. There were also shots of a formal library, a drawing room with luxurious carpeting and antique furniture, and several ornate looking bedrooms, including one called ‘The Queen’s Room’ in which, it was claimed, Queen Elizabeth the First had once slept.

“Imagine moving from that to a homestead outside Meadowvale in nineteen twenty-nine,” said Beth in a hushed voice.

“The things we do for love,” Amy replied.

“I guess she must have really loved him to have been willing to part with all that.”

“I wonder what he parted with. Is there anything about Steeple Farm on the Net?”

“I haven’t looked.”

“Well, now’s a good time.”

Beth googled ‘Steeple Farm, Bramthorpe, Lincolnshire,’ and the first reference that came up was ‘Steeple Farm Riding School and Stables, Bramthorpe.’ She followed the link and found a website describing a fairly new establishment, offering basic riding instruction as well as stabling for horses. The website included several photographs, including one of a white two-story Tudor-style farmhouse with black beams and latticed windows, with stables just visible behind.

Amy raised her eyebrows. “That’s bigger than I thought it would be—if it’s the same place, that is. Does it say anything about who the owner is?”

Beth searched the website for a moment and then read out loud:

“Steeple Farm Riding School and Stables is jointly owned and operated by Justin Berry and Alan Peterson. The farm has been in Justin’s family for over forty years, as his great-uncle bought it from the Holton Park estate in the early nineteen-sixties. It was converted into a riding school and stables in twenty-oh-four.”

“I wonder if his great-uncle was a Robinson?”

“It doesn’t say.”

“See if you can get it on Google Maps.”

Beth clicked on the ‘maps’ link on Google, and after a moment a map came up showing a location north of Stamford, on the western side of the village of Bramthorpe, just two miles south of the Holton Park estate.

“Well, now we know how to get there!” said Amy. “Are you going to go?”

Beth clicked the back button on her browser until she found the Holton Park webpage again. She followed a few links for a moment. “The house and grounds seem to be open to the public five days a week,” she said, “from May to September, from one to five in the afternoon. Admission to the house is by guided tour only. There are several contact email addresses, and a mailing address too.” She laughed. “The mailing address is just ‘Holton Park, Bramthorpe, Lincolnshire,’ with the postal code!”

“I guess it’s big enough that the postal workers know where to find it!”

“I guess so.”

“Are you going to try to contact them?”

Beth hesitated. “I don’t know,” she replied.

***

Meadowvale Mennonite Church was full for Rachel’s funeral; along with immediate descendants, nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren, there were many friends from the community and many members of the church Rachel had attended for most of her life. She had always been a lover of choral music, and the church choir sang a couple of pieces, one in English and one in German. Beth’s father read the eulogy, and Pastor Ron Bergen preached.

Rachel’s will had specified that she was to be buried at the Meadowvale Cemetery four miles south of town. All the members of her family of origin were buried at the cemetery at Spruce Creek, twelve miles north of Meadowvale, where the Mennonites had settled when they first arrived in the 1920s. However, Rachel’s husband Mike was buried at Meadowvale Cemetery, and she had stated her wish to be interred beside him.

Beth and Claire rode out to the cemetery with her parents. With the family gathered in a circle around the grave, Rachel was laid to rest beside her husband while the church choir sang another hymn in four-part harmony. The big prairie sky was a clear blue, the weather a warm twenty-four degrees, with just a light breeze rustling the leaves on the branches of the trees around the cemetery.

As the family members were dispersing and making their way slowly back to their cars, Beth wandered away to look for the place where her great-grandmother Joanna was buried; she had not visited the grave in many years, but she knew approximately where it was. After a few minutes’ searching she found it, a simple grey headstone marked ‘Joanna Elizabeth Robinson, May 25 1905 – June 2 1990.’ Someone had set fresh flowers on the grave, red and white carnations in a glass vase. Beside it was another grave with a similar headstone, marked ‘William Alfred Robinson, February 13 1904 – May 21 1975.’

“I thought you might be looking for these.”

Beth turned to see her father standing beside her, with Claire at his side in her best white dress, holding onto his hand. He had worn a dark grey suit and blue tie for the service, but for the interment he had added a straw hat to protect his bald head from the summer sun. She reached up and kissed him on the cheek; “Nice hat!” she said.

“Thanks.”

“Did you put the flowers on the grave?”

“Ruth and I did. By the way, are you going to Ruth’s place for coffee after the reception?”

“Probably. Are there going to be a few people there?”

“Most of the family are going, I think. But if you and Claire are tired out after the reception at the hall, that’s fine too.”

“I think we’ll be okay”. She held out her arms to Claire; “Want to come up?”

“Okay!” the little girl replied with a bright smile. Beth picked her up, kissed her on the cheek, and walked slowly back toward the cars with her father. “Anything new from the journals?” he asked.

“Not really. We’ve got to the point where they’re making plans to move to Canada.”

“Any information about how they were able to afford it?”

“No, but I wasn’t expecting any. Grandma read them all the way through, and she told me Joanna never mentioned it.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know. Grandma thought it had to be one of the Rowleys who gave them the money, but as far as I can tell, Joanna had absolutely no contact with them after her dad fired Will.”

“Some members of the family are quite interested in the journals.”

“Yeah, Auntie Ruth keeps asking about them—and Kathy.”

“Your Uncle Steve’s asked me a few questions. I think he wants to know if there’s any money in it!”

Beth laughed softly; “Not as far as I know!”

“That’s what I keep telling him.” Don was quiet for a moment, and then he added, “I think Steve and Jean have some questions for you, if you’re willing to answer them.”

“Today?”

“Steve’s going back to Alberta tomorrow.”

“It was nice he could make the time.”

“You’re singing from my songbook, Bethie.”

“I know.” She shrugged; “I’ll do whatever you think is best, Dad.”

“People have been getting little snippets of information. It might not hurt to give everyone an opportunity to get on the same page.”

“Is there going to be trouble?”

“I don’t think so. If there is, you let me handle it, okay?”

“Okay—thanks.”

As they approached the cars Beth saw the Janzen family standing together. Her Aunt Ruth was the second oldest of the Robinson siblings. Beth had seen photographs of Ruth when she was in her late teens, and her basic look had never changed: long dark hair pulled back into a thick braid, with jeans and a tee-shirt in summer and a fisherman’s sweater in winter. She had put on a dark summer dress for the funeral, but Beth smiled to see the open sandals on her feet. She was standing beside her son Joel, two years Beth’s junior, who had arrived home from Dubai the day before. Beth walked up to him with a grin; “Hey, you!” she said.

“Hey yourself! Holy crap, is that Claire? It can’t possibly be you, little girl; aren’t you still a baby?”

“I’m not a baby—I’m turning four years old next month!”

“I bet you don’t remember the date of your birthday, though!”

“Oh yes I do – August Ninth!”

“Wow—I’m impressed! Last question: do you remember who I am?”

“You’re Joel, silly! You’re my mom’s cousin!”

“‘Joel silly’—yeah, that sounds about right!”

They all laughed, and Joel leaned over to kiss Beth on the cheek. “Sorry, Bethie,” he said in a voice that was suddenly serious; “I know you and Grandma…”

“Thanks. Are you staying long?”

“I’m afraid not—I’ve only got a couple of days and then I have to head back.”

Ruth’s husband John grinned at Beth. “I guess he’s an important man on the other side of the world!”

“Well, it’s good to see you anyway,” Beth said to Joel; “We miss you around here. Are you going to be at your mom and dad’s place after the reception?”

“I think so.”

“Great—let’s catch up then.”

***

John and Ruth lived in a large house on an acreage just south of Meadowvale. After the official reception at the community hall, many family members went back there for coffee, including Beth’s father and his siblings Ruth, Steve, and Jean, along with their spouses and children.

It was a hot afternoon, but John and Ruth’s back yard had several large poplar trees for shade. As the afternoon wore into the evening some people gravitated out there, and Beth found herself sitting in a circle under one of the trees, keeping one eye on Claire who was running around the yard with her cousin Chelsey and a couple of other children. Ruth was there with her three children Kathy, Joel, and Rhonda; she had changed into jeans and tee-shirt almost as soon as she got home from the reception. Amy and Luke were there too, and one-year old Nicholas was sound asleep on Amy’s lap.

After a while Don came out into the yard; he had removed his jacket and tie and put his straw hat back on. “Not a bad evening,” he said to no one in particular.

“Are you joining the back yarders,” asked Ruth, “or just taking a break from the lawyer and the oilman?”

“Well, the lawyer and the oilman and a few others in there are curious to hear more about Grandma’s journals—if you’re willing, Beth?”

Ruth gave him a cautious frown; “They’re not going to gang up on her, are they?”

“Not if I have anything to do with it.”

“I’m good, Dad,” said Beth. “Inside or out?”

“They appear to be sitting around the living room.”

Beth glanced at Claire and Chelsey, and Kathy Janzen said, “I’ll stay out here and watch them, Beth; you go ahead.”

***

In the spacious living room most people were drinking coffee, although Beth’s Uncle Steve was on his second beer, his collar undone, and the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to the elbow. He had worked in the oil patch as a heavy-duty mechanic for nearly thirty years. He had two children from his first marriage, Darren and Ryan, both in their late teens, who had not come back to the house for coffee. His second wife Deb was sitting across the room from him; her eight-year-old daughter Alicia was playing down in the basement. Jean, the youngest of Rachel’s children, was sitting on the couch beside her husband Martin McDonald; she had been practicing law in Saskatoon for over twenty years. Some of the more distant Robinson relatives were also in the room, including Don’s youngest cousin Erin and her husband Darren Peterson, who was one of Don’s teaching colleagues at the high school.

Beth sat down on a stool in the corner of the room; the others who had been sitting out in the yard gradually found seats or spots on the rug, and Ruth took her place beside Beth, folding her arms and resting her back against the wall.

“Okay,” said Beth. “I’m here to fill everyone in on the story of Great-Grandma Robinson, so that we’re all on the same page. What would you like to know?”

Jean was the first to speak. “We hear you have Grandma’s journals,” she said.

“I do. They cover the period from January nineteen-eighteen up to a year or so before she died; I think the last entry is August nineteen eighty-nine. The box also contained some letters from Will Robinson’s father; they’re dated in the early thirties. Grandma didn’t say anything about leaving them to me, so as far as I know they’re common family property.”

“But why did Mom leave the journals to you?” asked Steve. “Why didn’t she leave them to the whole family—or your dad, as the oldest son.”

Don shook his head slowly. “That’s not a matter of discussion today. Mom’s will is very clear: the journals are to go to Beth. Everyone knows Beth was very close to Mom, and Mom trusted her to take care of the journals and share them with the whole family.”

“But surely if there’s any benefit to be gained, the whole family should know about it.”

“Steve, I keep telling you—there’s no secret treasure trove in Grandma’s journals. If there was, Mom would have told Beth ahead of time.”

“What’s in them, then?” Steve asked suspiciously.

Ruth put her hand on Beth’s shoulder. “Why don’t you tell us about it right from the start, Bethie?”

So once again, Beth found herself telling the story she had become so familiar with over the past three months, sticking mainly to the outline her grandmother had originally given her, and adding only a few details from her own reading of the journals. When she was done there was silence in the room for a moment, and then Jean spoke up. “So we could have both rich and poor relatives in the old country?”

