Summary: This is the sixteenth and final story in my “Adam in the Outback” series. It begins in 1908, two years later.
Rating: T (97,221 words)
Adam In The Outback Series:
My True Love Hath My Heart – Part 1
My True Love Hath My Heart – Part 2
My True Love Hath My Heart – Part 3
Cartwright is the Name
A Son and Heir
The Country of the Heart
To Bloom in Another Man’s Garden – Part 1
To Bloom in Another Man’s Garden – Part 2
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 1
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 2
The Marriage of True Minds – Part 3
The Joys of Parents
Grow Old Along with Me
The Best is Yet to Be
Not part of the Adam in the Outback Series, but set in the same realm:
First, I want to thank my beta reader, Lis. She has been an invaluable help to me in so many ways that I won’t even attempt to enumerate them. Most of all, I thank her for her encouragement and support in finishing the Adam in the Outback series.
Some of the characters and events mentioned in this story are from the Bonanza sequel, The Return. However, I moved the date up to 1908 so my A.C. would have been in college two years. I ave grave doubts about Hoss fathering a child out of wedlock, but using the character of Josh in this story gave Adam someone he could talk with about Hoss. I don’t intend to cast any slurs on Hoss, who was my favorite character after Adam.
For this final story, I want to remind everyone that the characters of Adam, A.C., Benj, Sarah, Josh, Bronc, Buckshot and Jacob are not my creations and I intend no copyright infringement by making use of them.
grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”
Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”
The Best is Yet to Be
Adam Stoddard Cartwright, Jr., better known to his family and friends as A.C., got off the train in the dusty mining town of Cloncurry, Queensland, battered valise in hand. The train station was new. When he’d left Cloncurry two years ago to attend the Sydney Technical College, he’d had to travel by stage to Townsville and from there by train to Sydney. It was a hot day for May, felt more like January, and the air was so dry it seemed to suck all the moisture out of his skin. He’d gotten used to the temperate climate of Sydney and now he’d have to acclimate himself to the harsher one of Queensland’s outback. He thought about going to a pub for a beer, but decided he best get his unpleasant task over with first. After he talked with his dad, he’d really need the beer, or maybe something stronger.
As he strolled from the train station to his family’s home on the outskirts of town, jauntily whistling Waltzing Matilda, he marveled at how the town had grown in just two years. There were more businesses and more houses. Of course, he’d changed as well. He’d grown three inches taller and his shoulders and chest had broadened. He was taller than his dad by two inches now, and he had the same slim, long-legged build.
As he walked through the business district, he greeted a couple of his mates who worked in town rather than at the mines or cattle stations that were the backbone of Cloncurry’s economy. They were surprised to see him, but he promised to explain all that evening over a drink. As he approached his old home, which now was the home of his sister, Gwyneth, and her large family, he saw the house and picket fence had a fresh coat of white paint so they gleamed in the bright sunlight. Next door to the large, two-story house with the verandah that wrapped around three sides was a small bungalow. His dad had sent him a photograph and the floor plan, but A.C. hadn’t realized just how small the bungalow would be. He smiled because it seemed the perfect size for his diminutive mother, but it was harder to picture his tall father feeling at home in the little house. Since his parents weren’t on the verandah, he figured that they were probably in the library. He climbed the steps to the verandah and opened the front door.
The bungalow seemed so quiet. When A.C. was growing up with his four older sisters in the larger house, it had always been full of “sound and fury” as his mother put it. But Miranda had gone away to school in the States when he was three and then Beth had married when he was five. That left only his two younger sisters, Gwyneth and Penny, at home. Penny had died only two months later; it saddened A.C. that he could barely remember the sister closest to him in age. All he could really recall were her violet eyes-just like Mama’s except they weren’t obscured by spectacles-and her laughter. Penny had laughed a lot. After her death, there wasn’t any laughter in their house for a long time. Everyone was sad, but the saddest was Dad. A.C. could still remember how much it had hurt when Dad withdrew into himself, seeming not to care about anyone after he lost Penny. He could understand his father’s reaction better now, but it still hurt to think about that time.
Gradually Dad emerged from his depression, and he spent more time with A.C. and Gwyneth. The three of them would go fishing at the Cloncurry River, and on Sunday afternoons in the heat of summer, the whole family would go swimming there along with Beth and her family. A.C. smiled as he recalled Uncle Rhys teaching Dad and him to play cricket. (Since Dad was American, he knew how to play baseball but not cricket.) When A.C. was eight, Gwyneth moved to Brisbane for a time, and that meant A.C. was the only child at home.
A couple of years later, Gwyneth married Mark Pentreath, one of the mining engineers employed by Cartwright & Davies Mining Company. Like Beth, she lived in Cloncurry, so A.C. had nieces and nephews to play with. He and Dad were close then, he thought with a pang of regret. He remembered that when he was twelve, Dad had showed him how to use a pistol. He smiled as he recalled their target shooting with the first gun he’d ever owned, an 1899 Smith & Wesson Military & Police that Dad had given him for his fifteenth birthday. Mama had been against giving him a gun but he and Dad had won her over. Those had been good times. However, the revelation that the father he’d always respected-even hero-worshipped-had fathered an illegitimate child put a strain on their relationship. A.C. sighed as he began to search the bungalow for his parents.
A quick glance showed A.C. that the small, cozy living room was empty, so he went to the library. It was the room he associated most strongly with both his bookish parents; the library in the large house was also the setting for many happy childhood memories. The drawing room was used for company; the family gathered in the library to play games or sing. A.C. loved that room with its walls paneled in Queensland maple, the built-in bookshelves filled with his dad’s books, and the buttery-soft leather armchairs. When he walked in this library, he could see that the old one had been replicated in this smaller home. Dad was seated behind his desk, working on something, while Mama sat in one of the armchairs, absorbed in a book.
He breezed into the room and plunked down in the leather armchair opposite Mama, letting his valise drop to the floor with a thud. “G’day, Mama. G’day, Dad,” he said airily.
Bronwen’s expressive countenance lit up with joy at the sight of her boy. Then she looked at her husband and saw Adam’s brows knit together. She glanced back at A.C. with a worried expression. Adam spoke in a quiet, even tone. “Don’t misunderstand me, son, but what are you doing here?”
“Well, Dad, after two years of studying engineering, I realized it is unbelievably boring so I quit school, and here I am,” A.C. said glibly.
“Just like that?’ his father asked in the quiet tone that A.C. knew meant he was truly angry, and the young man cursed his stupidity for taking an attitude he knew was guaranteed to alienate his dad. He leaned forward, resting one elbow on a knee with his chin on his cupped hand, unconsciously mimicking his father in a pensive mood, before answering.
