Tyves 9, 1014
“And here it is, Mum! Your old home, made new again!” Dannie turned to her mother. “So–what do you think?”
Bianca looked around with a raised eyebrow and a half-smile. “Dannie?”
“It’s still green.”
“How much,” Bianca asked, “did you and Rob spend to –”
“Nah-ah! None of that!” Dannie waggled her finger in Bianca’s face. “You don’t get to ask for financial details. You promised!”
“Heaven forbid,” Bianca grumbled, “that I make sure you aren’t putting my darling grandchildren into the poorhouse to do up the house just the way you want it, all at once.”
“We did it ‘all at once’ because, in case you forgot, said grandchildren,” Dannie gestured to where Stevie-weevie and Maude were playing at the drawing table, “are still in the wee stages, and,” Dannie rubbed her just-protruding stomach, “once they’re out of it, there will probably be more kids to enter the wee stages. So getting it all done at once was efficient, cost-effective, and drastically reduced the possibility of me having to pick a nail or worse out of Maude or Stevie-weevie’s foot.”
Bianca smiled fondly at the little ones before turning back to Dannie. “You know I won’t argue with that. I just worry, Dannie. You know I do.”
“And you have no need to.” Dannie herself was a little surprised by how much work Rob had gotten — but even though her father had given Rob a break on the house, he had been pulling in enough to have paid full price, if her father had asked for it. (All he had made from furnishing the artwork for Joshua’s bank had helped a lot.) True, they wouldn’t have had enough left over to make the house truly their own, but that was something they could have worked on for years if they had to. Apparently Albion, small as it was, was big enough to support a full-time artist and sculptor.
… There was also the question of the international orders coming in. The civil war in Glasonland had played hell with most of the artists in that country, between cities being sacked and trade being disrupted in general. But even in wartime, there were always people with money around. You just had to find them, or let them find you. Dannie’s father’s trade contacts had been most instrumental in letting the customers find Rob.
Bianca patted Dannie’s shoulder. “I’m your mother. Of course I need to worry. However, my worries being stated …” She grinned and wrapped Dannie in a one-armed hug. “It looks lovely, honey. I do like the dark green. The room is just big enough to handle it, too.”
“I know,” Dannie replied smugly. She grabbed her mother’s arm. “Now let me show you the dining room!”
It was a short walk before Dannie was once again gesturing widely. “Ta da!”
“Still the dark colors …” Bianca narrowed her eyes at the dining table and chairs. “Those are from your father’s warehouse!”
“I know,” Dannie beamed.
“… He gave them to you for nothing, didn’t he?”
“Mum! Of course he did! I’m his only daughter, his firstborn child!” Dannie hesitated, then added, “Though I did offer to pay for it. Full price, even.”
“And he turned you down flat, didn’t he?” Bianca chuckled. “I don’t know who to be more proud of — you or him.”
“Be more proud of me.” Dannie flashed her mother a grin. “You had the raising of me.”
“And if your grandmother was here, she’d point out that I had longer to train your father — so I guess that makes it a wash.” Bianca shook her head. “However, Dannie, I must say … I do like these tapestries. They’re a good flash of brightness for the room. And I do like the fabric and finish you picked out for the table and chairs. It’s dramatic, but it works.”
“I figure the artist’s home ought to be dramatic — but it works. And see that painting? That’s one of Rob’s. So, if we have clients over for dinner, I shall seat them there,” Dannie gestured to the two chairs facing the street scene, “and they can stare at Rob’s work all evening.”
“I trained you well,” Bianca nodded. She glanced at the door that led to the kitchen. “So … dare I ask what you did …?”
“Actually, we didn’t do anything to the kitchen. We decided to keep with all the work Dad ordered done after you two moved out.” She knew he had ordered that work to help make the house a more attractive proposition to potential buyers, even though he preferred to rent it out at first. At least this way, he (hopefully) wouldn’t think it had gone to waste. “But we made a lot of changes to Dad’s study.”
“Oh?” asked Bianca as she followed Dannie out and back to the study.
“Aye,” Dannie agreed. She threw open the door and walked in. “For starters, it’s a studio for Rob now. Hi, honey!”