“I don’t know about rich or poor,” Beth replied. “I know for sure that the Rowley family still lives at Holton Park, because there’s a Holton Park website on the Internet. You should all take a look at it. It’s not an enormous house, like Buckingham Palace or anything like that, but it’s big and it’s very old. It was built in the fifteen-hundreds, and it’s been in the Rowley family ever since. The current owner is Robert Rowley—the same name as Joanna’s father—but the website says his son Edwin is the current manager. I don’t know how they’re descended from Joanna’s family; her brother Edward was killed in the First World War in nineteen-seventeen, so the estate would probably have gone to his younger brother James. Perhaps Robert’s his son or grandson; I really don’t know.”

“Are they part of the aristocracy?” asked Steve.

“I don’t know enough to know if that’s the right word. They aren’t dukes or earls or counts or anything like that. It’s true that Joanna’s father was a knight, but that’s not a hereditary title in the British system—so I’ve discovered. But we do know that Joanna’s mother came from a titled family; her father—Joanna’s grandfather—was the Earl of Devonshire, and members of that family are mentioned frequently in the journals.”

“What about the Robinsons?” asked Joel.

“Will’s father Sam was the tenant of Steeple Farm on the Holton Park Estate. We know the farm’s still there because there’s a picture of it on the Internet. It’s now a riding school and stables, and one of the owners apparently bought it from a great-uncle, who bought it himself from the estate back in the nineteen-sixties. But we don’t know if that great-uncle was a Robinson or not.  Personally, I think it’ll be a lot harder to track the Robinsons than the Rowleys.”

Luke Bernard spoke up. “Are you going to track them down, Beth? Is that your plan?”

“I don’t really have a plan, Luke. If Holton Park is still a very rich estate—and it’s hard to tell whether it is or not—it looks grand, but for all we know it could be mortgaged to the hilt—but if it is rich, I think it would be hard to make contact with the current owners without appearing to be after some money.”

Heads nodded around the circle, and Steve added, “I’ll say; if Grandma was one of three surviving kids, wouldn’t she have been due a third of the estate when her father died?”

“That’s not the way it worked,” Beth replied. “If they’d followed that system, none of the old landed estates would ever have survived in viable form, because they’d have been split up into smaller and smaller portions with every generation. In the old days the custom was that the property and the bulk of the money went to the oldest son; the other children got some inheritance money, but nothing like an equal share. I’m not sure how it works today, though.”

“I’ve heard inheritance taxes have really killed a lot of those old stately homes in England,” said Ruth. “Lots of families have had to sell their houses, or turn them over to the state, so they can afford to pay the taxes when the owner dies. I’ve read quite a bit about it. There’s an organisation over there called the National Trust that owns a lot of these stately homes and opens them to the public. A lot of their properties were given to them by the owners to avoid paying massive inheritance taxes.”

“It looks as if Holton Park is open to the public for at least part of the year,” Beth replied, “and it’s also used for weddings and conferences and movies and that sort of thing.”

“They’d have to do something like that to make ends meet,” Don observed. “If farming over there is as bad these days as it is here, you’d never run an estate like that on farming profits.”

“I’ve heard it’s really bad,” said John Janzen. “They’ve got a lot of farm subsidies, but since the mad cow disease crisis a few years ago, thousands of families have lost their farms and left the land for good.”

“What do you think of Grandma, Beth?” asked Ruth softly. “I mean, I knew her well when she was old—I was the one who lived closest to her and kept an eye on her, just like you did for our mom—but you’re getting a completely different picture of her now, from her younger years. What was she like?”

“I think she was very idealistic. There’s a very strong religious element in the journals; she seems to have been very devout, and her faith took her in some unusual directions.”

“What do you mean by unusual directions?” asked Joel.

“Her parents gave her a copy of the Bible as a confirmation present; I don’t know if they really expected her to read it, but she was a voracious reader and she devoured the whole thing. In the later parts of the nineteen-nineteen journal she comments regularly on bits of the Bible she’s reading and what she thinks about them; I could tell she was really captivated by the gospel stories about Jesus. Later on, when she met Will, she’d already started to develop an unusual social conscience—unusual for a member of her class at that time, I mean—and I think a lot of it came from things she’d read in the New Testament. She and Will were both quite high-minded and they’d really come to believe that the social class system in England was an evil that needed to be fixed. For Joanna, like I said, I think that started with her reading of the New Testament after she was confirmed. Will seems to have been quite religious too.”

“He was,” said Don. “They went to the Anglican Church in town all their lives, and I know it wasn’t just a social custom to them; they used to have family prayers in their home as well. I remember Dad telling me about that.”

Beth nodded. “But when they were young, I think they were quite naïve about it. I think they genuinely believed they’d be able to persuade their parents that a marriage between them would help break down the divisions between social classes in England—and that their parents would see this as a good and Christian thing. Joanna seems to have genuinely loved her parents; I think it was inconceivable to her that it would be impossible to bring them around to the point of being happy she’d married the man she loved—even if he was only the son of a tenant farmer.”

“It’s amazing that she gave up all that wealth and prestige and everything,” said Jean. “I can’t imagine going from being the daughter of an aristocrat to being a farmer’s wife in Saskatchewan in the dirty thirties.”

“Beth hasn’t got that far in the journals yet,” said Don, glancing at his daughter. “You told me you’re still at the point where they’re planning to move to Canada, right?”

“That’s right. If I get any more insights, I’ll let you know.”

Don smiled at her. “I’m really looking forward to reading those journals for myself before too long.”

“That’s another thing; I want the journals to be available for anyone to read, but I think if I start letting them out in ones and twos, I’ll pretty soon lose track of where each individual book is. So I think what I’ll do is photocopy them as I go through them, and then scan the copies and make them available as PDF files. I can send them to anyone who wants them; just email me and I’ll put you on the mailing list. Is that okay with everyone?”

Heads nodded around the circle, and then Joel said; “So what are you going to do, Beth?”

“Like I said earlier, I haven’t really decided yet.”

“I know—you don’t want to show up at the door of Holton Park like some fortune hunter. But I’m assuming you’d be interested in establishing some sort of contact?”

She shrugged; “I guess I’d need to know if everyone’s okay with that.”

“I’d be okay with it,” Don replied, “but I do think it should be you that makes the contact. You’re the one who’s reading the journals, and Mom kind of made you responsible for all this.”

“Yeah, I know. What does everyone else think?”

Heads nodded around the circle. Don glanced across at his brother; “Steve?”

Steve shrugged; “Makes sense to me, as long as we’re all in the loop.”

Ruth put her hand on Beth’s shoulder; “Are you okay with this, Bethie?”

“I’m a little nervous, but I think my curiosity will probably get the better of my nerves.”

“You’re going over to England in a few days, right? For Emma’s wedding?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you go have a look while you’re there? You might not be ready to try to make contact with the people, but you could have a look at the house and get a sense of what it’s like, and the area around it and all. Maybe after you do that you could decide how you feel about initiating some sort of contact.”

Beth smiled. “I like that idea. I’ve been worrying about how I should try to contact them; this seems like a slower and more gradual way of going about it. Also, I’d like to talk to Tom some more.”

Ruth nodded. “There are probably things Grandma told Tom that she never told any of her kids or grandkids—not just about Holton Park, but other stuff too.”

“Okay,” said Beth, “that’s what I’ll do.”

“When are you going over?” asked John Janzen.

“On Thursday, and I’m coming back August Ninth. Emma’s wedding’s next Saturday, and after that Tom and Wendy are going to take me touring.”

Ruth grinned. “Now we know where one of the tours is going!”

“I guess we do!” Beth replied.

Holton Park Chapter 3

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 3

MEADOWVALE, SASKATCHEWAN.

Rachel Robinson died on July 5. The pneumonia that had first shown up in March proved persistent and stubborn, and she never really got rid of it. By the middle of June she was completely bedridden, and she was finding it increasingly difficult to talk due to shortness of breath and constant coughing.

Her family members tried to make sure she was never left alone. Her granddaughter Kathy Janzen worked in the office at the special care home, and she looked in on her several times a day. Beth’s father Don, the principal of Meadowvale High School, stopped by almost every evening, sometimes alone and sometimes with his wife Lynda or his sister Ruth Janzen. Ruth visited her mother every morning, and Rachel’s other two children, Steve and Jean, who lived further away, also made trips to see her. Beth’s sister Amy came over from Calgary for a week with her two young children, Chelsey and Nick. And Rachel’s younger sister Sally Reimer, now seventy-six and in increasing pain from osteoarthritis, came with her husband Will at least a couple of times a week.

Beth spent as much time as she could with her grandmother. She usually worked three or four twelve-hour shifts a week at Meadowvale and District Hospital, and she was always tired when she got home. Nevertheless, even on her working days she tried to stop by for at least half an hour with Rachel, and on her days off she came either by herself or with Claire.

At the end of June Rachel was transferred to the hospital, where she spent the last week of her life. By now she was heavily sedated and rarely awake, and visits from most of her family members became much shorter.  There was a small group, however, who were quite happy to sit in silence beside her bed and hold her hand; this group mainly consisted of Sally Reimer, Ruth Janzen, and Beth and her father Don.

As June turned to July, Beth began to get more and more worried about her commitment to attending Emma Masefield’s wedding in England. When Emma was little, Beth had been her babysitter; the two of them had become very close friends over the years, and Beth, who had never visited England, was really looking forward to the trip. She knew she was not the only one; Emma’s grandparents Will and Sally Reimer, and her aunt and uncle Joe and Ellie Reimer and their children Jake and Jenna were also planning to attend. There had already been whispered conversations on the subject in the hospital hallways and little chats at the Meadowvale Beanery, the favourite coffee shop for the younger element in Meadowvale.

Emma herself was very clear about it when she was talking to Beth on the phone. “You do what you need to do, Beth,” she said. “I’ll be sad if you’re not here, but we’re not always in control of everything in our lives, and your grandma was your best friend.”

“I really don’t want to miss your wedding, Em.”

“I understand, but I know you well enough to know you’d never forgive yourself if your grandma died and you weren’t with her.”

Beth was quiet for a moment, struggling to control her emotions. Eventually she said, “Sorry—I almost lost it there.”

“No need to apologize.”

“You’re right, of course. How did you get to be so wise, Emma Masefield?”

“Might be something to do with my very wise babysitter.”

Beth laughed. “Sometimes I don’t feel very wise—and if I am, it’s mainly to do with my grandma.”

“If she’s still alive the week of my wedding, I think you should stay, Beth. Stay with her, and give her my love if she’s still conscious. I’ve told my grandma the same thing; Rachel’s her sister, and she should be with her. I know Jenna and Jake are still coming, along with their parents.”

“Jenna’s going to be your maid of honour, I hear.”

“Yes, she is. All my cousins are going to be here, so I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me, Beth; do what you have to do, and come over when you can.”

“I will definitely do that. As soon as I can get over, I will.”

“You take care. Call me whenever you feel like it, okay?”

“Thanks, Em.”

