In early 2005 I started a project to research my family's history. I began with the stories my grandmother told me. She was born in 1890 and live to the age of 94 years. She was a lovely lady and the matriarch of our family. Over the years this has been a project I have picked up and worked on as and when the mood took hold of me and when time was available. Following my love of writing my original intention was to tell of her life story but the facts and information I gathered together was far too great and spread across too many different people to write a traditional story centred on my grandmother alone.
My grandmother features in my schoolboy autobiography, she was a major influence on my early life.
Her husband is the central character in the second part of my time travel trilogy.
Then her oldest son, Billy, is the subject of my story - An Interview with Flight Sergeant Billy.
My grandmother was already sixty years old when I was born so, as I grew up, I only knew her as an old lady. My family research revealed a lot of her younger life but there were gaps amounting to several years where I could find nothing. As I started writing The Bridge House I intended to skip over these times but a thought came to me that I should not do that, I have allowed my writer's imagination to fill those years so my story is a mixture of fact and fiction. I hope my grandmother approves.
The Bridge House is the name of my grandmother's childhood home, let's use her name shall we - Lily, Lily Bedson. The picture I have used for the book's cover is not The Bridge House, nor is the lady holding the lavender Lily. This is a print which always hung in Lily's home when I was a child. When she died I came to me, her oldest grandchild. We always knew it as The Lavender Lady, I have since found out that it previously belonged to her mother-in-law.
I have no idea at all if it is worth any money but would never, ever part with it. It is listed in my will to be passed to my daughter with the strict instruction it must be willed to future generations and must never pass out of the family.
As a child I read, as did everyone in my generation, the stories of Enid Blyton - Noddy In Toyland, The Secret Seven and The Famous Five. Enid was a prolific writer and much loved by her readers yet she was not respected in the adult community. People said her books did not stretch the minds of the children. Today she is accused of being sexist, racist and writing too much for the middle-class. I do not agree.
Enid Blyton did something no other writer, before her or since, has achieved to the same degree. She inspired her readers to write their own stories. In the 1950's and 1960's children made up their own stories after reading the adventures her characters had.
If you have read any of my writing you will see I am not William Shakespeare, I am not Charles Dickens, I am not even Jeffrey Archer ! I write for my own enjoyment, it is a hobby. If nobody ever reads what I have written then that does not really matter and will not stop me writing. If someone does read my words then that is a bonus, if they enjoy my story that is a double bonus. Bonuses I can do without, it is the jackpot I am aiming for. That jackpot is for someone to read my scribble and then be inspired to write their own story.
As you read The Bridge House ask yourself who from your own family's history has a story that needs to be told. When you sit down and write your story I win the jackpot and I emulate Enid Blyton so go for it !
Joseph Bedson called all of his family members together for an important meeting. The Bridge House, as a name, sounds, very grand but when every member of the family was at home its modest proportions became only too apparent.
Emma, Joseph's wife, knew of the announcement and the gravity of the news he husband had within his duty to share. She would have to make an announcement to the school the next day and would have to decide how the children in her charge would mark the country's loss. How her family would do this was husband Joseph's responsibility.
Cecil and Olive, the oldest of the Bedson children, may have heard the news but would never have thought to talk about it until their father gave his permission. As significant as the happening was, the younger children probably would not have comprehended its meaning. Lily, however, was different.
At eleven years of age, Lily Bedson was single minded beyond the station of a female and a child in Victorian Society. She had opinions and would voice them when she so chose. Although Joseph made every possible effort to treat his many children equally Lily was his favourite. Even if pressed he would never have admitted to this. Emma could see his preference but would never have challenged her husband. Lily took after her in so many ways, perhaps as the years went by time would mellow the daughter as it had the mother.
It had been many years since Joseph had returned home from work with his clothes dirty. the family members did not think anything of the fact that he had a smell of smoke about him. In the winter with The Bridge House never short of open coal fires to keep everyone warm and cosy this side effect of Joseph's profession could not be detected. That day, even though it was January, Joseph would not speak to his family until the bath had been set in the kitchen, water boiled and his body scrubbed. He would wash his hair and shave his face. Only when done and dressed in his best suit was Joseph ready.
"Members of The Bedson Family," Joseph began, "it is with much sadness I have to tell you her Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India, passed away yesterday at Osborne House on The Isle of Wight. Please stand and bow your heads in silent prayer to remember the life of our Sovereign."
Everyone did as they were instructed, keeping their eyes tightly closed and heads bowed until Joseph spoke again.
"Our thoughts must be with the Royal Family and our new King, His Majesty King Edward. God save the King."
Joseph had never known a monarch other than Queen Victoria and wondered what the future held. The new king was sixty-nine years of age, how long before he too passed away ? Queen Victoria's children had married into the royal houses of Europe, she maintained a position as matriarch over them all. What would now change with her death ? How would the Empire be without Her Majesty ?
"Father," It was Lily who spoke, "If Queen Victoria is dead does that mean I am no longer a Victorian ? Am I now an Edwardian ?"
"You were born in the reign of Her Majesty so will always be a Victorian."
Not given to any display of emotion, Joseph kept the feelings his daughter's question generated close to himself.
"The Bridge House will now go into mourning until the day of Her Majesty's funeral. Olive, Doris, Lilly you can all go and change out of those dresses you are wearing, put on something darker. For you boys Mother will sew black armbands you can wear."
"Will your train puff black smoke instead of white ?"
"Do not be silly Gladys."
The Bedson Family was highly respected in the community. Emma had been in charge of the school for the past two years so held the future of all the village children in her hands. As a train driver Joseph was at the very top of the ladder for a working man. he had risen from being an engine cleaner, through the role of fireman to become the driver. It was so very important for The Bedson Family to set an example for the rest of the village to follow.
"That horse is back again Father." Cecil said. "It's in your potato garden."
No matter how great his respect for its owner Joseph was not please, not pleased with the horse and not pleased with the seriousness of the moment being interrupted by such an annoyance.
"I'll take him back," Lily made to leave the gathering. He is only in the potato ground, you've not planted anything yet so no harm done. If he has manured the soil so much the better. I'll change my clothes when I return."
"Lily !" Joseph frowned at his daughter. Manure was not a word he wished to hear her speak. "Take the animal back to its stables then hurry home. If it happens again I am afraid I will be having words with Her Ladyship."
The Dowager Countess Lady Wilton did not live in the Dower House, when her husband died and her son became The Fifth Earl Of Tadwell she saw jo reason to lower her status in the aristocratic order. Her daughter-in-law had died in childbirth so the house needed her to remain in residence.
"Do not ride the horse," Joseph ordered, "Lead it. Cecil find something your sister can use as a halter."
Eleven year old Lily had no intention of obeying her father.
The Bedson family did not use cars, few did, and they did not ride horses. of Joseph and Emma's children only Cecil had ever been outside the village. Joseph travelled with his engine as it pulled a train of trucks loaded with coal from the Wilton Mine but his twice daily journey to Stoke on Trent was more than he needed by way of travel.
Lily was different. There was a world out there she wanted to explore. there were people she wanted to meet. She was not content being a part of the village's most prominent working family. She may not have been born into society but knew that was where she belonged. Cecil worked as a junior clerk in the Wilton Mine office but had no ambition to see anything further away.
The Fifth Earl of Tadwell had a car and a full-time driver but his mother flatly refused to ride in it. For her benefit the old coach and horses were retained. Lord Henry Wilton, her grandson, looked forward to the day when he could won and drive a car of his own. Lord Henry was three years older than Lily and was in the stable yard when she trotted in and dismounted.
"I have brought your horse back," she said then added the words - "for the second time !"
"Miss Bedson, how can I apologise ? Is your father angry ?"
"No," she smiled.
"I think he may be angry if he knew his daughter had ridden the beast, ridden in all her finery and ridden without a saddle."
"You are not going to tell him are you My Lord ?"
"No, I would not do that Miss Bedson and it's Henry, not My Lord."
Lily smiled. "And I am Lily, not Miss Bedson."
"I will make certain it does not happen again."
"Oh please do not do that, let it happen again please. I'll ride and return him back to you."
"If you like to ride you can come here and I will arrange for you to ride. Come when ever you wish. Dress a little more suitably and I will find a lady saddle for you."
"I don't think I could ride side saddle."
"That is how ladies should ride."
"Who says I am a lady ?"
"Miss Bedson !" Henry smiled. "What a terrible thing to say. Perhaps you and I could ride together some time."
"Lord Henry what a terrible thing to say but thank you for the invitation."
"I have to return to school next week so let's make soon. Tomorrow. I will send a car to collect you. half past ten, would that suit you ?"
Lily smiled. "I will consult my diary."
Lord Henry Wilton, son of the Fifth earl of Tadwell did not attend the village school run by Lily's mother. As had his father and grandfather before him, even his great-grandfather, he was a pupil at Rugby School. Tom Brown's Schooldays was published thirty years before he was born but things had not changed.
It was not the car that pulled up at breakfast time, it was not Lord Henry Wilton who descended the steps of the carriage and walked to the front door of The Bridge House. It was The Dowager Countess Tadwell. She nodded to her maid as an instruction to knock on the Bedson's front door.
"Your Ladyship," Emma curtseyed, surprised to see who was standing at her door.
"Is your husband at home Mrs Bedson
"He is My Lady. Do you wish to speak with him ?"
"Indeed I do, if that would be possible please Mrs Bedson."
"Dawson," she said to her maid. "Fetch the basket from the carriage."
"Yes, My Lady."
Joseph was as surprised as his wife to see who his early caller was. "My Lady."
"Mr Bedson, my apologies for troubling your family so early but I wished to speak to you before you left for work and your wife for school."
The children were ushered away leaving Joseph, Emma and The Dowager Countess Lady Wilton of Tadwell alone together.
"I understand that one of my horses found its way into your garden. I am told this was not the first time it happened. Mr Bedson, Mrs Bedson I am very sorry for the trouble the animal may have caused. I have spoken to the stable staff and can assure you this will not happen again. Your daughter so kindly returned the horse and I would like to thank her personally."
"It was not a trouble My Lady," Emma said.
"Perhaps I can see her in a moment but first Mr Bedson, I am aware that a vacancy has arisen at Wilton Mine for am manager to oversee the transport of the coal. I have told my son that if you wish to fill that position it should be yours."
Joseph was aware of the need for a manager, Cecil worked as a junior clerk at the mine and had brought the news home, but had never considered it would be a role he could fill. He could, of course, undertake the duties but moving to management was not something he had considered.
"Thank you My Lady. What does His Lordship have to say ?"
"My son agrees with his mother of course."
"So should I instruct my son to tell the mine manager you will take up the duties ?"
"Yes, My Lady. Thank You."
"Now Mr Bedson, Mrs Bedson, to the second reason for my calling. Lord Henry tells me he has invited your daughter to go riding with him today. A little presumptive on his part, I hope you will excuse his youthful exuberance, I am here asking permission on his behalf."
"Which daughter has he invited My Lady ?"
"Lily, of course."
"But Lily can not ride My Lady."
"I think," Mr Bedson, that you will find she can."
Joseph knew, of course, that his daughter could rind a horse but did not care to admit it either to himself or to the Dowager Countess.
"Does your daughter have your permission to ride today with my grandson, Mr Bedson ?
"But we are in mourning."
"I doubt Her Majesty would have wished two young people not to have a ride out because of her indisposition."
"Will there be a chaperone ?"
"Mr Bedson they are children. Lord Henry is thirteen, how old is Lily ?"
"Just passed her eleventh birthday My Lady."
"I think they will be alright on their own don't you ?"
Without waiting for a reply the maid was called to join them, "Sullivan !"
I timid girl of no more than sixteen years knocked hen entered the room.
"Time to ask Lily to join us Mr Bedson, can you call here please ? Sullivan go and fetch the basket."
Joseph fixed his eyes on his daughter as she joined the group, his will attempting to control anything she would say. Lily probably would not oblige him.
"Lily, your father has given his permission for you to take up my grandson's invitation to ride with him later today."
"I know that you have more than once had to return one of my wandering horses to the stable."
"It was not any trouble," Lily interrupted and Joseph glared.
To oblige her father Lily added the words, "My Lady," to her original sentence.
"I have brought you a gift, Lilly, to say thank you. My little dog, Lucy Locket, has given birth to puppies. I have to find homes for them and thought you may like to have one live with you."
Sullivan, the maid, raised the cloth cover from the wicker basket and lifted out a small black puppy. Lily's eyes were wide with excitement while her smile stretched wide across her face. She avoided her father's glance just in case he did not approve,
"I thought you may like to call her Victoria in memory of Her Majesty."
Joseph managed to catch Lily's glance and gave her his approval.
"Oh thank you Your Ladyship, you are so kind. I promise I will care for her and lover her to bits. Thank you, thank you."
"I am sure you will my dear."
"Thank you My Lady, thank you so very, very much."
