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Chapter 44

"I hear the car," Robert remarked, as Cora came out, joining him, Carson, and Mrs. Hughes on the drive in front of the Abbey. Bates followed her, pushing Matthew's wheelchair. He maneuvered it down the one step, then took his place next to Carson.

"I was just getting ready to go sit with Mary. This is very encouraging. A good sign," Cora observed, her voice hopeful.

"It is," agreed Robert. "When Matthew returned yesterday, he said he wasn't expecting her to be released today. Tomorrow at the earliest."

"I know it will be a relief to be out of hospital, but poor Mary," Cora sighed, shaking her head. She glanced at the chair. "And poor Matthew. This has been so hard on him. Did he say why he needs the chair?"

"No, just to have it ready." Robert frowned. "I'm sure he's worn out. He's hardly left her side these past three days, four if you count today. And he hasn't been exercising . . . too much sitting, . . . ah, here they are."

The Daimler appeared in the drive, and all eyes watched anxiously as it pulled up and came to a stop. Trent and Anna got out, Trent opening Mary's door, as Anna headed inside to ready Mary's room. Bates pushed the chair to the car, then opened Matthew's door.

"Do you need assistance getting out, sir?" Bates inquired with concern.

"I can manage, thank you." He turned himself, setting his feet down then, gripping the top of the door and the frame of the car, pulled himself up, as Robert and Cora rushed to greet their daughter. Bates moved the chair closer.

Matthew shook his head, as he reached back into the car for his sticks. "No, no," he murmured. "The chair's for Lady Mary."

.

Mary looked at the clock and counted one.

Matthew, once back down the stairs, had gone immediately to bed, Mary joining him after playing around a bit with where to place the furniture and then one last trip upstairs. They had excused themselves early after dinner, both feeling the day's exertions. Matthew couldn't help groaning as he pulled himself back in bed.

"You overdid. You always do," Mary clucked, as he worked to turn himself over. "You'd better tell Mr. Phillips you need to take it easy tomorrow.

"I overdid? You're the one who went up and downstairs—what did it end up? Three or four times?"

"Four," she admitted, pulling the covers over him. As she lay back, she felt a contraction. She'd had one before resting, two more during dinner. She waited until it had subsided, then took Matthew's hand and placed it on her belly.

His eyes were already closed, but he chuckled happily as the kicking started. "This is a glimpse of our future," he murmured. "The parents exhausted, the baby raring to go."

"Mm, yes," Mary yawned. She leaned down and kissed his forehead. "Love you," she whispered.

"So much."

She lay back against her pillows and closed her eyes. Her body was weary, but her mind was spinning, reliving the day: trying to work out the nursery; watching Matthew walk down their corridor; replaying him climbing the stairs over and over, his look of concentration changing to one of triumph as he reached her. Finally, she turned on her side, found his hand, tucking it under her chin, and fell asleep.

The contraction woke her up at a quarter past two. That had never happened before. She sat up, waiting for it to end, then went to relieve herself. Returning, she stopped to watch Matthew sleeping, his back rising and falling with his even breaths, then leaned over, and kissed his temple gently. You are working so hard for me and the baby, my darling.

She came around to her side of the bed and, as she crawled in, was surprised by another contraction. She had never had two so close together. But Clarkson had said that was all right, it was only when there were several regular contractions, say five or six in an hour that there was cause for concern.

She settled back against the pillows and was about to doze off when another came. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at the clock, a wave of anxiety hitting her: it was quarter to three. She looked at Matthew, then the clock, and closed her eyes, breathing slowly and deeply. Calm down. Don't be a ninny.

When the next one came a little past three, she started to count. When she reached five, at ten minutes to four, the tears started to flow. No, no, no, no, no, it's too soon. Stop, please, stop. When the sixth one came just at four o'clock, she dried her eyes, took a few deep breaths, trying to compose her face. Then she reached out for Matthew's hand, squeezing it hard. "Matthew," was all she could manage.

He was awake instantly, pushing up, looking at her in alarm. "Darling, what is it, what's wrong?" But her eyes told him everything. Oh God, no, please, please, no.

