The pain is indescribable, the doctor hovering over her, looking her in the eye instead of where he's supposed to look is angering her more by the minute. She grunts as another contraction pulls it's way through her abdomen and upper legs. She had not expected the pain to be in her back or her thighs, but here she is, sitting up against the headboard of her bed, trying to breath away the terrible ache.
"By the sound of you, things are well progressing." The doctor announces and Elsie feels ready to hurl the jug of water on her nightstand at him.
"The sound? Beryl, tell this man to go away." She grabs her friend's hand hard. "I should have known better than to have a man take care of this."
"But Elsie!" Beryl only gets the two words out before Elsie grunts again. "I mean it. He needs to leave. Have the nurse come in." Elsie orders. She sees the doctor wipe his hands on a cloth and putting it down next to the basin of steaming water.
"Just GO!" Elsie shouts.
Beryl looks alarmed. "There is no nurse! And you must know I am not trained to do this, don't you?"
"I don't care!" She hears her voice bounce against the walls and for a fleeting moment Elsie thinks about her husband, waiting downstairs, worried sick.
"You know what to do. I know what to do. This is a thing women do." She speaks the words slowly and measuredly. Each word is separated by a pant. "We are going to get this baby out of me. And we'll do it soon."
The sounds coming from upstairs sound ominous and when he sees the doctor leaving in a huff, the door slamming closed behind him, he knows things are not going well. He paces his library and rings for Mrs Turnbull. He needs tea. Or coffee. Or something. He stays away from the brandy and the cigarettes, not wanting to smell of either when he is finally to meet his child.
Mrs Turnbull is taking her sweet time however and he rings again. He can hear the bells ring in the distance, the scurrying of feet. A maid appears in the door opening, looking slightly annoyed.
"Tea. I want tea." He barks and is surprised at the harshness of his voice. "Please." He adds, trying to soften things a bit. The girl smirks a bit and nods. She disappears, but not before he can ask about the whereabouts of Mrs Turnbull. He's informed that Mrs Turnbull is in her Ladyship's bedroom, helping out. With a shrug she turns. Obviously she feels he could have known.
A piercing cry echoes through the house and his heart nearly stops. He listens closely, but there's silence again. All afternoon he's been hearing the grunts and cries followed by eerie silence and it's starting to make him more than a bit anxious. He remembers sitting with John Bates a few years earlier, telling him that it's a rotten business waiting for a child to be born.
He finally understand how his words had been empty for only now they ring true.
He is wringing his hands now and he sees both the irony and the cliche, but he cannot stop it. He wishes he had something to do, something to occupy himself with. He feels as if he is going crazy. He doesn't have anyone to sit with him, nobody to tell him to calm down. Nobody here to share in his joy when ultimately the baby will be born.
He refuses to think anything will go wrong.
He had asked the doctor when he could expect to visit his wife and the good man had said that a first labour usually takes half a day. He had checked the clock then. It had only been about four hours. Elsie had told him to fetch the doctor and to get Beryl, but first she had gotten up from his chair, telling him she didn't want to ruin it incase her waters broke - which had rather alarmed him - and kissed him soundly.
She had told him not to panic, but it's bubbling inside of him now. He feels useless. Another cry cleaves the silence. He falls down in his chair and curses the maid who is so slow to bring up his tea. Another grunt makes him want to punch something. He is besides himself and it's not a feeling he particularly enjoys. Normally he has everything under control, but this? This is in the hand of God and nature. And apparently in Beryl's and Mrs Turnbull's.
He closes his eyes and prays.
She is swearing like a sailor, but she doesn't care. The pain is too much to bear and she needs to see it through. Cursing helps somehow. Especially cursing her husband to hell and back for putting her in this position. Beryl had laughed and Mrs Turnbull had only pulled up an eyebrow, keeping quiet.
It's been going better since the doctor has left. His prodding fingers and eye contact made her feel as if the man had no idea what he was doing. Of course he was young, younger than most doctors and he was fashionable - which meant he didn't look where he was supposed to. Beryl had warned her she did not know much, but in Elsie's view there is not much to know. A quick check if things have progressed far enough and then the final stage.
Which she is in the middle of now.
She likes that the other women are practically silent. Only the sound of dresses swishing and Beryl's steady encouragement.
"Alright Elsie, a big push."
She bears down. She feels as if she is being sliced open, torn straight at the core, but she does as she is ordered, not being able to stop it if she wants to. "It hurts!" She heard herself wail.
"Yes. I know." Beryl agrees. "Alright. If you give me one more push, I think we'll have a baby."
Elsie nods, grasps the sheets between her fingers; and pushes.
The distinct cry of an infant fills the house and he jumps to his feet, puts down his cup and runs upstairs and knocks on the door. Mrs Turnbull appears, looking slightly haggard - something he has never seen before, but he finds it fitting.