Joseph's family was large and filled The Bridge House, now they had to find room for a dog. The Dowager Countess lived in a vast and grand home with an army of servants to look after her, her widowed son and grandson. She had just the one son, his wife had died in childbirth so Lord Henry was the only grandson. With Henry away at school for most of the year there was just the two of them at home. Two people attended to by more servants than she had ever taken time to count.
There were no servants in The Bridge House but they lived well. There were two incomes a d now with Joseph's elevation to the middle class there could be a few more luxuries to enjoy but there would not be any servants. The Wiltons was one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in Britain. As well as the land surrounding Tadwell Hall, some of which was farmed and much let to tenants, there was Wilton Mine which was one of the most productive coal seams. Much of the original wealth came from plantations in the Caribbean. When slavery was abolished sixty-eight years previously the family retained its lands and profited. More recently the Wiltons had acquired banking shares both in London and New York.
The Dowager Countess lacked for nothing, nothing money could buy but for every day she longed until her heart ached for something she would never be able to have. She had just the one son and had wanted so much to have a daughter. When Lord Henry's mother became pregnant it had to be a boy to maintain the line of succession but a girl, a grandchild, next time would have been so lovely. When her daughter-in-law died in childbirth it would not happen. the Dowager Countess had watched the Bedson family from a distance, envious beyond measure of Joseph and Emma, they had four daughters, Olive, Lily, Doris and Gladys. Lily was the one she lkiked, if there had been a granddaughter it would have been nice had the child been like Lily Bedson.
"She should not be mixing above her station."
"They are only children Joseph."
"I was at work when I was Lord Henry's age, I was cleaning engines. Cecil started work when he was not much older and the other boys will soon follow. Lord Henry is the son of an earl and will take the title himself one day. Lily is the daughter of an engine driver."
"A manager now," Emma dared to contradict her husband. "We have become middle class. We own The Bridge House, we are not tenants."
"Lord Henry is aristocracy, he will be attending Her Majesty's funeral while we grieve here in the village."
Lord Henry did not attend the funeral although The Earl and the Dowager Countess took their seats in Westminster Abbey.
Lily had a good time riding with Henry and looked forward to more times with her new friend when he was not away at school. Her Ladyship decided Lily needed to ride properly before half-term so instructed her chief groom to make sure it was done. She sent to London for the correct dress a lady should wear in the saddle. Joseph did not approve.
Puppy Victoria was a delight, even Joseph was fond of her. He did not think that anyone noticed but all knew he slipped her the odd morsel from his dinner plate.
Joseph missed his time on the footplate of a steam engine but found the challenge of his role as head of transportation for Wilton Mine very fulfilling. Six months later when the mine owner in person walked into his office Joseph was to understand just how much his efforts were appreciated.
"My Lord." Joseph stood up behind his desk.
"Hughes, the mine manager needs an assistant, a deputy, I want you to take it on."
"That is a yes ?"
"Yes My Lord, of course."
"I do not know what the pay is but I am sure it will be right."
"Of course My Lord."
"One other thing. My mother has taken a bit of a shine to your daughter Lillian."
"It's Lily My Lord, not Lillian."
"What ever. She would like Lily to spend time with her as a companion, would that be in order ?"
"Of course My Lord, if that is what Her Ladyship wishes."
But it was not alright with Joseph, not alright at all.
"Does your daughter work ?"
"No My Lord, she helps run the house."
"Do any of your children have employment Bedson ?"
"My son, Cecil, is a clerk here in the officers of Wilton Mine. Olive helps her mother run the school."
"Yes, ofcourse, Mrs Bedson is the headmistress isn't she ? Well if you could see your way to allowing Lily to spend some time with Mother it would be appreciated."
Where was this going to end up ? Friendship with Lord Henry, riding the horses at Tadwell Hall, a puppy as a gift, riding clothes from London and now a companion to the Dowager Countess. This was not Lily's role in life but Joseph was almost powerless to stop it.
"Oh Lily you have no idea how much I have longed for the holidays and to see you again."
"I have missed you Henry but now it is Easter you are home again."
"I hate school, it is quite beastly. The masters are so stupid and cover their ignorance up by being cruel, the higher up social ladder you are the harder they beat you."
"Oh Henry do they beat you ?"
"Of course they do."
"That is terrible."
"I know but I can take it. I am fourteen now, that's practically a man. Four more years, three at Oxford. 1912 when I am twenty-four years old and you are twenty-one do you know what is going to happen ?"
"I have no idea Henry."
"I am going to marry you. I will make you Lady Lily Wilton then when I inherit and become the Earl you will be my Countess."
"Henry you should not make jokes like that."
"Lily Bedson, the future Countess Wilton of Tadwell I am not joking."
Lily thought he was joking but perhaps he was not.
As a companion to the Dowager Countess Lily was not a servant, indeed she had her own servant while in Tadwell Hall. The Dowager's assistant maid, Sullivan, was assigned to care for Lily's every whish. Lily was not paid for her time but Her Ladyship was generous in every other way. She taught Lily how to sew. She brought in a teacher and Lily began to play the piano. lady Wilton took absolute delight in her adopted granddaughter, one day she would become her proper granddaughter when grandson Lord Henry took her hand in marriage. She knew nothing of Henry's words to Lily on the subject but Her Ladyship had every intention of living long enough to attend their wedding and to enjoy her great-grandchildren. The Earl of Tadwell knew nothing of his son's adolescent affections for Lily not of the scheme within his mother's mind, Lily was a nice enough child and if it kept his mother happy then that was fine by him.
When Henry returned to school he wrote every week to his new and special friend Lily. He always sent the letters to her by way of Tadwell Hall knowing the butler would discretely give his letters to her keeping both families in ignorance. In his letters he did not say much about the day to life at Rugby School which were either far too uninteresting or the kind of thing not to be shared with a delicate young lady.
My Dear Friend Henry, Victoria is very well and growing by the day. I have taught her to fetch a ball when I throw it for her. She can now sit up and beg for tit-bits of food. She is a delight, even my father is fond of her. I am so grateful to your grandmother for giving her to me.
As Christmas approached Henry wrote to his grandmother.
Lady Wilton's heart fluttered as she read the letter her grandson had so carefully composed. Lily and Henry's childhood friendship must have been developing, could it be that her much hoped for plan may in time come about without the need for intervention.
On Christmas Eve the two exchanged their gift, Lady Wilton had prepared Lily who gave Henry a diamond tie pin and was speechless when Henry gave her the locket. Eventually she managed to say, "Oh Henry that is so beautiful."
"Not as beautiful as my Lily. Thank you for this tie pin, do you know what I would really like for Christmas ?"
"What is that ?"
"To kiss you."
"Why Henry I am only eleven years old !"
"Twelve in a few weeks time."
Lily smiled. "You may kiss me but only on the cheek."
Joseph and Emma had not real idea of the affection Lily was held in by the Wiltons and certainly had no understanding of the friendship between her and Lord Henry. They were grateful for the prosperity Joseph's senior position at the mine had brought to The Bridge House. With the family growing older there would soon be a need to add an additional room or two, a builder would need to be engaged.
On a cold February morning breakfast time was again delayed when the carriage drew up outside The Bridge House and Her Ladyship asked to speak with Joseph and Emma.
"My son and I will, of course, be attending the coronation of King Edward VII, Lord Henry has been invited and I would like your daughter Lily to join our party. His Majesty's invitation will extend to four."
Neither Joseph nor Emma could believe what they were hearing. The coronation was to take place on 9th August, six months away, Lily being invited ? An honour but not an event people from their class would be attending. Of course they would celebrate but to actually be there ? Lily's parents could not deny her the chance to be a part of history and they were so proud but Joseph had his concerns.
"It is not right Emma," he said when The Dowager Countess had left. "Lily is moving way out of her class."
"You began life as an engine cleaner," his wife smiled, "now you are Deputy Mine Manager. We are middle class."
"That may be but Lily is not a member of the aristocracy, she never will be, now to be associated with royalty !"
"She will only be sitting at the back of Westminster Abbey with Lord Henry, you heard what Her Ladyship said."
"That's another thing, her friendship with Lord Henry."
"Oh Joseph it is harmless."
Only Lily and Henry knew the depth of their friendship and the young lord's declaration that one day he would marry Lily Bedson. Even The Dowager Countess lady Wilton of Tadwell did not know this even if it was her intention to engineer such a union.
As the coronation approached there was great excitement throughout the country. Every city, every town and every village was planning a party. Madeley where The Bedson family lived was no exception. The Bridge House was the nerve centre for the children of the village while Tadwell Hall was the operations room for the entire area. The day after the coronation the earl was hosting a huge party in the grounds of his home for every family from miles around. Wilton Mine had its own brass band which would be performing to entertain guests. Emma had a group of children in training for a country dancing display. Lily would take families for rides in a pony and trap. She had been busy making bunting to hang round the sides of the trap and special coats in the form of the union jack for the horses to wear. She and The Dowager Countess had been busy with their needles and cotton.
Lily's mind was only partly on Madeley's plans, most of it was in Westminster Abbey. Tzar Nicholas II from Russia would be there. the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and his family were coming. President Roosavelt and America's First Lady would be in attendance. Prime Minister Arthur Balfour would be one representative of the government. Twelve year old Lily Bedson from the Staffordshire village of Madeley was also to be a guest.
"When the Dowager Countess tires of our daughter we will be left to pick up the pieces, you wait and see."
"That isn't going to happen Joseph."
"She is getting on in years, she can not live for ever then what happens ? To you think the Earl will pamper a commoner ?"
The Bedsons were the envy of the village, Lily walked tall and enjoyed the status although she would never have admitted it to her father.
"Mr Bedson, Mrs Bedson." Another early morning visit to the Bridge House from Her Ladyship."
"Yes, My Lady."
"I think perhaps Lily should come to stay at The hall for the week before the coronation. We will be travelling to London two days before the event and will be staying with The Duke and Duchess of Bedford at their Town House in Tavistock Square. Lily will have her own maid while she is with us and in London, Sullivan will attend to her."
"Yes, My Lady."
"Lily to have her own maid !" Joseph said to Emma the moment the carriage left with Her Ladyship onboard. "Have you ever heard anything quite so ridiculous ? A twelve year old girl from a working family with her own maid."
"I was thinking," Emma changed the subject ever so slightly, "that now you are the deputy mine manager we may have some staff at The Bridge House. Perhaps a maid of all work."
"We have daughters to run the house."
"A family of our standing in the village should have at least a maid of all work, it is expected of us."
Joseph did not agree.
"Now that Lily has a maid at The Hall it would not be right if there was not staff in her home."
"I have given my opinion on a child having a maid of her own. A twelve year old working girl with a maid, what ever next ?"
You own this property Joseph, The Bridge House, we are not tenants. We are middle class."
"We only own it because I inherited it."
"Joseph in all the happy years we have been together you have been a kind and loving husband, I could not have wanted better in a man, I hope that I have been the loyal wife you needed. I have never said this Joseph but you married above your station and look how happy we have been. If Lily moves up into society at any level then we should be pleased for her. She is not going to marry an duke or an earl but if she can find a wealthy husband when the time comes then we should be happy for her. The Bridge House needs a parlour maid, a cook and a housekeeper, I am asking you my dearest husband to agree to my finding the right people.
"Three !" Joseph said with a note of incredulity in his voice. "A moment ago you were asking for a maid of all work, nw you want three ! Are you sure you do not want a butler and two footmen as well ?"
"A butler and footmen will not be necessary."
"Are we going to have servants ?" Gladys, the youngest Bedson child asked excitedly.
"Yes," Joseph said.
"How exciting. Can I have a maid the same as Lily ?"
"I am not supposed to know know this," Henry said. "and Lily I am not sure you are old enough for me to tell you."
"Lord Henry Wilton, I am twelve years old. What is it you think you can not tell me ?"
"Oooohhh, Lord Henry. You have not called me that for a long time. Stop messing about and tell me your secret."
"It is not my secret, it is my grandmother's secret."
"So what is it ?"
"When she was younger my dear old grandmother and the Prince of Wales were lovers."
"No. You should not say thins like that."
Henry shrugged his shoulders then said. "It is true. I do not think I want to picture the events my mind but it is true. She was his mistress."
At twelve and a half years of age there was no childhood naivety in Lily's character, she knew what a mistress was and although she was denying what Henry was saying she knew very well that it was probably true.
"The coronation in the Abbey will go on for hours," Henry smiled, "and I am told the seats are hard on the bottom. It is my plan to pass the time by observing Grandmamma and the King, I am going to watch and see how many times their eyes meet."
"You are a very naughty man," Lily giggled. "If you do not behave yourself this instant I will tell The Archbishop of Canterbury everything you have said."
"My father calls him a pontificating vicar. Who is to say that dearest Grandmamma was not one of his mistresses as well ? The church people are the worst."
