‘We wanted to share it with just you two for now, but we are engaged to be married,’ Whitfield smiled proudly.
‘Oh, Whitfield, that is fantastic news,’ Fiona jumped from the sofa in the drawing room and hugged him.
Behind her, she could her Jean-Michel congratulating Molly, and kissing her on both cheeks. Fiona moved from Whitfield towards Molly Davenport and Jean-Michel towards Whitfield in some sort of dance across the drawing room.
‘Molly, I am so delighted,’ Fiona gushed as she hugged the woman. ‘You have made my brother so very happy.’
‘Well, my darling, it works both ways. I have you and Jean-Michel to thank really. If it was not for meeting you both, I could never have had this second chance at life.’
Fiona could not really argue with her logic, for the handsome American woman had a point. Had she and Jean-Michel not met her in Boston as they had been exploring the Americas, Whitfield would never have met Molly Davenport and this day would never have come.
It seemed much of Fiona’s life since meeting Jean-Michel for the very first time now well over a year ago, had been the same, for it had been full of chance encounters and strange occurrences.
They had returned from Scotland and their extended honeymoon more than six months previously, after having discovered several new species of plant that had excited Jean-Michel immensely. With those discoveries, and all they had experienced on their journey, it would appear that his need for travel and exploration was now insatiable, for it had not been long after returning to Langley Hall that they were soon planning another expedition.
Of course Fiona could not really blame it all on him, for she had been in agreement entirely when he mentioned travelling to America. She too, had caught the bug of exploration and discovery, and America sounded so exotic. It was the ultimate adventure, days at sea and a land hardly reported on by any naturalist.
Jean-Michel had already had several of his papers published and as his reputation grew, so did his need to go further. With his continued studies and his letters to Reverend White, his anticipation built, and staying at Langley Hall just did not satisfy him.
Eventually, they packed their belongings once more, and headed across the Atlantic Ocean. A journey that Fiona realised once aboard that she did not relish at all, for she struggled terribly with seasickness. But once in open waters it was simply too late, for there was no going back.
It had been in Boston that they had met the rather delightful, but widowed, Molly Davenport. Having lost her husband in the war, several years previously, she had been at a loss for whilst she had wealth from her family heritage, it taken her some time to recover from her grief. Yet on meeting her at a local reading room, Fiona had immediately taken a liking to her. With her warm and gentle ways and her quick, intelligent mind, she had reminded Fiona of her mother, even though she was of a much younger age.
Jean-Michel and Fiona had already travelled through some of the east coast and Jean-Michel had gathered samples that he was determined to bring back to London and donate to the British museum. Boston had been their final stop before they returned to London.
Having met Molly again, being invited to a party and dinner in her own home, Fiona had mentioned in passing their return journey and Molly has shown considerable interest.
‘London sounds like a fine place. I have heard great things from there, for many of the sailors that travel bringing tea to Boston are from London.’
‘It is a fine place, Molly. There is so much to see and do, and with the industrial side of things now growing, I think eventually, it will be quite productive and forward moving town,’ Fiona had nodded.
‘Have you travelled far from home, Molly?’ Jean-Michel had asked.
Fiona knew what was coming next, for she had grown accustomed to Jean-Michel’s charms. He was an explorer and felt that, for anyone to enjoy life and to get the most from it, they too must step out from their own land and see some of the world, at least once in their lifetime.
‘I have to be honest, Jean-Michel, I have never left Boston. Of course, before John passed, I had assumed there was some hope of starting and family and settling down, but I suppose now that John is gone, there really is nothing holding me back.’
‘Why then, do you not return with us?’ Jean-Michel had nodded eagerly.
‘Oh no,’ Molly had frowned, ‘I could not put on you in such a way. For surely, I have nowhere to stay when I arrive.’
‘Ah now come, Mrs. Davenport,’ Jean-Michel interjected her objection, ‘we have a large estate, of course you must stay with us.’
And that is how Whitfield and Molly Davenport met. Fiona could not say it was love at first sight as it had been with her and Jean-Michel, but it was clear from the start that they had a deep respect for each other and much to converse about, at least at the beginning.
Yet the more Whitfield spent time with her, the more Fiona noted his liking for her, until it became quite obvious that he had fallen in love. She was not really surprised at all that he had announced their engagement, for it had been clear to Fiona that they were a fabulous match.
The wedding occurred not more than a month afterwards and as Fiona saw her brother settled and happy, she felt a sudden contentment. Their conversation in the garden, so long ago now, returned to her. Having decided that Fiona would be released from her forced engagement to that rotten scoundrel, Harding, they had talked of him finding a woman and settling down, a woman with a good head on her shoulders. Just like Mama.
Of course, Molly Davenport was not only a good woman with a steady head on her shoulders, but along with her presence came her fortune. Once Molly was certain of her future in England, she had instructed her legal advisors to sell her large home in Boston, which only added to her wealth. Fiona was now certain, that with the wise woman’s instruction and guidance, she could help Whitfield run the estate as her new home, just as Mama had done with Papa.
