Jane waddled down the hall, in search of her lady’s maid. The baby made her feel so hot but she could not undo her stays by herself. She wanted to lay in the bath even though it was the middle of the day. As if she could hear Jane’s searching thoughts, Ava appeared at the top of the stairs, carrying a bunch of clothes.
“Ah, there you are. Come, I need you to pour me some water in the bath. Lukewarm I think. No need to warm it.”
Ava smiled. “Little baby heating you up again?”
Jane nodded, swiping wisps of sweat stained hair away from her face. “I do not think there has been a summer as hot as this one.” She said, putting her hands on the small of her back as she waddled back to her chambers behind Ava.
“Or you’ve never been pregnant in summer before.” Ava countered.
“Perhaps. But I think it is the former. Arthur agreed with me.”
“If you said the sky was green, Arthur would agree with you.” Ava murmured under her breath. Jane still heard her even as she flopped back into her seat as Ava pulled the tub over and began to fill it up.
“Are you saying my Husband indulges me too much?”
“You said it, not me.”
Jane snorted. “Well, I’m sure you’ll be singing a different song soon. Your wedding to Pierre is not far off.”
Ava rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, you have regaled me with the wonders of the marriage bed one too many times. I feel quite violated.”
She walked toward Jane and pulled her from the chair before turning her around and undoing her stays which were already quite loose. Her dress fell to her feet and Jane walked slowly toward the tub, sinking into the water with a sigh of relief.
“I cannot wait to give birth. All the baby does is kick me and make me unbearably hot.”
“I’ve heard other things it makes you do, and I wish I hadn’t.”
Jane laughed. “The midwife said it does no harm to the child, and even helps me to relax if done right.”
Ava gave a side eye to the smug look on Jane’s face. “And I suppose Arthur does it right?”
The smug look intensified. “He is very attentive.”
“Good, well, I have clothes to fold so I shall go over there where I hopefully cannot hear you extolling your Husband’s talents.”
“I can speak quite loudly!” Jane called.
“I advise you to save your energy for when the baby comes.” Ava retorted.
Suddenly Jane gave a little scream. “Oh, my God, blood!”
Immediately after she gave a squawk and doubled over as a contraction hit her hard. Ava came running.
“What’s happening?” she asked, looking panicked.
“I think the baby is coming. Fetch Arthur! And the midwife!” Jane began to breath in and out, trying to regulate the pain as Ava ran out, screaming for Arthur.
Soon, there were footsteps hurrying toward her chamber and Arthur was there, eyes wide and scared. She reached for him. “Help me out of here. Is the midwife coming?”
He nodded, and swallowed, before stumbling forward to help her out of the bath. He blanched at the sight of the blood. “Are you all right?”
“Yes I’m fine. Help me to the bed, please.”
He put his hand around her shoulders, leading her slowly toward the bed, attentive to her every change of expression. Just as he was arranging the pillows against her back, the midwife came bursting into the room. She beamed at Jane. “Just in time! Your baby’s a punctual one.”
Jane sighed in exasperation. “Get it out of me, please.”
The midwife began snapping orders to Ava, who had come in behind her, carrying her basket of supplies. “First things first, put some willow bark to steep, boil water and get me my clean cloths. Your Grace, I’m afraid I must ask you to leave. This is women’s business.”
Arthur reached down and kissed her gently and then squeezed her hand. “I won’t go far. If you need anything, I am here.”
Jane nodded. “I love you.”
“I love you more.”
“Your Grace!” the midwife yelled.
“Yes, yes, I’m leaving.” Reluctantly he straightened up and headed for the door.
The midwife clapped her hands together. “All right then, let’s get this baby out!”
There seemed to be an endless stream of people coming and going, each wanting to offer their congratulations on the baby. Arthur and her father took care of most of them while Jane lay on the bed, gazing at her son. He had his father’s gorgeous red hair and her gray eyes. She might have been biased, but she thought he was the most beautiful baby she’d ever seen.
One day, Ava knocked tentatively on the nursery door, to inform her that she had a visitor.
“Who is it?”
Jane frowned. She had not seen Miss Thomas since her own mother’s wake, almost two years ago. She had no interest in seeing her again. “Why is she here?”