“No, not just like that,” he replied in a voice stripped of facetiousness. “Look, Dad, I really tried. I studied and I was doing well, but it bored me to tears. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as an engineer. I’d be miserable!” Realizing he had raised his voice, he took a deep breath before adding, “I know I’ve spoiled all your plans for me, but it’s my life, Dad.”
“Yes, it is,” Adam stated in that same soft tone. “Might I inquire what you plan to do with your life since you no longer wish to be an engineer and a part of Cartwright & Davies Mining Company?”
“I don’t know,” A.C. replied honestly. “But I’m only twenty; I have plenty of time to decide. Mark has already taken your place in the company. Right now, I thought I’d go see if Alf would hire me to work at the station.”
“He can always use help,” Adam replied, pinching the bridge of his nose. Bronwen recognized the gesture as a sure sign he was developing a headache. “The last time we got together to discuss how the station was doing, he was telling me that he was shorthanded. While you’re working at the station, you could give some more thought to your decision. I think you need to consider carefully before throwing away two years of study.”
“Dad, this isn’t an impulsive decision,” A.C. said, making an effort to stay calm. “I have given it a lot of thought.” He sighed mentally as he saw his dad’s eyebrows draw together in a frown. “If you want me to think about it more, I will. But I doubt I’ll change my mind.”
“I’m not trying to interfere, son, but I’d just like the opportunity to discus your decision with you,” Adam said. He could feel the beginning of an agonizing headache, and it was a struggle to remain calm after his son’s bombshell.
“Well, I could wait a day or so before going to see Alf,” A.C. said, trying not to make his reluctance too obvious. He supposed he did owe it to Dad.
“Oh, there’s just one problem,” Bronwen said, looking first at Adam and then A.C. “Your dad and I are taking the train for Sydney the day after tomorrow; we’re sailing to the States to visit Miranda and William. We’d planned on closing the house up but . . .”
“Oh, I forgot about your trip to the States,” A.C. said. Then he smiled fondly at his mama. “She’s apples. Dad and I can talk when you get back, and I’ll just go ahead and go see Alf tomorrow as I’d planned. If I’m working at the station, then I’ll be staying there.” He smiled at his parents. “I’m glad you’re going to have a chance to see Miranda, William and the billy lids.”
“We’re stopping at the Ponderosa first, and then taking the train to Hanover,” Adam said quietly.
“Fair dinkum?” A.C. said in surprise. Since they’d sailed to the States for Miranda and William’s wedding ten years earlier, Dad had never been back to the Ponderosa. Grandpa had died in 1901 and his will left one-third interest in Cartwright Enterprises to Dad, one-third to Uncle Joe, and a third held in trust for Uncle Hoss’s child. If he or she existed and was ever located; this seemed doubtful to A.C. after all these years. That cousin would be almost as old as Gwyneth, and she was thirty. Uncle Joe had died in 1903 and his will divided his share in Cartwright Enterprises among his children, Benj and Sarah, and Bronc Evans, as a payment for his many years as foreman. Since Uncle Joe’s death, the day to day running of the ranch was left to Bronc, but A.C. knew he corresponded regularly with his dad.
“Bronc writes me that there’s been an offer to purchase the ranch, but he’s suspicious of the man’s motives. I don’t want the ranch my family worked so hard to build sold to a stranger, but I can’t ignore the offer,” Adam stated. “Bronc has asked me to meet with him and this Brandenburg, so we’ll go to the ranch first. Once I’ve finished that business, then we’ll head for New Hampshire.”
“Be sure and give my love to Miranda, William and the billy lids,” A.C. said with a big dimpled smile. “I told some of my mates that I’d meet them for a pint tonight, but I won’t be too late. I’ll stay to see you off, and then I’ll go see Alf.”
When A.C. got together with his friends, they all lost track of time so he entered the house quietly, knowing his parents would already be in bed. (He was staying in the spare bedroom next to theirs. He’d discovered earlier that all his childhood belongings had been brought there when his parents moved to the bungalow. His bedroom furniture had been left in his old room for his nephew, Jory, but Dad and Uncle Rhys had worked together to make a bed and chest of drawers in the Arts and Craft style for the spare bedroom.) It seemed as though A.C. had barely fallen asleep when he was awakened by his mother shaking him, saying, “A.C., wake up.” He blinked blearily and then sat up, carefully keeping the sheet around his waist.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” he asked, unable to stifle a huge yawn. He noticed her expression was anxious and she seemed tense and strained.
“It’s your dad. He’s having a recurrence of his malaria. I’ve given him some quinine.” She looked a little abashed and said softly, “I suppose I shouldn’t have awakened you, but I wanted some company. It always frightens me to see him burning up with fever until the quinine takes effect.”
“You don’t have to apologize, Mama,” he said, squeezing her hand comfortingly and smiling. Then he added in a more serious tone, “Is he really bad?”
She nodded. “It always scares me because the fever climbs so high, and now that he’s getting older, I worry more. The quinine hasn’t taken effect yet, and he’s delirious.”
“Let’s both go sit with him,” A.C. said, kissing her cheek. “I’ll just put my robe on.” When he didn’t immediately get out of bed, she looked at him questioningly, and he cocked an eyebrow in a dead-on imitation of his father. She shook her head slightly, realizing that like his father, A.C. didn’t wear pyjamas.
A.C. noticed that his parents’ bedroom was quite similar to their old one, but he took in the little details very quickly before focusing on the supine figure in the bed. It was distressing to see his strong, vital father tossing and turning in his delirium. It reminded A.C. that Dad was seventy-one now.
He helped his mama apply cold cloths to lower his dad’s raging fever. When the quinine took effect, his dad began sweating copiously so the bedclothes were soon soaked. A.C. helped his dad into a pair of pyjamas, and then he assisted his dad to a chair before helping his mama change the sodden sheets.
As soon as it was light, he went to Dr. Brooke’s house, and luckily he was at home. A.C. paced just outside his parents’ bedroom door while the doctor examined his father. It seemed like hours, although he knew it was only minutes, until his mother opened the bedroom door and motioned for him to join them.
“Mr. Cartwright,” Dr. Brooke said with a little smile, “you should make a full recovery. However,” and he turned to Bronwen, “he’ll need complete bed rest for a fortnight after the recurrence has run its course.”
“That’s impossible,” Adam interrupted. “We’ve booked passage on a ship to the States.”
“You’ll have to postpone the trip,” Dr. Brooke said firmly. “Look, Mr. Cartwright, you aren’t a young man any longer and your body needs more time to recover.”
“Besides, Cariad, you know it will take a week or two before the recurrence has run its course, so it’s impossible for us to go now.”
A.C. spoke up suddenly. “I’ll go in your place, Dad. I’d like to see the Ponderosa again anyway.”
Dr. Brooke realized the Cartwrights needed some privacy so he said with a slight smile, “I’ll be back in a day or two to see how you’re doing, Mr. Cartwright. And I expect to find you in bed,” he stated decisively.
