before the conduct of her parents. To cast her out, ill and alone, with a newborn baby—their own grandchild! I cannot bear to think of it.”
For the first time in all the stressful hours, Hester felt tears welling up. Ashamed, she hid her face in her hands and voiced a muffled apology. “I do beg your pardon. I do not in general act like a watering-pot.”
Wordless, Mr. Fairfax laid his hand on her shoulder. As if his sympathy were the last straw, Hester broke down and wept. He felt his heart swell within him and longed desperately to take her in his arms and protect her, to take care of her and carry for her all the burdens he sensed were too great for her slender strength. And he was tied to his bed.
Even had he been free, he realised, this was not the time to profess a newly discovered love. She was tired and overwrought; any confession on his part would simply be another burden to her. Already he was beginning to withdraw from his recognition of his own emotions. He had admired her strength, her serenity. Now that she had lost them, what more natural than that he should want to protect her? The urge was as instinctive as a mother’s urge to feed her children.
He patted her back and gave her his handkerchief.
“Thank you,” she sniffed, with a watery smile. “I am so very sorry. I have no right to bring my troubles to you, nor the intention. Only I could not cry before the children. I feel better now.”
“Yes, I have always heard that a good cry helps. Would that we men were permitted such an outlet.”
“I hope you do not feel like weeping, Mr. Fairfax! I promise you shall go down tomorrow, without fail. Are you quite determined to lie in the back room? You will have no peace or privacy, you know.”
“If I shall not be in your way. I daresay there may be days when I shall prefer the parlour. But tell me, do you think James and Geoffrey will be able to carry me down the stairs?”
“They carried you up, so unless you have eaten too much gingerbread they should manage. The chief problem I foresee is persuading Robbie that he cannot help. He is most insistent that he can carry your head, or perhaps one foot. So Geoff told him that as they are not detachable he would only get in the way. Then Alice accused Geoffrey of being coarse, and Geoff protested that he had not advocated dismembering you. At that point I left the room.”
“What, you did not stay to ascertain that Robbie would not take it into his head to separate my parts? Fie, fie, Miss Godric! When I wake up headless tomorrow, I shall hold you to blame.”
“I daresay Dr. Pierce would also consider it careless of me. I must remind you of his directions. You are not, under any circumstances, to put any weight on your leg.”
“If it should be a great deal more painful after you have been moved, you are to confess and return to your bed for another week.”
“You must lie on the sofa and not move to a chair for at least another two weeks.”
“I only wish my brothers were half so obedient,” sighed Hester.
“But perhaps I am merely wheedling you,” suggested Mr. Fairfax wickedly.
Grace was buried the next day in St. Mary’s churchyard. Hester, James, and Geoffrey went to the simple, sparsely attended service, Alice being too tearful to join them.
“Anyway, I have to mind the baby,” she said with dignity.
Afterwards, Hester wrote to the Vicar of Wiveliscombe. She assumed that he had not received a letter from his sister and told him the whole story, explaining that Grace’s last wish had been that he see to the upbringing of his nephew. Nevertheless, she assured him that she would give a home to the baby if he could not. Closing with a request for a prompt response, she sealed the letter, sent Robbie to the post with it, and turned to her next task.
Mr. Fairfax was expecting her. Cheerfully, she asked him if he was ready for his great
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Bill Fawcett