She pulled his hand to her belly, shaking her head, and her face crumpled. "We have to go to hospital."

.

The first rays of morning light gleamed through the large casement windows of the hospital room, dappling the pale peach walls.

Mary lay in bed, propped up against pillows, her hands cradling her belly, waiting for the next contraction, her eyes staring at the door, remembering Matthew standing there just months ago. They had been so very happy. It didn't seem possible that this was the same room. She inhaled sharply as another contraction started.

Matthew's hand covered hers. When it was finished, he brought her fingers to his lips, then held her hand, rubbing his thumb back and forth. "I think that one wasn't quite as strong as the last." Was it wishful thinking?

She didn't agree, but she nodded, leaning back and closing her eyes. "Maybe a little." Would Clarkson never get here?

"Would you like some water, darling?" Matthew asked, leaning forward to brush a loose strand of her plait behind her ear.

She opened her eyes and looked at him, her mouth quirking ever so slightly. "What I'd like is for you to tie your tie and button your waistcoat."

They had dressed in a rush, and Mary was ready to leave before he had finished, so he had left his collar open, his tie hanging loose around his neck, his waistcoat unbuttoned, shrugging his arms hurriedly into the suitcoat Bates held for him.

"My tie? Nobody will care about my tie."

"I care." She added softly, "You're a creature of duty; you must conform to the fitness of things."

His mouth tugged up, his eyes holding hers as he remembered the moment from so long ago. He quickly tied the tie, then started on the buttons, finishing just as there was a knock at the door that startled them both.

Nurse Shaw entered. "Mr. Crawley, would you step out, please. Dr. Clarkson has arrived, and I need to prepare Lady Mary for her examination."

Matthew nodded silently, then took up his sticks in one hand and held onto the bedstead with the other, pulling himself up. He leaned down, kissing Mary's forehead, then with his thumb gently brushed away a tear that had leaked out. "I'll be right outside, darling."

She nodded, pressing her lips together, then watched as he made his way out to the corridor, and the nurse closed the door.

Matthew exhaled heavily as the door shut, leaning against the wall, closing his eyes and sending up a prayer. Propping a stick aside, he began walking down the corridor, keeping close to the wall, stopping every now and then to rest.

He had just started his third trip, when Dr. Clarkson appeared around the corner, his eyes widening as he took in what Matthew was doing.

"Why, Mr. Crawley! I'd no idea you had progressed so much! That's splendid. Now," he continued, his concern evident, "Lady Mary. The nurse tells me she might be in early labor."

Matthew flinched at hearing the words. "Well, as you know, I think, she has been having these Braxton-Hicks contractions for a number of days now."

Clarkson nodded.

"She had felt several yesterday, but nothing worrisome—one here, one there. But a contraction woke her, which she says had never happened before, and then she started having contractions that came every ten to fifteen minutes. After an hour she woke me and . . . knowing what you had said about having five or six within an hour, here we are."

"And quite right. Now, I'm afraid I must ask. When was the last time you had marital relations?"

Matthew stared at him, suddenly horrified that that could have caused any problem. "It was, well, I guess three nights ago."

"Then that's not what's brought this on."

"I would never have, if—."

"No, no, Mr. Crawley. It's normally not an issue, but it can trigger contractions. But no, it's been too long for that to have brought this on. Did Lady Mary engage in any activity out of the ordinary yesterday?"

Matthew shook his head. "No, nothing—." He stopped, frowning. "Well, she did go upstairs several times to look at the nursery furniture. We have to try to fit it into the room we're using as the nursery on our corridor, you see."

"Ah," Clarkson nodded. He opened the door. "The examination shouldn't take long."

.

It seemed to Matthew, who kept walking up and down the corridor, to take forever, but actually it was not quite a quarter of an hour later when Nurse Shaw opened the door and poked her head out. Matthew's heart started to pound.

"Mr. Crawley? Dr. Clarkson asks that you come in." She held the door open for him, then withdrew.

Matthew entered the suite. Mary was no longer sitting propped up. She was lying on her left side, one pillow under her head, the other two pillows at the foot of the bed. He could tell she'd been crying, but she managed a smile and held out her hand, as he made his way to her bedside.

