When they were ten and twelve respectively, Henry Cavendish and Samantha Scrimgeour became step-brother and sister. Henry's father, Rupert, had divorced his mother two years earlier when she ran off with a Portuguese. Beautiful and talented she was also selfish and did not wish to be saddled with a small son in her new life. Samantha's father, Graham, had died under an avalanche while ski-ing. Samantha and, more particularly, her mother, Henrietta, were devastated. Nevertheless, Henrietta was left a very wealthy widow and the two of them continued to live in their large house in the Drill valley.
The Cavendishes and the Scrimgeours had known each other for years. Both men had served a short service commission together in the Life Guards. Both had then had successful and lucrative jobs in the City. Rupert gave his up early on the premature death of his father and went home to run the family estate at Carlton Parva. His mother moved into the dower house but also died a few years later.
Graham had been the first to marry. He had known Henrietta for years but it was only when he left the army and was spending weekends at home that he struck up with her again. It was two years before they became engaged but it was a period of getting to know each other more deeply and developing a commitment. In the end, their's was a marriage of two souls.
Samantha was born two years after Graham and Henrietta married. Henrietta loved her from the start. They tried for a second child without success. Both agreed that they would not pursue what they considered unnatural ways of producing a second child. They also agreed that while they would love Henrietta even more specially they would never spoil her.
Rupert's Imogen was a blind date. She was the sister of another Life Guards officer who asked him to take her to a regimental dance. She was stunningly beautiful, amusing and flirtatious and Rupert was captivated. He pursued her for three years and it was only when he began earning serious money in the City that she agreed to marry him. Graham observed the romance with deep misgivings. Indeed, he warned his friend that Imogen was flighty but Rupert was confident that when she did succumb to his advances all would be well. She gave birth to Henry fifteen months after the wedding. She showed no inclination to have further children. Henry was clearly a burden once his novelty had worn off which was soon. Imogen did not like to have her sleep disturbed and the last three months of her pregnancy had been a bore. She quite enjoyed being lady of the manor at Carlton Parva in small doses but was always eager to return to their London flat and the brittle round of parties.
Henry and Samantha had known each other from an early age. When Imogen departed for London Rupert seldom went. When he did Henry would stay with the Scrimgeours. Rupert often had them over for the day. The two men had a love of racing and Henrietta would look after the children.
When Graham was killed the last thing on Henrietta's mind was marrying again. For Rupert it was different. Divorce may be unpleasant but not so much as the death of someone you love and in whose existence you are totally bound up. Rupert did not actively look for another wife but the friendship with Henrietta was still there. They could not help but meet quite often either, once Henrietta had decided she could no longer be a recluse. What was a deep friendship centred originally on a love for Graham developed into love for each other.
They both agonised about what effect marriage would have on the children. They agreed in the end that their own happiness was paramount and that the children, being the friends they were, would probably accept it. Nevertheless, they decided to tell the children first what they planned to do.
Both children were at boarding school and so Rupert and Henrietta waited until the holidays and when Henrietta and Samantha had come over to Carlton Parva for the day. They broached the subject at the end of lunch.
Both children stared at them in silence. It was not an antagonistic silence. Neither child had thought that their parents would ever marry again. They were stupefied.
"You don't have to say anything now," said Henrietta gently. "Have a think but we would like to know what you say before Samantha and I go home."
Both children nodded. Henry drifted up to his room. Samantha went to the stables. There was a filly of Rupert's she had become very attached to and she felt she could confide in her.
Henry was confused. Although Rupert had never said anything derogatory about Imogen Henry hated her. She was his mother and yet she had never, ever shown him any affection let alone love. His father was his all, loving and supportive. Why would he want to try life with another woman? She might turn out to be as bad as his mother and yet he could not feel that way about Henrietta. She had always been friendly and, he had to admit, there for him on the odd occasion when things had upset him. Samantha was nearly always happy so she must love her and be loved by her, especially after her father was killed. He wondered whether his father would go on looking after him and loving him in the same way. Probably not because he would have to look after Henrietta and Samantha as well. He thought about Samantha. Even though she was older she never behaved like that. They were friends. So possibly, as they all got on so well together, it might be all right and he would not mind if his father shared his love with Henrietta and Samantha. He wanted to talk with Samantha though. He walked to the stables. He knew that was where she would be.
When Samantha reached the stables she found that Posy was out in the paddock. She climbed over the gate and called her. The filly trotted over to her. Samantha fished in her pocket for a peppermint.