"I would not let my father hear you say that. He is a very religious man."
"I am not. Fortunately I am the oldest son. In families like mine the oldest inherits, the second son goes into the army and the third has to go into the church. There is only me so I have been spared that misfortune."
"What about the girls in families like yours ?"
"What about them ?"
"What do the girls do ?"
"They become mistresses of the Prince of Wales."
Lily giggled. "I am glad I was not born into the aristocracy."
"But you will be marrying into it."
The Earl and Lord Henry would wear their formal robes for the service at Westminster Abbey, Lady Wilton commissioned a London fashion house to design her outfit and so prepare something fitting for Lily.
Henry was right about the ceremony in the Abbey and was certainly right about the hardness of the seats. No matter the duration of His Majesty's big day Lily was happy to sit and soak up the atmosphere. She pretended she was a great lady from one of England's oldest aristocratic families. Her father, Joseph, was a Duke and mother Emma his Duchess. Lily did, however, allow herself a momentary glance in the direction of The Dowager Countess to see if there was eye contact between her and the newly crowned monarch.
Bedford House was very grand, a Duke being higher up the aristocratic ladder then an Earl. Maid Sullivan was very attentive and treated Lily with the respect normally accorded to someone from a much higher station while at the same time offering friendship. Lily was introduced to the Duchess as My companion and surrogate granddaughter. Lily did not know what surrogate means.
Leaving the Abbey the chauffeur drove them all back to Tadwell. The invitation of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford extended o staying overnight but all four had to be home for the village's celebration the next day. It was dark when the car pulled up at Tadwell Hall.
Lily was beginning to feel that Tadwell Hall was home for her, The Bridge House was still her real home but Lily was able to adapt to the atmosphere and situation which either of the two demanded. She became an expert at adapting to which ever she was living in. Monday morning, all day Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning Lily spent with The Dowager Countess. She was looking forward to many times that summer with her friend Henry. It was at the Madely party that Lord Henry broke the news.
"My father has a plan," he began. "I am to spend my school holidays with the family's interests here and abroad, he considers it to be a part of my education. I am to spend the rest of this holiday rotting away in a dusty old bank. I am so sorry Lily."
"Does that mean we will not be able to see each other ?"
"I am afraid so Lily dear, I can not argue with or disobey my father. I think I will be able to get home one week-end before the new term starts."
The Fifth Earl of Tadwell had his son and heir's future mapped out for several years to come. The Christmas holiday period for 1902 would also be spent at the bank in London. Every holiday, Easter, Summer and Christmas, in 1903 would see Lord Henry in New York. 1904, the year when Henry would be seventeen years old, would be spent on the family estates in the Caribbean. The Earl had 1905 in his mind but was bit ready to share that part of his thinking with his son.
It was not the Earl's intention to prevent his son from seeing his friend Lily, he did not know of the depth that friendship had achieved, but to prepare his son to beome the Sixth Earl of Tadwell. A role he would need to take up sooner than anyone had that far realised.
"I did not think the Earl looked well," Joseph said to Emma at the end of a very busy day as Madeley celebrated the coronation of King Edward VII.
"He will have been tired after all the festivities."
"It is more than that," Joseph observed.
One week before Christmas The Earl visited Joseph in his office at the mine.
"Bedson, I have acquired a large manufacturing plant in Birmingham, Tinnings Linited."
Joseph had heard of Tinnings, they supplied the mine with many of its needs.
"I need to appoint a new managing director to run the company. I have two options Bedson."
"You do My Lord."
"You can either take the position yourself which would mean moving to Birmingham, or I could appoint the mine manager then make you the new general manager of Wilton Mine. The choice is yours."
Joseph knew the Earl had been having talks in Birmingham but did not know what they had been about. It came as a total surprise to him that he was part of it in the earl's mind. There were aspects of Birmingham which could be an advantage to the Bedson Family and to be a managing director was tempting but Joseph could never leave his beloved Bridge House. The Wilton Mine would have a new general manager.
The Wilton Mine would have a new general manager and The Bridge House would have its housekeeper, maid and cook. No matter how much Joseph's fortune advanced he would never, ever employ a gardener. Land around the family home had its lawn and flowers but most of Joseph turned most of it over to growing vegetables. Cook never had to source fruit and vegetables from anywhere but Joseph's garden. He kept hens who generously kept the kitchen supplied with eggs.
Now and then a horse from Tadwell Hall would find its way into the garden. If Lily was at home she would ride it back, is she was already at the hall the animal would be tied up to await her return.
Every week while he was at school and every week while he was away on his father's programme of education within the Wilton Empire, Henry would write to Lily. With each letter she looked more fondly towards the next.
The days went by and turned quickly into weeks. The weeks turned into months and would soon turn into years. For everyone life settled into a routine. Joseph was a highly effective general manager for Wilton Mine who was respected by its owner and workforce alike. Emma continued as the village schoolmistress and enjoyed having three servants to support her running The Bridge House. All three did not live in but had their own homes in the area, The Bridge House was getting too small for the family as everyone grew up. Joseph decided extending the property and so losing some of his precious garden was not worth the cost, eventually all would fly the nest leaving just Emma and himself at home. Lily did not sleep at Tadwell Hall, returning home to The Bridge House on the days she spent as companion to the Dowager Countess. Lily Loved her family but would have liked to live the life of a grand lady, she wondered from time to time if Lord Henry would indeed take her as his wife or if it was just a friendship game.
"I am worried," Joseph said when he returned from the office one evening. "His Lordship came into the office today and I thought he was quite unwell."
"You said that before, just after the coronation," Emma replied. "Is he still poorly ?"
"His face was hollow and I did not like the colour of his skin."
"Oh dear, I hope he gets better soon."
"Consumption," Joseph said. "I have seen it before. His Lordship is showing all the signs. Where is Lily ?"
"She is in the garden feeding the chickens."
"I am going to speak with her."
"Father," Lily said when she saw him approaching. "I have been wondering if we should keep bees in the darden. They would pollenate everything and we could have our own honey to eat."
"Please," Gladys added, "I love honey."
"Gladys would help me look after them," Lily assured her father.
"I would, I would." Gladys jumped up and down excitedly.
The age difference between Lily and Gladys was nine years yet of all he brothers and sisters it was Gladys Lily felt the closest to.
"Go away and play Gladys, I want to speak with your sister."
Gladys skipped off leaving Lily to feed the chickens. She threw her arms out and made a buzzing sound. "I am a bee, a busy, busy bee."
"Perhaps having some bees would be a good idea," Joseph began. "Lily when you have been up at The Hall have you overheard any of the servants saying anything about His Lordship being unwell ?"
"No, Father. Nothing. is he unwell then ?"
"Her Ladyship has said nothing ?"
"No." Lily shook her head.
"Please do not pretend otherwise, I know you receive letters every week from Lord Henry, has he said anything ?"
Lily blushed. How did he know about the letters ? "No Father, he has said nothing."
"Lily, you are not to say anything of this conversation. Not to your Mother, your brothers and sisters, nit to anyone at The Hall and most definitely not to Lord Henry. I need you to listen and tell me immediately if anyone makes any comment about His Lordship's health."
"Is the Earl sick ?"
"I think so Lily, yes. You must give me your solemn promise not to speak of this but I need you to listen. The fortunes of The Bridge House are dependant on my job as manager of Wilton Mine, it would be difficult for us all if that were to change."
"I promise father."
The change her father spoke of would be the death of the Earl. If that happened, when it happened, Henry would become the Sixth Earl of Tadwell. Surely nothing would change, he father's job would be secure.
Time moved on and Earl Tadwell was still head of the family, Lily heard nobody say anything about his being ill. She forgot the conversation she had with her father.
Lily missed spending time with lord Henry Wilton, in four years she had seen him only five times. The letters came every week and re replied at length to them all.
Lily had never seen a black man.
Lily had not seen Henry for a long time. He said he would be home for the summer.
It was a hot summer that year. Joseph's garden flourished. Puppydog Victoria, who was not a puppy any more, found it a little too hot for her liking. Lily was proud to show off a beautiful white dress she had made herself and a hat to shade her from the heat Lady Wilton had given to her as a gift. All was content and happy in The Bridge House family. Things were not so well at Tadwell Hall.
"The Earl has asked me to go to The Hall this evening," Joseph explained. "He says there is something of importance he wishes to discuss with me."
"Perhaps he has another promotion for you."
"I doubt that. I have not seen him for six months, it was a footman who brought the message from His Lordship. The message said a car would be sent for me but I told the footman I would walk."
Emma did not think her husband should have done that but did not say so. Now they were in the social position they were was it right for the mine manager to walk. Perhaps they should have their own car. With the family growing up one of the boys could surely learn to drive. Only Lily from the Bedson Family had been inside a car.
Joseph was surprised to be met not only by The Earl of Tadwell but also by Lord Henry and Te Dowager Countess. It was known that Jospeh did not drink alcohol so the butler had been advised to serve tea. The earl did not look well, it had been so long since Joseph had seen him he had to think hard to recall how he had previously appeared but was certain his employer's condition had deteriorated.
After the formalities of welcoming Joseph and after tea had been served The Earl began. "Joseph," he said. "I have never called you that before have I ? Forgive me, I should have addressed you by your Christian name a long time ago, it has been wrong to have continued calling you Bedson. You have been a good friend over the years and I respect that. May I call you Joseph ?"
"Of course, My Lord."
"And Joseph, my name is Richard. Please can you find it in your heart to call me by that name from now on ?"
"If that is your wish -," Joseph hesitated and stopped himself from adding, "My Lord."
"My son Henry is Henry, of course."
The young lord smiled.
"As for my mother, even I am not sure what her name is."
"My lady will do fine," The Dowager Countess interrupted her son."
"With that out of the way Joseph let me continue. A blind man on a dark night could not fail to notice that I am not a well man."
"I am sorry to hear that."
"How much longer I have in this world only The Almighty knows but as there is no such being my span of life remains a mystery."
Joseph, a firm believer in God, did not question Lord Richard's profession towards agnosticism but said, "Do you have consumption ?"
"Indeed I do but these days the medical profession prefers to call it tuberculosis. If I can keep myself free of chest infections the rate of decline may be slowed but a harsh winter in England and it will be my end."
"My son is to move to our estates in the Caribbean," The Dowager Countess interrupted. "He sails for Bridgetown next week."
"I plan to see out my days there," Earl Richard continued, "which may see me live for a few more years yet. I was born in 1850, I would like to reach my sixtieth birthday."
"My sixtieth birthday was twenty-two years ago," The Dowager Countess explained, "and while a lady should never confess her age I have no plans for retirement. Mr Bedson I will not be taking up residence on the island of Barbados no matter how beautiful my grandson says it is. Do you know, Mr Bedson, he wants to bring some black servants here to Tadwell Hall ?"
"Mother please !"
Lord Henry smiled and caught Joseph's eye. He thought he could detect the faintest hint of a smile on Mr Bedson's face.
"A monarch," the earl continued, "may appoint a regent but it is not something in the gift of an earl. Somebody needs to take my place here on the estate and so Henry has generously agreed not to go to Oxford. I will never be able to thank him enough for doing that."
"I did not want to go, you know that Father. I have spent too much time away from home over the past few years, I want to settle and to start living my life. I have done with education."
"That may be so but I would have liked you to go to Oxford and to have completed your education. I have been preparing you for a long time to take over at Tadwell but I would have liked it if I could have remained here for three more years. That, Joseph, is where you come into things."
Henry made to speak again but his father raised a hand to silence him. No raised hand would silence The Dowager Countess.
"Mr Bedson," she began, "I will support my grandson in all matters relating to his place in society but the worlds of industry, commerce and finance are not worlds I chose to inhabit. Lord Henry needs someone he can turn to at times when he needs advice."
"That is where I need you Joseph." Richard retook charge of the conversation. "There is The Wilton Mine, Tinnings in Birmingham, our Caribbean estates, banking interests in London and New York, Home Farm here and our tenant farmers. Each, of course, has its own management system and someone in overall charge but my son will have ultimate responsibility for everything. It is a lot to ask of someone so young, I would like it so much if he could come to you for advice and support."
"Mr Bedson," Henry forced his way into the conversation, "please will you agree to be the one I can turn to for advice ?"
"Of course, if that is what your father wishes."
"Mr Bedson, please let me call you Mr Bedson, I know my father wishes to call you Joseph but it would be disrespectful if I did the same. But please, please, please could you call me Henry ?"
Joseph found it hard to take in everything that had been said. It was all revolving round in his mind. In earl Richard's mind there was a feeling of calm, knowing his son had a trusted friend by his side. The Dowager Countess's mind was planning the way her unofficially adopted grand daughter would become her official granddaughter-in-law. She was about to say something that would turn the revolving mind inside Joseph's head into a spinning tornado.