Dr. Clarkson rose from the chair next to the bed. "Please, Mr. Crawley," he said, indicating that Matthew should sit.

Matthew lowered himself, then took Mary's hand, his thumb rubbing over her fingers.

The doctor finished a note on Mary's chart and capped his pen. "So," he began, looking at Matthew. "I want to start by reassuring you, as I did Lady Mary, that I think the baby is fine. Very strong heartbeat, vigorous kicking, and, based on measurements today, growing exactly as we'd want."

Matthew squeezed Mary's hand. "I'm very relieved to hear it." But he didn't relax. He knew there'd be more.

"Here is the situation. As I explained to Lady Mary, it's complicated. The contractions are coming several times an hour, at the moment. They're what I would call mildly strong, but they don't seem to be getting stronger, which is all to the good. Now, this can be the beginning of labor, but it can also be the result of activity—perhaps climbing the stairs several times yesterday—" here Mary's eyes filled—"or it can simply be how Lady Mary carries a pregnancy. Or at least, this pregnancy"

Matthew shook his head. "What does that mean?"

"Some women have early contractions just like this, and continue to do so, but go on to carry a term baby. Their womb is simply more sensitive, more reactive, as it were. Or it could be a combination of circumstances. At the moment, we can't know. Whatever the cause, our goal is the same—for Lady Mary to carry the baby as long as possible. I've examined her, and she is what I'm calling a 'finger-tip' dilated. We don't normally do an internal examination before eight months, which in Lady Mary's case is a little over a month away, since an internal examination itself can stimulate contractions. At that point, eight months, many women have, indeed, started to dilate. So. We're going to keep Lady Mary on her side, on her left side as much as possible, because that's better for the baby and, we hope, it will slow the contractions and lessen their strength."

"And, as I said, internal examinations can cause the womb to react—and that's happened hasn't it?" he continued, looking at Mary. "The contractions are a bit stronger than they were before the examination?" She nodded silently. "Yes, well, you see then, I don't want to check you again for a few days. Let things calm down—we hope. If you've dilated more, we'll be looking at strict bed rest, likely for the duration of the pregnancy. If not, then modified bed rest and limited activities."

Matthew swallowed, nodding silently.

"Please understand. This doesn't mean you are about to deliver the baby today, and I'd say it's unlikely in the next few days, in fact, although it remains a possibility. It does mean that it is highly probable that you will deliver early, and we want every week, really every day, that we can get before that happens." He clapped Matthew on the shoulder and gave Mary a reassuring nod. "I'll be back later this morning."

Matthew watched him leave, then turned to Mary, taking both her hands in his. She pressed her lips together, but she couldn't help the tears that fell.

"This is my fault," she whispered.

"No," he answered firmly. "You heard what Dr. Clarkson said. We can't know."

"It's the stairs. Too many times."

"You've climbed those stairs all your life."

"But not recently. I've hardly climbed them for months. I should have realized—."

He reached out, gently touching her lips, leaned forward and kissed her, then wiped her tears and began to sooth her brow. "Stop. Listen to him. We can't know."

She swallowed hard, then exhaled a shuddering breath. "I'm scared."

I'm scared, too. "It's going to be all right, darling. It's going to be all right," he said tenderly. He wished he believed it.

She nodded silently, not believing him but desperately wanting to.

Matthew pushed himself up and reached for one of the pillows that had been moved to the end of the bed. He pulled her quilt and sheet down.

"Here, darling. If you must be on your side, you're going to need this between your legs." He gently lifted her right leg and set the pillow down, then carefully lowered her leg, finally adjusting it forward a bit. "How does that feel?"

Mary nodded. "Better."

"Good." He pulled the sheet and quilt up, then reached for the second pillow, folded it lengthwise, then tucked it behind her back. Mary let herself relax against it and managed a small smile. "That's much better. Thank you."

"One pillow isn't really enough. Will you be all right for a moment, darling? I'm going to go find a nurse and ask for another."

