William Garrow left his meeting with Sir Arthur Hill with a spring in his step. The night seemed full of possibilities. Negotiations had been a complete success, so much so that Will felt he might have pressed for more. Perhaps he should have argued for a greater portion of Sarah’s things to be brought to them. He might have even asked Hill to grant her a Parliamentary divorce! This notion stopped him in his tracks, and he stood there in the street, hesitating on whether he should go back and bring this new condition to Sir Arthur.
After a moment, he shook off this fancy. The bargain was for Samuel. If they could secure him, that would surely be enough for now. One miracle was sufficient.
It seemed impossible that his fortunes had reversed themselves so decidedly in such a short span of time. Had it truly been only a few days ago that he had lain beaten in that alleyway? And that had not even been the worst of it. The death of his dear friend and mentor, followed by the disappearance of his beloved Sarah, had battered his spirit beyond compare to the injuries of his flesh. He had felt so defeated. So alone.
And then she had returned. His vision. His guardian angel. And she had given him such glad tidings he could scarce believe it.
Will quickened his pace, knowing that Sarah awaited him at Milk Street. She would be in agonies of anticipation, wondering what was transpiring at the Old Bailey, knowing each minute that passed could mean the return of her triumphant lover, or bring the Runners with a warrant for her arrest.
He reached the familiar building and bolted upstairs. The door was unlocked, and he threw it wide, calling her name, hoping his smile would immediately allay her fears.
Only she was not there. The office was exactly as he’d left it, but for the empty trunk where Samuel had lain. And Sarah. Sarah who had seen him off in a manner he would not soon forget. She was not standing before him, nor sitting at Mr. Southouse’s desk, nor was she anywhere else in the room.
“Sarah,” he called again, fighting a wave of panic that gripped his chest. “Sarah!”
He whirled around, looking in every corner as if she had escaped his notice in the shadows behind him.
The sound of a door latch made him turn as a panel on the wall next to the fireplace opened. Sarah’s head appeared from what was once Mr. Southouse’s private study, and after a trepidatious glance past Will in the doorway, she emerged holding a sleeping Samuel in her arms.
His shoulders sank in relief.
“You’ve come alone?” she whispered.
“Yes,” he replied, his heart not yet recovered from the surge of alarm. She made no further comment, and he realized she was expecting him to say more.
“It is done.”
She went over to the trunk and laid the child down in his makeshift cradle. Then, with breathless anticipation, “Well?”
“He was only too glad to take the bargain—” Will said, and he was interrupted by a fierce hug around the middle as Sarah came barreling towards him with glee. “Oof! I believe he will uphold it!”
Sarah made a face of contrition and patted his stomach sympathetically.
“I’m sorry; your wounds, of course. We should not have...” she began guiltily.
Will smiled and shrugged. Perhaps he should not have exerted himself, but he could not be in the least regretful for such pleasurable labors.
She glanced away, her cheeks pink. Then, looking back to him, and in a different tone entirely, “What was his manner? Did he ask about my whereabouts, or Samuel’s?” she asked, wringing her hands.
“He made some vague threats in that direction –”
Here she drew in a breath between her teeth.
“– However!” he said, placing a calming hand on hers, “that was before he heard what was on offer. Then he seemed quite amenable to anything I asked.”
She looked to him as if she could scarcely believe it. “Truly?”
He smiled in reassurance, and drew her hands to his lips. “Truly.”
She sighed sharply, meeting his gaze, and then nodded.
“We meet to finalize the details tomorrow, and the document that will seal it will be delivered to us the day after. But in the meantime…” he said, pulling her into his embrace and kissing the top of her head, “I’d wager Samuel and I are not the only ones in great need of sleep.”
Will gazed down at the sleeping infant and remembered with a shock that in two days, if all went to plan, the boy would be entirely his, under the law.
This was a disquieting thought. He had not the first idea of what was required of him as Samuel’s new father. And then they were to add another little one to their household in short order! He would need to rely on Sarah’s expertise to see him through this new role, and he had every hope of finding her understanding of his shortcomings. Though it dawned on him that she had not relaxed in his arms, and he pulled back to see what was the matter.
“I think Samuel and I shall stay here tonight,” she said.
Sarah bit her lip.
“Mr. Southouse’s office is known to Hill. If he wishes to throw away his career to seek you out, which I remind you, seems highly unlikely, then he has as much chance of finding you here as at our home.”
She still seemed hesitant.
“Well, I shall not leave you here alone,” he said with finality. “Either I will stay here and sleep on the floor or you and Samuel will come home with me and we shall all of us be more comfortable. The choice is yours, though it seems an obvious one to me.”
She sighed at him. “You are being very heavy-handed this evening.”
“I seem to recall most of this night’s activities being directed by you,” he replied teasingly.
It made her smile, and he was glad of it.
Admitting defeat, Sarah lifted her sleeping son from the trunk, and they departed for Warwick Court.
Upon arriving at their building they made their way up the staircase and did espy one of their fellow tenants, a woman they knew by sight but not by name. She looked to Sarah with recognition and then confusion when she saw the babe in her arms. She said nothing though, only smiled at Samuel and went on her way. It was enough to unsettle both Sarah and Will, however, and they hurried into their lodgings and locked the door firmly behind them.
The day had been an eventful one, and William felt all the force of his weariness, but he still watched, captivated, as Sarah lowered Samuel into his basket and tucked the blankets in around him. Her contented smile as she tended to her child weaved a spell over Will, and he felt the muscles of his shoulders relax, a sensation of sleepiness and tranquility settling over him.
She looked up and noted his interest, but said nothing until he stifled a yawn.
“Bed-time for you too, I think?”
He moved over to her at once and took hold of her hand.
“And you?” he said.
She still seemed aglow from gazing upon her son…or perhaps it was from the manner of their parting. In any case, the smile came to her face, warm and easy, and after a kiss to her baby’s cheek she walked with Will into their room and began preparations for bed.
He moved awkwardly to his customary side, removing coat and waistcoat, shoes and stockings, cravat and shirt, all the while stealing furtive glances at Sarah as she undressed.
Living in such close quarters had banished any mysteries between them. He had seen her in various states of dishabille dozens upon dozens of times. But repetition had not dimmed the appeal in the least. As she turned, airing out her gown with a firm shake, he caught sight of her body in profile, backlit as it was through the gauzy lawn shift she wore.
A strangled noise escaped his throat, half moan, half sigh, for he could already perceive the nascent evidence of her pregnancy.
Sarah’s head swiveled at the sound. She met his eyes, and then her gaze shifted to his torso. Looking down to where her eyeline hit, he gingerly touched the ugly bruise below his rubs. It was still quite tender.
She crossed the room at once, and laid her fingers gently over the spot, her brow contracted in sympathy. She must have mistaken the sound he made for one of pain, he thought. Though to be fair, there had been a sort of pain – a squeezing of his heart that did ensue when he looked upon her.
Her hand reached up to cup his cheek, and her fingertips brushed the fading bruise there. Will's eyes closed to the sensation, and to her pained look of pity.
Finally she spoke, perhaps wishing to inject some levity.
“I leave you alone for one moment…”
Will opened his eyes. He gazed at her for several moments before he leaned down to brush his lips against hers and murmur, “Then you must not.”