Jean-Michel and Fiona had decided to stay at Langley Hall for a while, for with their travels, Jean-Michel had many notes to sift through and compile into more papers for the scientific and naturalist journals. Persistent in his studies, and with more papers being published, his reputation continued to grow.
Fiona could not help herself; she was thoroughly proud of her highly educated husband and all he had achieved in the last year. Though to her, his work always looked intense and his research deep, Jean-Michel had a burning passion to continue to learn and Fiona loved watching the joy he expressed when he told them all of his findings.
At dinner one evening, Fiona and Jean-Michel had been relaying their time in Boston when he recalled the time they were nearly arrested.
‘What on earth where you doing for that to happen?’ Whitfield exclaimed.
‘Well, apparently, there had been some trouble near the docks. The local police were looking for a man and a woman who had been involved in some skullduggery, but only when we were able to explain ourselves, did they realise that we were not Americans, and that was who they were looking for,’ Jean-Michel chuckled.
‘Good heavens,’ Molly gasped. ‘You were lucky, those boys do not usually ask questions.’
‘Actually,’ Fiona added, ‘they were terribly pleasant fellows, who chatted to Jean-Michel for some time when they realised why we were there.’
‘So, not that much in a rush to catch the criminals then,’ Whitfield crowed. ‘Not unlike our lot here, for they could hardly find their hand if it was in front of their face. Half the constables in London are either drunkards or criminals themselves.’
‘I cannot agree with that statement entirely, Whitfield,’ Jean-Michel objected. ‘For the ones that assisted myself and Lord Spencer were very professional men. They did a very thorough job when we were searching for the cottage with my family’s possessions.’
‘Oh yes, about that,’ Fiona looked across the dining table at her brother. ‘I do not suppose there has been any further news of the whereabouts of Harding since we have been away?’
‘Nothing really new, though he was reported to have been spotted in India. Lord Spencer has not yet given up on his search and in speaking to his contacts, it was reported to him by one of the sailors.’
‘Well, he would do well to stay there,’ Fiona stated firmly.
‘I would not worry yourself, Fiona,’ Whitfield shook his head as he spoke. ‘I have told you before and I will tell you again. He will not return to London. He is far too smart for that. Besides, he spouted and bragged of his accomplishments to so many people across London and Essex that he is now almost recognisable on sight. In his arrogance, he made a rod for his own back, for had he been a little more discreet he may have been able to sneak back into the country with little observance.’
‘Yes, but if he had been discreet, he would not have been Harding,’ Fiona noted.
‘This is true. But rest assured, he will get his comeuppance in good time, I have no doubt about it. And rightly as you say, for his own good, he would do well to stay halfway across the world, for he will be arrested on sight if he returns. Yet knowing the sort of the man, I do not think it will be too long before he gets himself into some other sort of trouble where he is. A leopard cannot change its spots.’
It was several months later that Fiona noted something strange about her person. At first, she passed it off as enjoying the delicious cooking of Mary-Ann that made it more difficult for her to fasten her clothes about her person, but then there were other tell-tale signs, but it was not herself who voiced it.
On an afternoon when Fiona and Molly were sat on the terrace, enjoying the warm breeze of a sunny day, Molly suddenly placed her book on her lap and looked over at her.
‘I hope you do not find my following question impertinent, Fiona, but I need to ask you a serious question.’
Lifting her hand and shielding her eyes from the bright sun rays, Fiona turned to look at Molly with a confused frown.
‘Whatever is the matter, Molly?’
‘Well, I suppose I was going to ask you the same thing.’
‘I do not understand, Fiona shook her head. ‘You were going to ask me what the matter was?’
‘Yes, my dear. I have just noted a few things, and it may be a little forward, but I am, after all, your sister-in-law and the only other woman in the household who could do so. My darling, your bosom is larger, and a small belly is beginning to protrude from your soft, flowing gowns. Not to mention, you seem to be getting awfully tired in these afternoons.’
‘Perhaps it is just the heat.’
‘The heat is making your tummy swollen?’ Molly looked at her with disbelief.
‘You think I am with child?’
‘Do you not feel it?’
‘I feel all the things you say. My bosom is larger and more tender, and my tummy is definitely rounder. I thought the tiredness was just from the long, warm afternoons.’
‘Well, I am no physician, my dear. But I would bet my bottom dollar that you are.’
For a long moment Fiona glared at her belly, before gently rubbing it with her hands. Could it be possible? Well, yes of course it could be possible, but she had not properly realised her symptoms. Having no one around her who had had children, and not having a mother to ask about these things, it had not really occurred to her that the signs could be that she was pregnant.