***

Rachel died in her hospital room early on the morning of July 5, with three of her four children around her, along with Beth and her cousin Kathy. She had been conscious on and off through the night, but her breathing had become more and more laboured, and she had spoken her last words to her daughter Ruth at about three in the morning, before slipping off into a sleep from which she never woke up. At about six o’clock Doctor DeVries checked her pulse and nodded silently to the family; “It’s over,” she said. Beth felt something welling up inside her chest, and she quickly turned to her father and buried her face in his shoulder. She felt his arms around her, and for several minutes he held her silently while she cried.

Eventually she looked up at him through her tears, nodding gratefully. “Are you okay, Dad?”

“I will be,” he replied, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

Beth turned to her mother, and for a moment they held each other close. Eventually Beth stepped back; “I should call Amy,” she said.

“Are you sure?” her father asked. “I was going to do that.”

“I’d like to, if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind. You go ahead.”

“Thanks; I’ll do it now.”

She stepped out of the room into the corridor; it was still early, and very few people were awake yet. She smiled at a couple of the nurses finishing their night shift, walked quickly down to the front lobby, pushed open the glass doors and stepped out into the brightness of the summer morning. The hospital was on the edge of town, and looking west she could see wide open fields. Taking her cell phone from her pocket, she turned it on and called her sister’s number. The phone was answered after the first ring, and she heard Amy’s sleepy voice. “Hi Beth; is there news?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry, Amy—Grandma died a few minutes ago.”

For a moment there was silence, and when Amy spoke again her voice was unsteady. “Are you okay, Bethie?”

“I’ll be okay. She told me a few days ago she was ready to go, and she wasn’t afraid.”

“Were you with her?”

“I was. So were Dad and Mom, and a few others.”

“I’m really sorry I wasn’t there.”

“Are you still coming today?”

“Yeah; the kids and I are getting into Saskatoon about four o’clock. Can you pick us up at the airport?”

“Sure. There are things we need to talk about, Amy.”

“Oh?”

“There’s some stuff Grandma told me a couple of months ago that I want to talk to you about. You’ll stay at my place, right?”

“Of course.” Amy was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “I know this is really hard for you; no one was as close to her as you were.”

Beth felt the tears in her eyes again. “Yes,” she whispered. “It hurts like hell.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too. Have a safe flight.”

“I will; ‘bye now.”

***

Back in the room Beth saw that her parents and Ruth were talking quietly with the doctor. Kathy was standing beside the bed looking down at Rachel’s peaceful face, and Beth noticed immediately that someone had removed the oxygen line her grandmother had been wearing. She crossed to the bed and stood beside her cousin, putting her arm around her waist. “She looks so lovely,” she whispered.

“She does.” Kathy turned and put her arms around Beth. “You okay?”

“I’ll be okay. I should get over to your place and make sure Claire’s all right.”

“Don’t worry; Jamie’s there with her and Aidan, but as far as I know they’re both still sleeping. He’d call if anything was wrong.”

Beth felt a hand on her shoulder, and when she looked up her father was standing there. “Did you get through to Amy?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Are they coming today?”

“She and the kids are flying into Saskatoon around four. I told her I’d go down to the city and pick her up.”

“Is she going to stay at your place?”

“Is that okay with you and Mom?”

“Sure—we know you guys will need some sister time.”

“Thanks, Dad. So, what’s next?”

“We’ll arrange for the funeral home to pick Mom up, then I expect we should call Pastor Ron and arrange for a service.”

“I could set that up; I’ll give him a call later on if you like.”

“Okay. There’s a few other things to deal with, like cleaning up her room at the special care home, but we don’t have to think about that right away. Ruth’s invited us to her place for some breakfast first.”

Beth put her hand on his arm. “Dad, before we start cleaning up Grandma’s room, I need to ask you about a box in her closet.”

“A box?”

“Grandma told me a couple of months ago that there’s a box of old journals in the closet that she wanted me to have. She said it’s in her will that they’re to come to me. Do you mind if I have a look today and make sure they’re still there?”

“That’s fine; are the journals hers?”

“No, they’re older than that. Apparently they belonged to Great-Grandma Robinson.”

He raised an eyebrow. “No kidding!”

“That’s what she told me.”

“I had no idea she had anything like that. So she left them to you, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to go and have a look right away?”

“Well, after breakfast, maybe.”

“Alright. If you don’t mind, I’ll come with you.”

“Of course I don’t mind. To be honest, I always felt a little awkward about it.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah—about the fact that she told me about them, but she hadn’t told you.”

“That does seem a little strange.”

***

And so in the middle of the morning Beth went over to the special care home with her father and her aunt. Nothing had been moved at all in old Rachel’s room, and Don looked around, taking in the furniture, the pictures on the walls and the two bookshelves crammed full of books. “She got rid of a lot of her books when she moved in here,” he said, “but there’s still plenty to go around.”

“You and Beth and Amy had better go through them,” said Ruth. “I can’t see Kathy or Rhonda wanting any of them, and Joel’s too far away.”

“Let’s have a look for these journals,” said Don.

They went over to the closet, and he opened the concertina doors. A few articles of clothing were hanging there, including a winter parka at one end, and there was a shelf unit with shoes and boots. Three cardboard file boxes were stacked in the corner; there was writing on two of them, but in the dim light it was hard to read. Don went over to the door and turned on the overhead light; Beth was already kneeling, her eyes straining to read the faded writing on the bottom box. “Joanna Robinson – journals,” she read.

“Let’s have a look,” said Don, crouching down beside her.

They lifted off the two other boxes and pulled the bottom one out of the closet. Don picked it up, took it over to the bed and set it down. He stepped back and nodded at Beth. “Go ahead, Bethie,” he said.

The cardboard file box had a removable lid with an envelope taped on top. Beth removed the envelope, opened it, and took out a single sheet of paper in her grandmother’s handwriting. It said simply, “These are the journals of my mother-in-law, Joanna Robinson (née Rowley), 1905-1990. They have been in my possession since my husband died, and I now bequeath them to my granddaughter, Bethany Ann Robinson. Signed, Rachel Ann Robinson, March 2nd, 2008.”

Beth handed the paper to her father, and he read it and passed it to his sister. “She’s known for a while she was going to give them to you, then,” he said to Beth.

“Apparently.”

Beth lifted the lid off the box; inside were four closely stacked piles of old journals, mostly five by eight notebooks, with another sheet of paper on top, also in Rachel’s handwriting. It said simply, “Beth: I have sorted the journals into chronological order. The pile with the red journal on top contains the oldest ones. The red journal is first.”

The stiff paper cover of the red journal had faded with age, but it was still possible to read the handwritten title on the front:

Joanna Elizabeth Rowley

My diary:

January 2nd 1918 to February 17th 1921

Beth showed it to her father, and he nodded; “She’d be about twelve or thirteen, then, when she started it.”

“Yes.” Beth sat down on the bed, opened the book, and read aloud from the first entry, written in faded ink in an immaculate copperplate hand.

“Wednesday January Second Nineteen-Eighteen.

“Today I decided to start a diary, and since one day someone else might read it, I will start by introducing myself. I am Joanna Elizabeth Rowley. I was born on May Twenty-Fifth nineteen-oh-five. My papa is Sir Robert Rowley, owner of Holton Park Estate, and my mama’s name is Lady Rowena Rowley. I am the youngest child. My oldest brother, Edward Rowley, was killed in action in France on August Thirty-First nineteen-seventeen. He was twenty years old. Second is my sister Edith who is eighteen years old. My brother James is now heir to the estate; he is fifteen. I am the fourth and last child.

“We live at Holton House, Bramthorpe, Lincolnshire. It is a very old house with many rooms. I have my own horse and I like to ride, but my governess, Miss Halliday, will only let me ride twice a week. She teaches me lessons every morning and afternoon. James is away at Eton, and Edith spends a lot of time in London, so I am often alone with Miss Halliday, Mama and Papa, and the servants. I like reading so I do not often get bored, but I am sometimes lonely.

“I am woken up every day at half past eight, and my day usually starts with breakfast at nine o’clock. I am in the schoolroom from ten until one, and in the afternoon again from two until four. Sometimes if the weather is fine Miss Halliday and I will go for a walk in the afternoon instead of lessons; she likes to show me trees and plants and teach me their names, although I do not always remember what she tells me. I do like drawing and painting, though, and sometimes she lets me take a sketchbook with me on our walks. On Tuesdays and Fridays, we ride in the afternoons if it is not raining. At half past five we wash and then we dress for tea. Miss Halliday and I have our tea at six o’clock. Mama and Papa dine much later, at eight o’clock, but by then I am getting ready for bed. I am usually in bed by nine o’clock, but I do not go to sleep very easily. I like it best in the summer when it is still light outside, and I can read my book after I go to bed. Now it is winter, and the evenings are dark. I have electricity in my room but if I turn the light on someone will see it under the door. Sometimes I light my candle again and read for a little while, but if I do that too often, they will notice that my candle has burned down.

“On Sundays we go to church in the morning in Bramthorpe. Our vicar is Mr. Skelton. I believe in God, and I like singing the hymns, but Mr. Skelton’s sermons are long, and I must confess that sometimes I fall asleep while he is speaking. Our family sits in the front pew, so everyone can see it when I fall asleep, and Papa always scolds me. This year I am going to be confirmed, and Mr. Skelton is going to come to our house to teach me confirmation classes. I am not looking forward to this.

“There are many servants in our house. Our butler is called Brookes; he is in charge of all the servants. Our housekeeper is Mrs. Ridgeway. Papa has a valet and Mama has a lady’s maid, and now that Edith is out, she also has a lady’s maid. There are also two footmen, a cook and at least two kitchen maids, and some others who I do not see very often. Outside there is a stable master and some grooms who look after our horses, and some gardeners and groundskeepers as well. I do not know all their names. I do know that our stable master is Sellars and the groom who looks after my horse is called Peter. I like talking to him because he obviously really loves horses, but Miss Halliday says I should not be too familiar with him, as he is just a servant, and I am a young lady. I wish I could go out to the stables sometimes and help them feed and brush down the horses, but I am not allowed to do this.

“We have just finished the Christmas holidays. We did not go away this year; usually we go to Devon to stay with my aunt and uncle, but Papa said we were not going this year because of the war. Actually, I think he and Mama are still too sad about Edward being killed, and they did not want to be around other people where they would have to pretend to be happy. I had not seen Edward much since he went away to join the army a year ago, but I was very upset when I heard that he had been killed and I really do miss him. I cried in my bed every night for weeks and weeks. Several young men from our village have been killed or injured in the war. Papa told me he is keeping a list, and when the war is over, he will pay to have a memorial put up on the wall of the church. I hope the war is over soon or it will be a very long list.

“I am going to write this diary every night before I say my prayers. Miss Halliday used to say prayers with me, but after my eleventh birthday she told me she would leave me to pray by myself. I am not sure that prayers do any good; I prayed that God would look after Edward, but He did not answer that prayer. But since there is nothing else I can do to make the war end sooner, I will still say my prayers. I will write more tomorrow.”

Beth looked up from the journal, and Ruth stared at her brother. “Our grandmother was the daughter of a landed aristocrat?”

“Seems like it. I had no idea.”

“Me neither. How on earth did she come to marry a poor farmer and move to Saskatchewan?”

“I don’t know; do you, Beth?”

Beth nodded. “Grandma told me a little about it; she’d read the journals herself.”

