Ten Years Since the Wedding
“Papa, you must tell us!”
“Yes, Papa, or else we will simply die!”
Emerson resisted the urge to let out a sigh. “You will not die,” he said to the children sitting cross-legged before him.
Eight-year-old Henry Lake and six-year-old Victor looked at each other. They were very similar to each other in almost every way—from the dark curls on their heads to the blue eyes they’d adopted from their mother to even the smattering of freckles that covered their faces. And even more so, they seemed to share the same brain at times, and the moment he caught the look they shared, Emerson knew he was not going to like what they did next.
Both boys, as if trying to prove their father wrong, threw themselves back onto the floor with their eyes closed, pretending to be dead.
Emerson didn’t know whether to sigh or laugh at the sight. He decided to simply shake his head, coming to a stand. He was far too tired to find humor in his sons’ actions, wishing they would simply give in to their exhaustion instead. It was obvious that they were fighting the need to sleep, wanting to be a part of the excitement.
Said excitement had begun just after dinner, and now that it was nearing midnight, Emerson had no more energy left to spare to appease the boys. They refused to return to their bedchambers, insisting that Emerson answer all their questions.
Emerson made his way over to the sideboard, wanting a glass of brandy and a cigar. He stopped, resisting the urge. Not here when the children were awake to see him. His duties as a father—and a husband—came first.
Victor was the first to break. He popped one eye open, spotted Emerson standing nearby, and then shook his brother awake. Henry turned but kept his eyes closed, and this time, Emerson smiled. Perhaps he’d forgotten that he was supposed to be playing dead, not asleep.
“He’s not fooled,” Victor whispered to his brother, and Henry sighed like an aging man as he sat up. He hopped to his feet and sank his knees into the couch behind them, leaning over the back of it. Victor joined him.
“Please, Papa,” he began again. “When is the baby coming?”
“Will it be a boy or a girl?” Victor pressed.
“And why can’t we see Mama?” Henry asked. “Is it because she’s in pain? Will we make it worse?”
“I do not know the answers to your questions,” Emerson said once again.
“Of course you do!” Henry protested. “You know everything.”
Emerson shook his head. He’d given up on trying to distract them. Now he wished sleep would claim them instead. “I cannot tell you if it will be a boy or a girl. We’ll have to wait until it comes before we find out. And you will only get in the way if you go see your mother now.”
“Is that why you’re here?” Victor asked quietly.
Emerson nodded though he hated that fact more than anyone. He wanted to be by her side, to hold her hand as she gave birth to their third child. He would have done just that had the midwife, Mrs. Johnson, not chased him away, not daring that he comes close. Emerson was happy that he’d asked Mrs. Johnson to stay with them as Kate came close to giving birth because he did not want to risk having to send for her and any complications that might happen in the interim. But Mrs. Johnson was a strong-willed woman who thought a man had no place in a birthing room. However, how he could possibly be a hindrance, Emerson didn’t know.
The hour was growing later. If they were too quiet, they could hear the faintest echo of Kate’s screams, which seemed to go on forever. The longer they waited, the more fearful he became. He was quite aware of the complications that might happen while in labor and the very thought that Kate may not ….
He didn’t let himself finish the thought. His sons were staring at him with Kate’s same disconcerting eyes as if they could tell what he was thinking.
“Why don’t we go for a walk?” Emerson suggested. A walk was his answer for everything, and he thought it would do well to entertain them. “But it will be within the house. We don’t want to stray too far from your mother.”
“A walk in the house?” Henry said, sounding dubious.
“It will be fun, I’m sure.” Emerson was already making his way to the door of the drawing room. He feigned excitement, hoping that the boys would begin to mimic him like they usually did. “Perhaps we’ll see something we don’t—”
He stopped suddenly. With the door open, the silence in the house was deafening. Emerson strained his ears to hear, wondering if it was over. And then he heard it—the faint cry of a baby.
Emerson took off without a thought. He didn’t realize that the boys were right on his heels until he was charging up the steps two by two. He raced down the hallways until he skidded to a halt outside the bedchamber they had carried Kate into.
“Let me by,” he ordered to the maids standing by the door. They looked at each other, clearly wondering if they should. Certainly, Mrs. Johnson had given them distinct orders to keep him out, but he was still their master.
Before he could try again, the door opened, and Mrs. Johnson slipped out. She crossed her arms, sweat covering her face. “Not yet,” she stated.
“I don’t care what you say,” Emerson said. He’d already decided to ignore the woman’s attempt to keep him away. “The baby is out, isn’t it? I want to see her.”
“She is still recovering. Allow her to regain her strength before—”
Emerson shouldered past her as gently as he could, walking inside. The air smelled of blood, and the maids within were gathering large sheets into one, hiding the stains. Emerson didn’t pay them any mind. He rushed to his wife’s side.
“Kate,” he breathed as he sank next to her.
Kate looked up at him through heavy lids. She, too, was drenched in sweat, her hair plastered to her face, but the smile she gave him was still so beautiful, albeit tired. She didn’t say anything at first, looking instead at her sons, who came quietly to the side of her bed.
Their eyes were on the babe in her arms. It had stopped crying and was now latched onto Kate’s bosom. The boys were marveling at the sight, and Emerson could tell that Henry wanted to touch it.
“It’s a girl,” Kate whispered tiredly, though her smile was still present. “Our first girl.”
Emerson could not contain the swell of happiness. He wanted to embrace her, to thank her for pushing through, and to apologize for not having been by her side throughout the worst of it. He wanted to hug the baby to his chest and say to her the same thing he had when Henry and Victor had been born—how he would love them until his dying breath and then beyond that. But Henry and Victor had come easily into this world. This newborn babe suckling with such vigor had made Kate work for it.
“I know you have questions,” Kate continued to say to her sons. “But I am too tired to answer them now. I’m sure Mrs. Johnson will be willing, though.”
Mrs. Johnson, approaching from behind, stiffened when Henry and Victor turned to her. They began their barrage of questions, and she resigned herself to answering while she went around the room and aided the maids in cleaning up.
Kate turned her attention to Emerson. “I hope they did not drive you too mad.”
“It is nothing compared to what you endured here.” He kissed her on her sweaty temple. “You did so well.”
“I think so too.” Kate studied the baby in her arms. “After so many hours trying to push her out, you would not expect her to look so tiny.”
“And she looks like you. She will be your spitting image when she grows older.”
“The poor girl.”
“Oh, stop it,” Kate laughed, hitting him playfully on the arm. Emerson grinned. He could not take his eyes off his daughter, who seemed so beautiful and fragile in her mother’s arms.
“What shall we name her?” he asked.
“There is a name I have been considering for a while now, which I hope you will be fond of.” Kate waited until Emerson looked up at her before she continued. “Lucy, after the late Duchess of Edendale.”
Emerson felt tears grow thick in his throat. He nodded. “Lucy is perfect.”
Kate smiled a little wider. She closed her eyes, settling into the pillow under her neck. “I love you, Emerson. Thank you.”
“That should be my line.” He kissed her forehead again. “Thank you for everything.”
In this small room, his sons continued to ask questions that Mrs. Johnson struggled to answer. His daughter suckled happily, content. His wife breathed deeply as she sunk into sleep. It was a little chaotic, yet he felt happier than ever.
Thank you, Kate.
For love. For family. And for making his life worth living again.