One Year Later...
Regina cradled the tiny bundle in her arms as she rocked to and fro singing softly against the soft downy head of her newborn son. The infant squawked in protest as the song ended making Regina laugh. “Shh, Mark Francis Allen,” she whispered, smiling at the thought of his namesakes, the very best of men.
If you grow up to be half as good as they, I will be pleased indeed.
“How is our young man today?” Benjamin’s voice greeted happily as he entered the nursery.
“Delightful in every way,” Regina praised.
“And his mother?” Benjamin asked planting a kiss on her brow.
“Tired, but happy,” she admitted.
She had been afraid of becoming a mother. After the example Catherine had set, Regina had worried that she would not make a good mother. She had had no training on the subject and the fact had caused her great distress over the months leading to their son’s arrival. Once he had arrived, however, instinct had taken over and she had surprised herself with how quickly she had learned the nuances of motherhood. It had helped that she was madly in love with the little man.
She and Benjamin absolutely adored their son and spent every spare moment they could with him. This had frustrated the governess they had hired to no end. “It simply isn’t done this way,” the governess had initially protested, but over time she had grown accustomed to their strange untraditional methods.
“Anthony will be arriving soon with his new bride,” Benjamin informed her.
“That is wonderful! I cannot wait to see them both and hear all about their honeymoon,” Regina exclaimed.
“I am sure they will be all too happy to share, after they have finished fawning all over our son,” Benjamin smiled, gently ruffling the infant’s downy hair in affection.
The sound of horses hooves outside the window announced the arrival of their guests. Regina arose from the rocking chair she had been sitting in and walked with Benjamin to greet their guests.
“Anthony, MaryAnn,” Benjamin greeted warmly as the newlywed couple walked through the door.
“Benji,” Anthony greeted heartily pounding his friend on the back.
“Oh, Regina, he is beautiful!” MaryAnn Montague Turton, the new Duchess of Dutton, exclaimed as she took the sweet bundle into her arms.
“You will have one of your own before long I am sure,” Regina replied glowing with pride upon her son, downy auburn head peeking out of the blankets declaring his paternity for all the world to see. “How does it feel to be a Duchess?”
“Exquisite,” MaryAnn admitted blushing as she cast a covert glance at her new husband.
“I understand what you mean,” Regina grinned casting a look at her own husband. Neither man noticed as they were too busy congratulating one another on their perceived successes. Both ladies laughed. “How was the honeymoon?”
“Italy is beautiful just as you said it would be. Thank you for recommending it to us,” MaryAnn gushed.
“I fell in love with the Mediterranean Sea on our honeymoon and just knew you would, too. How did it compare to your days in India?” Regina asked.
“Both countries have their own delights and beauties so there is no real comparison, but I have to admit to Italy now being a favorite of mine,” MaryAnn replied. “The food was masterful, as was the art and architecture.”
“Have you had a chance to settle in at Dutton Manor yet?” Regina inquired. She knew how difficult a time of adjustment such a move could be.
“My mother taught me much about running a household and my father showed me the finer points of estate management which has been a blessing, but it is still daunting. I do not know how you managed it. You are a far braver soul than I,” MaryAnn admitted.
“It was not easy. You are fortunate to have had training from your parent’s. If you need anything or just simply to talk, do not hesitate to ask. I am always here,” Regina offered.
“Thank you. You are such a dear friend. I am forever grateful for the day we met, though I wish it had been under different circumstances,” MaryAnn remarked.
“As do I, but I have no regrets.” Regina thought back to the day she had drank the poison to save Benjamin. “I would do it again.”
“I have no doubt,” MaryAnn stated.
“Shall we adjourn to the library for some tea?” Regina offered.
“Yes, please,” MaryAnn agreed and Regina led the way to the next room with their husbands following after them.
“I have to say Benji, I have never been more happy to admit I was wrong in my entire life,” Regina heard Anthony say. “Your wife is a fantastic woman and I can no longer imagine my life without MaryAnn. Had you taken my advice, none of us would have found our happiness.”