“I’ll see you out, doctor,” Bronwen said then, knowing her husband and son needed to talk alone.
After they’d left, Adam turned to A.C. and said carefully, “I appreciate your offer, son, but I’m afraid it won’t do. You have no experience running a ranch or dealing with business matters, so you can’t offer Bronc the advice he’s looking for.”
For a moment, A.C. bridled with resentment at his dad’s words, but then his commonsense took over. “No, I can’t offer Bronc advice, but I could offer moral support. And I really would like to see the Ponderosa again, Dad,” he said earnestly. Then he grinned engagingly. “Besides, a long sea voyage is the perfect opportunity to do some thinking about my future.”
Adam frowned slightly, but he was too tired to argue with his boy. There wasn’t any harm in A.C.’s going because Bronc certainly wouldn’t make any decisions based on A.C.’s opinion. After a moment, Adam smiled faintly at his son. “All right. My advice to you is to support Bronc in his decision.”
“Thanks, Dad,” A.C. said with a big grin and started to leave the room.
“Just a minute,” Adam said, and A.C. turned back toward him. “As soon as you get to San Francisco, send a wire to Miranda and William and let them know our visit will be delayed for a month.”
“Right,” A.C. said but before he could turn toward the door, his dad spoke again. “Dafydd and Mark had arranged for your sisters and the children to come with your mama and me. They need to know the trip has been postponed.”
“I’ll go see Gwyneth first and eat breakfast with them, and then I’ll go see Beth,” A.C. said with a smile. “Get some rest, Dad,” he added as he headed out the door.
A.C.’s long legs covered the short distance between the houses quickly, and in a matter of minutes he was knocking on the front door of his old home. “I’ll get it,” he heard his brother-in-law call as he entered the hallway.
“A.C., what are you doing here?” Mark asked, surprise written all over his normally inscrutable features.
“I quit school, but I’m here to deliver news and, I hope, to be fed breakfast,” A.C. replied with his dimpled grin.
“Right, come on in,” Mark said, opening the door and extending his hand. After they shook hands, Mark shouted, “Gwyneth, you’ll never guess who’s here.”
Gwyneth stepped into the hallway and A.C. thought with pride that if he hadn’t known she’d given birth to four children, he’d never guess by looking at her. Her figure was nearly as svelte as the day she’d married. She was the only other sibling to have inherited their dad’s long legs. In fact, Gwyneth was a female version of their dad and, as always, her curls resisted being confined in a knot atop her head.
“A.C.!” she exclaimed. “Why are you here?”
“I wish one person would say, ‘Good to see you, A.C.’,” he replied in a mock aggrieved tone.
“Of course it’s good to see you,” she said, hugging him, “but you’re supposed to be in Sydney.”
“I’ll explain all over breakfast, but first things first. Mama sent me to tell you that Dad’s had a recurrence of his malaria.” Seeing her stricken expression he added hastily, “Dr. Brooke says he’ll be right, but no traveling for a while. It’s just a postponement of your trip.”
“It’s not the first,” Gwyneth replied with a wry smile. “We were going last autumn but then Jory had his riding accident and broke his leg. While his leg was healing, Beth discovered that she was pregnant so we decided to wait until this autumn.”
“From what Dr. Brooke told Dad and Mama, you should be able to go around the middle of June,” A.C. said. “Now, how about some tucker?”
“Don’t tell me you’re still a growing boy,” she said with a smile, and then added with a raised eyebrow, “You have grown since you’ve been gone though.”
“Too right. I’m now six feet and three inches,” he said proudly. “Only an inch shorter than Uncle Hoss.”
Just then three dark heads peeped around the corner. “Uncle A.C.!” eight-year-old Jory shouted, running toward his uncle. Six-year-old Benny and Little Adam, who was three months short of his third birthday, hung back. They didn’t recognize their uncle.
“How are you, mate?” A.C. asked Jory, hunkering down to be eye-level with his nephews. “And you must be Benny and Little Adam,’ he added, smiling at the two younger boys.
“G’day,” Benny said shyly, while Little Adam dimpled and said, “G’day!”
“Stone the crows!” he said to his sister and brother-in-law, “Little Adam sure looks like Gwyneth and Dad.”
“Morwenna looks like Mama, except that she has Mark’s eyes,” Gwyneth said quietly.
“Dad must be pleased,” A.C. said, his tone suddenly serious.
“He is,” she said, “but he adores all his granddaughters. They can all twist him around their fingers just the way Penny could.” She smiled, and taking his arm, said, “C’mon, let’s get you fed, and then I want to hear why you’re here and not in Sydney.”
“Right, and I want to meet this niece of mine,” he replied with a grin.
“We only eat in the dining room if we have guests,” Mark said as they headed to the big kitchen and gathered around the large, rectangular table.
Fifteen-month-old Morwenna Bronwen, named for her grandmothers, was sitting in her highchair, messily feeding herself scrambled eggs. A.C. saw immediately that his sister was correct: except for being sloe-eyed like her father, Morwenna strongly resembled her maternal grandmother.
As they gathered around the kitchen table to eat a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs and fried bread, A.C. asked after Mary, and Gwyneth explained that they since they were going to be gone for so long, Mary had gone to visit her own family. A.C. nodded and then announced his decision to leave the Technical College. Gwyneth and Mark exchanged a significant glance before she said in a neutral tone, “I imagine Daddy wasn’t very happy with your decision.”
“Actually, he took it better than I thought he would,” A.C. replied carefully.
“I’m certainly pleased to hear that,” Gwyneth said. Then she asked anxiously, “And you’re certain Dr. Brooke said he’d be right?”
“I promise, Sis,” A.C. replied.
“Is Grandpa crook?” Jory asked in a worried tone.
“Yes, but Dr. Brooke says he’ll be right in a couple of weeks,” A.C. said reassuringly. “He just needs to stay in bed and rest. I’ll bet he might like some company while he has to stay in bed.”
Mark frowned but Gwyneth said, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. We’ll go visit him tomorrow after Jory and Benny get home from school.”
“Are we still gonna go see Aunt Miranda and Uncle William and Jon and Laura?” Benny asked, his face puckered by a worried frown.
“We’ll have to wait until Grandpa feels better, and then we’ll go,” his mother replied. Noting identical pouts on her sons’ faces, she said firmly, “Grandpa and Grandma had to wait when Jory broke his leg.”
“Yeah, I guess they did,” Jory admitted with a sigh. “But when Grandpa is right, we’ll go for certain?”
“Too right,” Gwyneth replied with a grin.
“But Dad was going to take care of some business at the Ponderosa, wasn’t he?” Mark asked suddenly.