Peering down the space between their two bodies, he placed his hand lightly to the linen garment where it skimmed across her abdomen. The change was subtle. He would not have noticed had she not told him. But he had mapped the terrain of her body with his hands many times before, and he could already feel the difference.
“It is showing much earlier this time,” she said with a hint of annoyance.
His fingers lingered on the diaphanous material of her shift. “May I see?”
She cocked one eyebrow and said, “If you like.”
He raised the shift from Sarah’s body and then she stood unveiled before him.
Seeing her again – if it had not been for his bruises, which were aching now in earnest, and the fact that they had both found satisfaction in each other’s arms a mere hour ago – the sight of her would have inflamed him into lifting her into his arms once more.
Instead William gingerly dropped to his knees, his body upright. Sarah immediately put her arms about him, pulling him into an embrace. He held to her fiercely as she rested her chin on his head - their usual stance, dictated by relative sizes, on this occasion reversed. For that moment he felt content, safe and secure in her arms. She was here. She was home.
Sarah began stroking his hair, her fingers lacing through the stray strands at the nape of his neck, which provoked a smile from him. Not only was it a pleasant sensation, but it reminded him of the times he had teased her about her partiality for his hair. At those times she had informed him that he too, seemed to favor certain parts of her anatomy, and would he like it if she interrupted a tender moment by recounting them?
So he said nothing, but let his palms on the small of her back drift lower, until they found those most excellent curves on which to rest. Sarah raised her head and chuckled softly, as if she could read his thoughts.
Looking up, he caught her smiling lips with his own, kissing her eagerly. He felt her pull him more tightly towards her, and let himself be drawn in, deliciating in Sarah’s breath and Sarah’s hands and the feel of Sarah’s warm bare skin against his own. If this be a dream, he thought, the consequence of a crack to the skull, please let me not wake.
After a few moments he remembered his original objective, his fascination only outdone by disbelief. So he lowered himself to sit back on his heels and contemplated the way the plane of her belly rose with the gentlest slope, the burgeoning of her newly rounded form only just beginning to reveal itself.
It had been some time since he had occasion to examine her quite so intimately, but it nevertheless surprised him that this alteration had escaped his notice. He had been under the impression that she was losing flesh rather than gaining it, as her face had seemed to grow more drawn by the week. It was no wonder, for she had been habitually sick of late. That was one of many things that they had not mentioned to one another, one of dozens of vexations and troubles that they had pretended not to notice. But it had pained Will beyond expression to see her suffer thus, no matter how cheerfully she dismissed its importance.
He had suspected the strain of her campaign for Samuel’s custody to be the culprit, and his theory had gained support when, on the morning of her Chancery case, she had suddenly flown down the hall to the Necessary, and retched up what little breakfast she had managed. It occurred to him that this incident, and the others like it, were likely due to a happier cause, being that of the usual sickness of early pregnancy.
Gently he touched the silvery marks on Sarah’s belly from where Samuel had grown large in her womb and stretched her skin to its limit. He marveled to think of how she had endured this, had undergone such a transformation to bring her son into the world – and how she would soon do so again. But this time he could be present to observe the changes day by day, to watch as she grew big with their child.
The anticipation made him shiver.
Will traced the spidery lines, realizing that this was perhaps the first time he had been able to look upon them without guilt. They had been a constant reminder that she was a mother without her child, a symbol of her separation from Samuel.
He was reminded also of her quiet despair when her milk had dried up. Though aching in her breasts had plagued her, she had been obdurate on the point of maintaining her supply. Relying on a remedy for feminine pains gleaned from a childhood spent with two elder sisters, Will had sewn together a compress of barley and chamomile, which, when heated, proved quite efficacious. But despite the attention he had lavished, and her own perseverance, it eventually was no more. And nothing he said could dissuade her from the notion that she had failed her child.
To Will’s mind, he had failed them both. He had made promise to her that her life would include her son, and every time he had gazed upon her naked form, there had been these reminders of his unfulfilled vow.
But Samuel was safely asleep in his basket not ten feet from where Sarah stood. All was well. Or about to be. There were a few details to finalize, but he had seen Sir Arthur’s humor. There would be no major difficulties.
William knew he should have felt nothing but relief.
But relief proved elusive. He felt instead…unsettled.
He fanned his thumbs across Sarah’s belly and her skin trembled to his touch. He placed his lips to her, trying, and failing, to imagine the little life growing there – the daughter or son he would meet sometime next spring.
Abruptly he felt an unpleasant swooping sensation in his gut, as if his insides had given way. He gripped her waist and leaned into her, burying his face against her skin. He knew not whence the impulse came, but he suddenly felt a possessive need to be closer to her, to touch and taste every inch and never let her go.
His battered and bruised muscles were still aching in protest of their earlier exertions, but he could not listen, not above the thrumming of his blood.
He wanted to watch Sarah’s fathomless dark eyes grow heavy and close in ecstasy. He wanted to feel her shudder under his hands and lips, for her to be in thrall to his touch. But more than that – he wanted for her to be in need of him.
Will grasped her hips and steered her towards the bed only a foot from where she stood. She sat, watching him in confusion as he shuffled, still on his knees, to place himself between her legs.
He wagered her confusion was nothing to the jumble of his own mind. Distantly questions were raised: what is this, why now, do you not see she is wary, have you not had enough? But he ignored them all. It was all he could do to restrain the fervor from his actions.
His hands moved to her knees, his thumbs stroking, pushing them apart as he came back to sit on his heels.
She touched his shoulders, his neck, seeking his gaze. Will smiled at her briefly, but felt too serious to be convincing. So he lowered his head to lay kisses on her belly and then her thighs. Her skin was all gooseflesh now, and she shifted and stiffened as he nuzzled the underside of her leg and let his fingers wander where they might. The hair between her legs tickled his cheek and he felt her hands grip him as he turned, sending his breath coursing through it.
He reeled himself back, meeting her eyes.
There was tension in her posture, and she leaned away, breathing heavily.
He righted up, putting his hands to Sarah’s cheeks and kissing her tenderly. Some of that tension left, and he took the opportunity to lay her down on the bed. Her arms came around to pull him down with her, but he would not go. Sarah raked her hands down his ribcage and to his breeches, but he batted them away.
He did not want to lose himself to her touch. Every time they coupled together and he spent inside her, he felt as if a piece of himself went also. Every time he would lay helpless in her arms afterward, dissolved into love, and gratitude, and need of her. Not this time.
She had him all. She always had and she always would. But she had slipped her hand from his, had gone from him so easily.
Again his lips went to her belly, and he brought himself back to kneel between her legs, lifting one gently over his shoulder. Her scent was making his head swim.
“Will…” she whispered, and there was something like a warning in her voice.
His fingers were already teasing, his mouth making its way up her trembling inner thigh when he was stilled by a sudden sob.
The spell broke and suddenly he felt ashamed of what he had been about to do. He had ignored her hesitation, the questioning voice – anything that he did not wish to hear. But he could not ignore that sound of anguish.
He flew back at once, and she sat up.
A thousand apologies threatened to tumble out of him, reassurances, promises, explanations, but one look at her face rendered him mute.
There were no tears on her face, and though her lips were parted, they did not match the sound he had heard, which was soon followed by yet another cry. Sarah was flushed, shaking, and biting her lip with what appeared to be embarrassment, but she did not seem…unhappy.
