Wanted:Mail-Order Mistress(10)

By: Deborah Hale

Perhaps Simon Grimshaw had another partner besides Mr Northmore.

Before the child could reply, her companion spoke in a sharp tone, as if offended by the question. “Missy lives here, of course. She is Rosalia Eva da Silva Grimshaw. Her father is master of this house.”

Father? The word rocked Bethan. She was quite certain Mr Northmore hadn’t said anything about Simon Grimshaw having a child. But perhaps this explained why he’d chosen a nurserymaid as a wife for his partner.

She could not decide how she felt about coming into a ready-made family like this. The childlike part of her longed for a little playmate to romp about with, and this dainty little creature was vastly appealing. But marriage would be a difficult enough adjustment without the added responsibility of a young daughter right away.

“You came from England?” Rosalia gave Bethan no time to sort through her confused feelings. “That is where Uncle Hadrian went. Ah-sam says it is very far away. Did he come back to Singapore with you?”

It was clear from her tone that Rosalia was eager to see Mr Northmore again. Bethan hated to dash her hopes. She remembered the bitter disappointment of waiting in vain for the return of a loved one.

“I met your Uncle Hadrian in England.” She tried to break the news as gently as possible. “I think he means to stay there for a while. I don’t think his wife would want to make such a long journey with a wee one on the way.”

Rosalia’s dark brows bunched. “A wee what on the way? Where was it coming from?”

“Er…” Bethan chided herself for speaking so freely to a young child about such matters. She was certain Rosalia’s father would not approve.

Fortunately the servant woman rescued her from awkward explanations by crying out, “Wah! Mr Hadrian has found a wife and started a family? This is good news! First Mr Ford, now him. Only one left now.”

All trace of her earlier annoyance with Bethan disappeared, replaced with a beaming smile reserved for the bearer of welcome news. “What brings you to Singapore, my lady?”

A shrewd twinkle in the woman’s dark eyes suggested that she guessed the reason. Bethan made a special effort to mind her tongue, for the child’s sake. If Mr Grimshaw had not told his little daughter of his marriage plans, she did not want to blurt out the news that Rosalia would soon be getting a stepmother. She would rather make friends with the child first.

“I’ve come for a…visit.” With a beseeching gaze she silently urged the servant not to betray her suspicions. “And I might stay longer if things work out.” Quickly she changed the subject. “Rosalia isn’t a name I’ve heard before, but it’s very pretty. It sounds a bit like Rhosyn. That’s a Welsh name I always liked.”

“Yours is very nice too.” One corner of the child’s rosebud lips arched upward in a bashful half-smile. “I hope you will stay. So many ships come here, but we never get any company.”

Rosalia’s wistful tone went straight to Bethan’s heart. “When I was your age, I lived in a quiet little village. We never got much company, either. At least you have your father here with you. My daddy had to go away to work.”

His visits home had been the best times of her young life. The worst had been the day her mother told her he would never be coming home again.

The servant woman said something to her young charge in another language.

Rosalia replied with an eager nod, then held out her hand to Bethan. “Would you like to see our garden?”

Rising from her crouch, Bethan took the child’s outstretched hand. “Yes, I would, thank you. Tell me, what’s that clicking sound? It seems to be getting louder.”

“The cicadas, you mean? They’re bugs who chirp—the hotter it gets the louder the noise they make. Do they not have cicadas in England?”

As Rosalia led her away, the servant called after them.

“What did she say?” asked Bethan, marvelling at such a young child being fluent in two languages.

“Ah-sam told me to be a good girl so you will want to stay with us.”

The offhand remark troubled Bethan. She knew how easily a sensitive child could take such well-meant warnings to heart.

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