"I have been invited," The Dowager Countess began, "to attend a charity dinner at Buckingham Palace on the twelfth of November. It is being hosted by her Majesty Queen Alexandra but I am given to understand the King will be in attendance. I would like Lily to accompany me. Would that meet with your agreement Mr Bedson ?"
"You old fox. "Henry said under his breath. "...given to understand the King will be in attendance ! Is he still your lover then ?"
Joseph's eyes widened but before he could say anything The Dowager continued. "The King's sister was Princess Alice, she died in 1878. Five years later an orphanage was opened near to Birmingham and it took her name. This is a charity dinner to raise money for a new centre at the orphanage to train inmates in the trade of carpentry."
"Since when have you been interested in carpentry or orphans ?" Henry said silently to himself. "You just want to see the King again don't you ? You cunning old lady !"
"Lily will not be a debutant so I thought it would be good for her to be presented to the King and Queen at this dinner. I am sure she will enjoy the evening. We will stay with my good friend The Duchess of Bedford again in her London home, Lily's maid Sullivan will attend her, of course."
"While the King attends to you dearest Grandmamma," Henry thought.
"Where is this orphanage ?" It was all Joseph could think to say.
"At a place somewhere near Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield I think, but we will not be going there. Goodness me no, just to the dinner at Buckingham Palace."
"So what did The Earl want ?" Emma asked when Joseph eventually returned home.
"He wanted a lot," Joseph replied, "but it was nothing to that Her Ladyship has in mind for Lily !"
Joseph explained to his wife, carefully relating all that had happened during the evening.
"Why could Lily not be a debutante ?"
"That is too fanciful for words my dear wife."
"Why ? When I was a girl I dreamed it may happen to me."
"Instead you married an engine fireman."
"I did but now that engine fireman is a successful man of business with the employment of so many in his hands."
"Lily may be a favourite of The Dowager Countess but she is not from aristocracy so the very idea is preposterous !"
"Joseph...... To be a debutant the girl has to be of good social and moral character, Lily is that. Presentation has to be made by someone who has themselves been a debutant, I presume Her Ladyship was in her youth. "
"Lily may be a companion of Her Ladyship but she is not aristocracy."
"Debutants are not entirely from aristocratic backgrounds Joseph, some come from families which have at their head professionals like doctors or lawyers and there are those who are leaders in business. From what you have just said Lily has such a person as her father."
"But Her Ladyship said Lily would not be a debutant. She said that."
"One word from you and I am sure that would change."
"Lily will be seventeen in January. Her season could be in the summer of 1908, if it is to happen we would need to be planning now."
"Planning a season ? You mean planning an auction to find our daughter a husband ?"
"My dearest husband, do you not think that Lily already has her suitor ?"
"I can not believe my old grandmother," Henry said. "One hundred years old and she is still flirting with her former lover."
"What does flirting mean ?"
"My dearest Lily, you have lead such a sheltered life."
"What's a sheltered life ?" Lily smiled.
Lily was so happy to have her special friend back in her life and looked forward to spending time with him again after so long apart. She looked forward to riding with her friend again.
"Oh Lily, I do love you."
I all the years of their friendship, many times during which Henry had talked about making Lily his wife, he had never used that word before. Lily felt herself blushing. "Do you mean that Henry ?"
"Of course I do Lily. I have loved you since the very first time we met when we were children. I may not have the title but I am now in effect The Earl of Tadwell and I want you to be my Countess."
"Are you proposing to me Lord Henry ?"
"I am Lily Bedson, will you please become Lady Lily Wilton ?"
Lily had no hesitation when it came to her answer.
"We need to keep this a secret," Henry said. "I respect your father so much and now he is my official mentor, I must formally ask him for your hand which I will do on your eighteenth birthday, Until then our engagement must be a secret."
While Lily's engagement remained a secret Cecil Bedson's wedding was a major cause for celebration at The Bridge House. This was soon followed by Olive's engagement to the son of a local farmer. Cecil and his new bride moved away from Madeley when Cecil took up the position of assistant works manager at Tinnings in Birmingham. Joseph's influence within the Wilton business world had secured the well deserved promotion for his son, a promotion Lord Henry sanctioned. Without this sanction it could not have happened. Lord Henry had abilities far beyond his years and while he respected his father's wish for Joseph to be a mentor and indeed wanted him there for any times he needed to call upon him nothing had thus far been necessary. Joseph would be Henry's father-in-law, he respected him and wanted to get closer to but Joseph was not an easy man to befriend.
Nothing more was said at The Bridge House about Lily being a debutant and at The Hall The Dowager Countess knew if her plan were able to be put into place it would not be necessary. Little did she know of the secret engagement.
There was a new air of happiness about Lily which the family and the Dowager Countess alike put down to her forthcoming visit to Buckingham Palace.
"When I grow up," Glad said, "I want to be a grand lady like Lily."
"Your sister is not a grand lady Gladys," Emma said. "She is just the same as you are."
"So does that mean I will be a grand lady as well ? Perhaps I could marry the King's grandson."
Emma did not answer her youngest daughter.
"I am going to buy a car," Henry said.
"But you have a car and a chauffeur," Lily smiled.
"I mean a car I can drive myself, one you and I can go riding in together."
"Can I learn to drive Henry ?"
"One day, My Dear Lily, the suffragettes may campaign for women to be allowed to drive but for now it is a thing for gentlemen."
"And you, My Dear Henry, are a gentleman of course."
Henry did not respond to his fiancé's taunt."
"I am going to talk with Her Ladyship," Joseph said, "Lord Henry and Lily should have a chaperone. They are seeing a lot of one another now."
"They have been friends since they were children," Emma said.
"But they are not children any longer. Lily will be seventeen in the new year and His Lordship is already nineteen."
Emma thought that perhaps her husband was right.
"I do not like addressing you as Sullivan," Lily said to her maid. "You have become a friend and I so much appreciate all you do for me."
"It is my job Miss."
"Well I think of you as a sister. I have lots of sisters but you are a special sister. I think, if you will allow me, I would like to call you Sis."
"If that is your wish Miss."
"It is Sis, and it is also my wish that you start calling me Lily."
The Buckingham Palace charity diner was firmly in everyone's diary. Lily was excited, she had seen the Queen at the coronation in Westminster Abbey, of course, but this time she was going to meet her personally and possibly His Majesty as well. What girl would not be excited ?
Sis was excited for Lily and, although she would never have admitted it, was jealous. Glad was jealous as well but had it in her child's mind that one day she would marry the King's grandson.
Joseph and Emma were pleased for heir daughter but Joseph continued to feel that Lily was moving in circles too far above her station in life. There had not been any more talk of debutants although secretly Joseph had to admit to himself he would be proud to be the father of a Deb.
The Dowager Countess was busy planning. She was organising her gown and that Lily would wear. They would again be staying with her old friend the Duchess of Bedford in Tavistock Square. She would never allow her emotions to show, that simply was not something someone of her breeding would do, but she did love her adopted granddaughter. A time would come when she would need to take her grandson to one side and make sure he took Lily Bedson to be his wife.
Lord Henry Wilton ached for the day when his secret engagement need be a secret no longer. He would not wait until Lily was twenty-one years old. She would be eighteen in just over one year, in January 1908. It would then be right for him to ask Joseph Bedson for his daughter's hand. Lord Henry had been brought up not to show emotion, it just was not the British way, but it was hard. He ached so much with love for his secret fiancé.
Far away in Sam Lord's Castle on the Wilton Caribbean estate the Earl had no idea or care about what was happening in England. The sea journey had been taxing but the warm climate and clear air made Richard Tadwell feel better than he had been in many years. He knew he had raised his only son well and the family line would be safe in his hands as soon as he took a wife. Two, perhaps three, years in retirement then the Earl would be ready to rejoin his Countess.
Lord Henry had his new car and learned to drive it. He was a good driver. proudly he pulled up outside The Bridge House. "Is this not a magnificent piece of science and engineering Mr Bedson ?"
"If you like modern things like that I suppose it is."
"Please Mr Bedson, may I have our permission to take Lily for a drive ?"
Joseph Bedson hesitated.
"Perhaps you would like to come, ask Mrs Bedson to join us. There are four seats so let us all go for a drive. Bring Puppydog Victoria along as well."
"I think the dog would be better staying at home," Joseph said. "Gladys will look after him."
Within one hundred yards Lily loved this form of transport. Within half a mile Emma too favoured the new horseless carriage. After two miles even Joseph Bedson was a little less apprehensive.
"It is called an internal combustion engine," Henry said then proceeded to explain the workings of the car's propulsion system.
"What did you say it was called ?"
"The internal combustion engine Mr Bedson."
"Are you sure it is not the infernal combustion engine ?" Joseph Bedson attempted to make a joke. Lily had never in all her life heard her father make a joke.
Joseph was seated in the front of he car alongside Henry with Emma and Lily in the rear seats. Lily leaned forward, placed a hand on Henry's shoulder then asked, "How fast are we going ?"
"About twenty miles an hour."
"How fast does a train travel Father ?"
"Faster than twenty miles an hour but a train runs on rails which control its direction."
"Oh Henry could you drive us to London for the dinner at The Palace ?"
Henry laughed. "Grandmamma would never agree to that. She has only just started to accept the railway. You will be taking the train to London with a horse and carriage to take you to and from the stations both here and in London."
"A wise lady, your grandmother," Joseph commented.
"I have to say," Emma said, "I find this all very exciting. I would be happy to travel in a motor car any time I need to."
"But you never travel anywhere Mother Dear," Lily giggled.
"Another wise lady," Joseph added.
"Times are changing," Henry said. "I predict a day will come when every family in the land will own a motor car."
"Not in my lifetime," Joseph said.
"Would you care to wager on that Mr Bedson ?"
"If it were not for the fact that I am not a betting man, that Young Lord Henry Wilton would be an easy way to make some money."
"Two men, Mr Henry Royce and Mr Charles Rolls have started a motor company. Perhaps we should found a new Wilton enterprise Mr Bedson, The Tadwell Motor Vehicle Company Limited."
"Are you formally asking my advice in accord with your father's wishes ?"
Henry wondered if this relaxed conversation had not actually given birth so something which would be worth perusing. "It is something we could perhaps talk about Mr Bedson."
Lily had never known her father to be so relaxed and talkative. Was it something about the motor car that was causing this strange effect ?
"There are two brothers in America who have made a flying machine ?"
"I trust you are not proposing The Tadwell Flying Machine Company Limited. That is an invention that will never succeed, not in my life time nor the lifetime of my great-grand children !"
Henry thought Joseph was wrong but dismissed flying machines as his mind turned round the idea of Tadwell Motor Vehicles. That idea has potential and, yes, he would discuss it with his father's appointed mentor. he also had another suggestion.
"I think, Mr Bedson, that every business head in the Wilton group of companies should be given, as part of their job, a company car."
Emma silently thrilled at the young Lord's suggestion.
"Speaking as Wilton Mine's manager I have no wish to learn to drive."
"No, no Mr Bedson you would have your own driver, a chauffeur. Indeed the chauffeur we have at Tadwell Hall never has anything to do so let him become your driver."
Emma wanted to shout out "Yes" but knew her husband would not approve of such an outburst. Joseph did not comment on his employer's suggestion.
"Can I please take you all back to The Hall ?" Henry asked. "Come and have tea with me. Cook is a wizard with cakes and I never have anyone to share them with. Her Victoria Sponge, names after Her Late Majesty, is a delight."
"My wife makes a delicious Victoria Cake," Joseph said.
"I have an idea," Lily said. "We could have a cake sale in the village in aid of the orphanage. Mother you would make cakes wouldn't you ? Henry, Cook would help I am sure. Father could we have the sale at The Bride House."
"I think, perhaps Lily, we could."
They were met at the front door of Tadwell Hall by the butler, "We will go through to the sitting room," Henry said. "You can serve us with tea and Cook's famous Victoria Sponge. Ask my grandmother to come and join us."
"A letter has come for you My Lord, it is from Barbados."
"Father," Henry said. "That is not his handwriting."
"I think you will find, My Lord, it is from the island's Governor."
"What does he want ?"
When they were all in the sitting room and waiting for Henry's butler, Hughes, to bring the tea and cake Henry opened his letter. He read it in silence. Everyone knew it was not good news.
"It's Father," Henry said. "He is dead."
Instinctively out of respect Joseph Bedson stood up, his wife and Lily copied his example.
"It has taken two weeks for the letter to get here. His funeral has taken place, he has been buried in the Parish Church of Saint Philip on the island. The letter is from The Governor General, he says I should go there."
A smiling Hughes came in with a tray, he was followed by a footman carrying the cake. They saw everyone standing up and looking solemn and their faces changed.
"It's Father, Hughes. He is dead. I am now the Earl, I am too young to be an earl. I have to go to Barbados. Mr Bedson will you come with me ? Hughes is my grandmother at home."