Even his lust sodden brain quickly registered the mistake.
“I’m sorry,” she breathed with an awkward smile, and quickly kissed his mouth before seizing clothing from the bed and running out to see to the child’s distress.
Will did not move from his place on the floor, taking a moment to calm himself before venturing to look at her. He breathed out through pursed lips, wondering what had come over him, grateful that Sarah did not seem offended.
He glanced over his shoulder and caught sight of her, now clad in his shirt, murmuring to her crying child. He turned back and let out a little pathetic laugh. He would need another moment.
In most instances, Will knew that Sarah was perfectly aware of the effect she was having on him. But here he suspected she was completely innocent. She must not know, or else be trying to torment him, and she was never cruel. She had only taken the nearest article of clothing at hand, and it had simply happened to be his shirt. He knew that if he told her how incredibly lovely he found her at that moment, she would look down at the plain linen garment she was almost drowning in and favor him with one of her classic Sarah expressions: the one that advertised her suspicions he had a fever of the brain. And that would make a difficult situation worse, because if there was one thing more endearing to him than Sarah wearing his shirt, it was Sarah wearing his shirt with an expression of amused bewilderment.
It was better not to say anything, to feel ardor replaced by a different feeling, though no less strong. Because as she held her small son, rocking him gently, there was such a love and completeness in her eyes as made him feel content to observe her at a distance. It was right that mother and child be together like this. Finally, after all this time.
He could look at her now, and finally know she was not missing anything because of him.
Surely, he thought, that should content him; that the struggle was over at long last. But he could not be. Something still nagged at him from the back of his mind. Something whispered to him that all was not well. It was more than thwarted amorous attentions; it was something deeper than that concerning Sarah to which he could not quite put a name. He tried to brush the feeling away, but like a fly to the ear a horse, it would not be shaken.
So instead he endeavored to ignore it. It was late. He was overtired. Perhaps in slumber he would find the contentment he sought.
As he stripped off his breeches, he could almost feel Sarah’s eyes upon him. Sure enough, when he straightened up and glanced over his shoulder, she was peering in at him, an eyebrow raised, a smile playing on her lips. She probably thought she was being subtle in her attentions, but she never was. Will wondered, not for the first time, what she had to be so pleased about. As a boy, he had been called “scarecrow” and “beanpole,” and was well aware that time had not altered much in those matters. He was still sway-backed, and had no arse to speak of. She seemed genuinely fond of the whole collection though, for which he was supremely grateful.
Pulling on his nightshirt, he turned around, watching as she walked her son around the kitchen. Samuel was still making little noises of distress, but Sarah’s embrace seemed to soothe him. He and the child had that much in common at least.
“I am sorry, Will. He’s only frightened by waking in an unfamiliar place,” she said when she saw him observing. “I will see to him.” And with that, she moved to close the bedroom door, to put a barrier between Will and the sound of her whimpering infant.
Will reached out and caught the handle. He shocked all three of them with the vehemence of his outburst, and Samuel was temporarily stunned into silence before beginning to cry again, more anxious than before.
“No,” Will said again, this time only a whisper. He put his hands out to Samuel to make some gesture of contrition before pulling back, not wanting to distress the boy any further. “Do not…there is no need.”
“But he will keep you up,” Sarah said with confusion, placing her lips soothingly to Samuel’s temple.
“I do not mind,” Will said. “Besides, I should begin to accustom myself to the sound, should I not? And to sharing your attentions as well. Other claims than mine shall only be increasing.” He did not understand it entirely, but he felt it was very important that she not disappear from his view.
Sarah still seemed unsure, but she smiled.
“If you are certain,” she said, shifting the child to her other hip. “But by all means, do not wait up for my sake.”
He would go to bed, but knew not how well he could comply with the rest of Sarah’s request. After settling himself under the covers, bone weary though he was, he could not take his eyes off of her, and so watched her pace in the kitchen, to and fro. Undoing the damage he’d done by shouting in front of the poor creature.
Sarah had said that Samuel did not know her, but Will suspected that was not altogether true. The way the child veritably melted into her embrace, it was as if he knew, if only by some instinct, that this was his mother and that he was safe in her arms. That she would always place his interests above any other consideration.
It occurred to Will that he might be justified in feeling a little envious of this fact. But he could not be in the least resentful towards Samuel. He was such an innocent in all this. And how could he begrudge anyone, least of all a child, who brought his Sarah such joy?
It was only circumstances that pitted them against each other, forcing her time and again to choose between them. Wild horses wouldn’t tear him from Sarah, but there had certainly been events that had taken her from him.
Things would be different now they were bound together by this pregnancy. No longer would he be just her lover, an illicit indulgence she was obliged to give up when the situation required it. He was to be her child’s father.
Thinking on this brought a smile to Will’s face unbidden. He felt warm and comfortable in his bed, imagining how full their small lodgings would be soon. How noisy and unruly it would be. The truth of it could scarcely be believed, but Will longed for it all the same. He had had his fill of its opposite when Mr. Southouse had died and Sarah left him.
Alone, with only his regrets for company.
It had been utterly miserable, so much so that the very real anxiety he felt about the responsibilities of his new role seemed to fade away in the face of his delight in taking it on.
It was hardly how he had planned it: in his imaginings of their future together, he and Sarah would certainly have a family, but that part came after a great many things. Will had always supposed they would marry first. And that he would be further along in his career. And that they would have a more comfortable home.
He had a hazy vision of Samuel, having grown a few years older, frolicking gaily amongst the orchards at Pegwell cottage. Sarah would call the boy’s name, and he would run to her, both their countenances filled with joy. Then Sarah would bend down to show him the bundle in her arms, and Samuel would crane his neck to peer inside, his eyes alight.
But there were no orchards yet at Pegwell, and the cottage his parents had left him was in great want of repair. William Garrow, KC was to be the man to make these improvements. The William Garrow who had also earned the title of husband.
They were putting the cart very much before the horse. But the timing was immaterial. This was the life he had longed for.
During these musings, Samuel had quieted. He was raptly investigating Sarah’s face, pawing at her cheek and sticking his fingers in her mouth. She gently extracted the little hand and kissed it over and over, which elicited a glowing smile on his face.
Will felt himself echo Samuel’s expression. How strange it was to be so abundantly blessed as he! To be a single man living on one’s own one minute, then to be able to share quarters with his lady love the next, to welcome her infant son, and anticipate another little one soon thereafter…he would go from a bachelor to a family of four in a twelvemonth! No, less than that, he mentally amended. It scarcely seemed possible, but it was so, for the child would come in April…
But that meant…
That warm feeling was gone. He felt as if someone had wrenched all the blankets off the bed and doused him in icy water.
His mind reeled. He tried to make sense of things, to placate his mind with an explanation that made sense, one that didn’t also send him into agony and despair.
William’s hazy vision of Samuel and Sarah and the bundle in her arms sharpened and took on new significance, as he replaced the cottage perched atop the white cliffs of Kent with the one nestled in the low weald of Sussex. The one she had stolen away to with Samuel to hide from her husband. And, Will supposed next, to hide from himself as well.
He remembered after finding her there, how quickly his dreams of a happy reunion had been shattered. How guarded she had been, how determined she was to leave her old life behind, to leave him behind, and to not look back.
