Ten Years Later...
Rose Ellen Hughes put her arms out wide to balance on the big log. She wobbled a little, then gained her equilibrium.
“I’m Robin Hood!” she announced.
“Then I’m Little John,” shouted Denis Hughes, running full tilt along the broad log, as if it were level ground.
As he approached his sister, his foot slipped, and Denis splashed into the brook, which was swollen from the spring rains.
Just as Rose screamed and Denis’s head slipped under water, a tall youth dashed out of the wood and plunged into the stream. He was followed by an identical youth who strode across the log, and with great presence of mind, held a long staff down to his brother who now held the flailing Denis.
In a few moments, they were all up on the bank of the stream, just as two men of moderate years came crashing through the bushes behind them.
“What did they do now?” Mr. Gardener asked.
“I was Robin Hood, and Denis was Little John,” Rose explained.
“Ah. The contest at the brook. But where are your quarter staves? And Denis is nowhere near fat enough to be Little John.”
“That was Friar Tuck who was fat, silly,” Rose corrected him.
“No matter. This is no place for the two of you to play right now. What if your brother had been drawn into the mill race? Nick doesn’t swim well enough to rescue you from there.”
Rose’s face fell. She looked at her toes. “I’m sorry, Uncle Luke. I didn’t think of that. Is Denis all right?”
“Yes,” Nick put in. “We got him out far in advance of any lasting harm.”
“But the two of you should come up to the castle and get into dry clothes, and allow your mother to fuss over you and dose you with tonic,” Luke added.
“Ew!” Denis made a face. “Not tonic! Dr. Gavril is teaching her how to make it and the main ingredient is mullein. It tastes like old socks.”
The Duke came striding through the trees. “Did you find them?”
“In a manner of speaking. We heard Rose scream,” Nick replied.
Sebastian, Duke of Parkforton and father of Rose and Denis, took in Denis’s dripping clothes and Rose’s guilty expression. “What did you do this time, Rosie?”
“I didn’t do anything, honest! I was balancing on the log and he ran to me and slipped!”
“Is that true, Denis?”
“Yes. She said she was Robin Hood, and I said I was Little John, and I was going to push her off the log only I slipped and fell in.”
“Would it have been better if your sister had been the one to take the wetting?” Sebastian asked.
Denis thought about that for a minute. “I guess not.”
“Thank you for your honesty. You are both confined to the schoolroom until further notice.”
“Yes, Father,” the two miscreants chorused, each stealing angry looks at the other.
“You will both write ‘I will be kind to my brother or my sister’ as the case may be, one hundred times. Neither of you should have been on that log!”
The family found Lady Lillian in the large, pleasant schoolroom that had been built near the parsonage. She was going over a copy book that seemed to have more red ink than black at this point.
“What happened?” she asked.
Nick explained the events in a few short sentences. Lillian’s eyebrows drew together as she studied her children.
“Don’t worry,” Luke said quickly, understanding the tenor of her thoughts. “Nick and I used to do stupid stuff like that all the time. And we still like each other.”
“Most of the time, anyway,” Nick added.
“I didn’t really mean for him to fall in the brook,” Rose said. “I’m sorry, Mama.”
“And I didn’t know how cold and deep the water was,” Denis added. “I was just thinking about the game we were playing. ‘Member, Robin Hood and Little John got to be bestest friends after they dunked each other.”
“Oh, my dears!” Lillian knelt, gathering her children to her, disregarding Denis’s dripping clothes and Rose’s muddy hands and feet. “Why don’t you play the parts of the story where they are nice to each other?”
Later that night, as they snuggled together before the fire in their sitting room, Lillian sighed and leaned her head against Sebastian’s shoulder. “Rose looks so much like Tabitha,” she said. “Sometimes madness runs in families.”
“I do not think you have to worry about that, Lillian. Rose is young and heedless, but she is not cruel. Nor does she usually disregard her brother’s safety. She kicked Tommy Littlesmith in the kneecap for teasing Denis because he is small.”
“Did she really?” Lillian laughed, “I mean how terribly unladylike.”
“Lillian, you and your sister were brought up in a traditional nursery by servants. I think you and I are doing a better job with our two. And we have Luke and Nick to help.”
“I know, Sebastian. But I cannot help but worry. I had no idea that Tabitha hated me so very much.”
“I’m not sure that she did until she was influenced by others. That was such a tangled mess, Love, and I did not help it at all by calling in that false constable.”
“How fortunate that his brother was a much kinder and more responsible person. How is the Inspector, these days?”
“Doing well. He made Captain not long ago. And he rescued a young lady, who is now Mrs. Michaels.”
“How very nice for him. Isn’t it strange how these things seem to have a way of working out?”
“Yes, it is. But I am glad for him. He deserves some happiness.”
“As do we all. But often we make our own happiness by building our families on firm foundations of love and trust.”
“And forgiveness,” Lillian added, “Just as you forgave me for lying to you.”
“And you forgave me for not telling you about writing to my lawyer.”
“Let’s go forgive our children for trying out a dangerous pastime, shall we?” Lillian turned her face up to her husband.
Sebastian bent down and kissed. “Yes, let’s go do that.”
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