Authors: Dilly Court
Tags: #Sagas, #Fiction
Baby George’s christening was set for a week after Easter Sunday. The guest list was so long that it seemed Cade had invited everyone he had ever known. Dressed in a new gown of pale pink mousseline, Cassy was adjusting her bonnet in the mirror above the mantelshelf in the drawing room when the door opened and Oliver hobbled in with the aid of crutches. She turned to him with a genuine smile of pleasure. ‘Ollie, how splendid to see you walking, but are you sure you won’t overtire yourself?’
He made his way to the nearest chair and eased himself into it. ‘I’m not going to be wheeled into my stepbrother’s christening,’ he said, grinning. ‘Even if young George isn’t my stepbrother now that Belle has remarried, that’s how I’ll always think of him.’
‘I suppose that means I’m still your stepsister, or half-stepsister.’ She turned to him, biting her lip. ‘I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be flippant.’
‘Cassy, there’s something I must tell you. I don’t know how to begin. It makes me sound like a complete cad.’
‘What is it, Ollie? Tell me.’
‘I – I can’t marry you, Cassy.’ His expression was one of anguish as he raised his eyes to meet her gaze. ‘I should have told you sooner, but I wasn’t certain. It came upon us gradually without either of us realising what was happening.’
The truth hit her like a bolt of lightning. ‘It’s Lottie, isn’t it? You’re in love with her. I should have guessed.’
‘I hate myself for doing this to you. I’ll always love you, but . . .’
She bowed her head, and her shoulders shook.
‘Don’t cry, Cassy. You’ll break my heart if you cry.’
She could no longer control the bubble of laughter that had welled up inside her. ‘I’m not crying, darling Ollie. I’m happy for you and for Lottie. You couldn’t find a lovelier girl or a better wife. She’ll make you far happier than I ever could.’
‘I – I don’t understand. I thought you’d take it badly.’
‘I love you as a brother, Ollie. I couldn’t tell you before when you were in such a bad way, but my heart belongs to Bailey. It always has and it always will.’
‘Damn me! And yet you were going to marry me? I say, that’s not on.’
‘And you’ve been spooning with my best friend, so don’t play the martyr, Oliver Davenport.’ She bent down to kiss him on the forehead. ‘We’ve both been deluding ourselves, but now everything is going to be all right.’
He blinked, staring at her as if she had gone mad. ‘You’re not angry with me?’
‘Of course not, silly. I wish you and Lottie every happiness, but now I’ve something I must do. I have to speak to my pa.’
Feeling as though she was walking on air, free at last to follow her heart, she found Cade in the billiard room, smoking a cigar and pacing the floor. He turned with a start as she burst into the room. ‘Good grief, what’s the matter? Is something wrong with the baby or your mother?’
‘Nothing is wrong, Pa. But I’m in desperate need of your help.’
‘What is it, my darling? You know I’ll do anything for you.’
A week later, standing on the dockside, Cassy shielded her eyes from the sun as she watched the gangway being set in place to allow the passengers to board HMS
, a troopship bound for Bombay.
‘Are you certain you’re doing the right thing?’ Belinda asked anxiously. ‘You can change your mind, darling. It’s not too late.’
‘Let her alone, Belle,’ Cade said gently. ‘Cassy is a woman now. She knows her own heart and mind.’
‘I do, Ma,’ Cassy said with a watery smile. ‘I’ll write to you every day while I’m on board, and Mrs Masters will keep an eye on me.’
‘It’s just fortunate that the Colonel and his wife were at the christening.’ Cade slipped his arm around Cassy’s shoulders. ‘When you told me that it was over between you and Oliver, I couldn’t help being glad. He’s a fine fellow and I like him well enough, but I’ve always thought that he wasn’t for you, my love. Bailey is a good man, and I trust him to look after my girl.’
‘But you’ll be leading a very different life, Cassy.’ Belinda hugged the baby closer to her as if she were afraid that someone might separate her once again from a beloved child. ‘It’s not easy being a soldier’s wife.’
‘You were a soldier’s daughter, Ma. I am too, even though I wasn’t brought up in the army. I want to share my life with Bailey, and I don’t care whether we’re living in Duke Street or Deolali. Anyway, I have plans for our future together.’
‘I’m sure you have,’ Cade said, smiling. ‘Would it have anything to do with the children’s home that you told me about on our long train journeys across India?’
She nodded emphatically. ‘It’s what Bailey and I always wanted, Pa. As soon as he’s able to leave the army, I’m going to look for suitable premises in the East End. We’ll set up a home for unwanted babies and infants where they’ll be brought up with love and grow up to be decent citizens, able to earn their own living.’
Taking her in his arms, Cade gave her a hug. ‘I’ll do everything I can to help financially. I’m proud of you, Cassy.’
‘And I am too,’ Belinda said hastily. ‘But are you certain that Bailey knows you’re coming, my love? It’s all been arranged with such haste.’
‘Colonel Masters has everything in hand, darling.’ Cade took George from her, cradling the baby in his arms. ‘Give our daughter a kiss and wish her bon voyage. I can see Mrs Masters waving to Cassy from the deck. We’ll be waiting to welcome you and your husband when you return, my darling daughter.’
‘Thank you, Pa,’ Cassy whispered. ‘I love you, you know that.’
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Belinda kissed Cassy on both cheeks. ‘Goodbye, my dearest. Come home safely, and soon.’
‘Be happy for me, Ma.’ Choking back tears, Cassy picked up her small valise and made her way to the gangplank. She hesitated, turning to wave to her parents and her baby brother, before taking the first steps that would lead her back to India and the man she loved with every fibre of her being.
Clutched in her hand was the telegram from Bailey. His answer was short and sweet.
Come to me, my love.