She had pulled her hand from his grasp, and in his heartbreak, he had failed to recognize the significance of what she did next. The image pressed upon him forcefully: she had looked away, and put a protective hand to her bodice, not over her heart, but to her belly…
“Sarah,” he heard himself moan.
She stopped pacing, and looked in on him curiously. Samuel followed her gaze, his hand stilling in her hair.
Will stared at her for a few moments, before thinking of something appropriate to say.
“Come to bed?”
Sarah looked to her child and then gave Will an apologetic smile, “He will fuss if I try to set him down now.”
“Bring him with you, of course.”
She cocked her eyebrow. There was that look he had feared. Half-amused, half-bewildered, looking cozy in a man’s shirt several sizes too big for her, and holding tightly to her treasured son.
Will fought back from the cold sweat of dread that had passed over him, attempting to hide the turmoil in his mind and the misery it brought. He held the covers back as she slid into bed to sit next to him, watching him with concern.
He smiled weakly.
They made such a picture, Will thought, with Samuel curved against her like a seashell, his head tucked under her chin. His plump cheek was flattened against her chest, compressing his mouth into a little half-open rosebud.
Their two sets of eyes were watching him, both very much alike: two pairs of wide brown eyes he was certain saw him all too well, saw all his secret fears. The way Samuel stared at him was unnerving. He took everything in, appraising all before him, like an owlet nestled underneath its mother's wing. It seemed to Will the child was still deciding whether or not to permit this stranger, the one who had shouted and frightened him.
For all that he wished differently, his place was still precarious. They were still mother and son, and he, the interloper.
“You must rest, William,” Sarah said, breaking through his reflections. “You have your client, as well as your own health to think of.”
“I fear I cannot. I am troubled by too many things,” Will replied. He hesitated, and then spoke to the heart of the matter. “I fear if I close my eyes, you will not be here when I open them again.”
Sarah's eyes softened and she held his hand, frowning in a compassionate expression that made him feel ridiculous for having spoken the words.
Her hand squeezed his firmly and she said, “Your fear is groundless, I’m afraid. You shall never be rid of me now.”
Sarah was attempting to steer them back to safer ground – to keep things light and glib. But Will’s humor was far too melancholy to be redirected.
“Here. I will make promise to you that I will not leave your side this night, not even for a moment. Will that settle your nerves and allow you to sleep?”
A part of him wanted to say yes, to hear her promise, and to force himself to believe everything would be well. To have her, too, believe that he was soothed. But he felt compelled to continue, to shake his head no.
“It is not only tonight that I fear for. You – You did not answer when I asked what brought you back.” He could not keep the accusation from his voice. “If it was only in the hope that we could bargain Sir Arthur, then what was to keep you here – is to keep you here if it were to fail?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but he continued animatedly. “I am all but certain of it succeeding, but there is still that chance! To know that your staying relies on the constancy of Sir Arthur Hill does nothing to put my mind at ease.”
He paused, but she said nothing, seeming to understand his need to speak.
“I cannot make sense of it. You did say, ‘we must bargain him into agreement,’ but you knew nothing of what we were to bargain him with. You had no guarantees of finding anything useful amongst the public records, and yet you still came back to me, and brought your child with you to face the same dangers you had fled.”
He stared ahead. “In my earlier delirium, I did not question it. It was simple: I had been attacked, and you came home to tend my wounds. No one knew of it then, of course, but you would. By your…angelic powers. You returned to me when I most had need of you. No other explanation was necessary.”
She looked amused at his exaggerated admiration.
“But then this evening you did put me in receipt of this new intelligence–” here he paused, unable to stop himself from smiling. He gazed at her middle, half hidden by Samuel, at the place where their child grew. “—and I thought I understood why you had returned.”
He reached out gingerly, barely touching her, careful not to disturb the baby, whose eyelids were drooping.
“As loathe as I was to believe your return was motivated by necessity, by my having entrapped you by...” he paused, again smiling, “by—”
“—getting me up the duff?” Sarah supplied archly.
He shook his head, unable to yet believe it, and at odds with her manner of phrasing, amended, “By our…conceiving a child together. But it did make perfect sense of everything that had occurred. Only…”
He searched her eyes for something, for the answers he could not find, hoping desperately that he had been mistaken.
“You must have already known for some time.”
She dropped her gaze.
“How long....how long have you known?” he said, staring at his hands.
“A while,” she said, nodding.
“When I came upon you in hiding?”
“Yes,” she sighed.
His brow furrowed. “Before you left with Samuel?”
Will looked up at her face. She wore such an expression of condescending pity that he felt anger and disappointment well up before she had even nodded jerkily in reply.
“And it did not stop you? Did not give you pause?” He found himself shaking his head, and far from his voice betraying any anger he felt, he heard only the hurt as his voice broke on the words.
“You were not planning to inform me,” he said. “Ever.”
The words hung there, unchallenged.
Her lips had gone thin. She seemed to be steeling herself against what was to come, though he did not know what that was to be until he heard himself speak the words.
“Was it a punishment?” he shrugged, at a loss.
Her eyes went wide and flew to his, clearly shocked.
“I know you were angered that I did not adhere to the bargain with Lord Melville—”
“I made promise to you,” he said, ashamed. “I did say that Samuel would be returned to you, and he was not. I did raise your hopes only to dash them. I…acted wrongly.”
She brought a palm to her forehead and rubbed it wearily, shaking her head, but he continued, his mind leaping quickly from one thought to the next.
“How were you even to survive all on your own with two small children to care for?
She laughed mirthlessly. “Most likely in the same fashion as with just one,” she said. “Very poorly indeed!”
They looked at each other for a long while, both gauging the other’s mood. Finally Sarah sighed loudly, stroking Samuel’s head. She peered into his face to see that the argument had somehow lulled him to sleep, and pressed a feather-light kiss to his forehead.
“Can you not be patient and let this rest for tonight?” Sarah was almost pleading with him, but resignedly so, as if she knew it would be futile. “Can we not discuss this tomorrow? Surely now, of all times, with you still so unwell, and with an early case tomorrow, it is not the best time to go into particulars.”
She had not even finished speaking, and he was already shaking his head.
“If…if I do not know what motivated your flight from this place, nor what induced you to return again, how can I be sure that it will not happen again? That I will not, by accident, give you cause to take Samuel –” and here he paused, his eyes flitting just for a moment to her belly, but not daring to speak the rest, “—and to flee whatever difficulties life with me presents?”
“It was not anything you did William, you must believe that! I left to be with my son. It was the only way.”
“I cannot blame you for that.” He said, earnestly. “I understand, or rather, I think I understand why you took Samuel and fled. What I do not understand is why I could not have gone with you.” Here Sarah’s eyes softened. “Why it all had to be a secret. Why you sent me away when I discovered you. Or…”
“Why you did not think it right to tell me you were carrying our child.” He said this last in a rush, and he felt both relieved and frightened that it was out.
They looked at each other for a long time, tears welling in their eyes.
Sarah broke the gaze first, staring at the ceiling and sighing.
“You are determined.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“Where even to begin?” she said, with a tired laugh. “You have so many mistaken notions...and you may not even understand.”
“Then help me to understand,” he said softly. “Please.”
“You are not a father yet. You do not know how it feels to have a child…and then to lose that child. That is the part you will not comprehend this night, no matter how well I explain.” She rubbed Samuel’s back absently.