"My deepest condolences My Lord." Hughes looked towards the footman indicating he should leave. "I am afraid Her Ladyship is out at the moment. I do not know where she has gone, her carriage left about an hour ago."
"My Lord," Joseph said, "I am so deeply sorry to hear such sad news."
Henry held out two hands towards Lily who stepped forward to hold them. Their eyes me and silently said so much to one another. Eventually Henry let go and returned his attention to Joseph. "Please come with me Mr Bedson, I really do not want to go on my own."
"I will, of course My Lord, but if you are to be away would it not be better for me to remain here in England and take care of your interests here ?"
"Yes, Mr Bedson you are right but I need someone with me."
"Would Her Ladyship be going ?"
"Oh I have to tell her the news. Oh no ! Yes, she will want to go I am sure but I need someone I can trust to be my side. Hughes would you come with me ?"
"Me My Lord ?"
"Please, if you would."
"Of course My Lord."
"Hughes, would you be so kind as to speak to Mr Chamberlain's office, he is Colonial Secretary, and ask for any help you need then can you arrange passage. Grandmother will need to take her maid, I will take my valet and you had better take a footman to take care of your needs. We need to take berths on the next available ship."
"Of course My Lord but I do not need to take a footman, I can look after my own requirements."
Lily's heart was bleeding for Henry who was so terribly distressed. The new Earl of Tadwell was not maintaining a traditional still upper lip. His butler politely excused himself, saying he needed to start making arrangements. He had no wish to allow his presence to add to his employer's distress.
"I know my father was going to die," Henry tried to explain. "His illness would never have got better but I did not expect the end to come so soon. I am sorry, of course I am, but that is not why I am distressed. Forgive me, you should not have to see me like this. I am sorry."
Lily stepped forward and again took Henry's hands. Their eyes met and he tried to smile.
"It is just that I am not ready yet to become the Earl of Tadwell. I am too young."
"You are a fine man," Joseph said. "I know you will make a great Earl."
"Now I have to tell Grandmamma. I will do it, of course I will, but I am not looking forward to having to do it. If she sees me in this state she will be angry."
"Allow me to make a suggestion," Joseph said. "Tell Her Ladyship in the morning after you have had a good night's sleep. Take some time to compose yourself and settle your mind."
Lily squeezed Henry's hand and was about to speak but her father spoke first. It was as if there had been some meeting of minds as Joseph Bedson shared the words that were in her mind.
"Henry, explain to your butler that you will dining out this evening then come to The Bridge House and have dinner with my family. Spend the evening with us."
"What are we planning for dinner ?" Joseph said to his wife.
"Cook has prepared a shepherd's pie with vegetables from the garden."
Lily had wanted to invite Henry to The Bridge House and was amazed when her father extended the invitation without the need for prompting. He had been a different man, firstly in the car as they drove about then in the way he discretely yet firmly supported Lord Henry, now he was offering a had of freindship. When the time came for Henry to seek his permission for Lily to to become his bride surely her father would give his support.
It was not hard for Henry to share the news with his grandmother. After a warm evening with the Bedson Family and a sound night's sleep the words were not difficult to form.
"My Lord," The Dowager Countess gave a curtsey. "You have my deepest sympathy for your loss. As the new earl of Tadwell you can rely on my loyalty and complete support."
Henry had inherited an earldom, not the throne of England. he found his grandmother's action a little strange.
Two days later the party left for The Caribbean. There was Lord Henry and his valet, The Dowager Countess and her maid together with Hughes the butler. All would be away for six weeks, returning in time for Lily and the Dowager Countess to be able to attend the charity dinner at Buckingham palace. There was not a lot for the party to on the Barbados estate beyond showing respect for the late Earl and meeting those who wished to offer their condolences. A memorial service was held in the Cathedral Church of Saint Michael and All Angels. Every minute he was away Lord Henry Wilton, the Seventh Earl of Tadwell missed his beloved Lily. Every minute she longed for his return.
Lily turned her intended cake sale into a weekly event. With the cook at Tadwell Hall having only the servants to cater for she produced an abundance of confectionary for sale every Friday. The Bedson cook rose to the challenge and did all she could to match the output. Every Friday the village families delighted in Lily's sale. Joseph took on the role of treasurer for Lily's orphanage fund which took in more money as week succeeded week.
"I think," he said after counting the coins one Friday evening, "that when he returns you and Earl Henry should make a visit to Princess Alice's Orphanage."
"Yes. I think it would be good. Lord Henry can drive you there. Mother and I will come along as well, of course."
"How much money have you raised ?" Henry asked on his return.
"Fourteen pounds, ten shillings and eleven pence."
"That is a fortune." Henry was impressed and much surprised. "I will double it."
"Oh Henry, how generous. Those poor orphans. I think about them a lot. I wonder how terrible it must be to be an orphan."
"I am an orphan," Henry replied.
"Oh dearest Henry, I did not mean it in that way. Those poor children at The Princess Alice Orphanage, they have nothing and they have nobody. You must be one of the richest men in England."
"And I have you," Henry said.
"When can we go to the orphanage ? Can it be soon ? There is something strange about Father, he has changed. It was his idea to visit the orphanage so let's make the visit before he changes his mind."
"Your father does not appear to me to be the kind of person who changes his mind. We can go on Saturday. I will get Cook to give us a picnic hamper then we can have a special day out."
"Oh Henry Wilton I do love you."
Joseph and Emma readily agreed with Henry's plan. The Dowager Countess was not so impressed and was vocally far from enthusiastic.
"It is all very well supporting the orphanage and Lily is to be congratulated for her weekly cake sales but the orphans themselves are not part of our lives. What purpose can there be in actually going to see them ?"
"They are human beings Grandmamma, just the same as you and I."
"Now you are being silly Henry. Haw can you possibly say a waif and stray is on the same level as a peer of he realm ?"
"This is the twentieth century Grandmamma."
"The Rich man at his castle, the poor man at his gate. God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate." Do you remember those words or did you not sing them as a child in your school ? I am sure Mrs Bedson has the children sing them in her village school."
"They are words in a child's hymn. They are not the word of God."
"You, Henry, are the Seventh Earl of Tadwell and I am only the Dowager Countess but I do not approve of what you intend to do."
"My mind is set." Henry uncharacteristically stood up to his grandmother. Lily and I will be visiting the orphanage on Saturday."
"You are the Earl, I am merely the Dowger Countess."
"Yes, Your Ladyship that is correct !" Henry did not believe he had managed to say those words. he made his exit from the room before anything further could be said.
Early on Saturday morning Henry, Lily, Emma and Joseph set off for the Princess Alice Orphanage in Sutton Coldfield near to Birmingham. Joseph entered the day in his new light-hearted and jovial mood. What had happened to him ? This was so different to his usual countenance. Lily wondered if Henry should take the opportunity to announce their secret engagement by seeking her father's approval but she did not wish to risk any change in her father's attitude to her fiancé.
"The Countess Lady Wilton of Tadwell," Lily said silently over and over in her mind. "I am The Countess Lady Wilton of Tadwell." Was Lily too simple a name for a grand lady ? Perhaps she should call herself Lillian but would her parents approve ? Probably not. She had been christened Lily. Why had her parents given her the abbreviated name ? Could a grand lady be called simply Lily ?
Lily had just that single name, no middle name. Was Henry just Henry or did he have other names ? What could they be ? Charles ? Edward ? His father had been Richard ? Henry Charles Edward Richard Wilton, The Seventh earl of Tadwell. All names of kings.
At the orphanage they were met by Mr Litener, Head Warden of Princess Alice Orphanage. He made a respectful bow to Henry and called him My Lord throughout all their conversations. Joseph was Sir and Emma Madam. Lilly he addresses as Miss Lily. Lily smiled and pretended he was addressing her as My Lady.
The orphanage was not the sad place Lily had expected it to be but it was nothing like her home at The Bridge House. How fortunate she, her brothers and sisters were.
The orphanage had its own farm for the boys and a large sewing room for the girls. There was a choir for both the boys and the girls. It was in the sewing room that Lily met a young assistant house mother, Miss Dorothy Albon. They were not formally introduced but struck up a conversation while Mr Litener was showing Hernry, her mother and father some of the orphan's work. Lily allowed Dorothy to call her My Lady twice before correcting her.
Something told Lily that she and Dorothy would become friends.
The four were taken into Warden Linton's sitting room where two of the orphan girls served them with tea.
"We try to train some of our female residents," he said, "to work as maids in smaller houses. They would not br suited to be members of staff on grand estates like Tadwell Hall but i the smaller houses they do relatively well."
"What about the boys ?" Joseph asked.
"Farming is their main route to work. It is not easy to place orphans into situations where living space is provided with an occupation. Our boys could never be footmen. That is why we want to start this new workshop."
"But labourers do not receive accommodation with their employment," Joseph observed.
"We are hoping some parish churches may open hostels."
"I am sure we could employ a number," Joseph said. "Could we not Henry ? There are two vacant cottages on the estate."
"Of course, Mr Bedson."
Warden Linton wondered how an employee of the Earl could address him by his Christian name yet in reply the Earl gave his employee the courtesy of calling him Mister.
There then followed a short concert with the boys and girls presenting the group with a number of songs. One in particular appealed to Lily. Before the children began to sing again she interrupted the proceedings.
"Excuse me, Mr Linton, can you tell me what is the name of that song ?"
Before Warden Linton could reply Henry gave the answer. "Santa Lucia, it is an Italian folk song from Naples."
"It is so beautiful. Please, Mr Linton, could the children sing it again ?"
Linton looked to the Earl and nodded.
On their return to Madeley Henry sent for his butler. "We do not employ a boot boy do we ?"
"No My Lord, with just yourself and Her ladyship there is not the work to keep a boot boy occupied. Your valet and Her Ladyship's maid take care of everything."
"Do the servants have shoes that need to be cleaned ?"
"They look after their own needs on an individual basis My Lord."
"I want you to contact Warden Linton at Princess Alice orphanage and employ one of their boys to work here."
"If that is your wish My Lord."
"You should not have done that," The Dowager Countess did not approve. "Employing a orphan to work in the house. Thank goodness you grew out of your idea to have a black servant. But now this !"
"Queen Victora had a black servant."
"He was an Indian not a descendent of a slave !"
"My mind is made up Grandmamma. I intend asking Mr Bedson to look at all of the Wilton affairs and see if we can employ any more orphans."
"They can always sweep the chimneys I suppose," she replied under her breath.
"What was that ?"
"Nothing My Lord."
"So you are the young lady who makes the cakes."
"Not me, Your Majesty. It is Cook and the cook at Tadwell Hall who bake the cakes. I justs ell them."
"Could you bak a cake yourself Miss Bedson ?"
"I have thought of trying Your Majesty."
"I urge you to try Miss Bedson. Would you then please bake a cake for me ?"
"If that is your wish your Majesty."
"Thank you, Miss Bedson. You are very kind."
Lily did not have the slightest idea how to bake a cake.
"How does one actually start to bake a cake ?" The Duchess of Bedford said the next day. "I am sure I have never cooked anything in my entire life. Where does one find the things needed to make such a thing as a cake ?"
"That, My Dear, is what servants are for," The Dowager Countess explained.
"But the King's word is law so if he instructs Lily to make a cake then she has to do it," The Duchess commented.
"Perhaps I could try something simple," Lily said. "Maybe a fruit cake."
The Duke looked up from his newspaper. "I have heard," he said, "that His Majesty is partial to a slice of bread pudding."
"I am sure I have never heard of bread pudding."
"Neither have I and I am absolutely certain I would never, ever want to eat such a thing."
Lily did not try to make bread pudding. Neither the cook at The Bridge House nor Tadwell Hall admitted to having a recipe for such a delight. Lily produced a delicious fruit cake.
"The King will delight with that," Cook said.
His Majesty was staying at Windsor Castle. Lord Henry sent the cake to him, entrusting it to the charge of a footman. The chauffeur drove the footman and cake to the castle.
Lily's Friday cake sales became a firm diary entry for every family in Madeley. the Duchess of Bedford sent a car every week to collect delicacies for her week-end house guests. As other aristocratic families and members of the gentry came to learn of the sales so they started to send servants to collect supplies. Every week Josph Bedson sent the money to Warden Linton at Princess Alice Orphanage. Ebery week Dorothy Albon wrote to thank Lilly.
As Christmas approached Henry had an idea. One evening he drove to The Bridge House to share it with his mentor.
"I would like to have a Christmas concert at The Hall," he explained. "We can use the ballroom, knock some dust off it, it hasn't been used for several years. We can have several performances if enough people want to come."
Joseph nodded as he listened.
"The band from the mine can plan and the orphan's choir can sing."
"Please can they sing that song ? What was it called ?"
"Santa Lucia, Lily."
"Yes, that's it."
"We can have two concerts every year," Henry continued. "One at Christmas and one in the summer."
"An excellent idea," Joseph smiled.
