“How is the spread?”
Hannah moved about the room with her pad of paper held tightly in one hand and her pen in the other. It was one year since the hospital that Emelia and Montgomery had locally funded became a successful teaching college, and they were arranging an event for the new students to welcome them in preparation for the next year of study.
“It’s all laid out on the table—sandwiches and tea and scones. I don’t think we will have any hunting dogs breaking in today to eat it all, either,” Emelia answered with a wink. She walked to one of the chairs in the main meeting room and dusted off the coverlet thrown casually over one arm. “Next?”
“They’ve all been briefed, and they will be ready at a moment’s notice to help if anything goes awry.” Brody rose to answer this question from his place at the window, where he’d been pouring over a last-minute list of the students’ names. He had moved into the Wells home after marrying Hannah, just as Emelia had moved into the Shaw residence after her marriage to Montgomery a year and a half ago. While Emelia always had a hand in preparing the social events the hospital hosted, it was always Brody and Hannah who actually offered up their home to the students.
“It’s been a year,” Emelia said with a raised eyebrow. “And I still can’t get over the fact I come to my old childhood home and I’m not technically the hostess here any longer.”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “But you’re every bit the hostess in the way that matters. You know the college wouldn’t even exist if you didn’t hold regular events and go door to door speaking to people and raising charitable funding for the students and the learning materials. Brody and I just proved the framework for your events so nothing goes…awry.”
Emelia smiled tenderly at her sister. “Alright then, framework provider. Tell me what’s next.”
Hannah looked down at her list. “We’ve talked about everything I have here. What about the front door?”
Brody flicked the gold tip of his cane up a little off the ground. “Butler’s waiting already.”
“Yes,” Emelia acknowledged, “but I ought to go to.”
She moved out of the room and perched herself on the entry bench at the front hall, expectantly. She remembered, as she sat there, the day years ago when she’d waited just like this to welcome Montgomery into the home and show him to the room of the ailing Aggie. It seemed so long ago, and then, on the one hand, when the door opened in front of her and her handsome husband strode in followed by the six new students he’d picked up in the village square, she felt the same old flutter of appreciation in her heart—as though they’d only just fallen in love yesterday.
“Mrs. Shaw,” he said, tipping his hat to her with a sparkle in his eye. “You’re certainly looking lovely today.” He turned and waved to the six students who crowded together in the doorway, each looking more nervous than the next. “Gentlemen, don’t be shy. Come in further and meet my wife. You will see much of her at the college—she helps in the attached hospital, and is taking some classes herself even as we speak.”
The young men came forward with muttered explanations and nods, shaking her hand and making comments on the home.
“It’s actually my sister’s home,” Emelia said with a smile. “She and her husband are offering up their gifts to welcome you today as well, and I think you’ll find that the entire county is just as pleased to have you as we are. The added help of students at the hospital has meant a real change for the local clinic, and a growth in wellness all across the county.”
When the students had filed past her into the breakfasting room where Brody and Hannah were waiting, Montgomery reached out and pulled Emelia aside by the arm, stealing a moment to plant a quick kiss on her lips.
“You’re looking lovely today,” he said.
“You say that every day.”
“I’m a doctor. It’s my job to observe the facts and make recommendations based on the evidence I perceive.”
“And what do you think the symptoms represent, Dr. Shaw?”
“I think the only treatment for such loveliness is that you stay by my side for the rest of my life,” he said archly. He looked so happy and lighthearted, something that seemed to come out of him more and more often now that they were married. Emelia could hardly remember now why she once thought him to be sober and stern. While he was very serious about his work and sober-minded about the things that the students needed to learn and the lives they held in their hands, he was all smiles and tenderness outside the classroom. He pulled her close. “You know, I’m so thankful for what you’ve done with these events and all the other charity-building soirees in the community. I can’t imagine how you find time to do it in addition to your work at the hospital.” He peered at her rather closely. “Are you sure it’s not getting to be too much, love? I don’t want you to tire yourself out or be exposed to some dangerous illness while your immune system is weakened.”
Emelia felt as though he was looking right through her. She smiled. “I have been a little tired as of late, but I don’t think it has as much to do with all that I’m taking on as it has to do with the turning of the seasons and the coming of winter. I’ll find my stride soon enough.” She looped her arm into his. “But my little welcoming event means nothing if the man of the hour isn’t there to inspire his students. Follow me, husband.”