“I cannot take the credit as I was also in the wrong as you well know,” Benjamin replied. “Had Regina not nearly died, none of us would be here to tell the tale today.”
“God and the fates thankfully had other plans,” Anthony acknowledged.
“Indeed,” Benjamin agreed.
The years passed and Regina and Benjamin had more sons and daughters filling their lives with joyous chaos. Benjamin could not have been happier if he tried. Life was absolutely perfect. When his son Mark was old enough to go hunting, he took him out and taught him the ways of the forest.
“Father,” Mark requested Benjamin’s attention.
“Yes, Mark,” Benjamin replied halting Argentum so that he could face his son.
“Miss Harriet says that I am your heir and that someday I will inherit the entire estate and become Duke,” Mark stated, his little face scrunched up in thought, recalling his governess’ words.
“That is true,” Benjamin answered. “When I die all of this will be yours.”
“I don’t want it,” Mark answered, tears springing to his eyes.
“You are young yet and may change your mind in time, but if you do not want it, I will not force you to take it. I understand if you wish to be a different man than I have chosen to be,” Benjamin attempted to soothe his son.
“It is not that, Father,” Mark corrected. “I want to be exactly like you.”
“Well then, what is it, Son?” Benjamin asked confused and yet pleased by his son’s declaration.
“I only get to be Duke if you die and I don’t want you to die. I want you to live forever. So if I refuse to be your heir, you will not be able to die because you will be forced to live forever to take care of the estate and all of us,” Mark reasoned.
Benjamin chuckled at his son’s logic and lifted him from his horse to cradle him in his arms atop Argentum’s back. He wiped the tears from Mark’s cheeks. “Life doesn’t work that way, my sweet boy,” he explained.
Benjamin dismounted and carried his son over to a group of rocks at the edge of the stream that flowed out of the ravine. “Mark, do you see that steep embankment there?” He gestured toward the walls of the gorge.
“Yes,” Mark confirmed.
“That is where your grandfather, my father, fell to his death when I was but a young man. I was not ready to bid my father farewell either and was very sad. I had never wanted to be my father’s heir and thought I was not ready for any of the responsibilities of being a Duke. I was wrong. With time I learned how to be the man my father had always wanted me to be and I know his spirit is here with me now. I can feel how proud he is of both of us,” Benjamin explained.
“You can?” Mark asked in awe.
“Yes, I know he is here with us now just as I will be there with you when your time comes to take my place,” Benjamin admitted.
“How did grandfather die?” Mark asked, studying the ravine wall where Benjamin had pointed to.
“That is a long sad story. Are you sure you wish to hear it?” Benjamin asked.
“Yes, please, Father. If I am to be your heir I must learn everything so that I can make you proud too,” Mark solemnly informed him.
“Very well,” Benjamin acquiesced to his son’s request.
“A long time ago there were two brothers, twins, my father Francis and my uncle Gilbert…” Benjamin told his son the story of betrayal and loss, ending with the day Regina had saved his life.
“How could grandfather’s brother do such a thing? He was a war hero, a nobleman,” Mark’s face showed his confusion.
“Ah, but you see my son, there is a difference between a nobleman and a noble man,” Benjamin explained.
“There is? How?” Mark asked.
“A nobleman is simply a man who has earned or inherited a title. Some live their lives with honor, others do not. A noble man is someone who lives his life with honor, showing respect and caring for others. Do you see the difference?” Benjamin inquired.
“Yes, Father,” Mark answered. “Uncle Gilbert was a nobleman, but you, Father, are a noble man. I want to be like you, Father. I want to be a noble man.”
“I am sure you will be son. There is no doubt in my mind that you will be,” Benjamin reassured.
“And you promise to watch over me in spirit just like Grandfather watches over you? Will you be proud of me too?” Mark asked.
“I will be the proudest father to ever have existed,” Benjamin replied.
“You promise?” Mark asked again.
“I swear it,” Benjamin confirmed. “I am proud of you, now and forever.”
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