The Dowager Countess did not smile.
"You want to bring coal miners and orphans into Tadwell Hall ? What ever next ? Is it not enough that you brought an orphan into the servants hall as a boot boy ? I understand Bedson has engaged three more to work on the farm."
"My Dearest Grandmamma, if you are not comfortable with the arrangement you can always take up residence in the Dower House."
"You foolish Earl !" She replied with just a faint hint of a smile. "If you ever get around to proposing marriage to Miss Bedson |The Dower House will become her home for the period of your engagement. Then when she becomes The Countess of Tadwell I will retire to The Dower House."
Henry patiently counted the days to January 1908, January17th 1980 when Lily would be eighteen years old and their engagement could become official. The Dowager Countess had made her wishes clear to her grandson and while he never responded she knew that in time Lily Bedson would become the Countess of Tadwell and her official granddaughter-in-law.
Joseph's fondness for Lord Henry was clear for everyone to see, particularly clear for Lily to see. She was certain that when Henry asked for he hand her father would give their union his blessing.
Lily's weekly cake sales continued. Every now and then a request would come from Buckingham Palace and a footman would be despatched with a fruit cake for His Majesty. It was a long drive from Madeley to London but the chauffeur took great pride in every journey. "The King is getting far too rojnd in the stomach," The Dowager Countess commented.
Neither the cook at The Bridge House nor Tadwell Hall and certainly not Lily attempted to make bread pudding.
"Grandmother, I want you to know just how much I love you and how much I respect you. You are not an easy person but you are the head of our family and so I am here speaking with you about what, I hope, will be the most important event in my life."
"Actually, Henry, you are the head of our family. There are only two of us in the Wilton Family and it is you who is The Earl."
"Yes Grandmother." Henry tolerated his only relative's interruption to his most carefully prepared speech. He was deliberately addressing her as Grandmother and not Grandmamma. She was hoping with everything in her mind and body that Lord Henry Wilton The Seventh Earl of Tadwell was about to bring her life-long dream and desire into the realms of reality. He was.
"It is usual," Henry continued, "for families in our position to marry in order to strengthen the dynasty. It is not the usual way to take a wife out of love."
"Your grandfather loved me." Henry was interrupted again but the words were supportive so he took no objection to them. "I loved your grandfather and I know for certain just how much your father loved your dear mother."
"Thank you," Henry said. "Grandmother, there is someone I love, someone I love very deeply and I want to be my wife. She is not of noble birth but I do lover her so deeply. I want to ask Mr Bedson if I may take his daughter, Lily's, hand in marriage."
Henry watched in amazement as a tear formed in his grandmother's eye and spilled on to her cheek. She regained her composure and began to speak. "You have made an old lady very happy My Lord. I was born as the third daughter of The Marquis of Tavistock, later The Duke of Bedford. The then Duke was my grandfather. I was not of any great significance in the social order of our family. I was born in 1831, King William was on the throne so I even predate the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria."
It was clear to Henry that his grandmother was about to share her life story. he silently hoped there would be no mention of her affair with The Prince of Wales.
"You are right to talk about how families like ours organise their marriages, love is not always a part and indeed it seldom is. I was the granddaughter of a duke but as the third daughter of the marquis I was married off to a mere earl."
"Did I love my husband when we were first married ? No, I did not. Did I love him throughout our years together ? I loved him with all my heart. Before you even think about it Henry, my friendship with The Prince of Wales was when I was younger than you are now !"
Henry had dreaded that subject being mentioned but was glad it had been and relieved the liaison predated his grandmother's entry into the family.
"Just as you have inherited the title at a young age so The Fifth Earl of Tadwell did the same. When your father was born the line was secure. With a son in place to become the sixth earl I looked forward to a daughter. My darling husband and I were never blessed with any more children."
The Dowager Countess swallowed hard as she concealed her emotions before continuing her story. Lily was surprised by a change in her father's being, Henry wondered if there some kind of contagion ? This was not the style of his grandmother's usual countenance.
"Your father was a good man but we were never close. It is not done in families of quality for a son to be close to his mother. A daughter, yes but I was never blessed with a daughter."
"When your father met your mother, the daughter of a mere baronet, he loved her in those first seconds. I loved her. Two weeks after they were married my husband died and your father became the head of our family. It was so wonderful when your mother was with child. You had to be a boy so the line would go on but there could then be a girl. I never had a daughter but soon I would have a granddaughter."
"Your mother was a wonderful and beautiful woman Henry. She was taken from this world far too young. There never is a day when I do not look at you and see her."
The Dowager Countess took a lace handkerchief and dapped away a tear.
She held up a hand. "Let me finish Henry, please let me finish."
"You are not the only person to love Lily Bedson. People, I am sure, think that I am fond of her, that I patronise the child of a common family. No Henry, I love her. Joseph and Emma Bedson are blessed with a large family and I envy them. I envy them Lily, to me she is the daughter, the granddaughter, I never had. If you were offered to take in marriage the daughter of a marquis, a duke, a royal duke or the king himself I would want you to turn her down in order to take the hand of Mr Joseph Bedson's Lily."
Henry made to speak but was again silenced.
"Now go and see Joseph Bedson, go and see him now. Ask him, plead with him, beg him for his daughter's hand in marriage. make Lily Bedson your countess."
Henry kissed her on the cheek.
"Father, Henry is here."
The Bridge House was accustomed to The Earl of Tadwell being a regular visitor but generally it was known in advance that he would be coming. The times he and Lily spent alone were usually taken when she was at the Hall. Even though the older members of the family had moved out The Bridge House was still a bustling home.
"Mr Bedson, may I speak with you ?"
"Alone if I may and when we have spoken could I also speak with you and Mrs Bedson ?"
A glance from Joseph dismissed his wife, Lily and young Glad from the room. "Glad take Puppy Victoria for a walk."
His Lordship looked serious and apprehensive although not burdened with worry.
"Mr Bedson, Sir," Henry began. He had been rehearsing the words but now everything was confused. "Your daughter, Sir, Lily, Sir, she will be eighteen years old in January, Sir> We have been friends, Sir, since we were children, Sir. I love your daughter, Sir. I want to ask your permission, Sir, to ask Lily to be my wife, Sir. I want to marry her, Sir."
Joseph Bedson smiled.
"I would like to propose to her Sir on her birthday, Sir. Do I have your permission, Sir ?"
"Lord Henry Wilton indeed you do."
"Can I speak with Mrs Bedson now please Sir. Lily must not know Sir, I want to propose to her on her birthday, Sir."
"I'll send Lily off on an errand then invite my wife to join us. Perhaps it may be easier if you let me tell her the news." Joseph smiled then added the word, "sir."
"How would you like to be the mother of a countess ?" Joseph asked, trying to show a serious face.
"It all depends who the Earl is," Emma replied. "If it is Lord Henry The Seventh Earl of Tadwell then, yes, I would rather like that."
Henry was relieved.
"This will be my first Christmas as Earl of Tadwell," Henry began, "I am going to start a tradition which I want all generations that come after me to observe."
"Yes, Grandmother. Let me explain and then you can help me."
To the rest of the world The Dowager Countess of Tadwell was every bit a aloof and austere as she had ever been yet to Henry, since learning of his intentions towards Lily Bedson she had softened her stance. Respecting his wish not to propose to Lily until her eighteenth birthday in the New Year she was careful not to change anything during the times when she and Lily were together. Without this shift in attitude Henry would not have contemplated sharing his thinking with his relative.
"Every Christmas Eve I will visit Princess Alice Orphanage to take gifts for the children."
"This year I will ask Lily, Mr and Mrs Bedson to come with me."
"I am sure you would not want to come as well Grandmother so I will respect your wishes."
"That boot boy, the child you brought here from the orphanage, I spoke to him the other day."
Henry was surprised.
"He was a pleasant enough child. I think I may let him shine my footwear."
"Henry was very surprised.
"If all the waifs are like him then I think I will come with you on Christmas Eve."
Henry was so surprised he was certain this was a dream.
"So that is your tradition then ? A pleasant enough idea."
"Oh no Grandmother. Well it is part of it but just a small part."
"Please do not tell me you intend to invite all the waifs here to spend Christmas Day with us."
"No Grandmother. Christmas Day this year will be just the two of us. Next year we will have the new Countess but that is not my tradition, the plan for my tradition I mean."
"You are not making sense Henry, spit it out."
"The day after Christmas Day, the twenty-sixth of December, the staff have their Christmas lunch in the servants hall. I am going to move that to our dining room."
"I am happy to support that."
"Cook always prepares lunch, she will do it again this year but in the summer Lily and I will be married so for Christmas 1908 we will cook, Lily and I."
"Are you sure about that Henry ?"
"Yes Grandmother, I am."
"Then I will support you."
"The staff always serve themselves at Christmas, just as they do for every meal in the servants hall. At Christmas from now on the family will wait on table and serve them."
"In that area of your tradition, Henry, I most certainly do not support you."
Early on the morning of Christmas Eve Henry and The dowager Countess drove to The Bridge House. Her Ladyship had not relented about serving the meal but it was a great concession on her part to consent to travel in a motor car. Before they left for Princess Alice Orphanage Henry and the Dowager Countess gave gifts to each member of the Bedson Family. The Dowager Countess presented Joseph and Emma with a painting.
"A previous Earl commissioned this work," The Dowager Countess began. "It was painted in 1779 by William Ashford. Although he is regarded as an Irishman he was born and brought up in Birmingham. The bridge in the painting is not the bridge of your Bridge House but a bridge somewhere on our estate. Do not ask me where, I have no idea. I would like you to have it."
"Thank you My Lady," Joseph and Ema said together.
Henry had selected with much care the gift for Glad, Lily's youngest and favourite sister. he gave her a bound volume of The Girls Own Paper.
"that should keep you busy reading until next Christmas."
"There is some sound advice in there," Her Ladyship added, "so read it with care."
Articles in The Girls Own Paper Album explained in great detail how young ladies should dress. There were stories, there was advice on suitable hobbies and a special feature on the legend of Santa Claus.
Even Puppydog Victoria, although it had been a while since she was a puppy, received a gift. Cook at The Hall had baked a pie containing all of Victoria's favourite food.
"I would wage the King's per dog will not receive a Christmas gift as good as that," Lily smiled.
Life was perfect. It was perfect for Lily at The Bridge House and it was perfect for Henry at Tadwell Hall. Next Christmas the two families would be one. Lily and Henry exchanged gifts but it was the smiles they exchanged that were the most precious.
Even The Dowager Countess had to admit there was something very special about their Christmas Eve visit to the Princess Alice Orphanage. Warden Linton had prepared a concert where the orphans sang carols. To finish the singing they delighted Lily with Santa Lucia.
Henry had an idea. He would start to work on that idea as soon as Christmas was over but for a few more weeks that idea would have to remain a secret.
Christmas cake was served. "I am afraid it is not quite up to your baking standards Miss Bedson."
"It is delightful," Lily said. "Quite delicious."
Dorothy Albon was there and pleased to see Lily again. "I do appreciate the letters you send every week."
"We appreciate your support and the money you send every week." Dorothy paused then said, "Lily I would like you to meet two people, can you come with me for a few minutes ?"
Dorothy beckoned to two small children who were standing shyly at the side of the room. A boy and a girl, perhaps six or seven years old. They were holding hands and did nor respond to Dorothy's finger calling them over.
"They arrived yesterday," Dorothy explained, "and have yet to learn they must obey instructions."
"Let's walk over to them," Lucy said, "come on. Who are they ?"
"Allow me to introduce you to the McDonald Twins, Bobby and Betty."
"Hello," Lily smiled.
The children tried to smile in response.
"Say hello to the lady," Dorothy ordered.
"Hello My Lady," the little boy said. His sister made to curtsey.
"The McDonald Twins mother died last week so they have come to live here."
"What about their father ?"
" He's in prison."
Their father may be in prison but Lily thought her friend was being unkind and harsh to say so. Those poor, poor children. She knelt down so she was the same height as they were. "Bobby, Betty how old are you ?"
"Seven," Bobby said. "And my sister is seven, we are twins."
What kind of Christmas would these two waifs have ?
"Have you had any cake to eat ?" Lily asked.
"We do not like cake," Betty said.
"Our other used to make bread pudding," Bobby added. "We like bread pudding."
"I happen to know someone else who likes bread pudding."
"Do you My lady ?"
"Yes, I do, and my name is Lily."
Throughout Christmas day Lily found herself thinking about Bobby and Betty McDonald.
Henry spent the day silently counting down the days to Lily's birthday. Just three ore weeks away.
Lily delighted in being a part of the servant lunch in the grand surroundings of Tadwell Hall's dining room. The staff at The Bridge House were not resident so spent Christmas in their own homes.
Glad was delighted with the book and simply could not put it down.
Puppydog Victoria enjoyed her present. She hoped Cook would soon bake for her another pie.