Will stared at the pair of them together. He could not deny this. What Sarah had with Samuel was something until now he had no experience of. And even now, he could not truly believe in his impending fatherhood, so there was little chance of him fathoming the depths of Sarah’s attachment to her son, or her torment at their separation.
“You must remember Will, that while you have had a scant two hours to think on this – what it means to you, what you think it might mean to me – I have had these long weeks where my thoughts were occupied with little else. Yes, I have known for weeks upon weeks, and suspected it longer. And all this time unable to tell you.”
“You might have told me,” he contradicted.
“Is that so?” she said flatly.
“Yes, of course,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why ever not?”
But then a thought occurred to him. Of a question she had put to him a fortnight before the Chancery case went before the judge. A question seemingly unprovoked.
“You did believe I would not accept Samuel if I had known about the pregnancy!” he said, gesturing as if he was in court. “You thought once I had a child of my own I would no longer welcome him. That is why you did not tell!”
Her face took on a cynical air. “Men have often found it difficult to accept a child they did not father…or even believe they did not.” He began to protest, but she put out a hand to placate him. “I know your heart is more generous than that. If I had left my husband when you did ask, or if Arthur would have had a change of heart and let me keep him, I have no doubt that you would have been a good father to my son. If Samuel was handed to us, I believe you would have accepted him, and I think, in time…grown to love him.”
She looked him straight in the eyes. “But he was not, was he, William? Not handed to us, or given freely.”
He frowned, not comprehending her meaning.
“Four hundred guineas. I know what a sum that is…how many cases you would be obliged to take on to equal that amount.”
“I would pay it gladly if it meant your happiness,” he said.
Sarah smiled sadly.
“It does you credit, Will, but that was not even to be the end of it! That was the sacrifice necessary merely to try for him, with very little chance of success.” She looked away. “And if, in the end, it was not a sacrifice to your pocket, then it certainly was to your pride.”
Will wished to argue with this. But the memory of his discussion with Mr. Southouse, his refusal to take the money his late friend had offered to Sarah, and Southouse’s chastisement of him for it, quite made Sarah’s point for her.
“You found my efforts to secure Samuel difficult when it was just us two. You bore it well, but do not tell me it was not a struggle.”
“For us both,” he said.
She nodded immediately, which surprised him.
“Yes. And I think what we could endure in the short term would have eventually worn us down…and perhaps our love also. But no matter. We could not test the limits of your endurance, nor mine, because this pregnancy would put an end to it.”
“How so?” contradicted Will. “Would it not rather unite us together?”
“That is your sincere opinion?” Sarah said. “I can believe you would submit to go without, to deprive yourself for my sake or for the sake of my son. But would you allow the same deprivation to be visited upon your child?”
Will looked down at his hands.
“With just the two of us, living hand to mouth, as we were, it was difficult enough. While things were new and you had no other obligations, you could indulge me in my pursuit of Samuel. But when this began,” she said, gesturing at her midsection, “I knew it would only be a matter of time until you could do so no longer.”
“You think I would have forced you to give him up?” he said, aghast.
“Call it what you will. You could not allow me to throw away every penny you made to bring Samuel back. Not if it meant taking the very clothes off your child’s back and food from its mouth.”
“You and I,” Will said, “do not have the kind of association where you only do things after I allow you to do them.”
This provoked a smile from Sarah. She looked squarely at him, and he knew she was about to say something that would be painful.
“We would though, if circumstances demanded it. Will, it’s your money. I survive on your charity.”
He shook his head. This did not sit well with him at all. “It is not charity, Sarah.”
“What else would you call it when I have nothing but what you give me?” she said ruefully. Then, using another tack, she leaned over carefully and took hold of his hand. “William. You have seen what I will do for Samuel’s sake. How I will…trample on the law, and trespass on your kindness…ignore every sensible course of action. It is simply what one will do for their child. I do not think you would be any different.”
He laced his fingers through hers, joining their two hands. “But…You may think I am wrong about this, but I do not think I would be able, even under those circumstances, to turn a blind eye to your unhappiness. Or to leave Samuel to his fate.”
“Samuel is another man’s son. Before I took him, you had only laid eyes on him once in the whole course of your life. What claim could he possibly make on your loyalty over your own flesh and blood?”
Will made a face. “You make it sound so mercenary.”
“Apologies,” she said. “I believed you wished to hear the truth unvarnished.”
He let go of her hand and ran his fingers through his hair, leaning back into the pillows with disgust.
“I only say these things with some degree of…dispassion, because I have been over them in my mind hundreds of times. I think my son the most darling creature in the world, but even his mother cannot think him capable of charming anyone so quickly and thoroughly as that,” she said, kissing Samuel’s head softly. “He was, and still is, a stranger to you, Will.”
“So in your…dispassionate estimation, you know better than I do myself how I would have acted in these circumstances?” William shot back.
“Yes,” she said defiantly. “Because I know how I would.”
He frowned. “By which you mean?”
“You have not forgotten that this will be my child also? How could I…” she paused, her eyes filling with sadness, her voice losing some of its confidence. “How could I continue to impoverish us after our baby comes?”
She looked at him apologetically. “I know beyond any doubt no one in this world cares for Samuel as I do. But how could I look into the face of our child and deprive it of all material comforts, chance for education, and hope for the future in vain attempts to secure its brother? Even I could not make that sacrifice for Samuel’s sake.” She worried her lips as she said this, her own words distressing her. “That same…maternal bond that sought desperately for a reunion would now prove an obstacle against it. So how would he have any chance with you in the face of your undivided parental attachment?”
It seemed to Will that she had an answer for everything. He felt as he did in those early days at Coachmaker’s Hall when he had his first lesson in the oratorical arts – or rather had offered what he imagined to be a well-formed opinion to the assembled society, and had then been thoroughly rebutted by far more experienced speakers. He felt himself a green beginner of sixteen again, and he did not enjoy the sensation one jot.
“You speak as if I will never amount to more than what I am now, as if we will always be this poor.”
She raised her brow. “Well certainly your association with me is doing your career no favors.”
“And you do not have faith that I can overcome those obstacles?”
“I do. Even with me to tie you down.” At this he rolled his eyes. “You are ambitious, clever and hard-working…and in possession of an extraordinary talent for your work. I know you will make a success.”
Under normal circumstances her flattery would make him forget all other troubles, but not this time. He would not lose sight of his object. “Then would we not have enough to provide for our child and enough to try for Samuel?”
“Perhaps,” she said, nodding. “If it would only be a matter of money, of which there were certainly no guarantees, then we might. But when would we be able to spare it? How old would Samuel be before we could bring action and I might see him again?”
“I would have worked tirelessly to make it as soon as possible.”
“Did you not already work tirelessly just to keep us solvent? Did it not already strain you?”
This he could not deny.
“I would wish to share your optimism, Will. At one point I did think as you do. But that was before I apprehended whatever funds raised would likely soon be matched by the size of our family.”
It took him a moment to process what she meant, but once he did he could not maintain his former annoyance, so gratified was he to hear her say those words. “You believe we will have more children?” he said as casually as he could while the corners of his mouth twitched.
Sarah smiled at his sudden shift in mood. “We have no calendar to consult here, but if we had, you would see we were not living together two months before we conceived this child. Even if we did provide plenty of opportunity,” she said suggestively, “it does indicate there will be no barriers to recurrence.” She caught sight of Will’s expression and tutted. “But there’s no need to look quite so pleased with yourself, William.”
