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Tabitha

By DarkLadyAthara All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Fantasy

.IV.

It would seem that my life has a habit of changing in an instant. First with my Papa’s death, then meeting Richard at his funeral; being recalled home from the Meyer’s; now, the death of my father-in-law.

That letter changed everything. Within days we are at the Viscount’s Manor for Josef’s father’s funeral, and within a week our belongings have been packed up and are on their way to the Viscount’s Manor. I now have a whole new home to get used to.

A small part of me is sad to be leaving our little Manor, but I push it aside. It is sentiment alone that ties me to that place, and sentiment that shouldn’t be particularly strong, given how I cannot claim any significant emotional association to the house given how nearly uneventful and mundane my time there has been. It has been a place where I could make my first steps toward building my reputation as a notable noblewoman. Still, it was the place where I first gained my freedom and discovered how pleasant my life could be without my Mother’s oppressive presence hanging over my head. I suppose that is reason enough to be a little sentimental about my first home as a grown woman. I shake my head at such musings and remind myself that sentiment should have no place in this situation. It is only a house, I affirm, pushing my sadness at leaving the place I’ve come to call home behind.

Sentiment is weak and muddles the mind. I need my mind sharp. I have a new home now to get used to, one that is larger and far better appointed. I have a whole new house and staff to acclimatize to my way of doing things. I need to make the house mine, organize things the way I like want them, enforce discipline to meet my own standards, make sure everything is in order. It shouldn’t be too difficult. Lady Amherst is a sensible woman, if a little absent minded at times; her home should already be in reasonable order.

More than that, I have a baby to prepare for; an added consideration. I also have a husband to inform on that matter, now that I think of it. Things have been rather too hectic, and in the immediate wake of his father’s death and Josef’s donning of the Viscount’s mantle, it seemed a poor time for that brand of good news. Leaning back in my chair, I pause from my work—perusing lists of my new Manor’s furnishings, goods and stores—as I think on breaking the news of my condition to my husband.

Though that afternoon after my husband received the new of the late Viscount’s death had become increasingly frantic as preparations to leave for the Viscount’s Manor were enacted, I did manage to carve out a few moments to meet with the midwife I had engaged to inquire about my condition. After a slew of pointed and detailed questions and a quick examination, she informed me with no trace of uncertainty that I was indeed pregnant, and that I should likely expect the child to arrive in late-October. It was certainly the one piece of genuine good news from that day, but in the midst of preparing to leave the Hunting Manor for the Viscount’s and the ensuing funeral and transition from one house to another and one Lord to another, I have yet to have found an appropriate moment to tell my husband about the good news.

Some good news just now might not be such a bad thing. Josef seems to have taken his father’s death quite hard. Though he does not confide in me and I do not know him quite so well as I might were we closer, I do know him well enough after four years of marriage to see in his face that he is overwhelmed and near exhausted by his new responsibilities, and that the nearness of losing his father is not easing the transition for him. Perhaps telling him that I am finally expecting a child, his prospective heir, might be just the thing to put a renewed spring in his step and pull him from the mire of stress and sorrow this recent upheaval in our lives has caused. Pushing back from my little desk in my new sitting room, I wander the halls of our new home in search of Josef, tamping down the anxious flutter of anticipation—excitement?—in my stomach.

I finally find him in his father’s, no, his study, pouring over legal paperwork and accounts as he works to get a handle on the Estate as it stands following his elevation to its Lord. Judging by the way his eyebrows are so furrowed they seem to meet, there is no way I can doubt that he is quite frustrated. He is also quite focused, and doesn’t even look up from his work when I enter the study.

I am standing next to him before he even seems to notice me, dropping the sheaf of papers in his hands with little dignity on the deep-coloured oak of the desk. With a heavy sigh, he rests his head in his hands, massaging his temples as though the hard rubbing of his fingers could banish his headache. Impulsively, I move to stand behind his chair, laying my hands on his shoulders and beginning to knead out the tension I find there; his shoulders feel like rock, he is so tense. With another heavy sigh that fades to a groan of relief, he leans back against my fingers, his eyes slipping shut as I work at the knots. I feel a flush rising to my cheeks at how intimate this feels. I’m not sure, but I do believe this might be the first time I have touched him so intimately outside my bedchamber in the years that we’ve been married...and I am only rubbing my husband’s shoulders. This goes on for several long minutes, my hands working across his shoulders, neck and back and him relaxing slowly under my touch, though I barely notice the time passing. I find I am receiving a small measure satisfaction from easing his discomfort like this. It is pleasant in way I had not expected. He reaches up, my hand stilling as he takes it in his. His head tilts back toward me, though he doesn’t quite look at me; that would involve twisting and contorting about in his chair, and I can see he is too weary to put in the effort.

