Thank you for your patience as to the delay I've had in posting this chapter. As well as being sick with the Flu, I've been super busy, but here it is - it's finally up.
This was one of the hardest chapters to write, as there were so many emotional scenes. Please let me know what you think.
Archie and Lilias
Lilias's belly seemed to increase in girth every day – and with it, Archie's happiness grew. Previously, he could have never imagined being a Father, but now he longed to hold his child in his arms, with his wife at his side. He looked forward to the day with ever increasing anticipation.
In the meantime, the garden was tended – winter advanced and plants were cleared – old growth making way for new, just in time for the new baby's arrival, Archie mused – as his son – or daughter – was due to be born at the end of spring.
Lilias did not like to be kept within the house, and most days she would ask Archie to join her for a stroll around the gardens. He enjoyed these times, when he was alone with her, without the continual fussing of the servants and housekeeper, Mrs Medlock. The staff at Misselthwaite had taken an instant liking to their young Mistress, and the older women were only too keen to offer advice to the young woman, regarding her pregnancy. Lilias, as always, accepted the advice graciously and Archie marvelled at the way she had of making everyone around her feel special and important, regardless of their social standing.
Susan Sowerby was also a frequent visitor to the house, and she would often bring her children with her.
'It seems to have been raining for two weeks on end, Archie.' Lilias complained, as she stared out of their bedroom window at the grey and misty moors below. 'I wonder when it will stop raining and we can go outside?'
'Patience, my dear.' Archie murmured, coming up behind her and wrapping his arms around her large stomach. 'The rain will ease off eventually. In the meantime, relax and enjoy yourself – if what Susan Sowerby says is true, you won't have the time once the baby is born.'
'We'll see about that.' She grinned, then her face lit up in wonder. 'Oh Archie! The baby – it's kicking again! There,' she placed his hands on her stomach. 'Can you feel it?'
He felt the slight movement beneath is fingertips, and he smiled. It was such an amazing and wondrous thing. Their baby – his and Lilias's.
They lay in bed together, facing each other, Archie lightly stroking Lilias's face.
Her dark hair was splayed out on the pillow rather like a halo, lit softly by candlelight.
'Lilias.' He whispered, not knowing if she was yet asleep. Something was troubling him, and he had to get it off his mind.
'Yes, Archie?' she replied.
'There is something I would like to ask you – and I'd appreciate it if you give me your honest answer.'
'Of course. Archie, what is it?'
'I need you to tell me if I'm a good person – and if I'll make a good Father. I need to know, Lilias.'
'What brought this on?'
'It's just …. Well, I've been thinking about it and I'm beginning to realize that it's going to happen very shortly – whether I'm ready or not – and there is nothing more I want than to please you, Lilias.'
'Archie,' she replied earnestly, 'you will make a wonderful Father – of that I have no doubt. And you must remember, we will be in this together – you will not be alone in raising this child, Archie.'
She was right, of course, and Archie kissed his wife passionately. Still, he could not get rid of the nagging sense of fear that lurked in the back of his mind, no matter how hard he tried.
He had to find her, and he now ran through the deserted halls of Misselthwaite, searching for her.
Everything was shrouded in darkness, as though the manor had been deserted for many years. He listened as his voice echoed down the empty passageways, proving that he was indeed, alone. Panic began to rise inside him, steady and with increasing frequency. Where on earth was she?
The darkness of the manor melted into the darkness of the grounds outside. He looked around wildly. Illuminated by moonlight, he could see that like the manor, the gardens had not been tended for quite some time. Wild and overgrown, with leaves littering the paths that twisted and turned towards the kitchen gardens... and their secret garden.
He turned violently at the sound of his name being called. It rang out pure and true, through the darkness of the night. It was coming from within the secret garden. His hand found the door knob, and he turned it, pushing the door open and entering the garden.
She was standing in the middle of the garden, and he was dismayed to see that this too was overgrown, parts of it barren and dead. She appeared to be holding a small bundle in her arms. Archie stopped dead in his tracks, as though frozen to the ground. Could that be... was it their child?