As often followed at these events, the students lingered long into the evening. After all the food had been put away, the wait staff dispersed, and the party long settled in the parlor with small glasses of dark sherry, the conversation stretched on around the fireplace. Brody and Hannah sat in the corner sharing a game of cards and conversation, but Emelia took her place at Montgomery’s side and joined into the discussion of cadaver politics and the rise of a medical revolution alongside her husband.
She had heard of how improper it was for a lady to insert her own opinions in such matters and saw a few initial looks of confusion on the other students’ faces, but they seemed to take a hint from Montgomery’s honest answers and straightforward engagement of ideas, and soon they were arguing with Emelia as if she were one of their classmates.
When the last student finally stood to leave, Montgomery stood as well.
“I’m his ride into town,” he said quietly to Emelia. “The others had already arranged for transport, but he’s new to the area. Would you be alright to ride with us and then we will go home afterwards?”
Emelia thought for a moment, that niggling responsibility in the back of her mind, and then shook her head. “I have something to speak with Hannah about first. Afterwards, I promise I will take the shortcut between our two properties.”
“It will be dark.”
She tilted her head to the side. “I’ve done it many times before; once, after a particularly uncomfortable ball, where you were filling my mind with confusing thoughts of love.”
“There’s nothing confusing about our love,” he said tenderly, squeezing her arm before turning to go.
When he’d gone, Emelia went over to watch the end of Brody and Hannah’s game. When the last card had been laid, she laid a hand on her sister’s arm in turn.
“May I steal you for a moment?” she asked quietly but urgently.
Brody stood up quickly. “I think I’ve spent enough time with you lasses to know when a bit of privacy is called for.” He winked at Emelia. “But remember that she tells me everything.”
“Almost everything,” Hannah answered, waving him away and leading Emelia across the room to the window seat they’d enjoyed as children for just such secret conversations. When the women were settled, Hannah tugged at Emelia’s sleeve. “What’s on your mind? I saw you looking over at me all evening, and I was as curious then as I am now. Was it the party? I think it went more to plan then we could have imagined. You have nothing about which to be concerned—”
“It’s not the party,” Emelia laughed. “It’s just…you know, Hannah, I promised you back during all that confusion with Brody and Montgomery that I would be honest with you, and there’s something I want to tell you that I haven’t told anyone—not even Montgomery.”
Hannah raised her eyebrows. “Go on.”
“I’m…” she put her hand on her stomach. It was only just beginning to round, although the symptom was for the moment still concealed by her loose skirts and empire waist dresses. “I’m pregnant. I’m almost certain of it. I’ve been tired and ill to the stomach for two months now. I read in one of Montgomery’s textbooks that in this sort of situation I can expect the sickness to endure through the first three months, but I’m not sure how much more I can take.”
“Why haven’t you told Montgomery?”
“I want to surprise him, and if things don’t go to plan,” she said, the little twinge of fear she’d been pushing away for the last two months rising again, “I’m not sure I want to tell him. It’s customary to wait a few months to ensure the safety of the child.”
Hannah reached forward and hugged her sister. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t wait to tell me, because someone needs to remind you that the best thing for your baby is for you to rest. You’ve been on your feet planning events and working at the hospital since it began. You cannot do that any longer.”
“But what reason will I give?”
“I suggest the truth. Montgomery is a doctor, Emelia. He’s seen great loss, and thanks to you, he’s learned how to cope with it without feelings of guilt or responsibility. You can tell him about this child, and if things don’t go to plan you will at least be there for each other.”
As Emelia listened to Hannah, her heart knew that the words her sister was saying were true. She had gone back and forth between what or when to tell, but now all she could think about was Montgomery’s excitement and joy, and she knew now was the time to tell him.
“But,” Hannah reached out a restraining hand, “what will you do? You can’t keep working at the hospital, as I said.”
Emelia raised her hand and waved it before her. “I’ve been thinking about that. I can help in other ways. The students have meals that need planning, lessons that need arranging, and social calendars that need orchestrating. I haven’t been able to do any of that because of my other duties, but once I begin showing more pronouncedly I plan to limit myself to the home duties.”
“You ought to consider doing that sooner,” Hannah mused, “especially if you’re concerned about the health of the baby.”
Emelia nodded. “I’m glad I spoke to you about this, Hannah. I knew I was going to have to talk to you sooner or later, but I couldn’t gather up the necessary courage.”
“And you will tell Montgomery?”
“You mentioned that he was a doctor—I’m worried that he’ll fuss over me more than is necessary. Imagine if you were married to a solicitor and had your case come up in court: it would be agonising.”
“Or, as other people would say, completely fortuitous and helpful,” Hannah teased. “Tell him. Stop making up excuses otherwise.”
