If I could get Molly to agree to it.
That night I went to our room for bedding and took it back down to the nursery. I slept across the door, on the floor, like a wolf guarding his den and cub. It felt right.
The next day was filled with both sweetness and trepidation. By the light of dawn, I saw my plans for denying my child as the foolishness it was. The servants in a great house know all, and Revel would immediately know that no foundling had been delivered to us the night before. I could not possibly conceal from the staff that Molly had borne her child, so I warned them that the babe was small, and her mother weary. I am sure they considered me quite as mad as they had Molly as I insisted that I would take Molly’s meals in to her and that she must absolutely not be disturbed. Not only my veracity as to there being a baby in the house but my authority as a male in such a female area was instantly dismissed. By ones and twos and threes, the women of the Withywoods staff each found some pressing errand that demanded entrance to the nursery. First it was Cook Nutmeg, insisting that she must speak with Molly to know exactly what her mistress would wish to have for her luncheon and supper on such a momentous day. Her daughter Mild slipped in behind her, a slender shadow to her mother’s generous figure. Molly had been unaware of my efforts to keep her undisturbed. I could not blame her for a certain starchy smugness as she presented the baby to Cook and her daughter.
Molly, I think, was aware only that she was proving them wrong: She had been pregnant, and all their snide dismissal of her insistence that a nursery be prepared was now proven wrong. She was regal as a Queen as they advanced to look at the tiny bundle she held so protectively. Cook held her control of herself, smiling at what a “dear little thing” our baby was. Mild was less schooled to decorum. “She’s so tiny!” the girl exclaimed. “Like a doll! And pale as milk! Such blue eyes! Is she blind?”
“Of course not,” Molly replied, gazing at her child adoringly. Cook swatted her daughter and hissed, “Manners!”
“My mother was fair. With blue eyes,” I asserted.
“Well, then, that explains it,” Cook Nutmeg asserted with an unnatural amount of relief. She bobbed a curtsy to Molly. “Well, mistress, shall it be the river fish or the salt cod, then? For all know fish is best for a woman who has just delivered a child.”
“River fish, please,” Molly replied, and with that vast decision settled, Cook whisked herself and her child from the room.
Scarcely had enough time elapsed for Cook to return to her duties before two housemaids presented themselves, asking if the baby or her mother required fresh linens. Each bore an armful and they all but trampled me as they overran my position in the door, insisting, “Well, if not now, then soon, for all know how quickly a baby will soil her crib.”
And again I witnessed the unnerving spectacle of women barely controlling their shock and then expressing admiration for my daughter. Molly seemed blind to it, but every instinct I had alarmed me. Well I knew how small creatures that were too different were treated. I’d seen crippled chicks pecked to death, witnessed cows that nudged away a weak calf, the runt piglet pushed away from a nipple. I had no reason to think that people were any better than animals in that regard. I would keep watch.
Even Revel presented himself, bearing a tray with low vases of flowers on it. “Winter pansies. So hardy that they bloom through most of the winter in Lady Patience’s hothouses. Not that they are truly hot anymore. They are not as well tended as they once were.” He rolled a look in my direction, one I steadfastly ignored. And then Molly honored him as she had none of the others. Into his gangly arms she gave over the tiny bundle of child. I watched him catch his breath as he took her. His long-fingered hand spanned her chest, and a doting smile made foolish his usually somber face. He looked up at Molly, their eyes met, and I was as close to jealous as a man could feel to see them share their mutual delight in her. He spoke not a word as he held her, and only gave her back when a housemaid tapped at the door and requested his expertise. Before he left, he carefully arranged each vase of little flowers, so that the flowers and the screens echoed one another charmingly. It made Molly smile.
That first day of her life, I kept up with the bare minimum of the supervision and work of running the estate. Every moment I could spare, I was in the nursery. I watched Molly and our child, and as I did my trepidation changed to wonder. The infant was such a tiny entity. Each glimpse of her seemed a wonder. Her tiny fingers, the whorl of pale hair at the back of her neck, the delicate pink of her ears: To me it seemed amazing that such a collection of wondrous parts could simply have grown so secretly inside my lady wife. Surely she was the dedicated work of some magical artist rather than the chance product of love. When Molly left to bathe, I stayed by her cradle. I watched her breathe.