Don frowned. “Are we going to find any more surprises in here?”

“Probably, but I’d like to look a little more closely at them before I say anything more.”

“I see.” For a moment he looked steadily at her, and she returned his gaze. Then he nodded. “Okay, honey; you take them and have a look at them by yourself. But I’d like to read them too; there are things I’ve wondered about my grandparents.”

“I understand, Dad.”

He was still looking her in the eye. “Your grandma told you quite a lot about what’s in these journals, didn’t she?”

“Yes.”

Don looked down at the box on the bed. “I wish she’d told the rest of us about this.”

“I think she had a reason, Dad—more of a reason than the fact that she and I were so close.”

“Did she?”

“Yeah. She told me your dad thought the journals should have been destroyed; he thought the past should stay in the past. I think while he was alive, she didn’t feel free to talk to anyone about them. And I think even after he died, she struggled between loyalty to his wishes and a desire to pass the stories on.”

“That must have been quite a conversation you had with her.”

Beth shook her head. “Dad, I don’t want this to be a thing between us, okay? It wasn’t my idea for Grandma to keep this between the two of us. She’d decided she wanted to give me the journals, and she didn’t feel right about telling anyone else. Please don’t blame me for it, okay?”

Don gave a sudden smile and held out his arms; “Come here.”

She stood up and moved gratefully into his embrace, and for a moment he held her tight. “We all know you and Mom had a very special relationship, Beth,” he said.

“And we also know she could be a little eccentric sometimes,” said Ruth, her hand on Beth’s shoulder. ‘You take these journals and read through them, Bethie. Sure, your dad and I would like to take a look at them too, but Mom left them to you and I sure don’t want to do anything to piss her off, even though she’s dead!”

They all laughed, and Don kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Do you want to take the box with you now?”

“Yeah; I’ll put it in the car and take it home right away. I just wanted to make sure the journals were safe.” She stepped back and smiled at Don and Ruth. “Thanks; I’ve been feeling more than a little apprehensive about this.”

Ruth shook her head; “No need, at least not on my part.”

“Nor mine,” Don agreed. “If Mom was still alive, I might have wanted to have a conversation with her about this, but like Ruth said, we’ll do what she wanted, just like we always did!”

They laughed again, and Don bent and lifted the box off the bed. “Let me carry this to the car for you,” he said.

***

Claire was an outgoing and demonstrative child, and she did not hide her excitement when she saw her Auntie Amy coming through the doors into the airport arrivals area with three-year-old Chelsey’s hand in hers, one-year-old Nicholas on her front in a child carrier, and a large bag slung over her shoulder. Amy’s thick blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail; her face was a little fuller than Beth’s, but she had the same sharp chin and grey eyes. Claire squealed with delight, tugged her hand free from her mother’s, and ran up to give Amy a hug.

“Wow, the royal welcome!” said Amy. “You’d think I’d been away for years!”

“Well, she hasn’t seen you guys for a month,” Beth replied as Claire took Chelsy’s other hand.

“I’m not complaining!” Amy leaned down, kissed her niece on the cheek and said, “How are you doing, munchkin?”

“Good! Are you guys staying at our house?”

“Yes.”

“Yay!”

Amy and Beth kissed each other, and Beth smiled at the sleeping one-year old in the child carrier. “Did he sleep through the flight?”

“Fell asleep during take-off.” Amy looked her sister in the eye. “Tough day?”

“I haven’t been thinking about it. I was with Kathy and Jamie most of the day.”

“Are Mom and Dad at home?”

“Yeah. I set up a meeting with Pastor Ron tomorrow, and Dad and Auntie Ruth are going to take the lead on that. They’re also dealing with the funeral home and the lawyer, though I think Grandma’s will is pretty straightforward.”

“Is Glenn her lawyer?”

“Yeah. And what about Luke; is he coming over?”

“I’m supposed to call him as soon as we know when the funeral will be. He’s going to drive over to join us the day before.”

“I assume you’ve got more luggage?”

“Just a little!”

They both laughed, knowing how much luggage small children caused. “Did you manage to squeeze three child seats into the back of your little car?” asked Amy.

“I’m driving Dad’s SUV; he and I traded cars this afternoon. He already had a child seat in the back, and I borrowed an old one of Kathy’s.”

“I didn’t think you’d be bringing Claire down to meet us.”

“Neither did I, but she made such a fuss about coming to meet Chelsey and Nick that I gave in.”

“They’ll be glad of the company in the back on the way home.”

“That’s what I thought, too.”

***

By the time they got back to Meadowvale it was close to six o’clock, but it was early July, and the sun was still high in the prairie sky. Beth and Amy worked together to cook a light supper in the kitchen at the back of the house, with Claire and Chelsey running in from the back yard from time to time to help out. They ate at the dining table, and then Beth did the dishes while Amy played with the children in the living room. After that, the five of them walked up the road to Don and Lynda’s house so that the children could have a visit with their grandparents. They stayed until just before nine o’clock, and then brought the children home and put them to bed.

Chelsey was camping in Claire’s room, while Nicholas would sleep in Claire’s old crib beside his mother’s bed in the spare room. Beth usually read to Claire and said prayers with her before turning out her light, but tonight, even though she was excited at having her cousin in her room with her, the little girl was exhausted, and when Beth saw that she was having trouble keeping her eyes open she cut things short, kissed both girls goodnight, and slipped quietly out of the room, pulling the door almost closed behind her.

Back in the living room Amy was sitting on the couch nursing Nicholas; she looked up at her sister and smiled. “Are they asleep?”

“I think so. You look pretty comfortable there!”

“It’s a comfortable couch.”

“Do you want a cup of herbal tea or something?”

“Sure—peppermint or chamomile or something like that.”

“Coming right up.”

Beth went out to the kitchen, boiled the kettle, and made two mugs of tea. When she brought them back into the living room Amy was just laying her sleeping son down on the couch beside her, covering him with a light blanket. “Thanks,” she said as Beth set a mug down on the coffee table in front of her.

“You’re welcome.”

“You must be exhausted; weren’t you up all night?”

“I was pretty sleepy this afternoon, but I seem to have hit my second wind now.”

Amy nodded at the box of journals Beth had left beside the door. “What’s in the box?”

Beth sat down in an easy chair across from her sister and put her feet up on the coffee table. “It came from Grandma. She told me about it a couple of months ago, but I only picked it up this morning from her room at the special care home. It’s full of old journals; they belonged to Great-Grandma Robinson.”

“Wow! She was the first generation to come to Canada, right?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know she’d left journals behind?”

“Not until Grandma told me back in March. She’s been keeping it to herself, and she didn’t want me to make a big noise about it either. Apparently she’s had them since Great-Grandma died.”

“Why didn’t she tell anyone?”

“There was a disagreement between her and Grandpa about what should be done with the journals. He thought the past should stay in the past, and he wanted them destroyed, but Grandma thought they should be preserved and passed on.”

“She won, apparently.”

“Yeah, but it bothered her, and even after he died, she felt guilty about telling anyone. That’s why she waited so long to pass them on.”

“Did Dad know?”

“No; he found out this morning when I told him.”

“That must have been awkward.”

“Yeah, and I feel really bad about it. Grandma left specific instructions that the journals were to go to me, and apparently she’s put that in her will. She told me she wanted me to know Joanna’s story because I’m the one who’s taken an interest in family history.”

“Not to mention the fact that she’s always had a soft spot for you.”

“I know, Amy, but I’ve never tried to take advantage of that—at least, not since I was in my teens.”

“I know. I never resented that thing you had with her, you know; I loved her of course, but I didn’t feel quite the same way about her as you did.”

“Thanks. Oh yeah—there is one other person who knew about the journals: Tom Masefield.”

Amy raised an eyebrow. “Why Tom?”

“Apparently he was a really good friend to Great-Grandma in the last few years of her life.”

“Oh yeah, I kind of remember that; didn’t he read the eulogy at her funeral?”

“I honestly don’t remember, Amy. I have absolutely no memory of her funeral.”

Amy gave her a mischievous grin. “Well, you were barely out of diapers, weren’t you?”

“I was twelve years old, thank you very much!”

“Like I said, barely out of diapers. Have you looked in the box?”

“We had a quick look this morning when Dad and Auntie Ruth and I picked them up.”

“Do you want to wait ‘til I’m gone to have another look?”

“No—let’s finish our tea, and then we’ll look at them together, if you’re interested?”

“I’m interested if you’re interested. Did Grandma say anything about what’s in them? Had she read them?”

“Yes, she read them all, and there are some surprises in them.”

“What kind of surprises?”

“Well, the biggest one is that our great-grandmother was a member of the landed gentry, and our great-grandfather was the stable groom she ran off with.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.” Beth recounted the story as her grandmother had told it, and when she was done, Amy sat in silence for a moment. Then she shook her head, took a sip of her tea, and said, “Well—now I’m curious. I wonder if the Rowleys are still living at that place—Holton Park, you said it was called?”

“They’re still there; I found it on the Internet. The owner’s name is Robert Rowley, but I don’t know anything about him.”

“What about the Robinson family farm—Steeple Farm, you said?”

“I don’t know; I didn’t try googling it.”

“I’d be curious about the Robinsons. I wonder if the farm’s still in their hands. If farming over there’s anything like it is here, I wouldn’t be too hopeful.”

“You could be right; they might have moved off the land by now. It might be fun to go over and investigate, don’t you think?”

Amy laughed. “What do you have in mind—walking up to the front door of Holton Park and saying, “Hello, I’m Beth Robinson, I’m your long-lost cousin from Canada, and could I please have my share of the family fortune?”

Beth gave a sudden frown. “Wow—I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“But you’ve obviously thought of going?”

“I can’t deny that the idea of going for a look has occurred to me. I’ll be in England in about two weeks, you know.”

“Right—you and Claire are going for Emma’s wedding, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, and afterwards Tom and Wendy have promised to show me around a little.”

“Sounds like a good opportunity.” Amy drained her teacup. “Well, are we going to have a look at those journals?”

***

Beth brought the box into the living room, sat down on the couch beside Amy, and took out the first journal. She put her feet up again, opened the book and read the first entry aloud to her sister as she had done to her father and aunt earlier in the day. When she was done, she glanced at Amy; “What do you think?”

“She sounds quite philosophical for a twelve-year old.”

“Yeah—I don’t think I would have been writing theological reflections at that age. Have you ever kept a diary, Amy?”

“Occasionally, but I’ve never stuck with it. You?”

“Pretty much the same. Do you want me to read some more?”

“Do you mind if we skip ahead a little? I’d like to read the whole thing at some point, but for tonight I’d be really interested in the part where she first meets Great-Grandpa, and they start falling in love with each other. Do you know when that would be?”

“I think Will started working at the Holton Park stables when he was fifteen, so that would be some time in nineteen-nineteen. But they didn’t run away together to get married ’til nineteen twenty-six, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. There might be a mention of him in this journal—the cover says it lasts ’til February nineteen twenty-one.”