“Perhaps it was mere luck,” he said in a dismissive tone, though he felt himself sitting taller and puffing out his chest ever so slightly.
Sarah nodded sadly. “Luck.”
She was silent, staring into the space before her.
“Sarah?” he said, seeking her eyes.
“I have not been very fortunate, as far as the timing of these things. Five years of marriage with no heir to show for it…Did I ever tell you before Samuel came I was quite certain something was the matter with me?”
She let out a hollow laugh and looked away. Will realized the scope of this exchange had gone quite beyond his original question. He did not wish to stop Sarah from unburdening herself, but neither did he wish her to recount what was obviously so painful to her for his sake. He started to think perhaps he should have agreed to her original idea and battled insomnia on his own.
“I was disappointing a family legacy with my barrenness. In such a case, surely I should have been overjoyed to learn of my pregnancy.”
“But you were not?” said Will tentatively. A thought then occurred to him that made his heart sink a little. “Just as in this case.”
Sarah’s eyes shut tight. “No. That’s where you are wrong, Will.” She sighed.
“I love my son,” she said, pressing her cheek to Samuel’s head.
William put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “No one could ever doubt that.”
She lifted her head and nodded in gratitude. “It was only that I did not know how much I wished for a different life – a life with you – until I could not have it any longer.”
Will looked to her thoughtfully. “Do you mean to say that you might have agreed to what I proposed if you had not been with child?” He raised his brow. “I thought you called it ‘a madness?’”
“And so it was,” she replied with a small smile. “I might have been a little mad.”
She shrugged, and rocked Samuel back and forth.
“But I could not be so with him on the way. Do you…do you understand that?”
“Yes,” Will answered. “I believe I do.” At the time, he had not. In his naiveté, he believed that affection, admiration and the great likeness of their minds were the only considerations worth mentioning. He had not reckoned on the complications Samuel would bring, nor the extent of Sir Arthur’s vengeful nature.
She continued, “As much as I wanted a child, it seemed so unfair that one would bind me further to a husband I could no longer respect the moment I became acquainted with the only man with whom I could ever see myself happy.”
Will smiled sadly.
“And as for this time?” said Sarah, “I cannot tell you all the feelings I had on the subject of the pregnancy when I discovered its existence.”
“Not all of them bad, I hope?”
“No,” she said. “Chief among them was joy.” Before the grin had even coalesced on Will’s face, Sarah continued, “Followed hard on its heels by guilt, I’m afraid.”
“Whatever have you to feel guilty for?”
She looked up to the ceiling, as if asking Providence for guidance. “What business had I to feel happy about bringing another child into the world when my son was languishing in that house, still in need of me? What kind of mother would act in that way?”
“Guilty over that instantaneous happiness, when in Samuel’s case I had not been happy, guilty that my attention would now be diverted from him, guilty over saddling you with another mouth to feed…”
“I felt a thousand different things,” she continued. “But when the commotion in my mind settled, there remained one thought alone.”
Will waited as Sarah smiled ruefully at him. “Why could this not happen just a little later?”
There was silence.
“You know that you are not saddling –” he began.
“I only say what I felt,” she interrupted. “Not that it was right or rational.”
“Well you should not feel guilty for the timing either,” Will said at last. “The fault is at least...partially mine.”
Their eyes met and the smiles they gave each other were genuine.
“Yes. It was highly inconvenient of you,” she said teasingly.
A question occurred to Will then, one which to even think on vexed him greatly. He hesitated, watching Sarah stroke the silky curls at Samuel’s forehead, in fair good humor for the first time since he began this discussion. Yet…she had broached the subject. She had led them both to this place in the discourse, and it seemed to ignore it would be at odds with the frankness she had shown thus far.
“I wonder,” he began, “In such a case as this – when circumstances were as you say, very ‘inconvenient’ to say the least – well…one might wonder whether you perhaps considered seeking to…divert the course of nature?”
Sarah stared at him for a long moment, the gears of her mind turning almost visibly behind her eyes.
“Is that what you would have wished for?” she said in a whisper.
“No,” Will said as calmly as he could, not wanting to prejudice her feelings on the matter with his own. “But I was not in your position. I know not what you felt.”
Her eyes brimming with tears, Sarah looked away.
Will’s heart beat forcefully against his ribcage, uncertain if the very suggestion had offended her, or if she had indeed contemplated just such a course of action, even taken steps in that direction, and now was afraid of owning it to him.
He reached out and placed his hand gently on Sarah’s. She looked down at it, blinking, biting her lips.
“You know not how I fought with myself on that subject. I – I felt I should have been able to do that. For Samuel.” She took several shaky breaths. “But I could not.”
She looked up at Will, her face betraying the torment she had suffered. “I owe my son my first loyalty. He lives and breathes, and this is only a seed…a possibility. But I could not countenance its ending. I…” she said, shaking her head in disbelief, “I could not even bear the thought that nature might take that course on her own!”
She sniffled, and gave Will a shrug and a look that said she did not expect him to understand.
“I wanted this child – your child – with every fiber of my being,” she said, as tears began trailing down her cheeks. “It would be better if I did not, but I did! There was no helping it. Even if it would mean the separation from Samuel would surely continue. Even if I could never see you again.”
Will leaned towards her, wiping the moisture away with his thumbs, cradling her face with his hands.
“Oh Sarah…” he said tenderly. “In light of this, why does it follow that we would have been obliged to part? Surely we could've discovered a means…”
“What means?” she asked. “I needed to be with Samuel. Four hundred guineas or no, Arthur would never have given him up! The one chance I had to secure him through legal channels ended in disaster. The only way to have him was to do as Mr. Southouse suggested—”
“Mr. Southouse?” Will said in surprise. “What has he to do with it…What did he say?”
Flustered, Sarah put a hand over his on her cheek. Clearly she had not meant to raise the subject of the departed.
“The suggestion to simply take Samuel came from him.”
Will removed his hands from Sarah’s face, looking down uncomprehendingly at the sleeping infant.
“Surely he knew what trouble you would be in,” said Will. “…It was his idea also for you to flee?”
“We did not discuss it,” she said, wiping a stray tear, “but that was the implication.”
This was worse than Will had imagined. There had been a conspiracy to remove Sarah from his life, one of which he’d been kept in total ignorance, and Mr. Southouse had been its architect. He did not wish to speak ill of the dead, but his thoughts at that moment were most uncharitable. He could not believe the interference of the man!
“This was his advice to you,” said Will with irritation. “Did he know also that you were with child? Was there a discussion of how best to keep me in the dark on that score, and where you should hide so that I would not find you again?”
“No, certainly not!” she said.
Samuel’s eyes flashed open for a moment. They both watched as he lifted his head, looked back and forth groggily, and then collapsed back against Sarah, his mouth making chewing motions in his sleep.
Sarah kept her eyes on her son while she answered in a low voice.
“There was no discussion, Will. He spoke this on his deathbed. He helped me to see what I already knew, which was that there was no hope for the bargain with Lord Melville. His last words: ‘Garrow will be Garrow.’”
“Then it was I who sealed our fate. You could not stay because I would not compromise as I had promised.”
“You know that it never sat well with me. I forbade you from it, if you recall.”