"I'm fine. You should go home," Mary said. "Rest."

He smiled softly. "After I find a nurse, I'm going to call home and give them a report and tell Anna to come with your things and bring the bolster." He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "Be right back."

Mary nodded, then watched him go. After the door closed, a sob escaped her, but she clenched her jaw, determined not to fall apart, her eyes moving around the room. The only windows were behind the bed; shadows of the branches of the trees just outside played against the walls, and she watched as they moved slowly back and forth. And as she watched, she felt herself relax into the bed as if it were a cocoon enveloping her and the baby.

.

"Mr. Crawley, will you join us?" Dr. Clarkson asked.

Matthew turned and walked back down the corridor. It had been a long three days. The contractions had diminished, and now when they came, usually one or two in an hour, they weren't nearly as strong. He had hardly left the hospital during the day, often using the time when the family visited—and everyone had taken turns keeping Mary company—to walk the corridor as a substitute for his therapy in York or working with Phillips.

Mary had tried to persuade him to leave. "I'm fine," she said repeatedly, noting the circles under his eyes, "Please, get some rest."

"I'll look after her, sir," added Anna, who came each day and stayed until after Mary had had her dinner.

"I know you will," Matthew acknowledged, smiling, then turned to Mary. "But I'm sorry. I can't leave you, darling. You'll just have to put up with me," he'd answered, his cheerful demeanor belying the worry that kept him awake at night when he was away from her.

So now, after three days of strict bed rest on one side or the other—sitting up only to eat, out of bed only to relieve herself, Clarkson had examined her again. Matthew took one look at Mary's face and knew it wasn't good news. As Nurse Shaw and Anna left them, he made his way to the bedside and lowered himself into the chair, taking Mary's hand, giving it a squeeze, then turned to Clarkson.

"I'm afraid Lady Mary has dilated more. That's not what we were hoping for, true. But the good news is that what was a finger tip is now only a centimeter—and that's not much change. I'm very encouraged, in fact. But it will mean a continuation of strict bedrest."

"When can I go home? I know it will be strict bedrest, but please, Dr. Clarkson, I . . ." Mary stopped talking to keep from breaking down.

Dr. Clarkson laid a hand on her belly, looking at her kindly. "As expected, the exam has triggered contractions that are more frequent, stronger, hasn't it?"

Mary nodded, her lips pressed together, her chin trembling.

"My expectation is the contractions will abate as they did before, but we must be sure they don't start up again on their own. If all goes well, then perhaps the day after tomorrow, we can think about sending you home." He picked up her chart and added a note. "Very good. Unless you report a change, I'll be by tomorrow morning."

They watched him leave, then Matthew turned to Mary. "I'm so sorry, darling. But it sounds like you'll be discharged soon."

Mary nodded silently, her gaze fixed on the shadows of the tree limbs as they moved back and forth across the wall.

"Would you like to get on your other side?"

Without looking at him, Mary shook her head.

"I'm fine."

"Shall I read to you?" He reached for a book from the stack he had brought.

She shook her head again, her eyes still watching the shadows.

Matthew began to sooth her brow and finally, her eyes closed, and she fell asleep.

.

When Dr. Clarkson arrived at the hospital early the next morning, he found Matthew sitting outside his office.

Matthew got to his feet as the doctor approached. "Good morning, Dr. Clarkson. I'd like to speak with you before you see Lady Mary this morning."

"Certainly," he replied, opening the door to his office and nodding for Matthew to enter. He hung up his coat and hat, then seated himself at his desk. Gesturing at a chair, he nodded, "Please."

Matthew seated himself, then began without preamble. "Between constant worry about delivering early, and the strain of being in hospital, my wife is sinking into melancholy, which cannot be good for her or the baby. Let me take her home today."

"Mr. Crawley, as I said yesterday—."

Matthew held up a hand. "Yes, I know what you said, and I understand the approach. But she can't go on like this. She's hardly spoken and barely eaten anything since your examination. Being home will distract her from the worry. And it's not as if she won't follow your orders at home; you know she'll follow them to the letter, and you know that Anna will care for her as well or better than any nurse."

