The Doctor's Daughter
Chapter 1: Waiting
I paced the confines of my small sitting room yet again, my heels repeating a regular tattoo upon the worn carpet. Sit down, leap to my feet, pace, sit down again. I was strictly moderating myself with regards to the tantalus of whisky, only a small measure of which had so far been poured and drank – I did not want to be sottish on this of all occasions - but I found myself longingly eying the glass on the side table. I threw myself into my chair again, and opened my cigarette case, before closing it again with a snap. I did not want to bring a cloud of tobacco fumes into the bedroom either.
I had never missed Sherlock Holmes more keenly, in all the near three years since his death at Reichenbach. I had other cronies of course, many of whom would have been willing to share this vigil with me, but I wished only for Holmes. His presence would have been soothing, he would have distracted me, taken me out of myself, and moderated my whisky intake for me. My wait was lonely indeed without companionship, and I was in danger of sinking into melancholy. The closest of my other acquaintances, Anstruther, was otherwise, very importantly, engaged; in seeing to my wife. Tonight, I hoped, we would greet our first born child for the first time.
I wished I could be allowed into Mary's chamber, but it was clearly inappropriate. Instead, I jumped whenever I heard a groan or a cry, and drove myself to distraction with my own helplessness and anxiety. I had gnawed my fingernails down, a habit I had not indulged in since childhood, and I relished the sharp little pain as I bit into the quick. I wished I could have shared some of my dear Mary's pain, but there was nothing to be gained in pointless fancy.
What was taking so long? Mary's pains had begun almost four and twenty hours previously, and the muffled injunctions to push had started one hundred and sixteen minutes ago. I leapt up, intending to storm up the stairs, and demand to know what was happening, but controlled myself in time. Primiparous women would often endure a long second stage of labour, one did not require a degree in medicine to know this. I would always be more sympathetic to prospective fathers in future, after such a wait. What if something had gone wrong? Terror gripped me, not for the first time that night, and I was hit by such a wave of empathy for every stillbirth, and worse, I had ever attended, that I could have wept for the sadness of it all. It was not uncommon for young women to die in childbed, and the first day of life was also the most dangerous for the baby.
The ticking of the clocks in the quiet house was deafening. I had never noticed that the ormolu clock on the mantle and the long case clock in the hallway were slightly out of time with each other, and I found it increasingly irritating. At least it served to convince me they had not stopped, although that had not stopped me examining their workings.
The noise level upstairs had increased slightly. My brave wife appeared to have been bearing her labours with great fortitude and little complaint, but now I heard her cry out in pain and distress, and I felt hot tears on my face at the sound, which I dashed away angrily. There was urgency in the voice of Anstruther and the midwife, and then, to my joy, I could distinguish the command,
"Breath, Mary! Just pant now, good girl!"
I held my own breath, and waited. I was quite lightheaded when I heard it – the voices raised in joy, and, the most beautiful sound, the squawl of a baby. Before I knew it, I was racing up the stairs two at a time, a huge grin on my face, and only stopped myself outside the room. Mrs Benton the midwife was a formidable dame, and would have some very pungent comments indeed if any young father barged in before she had had the chance to get mother and baby looking presentable. I leaned against the wall outside the room like a naughty schoolboy waiting outside the headmaster's office, and jiggled from foot to foot in a frenzy of impatience. The door suddenly opened, and the tiny form of Mrs Benton was framed in it, her face severe apart from the slight creasing around her eyes and upward tilt to her lips.
"Whit do ya think ye're doin', Dr Watson?" she frowned at me, in her strong Scottish brogue, and I hung my head and shuffled my feet. She softened slightly, and placed her hand on my arm. "Dinnae fret, Doctor. All's weel. Ye have a bouncin' bonny bairn, and if ye will gie me a few minutes tae make all fit tae be seen, then ye may come in and say welcome."
She disappeared back into our bedroom, leaving me giddy with relief and beaming with pleasure. A baby! Our baby! It occurred to me I had not asked the sex of my child, but it mattered not, so long as they were hearty. I exchanged pacing the living room carpet for pacing the corridor outside our bedroom, but now there was a spring in my step, and I could not stop smiling.
Mrs Benton reappeared, and Anstruther was behind her. He shook my hand with a huge grin.
"Who's a clever lad, then? Congratulations, and why don't you go and see what you've done!"
"I really didn't do all that much." I answered in the same vein.
"Ye di' enoo" snorted Mrs Benton, unembarrassable as I blushed. "Although dear Mary's the clever one. Noo stop hammerin fit tae wake the did on the floor outside an' get ye i' there an' greet your bairn."
I stepped through the door thrilling with excitement. There was my darling Mary, looking tired and flushed, but cheerful. In her arms was a little white bundle, which she was gazing upon. She lifted her eyes at my approach, and they were glowing with joyfulness.
"John! Come and meet your daughter. Isn't she beautiful?"
I am aware that many men are underwhelmed by the human infant with its red crumpled appearance; I have never been one of their number. I have always liked babies, but I was not prepared for the rush of love that hit me when I lifted the lace blanket to one side and stared at the tiny person wrapped up in it. To me, she was perfect. A mop of impossibly soft brown hair crowned her tiny head. Tiny hands clenched and stretched. Her tiny nose wrinkled, and her tiny mouth opened and closed as the turned her tiny head from side to side. I was smitten, hypnotised, a slave forever. I could not tear my eyes away, I just drank her in, the little movements she made, learning movements of the face that would one day express complex emotions and meanings, but were for now just practice.
"She is perfect. Wonderful. Oh, my clever, clever girl, I love you so very much!" I burst out, pulling my wife and daughter close to me, kissing both, and not sure which I addressed as I spoke. I placed my little finger in my daughter's hands, and the miniature, perfect fingers gripped tightly. She tried to pull my finger to her mouth, making sucking motions, and Mary and I laughed.
"She is hungry" said Mary, chuckling again as she saw my rapt expression. "I feel I must be a poor second in your affections now" she teased, her eyes twinkling.
"I love you both, equally, and enormously" I replied virtuously.
I called Mrs Benton in to assist latching our new daughter to the breast. Fortunately, her conservatism did not extend to fathers being expelled from the room during suckling – quite the opposite. She scolded gently, whilst easily directing operations, and my baby girl was soon feeding contentedly. Mrs Benton withdrew softly, commanding me to call her if we encountered any difficulties, and adjuring me to inform her when the baby was ready for burping, in magnificent disregard for my medical qualifications.
Mary and I sat, entranced, as our daughter fed. Those moments will forever be sealed on my consciousness as the happiest of my life. No matter what would follow, no matter what trials I had bourn before and would bear subsequently, I would keep this shining moment and relive it, treasure it, and it would never lose its lustre or fade. Eventually, Mary spoke.
"Well, what shall we call her? Is she an Elspeth Grace, or a Grace Elspeth?" At this moment, baby drew up her little knees and emitted a sound worthy of the brass section of an orchestra. We both burst out in spontaneous hilarity.
"Oh, we cannot call her Grace after that! My dear girl, I never heard anything so unladylike! You will never be fit for polite society if you behave in this manner!"
"Elspeth it is, then. Elsie."
I stroked the soft cheek with one finger. "Hallo, Elsie" I whispered.
I'm glad to give the Watsons this moment. Some things will always be wonderful, and they do deserve it.
Continued in chapter 2.