“I recall your state after your Chancery case. I recall how much your happiness depended on being reunited with your son.” He paused, working out a stiffness in his jaw. “I recall how you gave him up for my sake and have suffered for it ever since.”
“What I did, in the end,” she said, “was what you did also. I was tempted with the object of my heart’s desire. But to have it would mean forsaking the truth, and that an innocent would be deprived of justice. You could not betray Luisa Calderon, just as I could not betray you.”
She looked to him thoughtfully. “It may not have been apparent at the time, but I was proud of you.”
“So proud you could not stand the sight of me any longer.”
“I know, I know; leaving with him was the only way you could be with Samuel! But did that require our total estrangement?”
“Oh,” she said, her eyebrows rising in challenge, “You would have wished to flee with me then?”
“Perhaps I would have!”
“William. Be reasonable. Think, for a moment what that would mean. Your life would be in ruins. Your career, finished. And you could never turn back. Not when you would be implicated in Samuel’s abduction as well.”
“Given the alternative, which I have already experienced during your absence, I do believe I would prefer life in exile with you.”
“Oh Will. You do not mean that.”
“Why this insistence on you knowing my meaning better than I do myself? Why should I not mean it?”
“Because we were poor before, but this? This would be of another order entirely. Hiding, running from one place to the next to escape notice, living under aliases...What would you do with yourself? What kind of back-breaking work would you be forced into to feed us? You, me, Samuel, and however many more children there would be…And all the time unable to do the thing that makes you William Garrow. The thing that brings you alive and fills you with fire. I fell in love with that man. In following me, that part of you would die, and I would be responsible for its murder.”
She turned to look squarely at him. “You are a good man, but only a saint would not be resentful. Knowing that you gave up your career and prospects to live in penury for the sake of another man’s son.”
He threw up his hands. “I make no pretensions to sainthood, but…surely I should be the one to make that decision.”
Sarah sighed, her shoulders sinking ever so slightly. “I could not allow you to have a say. You might have prevented me from going altogether, had you known. Besides, then your interests would be involved, and I had to think of Samuel alone.”
“My interests?” cried Will. “My interests were already involved! You were involved. We were to have a child!”
“And it is clear that your feelings on that subject cannot be repressed!” she replied. “Nor should they be; they are perfectly natural. You spoke earlier about 'entrapping' me, but it could be argued the reverse is true. And that you would have felt obligated to throw everything away and follow me out of duty. I did not want that for you. For us.”
“Even if you didn't want me living there, I might have visited!”
“Oh, certainly no suspicions would have been raised by that!” she said, her voice heavy with sarcasm. “You, vanishing from London every so often, always traveling south? You would have brought Arthur down on me in no time at all! And even escaping that...would you truly have been content to have your child so far away? Seeing it once every...month, if you were lucky? For the rest of our lives? And necessity would have doubtless taken me further away. My husband would have closed in and I should have had to go to France eventually. What then?”
Will shook his head, more at the great unfairness of the situation than in any answer to Sarah's questions.
“You still should have told me of the child,” he whispered.
Her voice quietened. “What good would have come from it? Why should I have tormented you with that knowledge if we would part and you would never see it?” she said. “What you did not know could not distress you.”
“You think I was not in distress?” said Will, his voice thick. “When you left...” He could feel the tears stinging in his eyes, and he had to look away from Sarah or be overcome entirely. “When you left, it was as if all the light had gone from my life.”
He exhaled loudly, steadying his nerves.
“I returned here to...sit in vigil for my dear departed friend. To find I was utterly alone. The one person whose presence could offer solace in that dark time was simply...no longer there. And there was nothing to say where you might be or how I might find you again. You had simply vanished into thin air. I was alone and friendless...Although now I find that my friend Mr. Southouse was, in fact, the cause of your departure.” Will scoffed. “He never did approve of our affection for each other. To his last breath!”
“Will, try not to be so severe,” Sarah said. “He was your true friend and mine. The kindness he showed me during the Chancery case was a testament to the kind of selfless man he was. But when that did not meet with success, as he knew it would not, he offered the next practical solution.”
“A solution that would part you from me forever!”
“'Garrow will be Garrow,'” Sarah answered. “He knew that above all else, you would see justice done. That it was...that it is your calling.”
“And what of private happiness, am I expected to sacrifice that for my 'calling' in Mr. Southouse's view?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “I cannot speak for the dead, but I imagine Mr. Southouse would have wished you to find that happiness with someone more appropriate to your situation in life. A woman without a husband, who would come to you knowing already how to keep house.”
As she spoke, her voice took on a bitter tone. “Who would not be cheated at market, nor burn your dinner. A woman who could marry you and bear you legitimate children. Who could add to your comforts and respectability rather than bringing you nothing but scandal and misfortune.”
“Do not bother denying it; you know that it's the truth of the matter.”
“I will deny it! You are worth far more to me than a hot supper, a tidy house, and a warm bed!” He reached out and squeezed her thigh. “I made my choice long ago, and I will have no one else. Have I not made that abundantly clear before now?”
“You have,” she said, conceding his point with gratitude. “But what is also clear is how grave and quiet you have been of late. Apart from now, of course,” she amended with a smirk. “But when the idealistic young man I first met now shows no trace of the ebullience and optimism he once had...when he can find no employment, and he contemplates the devil's bargain because of me, I cannot be in ignorance of how difficult these past few months have been for him. It was not an auspicious beginning to our life together.”
“Despite the hardships, I would not trade these months with you for any riches. For a thousand delicious suppers,” he said, nudging her arm with his. “If I was silent it was only because I lacked the words to console you, and if I was grave, it was because your grief was my own. The worst of it was not burnt pie, Sarah. It was my failure to secure your son for you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I discovered the means to lift that burden from you.”
“I could content myself with the idea that I was doing something noble. That you could do more good and be better off without me,” she said. “Which…if we speak objectively, is the truth, Will.”
“I don't accept that. The notion is perfectly ridiculous.”
Sarah only smiled, and looked down at her child. Samuel was still, miraculously, asleep. In his slumber, he’d slid further and further down his mother's body and was consequently curled into a little ball in her lap. His cheek rested heavily on his forearm, with his knees drawn up beneath it. Tipped forward, he was leaning in such a way that Sarah's hand supporting his small backside was the only thing preventing him from tumbling head-first off of her and onto the bed.
She readjusted him slightly, and he heaved a small sigh in his sleep.
“It was not what I wanted,” she said. “But I needed every piece of evidence to my side if I could muster the strength to go. However....”
She looked over to him and drew in a great breath, preparing herself for something.
“We have discussed at length what led to my departure, but we have not yet spoken about what induced me to return. Which was, I believe, your original question.”
Will chuckled nervously. “Considering the course this discussion has taken, I am afraid now to ask.”
Sarah shrugged. “We could leave that for tomorrow…”
The offer was tempting. He did fear what she might say next. But his curiosity had the better of him, and he felt now that he'd opened this wound between them, they should drain all the poison at once. Nothing should be left to fester.
He smiled apologetically.
Sarah's face was dry, but still stained with the tracks of her tears. She seemed even more somber than before, which Will would have thought impossible.
“You may find this portion more to your liking,” she said. “It concerns the folly of my decision to leave.”
He was startled by this admission, and so said nothing.
