Valancy had worried that perhaps the Blue Castle might not still be waiting for her, on the island that she and Barney owned. She had been in tears the last time she saw it – mostly tears of happiness, but there had been an undercurrent of nervousness, of fear that the next time she saw it, the magic would be gone.
As promised, they had spent the autumn and part of the winter traveling. She had been thrilled by the Alhambra, and agreed with her husband that it resembled her Blue Castle. He had shown her the old-world garden in Italy, where the moon rose over Rome though cypress trees, and kissed her under that same moon. They had not made it to the bazaars of Samarkand, but they had seen Greece and Rome and Venezia and Egypt, and ended their honeymoon with a few more conventional days in Paris and London. She, Valancy Stirling, had traveled on fine ocean liners and stayed in beautiful hotels.
She had been a little concerned that all the constructed beauty of the Old World might dull her appreciation of the natural beauty in the New World, but that had not come to pass. They had spent the remainder of the winter and spring in Montreal with Barney’s father, Dr. Redfern, while overseeing the construction of their own house in the country. It was not an over-large one – Valancy had put her foot down about having anything that would require a staff of people to keep, and Barney agreed – but it was full of windows so that wherever you were, you could look out and see Nature surrounding you.
There was even an oriel window in the bedroom that she shared with Barney - a small piece of their home on Mistawis. There were bedrooms enough for a family, and one rather fantastic feature. Barney had instructed the designer to put in a turret. It was lovely, and yet it was not the Blue Castle. This was a place that Valancy knew she would love, but not the one she had dreamed of in her unhappy years.
As Barney had promised, her father-in-law was not a bad soul, despite the association of his name with all the remedies that had been in various Stirling households, particularly the detested liniment. Even if he did not precisely understand his son and new daughter, or understand why they chose not to gild themselves with his offered money, he loved them. He was lonely, an affliction that Valancy could readily sympathize with, and she had enjoyed bringing life to his too-perfect house.
But Valancy was not unhappy when Barney announced they were setting out for Mistawis. She had written to Cousin Georgiana to let her know that they would be there soon to fetch Good Luck and Banjo, and packed what they needed in the dark-green car. It was perhaps foolish of her, but Valancy found she truly missed Lady Jane, with all her quirks and uncooperative behavior.
Now, they stood on the shore, and Valancy was relieved to see that their island was once again shrouded in lilac mist. It made her feel as if she was coming to the island again for the first time. It looked just as it had on the night she and Barney had been married.
This time, however, Banjo and Good Luck mewed in protest from their baskets as Valancy and Barney put what they needed in the canoe.
This time, when Barney lifted her from the canoe to the shore, Valancy shivered with the memory of her first kiss on this very spot. He kissed her now, and it made her shiver again. Now it was not her first kiss, but one of many. More, this time when he kissed her, she knew he loved her.
Valancy was pleased to see that the magic of her Blue Castle and their island lived still.
They would spend a beautiful summer here in their snug little shack. They would spend their days wandering in the beauty of the woods. She would cook the suppers that were flavored with the wildness of the island, and they would sit on the porch and eat them with the cats as their hopeful audience. They would go berrying and eat the berries that grew in the sunlit dell while they lay in the sunlight, the strawberries still warm from the sun. No fancy dessert in a hotel could compare to their simple perfection.
In the autumn, they would leave again, but there would be no travels this time.
No travels, because now Valancy’s one unfulfilled dream was to come true when the leaves fell from the tree. She would finally have a fat, sweet baby of her own. She would be a mother, and she would give her child – hers and Barney’s – all the love that was in her heart. Her child would not be ignored, would never be made to feel that they did not measure up to all of their other relatives, would not be saddled with a ridiculous nickname that they detested.
And next summer, they would return to Mistawis, and live in their summer paradise with their child.
Valancy could not imagine anything more magical than that.
They could not avoid the Stirling connection entirely, no matter how much Valancy wished they might. Thanks to her family, they were no longer able to live as Mr. and Mrs. Snaith – all of Deerwood knew that their much-maligned would-be criminal was actually Bernard Redfern, son of the famous (and quite wealthy) Doctor Redfern, of Purple Pills fame. Now, they were considered charmingly eccentric, rather than strange. Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Redfern would have been welcome to go to a great many places, had they chosen to go there.
Generally speaking, they did not.
Aunt and Uncle Wellington had insisted on throwing a celebratory dinner to mark their return. Valancy found she was actually looking forward to the evening. She would have Barney beside her, and they were the only ones who knew about the secret she carried underneath her heart. There was also the knowledge that at the end of the night, she did not have to climb the dreary staircase in the red-brick house, and sleep in the cold room that she hated. At the end of the night, she would return to her Blue Castle with her final lover – her husband.
Mrs. Frederick was speaking to her now – one could hardly ignore the daughter-in-law of a millionaire, even if you had largely ignored her emotional needs all of her life. Valancy found herself pitying the older woman, and wondering if it was possible that her mother had ever felt the happiness that she did now. They spoke only of commonplaces, as if they were strangers. Uncle Benjamin’s puns were no less spiteful and unfunny than before, although now some of them were addressed to Olive.
Olive Stirling – the beautiful Olive, who never had to wear horrid petticoats and never wished simply for her own dust-pile, who was never made to feel as if she were a disappointment – was no longer engaged to Mr. Cecil Bruce. Valancy found that she actually pitied Olive, who had all the material trappings a girl’s heart could desire, but none of the happiness that Valancy now owned.
In the car ride home, she and Barney enjoyed talking over the dinner and the people, and were thankful that they were homeward bound.
Valancy was thinking to herself of Cousin Georgiana, one of the few members of the family she actually had a fondness for. She liked Uncle Herbert and Aunt Alberta, but it was Cousin Georgiana who Valancy had found herself thinking of when they were away from home. The older woman was seen as totally insignificant to the rest of the clan – a lonely spinster with no money and no prospects who was perpetually preoccupied with wondering who would pass on next– but Valancy would never forget that Cousin Georgiana had been the only member of the family to send her a wedding-gift when they had all thought that she had married Barney Snaith rather than Bernard Redfern. They had spent many a comfortable night, snuggled together under the elaborate candlewick spread Cousin Georgiana had given them.
“What’s on your mind, Moonlight?” Barney asked, looking over at her.
“I was just wondering if perhaps Cousin Georgiana would like to come to Montreal with us in the autumn.”
“To help with the baby?”
“It would be nicer to have someone I know,” Valancy said after a moment. But she wasn’t only thinking that Cousin Georgiana would be a comfort and a help when she had her child. She was also thinking that perhaps she might help two lonely people find a way to be less lonely.
“Then we shall bring her,” Barney promised, clasping one of her hands with his free one. If he had any suspicion that his wife might have other plans for her spinster cousin, he gave no sign.
Valancy smiled to herself as their island home came into view.
She knew there would be more adventures and wonderful events in her life, but she was pleased to find that her Blue Castle would always be here, on Mistawis.