Chapter Two: Hope of More

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A week later, Beau was preparing a beef casserole with help from Estelle when a knock at the door interrupted the dispute they'd been having over the amount of stock they needed to add. They paused for a moment, looking at each other. Since their arrival in the small provincial village, their backstory and their brothers' brutish behaviour had made them few friends. Beau was treated cordially enough when he went to the market, although he got the feeling that the other villagers thought he was a little strange, and the girls sometimes played with the neighbours' children, but on the whole they were left to themselves. A knock at the door was a seldom heard sound.

Before either of them could move, Clara's silver voice could be heard in the hallway, "I'll get it!" she cried with glee. Unwilling to let his nine year old sister open the door to a complete stranger on her own, Beau left Estelle to determine the stock amount and left the kitchen to check on Clara. He reached the hallway just as she was pulling back the catch on the greying oak door and swung it open.

On the other side stood a delivery man in a suit of faded blue velvet. "Letter for Monsieur Pierre Molineux," he said, holding out a thick cream envelope.

Post was even rarer than visitors and Clara stared at the envelope for a moment without responding.

"Merci," Beau said, stepping forwards and greeting the delivery man with an easy smile. Clara remembered herself and took the envelope from his outstretched hand.

"Merci," she added excitedly as the delivery man tipped his hat to them and then turned and left.

Beau shut the door, his sister still staring at the letter.

"It's addressed to father," she said, her fingers running over the fine paper.

"Well go and give it to him then!" Beau said, ruffling her hair with a smile.

Their father was out in the farmyard, watering the family's small vegetable patch. Beau returned to the kitchen, where he could watch them from the window.

"Who was it?" Estelle asked, not looking up from the casserole.

"A deliveryman with a letter for father." She glanced up at his words, her grey eyes wide with surprise.

"A letter?"

Beau nodded in the direction of the window. "He's reading it now - look."

They both watched as their father's eyes scanned over the letter. His lips, which had been turned down in a frown at the letter's appearance, slowly began to pull up at the sides, until he his face lit up with the widest smile they had seen since their arrival at the farm.

"Good news?" Estelle suggested. She kept her tone casual but Beau could see the eager hope painted across her face.

"I think we're about to find out," he replied as his father hurried into the kitchen, Clara on his heels.

"We're saved!" He shouted, waving the letter above his head victoriously. "Saved!"

"What is it father?" Estelle asked, abandoning the casserole and rushing towards him.

"One of my ships - La Belle Rose - survived the storm that the others were lost in. She'd been holed up in a harbour near Alexandria while repairs were carried out and she's only just made it back. She's docked in a port barely half a day's ride from here, still laden with cargo!"

"We're saved!" squealed Estelle.

"We're rich again!" added Clara. The girls ran to each other, holding hands and twirling round and round in a giddy dance.

The commotion bought tiny Rose in from the garden, where she had been searching for ladybirds. "What's going on?"

Clara and Estelle quickly filled her in and the three of them resumed their dance.

"I must get ready at once!" their father said, rushing towards his room to get his travelling clothes.

"Beau," Estelle said, breaking off her merry dance to approach him. "Why aren't you celebrating? No more farm duties. No more meagre meals. We're saved!"

Beau shook his head. "It feels a little soon to be celebrating. When father returns from the port, laden with spoils and ready to move out, I will join in your festivities. Until then, this casserole isn't going to cook itself and the pig sty needs mucking out." He turned away from his sisters and put the heavy casserole dish into the aga. He didn't want to get his hopes up only to be disappointed when his father returned from the port.

By the time his father came back downstairs, his brothers had heard the news and were having a heated argument over which of them should go in his stead.

"I'm the faster rider," Gabe insisted.

"But I'm a better negotiator," Louis retorted, puffing his chest out proudly.

"And neither of you can be trusted alone with the family fortune," their father declared, shaking his head. "Left in your hands, there'd be no money at all by the time you returned to the farm. You'd have squandered it all long before the rest of us got a look in. No, you must both stay here and help Beau to look after your sisters." The boys grimaced, but their father was undeterred. "I will go alone. But," he added with a smile, "I do not intend to return empty handed. You may each chose a gift, which I will bring back from town for you."

"A new sword!" Louis demanded.

"A horse," Gabe said, eager not to be outdone.

"Can I have a new dress please, father?" Estelle asked sweetly.

"Me too!" Clara added.

"A new doll," Rose declared last of all, hastily adding "please" when Beau glanced in her direction.

"Any you, Beau?" their father asked when Beau remained silent. Beau looked thoughtfully at his youngest sister for a moment before replying. He had no need for weaponry or horses or fine clothing. The only things he really treasured were his books, but he had a plentiful supply of those thanks to an agreement with the village bookseller. There were no luxuries he needed. Besides, they should be sensible with this new found fortune, not frivolous. But asking for nothing would make his sisters feel guilty for making requests and he could already see the joy on their faces at the thought of their new treasures. With a sigh, he turned to his father.

"It has been many months since I have last seen a rose - they refuse to grow in the soil in this region, no matter how hard I try. Bring me back a rose, father, and I will be happy."

If his father was confused by such an odd request, he didn't comment. Within the hour, Beau had the family horse, Philippe, saddled up and their father was on his way to the port.

It was a quick, easy journey; the sun was high in the sky, a cool breeze kept Philippe comfortable and the roads were clear. Everything seemed to be going in Pierre Molineux's favour. Everything, that was, until he reached the port.

"I'm sorry, Monsieur," the port master said when he arrived, noting the hopeful smile on his face. "The cargo of La Belle Rose was seized by the authorities, the ship herself along with them, only an hour ago. They said it was to pay off your outstanding debts. There's nothing left."

"Nothing?"

"Nothing, Monsieur. I'm sorry you came all this way."

Downcast, Pierre turned away from the port master. The dress and weaponry shops opposite seemed to wink at him, taunting. Nothing. There was nothing left. No riches to restore his children to the lives they had lost. Not even enough for a trinket for each to soften the blow. He had failed them once again. Failed his girls, who would never make good matches without dowries to support them and the funds to send them out into society. Failed his eldest sons, who's anger and irritation would only grow when he returned. Failed Beau, who worked so hard and asked for so little. He wondered if it was worth him returning at all.

But they would wonder if he didn't. The eldest boys would assume he'd run off with the money. The girls and Beau would fear something terrible had happened to him. He couldn't do that to his children. He needed to return and tell them the truth. With a deep sigh, he remounted Philippe, turned away from the now setting sun, and began the dreaded journey home. 

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