Thornton, England 1813
The sound of pounding horse hooves brought Mauvreen from her midwife duties, down to the first floor of the hunting lodge. She quickly answered a frantic knock at the door, where she met familiar, anxious eyes.
“Where is she?”
“Upstairs,” Mauvreen said, urging him inside and closing the door behind him.
“I got here as fast as I could from London. How – ?”
“She has been thirty-eight hours in labor.”
His hurried breathing stopped.
Mauvreen shook her head. “Soon. Come with me.”
She led him quickly up the wooden stairs and down the hall that led to Hallie’s bedroom. Mauvreen clutched her chest as a scream echoed through the cabin – the bone-piercing cry of a woman in the final stages of a difficult childbirth.
“My God, Hallie . . .”
Pushing past Mauvreen, the father-to-be bounded toward the bedroom. He was on his knees beside the bed before Mauvreen reached the threshold, one hand cupping the crown of Hallie’s head, the other clutching her hand. He appeared oblivious – or willfully blind – to the blood-soaked sheets beneath her.
Hallie turned her face to him and attempted a smile through the pain. She was too drained.
She drew a shallow breath. “It wont be long now. I can feel it.”
Brushing away the sweat of her forehead, he nodded reassuringly.
“Yes, it shall all be over soon, darling.” Turning abruptly to Mauvreen, he asked, “Do we not have forceps?”
Mauvreen, fighting her greatest fears to remain outwardly calm, examined Hallie’s progress with steady hands.
“No, but we are close. Focus, Hallie.”
The lovers eyes met again.
“I wanted to be here sooner. There was no carriage or beast that could move quickly enough.”
“Hush, my love,” she said. “The baby has waited for you.”
Another contraction brought a powerful cry. Hallie threw her head back into her pillow as she arched her spine. Her fingers turned white around her lovers hand, matching the shade of her cheeks, the color drained from her sweet, young face many hours since.
The contraction passed. Mauvreen ran a wet cloth along the insides of Hallie’s legs. It was a fruitless effort. The blood continued all the more as the baby drew closer.
“Come along now, little one,” Mauvreen said, as another contraction kicked in. “Ah! There you are.”
A head appeared. A continuous, blood-curdling scream sounded. And then, moments later, the softer cry of a newborn infant filled the air.
“A girl,” Mauvreen announced.
Hallie, who had fallen limp into the folds of bedsheets around her, forced her eyes open at this announcement and locked them on the baby as she caught her breath. Even as her lover kept his eyes on her, from that moment on it was clear Hallie saw only her daughter.
Mauvreen worked furiously to cut the cord, rinse the baby, and hand her to her mother. Wrapped in a blanket crocheted for her by Hallie, the little girl was placed swiftly beside her.
“Oh! She’s lovely,” Hallie said, her voice barely a whisper. “The most beautiful thing Ive ever beheld.”
Her lover helped position the baby more securely in her exhausted arms.
“Beautiful,” he said, “like her mother.”
Meanwhile, Mauvreen collapsed into a scroll-backed leather chair in the corner of the room. Its angle was blessedly away from Hallie’s line of vision and it was there Mauvreen fought her tears.
She allowed the small family a quiet moment together before catching the father’s eyes. “May I see you a moment?”
Her look conveyed the urgency of this request. Kissing both his girls on their foreheads, he prepared to oblige.
“Ill be right back,” he said, and rose to follow Mauvreen into the hallway.
Hallie seemed hardly to notice. She never lifted her gaze from the new life she held beside her.
Closing the door softly behind them, Mauvreen rested her hand on the father’s arm. “Do you understand,” she began gently, “Hallie is hemorrhaging?”
He met her gaze with a blank stare, followed by a look of sudden understanding. “Dear God -what are you saying?”
Mauvreen spoke slowly and deliberately. “There isnt much time left.”
She worked hard to compose herself, wiping away tears and resisting their multiplication, while he braced himself against the wall with an extended hand.
“How much?” he pressed.
“There is no saying.” She added delicately, “Make the most of what you have.”
He raised his fingers to his temple, as if it would force her words to sink in. “I should not have left her during this time.”
She tightened her grip on him. “Whether you were here or there would not have made any difference.”
“I doubt Ill ever accept that.” His eyes widened suddenly. “And the child?”
“She will be fine, I’m certain of it.”
The shadows that fell over his face could not hide its severe expression. “She can never know the truth – it would ruin her. I need to know I can trust you on that.”
“Hallie is as much family to me as she is to you. Whatever you decide to do with the baby, you can trust me to help in any way I can. You have my word.”
Taking a deep breath, he attempted to collect himself. As he prepared to reenter the bedroom, he took her hand in his. “Mauvreen, I know you have done more for Hallie than any doctor ever could. And I thank you.”
Mauvreen shot him an appreciative gaze before he returned to his place beside the bed. She followed silently behind him, pulling fresh bedsheets and blankets from a corner dresser and placing them beside the bed.
The new mother appeared deliriously happy, her eyes and her smile bright as he leaned over her.
“My love,” she said, her daughter grasping her forefinger with all five of her own.
“I love you.”
Her eyes flickered to his. It was clear that there was nothing he knew that she did not.
“And I you.” Resting her hand on his, she said, “You must do something for me.”
Holding a damp cloth to her forehead and wiping away a few stray hairs, he promised, “Anything.”
Her smile widened. “I have a name for her.”