'Archie, you found me at last.'
He approached her slowly, and as he drew nearer, he noticed that she was crying.
'Lilias, what has happened? Please tell me.'
'I was so worried that you would never find me, find us... Archie, this is your son.'
'My... my son?'
'You must take him now. Take him and care for him, as I cannot. I don't have much time, they are calling for me, and I will have to leave you.'
At last he understood. Tears ran down her cheeks in rivulets, as she passed the small baby over to him. He took it in his arms, holding it closely to him.
'Lilias, you don't have to go. Come away with us. I will keep you safe.'
'It's too late.' she whispered, glancing behind her. Then he understood. He watched helplessly as dark hooded figures approached. 'I've got no where left to run, Archie. Please, take care of him for me.'
The surrounded her, their dark hands pulling on her light dress. Every part of him wanted to go forward, to save her, yet his feet felt as though they had been rooted to the ground.
'Lilias! I love you!'
'I love you, Archie – don't forget about me! And please take care of our child.'
She was being dragged further away from him.
'No! Don't take her, I won't let you have her!' he shouted, struggling to move forward.
Yet he could only watch helplessly as she was taken into the darkness that lay beyond the garden.
'Archie, Archie wake up. You've had a nightmare.'
He jolted awake, thrust back into another reality. He looked around wildly, half expecting to see their room a ruin, everything dead and dusty. Instead, he met his wife's concerned eyes. She reached out and brushed his hair from his forehead.
'Shhh... everything is alright, Archie. It was only a dream.'
He pulled her towards him, so relieved that she was real, and that she was here with him.
'You were crying out, my love. I had to wake you.'
'Oh Lilias, Lilias, thank god you're here.' it was all he could say, as his hands felt every inch of her, as though he had to prove to himself that she was real and not merely another dream.
'Of course I'm here,' she murmured into his hair. 'I don't plan on going anywhere.'
The lay together for a few more minutes, the dream gradually fading away. Yet he couldn't shake the uneasiness he felt.
Lilias gradually pulled away from him, then groaned as she got out of bed, placing her hands on her back, her face a grimace of pain.
'It's always bad in the morning.' she said, trying to appear light hearted, at his worried expression. She walked slowly over to the windows, pulling back the heavy curtains, letting the early morning sunlight spill into the room. Archie could see that it was going to be one of those warm early spring days. Lilias smiled with delight and came back to the bed, taking his hand.
'Look at that day out there, Archie! We simply must go into the secret garden today. Imagine how wonderful it will be in there, with everything growing.'
'Of course we can.' he said solemly, the dream still lingering on his mind.
'We could even take your camera and take some photographs.' Lilias suggested.
'Yes, that would be a good idea.' he said, struggling to sound normal. Yet doubt remained in the back of his mind. Would it really be a good idea to go into the garden today? He wasn't sure why, but he felt a feeling of dread at the idea.
Surely it was merely the dream, he told himself. Don't be such a fool, man.
He made up his mind to cast the dream to the very edge of his conciousness, where he hoped it would stay so he could enjoy a carefree day with his wife.
Archie found that the day soon lived up to it's promise. It was still early spring, but the weather that day was warm, and Archie found himself wishing that he could remove his shirt. They spent a pleasant morning in the garden, laughing and taking photographs using the camera that Archie had purchased from the conference, where he had first met Lilias. Archie could not recall ever seeing his wife so happy, and he looked forward to seeing the photographs once they were developed – which he was able to do in his very own darkroom.
After posing for a portrait with his wife, as she sat on the swing, Archie retired to the shade of a nearby tree to watch her as she swung idly back and forth. Every so often her hand would drift to her belly, and a dreamy look would come over her features. Archie knew at moments like these, that she was thinking of their baby.
'Don't swing too high, Lilias.' Archie called, watching his wife as the swing lifted her higher off the ground.
'Don't worry, Archie! It's perfectly safe. I'll be fine.'
He leant back again, feeling like the world's biggest kill-joy. His wife was merely enjoying a swing in the mid-afternoon sun. What could be wrong with that?