“I’m going in his place,” A.C. stated. “I haven’t even unpacked,” he added after swallowing his last forkful of eggs, “so it’ll be easy for me to leave tomorrow.” He stood up and then bent over and kissed Gwyneth’s cheek. “Hooroo, Sis. Hooroo, mates,” he added, grinning at his nephews. He dropped a quick kiss on the top of his little niece’s head. “Hooroo, Sweetness.” He turned to his brother-in-law and said, “Good seeing you again, Mark.”
“Wait,” Gwyneth said as he started to leave, and he turned around, one eyebrow arched inquiringly. “Come here for high tea this evening. We’ll have Beth’s family and Llywelyn’s and Uncle Rhys and Aunt Matilda.”
“Beauty!” A.C. said with a big grin.
“Please let Beth know, and I’ll tell the others,” Gwyneth said.
Instead of ambling along at his usual pace, A.C. walked briskly to the parsonage where his oldest sister and her family resided. The parsonage wasn’t very large and only had three bedrooms so the boys shared one and the girls another. A.C. was looking forward to seeing his oldest niece and nephew again. Elen would be thirteen going on fourteen and Huw had turned eleven back in March. There was no doubt they’d remember him, as would Dylan, who was nine going on ten. He sighed mentally when he realized that he’d be a stranger to four-year-old Siân just as he had been to Benny and Little Adam.
As he approached the rectory, he noted a woman hanging laundry to dry. Not Beth, he thought, too voluptuous a figure. She turned toward him and he realized there was something familiar about her face. No, it can’t be.
The young woman’s face lit up and she said wonderingly, “Uncle A.C.!” She dropped the laundry and ran to hug him. A.C gingerly returned her hug, and then held her at arm’s length. “Stone the crows! You sure have grown up, Elen!” he said, noting how her soft brown eyes were shining with happiness. “You were just a skinny little girl the last time I saw you, and now you’re a young lady,” he added with a smile. “I just can’t get over how much you’ve grown up in two years.”
“How come you’re here and not at college?” she asked curiously.
“Oh, I decided I didn’t want to be an engineer, so I came back home. Is your mama here?”
“She’s washing the dishes,” Elen said. “I’ve got to finish hanging these nappies up to dry before I leave for school. We’re all going to visit Aunt Miranda and her family, and we’re leaving tomorrow.”
“No, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a bit,” A.C. said. “You see, your grandpa is having a recurrence of his malaria. He’ll be right, but the doctor says he can’t travel for a bit. You’ll probably be leaving around the middle of June. Your grandma asked me to come tell your mama; I already told your Aunt Gwyneth.”
“Poor Grandpa,” Elen said anxiously. “You’re sure he’ll be right?”
“I’m sure. Your grandma might need some help keeping him in bed the way Dr. Brooke ordered,” A.C. added, turning his lips in just a hint of a grin. “Do you and he still play chess?”
She nodded and said, “Huw plays with Grandpa, too, but he likes cribbage better.” She smiled, showing her deep dimple, and added, “We’ll help keep Grandpa occupied. I know it’s no fun being stuck in bed.” She turned toward the house and shouted, “Mama! Come see who’s here!”
Beth appeared on the verandah with a towel over her shoulder, balancing four-month-old Gruffydd on one hip. Still as breathtaking as ever I see, A.C. thought. I certainly have beautiful sisters. “G’day, Beth!” he called.
“A.C.!” Beth exclaimed, coming down the steps to hug him with her free arm. “Why aren’t you in Sydney?”
“Because I realized I don’t want to be an engineer,” he replied, flashing his dimpled grin.
“Have you told Daddy?” she asked apprehensively.
“Yeah. He’s not happy, but he took it a lot better than I thought he would.” A.C. grinned at the baby, who grinned back, showing his pink gums. “G’day, Gruffydd,” he said. “I’m sure glad your mama wrote me your name is pronounced Griffith because I never would have guessed from the way it’s spelled.”
“Our trip is postponed again, Mama,” Elen inserted.
“Right,” A.C. said quickly. “Mama asked me to tell you and Gwyneth that you’ll have to postpone the trip for a few weeks until Dad gets over his malaria.”
“Oh no! He’s having another recurrence?” Beth asked worriedly.
“Dr. Brooke’s seen him and he says he’ll be right, but he doesn’t want him traveling. In fact, he’s ordered complete bed rest for two weeks after the recurrence has run its course. Looks like you’ll be leaving around the middle of June. I’m taking Dad’s place at the Ponderosa so I’ve got to leave tomorrow. I was hoping to see Huw and Dylan and Siân.”
“The boys have already left for school,” Beth said, “but come see Siân.” They walked inside and Beth called, “Siân fach, come here. There’s someone who wants to see you.”
A chubby little girl with enormous hazel eyes and thick brown hair ran down the hall clutching a rag doll. She stopped and looked at the tall stranger curiously.
“G’day, Siân,” A.C. said with a big grin. “Remember me? I’m your Uncle A.C.”
“G’day,” Siân said with a sunny smile. “This is Maude,” and she held out the doll.
A.C. was surprised but accepted the doll. “G’day, Maude,” he said, adapting a serious tone. “And how are you this fine day?’
Siân giggled and held out her hands for her doll, and A.C. returned it with a smile. He turned to his sister. “Dad gave me his tickets for the train and steamer and asked me to get a refund on Mama’s train ticket, so I’ll go take care of that. Mark is taking care of everyone’s steamer tickets before he leaves for the mine.”
“Would you mind taking care of our train tickets as well?” Beth asked.
“No worries, Sis,” he replied with a wink. “Oh, Gwyneth is inviting everyone to high tea tonight so we can spend a little time together before I leave.”
Beth smiled, saying, “Tell her I’ll bring Picau ar y maen,” because she knew her brother loved the little cakes cooked on a griddle and sprinkled with sugar. Then she went to get the train tickets for A.C. to take with him.
Once his errand at the train station was accomplished, A.C. headed back to his parents’ bungalow. He found his mama reading in the master bedroom while his dad slept. She quietly suggested they sit on the verandah.
“I like your new house,” A.C. said as they sat side by side on the swing. “It’s not as small inside as I thought, but it is cozy.”
She smiled up at him. “I had a hard time at first leaving the house where I raised my children, but it was too big for your dad and me. Now we are making new memories here. And it’s nice that four of my grandchildren live right next door.”
“I can’t believe how the family has grown in the two years I was away. A new niece and a new nephew, and Llywelyn and Emma have two more girls.” A.C. grinned and added, “Aunt Matilda must be delighted to have three granddaughters.”
“Too right!” Bronwen said with a little laugh. “She’s busy all the time sewing dresses for all three girls.”
“I’ll get to see them this evening,” A.C. said. “Gwyneth is inviting everyone to high tea. Oh, except you and Dad. But I intend to spend the rest of the day here with the two of you. Thought Dad and I could play some cribbage when he’s awake.”
“I know he’ll enjoy that,” she said with a smile.