The Dowager Countess sent for the boot boy and gave him a shilling to spend.
The weather over Christmas was not at all close to the sentiments expressed in the carols. It was not could, it did not snow, the sun did not shine and clouds covered the sky. They covered the sky both in the daytime and at night so no stars shone. It rained all day on New Years Eve and on January the first. Friday January 3rd would be the first cake sale of the New Year so Lily was busy preparing for the event.
"Just seventeen days to go," Henry said to himself. "Fifteen if you do not count today, New Years Day, and you do not count Lily's actual birthday."
When Joseph sent the money from that first 1908 cake sale to Princess Alice Orphanage Lily asked that a letter be included from herself to Warden Linton.
The reply came.
Violet, that was a lovely name. There were not any violets growing in the garden at The Bridge House, Lily would make sure her father planted some in the spring.
Friday 17th January was a bright sunny day, although still many weeks away there was a hit of spring in the air. Lily was excited about her birthday but Friday was a cake sale day which was always the busiest day of the week. There were orders from the Duchess of Bedford and King Edward as well as many grand families in the counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and as far as Northamptonshire.
After breakfast Joseph and Emma gave their daughter their birthday gift, a solid gold watch. There were so many presents to be unwrapped and cards to open. Dorothy had sent a card, inside the envelope was another card, a hand made card from Bobby and his sister Violet. Dorothy must have organised that, perhaps she was not so fierce as Lily thought.
"Father why is there a copy of The Times on the table ? You do not usually have The Times here at home."
"There is an article in it about the Wilton banking interests in America. I want to read it later," Joseph lied.
"That does not sound very interesting," Lily smiled.
There was a knock at the front door. Lily's maid from The Hall had come to wish her friend a happy birthday. "I will be in charge of the cake sale today," Sullivan said, "You may help if you wish but only help, not take charge."
Lily mocked a curtsey. "Thank you My Lady."
There was another knock at the front door of The Bridge House. This time it was Henry."
"Mr Bedson, Mrs Bedson may I take Lily away for a short time to give her my birthday present ?"
"Of course you may My Lord."
Lily noticed her father's smile. What was he up to ?
"Where are we going Henry ?"
"For a walk."
"A walk ? Where to ?"
"To the bridge in that painting Grandmother gave to your parents at Christmas."
"How far away is that ? I've never been here."
"Two or so miles."
"Two or miles ! Henry what are you up to ?"
"Be patient my Dearest Lily. Be patient."
Beneath the bridge as a polished oak chest. Henry handed Lily the key. "Open it, your gift is inside."
Lily was excited.
"A newspaper !" She exclaimed. "You have given me a newspaper ? Why did we have to come here ? Father had a newspaper at home. What is happening ?"
Among the announcements on the front page of The Times for Friday 17th January 1908 one read:
Mr and Mrs Joseph of The Bridge house in the County of Staffordshire are pleased to announce the betrothal of their daughter Lily to Lord Henry Wilton The Seventh Earl of Tadwell.
Lily let out a scream of joy and happiness.
"Lily Bedson will you do me the greatest honour of becoming my wife."
A tear rolled down Lily's cheek.
"Our secret engagement is a secret no more and to let the whole world know I want you accept this and wear my ring."
Another tear rolled down Lily's cheek.
Waiting for their return to The Bridge House were The Dowager Countess and a liveried footman who had travelled all the way from Windsor with a special message.
Henry and Lily allow me to offer my warmest congratulations.
There was a post script.
Lily when are you going to add bread pudding to your cake sales ?
The Dowager Countess handed Lily a key. "This, My Dear, is the key to The Dower House. I think it appropriate that you reside there for the period of your engagement. You will never have to use it, of course. Your butler will open the door for you.
"I don't have a butler," Lily said.
"You do now My Dear. You also have a cook, a parlour maid, housekeeper and of course you will keep Sullivan as your lady's maid."
"Five servants to look after one person," Joseph said to himself. He had moved his stance on Lily moving up society's ladder but five servants to look after one person, that was excessive.
"I have another birthday gift for my future Countess. Mr Bedson would you help me ?"
They left momentarily then returned with a phonograph. Henry had already would up the clockwork motor. Turning the level the machine began to spin and the sound of Princess Alice Orphanage Choir singing Santa Lucia filled the room.
"Oh Henry, my favourite song. How beautiful."
"There is more," The Dowager Countess said. "Tell them Henry."
Henry smiled. "I think perhaps your father should tell you. He and I have planned this together."
"It was your idea Henry so please let me defer to you."
"Some families," Henry began, "send their sons on a grand tour of Europe. They visit Venice, Rome, Naples and sometimes to Athens. We Wiltons have never done that. For Easter and to celebrate our pending union I am taking you to Venice where that song will be sung to you as you ride in a gondola."
"Oh Henry !"
"Your mother and father will be joining us."
"And I will be there as chaperone."
"Grandmother, I do not think that Mr and Mrs Bedson need a chaperone." Henry's joke was appreciate by all save for The Dowager Countess of Tadwell.
Although All Saints Church in Madeley would have been Joseph's choice for the wedding it was much too small. Stoke Minster also could not hold all who would want to attend so plans were made to hold the wedding in Saint Philips Cathederal in Birmingham.
"This will be the society wedding of the year," The Dowager Countess explained.
That year would not be 1908, nor would it be 1909. The wedding of Lord Henry Wilton and Lily Bedson was set for Saturday 18th June 1910. The Earl and his new Countess would then spend a month at Sam Lord's Castle on the family estate in Barbados.
A long engagement was not what either Lily or Henry wanted but as The Dowager Countess insisted, there was so much to do.
Lily was excited but very concerned that she now had no choice but to make some bread pudding for the king. This became a more important and urgent priority for her than any planning for her society wedding. The newly appointed cook at The Dower House made a suggestion.
"I have a friend, Emily, who may be able to help," she said. "I know she makes bread pudding for her husband."
"Oh do ask her please."
The Dower House had a telephone, it was installed at the same time as one was provided at Tadwell Hall. It had never been used and Her Ladyship did not approve of the instrument. Lily decided it was time to try it out. With her butle at hand and ready to offer assistance Lily began.
"Operator, could you please connect me to Sutton Coldfield Two-Nine-One ? I wish to speak to Warden Linton."
Within seconds Lily could hear Warden Linton's voice. She explained about the King's request for bread piudding and asked that Dorothy Albon bring the McDonald Twins to The Dower House to assist with the baking.
"I will send a car to collect them," she said. "It will be with you for nine o'clock next Thursday so the bread pudding can be baked for the next day's sale with some being sent to His Majesty."
As Lily ended the conversation she realised the way she had spoken, giving an order and not making a request, must have sounded just like The Dowager Countess.
The catering team assembled in the kitchen of Tadwell Hall, Tadwell was chosen as it was the largest kitchen but the cooks from The Bridge House and The Dower House were present. Cook's friend, Emily, was in charge. Dorothy was present with Bobby and Violet.
"I think we had best make a lot," Lily said. "When everyone learns where the bread pudding will be going they will all want some."
"When it is cooked will you sprinkle sugar on the top ?" Bobby asked.
"Certainly My Dear."
"Mummy always sprinkled sugar on the top of bread pudding when she cooked it." Violet said.
Lily took Dorothy to the far corner of the kitchen out of the hearing of the children. "Why is their father in prison ?" She asked.
"He has been in and out of prison for most of his life, one petty crime after another. He is currently serving ten years with hard labour for theft. The twins hardly know him and will have forgotten all about his existence by the time he is set free."
"They are safe now and are being well looked after."
"I am sure they are but it is still terrible isn't it ?"
Henry arrived with a camera. "Let me take some photographs of your efforts."
Henry still had dreams of starting a motor car business but wondered if a bakery may be a Wilton enterprise worthy of consideration.
Violet's eyes met Henry's and she smiled. He walked to speak with her.
"You came to the orphanage," Violet said.
"Yes, I remember you Violet."
"And you are My Lord."
"I am just Henry. I am an orphan as well." He kissed Violet on top of her head.
"Will she never stop amazing me ?"
"Pardon," My Lord.
"No, not you Violet, my Grandmother. I will have to go and speak with her. You go back to your cooking."
"Grandmother, I had no idea you knew your way down here to the servants area of The Hall."
"I followed my nose. It smells good."
"Bread pudding ?"
"Henry, dear, do not be such a snob. If bread pudding is good enough for His Majesty it is good enough for the likes of us."
January moved into February and February into March. Everyone was then a quarter of the way through the year. Three months closer to a society wedding but also just a few weeks before the holiday to Venice.
Lily would take Sullivan, her maid with her. Henry would take his valet and The Dowager Countess would take hger maid to Venice. Joseph and Emma did not need anyone to look after them. Joseph had never become accustomed to having servants in The Bridge House and regarded the high level of staffing Lily now had around her at The Doer House as a vast extravagance. Emma suggested it provided employment for three people and that, in itself, was a good thing. Lily had her own ideas about living alone in a large house with servants, when she returned from Italy she wanted to discuss with The Dowager Countess the appointment of one, perhaps, two more members of her household staff.
Lily stood in Saint Mark's Square and marvelled at all she could see. Henry had prepared carefully for the visit.
"It is The Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint Mark," Henry explained. "It is the cathedral for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice."
"It must be very old," Emma said.
"It dates back to 1092 when it was the chapel of The Doge. Today it is connected to The Doge's Palace."
"And it is named after Saint Mark, one of the apostles ?" Joseph said. Joseph was a member of The Church of England and did not approve of the Roman Catholic church yet had to agree the cathedral was magnificent in every way.
"Who was The Doge ?" Lily asked.
"Some people would tell you The Doge was a duke," Henry explained, "but he was not an aristocrat and the title was not heretitory."
"Not so important as an English Earl," Lily smiled.
"No foreigner is as important as an Englishman," The Dowager Countess explained.
"Ludovico Manin was the last Doge of Venice," Henry continued to show off his knowledge. "He was forced to abdicate by Napoleon in 1797."
"That man has a lot to answer for," The Doawger Countess said.
"Those paintings are quite beautiful," Joseph observed.
"You wait until we get inside. There are more than one hundred square yards of mosaic frescos."
"That is amazing, quite amazing."
"The architect," Henry was coming to the end of the history of the cathedral he had learned, " was Domenico I Contarini."
After marvelling at the interior of Saint Mark's Henry was ready to expand his knowledge of the history of Venice.
"The city dates back to four hundred years before Christ," Henry explained. "People came here from prosperous cities within the Roman Empire to form The City on the Water. This is a lagoon, tomorrow we will explore some of the islands. This evening we will ride along The Grand Canal on a gondola."
"You are very knowledgeable," Joseph said.
"I have been swatting it all up."
"It is unfortunate that you did not swat so hard in your studies when you were at school."
"You didn't actually go to school, Grandmother, is that right ?"
"Daughters of dukes were tutored at home," The Dowager Countess explained.
"As we ride down The Grand Canal we will pass under four bridges, I will point of Rialto Bridge and The Bridge of Sighs. The Bridge of Sighs was built to connect the prison with the interrogation room at The Doge's Palace so those who crossed it shighed in anticipation of their fate."
"The boats are called gondolas, is that right Henry ?" Lily said.
"And the person who rows a gondola is a gondolier ?"
"Didn't Gilbert and Sullivan write an opera about gondoliers ?"
"Indeed they did."
"I do not think," The Dowager Countess said, "that the songs of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan could be called opera !"
Five gondolas took the party on its ride along The Grand Canal of Venice. Lily and Henry rode in one with Her Ladyship acting as chaperone. Joseph and Emma Bedson were seated in the second with the three servants occupying another. Two more gondolas were filled with musicians and singers.
There was a beautiful melody of Italian songs which started and finished with Santa Lucia.
Lily returned home to Madeley so full of joy and happiness. Henry was a special person. It was going to be wonderful when she became The Countess of Tadwell but that was still a long way away. Lily had plans for the many months before her wedding.
"You can have as many servants as you need My Dear," The Dowager Countess smiled. "One can never have too many servants."
"Not for me but for the guests I would like to have at The Dower House this summer."
"Guests, what guests My Dear ?"
Lily was in training to become as formidable as her soon to be Grandmother-in-law so was not daunted by the task now facing her as she explained the need for more domestic staff.
"I have spoken with Warden Linton, there are one hundred and twenty children at Princess Alice orphanage. For two weeks in July and four in August I intend to invite twenty children a week from the orphanage to come to The Dower House for a holiday. I want them to live as if they were the sons and daughters of nobility."
Lily waited for the explosive reaction from The Dowager Countess. It did not come. Instead she said, "You will certainly need a scullery maid, perhaps two. Cook will never be able to feed so many hungry little mouths without help. You will need tow more parlour maids and a housekeeper. Definitely a housekeeper."
"Could the children have maids and valets ?" Lily dared to ask.