Clarkson drummed his fingers on his desk, then pushed his chair back and stood up. "No promises, but I'll consider it. Let's go see her now."

It didn't take long for Clarkson to agree with Matthew, once he saw how listless Mary had become.

When he told her she could go home, if she promised to follow orders, tears began to stream down her face, but she was smiling. "I will. I promise." And suddenly, Anna was getting her dressed, and Matthew was calling home to announce her discharge.

.

Mary looked out of the car, taking in the familiar scenery. It was a beautiful, sunny, late-November day, the Yorkshire air clear, clouds scudding across the winter sky. The memory flashed of that day in January when they had gone together to tell first Isobel, then Granny, that they were engaged, only his second trip ever from Downton after his injury. He's like a prisoner let out of jail, she remembered thinking as she had watched him eagerly looking out, not saying much, but pointing out now and then something that had changed, or marveling at something he had never noticed before. Her own brief reprieve from confinement suddenly felt like a cruel tease, as the car all too quickly started up the Abbey drive.

And then she felt a contraction. Clarkson had said to expect that the increased activity would bring them on more frequently again. But would they lessen once she was back in bed? Should she have stayed in hospital? She sighed, and Matthew, who felt the contraction, too, pressed a kiss to the top of her head, his arm tightening around her.

The car pulled to a stop in front of the family. Trent and Anna exited the front seat immediately, Trent opening Mary's door, Anna going on ahead to ready Mary's room. Matthew kissed her again. "Don't get out until I come around," he cautioned, as Bates opened his door.

"Don't worry, I'll be good," she retorted, rolling her eyes. Then she tapped his nose, and he thrilled to see the change in her demeanor in such short order.

"Do you need assistance getting out, sir?" Bates inquired with concern.

"I can manage, thank you." He turned himself, setting his feet down, then gripping the top of door and the frame of the car and pulling himself up, while Cora and Robert hurried to Mary's side of the car. Bates moved the chair closer.

Matthew shook his head, as he reached into the car for his sticks. "No, no," he murmured. "The chair's for Lady Mary."

Bates raised his eyebrows, pulling the chair back. Matthew gave him a nod, then started to make his way around the rear of the car, Bates following.

"Welcome home!" Cora exclaimed, leaning into the car to kiss Mary's cheek. "This is so unexpected—yesterday Matthew told us it would be at least two more days. I was getting ready to go visit you, when he called."

"Yes, I'm not sure what Matthew said to change Clarkson's mind, but it did the trick," Mary laughed happily.

"Well, we all rejoice at your return," Robert smiled, leaning down and extending a hand to help her out.

Mary shook her head. "I'm afraid I must wait, Papa. Ah, here we are," she added looking around her father.

Robert straightened, turning, then frowned when he saw the chair. "Is she so weak?" he asked Matthew, his voice registering his concern.

Matthew set a stick aside, then held out a hand to Mary.

"No, Papa," Mary answered, getting Robert's attention. "Lying in bed for four days has taken a toll, but no, that's not why—we had to promise Dr. Clarkson that I wouldn't walk to our rooms," she continued, moving to the edge of the seat. She pushed up on the seat as Matthew pulled steadily until she was standing. "There!" she smiled, then kissed her father's cheek.

She gazed out over the grounds, making the moment last as long as possible, then sighed, lowering herself into the chair, setting her feet on the foot rest. Feeling suddenly very much exposed, she looked up at Matthew and murmured, "Would you hand me the lap rug?"

He gave her an understanding smile, reaching into the car for the rug and then placing it over her lap, helping her tuck it in. She looked down over her belly, frowning "Is my skirt dragging?"

"All good, darling."

Mary looked up at Bates, smiling. "I'm ready, then." Bates began pushing the wheelchair. Mary was startled at how much the chair jostled as they wheeled over the drive. Robert helped lift it over the entrance step, and they made their way indoors. Once inside, the ride was smoother, but the back of the chair was uncomfortably upright, and she tried in vain to find a tolerable position.

The group paused as they entered the saloon, and Cora turned to Matthew. "Does she have to go straight to bed? Surely she can sit up a bit, have some tea?"