He cast his eyes up to the rope of the swing, as if to prove to himself that it really was safe. Yet it could easily support the weight of two people, but even so... It was then that Archie noticed something that he should have picked up on months before. The branch that supported the swing had cracked down the middle. He stood up wildly. It could break at any time.
'Lilias! Stop!' he yelled at the top of his lungs, getting up and waving his hands at her. 'The swing, it's not safe!'
'Archie, what? - ' she replied, and then he heard it, the sickening crack of the branch as it broke. He watched helplessly as it came down, throwing his young wife off the swing and onto the ground.
'Nooo!' Archie screamed, finding his feet and running to his wife's side. She lay sprawled on the grass, the branch and swing a few metres away. Quickly he reached down, realising in passing that her eyes were shut. She was groaning quietly.
'Oh Lilias, no, this can't be! Please wake up, look at me!'
'Archie.' her eyelids fluttered. 'What ... what happened?' She tried to sit up, then coughed violently. Archie watched in horror as red flecks of blood appeared on her lips.
'I have to get you inside Lilias, I need to call the Doctor.'
He leant down, gently cradling his wife in his arms. He picked her up with surprising ease, and then placed her arms around his neck. She flopped listlessly in his arms, and he felt panic rise within him. He made his way to the door of the garden as fast as he could, before calling for help.
'Help! Someone help! My wife has been injured!'
He stumbled down the path, intent on reaching the manor, calling out as he went. He heard footsteps pelting down the gravel path, as two of the gardeners came running.
'Lord Craven, wha' has happened?' the older of the two men asked. Archie recognised him as Ben Weatherstaff, one of the senior gardeners at Misselthwiate.
'My wife has had an accident. I need help, quickly. Please, take my horse. Fetch the doctor! Hurry!'
'Right away Mr Craven.' the man replied, 'You,' he said, gesturing to the younger man. 'Ride into th' village an' fetch th' doctor immediately.'
'Ben, go up to the house and tell Mrs Medlock what has happened. I'll be there as soon as I can.'
'Yes Sir.' replied the older man, before turning and running down the path. Archie continued to walk towards the manor, listening to Lilias's laboured breathing as he did so. Never in his life had he felt so afraid.
'Lilias, please hold on,' he whispered jaggedly as he walked. 'God please, don't take her from me!'
'Your wife appears to have two fractured ribs.' The Doctor said, solemnly. 'I've patched her up as best I can, Mr Craven. Now we can only wait. Her fate is in God's hands now. There is something else you need to know – her baby is coming. I'm afraid the shock of the fall has sent her into premature labour – and she is in no condition to be giving birth.'
Archie listened with rising despair at the Doctor's words.
'Surely there is something you can do? She can't be having the baby, not now!' his voice rose, almost hysterically.
'I have called for Susan Sowerby to come. She is the best midwife in the village. She should be here shortly.'
Panic rose within him, like nothing he had experienced before. He was not ready for this. He felt his self-possession slip away, slowly ebbing out of him, to be replaced by fear. Without Lilias beside him, with her calm voice and loving touch, he had nothing, he was nothing.
'I need to see her, please let me see her.' he cried, feeling tears of desperation come to his eyes.
'Very well.' the Doctor nodded. 'But I must ask you, do not distress her. She needs to remain calm.'
He entered the room with trepidation, not wanting to believe that it was real – that it was his wife laying there. Yet it was. Her dark hair was spread out behind her on the pillow, and her breathing was ragged. Yet she tried to smile when she saw him come into the room.
'Archie,' she coughed slightly, drawing up more blood. 'You're here.'
'I'm here, my dear.' he said shakily, taking her hand. 'I am going to stay here with you.'
'I'm so pleased you came, Archie. I need you.' her grip was weak, and that worried him more than anything.
'Shhh... rest now.' he said, stroking her forehead.
'I can feel the baby coming, Archie.' she whispered. 'It's not time yet. I'm afraid.'