“I just can’t get over how much Gwyneth’s boys and Elen have changed while I was away. Especially Elen. She’s not a billy lid anymore,” A.C. said, his tone bemused.
“No, she’s not a billy lid, but she is not as grown up as she appears,” Bronwen said quietly. “She’s still just a girl of thirteen, not a woman.” She smiled reminiscently as she continued. “I remember when her mama turned thirteen how she begged us to allow her to dress as a young woman with long skirts and wear her hair up. Naturally, we refused.” She smiled slightly then, adding, “Your dad and Beth had a big blue on her birthday. I had to calm them both down and make peace between them.” Bronwen’s expressive face grew serious as she said, “But Elen has blossomed so quickly that Beth and Dafydd have had no choice but to have her begin dressing as a young lady. I don’t think Elen is really comfortable about it.” Or the way the boys at school react to her now, Bronwen mused. Elen was not flirtatious as Beth had been at her age. She was shy and ill at ease with the male attention she was beginning to receive, just as her Aunt Gwyneth had been.
Then Bronwen turned and smiled at her son. “Would you like a tour of the house? You didn’t see it all yesterday.”
“Right. I liked the way Dad recreated the library in this house,” he commented as they went in the front door.
“I don’t think you saw the living room,” she said, leading him into the cozy room with its paneled walls, hardwood floor and two casement windows that looked out over the little backyard with its lemon and orange trees. Since it was a hot day, the windows were wide open.
“This furniture is the same style as in my room. Arts and Craft Dad called it in his letters,” A.C. said.
“Right,” Bronwen stated. “Your uncle made all this furniture for us. The patterns were in some of your dad’s magazines.”
“I like it,” A.C. said after a careful perusal. “The clean lines suit the room.” He sat on the wooden settee, leaning against the colorful pillows his mama had made for it. “It’s comfortable, too.” Then he tried one of the two Morris chairs with the leather seat and back cushions Bronwen and Matilda had worked on together.
“You can adjust the chair so it’s most comfortable for you,” Bronwen told him. “There’s a mechanism that allows you to change the angle of the back. Look.”
She sat in the other chair and adjusted it so she was reclining and then put it back in the upright position.
“Beauty!” A.C. exclaimed, and tried each of his own chair’s positions.
“Here is the dining room,” Bronwen said then, walking toward the adjoining room. It was very different from the dining room he’d grown up with. It wasn’t even half the size, and instead of the long rectangular table that could seat twelve people when all four leaves were added, there was a small round table with four chairs. The table, chairs and sideboard were all in the same style as the furniture in the living room. The wallpaper caught his eye. The background was dark blue and the floral design was in white. After a moment, A.C. decided that he liked it.
“I guess you and Dad don’t entertain much,” he remarked with a hint of a grin.
She smiled and said, “No, just your aunt and uncle, Robbie’s parents, or Mr. and Mrs. Newkirk.” (The last reference was to the neighbors whose daughter, Kate, had been Penny’s best friend.) She added, “Gwyneth and Mark host all the big family gatherings since they have the biggest house now.” She led him out of the dining room saying, “The kitchen is around the corner. Just as the dining room is smaller, so is my kitchen.”
He saw she was right. Compared to the kitchen he’d eaten breakfast in this morning, this one was tiny. The walls were glazed tiles and the floor was made of stone slabs, just as the floor in the old house. In one corner was a black cast iron kitchen range. A wooden table was in the middle of the room and his mama’s old wooden kitchen dresser stood against the wall opposite the stove, and by it a square Belfast sink.
“I do all the cooking and almost all the cleaning,” Bronwen said. “Mary spends most of her time helping Gwyneth, but she assists me with my laundry and she scrubs the floors for me.”
“Seems like if Dad got to retire, you should get to retire as well,” A.C. commented, frowning slightly.
“Oh no,” she said with a laugh. “Your dad and your uncle were driving your aunt and me insane when they first retired because they had too much time on their hands. Designing and building this house and the furniture gave them something to do. Now your dad is very serious about his photography. He travels around the countryside taking photographs of the landscape and the wildlife, as well as numerous photographs of his children and grandchildren. When we’re in the States, he wants to buy a new camera. A Seneca View or something like that.”
“Your uncle is building a scale replica of Llywelyn and Emma’s house for his granddaughters when they’re older. It will be like Penny’s dollhouse but even more detailed.” Bronwen smiled up at her tall son and added, “Now that I’m only keeping house for two, I have plenty of time to read and visit with my friends and family.”
He grinned back at her. “It’s hard to picture Dad and Uncle Rhys with time on their hands.”
“Oh, it got so bad that your dad was wanting to reorganize my kitchen for me,” she said, and A.C. threw back his head and laughed at that mental picture.
“Sorry,” he said when he regained control. “I hope I didn’t wake Dad.”
She shook her head. “A mob of kangaroos could hop through the bedroom and they wouldn’t waken him. The bouts of fever leave him totally exhausted.”
He reached for her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Dr. Brooke says he’ll be right.”
She smiled up at him and then suggested, “We can talk while I fix lunch.”
“Seems strange not to see Duchess,” he said sadly as sat down at the table and watched her fix sandwiches with thick slices of smoked ham.
“Yes, she’d been a part of our lives for a long time. Your dad and I are thinking of getting a kitten when we return from our trip. There is something very soothing about petting a purring cat. Gwyneth’s Athena has had so many litters that they keep her confined to the house when she’s in heat, but there are always kittens around.”
A.C. chuckled. Seeing his mama’s questioning look, he said, “I just had this mental picture of Dad playing with a tiny kitten.”
Bronwen giggled, saying, “It is comical seeing him hold a little kitten in his hand. The kitten just disappears.” A.C. grinned at that picture.
They ate in the little kitchen, and after the two of them washed and dried the dishes, they went back on the verandah. A.C. told his mama about his life in Sydney and his friends there. After a while, Bronwen happened to glance toward the Davies’ house and said, “I see Gwyneth must have told your aunt and uncle that you’re back because they’re coming to see you.”
After A.C. had greeted his aunt and uncle with a hug, he moved to one of the wicker chairs so his aunt could join his mama on the swing.
“Gwyneth told us that you’ve decided you’re not interested in engineering,” Rhys said carefully.
“Yeah,” A.C. said slowly. “I know you and Dad and Mark and Llywelyn find it interesting, but I just don’t. I’m not sure exactly what I do want to do, but I’ve got time to decide.”
“You don’t want to find yourself stuck in a profession you don’t like,” Rhys agreed. “Maybe it’s even for the best. Llywelyn and Mark work together as well as your dad and I did.” He turned to his sister then. “We’re sorry to hear that Adam’s having another recurrence.”
“Thank you,” Bronwen said quietly. “Who’d have dreamed you and Adam would still be suffering recurrences of your malaria after all these years.”