Rob paused in his painting and turned around. “Oh … hello, Dannie. And–Bianca?”
“Don’t mind me,” Bianca chuckled. “I’m just getting the grand tour. You two have done a lovely job with this place so far.”
Rob smiled. Dannie counted herself lucky to have gotten that much of a reaction out of him. He could be awfully focused when he was working on a new painting. Like this one — he’d been hauling it from the studio to the house and back for days now, just so he would always have it when he had a new idea or a flash of inspiration. Dannie was pretty sure that that wasn’t good for the painting, but it kept Rob happy.
The two women watched Rob at work for a few more minutes before Bianca turned to Dannie. “Well, what’s next?”
“Do you want to see the bedrooms?” Dannie asked. “Although I’ll admit we haven’t done much to them. Just a fresh coat of paint and our furniture being moved in.”
“Then …” Bianca glanced at Dannie’s belly and smiled. “I think I’ll pass, if you don’t mind. Although … how did you manage to apportion out the bedrooms?”
“Well, Stevie has Freddy’s old bedroom, and Maude has Georgie’s,” Dannie said as she led the back into the living room. “And we’ve already got Granny’s old room done up as the nursery.”
“And what about your old bedroom?” Bianca asked.
Dannie hesitated. “Actually … that’s empty at the moment.” She had done that on purpose. Not only was it the room that was the farthest from her and Rob’s bedroom, Dannie also figured that if it was empty, she couldn’t accidentally wander in there at the end of a long, tiring day, hop into bed, and leave poor Rob all alone in the big bed wondering what he could have done.
“Hmm …” Bianca murmured. “Well … maybe …” She crouched to pat Dannie’s belly. “If you’ve got two buns in this oven …”
“Don’t even start!”
Stevie and Maude looked up — probably because most of the time Dannie said that, it was aimed toward them. “Not you, kiddos. Carry on.”
Bianca rolled her eyes. “We should probably have a seat before we confuse your children any more.”
“Aye, not a bad idea,” agreed Dannie. They sat. Dannie leaned back against the cushions. She could never get tired of these sofas. The style had been cutting edge twenty years ago — now, in Albion at least, it was a bit more humdrum — but for comfort, they couldn’t be beaten.
“So … speaking of mothers-to-be who were often teased about their propensity to bear twins …” Bianca started.
“Which I will not be having. I don’t look or feel any different than when I was pregnant with Stevie or Maude, and twins don’t even run in our family! Or Rob’s!”
“Well, you can’t blame a grandmother for trying,” Bianca replied, shrugging philosophically. “But I was going to ask you about the Princess.”
“Oh!” Dannie leaned back. Jessie had given birth not quite a week before to a beautiful, healthy, single baby girl whom she and Will had named Alix. The parents were thrilled, the grandparents were happy but bravely fighting back the disappointment of only having one baby to share among four sets arms, and the older siblings … well, they would learn to cope. It probably wouldn’t be as rough for Corey and Celeste as it had been for Stevie, and it hadn’t been that rough for Stevie at all. But neither of them had ever been the sole recipient of a parent’s love and care.
“She’s doing well. And so is Alix,” Dannie replied. She chuckled. “She’s a cutie. As soon as we got her cleaned up, we could tell that she was going to be darker than her older sibs — although, would you believe it? She’s blonde too! With Will’s eyes.”
“It’s funny how that works out,” Bianca nodded. “Look at Colin — both of his parents with black hair, and he ends up with my hair! And your Maude isn’t that far away from blonde.”
“Like the original,” Dannie agreed … although, if she was honest with herself, the strands of gold in her Maude’s hair had probably come by way of Helena, not the original Maude. Her Maude was certainly different than the original in so many other ways — quiet where the original was boisterous, a whirlwind of action where the original was more laid-back — that it wouldn’t surprise her.
But that was a good thing. Maude — the first Maude — would never have wanted one of her great-grandchildren to be an exact replica of her. She would want them to be themselves. And if Dannie was any judge … her little mop-top Maude already was showing signs of having her great-grandmother’s huge heart, and that was what mattered most.
“And, my dear, speaking of babies …” Bianca leaned closer, gesturing hopefully. “Any ideas for names for yours?”