Beth began flipping quickly through the pages. “The first entry seems to have been unusually long,” she said. “Most of them are a lot shorter. Let’s see—here we are, January First nineteen-nineteen.” She turned the pages more slowly now, stopping every now and again to read. “She mentions going riding on January Third—no, there’s no mention of a groom.” She scanned a few more pages. “She mentions riding pretty well every time she goes out, but she doesn’t say anything about it—just ‘I went for a ride with Miss Halliday this afternoon.’ Wait—here’s a mention of the stable master:

“While Miss Halliday’s back was turned this afternoon I asked Sellars if he would let me help them brush down Diamond sometimes, or feed her. He said he wouldn’t mind but I would have to ask Papa. I will ask him tomorrow.”

“And did she?”

“Let’s see – here’s the next entry:

“Wednesday March Nineteenth nineteen-nineteen.

“I spent the morning in the schoolroom: French, Latin, and a little history. After lunch I practiced the piano for a while, then Miss Halliday left me to read some more of Oliver Twist. I am both fascinated and horrified by this novel; did people really live in the sort of squalor and suffering described here, and do they still?

“After lessons were over, I went to find Papa in the library. He was surprised to see me. I told him that I really enjoyed riding and wanted to learn more about horses and their care, so would he allow me to watch Sellars and the grooms as they rubbed Diamond down after a ride and fed her, and perhaps try to learn the things they did? To my surprise, Papa seemed pleased; he said he would talk to Sellars and Miss Halliday. He also said that he did not know I enjoyed riding so much, and that he would like it if I would ride with him sometimes. So, although I was nervous about talking to Papa, it turned out well in the end.”

“So did she start fraternizing with the servants right away?” asked Amy.

“Let’s see.” Beth scanned the next couple of pages, and after a moment she said, “Here—she mentions Sellars again.”

“Monday March Twenty-Fourth nineteen-nineteen.

“Today it was cold and windy, but nonetheless Miss Halliday and I went for our ride in the afternoon. We were very cold when we got back to the stables, but I reminded Miss Halliday that Papa had said I might stay and watch while they took care of Diamond. So she left me at the stables, and I watched while the groom took off Diamond’s saddle and gave her a rub down; he was a new groom and he took quite a long time about it, and I wondered if he might perhaps be taking longer than usual to impress me. I asked Sellars and he said, ‘Oh no, Miss Joanna—we always give her a good rub after you come back from a ride. We won’t feed her just yet, but if the master lets you come back in a couple of hours, we’ll be giving her a nice hot mash.’

“I went in and asked Papa, and he said it would be alright, so I went back out just before we dressed for dinner. Sellars was teaching the new groom how to make the hot mash; he told me they just use the normal helping of oats and add a bit of bran and garlic and mix it up with hot water. I watched while they mixed it in a green bucket, and then the groom went into Diamond’s stable and hung it on a hook on the wall. Diamond seemed to really enjoy it.

“I talked to the groom for a minute and asked him how long he had been working at Holton Park, because he didn’t seem to be much older than me. He seemed very shy around me; he said he had started only two weeks ago and that he came from one of the farms on the estate.”

Beth glanced triumphantly at Amy; “Looks like we’ve found our great-grandfather!” she said.

“For sure. Does she name him?”

“Wait a minute; let me see. Yes, here it is:

“I asked the groom his name and he said it was William Robinson; I asked him his age and he said fifteen. He was painfully shy, not looking me in the eye, and tugging at his forelock all the time, and since I was obviously embarrassing him, I stopped asking him questions. I did really enjoy watching them look after Diamond and I hope that before too long they will let me try”.

Amy smiled; “Not a very promising beginning to their relationship!”

“No; let’s see what happens next.” Beth scanned a few more pages. “She mentions riding again, and—yes, watching Sellars and William looking after Diamond. Let’s see; here’s another one:

“Friday May Thirtieth nineteen-nineteen:

“Slipped out to the stables before we changed for dinner. William let me mix the feed for Diamond and set it on the hook in her stall. I stayed with him while he and the other grooms fed the other horses as well. I asked him about his family, and he said he had three brothers and two sisters, but his oldest brother was killed in the war. He is the youngest but one. I told him that my oldest brother Edward also died in the war, in nineteen-seventeen; he told me his brother Sam was killed in one of the very first battles in nineteen-fourteen. I asked him how long it took him to get over his brother’s death, and he said he didn’t think he was over it yet. I said I felt the same.

“William’s father is the tenant farmer at Steeple Farm, so I have ridden past their farmhouse on a number of occasions. He told me he has always liked animals; he has been helping his father with the cows since he was a little boy, and of course they have horses on the farm as well. I asked him if he liked to read and he said he did, but he has very little time for it. I asked him if he had read Black Beauty and he said he had not, and he asked me what it was about. I told him some of the story and he seemed very interested. I would like to ask Papa if I could lend him my copy, but I’m afraid Papa would not like that.”

Amy laughed; “I guess not—that would be radically egalitarian!”

Beth was already reading ahead. “Looks like there won’t be any more fraternizing for a while, they’ve gone to London for the rest of the season.”

“The season? What does that mean?”

Beth laughed; “You don’t read enough Jane Austen novels! Those society families all went up to London for a few months every year; I’m not just exactly sure when, or for how long. Looks like the Rowleys went up at the beginning of June; Joanna mentions that it was unusually late for them, but she doesn’t say why.”

“What did they do in London?”

“Hang on, I’m skimming here. She mentions her parents going out to dances, but she’s too young to be invited—she’s not pleased about that. There’s Royal Ascot—I think that’s a horse racing event—yes, she mentions watching the races here. Wow, that seems to go on for a few days, four or five at least. Let’s see; pretty soon after that they’re off to Henley to watch the boat races—Royal Henley Regatta, that is. Hmm—looks like they’ve got relatives in town too, she mentions Uncle Freddie and Aunt Eleanor, there are cousins too—Sarah, George, Bertie—hmm—looks like they’re about the same age, they all seem to be hanging out together anyway. Wait—no, Sarah’s older, she’s been presented at court and she’s going to a debutante ball, I guess she must be eighteen, maybe?”

“How old is Joanna now?”

“Fourteen, I think. Ah—she refers to her Uncle Freddie here as ‘the Earl of Devon’.” Beth looked up at Amy and smiled; “Okay, looks like we are related to the nobility!”

Amy laughed. “Read on!”

Beth skimmed a few more pages. “She’s describing her reading in some detail here, she seems to be quite a bookworm. She’s still at Dickens—Bleak House—she’s been reading some Siegfried Sassoon—Counter Attack and Other Poems, she found the book at a bookshop on Euston Road. Here’s what she says:

“‘It made me think of Edward, of course, and it made me cry. I must find out more about that wretched war, because according to Sassoon’s poems it wasn’t glorious at all, and he was there so he should know.’”

She scanned the next few pages. “Mainly just London routines. She mentions the family going to church a few times—going out to the theatre and the opera and that sort of stuff. Wait—yes, she’s talking about them getting ready to go home now. Here we are, Monday August Eighteenth nineteen-nineteen, they set out on their way home.”

“How did they travel?”

“By train, I think—yes, she mentions a chauffeur driving them to King’s Cross Station. Let me see—back home, getting unpacked, etc. etc.—yes, here we are, Tuesday August Nineteenth nineteen-nineteen.

“I was glad to see Diamond again, and William seemed pleased to see me as well. He told me he had taken special care of her and had taken her for regular rides to make sure she was properly exercised. I asked after his family and he said his mother had been ill, but she seemed better now. I went for a long ride in the afternoon with Papa and Mama and James; the weather was very hot. Later, William let me rub Diamond down, and I prepared her mash and gave it to her. We talked about books, and he asked me again about Black Beauty. I have decided to lend him this book; I know he does not earn enough money to buy books for himself and it seems a great shame that someone who is so interested in bettering himself is frustrated through lack of means. I also told him about Oliver Twist and what it had to say about living conditions among the poor in London. He told me his mother had read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to her children when he was young. I think William left school when he was twelve and began to work on his father’s farm. I have had so many advantages in my life compared to him; I should be ashamed of myself for wasting so much time really. When I think of how many young men from our village were killed or injured in the war, and how many others have so little to live on, I should be doing all I can to help them and to be a useful person in the world. I don’t think Papa would approve but I’m going to lend William some books anyway; it seems the least I can do”.

“She’s growing a social conscience,” said Amy; “That’s how it started.”

“It seems so.” Beth stifled a yawn. “Shall I keep going?”

“Well, that’s up to you. Have you suddenly remembered that you didn’t sleep at all last night?”

“I think so; maybe it’s the chamomile tea and the relaxed conversation, but I’m suddenly very sleepy. I’d really like to press on with this, but maybe we should pick it up again tomorrow some time.”

“Fine with me. What’s the plan for tomorrow anyway?”

“We’re meeting with Pastor Ron at the church at two in the afternoon—Dad, Auntie Ruth, and me. I guess that’s when we’ll set the date and time for the funeral. Right now, I’ve no idea when it might be—depends how long it takes family members to get here, I guess.”

“Of course; who’s the furthest away?”

“Well, of the immediate family that would be cousin Joel, I guess.”

“Right; he’s working in Africa somewhere, isn’t he?” Amy yawned. “Okay, now you’ve got me going. Time for me to say hello to my pillow.”

Beth put the journal carefully back into the box and replaced the lid. “I’m going to take these to my room,” she said. “I don’t think the kids would get into them, but you never know.”

“Good plan.” They got to their feet and put their arms around each other. “Good night, Amy,” said Beth; “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too. Have a good sleep, Bethie.”

Holton Park Chapter Two

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 2

HEADINGTON AND NEW MARSTON, OXFORD.

It was the end of the afternoon, and Tom Masefield was tidying up his desk at the front of his classroom when he felt his mobile phone vibrating in his pocket. He took it out, saw the name ‘Wendy’ on the screen, smiled, and lifted it to his ear. “Hello there,” he said. “Are you back?”

“Yes, and I brought Emma with me. She’s free this weekend, so on the spur of the moment she decided to come up for a visit.”

“Excellent!”

“She wants to cook pizza; is that all right with you?”

“Emma’s pizza is always all right with me.”

“That’s what I thought. The sky’s looking a bit threatening out there; do you want me to come and get you?”

“Sure—that would be great.”

“About half an hour, then?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a couple more things to do here before I shut the shop down for the holidays.”

“We’ll have a cup of tea, and then I’ll leave Em with the cooking and come down for you.”

“Thanks. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

***

Gypsy Lane School was situated on the west side of Headington. It had been relocated there in the early 1970s, so the buildings were very new by Oxford standards; most of them were two-storey structures, grouped in a rough U-shape around asphalt tennis courts and a few treed areas, with a larger playing field off to the west.

It was just after five o’clock when Tom made his way out to the car park on the south side of the school. A gentle rain was already falling, and he pulled up his hood and sprinted across to the silver Volkswagen Golf waiting in one of the guest parking spots. He opened the front passenger door, slid in beside his wife and dropped his backpack on the floor between his feet. Wendy gave him a slow smile. “All finished, then?”

“All done for the holidays.” He leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. “I missed you.”

“You noticed I was gone, then?” she replied playfully.

“You’d better believe it! How was London?”

“Very busy. I don’t mind visiting, but I’m always glad to get back home.” She started the car, put the gearshift into reverse, and backed slowly out of the parking spot. “Still, Emma and I had fun. I like this stepmother of the bride business.”

“Did she find what she was looking for?”

“I think so, but she wants you to look at the pictures before she confirms the order.”

