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And Life Goes On

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Mrs. Vine loved her boys unconditionally but even she had to admit that there were limits. While James was more mature and realistic than George, he was quickly becoming the biggest contributor to her grey hairs.

She had known that the engineering project in India was not the smartest business move, but it was neither here nor there in terms of her ability to do anything about it. As Mrs. Vine observed the redheaded beauty and her physician brother that brought her malaria-weakened James back to her, she wondered if the good Lord was having a laugh somewhere.

Make no mistake, Mrs. Vine liked Miss Alleyn. What was not to like? Miss Alleyn was beautiful, rich, and full of confidence, able to match James wit for wit in conversation with radical views that challenged a society heiress’s position in society. Not to mention that she brought with her a handsome brother who doubled as a skilled physician and a good friend to James. The housekeeper smiled courteously during her visits, noting how enamored Alleyn was with her young master. As much as she approved, Mrs. Vine had to admit that while the affection seemed mutual, there was something missing from James’s countenance with every interaction.

For example, George had always been an open book, and his delight when courting the subject of his affections was painted on his face and body language so vividly that even those in China could see it. He simply adored and gave all of himself to his love, as both Angelica Thorold and Miss Ringley could confirm; the former if she could be found in England and the latter if she would speak up without being spoken to first. This wasn't the case with James and the redhead. The older Easton watched the Alleyn’s with shrewd eyes too, perhaps subconsciously knowing that something was missing there as well and self-consoling by reminding both himself and his younger brother behind closed doors that “Jamie, you both are too young for this type of foolishness.”

Despite their many differences, James and George were brothers and Mrs. Vine’s heart couldn’t help the rebelling against her brain with the idea that Miss Alleyn may not be the ideal match. This was a woman who would pursue her education at the highest universities money and society will allow her, yet would happily trade her ambition for the societal security marriage, a household, husband, and children offered. Miss Alleyn may be beautiful, captivating, and intelligent, but she wasn’t the sort of radical that could keep up with James in the long run.

Then the distinguished housekeeper met Mary Quinn. James bringing random stragglers home was not a rare event, but him inviting them to stay for tea, a bath, and dinner was definitely something to note. Curiouser still when the young man he brought home reeking of ale turned out to be a woman. They had an interesting relationship filled with near-constant bickering and hushed conspiratorial whispers that simultaneously amused and worried the old housekeeper. Not to mention that for the first time since his parent’s death, the walls echoed with the bouncing sounds of James’s delighted laughter. No doubt Mary Quinn was trouble, but the way she lit up James’s face, drew creases into his forehead, and brightened his smiles made Mrs. Vine wonder if she was exactly the adventure that James needed.

That was before the woman left her young master in the study looking as if he’d been thrown in front of a moving pumpkin, trampled by all six of Cinderella’s horses, and left at the edge of a staircase without a glass slipper to boot. As frustrated as she was with the young woman and her hasty departure from their lives, Mrs. Vine couldn't help her curiosity and lost many hours of sleep trying to figure out the reason.

What if James liked having the attention of multiple women and Miss Quinn discovering the presence of Miss Alleyn was what created the catalyst in the first place? What could Miss Quinn have to say to James that would make him so upset with her? Did something happen with Harkness's death and the resulting trial? Barker had stammered, blushed, and could barely describe the position he had found James and Miss Quinn in at the engineering site so Mrs. Vine knew it wasn't the lack of attraction or trust that caused the divide. As time went on without contact between the two, the questions and concerns only grew. It was a testament to Mrs. Vine's professionalism that kept her from beating answers out of the young Easton.

Anyone who’s raised a child would tell you that the most difficult thing to witness is your child in pain. James had the personality of a bear with the pride of a lion at his most sociable of moods. Even if he was at fault with the situation, he realized it too late, and Mrs. Vine knew that he was too guilt-ridden and intimidated by Quinn to smooth over the hasty bumps of his own making. As headstrong and vivacious Miss Quinn may have been, maybe she would be better off with someone who would admit his wrongs first, who'd chase after her confident in the knowledge that she was worth it. Maybe Miss Mary Quinn would be happier with a man who would build calm harbors in the midst of her stormy seas and balance her personality out a little bit better.

As James sulked for months, Mrs. Vine could only imagine what the other party must’ve felt and - for that young woman’s sake and sanity - vowed that trouble in the shape of Mary Quinn was no longer welcome under the roof that she managed. It was time for her to dedicate everything in the pursuit of Miss Alleyn and her affections. As far as Mistresses of the house goes, a beautiful, well-connected heiress isn’t a bad second choice.

Her efforts, alas, were in vain because, in the end, James will do as he damned pleased and married the little upstart who had the nerve to barrel back into their lives. In the back of her mind, Mrs. Vine knew that James was headstrong and difficult and worried about the girl.

What if the two of them fought again? Would they be able to reconcile or would it create a greater, far more painful heartbreak?

However, her years and pride as a housekeeper would be wasted if she wavered in loyalty to her boys so Mrs. Vine would tell herself that Mary Quinn was at fault too. She made James Easton upset for months and yet barrels back into his life without so much as a warning. Their first conversation post-fight was definitely rocky if James's mood was anything to go by. Mary knew James and his personality, why couldn't she have come back earlier and eased everyone's suffering? What exactly was the context that was so damning in the beginning but completely forgivable once time had passed?

As happy as the housekeeper was with the mended fences, far be it from her to withhold a challenge from someone who seemed adept at overcoming them. Additionally, it would be easier for Miss Alleyn to resign her emotions if she felt her competition was suffering a little bit from the hands of the household staff. However, Mrs. Vine quickly discovered the challenge of scowling down on someone who was so easy to adore.

As far as Mistresses of the house went, Mary Quinn was a delight. Far much better than Miss Alleyn could’ve been. She had the utmost respect for the household staff and introduced practices like holiday pay and weekly days off for the staff. She knew her way around a kitchen and it was equally offensive and satisfying to watch her smack George upside down the head when he got a hankering for warm milk at two in the morning and his excessive bell ringing woke up half the house. Amusing still was her marching both James and George down the stairs to the kitchen, supervising until she was satisfied that they could brew their own warm milk without burning down the house. The boys adapted to tidying up after themselves every time they left the room, which eased many a burden for Mrs. Vine’s aging bones. It became harder and harder every morning to affix a mantle of dislike for Mary Quinn onto her features, but Mrs. Vine did it. As much as she’s grown to respect Mary Quinn, the old housekeeper would rather die before letting the other woman find out.