Eleven Months Later
Harriet longed for fresh air as she lay upon the bed, totally exhausted by her ordeal. The maid and midwife had both insisted upon the windows remaining closed so not to give the babe a chill.
Yet Harriet herself felt hot and sweaty. The warm sunshine blazing in through the closed window did nothing to help but it did light the face of the child sleeping peacefully in its basket beside the bed.
She tried to ignore her own discomfort as she laid on her side and admired the tininess of the miracle that had been gifted to them.
Though they were hidden from view by a swaddle of multiple blankets Harriet knew that there were two perfect hands, two perfect feet, and perfect, tiny fingers and toes hiding beneath.
The knitted hat her mother had brought with her the moment she received news of Harriet’s labour was barely masking the already thick smattering of black hair atop the baby’s head.
“You must take after your father,” Harriet said softly to the sleeping babe.
“I hope not too much,” Byron’s voice startled her and she sat up in bed.
“Don’t move too quickly, my love,” Byron insisted as he hurried towards the bed. “The doctor said you had a hard time of it.”
“I do believe that every woman has a hard time of it when such things occur.” Harriet smiled and waited for him to come around the bed. “Come and meet him. Come and meet your son.”
“We have a son?” Byron gasped, clearly astonished.
“Nobody told you?” Harriet raised an eyebrow.
“Your mother ordered nobody to tell me.” Byron chuckled. “She was adamant for me to learn the fact on my own.”
“Then I suppose I have spoiled that for you.” Harriet smiled back with amusement. “Why don’t you hold him?”
Byron looked reluctant for a moment.
“I assure you he is much sturdier than he looks,” Harriet said softly and Byron approached the basket to lean down and pluck his sleeping son from it.
Harriet watched with a swell in her heart as her husband cradled their newborn son. She realised in that moment that all the pain she had endured had been more than worth it.
“What do you think of him?” she asked.
“I think he is the most handsome little man I have ever seen,” Byron smirked, never taking his eyes off his son.
“As I said, he clearly takes after his father,” Harriet pointed out but Byron began to shake his head.
“He must take after his mother for being so attractive,” he insisted as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed beside her. Cradling the babe in one arm, he reached out with his free hand and laid it upon hers on the bed. “I am so proud of you, my love.”
“I am proud of us both,” Harriet replied as she moved her hand beneath his so that she could grip hold of his fingers.
Byron turned his attention back to the son in his arms and admired him closely. Harriet watched them both, unable to stop from smiling as their son awoke to slip his hand from beneath the blanket and reach up to his father’s face.
“He likes you.” Harriet smiled as the baby began to coo.
“I should hope so.” Byron chuckled back. “He is stuck with me after all.”
“I am sure he will not see it that way.” Harriet shook her head. “You will be the best father there ever was.”
Byron was silent for a few moments as he placed his finger into his son’s hand. They both watched the way the tiny fingers wrapped around him.
Then Byron turned his attention back to her. “What are we to call him, my love?”
Harriet need not have thought of her answer but she was reluctant to give it for fear that she might upset her husband.
She took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever reaction might come.
“I was thinking we might name him Edmund,” Harriet responded and she watched her husband closely.
A flash of sadness hit Byron’s face but it was quickly replaced by a smile as he looked once more at his son. “What do you think of that?”
The baby cooed once.
“I think he likes the idea of being named after his grandfather.” Byron smiled and reached out to take hold of her hand again.
“He gave us so much and left us far too soon,” Harriet pointed out as she remembered Byron’s father’s last few months.
Shortly after the wedding he had appeared to grow stronger, no longer needing to rest for long periods of time but shortly after they had announced their happy news of greeting a little one into the world he had begun to decline once more.
When Harriet was just four months pregnant they had received a letter urging them back to Maxwell Manor only to find that he had passed in the night.
Harriet still remembered how Byron had been utterly in denial, demanding that it couldn’t possibly have happened that way. His father had recovered from his first illness. Byron himself had managed to travel all the way from France to be with him and he had grown better but the second illness came and took him so suddenly that nobody could believe what had happened.
It was in his old room, the room where he had died that Harriet had just given life once more. It seemed only right that their child be named after him.
“I have one request to make,” Byron said and when he looked at Harriet she was sure he looked concerned that she might not accept his request.
“What is it?” She asked.
“I wish for his middle name to be Bryce,” Byron said with a half-smile. “After all, without his uncle we might never have been close enough to ever be married.”
Harriet knew without a doubt that she could not argue with his logic.
“Edmund Bryce Maxwell,” she said the name aloud to hear how it might sound before she began to nod. “I agree that it is the perfect choice.”
“Edmund Bryce Maxwell, you shall be a greater rider, hunter, and gentleman than any who have come before you,” Byron assured his son as he rocked him gently. “Your uncle and I shall teach you all we know.”
“Not too soon,” Harriet protested. “I wish to enjoy my little one before you turn him into a hunter.”