“Darren for a boy,” Dannie said without a blink — which in turn caused Bianca to blink. Dannie hadn’t been nearly this forthcoming with boys’ names before.
“For St. Darren,” Dannie answered. “It was Rob’s idea.”
“Oh — he made a vow to St. Darren?”
Dannie shook her head. “No.” Rob had told her, privately, that any saint who would only deliver aid upon being promised to do something as inconsequential as naming a child after that saint probably didn’t deserve to be a saint in the first place. “But he’s been doing so well — so we thought we should give thanks.” Any saint ought to appreciate a sincere gesture like that. And Rob was already trying to draw up ideas for giving thanks in a more concrete manner, picking Joshua’s brain for ways to help debtors, St. Darren’s other core constituency.
“And what about for a girl?” Bianca asked.
“Well, I suggested Cassandra …”
“Dannie!” Bianca gasped. “That’s practically blasphemy!”
“It is not! Everybody knows Queen Cassandra was St. Darren’s patron and his most famous convert!” And, Dannie thought privately, if every single official Church biography of St. Darren insisted that any whispers of an improper relationship between him and Queen Cassandra were nothing but scurrilous rumors — at great length and being sure to give all the dirty details about the rumors, too — then your average layperson could be excused for assuming that where there was smoke, there was fire. This wasn’t just smoke; it was a city-cloaking fog.
“But …” Dannie went on, “Rob thought that Darleen might be a better tribute. Or else naming the baby for Helena.”
“Naming a girl for Helena would be nice …” Bianca sighed. “Or you could combine the names. Darlena, maybe?”
“And let Babette think I’m stealing her ideas?” Dannie asked, trying to refrain from a snort. But Babette was so childish in some ways that she made it hard not to stoop to her level. It wouldn’t even matter that the idea was almost certainly not Babette’s (evidence: Babette always called Elinor “Elen,” and Aglovale and his family were the only ones to use the baby’s full name consistently). She would still lay claim to it as hers.
“As if that matters. It would be a good idea, I think.”
Dannie patted her stomach and thought she would just hope for a boy. The idea of having the name “Darleen” on her tongue every day for the rest of her life was hardly appealing … and “Darlena” was not much of an improvement. If the baby was a girl, she would campaign for a direct tribute to Helena. St. Darren would surely understand.
“Maybe,” she replied. “Although, now I get to grill you for baby news. How is Clarice doing?”
Bianca beamed. “She thinks the baby ought to come about the beginning of Osgary. So only two months after yours!”
“Hear that, Darren?” Dannie asked her stomach. “You’ll only get to be the center of attention for two months — so you’d best enjoy it!”
“Darren — or Darlena! — do not listen to your mother!” Bianca answered. “You will be showered in love and affection from the moment you are born, and I pray it will never stop!”
“I never said you wouldn’t spoil him — or her — rotten,” Dannie retorted. “I just said that he wouldn’t be the center of attention. There’s a difference.”
“He’ll be the center of attention on the other side of the family, even if we have to divide ours between your baby and Clarice and Freddy’s,” Bianca replied. “Speaking of which … how are Paul and Cressida?”
Dannie allowed herself a moment to wonder just when it was that it had happened that she could have a fully conversation with her mother that revolved around nothing but babies: her babies, her friends’ babies, her brother’s babies, her sister-in-law’s babies … It was a state of affairs they would have to remedy at some point. But not today. “Paul and Cressida are doing fine. And so are Josh and the kids … although Baby Belle is still asking about a little sister.”
“I’m sure Cressida is just thrilled by that,” Bianca chuckled.
Dannie wondered. The way Cressida would smile at Maude — or Coralie — or Marian — or any little girl she came into contact with made Dannie suspect that she wanted a baby girl of her own. She loved Baby Belle, but that wasn’t quite the same.
But she deflected it with a joke. “If you ask me, it’s Josh who ought to be worried. He’s going to be having a hard enough time fending off the boys when Baby Belle gets older. Could you imagine what would happen if he and Cressida had a little girl? The line outside their door would go halfway down the lane!”
“One sister dark, one sister fair …” Bianca smiled. “They would make a pretty picture.”
“And a father’s nightmare.”