“He’s sleeping now?” Matilda asked, and Bronwen nodded. “Gwyneth said you’ll be sailing for the States in about a month. I know how eager you all are to see Miranda again after all these years. And Jon and Laura. I wish we could see them too.”
“After I finish taking care of Dad’s business at the Ponderosa, I want to visit Hanover,” A.C. said. “I’d like to get to know all my nieces and nephews.” Then he added, “I think I’ll look up Benj and Sarah in Boston. I’ll bet Sarah can introduce me to some beaut looking sheilas.” And he winked while his uncle chuckled.
“I think I’d better check on Adam,” Bronwen said. She returned a few minutes later with the news he was still asleep. It wasn’t long before Huw and Dylan came running up the street shouting, “Uncle A.C.!”
“Would you excuse me?” A.C. asked, and after the older adults smiled their assent, he sprinted down the path to the front gate. As he drew closer to the boys, he found he was once again taken by surprise at how much they’d changed while he’d been away. Dylan was still small for his age but now he wore gold-rimmed spectacles, strengthening his resemblance to his grandma. Huw had had a growth spurt and was much taller than A.C. remembered.
The three were soon chattering away just as though A.C. hadn’t been gone for two years. They discussed cricket and then the boys told A.C. how much fun their new puppy was and how sad they’d been when Nani died.
“I guess you miss Duchess,” Huw said, and A.C. nodded.
“She was a good dog, just like Nani,” he said, putting a hand on Huw’s shoulder. “I expect some day I’ll get another.”
“Aunt Miranda wrote that Uncle William would take all us boys to see a baseball game in Boston when we go for our visit,” Huw said then, changing the subject. “Grandpa said baseball is sort of like cricket, and he played it when he was in college.” His expression grew worried as he added, “I hope we can still go.”
“I think Americans play baseball all their summer,” A.C. said with a reassuring smile, “so I expect you’ll still get to go.” Both boys smiled at this.
While A.C. walked with the boys, Rhys asked Bronwen quietly, “How is Adam taking A.C.’s decision?”
“He’s hurt,” she replied, “but the irony of his son deciding he doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps hasn’t escaped him.”
“Ah,” Rhys said slowly. “I hadn’t thought of that.” Then he added, “I wonder if Tad ever regretted that neither Bryn nor I became a doctor.”
“We’ll never know,” Bronwen said. “I think what he chiefly he wanted was for you both to be happy in your chosen fields, and you are. Now, I wasn’t surprised by A.C.’s decision. Llywelyn has the same kind of temperament that you and Adam do: detached and analytical. A.C. isn’t like that and never has been. I always doubted he’d be happy as an engineer.” She added with a wry grin, “Miranda is the only one of our children who inherited those aspects of Adam’s character.”
“Yes, she would have made a fine engineer,” Rhys agreed. “Still from what she writes, she’s happy with her life.”
“Yes, and now that Laura is older, she’s managing to work on a new paper for a mathematical journal,” Bronwen said with a proud smile.
Matilda had never approved of her niece’s unfeminine interest in mathematics, or higher education, so she said to change the subject, “It’s so nice of Gwyneth to invite us all to high tea, but it’s a shame you can’t be there.”
“Yes, but A.C. and I have been able to talk this morning and afternoon, so I don’t really mind,” Bronwen replied.
The boys walked onto the verandah then and Huw asked, “Is Grandpa awake?”
“I’ll check again,” Bronwen said with a smile for her grandsons. She returned a few minutes later and said, “Yes, he’s awake. Would you like to visit him while I fix him something to eat?”
“Too right!” the boys said, grinning as they hurried into the bungalow.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to see how Dad is feeling,” A.C. said. The Davies smiled and said that they would see him that evening.
“Tell your dad that we’re very sorry to hear of his reoccurrence,” Rhys said before he and Matilda headed back to their house.
When Huw and Dylan entered their grandparents’ bedroom, they found their grandpa sitting up in bed, leaning against the pillows.
“G’day, Grandpa,” Dylan said with a big grin before jumping on the bed beside Adam. “I’m sorry you’re crook.”
“So am I,” Huw said, standing beside his brother. “We thought we would come keep you company. Maybe play a game.”
“Old Bachelor?” Dylan suggested hopefully, and his grandpa smiled at him. A.C. quietly entered the room then and asked, “May I join the game?”
“Too right!” Dylan said with a big grin.
“Well, why don’t you boys ask your grandma to find the Old Bachelor game?” Adam suggested with a small smile, and they hurried from the room.
“You look a lot better this afternoon, Dad,” A.C. said quietly. “I remember the first time I saw you after you’d had a recurrence.’
Adam frowned for a moment as he concentrated, and then he said softly, “You were afraid I was going to leave you and go to heaven.”
“It hadn’t been that long since Penny had left us,” A.C. replied in the same quiet tone, as he glanced at the large framed photograph on his parents’ chest of drawers. It showed Penny playing Old Bachelor with him, Gwyneth and Llywelyn. Penny was grinning hugely because she’d just given him the Old Bachelor card, and he was smiling from ear to ear because he wanted the card. “Playing Old Bachelor with Penny is one of the few memories I have of her.”
“You were too young when we lost her,” Adam said sadly.
Just then Dylan burst back into the room, waving the cards in one hand and saying excitedly, “Here they are!”
Huw came behind him and added very seriously, “Grandma told us to remind you that you have to stay in bed.”
A.C. chuckled as his dad rolled his eyes, then said, “The boys can sit on either side of you, and I’ll move Mama’s rocking chair over by the bed. We can just spread our pairs on the bedspread.”
As A.C. began shuffling the cards before dealing them, Huw said, ‘Uncle A.C. thinks we’ll still be able to attend a baseball game when we visit Aunt Miranda and Uncle William.”
“Oh yes,” Adam said. “They’ll still be plenty of games to see. It’s been a long time since I’ve played ball. From what your uncle has written me, I know this baseball has changed quite a bit from the ball game I used to play.”
“Fair dinkum?” A.C. said, arching one eyebrow.
“Too right,” Adam replied with a grin. “First off, the name has changed. When I played ball at Harvard, it was called town ball, not baseball. I think the biggest change is that in town ball, the ball could not be pitched; it had to be thrown. Another big difference is that when I played town ball, the game ended when one team scored 100 tallies, which William writes are now called runs. Now, in baseball, a game consists of nine innings. That means each team gets to bat nine times, and whoever has the highest score at the end is the winner.”
“That town ball that you played sounds more like cricket,” Huw commented.
“Yes, I think baseball has become more uniquely American over time. I’m looking forward to seeing a game when we visit your aunt and uncle. From what they write, your cousin Jon is as big a baseball fan as you and Dylan are cricket fans,” Adam said with a smile as A.C. finished dealing the cards.
