Half a day’s ride from Plumville sits Havlock Hall, the home of Gilbert Grancourt.
Though titleless, Grancourt does hold manorial lands. His estate includes the site of the Havlock Hall itself, a small village, and the surrounding farmland. The master and his wife Ewfame are currently from home, attending the naming feast of Philip Clerinell’s infant daughter. In their absence, the running of the manor has been left to their young cook Adam.
While his master is away, Adam offers hospitality in his name to the villagers who have been working hard to bring in the harvest. He serves them bread, pottage, and nectar in the buttery.
It is the second Tuesday of autumn when the family returns. Their groom William rides ahead to light a fire in their chamber and tell Adam to prepare a hearty supper.
By the time they pass through their gates, the Grancourts are tired and wet from the journey.
Master Grancourt is glad to warm himself by the fire while his wife bathes herself.
Their marriage has not been a warm one so far. Gilbert is generous to his friends, but Ewfame has always found him difficult to please and quick to anger. She knows he wishes she had the easy grace of Lady Snordwich, or Dame Joan Ros’ quick wit; and she hopes that the child she is carrying will make him happy at last.
After a little rest, they take their supper in the hall. Adam has laid out a feast of salt beef, white bread, and stewed onions for the household and their tenants.
It has been a long day, and the Grancourts are relieved to retire early to their chamber, where Gilbert goes over his accounts and Ewfame reads a romance.
On Wednesday, the last day of harvest, Mistress Grancourt is confined to her chamber for the final stages of her pregnancy. She glad to have some quiet time to read and think.
One of the village wives, Matilda, is called from the fields to wait upon her.
Grancourt’s guest at supper that evening in the village parson, Dawkin Couer.
They are half way through their apple pie when Matilda rushes in with news.
Ewfame has been delivered of a healthy baby boy. Parson Couer congratulates his host.
Grancourt is relieved. He orders for the best bottle of Country Blend to be brought from his cellar and shared among his household and guests.
Gilbert himself soon retires to the great chamber to meet his son, whom he names Thomas.
News of the birth spreads throughout the village, and the following morning the local women bring Ewfame gifts of eggs and honey. They congratulate the new mother and all agree that the date of her delivery – on the eve of the Feast of the Angels – will bring her son good luck throughout his life.
Grancourt attends the village church to solemnise the holy day.
He had hoped to see his tenants bobbing for apples and dancing on the green, their customs on this day, but the heavy rain sends them hurrying home after the service. Gilbert orders William to call them back and invite them to dance for him at lunch in honour of his son’s birth.
Matilda’s husband plays his fiddle.
During the meal, Adam presents his sister Margery to his master, hoping he will take her as nursemaid to the child. He explains that her own boy has just been weened, and praises her temperance, patience, and sturdy constitution. Grancourt approves, and takes Margery into his service.
Little Thomas takes immediately to the nurse.
His mother soon warms to her too. Margery is clever and kind, and she listens earnestly to her new mistress’ long, serious speeches. The rain continues all that day and into the next, keeping the family indoors and the two women close. Sharing memories of their childhoods, they discover they have both always loved to swim, and make plans to teach Thomas when he is a little older.
At meal times, Margery sits below the dais with the servants, but is fed a special diet of sweet, wholesome dishes straight from their master’s table. Brother and sister are happy to be in the same household once more.
On the last Saturday in autumn, Thomas’ naming ceremony is held at the village church. Lord Snordwich and Philip Clerinell both ride over with their attendants for the occasion. William and Snordwich’s groom Ralf see to the horses while their masters are at church.
By the time supper is ready, the rain is falling heavily again, and Grancourt’s guests are relieved to see the steaming meats and hot spiced nectars set down before them. Gilbert surrenders his seat to his great patron for the duration of the feast.
When Thomas’ bedtime arrives, the company sees him off with gifts. There are bundles of sweet cinnamon for his bath, fine linens, and wooden toys. Lord Snorwich himself presents a little horse he used to play with as a boy.
Clerinell’s wife Griselda has recovered from her own childbirth and is among the guests. Knowing the alliance to be an important one to her husband, Ewfame tries her best to make conversation, but she cannot understand Griselda’s jokes.
At last Ewfame decides to sit with Parson Couer. She prefers the Cecils’ somber chaplain, whom she knows from her visits to Plumbob Hall; but Couer has always been patient with her, encouraging her reading and answering her simpleminded doctrinal questions with ease and insight. For that kindness she is grateful, and feels happy to have him by her side. Together they watch Perroy, Postel, and the Clerinells dance, while Ewfame’s husband and Lord Snordwich drink to her son’s future.