'I'll be here. There is no reason to be afraid. I'll be by your side and with you no matter what happens.'
He leant down and kissed her forehead, noting in passing how clammy it felt. The sweat on her brow had dampened her hair and her cheeks were pink, yet she looked beautiful to him. Archie felt as though his soul was slowly being torn in two. What would he do without her? How would he be able to go on. He prayed from the very depths of his being for God to spare her.
Time passed, and Archie remained with his wife, watching as the doctor took her temperature, and listened to her heartbeat. He remained with her when he labour pains began to intensify and she started groaning and crying out. Presently, Susan Sowerby arrived, hurried into the room by a concerned Mrs Medlock.
'Oh Mr Craven!' Susan cried, hurrying over to the bed. 'I heard wha' happened. I'm so sorry, Sir.'
'So am I, Susan. But right now I need your help. You must help deliver this baby.'
'Aye, tha' I will.' she replied. 'I will do my best, Sir.'
He watched as Susan walked over to the bed, and began conversing in low tones to the doctor, he watched as both of them looked over towards Lilias, concern on their faces. The feeling of dread within him intensified.
Susan presently came over and sat on the other side of Lilias, holding her hand and speaking to her in a low, calming voice. Lilias looked over at her friend weakly, and smiled.
'Susan, you came. I'm so pleased you are here with me.'
'Don't you go talkin' now, Mrs Craven.' Susan replied. 'Tha' mun save your strength for th' baby.'
Lilias nodded weakly, then Archie saw her features contort in pain as she was struck by yet another contraction.
'I've been timing the contractions and they appear to be becoming more frequent.' Archie heard the Doctor say.
The plump woman nodded. 'I was afraid o' that.'
The night passed on, and Archie could never remember a longer night in all his life. He remained at Lilias's side throughout, never letting go of her hand, willing her to hold on, to be strong. Wishing he could somehow pour his energy into her, to make her stronger. Every groan and cry that came from Lilias seemed to pain Archie's very soul. It shouldn't be like this, he thought. This should not be happening.
Presently he noticed both the Doctor and Susan Sowerby conversing in whispers at the far corner of the room. He caught the Doctor's eye, and noticed how the Doctor looked away quickly before carrying on with the conversation. Archie felt anger coupled with fear rising up in him, and he quickly strode over to where the two were talking.
'What is going on?' he asked, once again shocked at how his voice was rising.
'Mr Craven, please sit down. We're taking care of things.'
'I want to know what's happening.' he said. 'You have to tell me!'
'Lord Craven, please.' Susan pleaded. 'For th' sake of your wife, keep your voice down.'
'I will not go anywhere until I know what's going on. What's happening to Lilias?'
The Doctor exchanged a knowing glance with Susan Sowerby. When she nodded, he sighed, before speaking.
'Your wife has lost a lot of blood, Mr Craven. To be honest, I don't know if she will have enough strength to deliver the baby.'
He felt the room spinning around him, and he staggered back to slump into a nearby chair.
'I'm sorry Mr Craven, but if that happens, we may have to take more... drastic measures.'
'What do you mean?' he whispered, wondering if this nightmare would ever end.
'We may have to remove the baby by other means.'
Suddenly, Archie had a vision of exactly what the Doctor was talking about. He felt Susan Sowerby's sympathetic hand on his shoulder, and looked up to see tears forming in the woman's eyes.'
'I'm sorry, Mr Craven.' she said. 'But we've done all we can. She is jus' too weak.'
'But will it work? Can you save them both?'
'Mr Craven, I have the greatest confidence in my ability, and that of Mrs Sowerby, but the simple truth is that your wife has been weakened by the loss of blood. She may not make it through the procedure.'
'I can't accept this...' he muttered, turning away. 'I won't allow it to happen.'
'Perhaps it would be best t' go an sit wi' her for awhile.' Susan Sowerby's gentle voice suggested. 'Jus' be wi' her.'
He nodded, getting up out of the chair as though in a dream, and heading back to his wife's bedside. Her eyes were closed, but she opened them slowly when she felt his hand encircle hers.