A sudden thought of joy washed over her at the prospect of Jean-Michel’s child growing in her belly, for they had spoken of having a family eventually, but the joy was suddenly overwhelmed by a very different feeling. A feeling of doubt and concern.
If she was with child, it would mean they could no longer travel, and it was all the joy in the world to Jean-Michel. He had already spoken of planning another trip after Michaelmas, perhaps back to Europe to share with her the places he had not yet seen. She could not do that with a small child. She knew well the difficulties of their journeys, of the places that had to stay and how, whilst they both accepted more unsuitable accommodation, it would not be responsible to take a child to such places.
Fiona suddenly turned to Molly. ‘Please, could we keep this between us two, Molly? At least for now.’
‘My lips are sealed my darling. For sure, it is not my place to speak of it anyhow.’
Several days later, Jean-Michel found her sitting on the stump in her favourite hiding place in deep contemplation.
‘Ah, there you are. I have been looking for you everywhere,’ Jean-Michel started merrily, before suddenly changing his expression to one of concern. ‘My darling, whatever is the matter, for you look so gloomy?’
Fiona had spent the previous days in turmoil. She would have to tell him soon, for the heat of the sun had made the extra layers she had adopted to her person near unbearable. And yet, she feared his reaction. Her deepest fear was that he would resent her, resent her for being the reason they would no longer be able to travel, and the reason he would no longer be able to do what he enjoyed so thoroughly.
There was little point in holding back any longer. He was bound soon to notice anyway; she needed to muster up her courage and hope he would not be so angry that they argued over the situation.
Standing, she turned to face him. ‘Jean-Michel, I must tell you something, and I think the news will upset you.’
Her husband frowned with deep concern. ‘You are ill? Is this why you have been so tired and out of sorts?’
‘Not ill, exactly,’ she began hesitantly.
Jean-Michel stared for a long moment at her, waiting for her to disclose her confession. When she did not speak again, he took her gently by the arms and bent his head to look at her.
‘Please, Fiona, my darling, tell me what is upsetting you so? You know I love you and you can tell me anything in the world, for you are my world and I could not be without you.’
Poor Jean-Michel. It was obvious by his expression that his mind was racing, thinking perhaps, that she had contracted some strange or awful illness on their travels.
‘Please,’ she said softly. ‘Please do not worry. I am not ill, and I am not going to die. It is nothing like that.’
‘Then what?’ He glared at her. ‘What else could you tell me that would upset me so? Or that has you in this way that you feel you cannot open up to me?’
‘I am pregnant.’
Jean-Michel suddenly stepped back and she watched as his jaw dropped. His gaze switched from her face to her stomach and back to her face. For a long second, he said absolutely nothing, for his face was a picture of complete shock.
He moved so quickly that Fiona hardly had chance to realise that she was now in his arms, hugging her tightly too him, he let out some sort of joyful cry that she could swear, would be heard inside Langley Hall.
‘Oh, my sweet, sweet darling Fiona,’ he kissed her head, and releasing her from his strong embrace, took her face in his hands, gazing loving down at her.
‘Do you have any idea how much I love you?’ he beamed joyously.
Fiona was still in a little shock herself, for his rection had more than taken her by surprise. Perhaps he may not have been angry at her, but she could never have imagined his absolute exhilaration at her news.
‘You are not angry? she replied a little breathlessly, with all of his excitement.
‘Angry? Are you mad, woman? I could not be happier. Look at the joy on my face. I am thrilled, ecstatic, full of hope and love and joy,’ he declared.
‘So, not angry then?’ she grinned mischievously.
‘I could never be angry at you anyway, my darling, but no. I am happy. I am to be a father; we are to be parents. This is the best news I have heard in such a long time.’
‘But it means we will not be able to travel anywhere for quite some time. I was worried that you would miss the adventure.’
‘How could I miss the adventure, Fiona? Surely, having a child and becoming a parent is the greatest adventure of all. Think of all the knowledge we can teach him.’
‘Or her,’ she smirked.
‘Or her,’ he grinned.
‘We are to be a family, and when the child is old enough, we can travel again. But for now, we have much to look forward to.’
In the spring, Fiona gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Just as Jean-Michel had predicted it would be, for he did not relent in knowing all the way through the pregnancy.
Of course, Fiona had not cared about the sex of their child, only that it was healthy, and whilst the labour had not been the easiest of experiences, they were both as well as could be expected.
Jean-Michel sat beside her on the bed afterwards, unable to stop gazing at his son in the wicker crib beside her bed. Having been fed and changed, he was now sleeping peacefully, and even in her exhaustion, Fiona could not help feeling so ecstatically happy.
‘I am so very proud of you, my darling Fiona,’ Jean-Michel eventually turned to her and gazed at her lovingly. ‘You have made me the happiest man in the world. For right here, in this room, I have everything I will ever want in my life.’
Bending, he kissed her tenderly, and under his soft lips, Fiona knew another exciting chapter of their life had just begun.