“Thank you, Tabitha,” he says softly. I am taken aback by how genuinely grateful he sounds. It is something I am entirely unprepared for. I resist snatching my fingers from his shoulders in my discomfiture.

“You are my husband,” I force myself to reply, speaking slowly to avoid showing him how uneasy his gratitude has made me, “anything I can do to help. Such is my responsibility as your wife.”

“Only responsibility?” He murmurs his own response and it is so quiet I barely hear it. I frown, trying to puzzle out just what he could mean by that. He sighs, though, and continues before I can reach any sort of conclusion. “I apologize, dear wife; I have been neglectful in my own responsibilities toward you. I do not know where all my time goes. Taking up my father’s position has turned out to be far more consuming than I anticipated, though it is no excuse. I will do better; I am near to having my affairs and those of the Estate well in hand, I am certain.” I pat his shoulder awkwardly with my free hand in a gesture that I hope he will interpret as reassurance. His is still holding tightly to my other hand where it still rests on his shoulder.

“I do not blame you; I understand perfectly that the needs of the Estate through this transition must supersede my own,” I say diplomatically, my unease at this sudden intimacy displaced by my ingrained schooling on how to be politic in my responses. “Besides,” I add, deciding that this was as good a place as any in our conversation to bring up my news, “I have had distractions of my own that kept me from wondering at yours, and my current condition has left me quite preoccupied, with many preparations to think of and see to before the baby arrives.”

This time he does twist around, moving so quickly I am nearly pulled off balance as my free hand was gripping his shoulder as he turns to face me. His eyes meet mine as comprehension of what I have said dawns on him, his mouth parting in astonishment. I find I am suddenly nervous, my stomach fluttering anxiously in anticipation of his reaction. So far, he seems only stunned.

A smile breaks over his face and before I can react further, his is out of his chair and enfolding my in a tight hug. A squeak of surprise escapes my lips. I was certainly not expecting that... He nearly jerks back at the sound and, looking down at me, loosens his grip, as though suddenly conscious that holding me so firmly could hurt me, or more importantly, the baby. It’s nice, feeling his arms around me, the warmth of him surrounding me. Nicer than I anticipated it would be. I lean into his embrace for a moment, hesitantly wrapping my own arms around his waist. It feels a little awkward—where am I supposed to rest my hands—but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“It is wonderful news you give me, my dear,” he says, unable to hide the hint of excitement in his voice, “a wonderful bit of news in this otherwise dreary few months.” In that, I can agree with him.

I can also agree that this time of year is excessively dreary. March turning to April was cold, wet and miserable, with the snow reluctant to leave and the rain eager to begin for the year. And it does not stop there. April was much the same, though the snow finally gives up and leaves off until next winter. Yet, under the cool, drizzling rain that epitomized the month this year, the countryside seemed to bloom overnight. The fields go from a stark, wasted brown and gray to vibrant greens. On the trees, where water beads and drips on the spindly branches, the leaves are beginning to appear, tiny and delicate at first, but soon becoming robust and vital as the buds grow and flourish when the gray sky is broken by chilly but wonderfully sunny days that grow longer and more frequent as May arrives. Out in the fields surrounding the Estate, the farmers are hard at work wrapping up their planting and livestock herds have welcomed dozens upon dozens of tiny new additions.

The gardens bloom magnificently as the spring flowers wake to the spring sunshine and stretch themselves free of their winter sleep. It is an indulgence, I know, but as the days grow warmer and the gardens of Amherst Manor return to their full spring vigour, I cannot help myself, and I make sure I always have a few minutes where I can walk among the sprays of lilac, which are just preparing to flower, the hyacinths, the irises, even the magnolias, which seem to me to be blooming a little early this year. Just about every day that I am able, I linger in the small grove of cherry trees on the edge of the garden, the exquisite pink-tinted white petals swishing in the gentle breeze and falling like a soft, floating rain around me, catching in my hair and my skirts, bringing a little reminder of the grove in with me when I am forced to return inside; it is easily my favourite part of the Estate. It is quite easy to lose myself among the mingling perfumes of our gardens, regaling in the sweet, distinctive floral fragrance of the flowers, the sharp, crisp wafts of herbs and the earthy, rich scent of the damp spring loam.