'Archie...' she said weakly. 'You're still here.'
'Yes, Lilias. I'm here. I'm not going to leave you, ever.'
'I'm so happy you're here.' she said dreamily. 'I would feel so alone, otherwise.'
'I won't let you be alone, and I'm not going to leave you.' he said, through his tears. He gripped her hand tightly.
'The baby is coming, Archie. But I'm so tired...'
'Just stay Lilias, stay with me.'
He sat with her, stroking her hand, tears streaming down his cheeks. Presently, the Doctor walked over.
'It's time, Mr Craven. I'm going to give her something for the pain, then we will try to save her baby.'
He watched helplessly as the Doctor withdrew a syringe from his bag, and injected it into Lilias's limp arm.
'This way, she won't feel anything. It's better this way. She won't be in any pain. Mr Craven, I recommend that you wait outside until the baby is ... born. It will not be pleasant to watch.'
'Archie...' Lilias's voice murmured. 'Where are you going? I feel... I feel different.'
'I just have to leave for a few minutes, Lilias, but I will come back.'
'I know you will.' she said, 'you are so good to me, Archie.'
He wiped his tears away, and bent down to kiss her forehead, then he hurried blindly from the room, stumbling as he went, and slumped down in a chair outside the door.
Time passed slowly, and all Archie could hear were the muted voices of the Doctor and Susan Sowerby. Archie felt as though he had aged one hundred years in a matter of hours. Absently he touched the cuffs of his shirt, noticing for the first time that they were stained with blood. Lilias's blood. He put his head in his hands, wishing he could shut out the world, that it would go away and he would wake up to it all having been a dream – that he would wake up safe in bed, with Lilias at his side.
Through the blur of his thoughts and emotions, Archie heard the muffled cry of an infant, coming from behind the closed doors. A few seconds later, the door opened, and Archie turned to see Susan Sowerby standing in the doorway.
'You have a son, Mr Craven. We were able to save him. The Doctor says that tha' may come in now and see Mrs Craven.'
'How... how is she, Susan?' he asked desperately.
The woman shook her head. 'Verra' weak, Mr Craven. But she wishes' t' see thee.'
He raced into the room, and was once again at his wife's side.
'We have a son, Archie.' Lilias said, slowly, and so softly he could barely hear her. 'And he is beautiful.'
'Yes, I know. But you must rest now. You have to get better.'
'I'm so tired, Archie. But so happy that you are here with me. You won't leave me again, will you?'
The tears began to flow steadily down his cheeks. 'No, I'm not going to leave you again.'
'Colin... that is what I want to name our son.'
He nodded mutely.
'Look after him for me, Archie. Promise me you will.'
Archie's thoughts flashed wildly through his mind. How could it be, that this was happening to them? Only this morning, he was lying next to Lilias in this very bed, looking forward to the day to come. She had stood by the window, encircled in bright sunlight. Now she lay still, her hand weak in his, she was fading away from him, and there was nothing Archie could do about it. He tried to push away the voice that told him his wife was dying, he tried not to look at the sympathetic faces of the Doctor and Susan Sowerby, yet the grim reality of the situation was beginning to creep over him.
'I'm so tired Archie. Can I sleep now?'
He leant down and kissed her forehead, not noticing the tears that fell onto her pale cheeks.
'Yes my darling, you may.'
She looked up at him with her beautiful eyes, half closed with weariness.
'I love you, Archie. Know that I'll always... love ... you.'
'I love you, too. My darling Lilias.'
She smiled and closed her eyes. Yet Archie kept her hand in his, not noticing when her grip ceased. He sat with her, stroking her forehead, whispering to her, his words of love and devotion. She appeared to be sleeping, and such a deep sleep it was. Perhaps that was what she needed, to get better?
He didn't know how long he sat there, by her side. It could have been minutes – or hours. Presently, he felt a hand touch his shoulder, and he turned around to see Susan Sowerby, weeping opening.
'I'm sorry Sir, but she's gone. There's nothin' more we can do.'