“Me? I’m just the dad! What do I know about wedding dresses?”

Wendy grinned at him. “She still wants your opinion. And anyway, I seem to recall that you rather liked mine.”

“True enough.” He reached across and put his hand on hers. “Thanks for doing this, Wendy. Was she okay?”

Wendy pulled the car out onto Cheney Lane and joined the flow of traffic. “For the most part. Once or twice she was struggling a bit, but I get that; every girl would rather have her mum help her choose her wedding dress. And I know she’ll always miss her mum.”

“You make it a lot better for her, though.”

She gave him a quick smile. “Thank you.”

“So, is it just the three of us tonight?”

“I think so. But, you know, Emma will make enough pizza to feed the Russian army, so if by chance someone unexpected shows up…!”

He laughed. “Of course she will; what was I thinking?”

***

Tom was tall, with greying dark hair, but his daughter Emma was blond and a good twelve inches shorter than him. She met him at the doorway of their house on Bowness Avenue, and they held each other close for a moment. “Hello, you,” she said softly against his shoulder.

“Hello, Emma Dawn. How’s life in the big city this week?”

“Good.” She stepped back and grinned up at him. “Matthew says hi; he’s going to come up tomorrow to stay with his parents.”

“I suspect you’ll see more of him than they will.”

She laughed softly. “I guess that’s probably true!”

“I hear you had a successful day today?”

“Yeah, I’ve got some pictures to show you.” She smiled gratefully at Wendy. “You were a huge help, Wendy; you know London so well. Anyway, I’ve just made a pot of coffee, so if you two were thinking of coming in…”

They went inside, and Tom and Wendy both hung their coats in the entrance hall. Tom dropped his backpack at the bottom of the stairs and loosened his tie. “What time are we eating?” he asked Emma.

She led them through to the kitchen at the back of the house. “We can have coffee and then I’ll put the pizza in the oven. Are you going to look at these pictures, or are you about to fall asleep?”

“Depends how much caffeine is in the coffee, I guess!”

“I’ll pour it, then.”

The three of them were just taking their seats at the little circular table in the kitchen when Tom felt his mobile phone vibrating again. He took it out, saw the name ‘Becca’ on the screen, and lifted it to his ear. “Hello there, Becs.”

“Are you home?”

“Just walked in the door; Emma’s pouring the coffee.”

“Emma’s here?”

“She came back from town with Wendy.”

“Oh right—did she pick a dress?”

“She’s pretty well decided.”

“Has she got pictures?”

“Yes, she has.”

“Can I come over after supper for a look?”

I covered the phone with my hand and grinned at Emma. “Becca wants to see the pictures.”

“Is she coming over?”

“After supper, if that’s okay with you.”

“Sure, especially if she brings Luke.”

I spoke into the phone again. “Emma says that would be okay, especially if you bring Luke. How is my little nephew tonight?”

“Running around like a tornado at the moment. Hopefully the energy level will have gone down a bit by the time we come over. Right—Mike’s cooking, but I need to help him out a bit. See you later, Tommy.”

“See you soon, Becs.”

***

Tom and Wendy and Emma had just started cleaning up after a long and relaxed supper when they heard the cordless phone ringing in one of the other rooms. “I’ll get it,” said Tom as he deposited their plates beside the kitchen sink. “Anyone know where it is?”

Emma laughed. “I think I saw it on the couch in the living room!”

Tom went through the hallway to the living room and picked up the phone. “Tom and Wendy’s.”

“Tom, it’s Beth.”

“Bethie!” He sat down in his easy chair by the gas fireplace and crossed his legs. “It’s good to hear your voice. It’s been a while.”

“Yes. Sorry about that.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m good. Are you finished supper?”

“We just started cleaning up. Emma’s here; Wendy went down to the city a couple of days ago to help her find a wedding dress, and she brought her back for Easter weekend.”

“Oh, awesome! Maybe I could say hello to her in a minute?”

“I’m sure she’d love that. How’s your grandma doing?”

“I’m a little worried about her; I think she may be getting pneumonia. Were you talking to my dad?”

“Not for a few days; last time he called he just said she was feeling a little under the weather.”

“It’s progressed; they’ve got her on oxygen now.”

“Really. Okay, maybe I’ll give her a call in the next day or two.”

“She’d like that.” There was a brief silence, and then Beth said, “Tom, there’s something I want to ask you about. Last weekend Grandma asked me to go up and visit with her, just the two of us. It turned out she had something specific she wanted to talk to me about. She told me about my great-grandmother’s journals, and she said you already know about them.”

Tom was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “Yes, I do.”

“So you know the story, then.”

“Yes. I’ve never actually seen the journals, but Joanna told me what was in them before she died.”

“Grandma says she’s going to leave them to me in her will, and she wants me to read them and make sure the story is preserved and passed on in the family.”

“How does your dad feel about that?”

“He doesn’t know. I’m the only one she’s told.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“And how do you feel about that, Bethie?”

“Really uncomfortable. I think if she dies and then he finds out she’s told me things she hasn’t told him, it could be very awkward.”

“You know Joanna didn’t want anyone to know about this, right?”

“That’s what Grandma said. Apparently Grandpa felt the same way, which is why no one was told about it while he was still alive.”

“Yeah, he and I had that conversation years ago, on the day of her funeral.”

“Did Kelly know?”

“Yes; Joanna said I could tell her. As far as I know, Kelly and I and your grandparents were the only ones.”

‘How did you come to know?”

“Well, that’s a long story.”

“Is this a bad time?”

“No, not at all. Do you have a day off today?”

“Yeah, today and tomorrow. I work Saturday and Sunday.”

“Shiftwork—the joy of nursing in a hospital.”

“Kelly did some of that, didn’t she?”

“For a few years.”

“Will you tell me the story of you and Great-Grandma?”

“Of course.” He sat back in his easy chair, stretched out his legs and put his feet up on the coffee table. “I’ve always felt awkward that Joanna swore me to secrecy about this story. I still feel awkward that your dad and his brother and sisters don’t know; I found it hard to keep it from them for all these years—especially your dad and your Auntie Ruth. But I loved your great-grandma dearly and she made me promise, and I’ve always kept that promise. You know your grandpa wanted to destroy the journals, right?”

“That’s what Grandma told me. She said she talked him out of it.”

“She can be a little persuasive.”

Beth laughed softly. “I know all about that!”

“I guess you probably do.”

“When did you first meet Great-Grandma?”

“Part way through my second year in Meadowvale. It was not long after Kelly and I got engaged, so it would have been in late nineteen eighty-three or early nineteen eighty-four—I forget which. Kelly and I bumped into her at the Co-op deli one day; she and Ruth were doing some shopping and they’d stopped for a coffee—or in Joanna’s case, a tea. Not that I ever called her ‘Joanna’; she was always ‘Mrs. Robinson’, although I was able to persuade her to call me ‘Tom’ when she got to know me better.”

“Did she call you ‘Mr. Masefield’ at first?”

“She did. She was very old-fashioned that way.”

“I think I remember that.”

“Anyway, as soon as she found out I was English she invited me over for tea at her house. I didn’t take her up on it right away, but after Kelly and I were married we went together, and that was when I first noticed the mystery about her.”

“The mystery?”

“Yeah. She claimed to be the wife of a transplanted English farm labourer, but her accent was quite upper-class. And she seemed to have no past—no stories, no family photographs or connections with people in the old country. I asked her a couple of times, and all I could get out of her was that she and Will were from a village near Stamford, and they’d moved to Canada because he was having difficulty finding work back home. Whenever I tried to push her for more information she deflected me, and I realized very quickly that she didn’t want to talk about it.”

“How did you handle that?”

“You know, in a strange way I could understand it. You know that when I first moved to Canada I had a rather painful relationship with my dad, and I really didn’t enjoy it when people asked me about my family back home in England. I told Kelly that if Joanna didn’t want to talk about her past, that was fine with me.”

“But you were still able to become friends.”

“Oh yeah. I kept visiting her, and I quite enjoyed her company. And she really loved Kelly, and when Emma was born she really took an interest in her, too. She was quite a devout Christian, you know.”

“I remember that.”

“She enjoyed talking about faith with me. I also discovered she liked poetry, especially World War One poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Her oldest brother had been killed in the trenches in nineteen-seventeen, and when I heard about that I came to understand better why those writers meant so much to her. I often read her favourite poetry to her, and I introduced her to some of my favourites too.”

“Did you make a John Clare fan out of her?”

Tom laughed softly. “You remember about me and John Clare?”

“You were rather passionate about him in English class, Tom!”

“I guess I was. And yes—she didn’t know Clare very well, but when she found out he was from Helpston she was quite interested. That’s quite close to Bramthorpe, you know, which is where she was from.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“She also enjoyed the fact that I sang traditional English folk songs. She recognized some of them; apparently Will used to sing them from time to time.”

“Nice!”

“Yeah. So, time went by, and we became closer friends. Kelly’s mum and dad were my Meadowvale parents, but I often said that Joanna was my Meadowvale grandmother, and a real English grandmother too. We were like you and your grandma, Beth; we talked about all kinds of things. It was an extraordinary friendship, and a real gift to me.”

“That’s amazing, Tom.”

“I know. Anyway, to make a long story short, the year she died we started getting closer to the story of how she and Will came to Canada, and what they left behind. The night before she died I visited her, and she told me the whole story from start to finish. She said she wanted me to know, because I’d been such a good friend to her. She told me about the journals and that she’d left instructions that they were to go to your grandpa, but she didn’t want anyone else to know.”

“Grandma said she was trying to protect the family.”

 “Yes. Even after sixty years, she was still scarred by what her family of origin had done to her—to disown her the way they did, and completely cut her off—and at all costs she wanted to protect her children and grandchildren from anything like that. Personally, I thought it was a bit overdone; after all that time, it seemed unlikely to me that anything bad could happen, but she was such a good friend to me, and I owed it to her to respect her wishes.”

For a moment there was silence on the other end of the line, and then Beth said, “What was she like, Tom? I mean, I remember the way she dressed like an old-fashioned English lady and the way she was formal in her speech, but I don’t have many other memories of her.”

Tom laughed. “Appearances can be deceptive, you know. There was a wild and radical heart that beat beneath that conventional English exterior.”

“What do you mean?”

“She told me her parents had given her a Bible as a confirmation present, and she’d actually read it all the way through. I’m not sure if they meant her to do that, but she did, and it had a real influence on her.”

“Grandma mentioned something about that.”

“Yeah; the gospels really got to her, and the rest of the New Testament as well. Somehow, she was able to break away from the conventional way English people of her age and class read the Bible, and really hear and understand Jesus’ radical message. That’s why she and Will had the courage to do what they did; they were both very devout, and they believed God would have been appalled with the English class system. Years later your grandpa told me they had always been strong supporters of Tommy Douglas and the CCF, which is another thing you don’t expect from someone who dresses like the Queen wandering around her country estates!”

It was Beth’s turn to laugh. “That’s amazing!”

“You can be proud of her, Beth, and I know she’d be very proud of you. She loved her kids, but she was sad that none of them turned out to be churchgoers. She was really glad your Aunt Ruth had married a churchgoing Mennonite; in her final years she was really close to John and Ruth and their family. And I remember the day Kelly and I told her that Rachel had started taking you to church with her; she was absolutely delighted.”