It is a waft of those fragrances, made richer in the heat of the day, that drift in through the open window of my sitting room. As soon as it was warm enough outside, I insisted on them being open whenever the weather is fair. Tonight it is very fair indeed, quite hot, really, as summer is upon us. But now that the daylight has long faded, it has cooled enough that it is now quite pleasant outside. I pause in the midst of my sewing to inhale deeply, letting the soothing scents wash over me. Josef similarly pauses in his reading, glancing up at me.

Since discovering my pregnancy, Josef has taken to spending his evenings in my sitting room with me. To what purpose, I am quite unsure. Mother has taken great pains to inform me that once the deed was done and I had his baby in my belly, my husband would wish to have little to do with me. “Pregnancy is quite unpleasant,” she told me sagely in one of her letters—or at least I pretended she was attempting to be sage; far more likely she was being her usual vexing, troublesome self—“once you are pregnant, his interest will wane, and happily for both of you, you need not have much to do with each other until after the birth.”

For these last several weeks that he has sat with me, I’ve been unable to help but watch him suspiciously out of the corner of my eye. And tonight, as with nearly every other night since he learned of the child, now and then I catch him glancing at me with an expression I cannot quite decipher. A few days ago, though, it hit me as I shifted in my seat—fidgeting was quickly scolded out of me when I was a child, so for me to squirm in my seat is testament indeed to my discomfort—when he looked at me with what can only be called concern.

I am still astonished by the realization.

Sighing, I shift in my seat again, the way I often do now, the baby grown so that my condition is plainly visible. Josef is, again, watching me with trepidation, sitting in a way that makes me think he is ready to jump to my side at a word. It is a strange thing to realize.

“Oh,” I gasp softly, my musings over Josef’s sudden attentiveness interrupted. As I suspected from his posture, Josef is on his feet in an instant, his blue eyes fixed on me as his brow creases in concern. I wave him back absently, faintly annoyed that the baby is making sitting so uncomfortable this evening. “It’s nothing, husband. The baby kicked particularly sharply; I was startled. That is all. Sit back down,” I urge, not unkindly. I can’t help but feel delighted at his sudden attentions. I can honestly say I did not expect them.

He makes as though to sit again, twisting to adjust the cushion against the armrest, but he hesitates. I look over to him, my own brow furrowing at why he would dawdle so. It takes him a try or two, but after a moment he manages to frame a question to me.

“The baby is kicking?” I nod slowly, wondering a little at the careful wistfulness in his voice. After another moment of thinking just how to say what he’s considering, he speaks again.

“Might—may I—that is, would you permit me to feel it moving?” He is so quiet I can barely hear him and so nervous that he stumbles over his words, something I’ve never heard him do. My eyes widen. I had never considered that such a thing would be of interest to him. I had never considered the interest a father might have for his child before it is even born; it has never occurred to me to think about it. I stupidly realize that I have yet to answer him. I silently beckon him over, suddenly feeling as uncertain as he appears to be.

He is almost timid as he walks over to kneel beside my chair, lifting his hand until it hovers over my belly. I can see in his face that he’s quite unsure about what to do, what liberty he has to touch me. I nearly sigh with a sudden amused exasperation.

I take his hand, my eyes never leaving his face as I guide his fingers to where the babe is tattooing an insistent beat against the side of my belly. The tenderness and astonishment that comes over his features as he looks at the spot where our child kicks against his hand nearly takes my breath away. He looks like a boy in his wonder, his eyes wide and even a little bright. His fingers press a little more firmly against my side as his lips quirk in delight at how strong the baby is.

Then his gaze shifts to meet mine and I truly can’t breathe, for he looks at me with an expression full of nearly the same tenderness that I had imagined would be reserved for his child. My own smile pulls at my lips.

Perhaps there is hope for us yet.

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