“A pretty picture,” Bianca insisted. “A bit like Blanche and Cressida, don’t you think? Although,” Bianca stroked her chin, “I think Alice was just as dark as Blanche — and Maude was fair when she was little, but Pamela said that her hair got darker as she got older.”
Dannie glanced sidelong at her Maude, wondering what would happen to her hair as she got older. Her eyebrows were already rather dark …
“Blanche isn’t quite as dark as Baby Belle, though,” Dannie pointed out. “At least, her skin is lighter. Although …” Dannie turned and waggled her eyebrows at Bianca. “How are she and her captain — sorry, Cap’n — doing?”
“Oh, Lord, I don’t even want to think about that!” Bianca leaned her head back. “If I have to listen to your Aunt Pamela complaining about him one more time …”
“I don’t even see what’s so bad about him,” Dannie admitted. “He’s older — but Blanche likes him. And he’s funny, and he’s got a very sharp mind under all that hair.” Dannie snickered. “Maybe that’s it — Aunt Pamela doesn’t like that he’s got better hair than she does.”
“Dannie!” Bianca smacked her knee. “I never should have told you about everything Aunt Pamela did to her hair when she was younger.”
“First of all, you didn’t, Granny did. Secondly — who cares? If she hasn’t made peace with her hair by now, I say that not liking the Cap’n is the least of her problems.”
“Have a little pity, Dannie. You know that if Blanche and the Cap’n do decide to get married …” Bianca pursed her lips together. “Well, the best thing that could happen for Pamela is that Blanche and the Cap’n decide the Cap’n ought to move in with them.”
Dannie nodded. Pamela could never keep the shop going by herself. And if Blanche and the Cap’n decided to get their own house and their own shop, that would be exactly where Pamela was — by herself. She would love that about as much as she loved the idea of the Cap’n being in her life.
But … she wouldn’t like the Cap’n moving in any better than she would like Blanche and her children moving out.
“Well, think about it like this, Mum — if you’re very lucky, if Blanche and the Cap’n decide to get married, Pamela will move in with Cressida in protest, not you.”
“Danielle Maria Ferreira–Wesleyan—bite your tongue!”
Bianca shuddered. “I’m not even going to consider that possibility! My goodness! If Pamela even suggested it, your father would be the one pounding on the Pascalians’ door, demanding for an annulment!”
“Maybe, if she gets irritating enough, Mark can put her in the same flat as his mistress.”
“Well, if she’d just be a little bit more reasonable about the Cap’n, she wouldn’t be in this mess,” Dannie pointed out. “I know I’ve said it before, Mum, but I don’t see what’s wrong with him.”
“I know. I know.” Bianca took a deep breath. “I don’t … well, I do understand it. I do, Dannie. He’s not what Pamela would have pictured for Blanche — he’s not what I would have pictured for you. But … Blanche isn’t a seventeen-year-old ingenue who needs to be protected from loveable rogues. She ought to know what she’s about by now, and Pamela ought to let her be happy. If the Cap’n has been courting her for this long, he’s not likely to treat her horribly if they get married.”
“Hear, hear,” Dannie muttered. She took a deep breath, preparing to ask how close Bianca thought that Blanche and the Cap’n were to a possible proposal.
She never got the chance. The studio door opened, and Rob came out. “… Dannie?”
Dannie looked up. “Yes, hon?”
“… You wouldn’t happen to remember the last time I ate, would you?”
Dannie snickered. “If you have to ask, it’s been too long.” She hopped up, the baby fluttering with the sudden movement. “I’m getting hungry, too. Mum?”
“One thing that your grandmother always told me, and that I’ve never forgotten,” Bianca replied, rising, “was ‘Never say no to a free meal.'”
Rob laughed. “That does sound like something Granny would have said.”
“As often as she could. All right, then — I’ll go fix something. Rob, be a dear and keep my mum entertained, wouldn’t you?”
Rob smiled as he watched Bianca advance — and ignore him completely, making a beeline for the grandchildren. She only had to tap Maude on the shoulder for Maude to grin at her and hold out her arms. “I think our offspring already have that covered.”
“Excellent,” replied Dannie. “I think we’ll keep them.”