With his lordship gone, Grancourt is master of Plumbob Hall. He feasts the local gentry and their families once a week, but their numbers have depleted: the Clerinells’ eldest daughter Alice has married and moved away to Effenmont, and Sir Thomas and his son are in Advorton with Lord Snordwich.
This week, Mistress Grancourt is dissapointed to find her son Thomas also absent, in Effenmont, apparently, waiting on Mistress Matilda and her aunt the countess. Ewfame hopes that her boy will at least make powerful friends during his stay there, although most of Lord Effenmont’s household are surely in Advorton at the parliament too.
Gilbert is in one of his black moods; no doubt he is frustrated by how little there is for him to oraganise. Not even Philip Clerinell can make him merry.
Ewfame finds the lunches awkward; she wishes her old friend Wereables were still alive. Whenever she is back at home, though, she counts her life full of blessings. Thomas’ old nurse Margery has had a baby girl, whom Ewfame and her daughter both love to visit.
Margery’s son Hugh is now almost a man, with his head full of a farm girl from Plumville, his mother says.
Ewfame thinks of her own son, only Hugh’s junior by a few weeks. She wonders whether there is some young lady who has his heart.
She has not seen Thomas since early spring, and it is summer now. But the warm weather allows her and Hilith to spend a little of every day by the lake.
Her daughter is as strong a swimmer as she was in her youth.
And Ewfame cannot wait for the first summer berries to come in. There is a thickly stewed pudding of strawberries, nectar and cream that she knows Hilith loves.
The women go to church each morning, and often invite the new village parson Gilbert Hendry back for lunch afterwards.
Sometimes the Clerinells join them too.
Beatrice and Felicia, their second and third eldest, are home from the convent now.
The girls are happy to chat together. Felicia wants to hear all about Hilith’s upcoming wedding, set to take place on the first day of Spring.
In the evenings, Ewfame and Hilith catch up with their correspondence.
Ewfame hears from her friend Alice Rostand, who tells her that business in Advorton is flourishing, with all the great lords in town. She writes also that her three sons are all doing well, and that her eldest will be off to university in Effenmont soon. In her reply, Ewfame insists the boy stop along his way to spend a day or two as her guest at Havlock Hall.
Whenever they sit down with pen and ink, she encourages her daughter to write to her betrothed too, to offer him chaste assurances of her devotion. Half a year is a long time for a young man in love to wait for his bride.
To Ewfame, though, the time seems to pass all too quickly. She knows she will be lonely when her daughter leaves. She will still have her books of course, but but her eyes are not what they were, and she has got so used to Hilith reading to her.
She cheers herself with the thought that Simon Bonel is a sweet boy of good family, who has written more words of love for her daughter in the last six weeks than her own husband has spoken to her in the entire course of their marriage. Yes, she thinks her daughter will be happy. And perhaps her son will soon come home to Havlock Hall for good, or at the very least have returned to Plumbob Hall by the time they are next summoned to lunch there.
When the invitation arrives on Friday morning, she is overjoyed to discover that its bearer is Thomas himself.
Thomas tells his mother and sister about his time in Effenmont. The earl and his son Lord Godfrey were indeed away, but Lady Effenmont offered splendid entertainment to her niece, and to those of her husband’s knights that remained behind.
Alice Clerinell—Alice Fibrois, he should say—was there with her husband Sir Richard. In fact, he has a letter from her for Hilith.
Ewfame asks him to stay for lunch. It is a fast day meal of broiled trout and vegetables, and a small dish of the first summer strawberries. Of the berries she allows her children only a few each, knowing that too much raw fruit throws the body’s humours out of balance.
When the time comes to say goodbye once more, Ewfame is sad to see her son go, but glad that he has left Hilith with news from her friend. When the girl has read the letter through, she tells her mother that Alice seems to be settling comfortably into the life of a knight’s wife.
In the morning, Ewfame reminds Adam to sieve and boil the strawberries for her daughter’s favourite dish. Who knows when she will next be home at this time of year.
Hilith is delighted by the surprise.