“I’ve got a vague memory of her saying something about it to me when I was really little.”

Tom glanced at his watch. “Listen, Beth—we’ve got Becca and her little guy coming over soon, so I’d better go and find Em and pass you over to her for a few minutes. But before I do, let me ask you—would it be okay with you if I told Wendy?”

“Wendy, yes, but maybe not Em just yet. When the time comes, I don’t want my dad to think I’ve told a whole bunch of other people, but not him.”

“Understood. Speaking of that, when he finds out about all this, let me be the one to tell him I already know the story, okay? There’s no need for you to have to try to explain to him why I knew before he did.”

“That would be great, Tom; I’ll admit, I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about that scenario.”

“When the time comes, and I hear from you that he’s found out about the journals, I’ll email him or call him right away and tell him what Joanna told me and why I never told him about it. If he’s going to get upset with anyone about that it should be me, Bethie, not you.”

“Thanks, Tom. I’m sorry I haven’t called you for a long time; I’ve really missed talking to you.”

“Likewise.” He got to his feet. “I’ll find Emma and pass the phone on to her.”

Holton Park, Chapter 1

When I wrote the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘A Time to Mend’, I intentionally left some loose ends to develop into plot lines for future novels.

One of those ‘loose ends’ was the story of Beth Robinson (who is mentioned a few times in passing in ‘A Time to Mend’, but makes many appearances in the ‘Meadowvale’ books.

Beth’s story, and the story of her great-grandmother, Joanna Robinson, might appear somewhat tangential to the main plot of the ‘Meadowvale’ books and ‘ATTM’, but I always knew I would develop them and take them further.

I have now begun to work on that project, and I am going to post a few chapters here as a teaser. Not the whole book, you understand (it probably won’t be done for a year or so); just a teaser to get you interested.

Chapter 1:

MEADOWVALE, SASKATCHEWAN

The outside temperature in Meadowvale that Sunday afternoon, including the wind chill, was minus thirty-one, so Beth Robinson and her daughter Claire agreed that going outside to play wasn’t on the agenda. Not that Beth would have minded, but she knew three-and-a-half-year-old Claire wouldn’t last ten minutes before she started to shiver and cry.

“How about cookies?” Beth asked. “We could start them now, and you and your Grandma could carry on with them while I go visit your Great-Grandma.”

“Why can’t I come with you?”

“Because you’ll be bored.”

Claire shook her head vigorously. “I like Great-Gramma!”

“That’s because she usually reads you stories and stuff. But she’s not doing that today; she just wants to talk to me about something. That’s why Grandma’s coming to babysit you.” Beth leaned forward and kissed the little girl on the forehead. “Come on now—wouldn’t it be more fun to bake cookies with Grandma? A lot more fun than having to sit quietly while Great-Grandma talks to me about grown-up stuff!”

“What grown-up stuff?”

“I don’t know; she hasn’t told me.”

“Why not?”

Beth laughed. “Questions, questions! What about those cookies?”

Claire gave a heavy sigh. “I guess that would be okay.”

“Good! What do you think? Peanut butter? Oatmeal and raisin? Chocolate chip?”

“Chocolate chip!”

“Alrighty then—let’s get started, shall we? Then when your Grandma gets here, you two can keep right on going.”

“Okay.”

***

Half an hour later, when Beth’s mother Lynda Robinson arrived, Beth and Claire were at the kitchen table with all the ingredients spread out around them. Claire looked up as Lynda walked into the kitchen. “Grandma!” she cried, holding out her arms.

“What’s going on here, then?” asked Lynda with a grin.

“Chocolate chip cookies!”

“Sounds like a great idea on a cold day!” Lynda bent over and gave her granddaughter a hug. “How are you doing, honey?”

“Good! But Mom says it’s too cold to play outside.”

“She’s pretty smart, isn’t she?”

Claire shrugged. “I guess so. I like making cookies.”

“Me too! Cookies and coffee are my favourite.”

Beth smiled apologetically. “I was full of good intentions about getting the coffee going, but then we got started, and, well…”

Lynda laughed and kissed her on the cheek. “Don’t fret yourself, Bethie—I know how to make coffee!”

“Yeah, I know, but I like to make it for you.”

“Any idea why your grandma wants to talk to you?”

“No—just that she asked me to come this afternoon, and to come by myself. Auntie Ruth was in to see her yesterday; she said she had been coughing a lot. They were talking about putting her on oxygen.”

“Yeah, that’s what Ruth said to your dad. They were talking on the phone at lunch time today.”

“I hope Grandma hasn’t got pneumonia. She’s been feeling under the weather for a few days now. Well, I’d better get going, Mom.”

“Don’t you want to let your car warm up for a minute?”

“I’ll walk.”

Lynda smiled at her daughter. “Of course you will; what was I thinking?”

***

Rachel Robinson’s room at the Meadowvale Special Care Home was not large, but it was comfortably furnished, with a bed at one end, a carpeted floor, two easy chairs on either side of a small table by the window, and a couple of bookshelves against the inside wall. In one corner, a wide doorway led to a small bathroom.

When Beth arrived, Rachel was sitting by the window, wearing a thick wool cardigan, her long hair tied up in a bun. Beth noticed the oxygen tank at her side. She went over to her grandmother and kissed her on the forehead. “Are you short of breath, Oma?” she asked.

“Just a little, but I’m all right. How are you, my dear?”

“I’m good, thanks.” Beth took off her parka and hung it in the closet. “Are you warm enough?”

“I’m fine. Did you walk over?”

“Yeah. Shall I make us some tea?”

“I just made it a couple of minutes ago. It should be ready to drink; why don’t you pour it for us?”

Beth glanced over to the counter and saw the tea pot in its woollen cosy, with two mugs, a small milk jug and a sugar jar. “Looks like you’ve got everything ready.”

“I had a pretty good idea when you’d get here.”

Beth poured the tea, handed one of the mugs to her grandmother and then took her seat across from her.  Rachel took a sip of her tea. “Is your mom watching Claire?”

“Yeah; I left them in the kitchen, making chocolate chip cookies.”

“Claire will like that.”

Beth gestured toward the oxygen tank. “When did they bring that in?”

“Last night. I was coughing a lot, and Doctor DeVries seemed to think I might need some help breathing. I’m feeling a little better today, though. How was church this morning?”

Beth ignored the question. “Did the doctor have anything else to say?”

“Yes; she thinks I might have pneumonia.”

“That’s not good, Oma; are you keeping warm and drinking lots of fluids?”

Rachel smiled at her patiently. “You don’t have to be my doctor, Bethie—I have a perfectly good one already.”

“I know, but I like to keep up on how you’re doing.”

“They’re giving me drugs and oxygen and telling me exactly what you just told me—keep warm, drink fluids, and get lots of rest. And I’m doing as I’m told, so you can stop worrying about me now and answer my question: how was church today?”

“It was good. Pastor Ron had an interesting sermon, and I liked the hymns.”

“What was the sermon about?”

“Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.”

“Would you mind reading the passage for me?”

“Of course; English or German?”

Rachel smiled. “English is fine, but I appreciate the offer.”

Beth picked up her grandmother’s worn King James Bible from where it had been sitting on the table, turned to the passage, and read it slowly. When she was finished, Rachel asked her to say more about the sermon, and for a few minutes they discussed the passage and its meaning. Beth had known this would happen. Her own parents were not churchgoers, but her grandmother had started taking her to Meadowvale Mennonite Church when she was five years old, and conversations about the Sunday School lesson or the sermon had been a regular part of her life ever since.

Eventually the old lady fell silent, her eyes far away, and after a moment Beth said, “Are you okay, Oma?”

Rachel reached across and squeezed her granddaughter’s hand, and for a minute she simply looked at her with a smile on her face. In many ways the two of them were mirror images of each other; they were both lean and wiry, with the same brown eyes, thin faces, and sharp chins. Beth was wearing her long brown hair loose down her back, but she knew that if her grandmother untied her bun, her white hair would be just as long.

“Are you all right?” she asked again.

 “I’m fine, Bethie. It’s just that I’ve been thinking for a long time that there’s something I want to tell you about, and I think today might be the day for me to do it.”

“What is it?”

Rachel inclined her head toward the closet on the other side of the room. “In the bottom of my closet you’ll find a box of old journals that belonged to your great-grandmother Robinson. She started keeping them in England before she and your great-grandfather came to Canada, and she wrote in them regularly until the year before she died. They came to your grandpa after her death, and that’s when I first read through them.”

“I had no idea she kept journals.”

“She was very private about it. When she died, your grandpa found the box in her room at the special care home, with a note asking him to take care of them. I remember asking him at the time whether we shouldn’t share them with the family, but he said no, some things were better left in the past. I think he would have preferred to get rid of them, but after I read them, I asked him not to do that; I thought the story needed to be preserved and passed on to your generation. But she said in the note that she didn’t want a lot of people reading them.  I’m pretty sure there were only four people who knew about them until today.”

Beth gave her a quizzical glance. “You and Grandpa, and…?”

“Tom and Kelly Masefield.”

“Tom and Kelly? How did they find out?”

“She told Tom about them, just before she died. They got to be good friends in the last few years of her life, you know.”

Beth smiled. “That’s right; Tom told me about that a few years ago.”

“She liked the fact that he was English; she used to make him strong tea, and he read poetry to her.”

“He would enjoy that.”

“I think so.”

“Do you want me to get the journals out now?”

“No, but after I’m gone I want you to take them home with you and keep them safe, and I want you to read them. I’ve left instructions in my will that they’re to be your property, and you’ll be the one who has the final say about what happens to them.”

“Me? Surely they should go to Dad?”

Rachel smiled. “It’s true he’s my oldest son, but you’re the one who’s always asked me about family history.”

“Yes, and you’ve never told me much about the English side of the family.”

“I didn’t feel free to talk about it while your grandpa was alive, Bethie; I knew he would have preferred to leave the past in the past.”

“What’s in the journals? Why are they so important?”

Rachel lifted her mug slowly to her lips, drank a little tea, and then set it down carefully on the table between them. “What do you remember about your great-grandma?”

Beth frowned thoughtfully. “I was only twelve years old when she died, but I remember she was very English in the way she dressed and spoke. And quite formal, sometimes, too—I remember she rarely addressed adults by their first names—it was usually ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ Was she always like that?”

“Yes. I remember when I first met her, in the summer of nineteen forty-seven, when Michael started walking out with me. Of course, I’d been born and raised on a farm, and I’d never known any other kind of life, but it occurred to me then that Michael’s mother didn’t seem entirely comfortable as a farmer’s wife. There were things she just didn’t seem very good at, things I’d been doing since I was a little girl.”

“Was she not raised on a farm, then?”

“Ah—now we come to it.” Rachel paused for a moment, her eyes suddenly far away. “The world was such a different place in nineteen twenty-nine, when Will and Joanna Robinson first came here as a young couple with a one-year-old son. Especially in England. The First World War had brought a lot of changes, but it was still nothing like the sort of life we lived here on the prairies. Of course, my parents were lucky to escape from the Bolsheviks with the clothes on their backs, but the life they built for themselves here in Canada was much like what they’d experienced in Russia before the war. But for Michael’s parents, it was very different.”