"That could be classed as going a little too far," The Dowager Countess smiled. "Perhaps the orphans could share. One servant between two ?"
"What are you thanking me for ? It is you who is preparing to open her home. Tell me what are you proposing to do with the children all day, every day ?"
"We could make use of two childrens' nannies," Lily explained. "Then I thought about hiring some entertainers, Punch and Judy, perhaps some jugglers. I am sure the people of Madeley would take the children fishing at the river, we could have a paper chase, the children could paint pictures."
"They could paint landscapes like the one by William Ashford," The Dowager said, "the picture I gave to your parents."
"And Henry could bring his camera to take photographs."
"He could even take them for rides in that infernal motor car of his."
"So you approve of my idea My Lady ?"
"Lily Bedson, I hope you will find it in your heart to start calling me Grandmother. Of course I approve of your idea."
"Thank you - Grandmother."
"Lily, a person of my generation and position is expected to be a daunting and fierce person. I can not say that I regard Edwardian England to be of the same standing as Victorian England but beneath what you see there beats a heart."
"What worries me," Lily explained, "is where to find all the extra staff. Could you help me ?"
"Of course you can borrow staff from The Hall and I am sure my cousin, The Duke of Bedford, can lend us some of his servants for the summer."
Lily's summer of holidays at The Dower House was a tremendous success and was repeated again in 1909. Henry's newly formed tradition for Christmas was repeated in its second year. Venice had been lovely and so was the visit at Easter to Rome. New Year Day 1910 was very special for both Henry and for Lily, it marked the start of the year when they would finally be married.
There was no Easter holiday planned for that year, after the wedding In June The Earl and Countess of Tadwell would holiday for a month at Sam Lord's Castle on the Wilton's Barbados estate.
On Friday 6th May 1910 King Edward VII died at Buckingham Palace. Unlike when Queen Victoria died the news of the nation's loss spread through the land far more quickly. In the same way as he had done before Joseph Bedson called all members of his family together at The Bridge House in order to share the news. Lily left The Dower House to be there. It was, however, The Dowager Countess who summonsed Lily and Henry to discuss the implications of the King's passing.
"My Dear, Dear Children," she began. "I do not know how to find the correct words to speak to you now. The Empire is in mourning. The coronation of King George will not be for a year at least. I am so terribly sorry for you both but there simply can not be a society wedding on the scale yours will be during the period of mourning. Everything we have planned is going to have to be postponed until after the coronation."
Lily's heart sank and Joseph found himself lost for words. Would King Edward have wanted his passing to spoil their planned wedding ? Probably not. Should the wedding be postponed ? Probably it should be. Could everything be rearranged for new date ? It would have to be.
So for another year life continued very much as it was. The cake sales went ahead every Friday. Henry's Christmas tradition marked the end of the year. Lily's orphan summer holiday at The Dower House was again a success.
The coronation of King George was to be held on Thursday 22nd June 1911. A new date for the wedding was set for Saturday 19th August.
It was the second Coronation Lily and Henry attended at Westminster Abbey, they hoped they would not be attending another coronation for some time to come. Lily could not truly say she knew King Edward but she had been in contact with him through her support for Princess Alice Orphanage. He was, of course, her King of the Bread Pudding. The new King had not requested any cakes of any kind from the weekly sales.
As she sat in Westminster Abbey Lily looked at King George and thought he lacked the smile of his father. He was so sombre and did not appear to be enjoying his coronation at all.
Again everyone in the Wilton party stayed at Tavistock House in London, the town home of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. A grand ball was organised for the night of the coronation. Before midnight Henry excused himself and went to bed. The party continued until half past two in the morning. In the servants hall it ended at six.
At ten the next morning Henry's valet went to his master's room to take in a pot of tea and prepare him for breakfast. he found Lord Henry unwell. His neck was swollen, his face was red and hot, his arms were covered by a red rash which pimpled and was rough to touch.
"My Lord, My Lord, are you alright My lord ?"
"My throat hurts."
The valet ran to fetch the butler who called for The Duke. the Duke had been awake for but a few minutes but hastily dressed and attended upon his guest.
"Send for the doctor immediately."
"The butler called Harley Street then returned to Henry's room. "It looks like scarlatina Your Grace."
"It is and the doctor will confirm it, I am sure of that. How many people have been in this room ?"
"Just the valet, myself and yourself Your Grace."
"Nobody else ?"
"No, your grace."
"You are certain."
"Of course, Your Grace."
"Nobody else may enter. Tell the countess and tell Miss Lily that Lord Henry is unwell but do not mention scarlet fever."
The doctor confirmed that Lord Henry Wilton, the Seventh Earl of Tadwell, was indeed suffering from scarlet fever. He also confirmed that nobody else was to enter the room.
"You should prepare for the worst," the doctor said. he is young and strong, sometimes people do recover but inevitably damage will have been done to his heart and to his kidneys. His survival depends on the fever breaking he must drink lots of fluids and he must be kept cool."
"I will nurse him," Lily insisted.
"You can not My Dear, you may catch the illness yourself."
"This is your house Your Grace and I do not wish to disobey you," Lily said, "but my Henry is not going to die, he will recover and I will nurse him to that recovery."
The Duke would never attempt to argue with his cousin and it looked as if Lily Bedson had been cast from the same metal. If Henry did survive then that metal would pass, no doubt., to the eighth, ninth, tenth and more Earls of Tadwell. If he did not then that was the end of The Wilton Line, there would be no Eighth earl of Tadwell.
The doctor returned every few hours. Henry's condition did not improve.
"Is he making urine ?" The doctor addressed his question to the valet.
"What colour is it ?"
Lily gave the answer. "Dark Yellow."
"We have to get his temperature down."
"There is an ice pit at Woburn Abbey, I will send a car."
"Will the ice not melt ?" Lily asked.
"They can journey overnight and wrap the ice in newspaper."
The doctor not think the ice could arrive in time. "Lord Henry's life is moving slowly towards its close," he said to The Duke.
The ice came. Henry's fever did not lift.
"There was a knock at the door. "Who is it ?"
"Sis you must not come in, you could catch the fever."
The door opened and Sullivan did come inside the room. "I know I am just your maid but you have always treated me as a friend, you call me Sis so I am not going to let you do this alone. I am here to help and to give you some time to rest."
In Madeley Joseph and Emma Bedson sat silently in church praying for the life of Henry Wilton. At The Bridge House Glad played with Puppy Victoria. "He is not going to die Victoria, I know that."
"He is not going to die Sis, I will not let him. Do you hear what I am saying Henry Wilton ? Fight this fever and get well."
The fever continued.
Lily lost all record of time and could not say what day it was. She had no idea how long her Henry had been ill.
"It is a miracle he is still here," the doctor said to The Duke, "but we must not get our hopes up, the fever still has not broken."
To Lily the doctor said, "He is still drinking ?"
"Yes. We have to put it into his mouth using a spoon but he is managing to swallow."
"And he continues to make urine ?"
"Yes. Not a lot but, yes."
"Still dark yellow ?"
"Still dark yellow."
The Dowager Countess felt very alone. Henry was dieing, it was just a matter of time. She had not see Lily since Henry became ill. Her cousin tried to offer what comfort he could but he was only a cousin. Her husband and her only son were dead, soon her grandson would join them.
"Is there any chance Doctor ? It has been a full day since you said his life was moving to its close."
"He is defying all medical normality for the condition but I honestly do not think so. It is just a metter of time."
"Lily, Lily, Lily !" Sullivan was shaking her as hard as she could. "Wake up Lily."
"What is the matter > What time is it ?"
"Half past three in the morning. Quick Lily place your hand on Lord Henry's forehead. His fever has broken."
Lily placed her hand on Henry's face. he opened his eyes.
"Lily is that you ?"
"Get someone to wake The Duke, get him to send for the doctor."
"It is you isn't it Lily ? I love you my Lily."
"And I love you my darling, wonderful Henry."
"It is a miracle," the doctor said. "A medical miracle."
In church Joseph offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the miracle.
"See Puppy Victoria," Glad said. "I told you he was not going to die."
The Dowager Countess who was not known for having any religious beliefs also offered a prayer of thanks for the life of her grandson.
Henry remained at Tavistock House for three weeks until he was strong enough to return to Madeley and Tadwell Hall. For a second time the wedding had to be postponed. Lily did not care, she had Henry.
"Third time lucky," Henry smiled. "Saturday 17th August 1912. Nothing and nobody is going to stop our getting married on that day."
"Nothing and nobody," Lily smiled in return.
"Glad is going to be my bridesmaid but I have decided I want two more. I want Sis Sullivan and Violet McDonald to be my bridesmaids. I want Bobby McDonald to be my pageboy."
"And I have decided," Henry added," that my personal valet Peter will be my side as my best man."
"Oh Henry that is so lovely."
"Lily I feel a walk would do me good, will you come with me ?"
"Where are we going ?"
"Just for a stroll although I would like to show you somewhere> It is not far, less than half a mile away."
"What are you talking about Henry?"
"Come with me and I will show you,"
A short walk and they were at their destination.
"Lily this is Berkeley Square. Just look at these grand houses around the park. Which one do you like ? Which one should be ours ?"
Lily was confused.
"The Duke and Duchess have Woburn Abbey and they also have their town house where we have been staying. I may not be a duke but I am an earl, I think it right and proper that I should have a town house."
"Here ?" Lily said. "What did you say this park was called ?"
"Berkeley Square. Tadwell Hall, Berkeley Square, London will be our town address. The Earl and Countess of Tadwell residing in Madeley in the county of Staffordshire when in the country and Berekely Square when in town."
"Do you mean that ? It sounds very grand."
"Not so grand as you will be when we are married."
Henry feigned a bow. "Lady Lily Wilton The Countess of Tadwell."
Stand here with my my Darling Lily, my bride to be. Isn't Berkeley Square a special place ? Isn't it perfect for our towwn home ?
"Henry Wilton, I love you so very much."
"It is kind of you," Joseph said. "We had lovely holidays in Italy but My wife and I would have to decline a visit to America. Mrs Bedson would not manage such a long sea journey. You and Lily go by all means, I am sure Her Ladyship will be happy to be your chaperone."
"America !" The Dowager Countess exclaimed. "Boston ! I will most certainly join you and Lily, I have one or two things to say to America about tea and Boston harbour."
"The orphan holidays will happen as normal this year," Lily explained, "and on Saturday 17th August every child from Princess Alice Orphanage will be a guest at the wedding."
The group for America would comprise Lily and Sullivan, Henry and Valet Peter, The Dowager Countess and her new maid Alma. The Dowager did not consider Alma to be a suitable name for a lady's maid but her surname of Richardson was acceptable.
Even for an eanglish Earl it was not without difficulty booking accommodation for the voyage to New York. Eventually Henry managed to book a suite with three cabins in first class. Lily insisted the servants be accommodated not with other domestic staff but in something better. Henry did secure two second class cabins, one for Peter and one with Alma and Sis sharing.
"When we get to New York we will stay for three days with the chairman of the bank then take the train to Boston."
"I fully intend to instruct Richardson to pack tea for us all to drink while we are in Boston. Please do not think I am going to allow any of us to drink American tea, certainly not in Boston of all places."
"Grandmother all tea comes from India."
"India is British, not American."
Neither Lily not Henry could follow her logic.
"Will we be seeing President Taft while we are in America ?"
"I very much doubt it Grandmother."
"Pity. I do not like the tie he wore to the coronation of King George and would like to give him the name of your tailor, Henry."
The group travelled to Southampton in two cars. Henry drove Lily and The Dowager Countess to the dock. Peter, Sullivan and Richardson were driven by the chauffeur in the family car.
"I can not say that I like the name of the ship," Her Ladyship said. "It sounds like the nema of a mountain in Greece."
Again Henry did not follow his Grandmother's logic. "You wait until you see the ship," he said.
Her Ladyship did not reply.
Everyone set sail from Southampton on Wednesday 10th April. When RMS Carpathia docked at Cunard's berth a week later the Dowager Countes, Lily and Sullivan were onboard. Alma, Richard and Henry were not.
The Wilton Line had come to an end .Lily would never be The Countess of Tadwell. She left The Dower House and returned to live with the family at The Bridge House. Sullivan went to work as an assistant house mother at Princess Alice Orphanage. On Thursday 16th May 1912 The Dowager Countess of Tadwell died in her sleep. The Wilton Line had come to its end. The title of The Earl of Tadwell ceased to exist. The lands, propeties and all of the Wilton business interests were inherited by the family's only relative, The Duke of Befford.
Joseph Bedson decided it was time for him to retire. Lily did know what she would do with the rest of her life. She stood one night outside The Bridge House and looked up into the sky. One star was The Dowager Countess lady Wilton of Tadwell. Another was her maid Alma Richardson and another Valet Peter. The brightest star in the heavens was Henry. Lily said her last goodbye and never mentioned his name again.
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