“She begs to speak to you. This is the third time she’s come. Arthur has been keeping her at arm’s length but he went down to the mill this morning. The Dowager is at her cottage at this time and your Father is also resting. What shall I do?”
Jane sighed. “Send her in.”
Ava nodded, closed the door and went to fetch her. Jane reached out to brush her baby’s curls, a frown still marring her forehead. She wondered if she should be worried for her child and looked around the room for anything she could use as a weapon.
A tentative knock sounded on the door and Jane bade them enter. Miss Thomas opened the door, stepping tentatively into the room, followed by a determined Ava. Miss Thomas cast a glance at the lady’s maid but made no demur at her presence.
“Your Grace, you’re looking well,” Miss Thomas said.
Jane nodded. She could not quite say the same to Miss Thomas. She was thinner than she had been, with bags beneath her eyes. Her clothes, though well-mended, were clearly old. Whatever had happened to her, it had not been good.
“What can I do for you?”
Miss Thomas took a breath. “I wished to take the chance to congratulate you – both for your nuptials and this beautiful baby that has resulted. I know you must be very happy and that makes me glad.
Jane lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “Does it?”
Miss Thomas hung her head, fingers twitching. “Yes, it does. I am well aware of the damage I have caused and I have waited a long time to give an apology. Believe me, it’s not from lack of trying.”
“Why were you so hell bent on giving me an apology?”
Miss Thomas sighed, looking down at her fingers. “I too, have fallen in love. He is no nobleman. He is a merchant in the city. Quite well off,” she smiled a little before her face became somber. “I love him.”
She looked up, meeting Jane’s eyes. “I do not think he loves me in the same way. He is more interested in my title. But I do not know what I would do if someone were to try to come between us.”
“Well…” Jane took a deep breath. She hardly knew what to say. “Congratulations.”
Miss Thomas nodded, a small smile flashing on her face. “We are to be married next spring. He has ordered gowns from Paris for my trousseau.” Her smile stayed longer this time, “he has offered to pay my Father’s debts so we shall be all right.”
Jane nodded. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Well…I will leave you now. Congratulations again on the birth of your son.”
Jane watched her go, a faint feeling of relief suffusing her. She had not known that there was a shadow on her soul stemming from Miss Thomas’ behavior until it was lifted. Once, they had been friends but she had caused immense harm to both her and Arthur. Seeing her like this, so reduced in circumstances and humbled in demeanor gave Jane no pleasure however.
She blinked, putting the other woman out of her mind. Catching Ava’s eye, she shrugged. The other girl began to laugh and before she knew it, Jane had joined her. It was closer to hysteria than amusement but curiously cleansing nevertheless. Ava came to sit on the bed, playing with little baby Andrew’s toes. “I cannot believe that woman.” She shook her head.
“She had the grace to apologize. So I will search for the grace to forgive her.”
“You are a better person than I am, Your Grace.” Ava said teasingly.
Jane hit her arm. “Stop that. You know we do not use those titles inside this house.”
“Yes, it was strange to hear you called so. It suits you however, you have truly grown into a Duchess worthy of the name.”
“Do you think so?”
“I know so. The people on the estate love you and the other noblewomen admire you. Your Husband adores you,” Ava rolled her eyes, “anyone can see that.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, it is obvious that Pierre adores you.”
“It does not.” They both heard the Duke’s unmistakable tread approaching. Ava got to her feet. “Well, I shall leave you now. I have no wish to watch you make cow eyes at each other.”
Jane leaned back on the bed. “Well then, you’d best hurry.”
Ava walked out of the room just as Arthur walked in. His face broke into a smile as soon as his eyes rested upon Jane. “Good morning, My Dear. I apologize for my early departure. There was an urgent matter at the mill I had to attend to.” He came forward, planting a kiss on her neck before sitting down on the bed.
“Oh? Is it solved now?”
“Yes, it is.” He leaned forward, staring into the crib by the bed, “And how is the little terror this morning?”
Jane smiled, “He woke up, drained me of succor and promptly fell back asleep.”
Arthur grinned proudly. “A chip off the old block then.” He turned to Jane, reaching out to take her hand. “And how is my Dear Wife?”
Jane straightened up, offering him her lips. “She is happy to see you.”
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