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 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.”

We’re getting closer!

IMG_4231Today the proof copy of my book ‘A Time to Mend’ arrived in the mail. Now I have to read through it and check for errors, correct them, reload the corrected manuscript to Amazon, and then hopefully the book will be ready to go live around the first week in October.

It’s getting exciting!

Don’t forget that if Kindle is your preferred platform you can already purchase it here (Canada), or by the same title at your local Amazon website,

‘A Time to Mend’ is now available on Kindle

timchesterton_A5My new novel, ‘A Time to Mend’, is now available for purchase in the Kindle store.

I call it ‘my new novel’, but I first typed the (now totally unrecognizable) ancestor of this story on a manual typewriter in my study in Aklavik over thirty years ago! Although it follows ‘Meadowvale’ chronologically, it was conceived before ‘Meadowvale’; in fact, I first wrote ‘Meadowvale’ because I was interested in the back story to ‘A Time to Mend’.

The basic story will not be strange to long-time readers of this blog, who will have read earlier versions of it. However, it has been substantially revised from the last version that was published here.

If you have a Kindle (or the Kindle app for your computer or iPad) I’d love it if you’d buy it, and I’d love it even more if you’d write an Amazon review for it afterwards! I will soon be announcing a paperback edition (from Amazon), and also hopefully Kobo and iBooks versions.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Two years after the loss of his beloved wife Kelly, Tom Masefield comes face to face with a new challenge: his father—the one he originally left England to get away from—is dying. For twenty-one years they have lived on different continents and have kept their personal contact to a bare minimum. But now Tom’s conscience tells him he needs to make one more attempt at reconciliation before his father dies.

‘So Tom and his daughter Emma decide to move back to England. Over the next two years, they will find out whether it is possible to mend relationships that have been broken for half a lifetime. And along the way, Tom will make a discovery that will transform his life in ways he never imagined.’

Links:

Canada

USA

UK

Australia

New Zealand

If you aren’t listed above, simply do a search on your local Amazon website.

 

You don’t need a Kindle or a Kobo to be able to read Kindle or Kobo e-books

kindleappLittle known fact: you don’t actually need to actually own a Kindle or Kobo to be able to read e-books for Kindle or Kobo.

You can download a Kindle or Kobo app for your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Then you can go to the Kindle, Kobo or Indigo stores, buy e-books, and read them on your device.

For Amazon.ca, go to the Kindle store section of the website and then click on the linkunnamed ‘Free Reading Apps’. It will take you to this page, where you can download the app for your device (computer, iPad or other tablet, iPhone or other smartphone). On other Amazon sites, search for the appropriate tab. (You can also download the app directly from the Apple App store; I’m assuming you can do the same thing from the equivalent stores for apps for other platforms).

For Kobo, go to Kobo.com, and at the very top of the page you’ll see a link for ‘Apps and E-Readers’. Follow that link to download the appropriate app for your device. For Apple, it will direct you to a link in the iTunes store for iPhone and iPad, or on the Kobo site itself for desktop or laptop computers. There are similar links for other platforms.

meadowvalecover-smallOnce you’ve done that, your next step is to purchase Meadowvale for Kindle on Amazon.ca or your own local Amazon site, or at Indigo or the Kobo store for Kobo! What could be better?!

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for owning a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle or Kobo. You’re not so distracted by the temptation to check your email or browse the web. And you don’t have to deal with backlit screens either, so they won’t keep you awake at night.

But if you already have a device and don’t want to fork out the extra cash for a dedicated e-reader, you don’t need to miss out on reading books that are only available as e-books – books like Meadowvale, that is!

 

Would you like to help me reach more people with my e-book?

Many thanks to the 24 people (so far) who have bought copies of ‘Meadowvale: a Novel‘ on Kindle or Kobo!

If you wouldn’t mind, here are three things you can do to help me reach another twenty four people!

1. When you have finished the e-book, go to the site you bought it from (Amazon, Indigo, Kobo etc.) and rate it out of five stars. Be honest – I don’t mind!

2. If you would take the time to write a short review, this would REALLY help. When it comes to books appearing in the algorithms, the number of reviews is really important. And if you wouldn’t mind copying your review to the other sites (Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and – if you’re a member – Goodreads – that would also really be helpful.

3. Share the link to my e-book on your own Facebook page and/or blog, with a few words about what you thought of it.

Thanks very much! I really appreciate your help!

Just a reminder of where you can get the e-book:

Amazon.ca (if you’re not in Canada, search for it in your own Amazon stores – it’s in all of them).

Indigo.ca

Kobo.com

 

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