Three years after the wedding, Catriona and Hamish could hardly say that their life had not been blessed. As Catriona watched her young son play with his wooden horse, she could hardly believe this was her life now. Their son, Jonathon, was a great addition to their lives. Though Catriona bore the marks of carrying the child in her, she was more than proud of the way her life was going.
In fact, the money she had been left by her father had gone a long way towards funding a project that she had always thought London needed—an orphanage which provided orphans with a good education and a loving environment. The orphanage in which she and Alice had grown up had only provided those things to a point . . . and she had heard horror stories of other orphanages from the people who came to adopt from Mrs. Easton’s orphanage.
“Jonathon! Come on,” Catriona said. “It’s time to go inside.”
As much as she loved the garden, it was indeed time to take her son inside. There was nothing more for them to do outside, and there was actually something she had to do. Well, that she and Hamish had to do. They would be leaving Jonathon with his nanny for now.
“There you go, grab the horse, yes,” she said as she walked over to him. “Come on then. There we go.” She picked him up.
Her son giggled and put his arms around her neck in a hug. She squeezed him softly before carrying him back inside. Though most of the ton would have considered her odd for being so involved in her son’s life, she knew it was what she wanted. She had not had the kind of parents she’d wanted, and she wanted to be sure her boy got those he deserved.
So far, she had done well to avoid her mother’s fate, but for that reason, Jonathon would be the only child she would ever have if she could help it. Another child could risk her and the baby’s lives. Hamish understood that, thankfully.
As they walked into the manor, Hamish came along the hallway leading into the gardens.
“There you are, Catriona,” he said. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Are you ready to go and check in on our orphanage?”
“Almost, Hamish. Let me get Jonathon up to the nursery,” she said. “I’ll meet you by the carriage.”
He nodded. On her way past him, he stopped her momentarily to peck her cheek before letting her go. Catriona could not help but smile.
How had she been so lucky as to have someone so caring as Hamish as her husband?
The answer didn’t really matter to her, for she was deeply content that she had found someone like Hamish. The fact that he had been willing to make things right, even when it seemed all hope was lost, had brought them their current happiness.
Catriona put Jonathon down on the floor in the nursery as Alice walked in behind her. Alice had not wanted to work in the new orphanage, as much as that might have been a good place for her. Instead, she was now Jonathon’s nanny, though she still did a lot around the house, too.
“Thank you so much for taking care of him today, Alice,” Catriona said. “You remember how to do everything?”
“I do, Catriona. It’ll be fine,” Alice soothed Catriona. “You’re not a bad mother for wanting to keep him here while you’re doing other things. It’s all right to admit that he cannot go everywhere with you.”
Catriona took a deep breath.
“Thank you for that, Alice.”
With that, Catriona hurried down to the carriage to join Hamish. But when she arrived, she found Hamish waiting outside the vehicle.
“May I hand you into the carriage?” Hamish grinned, extending his hand to her.
She smiled, taking it.
“I would quite like that, yes,” she replied playfully.
He helped her into the carriage and got in himself. The door shut behind them, and off they went to the new orphanage.
“How is Miss Brown? I feel as though I do not see her often,” Hamish remarked.
“She is well. She’s happy looking after Jonathon,” Catriona replied. “And how is your mother? You wrote to her, didn’t you? How is she?”
“She is faring well too,” Hamish replied. “Apparently, my father is still quite bitter that she left him, but she is happier now she is out of the manor. I plan to keep the apartment for her, but she may be better off moving here with us.”
“Oh, I think that would be absolutely lovely, Hamish,” Catriona said, hearing the hope in his suggestion. “She would see Jonathon every day then, and I think that would be the best way to keep her from your father. We can instruct the servants not to admit him further than the front door.”
“What about outside the main gates? Is that far enough, do you think?” Hamish added jokingly, and they both laughed.
Then, he let out a sigh.
“But today is not the day to worry about how my mother and my father are. All I can do is be thankful that it was she who came to me to tell me that my father had a part in attempting to force my hand . . .”
Catriona took his hand in hers.
“And now, you have a beautiful family and an orphanage to take care of,” she said. “Your mother deserves the best we can give her, to thank her for helping you realize that there was still time to fix things before you were no longer able to marry me.”
Hamish smiled at her, squeezing her hand back.
The carriage rolled to a stop at that moment, as they had arrived at the new orphanage. As they walked in through the entrance, the headmistress came to greet them.
“What a pleasure it is to have you here today, my lord, my lady,” she said, curtseying. “A young baby girl was brought to the orphanage a few days ago. I thought you might like to meet her.”
“Of course.” Catriona smiled.
It was always bittersweet to see another young girl arrive at their orphanage. Hamish put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her as they walked through the orphanage to meet the young girl. The other girls and boys in the orphanage all knew them by their faces, which was a good thing. It meant they knew who to look for if something terrible had happened and they needed help immediately.
Being removed from the day-to-day operations was hard for Catriona, but it was for the best. She would have been far too emotional to make most of the decisions which required good logic. The decisions she did make, though, were to do with what had affected her the most adversely as a child, like what to do with the older children, how to treat the children, and even what kind of schedule they had as a whole throughout the orphanage.
The headmistress smiled as she showed them the baby girl in the crib.
“Oh . . . Hamish . . .” Catriona sighed as she looked down at the baby girl swaddled in her crib fast asleep. “She’s so pretty . . . how could someone leave her here like that?”
“She may not have originally been wanted,” Hamish said softly, “but that doesn’t mean no one will want her.”
“I want to adopt her, Hamish.”
He looked at her, surprised. “Well, we can do that if you wish, Catriona. What shall we name her? I think we ought to at least have a name before we finalize the paperwork.”