“Of course, my love,” Byron smirked back at her. “You can have him for the first year and then he is all mine.”
They laughed together then and Harriet began to think of all the memories they would soon be making.
“I look forward to seeing what you make of him.”
Two and a Half Years Later
The dining hall was awash with celebration. Glasses clinked as toasts were raised and Harriet found herself gazing out at all her family.
Her father and mother sat opposite her while her husband had taken his father’s seat at the head of the table. Beside her sat Bryce and his wife, Lady Anne while beside her mother was her brother, his own wife sitting gracefully beside him.
Harriet had been most surprised when her brother had announced his engagement to Lady Camilla but in the year since they had been married she had come to like the woman she had once seen as her enemy.
Byron had appeared cold and disapproving of the marriage at first and she had later come to know why.
Lady Camilla’s family had been left in ruins due to her father’s gambling but as soon as she had found out Harriet had insisted that it would show her brother where he might go wrong in life. She was relieved that he’d had the good sense to have contracts drawn up to be sure that her father’s fortune was safe before they married and even more relieved that Lady Camilla had agreed to sign them.
It had appeased Byron’s thoughts on the matter and all was right with the world.
“To my brother and Lady Anne,” Byron said as he raised his glass to toast the happy couple. “May your little Rebecca grow as big and strong as our Edmund.”
Harriet looked down the table even as she lifted her glass and saw the happy smiles on Bryce’s and Anne’s faces as Byron toasted to their newborn daughter.
“Perhaps not quite so big.” Bryce chuckled and everybody around the table began to laugh and nod in agreement.
It was certain that Edmund had grown into a strapping young boy in his two years of life and there was no doubt he would continue on in the same fashion.
“Perhaps it shall be your turn next,” Harriet’s mother suggested as she turned her attention on her son and Lady Camilla.
“Perhaps.” Camilla smiled and reached for Frederick’s hand.
Harriet had been hoping to keep her mouth closed on the subject of children, save for little Rebecca, but at her mother’s words she could not bring herself to hold her tongue any longer.
“Actually, there is something I wish to announce,” she explained as she pushed back her chair with the backs of her knees and reached out to her husband.
“What is it, my love?” Byron asked as he took hold of her hand and squeezed her fingers. There was a slight look of concern on his face.
“I was going to wait to announce it but I see no reason why we should not add to this happy occasion.” Harriet smiled and looked out across the table before returning her gaze to Byron. “In eight months’ time Edmund Bryce is to be a big brother.”
Byron’s eyes flew down to her stomach before coming back to her face again. “You don’t mean…”
He trailed off as though he could not believe what he had been about to say.
“Yes, my darling, I am with child again.”
Three Years Later
The shingle path of the park crunched beneath the wheels of the pram as Harriet wandered along the walkway to meet her parents at the pond.
She smiled happily as she watched Byron running ahead behind a five-year-old Edmund and his three year old sister, Henrietta. As they had suspected Edmund had grown into a fine and strong young boy. Even in all his fine clothing he was able to run and jump and dance rings around his father.
Seeing the excitement on her son’s face was enough to make her heart swell even without the sight of Henrietta trailing after him with her much shorter legs. Her purple dress skimmed the floor catching dirt and dust just as hers once had and she couldn’t help but hope that she would be just as she was, free and rebellious, for as long as she was able to be before she became an adult.
“What do you think, Georgia?” Harriet asked the four-month old baby that was cooing in the pram before her. Though she could not yet sit up on her own, she raised her head at her mother’s voice and giggled, cooing as though she had any idea what she was being asked. “Should we leave her be or turn into grandmother?”
The baby continued to coo and Harriet took it to mean that they should leave her be.
She need not have said anything for Grandmother Georgina appeared around the bushes as though she had been looking out for them. The moment she saw her granddaughter she began to insist that she calm down and act like a lady.
Harriet couldn’t help but laugh when she saw the way the little girl demanded to be left alone.
Lady Georgina turned to Harriet and scowled. “I see she takes after her mother.”
“Did you expect anything else?” Harriet asked as Henrietta rushed around her grandmother’s legs and began to race her older brother to the pond where her grandfather was waiting with open arms.
“I thought we were late,” Harriet said as she glanced around, looking for Bryce, Frederick and their wives.
“It has become my burden to constantly wait for my children to grace me with their presence,” her mother sighed with a scowl and linked her arm into her daughter’s.
“Mother, will you ever stop being so dramatic?” Harriet asked. A newfound closeness had come between them since Harriet had become a mother herself. She had quickly learned of all the reasons why her mother had been so protective of her. From the day that Henrietta had been born she had been fearful of what her daughter’s future might be. It had taken great strength and the reminder of her own strict childhood to remind her that she need not be the way that her mother was.
“Would you still love me if I was not dramatic?” Lady Georgina pointed out and Harriet couldn’t help but chuckle as she shook her head.