"Now, Cora," Robert admonished, "you mustn't tempt her to disobey orders. She's on strict bed rest." He appealed to Matthew. "Isn't that right, Matthew?"

Watching her parents, Mary remembered the moment when she had understood: They kissed again, gently, tenderly, and she sank down to the floor and looked up at him. This was what it was like for him, wasn't it? Always looking up. And she looked up at Matthew, who understood all too well. His mouth tugged up, and he gave her a nod.

"Mama, Papa, I'm here. You can talk to me."

Cora frowned slightly. "I . . . what do—? Oh." She smiled apologetically at her daughter. "Mary. Can't you stay up a bit?"

Mary shook her head. "No, I must go straight to bed. And, as I'm sure Matthew's told you, stay there, at least for now. And I'm quite tired, but please come this afternoon and keep me company." She looked up at her father. "And you, too, Papa."

"Of course, darling, girl," he smiled, kissing her cheek, his eyes soft.

"Yes, of course," Cora added, squeezing her hand.

Mary smiled at her parents, then grasped the armrests and settled back. "All right, let's—." Then her breath hitched, and she cradled her belly. "I should be lying down," she said, her voice betraying her anxiety. "Bates, please."

Matthew looked at Mary and Bates, "Don't worry about me keeping up, just—." And he nodded toward their corridor.

"Very good, sir" Bates replied, moving off quickly, while Matthew followed, the strain of the past days and his missed therapy sessions evident in his slow pace and awkward gait.

Cora pressed her lips together, her eyes glistening, as she finally gave in to the reality that Mary's situation was still quite precarious.

.

"Anything I can bring you m'lady?" Anna asked as she pulled the covers up over Mary, who was lying on her left side, one pillow under her head.

Mary shook her head. "Not right now." She closed her eyes as another contraction started.

Anna watched pensively, until she saw Mary's face relax a bit, then started to put away the clothes that Mary had worn home from hospital and unpack her toiletries.

Matthew entered the bedroom by the connecting door to his room. Anna had placed chairs on either side of the bed, and he swung himself over to the one on the left side.

Mary opened her eyes, then lifted her head, frowning. "You're using your crutches. What's wrong?"

Matthew leaned down and kissed her temple, then setting the crutches aside, grasped an arm of the chair and lowered himself. "Nothing's wrong. I'm a bit tired, is all."

"You've not been doing any therapy, 'is all.' Because of me, and this can't go on."

"I've spoken to Yardley and Phillips. Phillips is going to start coming twice a week, beginning day after tomorrow."

"You should go to York! You can't not go because of me."

"If Phillips tells me I need to go, I promise, I will." He lifted the comforter and blanket and saw the pillow between her legs. "Good." Then he frowned. "Where's the bolster?" He looked at Anna. "Did it get left behind?"

"Oh, dear. I'm afraid it must have. I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault," Mary said.

"No, not at all," Matthew agreed. "I should have noticed."

"If it's anyone's fault, it's mine," Mary laughed. "I was in such a hurry to leave."

"Would you ask Trent to run over to get it?" Matthew asked.

"Yes, sir, right away," she nodded.

They watched as she withdrew, then Matthew leaned forward and took Mary's hand. "It's so good to have you home, darling," he said softly, bringing her fingers to his lips.

"It's so good to be home." She reached up and caressed his cheek. "Thank you for whatever you said to get Clarkson to agree." Then she sighed, "I really think another day, I would have gone mad. I just couldn't get out of my thoughts . . . about what could . . ." She gave herself a shake, and sighed again, smiling. "I feel so much better already."

"I can see it. Being in your own bed has to be a vast improvement," Matthew smiled, kissing her hand again. "I just wish I could take this burden from you."

Mary held his eyes. "How did you bear it?" she whispered.

He frowned slightly. "How did I . . .?"

"I've only got to stay in bed for weeks. You had a life sentence."

It was so unexpected, it took him a few moments to collect his thoughts.

"I didn't have a choice," he finally said quietly. Then he shrugged. "And anyway, I wasn't confined to bed, once they got me in my chair, and I—."