“Elspeth,” Catriona replied. “We can name her after my mother. Elspeth Charlotte Middleton.”
“I like that name very much,” Hamish said. “It honors both our mothers, the mother who gave her life to bring you into this world, and mine, the one who risked everything to be sure that we could be happy together.”
Hamish turned to the headmistress.
“Bring us the adoption paperwork. She shall have a proper childhood with us,” he said. “Thank you for showing her to us.”
The headmistress nodded, clearly pleased.
Catriona carefully lifted the young baby from her crib. The child stirred in her sleep but did not wake. Instead, she woke and cooed at them. Her tiny body wriggled in the swaddling, and then she got her arms free.
The young child held her arms out to Catriona, who laughed in delight, though her eyes shone with tears as she held the baby close.
“Oh, Elspeth . . . yes, Elspeth fits her so well,” Catriona said as she turned to Hamish. “Would you mind filling out the paperwork so that I can hold her? I . . . I don’t want to set her down now I’ve picked her up.”
“Of course, Catriona,” he said. “Why don’t you sit down with her, and then we can fill out the paperwork together? I’ll write everything, except your signature, but it will give you a chance to make sure everything is just so.”
They found a place for her to sit—in a rocking chair on the other side of the room. She sat down with Elspeth in her arms and looked down at the child, her face alight with joy. The baby was happily clutching Catriona’s hand tightly, as if there was good reason not to let go.
The headmistress returned with the paperwork. Catriona, Hamish, and the headmistress all went through it together. It was long, but it was all they needed to do other than pay a fee to take Elspeth home.
Once everything had been taken care of, Catriona carried the young child through the orphanage as they took their tour of the place. Most things were in good condition, though some of the mattresses had worn out a little quicker than she had expected. That was all right. They could do some investigations and find better mattresses to purchase this time, ones which were comfortable but wouldn’t wear out as quickly.
While they walked, Catriona’s heart filled with love for each of the children who had been left there. She told all the children, once they were old enough to understand, that she too had grown up in an orphanage. She also told them that she had experienced something out of the ordinary and that she was there to make sure they all had a happy life in the orphanage.
She told them that they were each other’s family, a special family who grew up together in the orphanage while they waited to find out what life had in store for them. It was one of the ways she had coped, thinking of herself and Alice as sisters, and she quite liked the idea of encouraging the children to think the same way.
Eventually the tour came to an end.
“Why don’t we go and surprise my mother?” Hamish looked at her as they were leaving the orphanage. “My mother has always wanted a granddaughter. I think she will fall in love with Elspeth instantly.”
“I think so too,” Catriona said. “But let us wait until tomorrow. She’s fallen asleep . . . and I would hate to wake her up to meet any of the family, other than perhaps Jonathon tonight.”
They both looked down towards Elspeth to see she had fallen asleep in her little dress, cuddled against Catriona’s chest. Hamish only smiled a little wider at the sight.
“If that is what you wish, then that is what we shall do,” he said. “To the manor?”
“To the manor.”
The carriage journey back to the manor was quiet, for they both wished to let Elspeth sleep during the ride. Upon their arrival at the manor, Catriona took Elspeth up to the nursery. Jonathon had outgrown his crib, but they had not yet put it away. She quietly thanked providence for that.
Alice and Jonathon were playing in the nursery when she walked in with Elspeth. Alice saw the young girl in her arms first, and quickly told Jonathon to quiet down and go and say hello to his father, who was waiting downstairs for him.
Then, Alice walked over to Catriona.
“What’s her name, Catriona?” Alice didn’t bother to ask where they had gotten her, or why. She already knew.
“Elspeth Charlotte Middleton,” Catriona whispered back as she put the baby in the crib. “She was dropped off at the orphanage a few days ago. When I saw her . . . I knew . . . I just knew I had to adopt her. Is it wrong to believe that I’ll be doing that more often now we have a few new cribs set to arrive soon?”
“I think you are doing the world a service by raising the orphans,” Alice replied. “You will actually love them, and you’re starting slowly, so you can ensure they get the best care possible. Those you cannot personally take care of will still get the benefits of your love through the orphanage you have set up.” Alice put a hand on Catriona’s shoulder. “You’re the kind of person we wanted to see walk through the orphanage doors when we were younger, and I’m so proud that you have become that woman.”
“I am too.”
They walked out of the nursery to find Hamish coming towards them with a now half-asleep Jonathon in his arms. Catriona gave her son a big hug and a kiss goodnight before they put him down to sleep too, telling him that he needed to be quiet for his little sister.
Jonathon ended up falling asleep on the mattress to his bed, which they helped him to move, as he insisted on being next to Elspeth for the night.
He barely knew her, and yet, he already cared so much for her.
Finally, Hamish and Catriona walked to their bedchamber side by side, his arm around her shoulders, smiling broadly.
“Jonathon certainly takes after his mother,” he told her. “The way he wanted to sleep near Elspeth tonight . . . I can see you wanting to do the same if you were still a young child. You’ve taught him well, and I think that says a lot about you, dear wife.” He pecked her on the cheek affectionately.
“You think so?” Catriona grinned, raising her brows.
“I do. You have raised Jonathon so far to be a loving big brother, and he has only now gotten a little sister. I think you’ll be a wonderful mother to all of our children, no matter how they come into our family.” He pressed a soft kiss to her cheek. “You’re going to be amazing at anything you do, with all your love behind it. I’ve seen it time and again, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first recipients of your love.”
“Thank you, Hamish.”
They walked into the bedchamber. Catriona was thoroughly exhausted from the excitement of the day, but she was quite content to know that she now had her own family. A family that would keep on growing, keep on bringing them both joy and happiness.