Emelia spurned Brody’s suggestion that she take the carriage home and, hugging Hannah one last time, made off across the land separating their two residences. Walking to the Shaw’s had always been a visiting motion, but now as she made her way through the dark paths she felt only that she was going home at last.
As she crested the hill she saw a familiar figure striding through the moonlight towards her. She raised her hand in greeting, and before she’d made in ten steps down the embankment Montgomery was by her side.
“You shouldn’t wave at strange men you see in the dark,” he scolded.
“I wouldn’t have,” she retorted. “But you weren’t strange, and it isn’t all that dark with a moon so very magnificent.”
“It is magnificent.” He looped an arm around her and they slowed to an easy stroll. The Shaw estate was sparkling with light and welcome. Emelia looked at it and felt the warmth of belonging bloom deep in her chest.
“Montgomery, I need to talk to you about something,” she ventured, looking up at him.
His eyes were on the distant moon. “I know.”
She started, surprised. “Did you…stop by the Wells’ house before you came home?” She didn’t want to give it away if he hadn’t.
“No,” a smile crept onto his face. “But I know you well, and I could see that you had something on your mind. Hannah invariably tells you to share all such things with me, and so I expected to hear something from you tonight.”
“Stop for a moment.” She turned to face him, taking his rough—work-worn hands in hers and raising them briefly to her lips. “Montgomery, I’m…I’m with child. I have been for a little over two months now.”
A smile spread on his face, not a smile of shock, but a smile of knowing. He leaned down and kissed her warmly and tenderly, then straightened up and looked directly into her eyes. “My beautiful, precious wife,” he said. “It’s not two months. It’s been closer to three.”
She stepped back in shock. “What? You knew?”
“I’m a doctor, remember? I’ve grown very accustomed to seeing the signs of just such an occasion, and as the symptoms don’t usually appear until a few weeks in—and with some other markers I’m privy too—I diagnosed you as pregnant some time ago.” He winked at her. “Also, you kept leaving the history of modern medicine open on the page of pregnancy and what we must do to prevent miscarriage.” He pulled her close. “I know that nothing is certain, Emelia, but I am glad to at last have a chance on that point to say that you are healthy and well in every way. You don’t need to worry about anything happening to the child. The only thing I require—”
“—Is that I stop working at the hospital,” she finished for him. “I knew you would say that, and I admit it was one of the smaller factors that kept me from telling you. I love my work there so very much. But, for a time, I am willing to give it up.”
“My dear wife,” he said, taking her arm again and starting off towards the house, “I’m so blissfully happy about it. I can’t wait to teach my child everything there is to love about this world, and everything I love about their sweet little mama.”
Emelia leaned her head on his shoulder as they made their way into the house. “All that’s left, then, is to tell our parents.”
“Mama’s just inside.”
“Has she guessed, too?” Emelia asked, a bit tongue in cheek.
“No, of course not,” he retorted. “But she will, of course, be thrilled.”
The Dowager Mrs. Shaw was about to turn in for the night when Emelia and Montgomery stopped her in the parlor and told her the news. Emelia felt a warmth of sweet sadness at the thought that she would have seen a similar reaction of joy and tears from her own mother if Mrs. Wells had lived to see this day, and she was blessed that she’d inherited another mother through her marriage to Montgomery; someone every bit as level-headed and kind.
“I’m so, so happy for you,” the older woman said in a burst of happiness. “I kept hoping this day would come. It will be wonderful to hear the sound of children’s laughter in these halls again, will it not?”
“It will,” Montgomery said with a smile.
“And you, my dear,” his mother went on, taking Emelia’s hand in hers. “You have done me so much good. Do you know why?”
Emelia was startled by this shift of focus. She raised her eyebrows. “No, what do you mean?”
“When you were a little girl, you were friends with my Brody. You taught him to be polite and kind and channel all that charm into a place where it could actually help people. But I knew from the very beginning that you weren’t meant to be with him—no matter what the rest of the county said. Still, I was glad that you were in his life so you could bring some good to him. Then, when my dear Alistair passed away, I saw my eldest son’s broken heart and I had no idea how to heal it.”
This was all a bit effusive for a woman of the Dowager’s standing, but Emelia was touched regardless. The old woman went on, her eyes shining.
“Then it was you again who came and nursed my son through his sickness. Little did I know you were also nursing him through his heartbreak. You healed him, Emelia, and now this little child will be the seal on that act.”
Emelia fell into her mother-in-law’s arms, and felt Montgomery’s embrace close over the both of them. She looked into the future and saw only light.