They didn’t stop until they reached the edge of the pond where Bryon had picked up a handful of stones at the behest of his son. He skimmed them across the surface reminding Harriet of those days long ago when she had done the same with his brother.
“Do be sure that they don’t fall in!” Georgina called over to him even as Harriet noticed how close her children were becoming to the edge of the water. Though she knew that they were not in any real danger, she had to admit that her heart skipped a beat at the thought of it.
“Do stop worrying, mother,” Harriet assured her. “Their father is capable of looking after them.”
Byron cast a smile over his shoulder as though he had heard her.
Georgina simply grunted before turning her attention to baby Georgia in the pram. “How is my little blossom?”
The baby cooed and lifted her arms as though she wished to be picked up.
Harriet was grateful to her mother as she looked at her and asked, “May I pick her up?”
“Of course.” Harriet nodded. She would never have declined the request but she was grateful that her mother always saw fit to ask before grabbing at her children. So often she saw older women diving in before the mother had a chance to say no.
She stepped back and allowed her mother to adjust her stance before picking up the tiny babe.
“She is getting heavy,” her mother commented. “I’m glad to see you are feeding her well.”
“Of course, mother.”
“Stop being so judgemental, dear,” Lord Howard sighed as he came to join them.
Harriet offered her father a grateful smile even as she saw her daughter whizz past her out of the corner of her eye.
“Uncle Bryce!” the small girl yelled excitedly and Harriet turned to see Byron’s brother walking across the small expanse of grass towards them. Walking beside him, pushing her own pram was Lady Anne. The smile on her face told Harriet that she was enjoying her newborn son. But it was the almost four-year-old Rebecca who darted out from behind her mother’s skirts who looked the happiest.
She barrelled into Henrietta, almost knocking her off her feet, and the two little girls began to bounce up and down with excitement.
“Where is my greeting?” a familiar voice came from behind the bushes and a moment later Frederick appeared, followed closely behind by Lady Camilla.
“Uncle Frederick!” Henrietta exclaimed and she darted off once more to wrap her arms tightly around his legs. He chuckled as he slipped his hands under her arms and pulled her up, throwing her into the air over and over until she begged to be let down.
“Don’t make her sick!” Lady Georgina called in a concerned tone. “And look out for Camilla. We wouldn’t want any accidents after coming so far!”
For once Harriet agreed with her mother. It had taken them five years but finally Camilla’s stomach was swollen with the child that she carried.
“How are you feeling?” Harriet asked as Camilla wandered over to join them. She placed her hand over her swollen stomach and smiled.
“Tired and sick but very excited,” she admitted.
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Harriet replied. “It will be over before you know it.”
In two months’ time Camilla would have her own bundle of joy to coo over and it would not be long before she realised that parenthood wasn’t all happy moments.
“My mother has written to me many times saying exactly the same thing,” Camilla laughed.
“Come and sit on the bench,” Georgina insisted. “Get off your feet for a while.”
The older woman carried the baby she was still cradling with one hand and led Camilla over to the bench beside the pond.
Harriet joined them just in time to hear Byron tell Edmund, “Go and greet your aunts and uncles.”
“Do I have to, father?” Edmund grunted as though he was much happier to be skimming stones that greeting everyone as his sister was.
“Yes, a gentleman always makes his greetings,” Byron insisted, urging his son forward with a hand on his shoulder.
Harriet smiled proudly at the way her husband was always determined to show their son the proper way of doing things. He was much more easy going than her mother ever had been but she was sure that between them they would do their children proud. Even so early on in their lives she could see that they were turning into polite and happy individuals.
Even as Edmund went to greet his aunts, uncles, and cousins, Byron moved away from the pond and came to stand beside her. He placed his hand at the base of her spine and she trembled at the warmth of his touch. When he leaned over and pressed a kiss to her cheek, she couldn’t help but broaden the smile that seemed to be constantly plastered upon her face.
“I feel that I must say something,” Byron told her and she turned her face up to look at him as he continued to hold onto her.
“What is it, husband?” she asked, enjoying the way that he still seemed thrilled to hear the sound of that word from her lips.
Byron smiled down at her and glanced at their children before he turned back to pull her in a little closer. “You have made me the happiest man alive these last few days. I dread to think what might have become of my life had I remained in France.”
Harriet cringed with discomfort at the mere thought of it. She hated to think of what her own life might have been like had he not returned. For all she was aware she may have been married to a grotesque man like Lord Grendel if her mother had her way.
It was a thought that was almost too much to bear and she quickly turned her thoughts back to her husband and their children, warmed by the knowledge that things had not turned out that way.
In the grand scheme of things, she knew that her mother had always been right. She was certainly happier as a married woman than she ever had been before.
“You have made me the happiest woman alive,” Harriet assured him as she returned his kiss with one of her own upon his cheek. The stubble she found that might have been uncomfortable against her lips had she not loved everything about her husband.
Yet as things stood she had not a single complaint about her life and how it had turned out.