"But that's just it," she interrupted, squeezing his hand. "They didn't know if you'd be able to use a wheelchair, not at first. Sybil told me that often the injury can mean one can't even sit in a chair, much less be strong enough to push it. How did you bear thinking you might be in bed for the rest of your life?"

And she was right. Clarkson had told him that they wouldn't know if he could sit in a chair for weeks. How could he say that he bore it by praying to die, by planning how he'd end his life? That ultimately, he bore it because he knew, he wouldn't have to bear it for many years? "It was very hard. But then, I was in my chair. And then you," and he shook his head, his eyes filling, "you, my darling, you . . ." He couldn't go on and exhaled heavily. "Why are we talking about me? You're the one confined to bed."

"I'm fine," Mary said softly, "but being confined to bed, I can't help thinking about what you've endured, even after you were in your chair. I mean," she continued, her eyes glistening, "when you were put to bed, you couldn't get up! I can't imagine what this would be like if I couldn't get up."

He looked down at their joined hands, remembering how, after he had been moved to his own room, the moment when he turned out the light was the moment of every day he dreaded the most, the moment when he had to face the hours alone, unable to move from the bed; the moment when he had to face just how helpless a cripple he truly was. And he remembered his irrational fear that no one would come for him in the morning, a fear that only abated when Bates suggested leaving the curtains open so that he could see that there was a world outside his room, a reminder that he wasn't alone. Until he was no longer alone and everything changed. He looked up and brought her hand to his cheek, holding it there. "But it wasn't a life sentence, was it, my darling?" he asked huskily.

"No," she smiled, her eyes bright. "It wasn't." She was quiet, then looked up. "How did you stand people talking over your head about you instead of to you?"

He nodded sympathetically. "Yes, that's so irritating, isn't it? It got better, as I got stronger and was able to wheel myself."

"You were so strong," she whispered. "So strong in your chair. It was like the chair disappeared. Just you."

His mouth tugged up. "Sometimes, with you, I forgot I was in a chair."

"How did you stand how uncomfortable the chair is?"

He shook his head. "I . . . I got used to it."

She brought his hand under her chin, and they sat in silence for a moment, but his eyes asked her what he was unwilling to say.

"It's all right to ask," Mary assured him.

"How are the contractions, then?" he asked gently.

"Better. I've only had one since lying down, and it wasn't as strong."

Matthew exhaled in relief. "That's wonderful, darling."

"And I'm fine, truly" she said, again. "But it would be easier if . . ." She stopped, pressing her lips together and closing her eyes. "If . . . I just wish, I could know that it will all turn out right in the end." There. She'd finally said it.

Matthew caressed her cheek, and she opened her eyes and held his. "It is," he said tenderly, firmly. "It is going to be all right. The baby's going to be fine."

"How do you know?" she asked, stifling a sob. "How do you know?"

"I can't explain, but I know."

"Then say it again," she choked, "Please, please, say it again."

He kissed her hand. "It's going to be all right. The baby's going to be fine."

She smiled through her tears, nodding.

"Oh, darling." He pulled out his handkerchief, and she took it from him, drying her tears, which kept leaking out.

Matthew took off his suit coat, then loosened his tie and unbuttoned his waistcoat. "Since the bolster hasn't arrived yet, will I do?" he asked softly.

Mary nodded, smiling as he took off his shoes. Then he pushed up from the chair, taking up his crutches, and came around to the other side of the bed.

Matthew pulled himself onto the bed, then settled onto his left side, next to her. He reached over and gently drew her back against himself.

Mary sighed, as she was finally able to relax her body. "Tell me again," she whispered.

"The baby's going to be fine."

His arm cradled her belly, and when a contraction came, it felt to her as if his embrace was what would keep her and their baby safe.

Anna knocked a few minutes later. When there was no answer, she peeked in, and seeing that they were both asleep, carefully set the bolster down, then quietly shut the door.


So Mary and the baby aren't out of the woods, but as Matthew says, it's going to be all right!

Thank you so much for reading! Reviews are better than Catherine wheels on the Fourth of July!