"I've got a bit of a problem," she said to Posy. "Your master and my mother want to get married. When Daddy died she told me she would never marry again so why's she changed her mind? I like Rupert very much and he and Daddy were great friends so I can see why Mummy likes him too. Do you think she's being unfaithful to Daddy?"
Posy blew at her. She laid her head against Posy's neck. "I don't think she is and Daddy would have liked her to marry Rupert more than anybody, I think. I like Henry too so why aren't I thrilled for Mummy?"
She fed Posy another peppermint. The little filly looked at her with liquid brown eyes as she munched. Samantha gazed back.
"Am I being selfish? I am, aren't I? Thanks, Posy, for listening to me."
She gave Posy a gentle pat and turned away to see Henry sitting on the gate. She smiled at him, walked over, climbed onto the gate and sat beside him.
"What do you think?" she asked him.
"Your mother would never be like my mother, would she?"
"No, not in a million years."
"Do you think she'd be the mother I've never had?"
Samantha nodded. "She's always been fond of you and I've heard her say 'Bloody Imogen' in connection with you. Yes, she would. Do you think your dad would do the same for me?"
Henry nodded vigorously.
"And you wouldn't mind?"
"It won't be the same as it is now but I think that if I had a mother it wouldn't matter so much."
"That's what I thought. I realised that I was being selfish because I didn't want to share Mummy with anybody else."
"What about you and me being brother and sister?"
Samantha's eyes twinkled. "Ah," she said, "that's a very different question. I shall expect total obedience and respect at all times from my baby brother."
Henry grinned and blew her a raspberry. "Watch it. When Dad dies I shall have you thrown out onto the streets."
"Pooh! I shall have found myself a rich husband who will buy you out."
Henry pushed her off the gate.
She landed squarely but immediately fell to her side grasping her ankle.
"Ooh! Ouch!" she cried.
Henry leapt off the gate and knelt beside her.
"Oh, Samantha! I'm sorry."
She grabbed him and rolled over so that she was on top.
"Gotcha!" she chortled.
"I'm not. You attacked me."
"But you pretended to be hurt, you beast!"
She bounced on his tummy. "That'll teach you to mistreat a girl."
"You deserved to be mistreated."
"How dare you speak to me like that! I'm two years older than you."
He heaved and reversed their positions.
"And I'm stronger than you."
"Male chauvinist pig!"
They both got the giggles. Henry heaved himself off her and pulled her to her feet. They both smiled at each other.
Samantha rolled over the gate. "Beat you back to the house," she cried and set off at run.
"Cheat!" shouted Henry as he did a roll over the gate and chased after her. He caught her at the back door. She stood there waiting for him.
"Beat you!" she smiled at him.
"Typical girl. Wait until you're in a win-win position and take advantage."
"Sorry, Henry!" She looked mock-apologetic and then turned serious. "Are we both going to say OK to the parents?"
He nodded. "I guess."
Samantha smiled, took his hands and squeezed them gently. "I guess so too, brother."
Henry was overcome with emotion. Being a ten year old he was unable to cope fully. He just nodded, smiled and swallowed the lump in his throat.
Neither was aware that they were still holding hands when they walked into the kitchen where Rupert and Henrietta were clearing up after lunch. They stopped in the doorway and then stood silent and shy.
Henrietta smiled at them and Samantha went to her. "Yes, Mum," she said and was pulled into a hug.
Henry was boyishly more reticent. Rupert looked questioningly at him. Henry nodded and Rupert held open his arms. Henry ran silently into them.
"Thank you, Henry, my boy," said Rupert quietly and hugged him. He looked over at Henrietta who nodded. They both gently nudged the children towards the other.
Rupert hugged Samantha gently. "Thank you, Samantha," he whispered. "I'm proud and honoured that you should be my step-daughter."
Samantha looked up at him and shook her head. "Daughter," she said softly.
Rupert hugged her again and kissed the top of her head. "Thank you, sweetheart," he murmured.
A similar scene took place between Henrietta and Henry. They hugged silently and then Henry looked up.
"Will you be my real mother?" he asked.
Henrietta could not speak. She smiled down at him with tear filled eyes and nodded before drawing him back into her arms. She held him and felt him relax against her.
"Yes, Henry darling," she whispered.
Henry gave a sob and was pulled into the first really loving hug he had ever experienced from a woman.
He had a mother!