Gwyneth worked hard preparing high tea for twenty people. She made Cornish pasties and A.C.’s favorite, Teisen Nionod-onion cake made with potatoes, onions and butter. Matilda had volunteered to make a cottage pie, while Emma had promised to bring crumpets. Then, while the food was in the oven, she put all four leaves in the dining room table so it would seat the adults plus Elen and Huw. All the younger children would eat in the kitchen, except for the very youngest. Morwenna and Diana, Llywelyn and Emma’s middle daughter, would be in their highchairs in the dining room, while the babies-Gruffydd and Vicky, Llywelyn and Emma’s youngest-would be in their cradles where their mamas could keep an eye on them.
A.C. was the first to arrive, and found Jory and Benny setting the dining room table. A.C. smiled as he saw the boys were dressed in white sailor suits with bell-bottom trousers, and their dark hair was neatly combed. The two younger children were playing with A.C.’s old Noah’s Ark in a corner of the dining room. Little Adam’s unruly curls had been brushed and he was dressed in a clean pair of rompers while Morwenna was wearing an allover apron of red gingham to protect her smocked frock.
A.C. saw Gwyneth was using her best lace tablecloth and her good Haviland china with its design of pink roses on a white background. For just a moment, he remembered the first meal he’d eaten on that china at Gwyneth’s flat in Brisbane, the night before he and his parents had returned to Cloncurry. The meal and the singing afterward had been wonderful, but it had been hard to leave her behind, knowing it would be months before he’d see her again. He would only know her through her letters as he did Miranda, but at least she hadn’t been lost to him forever the way Penny was.
“G’day,” A.C. said as he walked into the dining room. “I’ll help,” he added with a grin.
“This is girl’s work,” Jory grumbled as he handed his uncle the plates and went to get the glasses, while Benny carefully put down knives, forks and spoons in the order his mama had shown him. “As soon as Morwenna’s old enough, Daddy says I don’t have to do it anymore. I’ll be in charge of mowing the lawn,” he added proudly. A.C. had to choke back a laugh since pushing the lawn mower was much harder work than setting the table.
“I set the table when I was your age,” A.C. said. “Sometimes if your grandpa got home early, he’d help me.”
“Fair dinkum?” Jory asked incredulously while Benny’s big chocolate brown eyes opened very wide.
“Too right,” their uncle replied with a grin. “After all, your grandma and your mama work hard cooking all the food for us, so why shouldn’t we help just a little by setting the table?”
“I like to help Mama,” Benny said, smiling shyly at his tall uncle, who winked at him.
They were just finishing when Rhys and Matilda arrived.
“You boys have done a wonderful job setting the table,” Matilda said as she set the cottage pie on the buffet. “Now, I’ll see if your Mama needs any help,” she added before heading to the kitchen.
Little Adam and Morwenna saw Rhys and ran over to him with outstretched arms. He picked up first Morwenna and then Little Adam, and swung them over his head to giggles of delight.
“Since we’ve finished, why don’t we go wait for the others on the verandah?” A.C. suggested.
“Play catch?” Little Adam asked his older brothers eagerly.
“Right,” Jory said. “Benny, go get his ball.”
“I come, too,” the two-year-old said, trotting after his brother.
“You wanna play with us?” Jory asked his uncle, who smiled and nodded.
“Well, Morwenna and I will sit on the swing and watch you,” Rhys said.
The younger Davies were the next to arrive. Llywelyn was carrying Diana’s highchair and Ifor was proudly carrying Vicky’s cradle, which was almost too big for him to manage. Emma pushed the baby carriage containing her two littlest girls and five-year-old Cathy walked beside her, holding the basket of crumpets.
“Here, I’ll take the cradle, Ifor,” A.C. said, “and you can take my place.” Ifor readily gave up the cradle and hurried to join the game of catch while A.C. and Llywelyn carried the baby furniture inside the house. Cathy spotted her grandpa and ran eagerly up the path to join him and her cousin on the verandah.
“Cathy, be careful not to spill the crumpets!” Emma called, and the little girl reluctantly slowed her pace and carefully climbed the steps. Rhys set Morwenna down and walked over to take the crumpets from Cathy.
“I’ll take these in to Cousin Gwyneth for you,” he said with a smile. “You wait here with Morwenna and I’ll be right back.
Meanwhile, Emma lifted Diana out of the baby carriage, and she toddled toward the veranda. Emma watched her progress with a fond smile before picking up one-month-old Vicky and following behind her middle daughter.
As A.C. and Llywelyn walked together, Llywelyn said cautiously, “Mark tells me that you’ve decided you don’t want to follow Uncle Adam into the business.”
“Right,” A.C. replied, glancing quickly at the cousin who’d always been like an older brother to him. “Two years of studying engineering showed me that I’d be miserable.” He added with a quick grin, “Miranda is the one who should have taken Dad’s place.” Llywelyn nodded with a smile and A.C. said, “Uncle Rhys told me that you and Mark work together as well as he and Dad did. The company will be in good hands.”
“Do you know what you want to do?” Llywelyn asked curiously.
“No,” A.C. admitted. “I’ve got a long sea voyage ahead of me. Maybe I’ll decide to follow in my great-grandfather Stoddard’s shoes and become a sailor,” he added with a wink. “Say,” he said then, “I haven’t seen Mark.”
“He had some work he wanted to finish before he left, but he should be here soon,” Llywelyn replied. He added quietly, “Mark thinks he needs to justify our dads’ faith in him, so he works long hours-longer than necessary, in my opinion-and nothing our dads or I say makes any difference.”
“Maybe knowing I won’t be joining Cartwright & Davies will help,” A.C. said as they set the cradle and highchair down in the appropriate places. “There, now I want to meet your little girls.”
Mark arrived a few minutes before the Jones family. They all gathered in the dining room so Dafydd could bless the food. A.C. smiled when he saw the four little girls all dressed in allover aprons and the four younger boys all dressed in sailor suits. Eleven-year-old Huw wore a Norfolk suit like the men were wearing, except his had knickerbockers instead of trousers. Elen wore a simple cotton blouse and skirt similar to the other women’s. A.C. had to remind himself of his mama’s words because Elen looked much older than thirteen.
After Dafydd blessed the food, the children went to the kitchen and everyone began to enjoy the meal. A.C. praised Gwyneth’s Teisen Nionod and Beth’s Picau ar y maen, saying they were as good as their mama’s. He told his family about his visits to Bondi Beach and the old Bondi Aquarium, where he’d ridden the roller coaster, and the newest attraction-Wonderland City amusement park. Wonderland City, he informed them, had an airship, rides on an elephant named Alice, and a miniature railroad. Elen and Huw listened enviously and wished they could visit Wonderland City.
“There are plenty of fun things to do when we visit Boston,” Gwyneth said to her niece and nephew. “You were so little when you were there before that you don’t remember playing in the Common or riding the swan boats.”
