In the kitchen of Havlock Hall Adam is baking soul cakes.
His mistress has instructed him to tell the children who come for the cakes to pray for her dear departed friend Henry Werables.
Mistress Grancourt herself has just returned from church and is in the hall reading a letter from Griselda Clerinell.
In the letter, Griselda suggests that, with the Feast of the Children approaching, they bring their daughters home and spend the holiday together. Master Clerinell has already offered to ride out escort all the girls back to Walstock Hall, where perhaps Ewfame could join them for lunch.
Ewfame has mixed feelings about the invitation. She finds both Griselda and her husband difficult—is never sure when they are joking, and whether at her expense. But she knows how her daughter adores their eldest three girls. In fact, not a letter from Hilith goes by in which she does not find room to praise Alice and Beatrice’s liveliness and grace, and little Felecia’s sweet temper. For the sake of those friendships, Ewfame accepts the offer in a courteous reply, full of thanks and good wishes.
When she has finished, she hands it to the awaiting messenger, along with letters for the convent’s prioress and for Hilith herself. She also sends with him some soul cakes for the youngest two Clerinell daughters still at home.
On All Souls morning, Ewfame rises early and calls for the horses to be saddled. She intends to ride to Crafhole to order a new dress for Hilith.
While Mistress Grancourt is away, her daughter travels back from the convent with her friends and their father. Clerinell jokes with his groom and younger daughter as they ride along. Watching them, Hilith thinks of her own father, and how cold he always seemed.
She wonders whether she will see him when they stop at Plumbob Hall for lunch, but the little Ros girl tells them that all the men are out hunting.
Her brother Thomas, however, is still a little too young to join them. Hilith’s heart leaps when he walks through the door behind young Master Fabyan.
Thomas has their father’s sad look about him, but when he sees his sister a smile breaks across his face and he rushes to embrace her.
He tells her that he is happy at Plumbob Hall—that Snordwich is a kind and noble lord, that he has made good friends with his tutors, and that even their father seems softer than he did at home. The baron’s two sons Thomas does not mention, and Hilith knows better than to ask.
When the lunch bell rings, Lady Snordwich welcomes the company to her table, placing Alice, the eldest of the girls, by her side.
As they eat, her ladyship asks Alice all about their education at the convent, and commands each of the girls to sing for her. When Hilith’s turn comes, she chooses a lullaby her mother taught her as a little girl.
Eventually, the time comes for them to take to the road. They all humbly thank the baroness for her hospitality, and Hilith says goodbye to her brother.
Late on Wednesday evening, Ewfame returns to Havlock Hall. She has chosen the fabric and pattern for her daughters dress, and bought little gifts for the Clerinell girls: new needles and thread for Alice, Beatrice and Felicia, since Hilith has mentioned that her friends embroider beautifully, and little wooden toys for two littlest. All in all, it has been a successful trip. She takes a warm bath to loosen limbs stiff from the ride.
When she feels clean and comfortable, she has the boys bring her supper in her chamber, a wholesome fish and vegetable stew.
In the morning, it is time for her to ride to Walstock Hall.
As she and William cross the courtyard, the Clerinells come out to greet them, Hilith with them. When the girl sees her mother, she rushes into her arms.
Hilith is happy to have William there too; he has been in her parents’ service since before she was born.
Over lunch, Ewfame asks about her daughter’s journey and goes over the news from home. Hilith’s nurse has remarried to a young beekeeper, formerly a groom of his lordship’s stables. Old Wereables has sadly passed away, leaving them several of his finest books in his will. Hilith knows all this from her mother’s letters, but it is good to talk it through face to face.
The Clerinell girls are grateful for the gifts Ewfame has brought them. Little Dominica and Margery play happily with their new toys.
When it is time to leave, Hilith parts from her friends with good wishes. They hope to see one another again at the New Year’s celebrations held each year at Plumbob Hall.
While the girls hug and chatter, Ewfame shares an awkward farewell with Griselda.
Mother and daughter eventually arrive home and retire straightaway to bed, worn out from so much riding back and forth.
Hilith drifts off right away, but Ewfame lies awake for a while, listening to her daughter’s breath and feeling the warmth of her spread through the bed. She has been lonely since her children and their nursemaid went away—kept busy managing her husband’s manor, reading books, writing to friends, but somehow missing a part of herself. At last, she closes her eyes and lets sleep take her.
The following day, the winter penitence begins, preventing Ewfame from opening a bottle of nectar to welcome her daughter home. Instead, she has Adam serve Hilith’s favourite, sweet fruit soup, with their lunch of roast salmon and pickled vegetables.
William she sends back to Crafthole to pick up her finished dress.
In the afternoon, they crush the last of the autumn’s fruits to make next year’s nectar.
Most of Saturday is taken up by a court session in the great hall, presided over by Ewfame, who rules over her husband’s tenants in his name. They come before her to report deaths, negotiate transfers of tenure, settle disputes, and be tried for minor crimes. Hilith watches her mother as she hears each one, and the village parson sets everything down in the court roll.
They spend the evening by the fireside, as Hilith reads aloud from one of the books Werables left. It is a life of the first Bishop of Crafthole, carefully copied out and illuminated by skillful hands.
On Sunday morning, Nativity’s Eve, Hilith awakes to find that William has arrived with her dress. It is dark green, her favourite shade. She and her mother take it in here and there until everything feels just right.
Satisfied with the fit, Hilith looks forward to showing her father and brother on New Year’s Day—and of course Alice and Beatrice too. First, though, will be the Feast of the Nativity, with gifts for servants and a lunch for her father’s tenants. While they wait for sunset to bring the end of the winter penitence, she and her mother pick out bottles of nectar for Adam and William to thank them for another year’s attentive service.