"We're taking care of baby now and her Ladyship is almost ready to receive you." Her words brook no contradiction. He nods and watches her go back inside. The crying has stopped, he only hears shuffling and muted voices. Mrs Turnbull's words were simple and he takes it that everything has gone alright. 'Taking care of baby' and 'her Ladyship is almost ready' don't sound too ominous and she would have said if something was amiss.
He has lost all patience, his happiness and anxiety bubbling right under the surface and he is ready to yell his sister's name so she'll let him in when he manages to stop himself. It will not do Elsie any good if he starts acting like a baboon. He wonders if the baby is a boy or a girl. He hopes the baby looks like Elsie, who is so beautiful and strong. He's paced his library and he's spelled out the newspapers and he's even walked the whole breadth of the house, but it's nothing compared to what she's gone through.
He is almost surprised when the door opens and Beryl stands there, smiling.
"Come on, you slowpoke, your family is waiting for you." She puts it so bluntly and plain and he loves her for it. He squeezes her upper arm before walking past. The curtains are pulled back, the soft light of dusk and the few lit candles throwing shadows through the room. Elsie is sitting up against the headboard, a small bundle in her arms, covered in a cloud of white.
She looks exhausted and happy, a combination he's not seen before, but fills him with pride. She looks up for a brief moment to flash him a brilliant smile.
"Come…" She says and beckons with her free hand. She already looks so natural with the baby in her arms and he approaches, suddenly shy, worried his bulk will frighten the child, afraid he might accidentally hurt it. He sits down on the chair next to Elsie and he kisses her brow. Her forehead is slightly damp from her quick wash.
"How are you?" He asks.
"Incredibly sore and incredibly happy." Elsie leans into his kiss. Then she pushes back the blanket to reveal the face of his baby.
"And?" He points at the sleeping babe.
"Well, I think she is very happy to have finally arrived." Elsie bites her lip, a look of apprehension on her face.
"She? It's a girl?" He feels tears well up in his eyes. He touches the baby's cheek. "A daughter." He sighs.
"Elsie, she is perfect."
"Do you really think so?"
"No." He looks at Elsie, trying to keep the emotions from bursting. "I know so."
"My aren't you a bonnie wee thing." Violet coos at her granddaughter. The baby smiles, showing off her few teeth. "You're a good babe, Mary. You have a look of your Mama, you do." Violet touches Mary's cheek with the tips of her fingers. At eight months old Mary Crawley, daughter of the Earl of Grantham, has wrapped both her grandmother and her Papa around her chubby little finger. After a bout with colic Mary has blossomed into a cheerful little thing, giving her smiles generously and babbling nonsensical to her Mama during visits to and from the nursery.
Violet had warned her daughter about these lengthy visits and about feeding the child herself, but of course Elsie wouldn't listen. Stubborn girl, always had been, took after her father that one. But the bairn had graduated to mashed fruit and crusts of bread and is thriving on both the food and the attention she receives.
"Aren't you a loved one." Violet rubs the baby's back and looks around to find her two other grandchildren playing on a picnic blanket. "Aren't you all?" The nurse is trying to blend in with the marquis, Violet's tea stands forgotten on the table. The sun is out, but it's not too hot. All in all it's been a good day so far.
A good life.
Anne and John watch from a safe distance.
"Never knew your mother was so good with babies." Anne says to her husband.
"She is good with girls." John says, his tone neutral.
"Ah, your poor Mama, she doesn't have a lot of opportunity back at home. She does visit the boys, but I've not seen her cuddle either of them."
"With boys it's mostly about duty, about educating them right, to strengthen them for a future filled with dedication and decision-making. With girls it's… "
"Perhaps we should give her a girl too…" Anne says.
They smile at each other and start walking to the tent.
They're standing on the terrace, overlooking the park. The guests are interacting, the ladies in their cream coloured dresses, the men in their linen suits. The roses are fragrant around them. She is pleased with how the party is going. Mrs Turnbull has everything under control, and is standing on the lawn with the new butler. Elsie smiles a bit at how close the pair stand together.
She sighs deeply, allowing herself to lean against Charles, who puts his arm around her waist. She's tired, but happy. The party has been a great success, just as she hoped it would be.
"Are you alright, my dear?" Charles asks, planting a kiss on top of her head.
"Yes. Yes, I'd say so."
"Oh, out with it. What's on your chest, Elsie?" He turns to her, taking her hand in his.
"Oh, I remember the first time you asked me that." She lifts his hand to her mouth, places a kiss on the soft skin of the back.
"And what did you answer then?"
"That it was not on my chest, but rather under my heart."
He chuckles under his breath.
"Yes, I remember well, you had to explain it to me." He looks at her inquiringly. "And today? My dear Elsie, what do you have on your chest?"
She smiles at him widely, placing her hand on his shoulder, pulling him a tad closer so she can whisper in his ear. "It's not on my chest…" She bites her lip before continuing.
"It's under my heart."
A/N: My heartfelt thanks to all who read, reviewed, followed and favourited! I feel so honoured by the kindnesses you've shared with me, the ideas you sent (a fair few have been used!) and your constant encouragement.
You are wonderful.