“Miranda wrote me about Coney Island at New York City after I wrote her and William about Wonderland City,” A.C. said then. “Coney Island has two amusement parks. There’s Luna Park that has Shoot-the-Chutes, a miniature railroad, wild animals, theaters and a ballroom. The newer amusement park is called Dreamland, and it has a Midget City and a Haunted Swing. Miranda wrote that they visited one of William’s friends who lives in New York City last summer, and they all went to Coney Island. If you asked, I’m sure they could make plans to visit New York City while you’re in the States.”
Dafydd said quietly, “I think visits to both New York City and Boston would be too costly. We would have to choose which city.” Mark nodded his agreement.
A.C. said hurriedly, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I know you have your trip all planned out. And there are plenty of fun things to do in Boston. Like the baseball game we talked about this afternoon.” Huw’s disappointed look quickly changed to a happy grin at that.
“And Grandpa and Grandma promised to take us to the theater and maybe to Martha’s Vineyard. They have a carousel we can ride,” Elen said.
The awkward moment passed and Beth asked teasingly, “So, little brother, did you leave a string of broken hearts behind in Sydney?”
“I hope not,” A.C. said with a grin. “I’ve spent time with some very nice young ladies, but we were just friends.”
‘Who were they?” Elen asked curiously. “Oh, I shouldn’t ask,” she said, her face growing scarlet as she saw her mama frown at her.
“She’s apples,” A.C. said, smiling at his niece. “There was a girl named Winifred Evans. She’s very sweet and very pretty, and we’ve known each other for a long time. Then there’s my mate Russell’s sister, Helen. She was only fifteen when I first met her, but now she’s a very pretty young lady. I like them both very much, but we were just friends.” He didn’t notice the look his sisters, aunt, and Emma exchanged at his statement.
They were just finishing the meal when there was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” Huw said, jumping up and heading for the door.
He returned a few minutes later with Robbie and Tegan Naylor, and Tegan was carrying their baby boy.
“I hope we’re not intruding,” Robbie said.
“She’s apples,” Gwyneth replied with a dimpled smile.
“Bertie said he saw A.C. at the pub yesterday, and when I went to your parents’ house, your mum said A.C. was here, but he was leaving for the States tomorrow. We just wanted to make sure we had a chance to see him before he left,” Robbie said in a rush.
“I meant to stop by,” A.C. apologized.
“Why don’t you three go to the drawing room so you can visit,” Gwyneth suggested, and the old friends went across the hall. Gruffydd and Vicky both began to fuss so their mamas took them up to Mark and Gwyneth’s bedroom to nurse them, and change their nappies if necessary, while Gwyneth, Matilda and Elen began to clear away the table. The men shepherded the rest of the children to the front yard. The little girls wanted to sit on the swing with Rhys, and the boys talked their daddies into a game of tag as the twilight gathered.
“So you really left the Technical College?” Robbie asked his friend as the three of them sat on Gwyneth and Mark’s overstuffed sofa. “I can’t believe it. You always talked about taking your dad’s place in the family business.”
“I thought that’s what I wanted,” A.C. said slowly. “But the longer I studied engineering, the more boring it became. It would have been a harder decision if Mark wasn’t there to take my place. Uncle Rhys even told me it might be for the best since Llywelyn and Mark work together as well as he and Dad always did.”
“But your dad must have been disappointed,” Tegan said, gently rocking her sleeping baby in her arms.
“Yeah, he was, and I feel bad about that, but it’s my life and I think he understands that.”
They were silent for a few minutes, and then Tegan asked, “What are you going to do now? I mean, when you come back from the States?”
“I’m not really sure, but I’ll have plenty of time to think about my options,” A.C. replied. Then he said with a grin, “May I hold Simon?”
“Too right,” Tegan replied, smiling as she carefully placed the sleeping baby in his arms. “He’s just eaten so he probably won’t wake up.
As he held little Simon, A.C. said, “Married life seems to agree with you both.”
“You should try it, mate,” Robbie said, smiling broadly.
“I have to find the right girl first,” A.C. replied with a wink.
“That Winifred and Helen that you wrote about both sounded very nice,” Tegan said with a teasing grin.
“They are and they’re very pretty, but they just aren’t the right girl. I’ll know her when I find her,” the young man said confidently.
When the Naylors left it was growing dark, so the men and younger children gathered in the library and sang songs. The women joined them until it was time for everyone to reluctantly head home.
“I wish we could see you off,” Huw said as he said his goodbye to his uncle.
“Me, too, mate, but we’re going to see each other in a couple of months,” A.C. said with a grin.
After everyone had left, A.C. thanked Gwyneth for the wonderful meal and then walked, whistling softly, to his parents’ bungalow. When he got there he didn’t see his mama, so he knocked softly on his parents’ bedroom door. His mama opened it with her finger on her lips, and then she walked with him to his room.
“I’d hoped to say goodnight to Dad,” he said regretfully as he lit the lamp before sitting beside his mama on the bed.
“He tried to stay awake until you returned, but he was too exhausted,” Bronwen said, patting her son’s hand. “I think he understands why Dr. Brooke says he needs complete bed rest.” She paused for a moment and then looked up at her son before saying carefully, “We talked while you were gone. He really does understand your decision, A.C. bach. He is disappointed, but he understands. He told me it’s poetic justice since he turned his back on your grandpa’s dream of the Ponderosa. He’s always felt some guilt about that, but he never doubted he’d made the right decision. If you don’t think you can be happy as an engineer, your dad doesn’t want you to try for his sake.”
“I’m glad he understands,” A.C. said, his relief obvious. “I didn’t want him to think that I was rejecting working at the mining company because of . . .” He broke off, looking ill at ease, and added awkwardly, “Because of what I learned.”
“No, he never thought that,” she said firmly. “You are a fair man, A.C., like your dad, and you wouldn’t make a decision like this just to be spiteful.” She said softly, “I’d hoped you would have forgiven him by now.”
“It’s not a matter of forgiveness, Mama,” he said thoughtfully. “When I was young, I idolized Dad. He never claimed to be perfect. I know that. But that’s how I saw him. Now I have to see him in a new light. That’s all.” He smiled sweetly at her then, reminding her so strongly of when he was small. “I do still love him, and I’d like you tell him so if I don’t get the chance before I leave.”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Of course I’ll tell him.” She stood up then, saying, “I almost forgot. Your dad wrote a letter for you to give to the concierge at the Majestic Hotel changing our reservations.” She added, “He said you could use one of the suites we reserved and he’ll pay for it. Oh, and if you need to get in touch with us, you can send the letter to the Majestic and they’ll hold it for us.” She smiled wanly as she said, “I am very tired myself, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to retire.”
A.C. walked her to her door, and then undressed and slipped beneath the sheets. He lay on his back, thinking of his mama’s words, until he drifted to sleep.