Daphne followed her gaze, and together they watched the children. Violet wasn’t sure how many were out there. She’d lost count when they had started playing a game that involved a tennis ball, four shuttlecocks, and a log. It must have been fun, because she would have sworn she saw three boys drop from trees to take part.
“I think that’s all of them,” she said.
Daphne blinked, then asked, “On the lawn? I don’t think so. Mary’s inside, I’m certain of that. I saw her with Jane and—”
“No, I mean I think I’m done with grandchildren.” She turned toward Daphne and smiled. “I don’t think my children are going to give me any more.”
“Well, I’m certainly not,” Daphne said, with an expression that clearly said, Perish the thought! “And Lucy cannot. The doctor made her promise. And . . .” She paused, and Violet enjoyed simply watching her face. It was so entertaining to watch her children think. No one ever told you that when you became a parent, how much fun it was to watch them do the quietest things.
Sleeping and thinking. She could watch her progeny do those forever. Even now, when seven of the eight had passed the age of forty.
“You’re right,” Daphne finally concluded. “I think we’re all done.”
“Barring surprises,” Violet added, because truly, she wouldn’t mind if one of her children managed to produce one last grandchild.
“Well, yes,” Daphne said, with a rueful sigh, “I know all about those.”
Violet laughed. “And you wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Daphne smiled. “No.”
“He just dropped from a tree,” Violet said, pointing toward the lawn.
“On purpose,” Violet assured her.
“Of that I have no doubt. I swear that boy is part monkey.” Daphne looked out over the lawn, her eyes moving swiftly from side to side, looking for Edward, her youngest son. “I’m so glad we’re here. He needs siblings, poor thing. The other four hardly count; they are so much older.”
Violet craned her neck. “He appears to have got into an altercation with Anthony and Ben.”
“Is he winning?”
Violet squinted a bit. “It looks as if he and Anthony are working together . . . Oh, wait, here comes Daphne. Little Daphne,” she added, as if it were necessary.
“That should even things out,” Daphne said, grinning as she watched her namesake box her son’s ears.
Violet smiled and let out a yawn.
“A bit.” Violet hated to admit to such things; her children were always so quick to worry about her. They never seemed to understand that a seventy-five-year-old woman might like naps for no other reason than she’d liked them all her life.
Daphne didn’t press the matter, though, and they lounged on their chaises in companionable silence until, quite out of the blue, Daphne asked, “Are you really happy, Mama?”
“Of course.” Violet looked at her with surprise. “Why would you ask such a thing?”
“It’s just . . . well . . . you’re alone.”
Violet laughed. “I’m hardly alone, Daphne.”
“You know what I mean. Papa has been gone for nearly forty years, and you never . . .”
With considerable amusement, Violet waited for her to finish the sentence. When it was apparent that Daphne could not bring herself to do so, Violet took pity on her and asked, “Are you trying to ask if I’ve ever taken a lover?”
“No!” Daphne burst out, even though Violet was quite sure she’d wondered.
“Well, I haven’t,” Violet said matter-of-factly. “If you must know.”
“Apparently I must,” Daphne mumbled.
“I never wanted to,” Violet said.
Violet shrugged. “I did not make a vow, or anything so formal. I suppose that if the opportunity had arisen, and the right man had come along, I might have—”
“Married him,” Daphne finished for her.
Violet gave her a sideways look. “You really are a prude, Daphne.”
Daphne’s mouth fell open. Oh, this was fun.
“Oh, very well,” Violet said, taking pity on her. “If I’d found the right man, I probably would have married him, if only to spare you from expiring from the shock of an illicit affair.”
“Might I remind you that you are the one who could hardly bring herself to speak to me about the marriage bed the night before my wedding?”
Violet waved that off. “I’m long past that awkwardness, I assure you. Why, with Hyacinth—”
“I don’t want to know,” Daphne said firmly.
“Well, yes, probably not,” Violet conceded. “Nothing is ordinary with Hyacinth.”
Daphne didn’t say anything, so Violet reached out and took her hand. “Yes, Daphne,” she said with great sincerity, “I am happy.”
“I can’t imagine if Simon—”
“I couldn’t imagine it, either,” Violet cut in. “Yet it happened. I thought I should die of the pain.”
“But I didn’t. And you wouldn’t. And the truth is, eventually it does become easier. And you think that perhaps you could find happiness with someone else.”
“Francesca did,” Daphne murmured.
“Yes, she did.” Violet closed her eyes for a moment, recalling how terribly worried she’d been for her third daughter during those years of her widowhood. She’d been so terribly alone, not shunning her family precisely, but not truly reaching out to them, either. And unlike Violet, she’d had no children to help her find her strength again.
“She is proof that one can be happy twice,” Violet said, “with two different loves. But, you know, she’s not the same kind of happy with Michael as she was with John. I would not value one higher than the other; it’s not the sort of thing one can measure. But it’s different.”
She looked ahead. She was always more philosophical when her eyes were on the horizon. “I wasn’t expecting the same kind of happiness I had with your father, but I would not settle for less. And I never found it.”
She turned to look at Daphne, then reached out and took her hand. “And as it happened, I didn’t need it.”
“Oh, Mama,” Daphne said, her eyes filling with tears.
“Life hasn’t always been easy without your father,” Violet said, “but it has always been worth it.”