“How so?”

Rachel stretched out her hand again. “Hold my hand, Beth.”

Beth reached across and took her grandmother’s bony hand in hers. “Go on.”

“Your great-grandfather’s name was William Robinson—Will, his wife used to call him. He was born on a farm in south Lincolnshire, on a big estate near a village called Bramthorpe. I’ve never been there, of course—I’ve never been to England at all—but I’ve looked it up on a map. It’s northwest of Peterborough, near the town of Stamford. Will’s father was a tenant farmer on the estate, so he paid rent to the local squire—I think that would be the right word, although Joanna never used it in her journals. She was the squire’s daughter, you see.”

Beth gave a little laugh. “You mean my great-grandfather ran off with a member of the aristocracy? Wouldn’t that have been a little scandalous in those days?”

“I don’t know if the word ‘aristocracy’ is right; as far as I can tell, her father was never a duke or an earl or a count or anything like that. But he was definitely the local landowner, and the estate had been in his family for over four centuries.”

“Four centuries? Back into Tudor times, you mean?”

“That’s right.” Suddenly Rachel started to cough, and after a moment Beth got up, put her arm behind her grandmother’s shoulders, and started rubbing her back gently. “Do you want me to get you a glass of cold water?”

The old lady nodded, still coughing. Beth went over to the sink, took an empty glass from the shelf, filled it with water and brought it to her. Rachel smiled her thanks, raised the glass to her lips and took a few sips. After a moment her coughing began to ease, and she put the glass down beside her teacup. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome; take a break for a minute if you want.”

“No, I’m fine. Now, where was I?”

“Will Robinson and the squire’s daughter.”

“Right. Her maiden name was Joanna Rowley. Her father—the squire—was Robert Rowley; occasionally in the journals she gives him the title, ‘Sir Robert Rowley,’ which I suppose means he was a knight of some kind. I don’t think that’s a hereditary title in England, though I might be wrong. It seems when Will was about fifteen—that would be in nineteen-nineteen—he left his father’s farm and went to work as a groom in the squire’s stables; he was always very good with horses, I remember. Apparently the squire’s daughter was an enthusiastic rider, and that’s how they first came to talk to each other. Joanna had lost an older brother in the war, and it turned out Will had too, and she found some comfort talking to him about it.

“They became friends across the social divide, and eventually they started to fall in love. They were both very idealistic, and Joanna had come to believe that the whole class system she’d been brought up in was wrong. She wanted to leave the old way of life behind and start something new, throwing off the shackles of tradition; it might be hard, but she and Will would be sustained by their indestructible love. I’m not being cynical; these are the words she uses in her journals, and I’m sure she was very sincere.”

“Where did she get ideas like that in the nineteen-twenties?” asked Beth.

Rachel smiled again. “Actually, she got them from reading the Bible.”

“The Bible?”

“Yes. Her parents gave her a Bible of her own in her early teens. I expect it would have been a very common sort of gift in those days; I don’t know if they expected her to read it, but she was a voracious reader. Over the next few years she read the whole thing from cover to cover, and somehow she was able to break through conventional interpretations and see the message of justice and love there, especially in the gospels. And I think that helped her see the English class system with different eyes.”

“They obviously got married at some point,” said Beth. “How did they get her family to agree to that.”

“They didn’t. They ran away to Scotland in nineteen twenty-six, got married in Gretna Green, and then came home and presented it to their families as a fait accompli.”

“At which point I expect things got a little complicated.”

“More than a little complicated; her father disowned her and dismissed her new husband from his job as a groom. And it wasn’t just her family that were against them; Will’s family were shocked by what they had done, and I expect they were afraid of what the squire might do to them if they supported Will and Joanna. So at that point, they were really on their own.”

“What did they do?”

“Will was able to get a job as a farm labourer on another farm in the area, but the wages were low, and they lived a very hand-to-mouth existence for the next few years. I think gradually Joanna began to realize the enormity of what she’d done. I don’t think she’d really expected her family to disown her so completely. And of course, your grandfather was born during that time, too.”

“So eventually they came to Canada?”

“Yes—in nineteen twenty-nine, just in time for the great depression.”

“How on earth did they find the money to emigrate?”

“That’s a good question, and Joanna never talks about it in the journals. I can’t help thinking that someone in her family—a brother or sister, perhaps—must have secretly given her some money, so she and Will could start again somewhere else.”

“After they moved here, did she never write to any of her family?”

“I can’t say for sure, but Michael and I never found any letters from them in her papers after she died. We did find one or two from Will’s father; his name was Sam Robinson, and the farm was called Steeple farm. I have no idea whether it still exists.”

“That wouldn’t be hard to find out nowadays with the Internet. Does she mention the name of the estate? Did the old house have a name or anything?”

“The estate was called Holton Park; I expect the house was called Holton House or something like that. As I said, the nearest village was Bramthorpe.”

Beth was thinking hard. “Oma, going back to something you said a minute ago, are you telling me that Will and Joanna had an unhappy marriage? That in the end they wished they hadn’t married each other?”

“No, but I think it was difficult for them in the early years. I’m sure they found a lot of happiness together, but I’m also sure they both underestimated the gap between the life he’d been raised in and the things she was used to. Will had a lot of working-class pride and resentment at the way he had been treated by the squire, although they both believed strongly in the need to forgive, and they really tried to do it. And as for Joanna—well, can you imagine leaving a place like Holton Park and moving to a homestead on the prairie in the thirties? Mud all summer long, and cold and snow all winter?  And of course, she’d never been a farmer’s wife and wasn’t used to farm chores; she had to start from the beginning and learn all the things the women around her had known since they were girls. I think she felt guilty that she didn’t know how to support her husband the way the other women did.”

Beth shook her head. “I never knew. I saw her often when I was a little girl, and she never breathed a word about any of this to me.”

“Nor to anyone else, as far as I know, except to Tom.”

“I wonder why she would talk to Tom about it, and not to anyone else in the family?”

“She told Tom she was worried some of her children or grandchildren might try to go back to England and dig up the old family connections. She didn’t want to risk them being hurt in the same way she’d been hurt.”

“Tom told you this?”

“He told your grandpa. Michael asked him about it after Joanna’s funeral; he’d read the note she included in the box of journals, and he wondered how much Tom knew. I think Tom was in a difficult situation, actually; Joanna had specifically asked him not to say anything to anyone in the family except Michael, and then only if Michael raised the issue with him. Michael told me afterwards that Tom had talked to Kelly about it, but that was it.”

“So my dad doesn’t know?”

“I don’t think so. Your grandpa certainly never said anything to him, and I think if Tom had talked to him, he would have come and asked us about it.”

“It must have been hard for Tom to keep that from my dad; they’re such good friends.”

“I know.”

“So you and Grandpa never tried to make contact with any of the family back in England?”

“No. Joanna didn’t want that, and Michael agreed with her; he thought the past should be left in the past. Even after we discovered those letters from his Will’s father, he never did anything about them.”

“What does my dad know?”

“He knows what you knew until today: that his grandparents came here from England in nineteen twenty-nine and never went back to the old country or maintained any contact with family over there. He’s never asked me about it, so I don’t know whether he’s ever wondered about that lack of contact.”

“So, what do you want me to do, Oma?”

“I want you to read the journals and look after them, and make sure the story isn’t lost to the family.”

“Do you want me to take them now?”

“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want your father thinking that I’d kept something from him and given it to you while I’m still alive, but if they come to you in my will…”

Beth nodded. “I understand, but that means it’s going to be a few years yet before I get to read them.”

Rachel shook her head slowly. “At my age, Bethie, I can’t take that for granted. That’s why I wanted to have this conversation with you today. And now I think I’ve told you all I want to say about your great-grandparents; the whole story is in those journals, and I know you’ll read them, so I don’t need to say anything else.”

“I may be able to do more than read them. I’m going to England this summer, you know.”

“Of course you are—for Emma’s wedding. When is that again?”

“July nineteenth, four months from now.”

“Well then—perhaps you can do a little exploring while you’re there.”

“I think I’d like that.”

Rachel looked away for a moment, a thoughtful expression on her wrinkled face, and Beth waited patiently, knowing that when she was ready, she would share what was on her mind. Out in the corridor a couple of people were laughing together, and Beth thought she recognized the voice of her cousin Kathy, who was on staff at the special care home.

Eventually Rachel reached over and took Beth’s hand again. “On another subject, I keep meaning to ask you—what do you see the future holding for you? Are you still happy to stay here in Meadowvale and try to raise Claire by yourself?”

“Well, I’m not really raising her by myself, am I? Mom and Dad are taking a lot of the load for me, especially when I’m at work, and Auntie Ruth helps too, and Kathy. But I don’t know what else I can do, Oma. I’m divorced, and Greg’s in the Cayman Islands, and he doesn’t want to know us or have anything to do with us.”

“He still hasn’t tried to contact Claire?”

“No, and to be honest, I’m not complaining about that. He pays his child support every month, and beyond that I don’t know whether I would want him to be involved in Claire’s life. He’s the one who walked out on us, and she needs a better role model than that.”

“It’s a terrible thing,” Rachel replied, “but I want you to promise me you won’t allow yourself to be consumed by resentment. I know you’re angry with Greg, and I can’t blame you for that, but please don’t get stuck there. You’re a lovely young woman, Beth, and you’ve got a heart full of love to give. Don’t let it get locked up there, okay?”

Beth looked away. “I know you’re right,” she whispered. “But sometimes I have a hard time getting past it all.”

Rachel squeezed her hand. “God will help you, in time.”

“I hope so. Do you mind if we talk about something else?”

“Of course not.”

“So, when I go to England in July, would you be okay with me looking for Holton Park?”

For a moment Rachel didn’t reply; she looked away again, and Beth could see she was going over things in her mind. Eventually she gave a little nod. “I think so, but be careful.”

“What are you worried about, Oma?”

“To be honest, I don’t really know. It’s been nearly eighty years since Will and Joanna came here, and I doubt very much whether anyone over there would have any anger towards my mother-in-law’s descendants; the ones who are alive today have probably forgotten she existed—if they ever knew. But she was worried about that, and I suppose I’ve taken that worry on myself.”

“Time to set that burden down, I think.”

Rachel smiled and nodded; “You’re probably right, my very wise granddaughter!”

Beth laughed; “Not so very wise, I think! I still need regular advice from my even wiser grandmother!”

“Well, then I’ll give you some, if I may?”

“Of course.”

“Enjoy that trip to England, Bethie. Travel around, see the historic places, spend time with Tom and Wendy and Emma and…and…I’ve forgotten the name of Emma’s young man.”

“Matthew—Matthew MacFarlane.”

“Right—Matthew, I knew that. Well, have a good time with them, and if you want to go looking for Holton Park while you’re there, well, you do that too, and bring me back some pictures.”

“I’ll be sure to do that.”

“Good!”

“One more thing: do you want me to say anything to my dad about this?”

Rachel shook her head. “Not yet; I don’t want to have to go over this story over and over again with everyone in the family who takes an interest in it. I’ve got other things I want to talk about with them! But I can rest easier knowing that you know, and that you’ll take the journals and look after them. After I’m gone, talk to anyone you want and share as much of the story as you feel you should.”

“Alright then; that’s what I’ll do.”