“You see, there is a flaw in my argument. Perhaps you have spotted it?”
Will considered. “Every attempt I have made to argue with you over this or that point has proven how much more prepared you are to have this discussion than I. I would not even venture a guess.”
“It is the very premise that is unsound,” she said. And then, enunciating every word, “‘I. need. Samuel.’”
“I think it is an accurate assessment of your circumstances,” Will replied. “Based upon what I have seen.”
The sleepwalking. The state of their bedroom – the state of Sarah after the Chancery case. All of it spoke of her deep need to be with her child. Perhaps she referred to literal adherence to the meaning of the word…?
“But what is it to do with anything?” she said. “Why should that need be placed above all other concerns?”
Will was confounded.
“My duty as a mother is to put my child’s needs above my own. And…”
She trailed off, looking down at her son thoughtfully.
“I believe even the meanest poverty with me would be a happier life for Samuel than any his father would give to him. Perhaps that is foolish, but I do believe it so.”
“Sir Arthur sees him only as a bargaining chip. And feels certain that he is mine,” said Will. “He has no love for the boy. Anyone who sees you with your son would know - he would never be in want of that with you.”
She smiled, and then nodded. “But I cannot say if Samuel would thank me for it.”
“What was I rescuing him from and bringing him to? Was it such a great improvement?” she said. She shook her head, continuing, “Arthur can be cruel, this I know well, but I do not believe he would go so far as to harm Samuel. He is capable of many things, but that…? Besides, his greatest delight is in having power over me, and I don’t suppose he would wish to give up his advantage.”
She smoothed Samuel’s gown in a distracted fashion.
“I know he would suffer neglect. I know he would be passed from nurse to governess to tutor…they would ship him off to school, or hide him away in the country and he would be lonely, and friendless. Oh, my poor little boy…” she said, bringing both arms around to squeeze Samuel tight, her imaginings suddenly too vivid.
She looked to Will forlornly. “But he would be fed and clothed, and want for nothing material. As Arthur’s heir, he would one day inherit a great fortune, property and titles. That must be some consolation to an unhappy childhood.” She gazed down at her infant, examining his features. “And there is a chance…I know not how great, for I know not what Samuel will look like when he is grown…but there is a chance that Arthur might one day see him for his true son. And then, perhaps show him some measure of kindness.”
“You cannot believe this to be so!” Will said with astonishment. “You do not think he would be well in Sir Arthur’s care?”
“No, I do not. I spoke true; I could never be content with him in the care of those…people,” she said, the last word dripping with venom. “But my contentment is not the object. If I am honest my fears were largely for myself: That Arthur should teach him to despise me as a great harlot and adulteress. That my son should grow up believing I abandoned him to run off with my lover. That I erased him from my mind and replaced him with a new child…”
“He could not believe that.”
“Why should he not? My husband would take great pains to poison him against me, and he’d be in no want of evidence to his cause. The law found us guilty of criminal conversation, and we certainly wasted no time in making it appear true. Nor in supplanting him in my arms with another child,” she added, gloomily. “But…in loathing me, Samuel would not come to any real harm. I wouldn’t wish to see him follow Arthur down the path of delusion and resentment, but the pain would be mine, not his. I would miss him beyond description, and I would know him to be living without true affection. But affection would be all I could give him, Will. The price to have him wasn’t only to be paid by me…”
Will considered this. “By Samuel as well. But…worth paying?”
“Oh yes,” she replied. “On balance, I believe so. With all my heart.”
Following this, Sarah looked back at the child, and Will could not miss the shadow of remorse that passed over her features.
“But it did not end there,” she said. “It required yet another sacrifice.”
“Me?” he answered.
Sarah smiled and gave him a sidelong glance.
“You, William, were the greater part of my share, you see,” she said. “No, I refer to someone else entirely. In the beginning, their portion of the sacrifice was invisible, because they themselves were invisible.”
Insight struck Will in a moment, and his gaze flickered to Sarah’s middle.
She bit her lips.
“In the beginning, it was as if this pregnancy was merely a ticking clock, and when the appointed hour was struck, my son would be beyond my reach forever. I knew, of course, at the end there would be a child, one who would require just as much from me as Samuel…but I could not completely appreciate this truth.”
She looked away, shaking her head. “It wasn’t as if I thought all this through, Will. I had a moment to decide, one chance, and I took it.”
If the state of her mind was anything like his, he could not blame her for failing to account for the full consequences of her pregnancy in her decision to leave. In this night’s discourse, Sarah had already acquainted him with all manner of things he had not considered, and he could easily think of a dozen more. Understanding that a child might need money set aside for an apprenticeship or a dowry was one thing. Comprehending that he and Sarah were now responsible for these matters for Samuel and his sibling-to-be was quite another altogether.
“I was to have your child. That much I had decided for certain. But beyond that…” she said, “Beyond that my thoughts were all for Samuel.”
She held a hand to her belly, and leaned down to kiss her son, the dark cloud once more descending upon her face. “When he was in need of me, I could think of no one else. But,” she said, “little by little, this new one began to press itself into my awareness. And the truth demanded an answer.”
William frowned. “Which was?”
She straightened up, her eyes not quite meeting his. “That in taking Samuel from my husband I may have been improving his situation, but not more than equal to the damage I was doing this child in taking it from you.”
Sarah’s eyes flickered to Will’s, but would not hold there. “I dismissed before your interests, in being near your child. If you could have others, and you would not know anything to be missing, then it would not be a sacrifice on your part.” Will opened his mouth in protestation of this but she continued, unabated, “At least none of which you would be aware. But the same could hardly be said for your offspring.”
Her brow furrowed. “I believe you were right when you said that our circumstances would improve, given time. But even if they do not, I cannot be in ignorance of the great disservice I would do to this child by taking it into penury for the sake of its brother, and depriving it of any contact with its father.”
She rested her chin on her hand thoughtfully.
“I have little basis for this conclusion beyond a familiarity with your temperament and character. And perhaps my judgment is clouded by partiality,” she said with an affectionate look in his direction, “but I think you would be…will be an excellent father.”
Will smiled, blinking his eyes. Suddenly his vision had become quite blurry.
“Being acquainted myself with your love, and what an extraordinary thing it is,” she said, her voice frail, “I knew the depths of my child’s dispossession. How does one quantify a father’s love? Or a mother’s?” she said. “But if I was honest with myself, and clear sighted – and forgive me Will, but there were times when that was quite beyond my power – I could see that the brunt of my action would not be borne by either of us, but the soul we had created together.”
“And so,” he said, “You did find yourself torn between one child and the other, with no means to do right by both.”
She held his gaze. “Yes, that’s it exactly.”
“An impossible stalemate”
“But one that our baby would break. Samuel would be the clear victor as long as his rival was an unknown. But the dark horse would eventually win out. Not because I would love it more, but because I would love it just as much. And Samuel could no longer be my only consideration.”
Sarah was close to tears now, Will could see this plain. He wished there was something he could say, something he could do, to erase the pain of these past weeks.
“I would have to return to you. If you would still have me,” she hastened to add. “And I knew that. Even as I rocked my son to sleep and I felt his breath against me, I knew it could not last.”
Unconsciously mimicking her own words, Sarah closed her eyes and swayed, the little one in her arms quite unaware of his starring role in the events being described.
“I must confess my surprise,” said Will softly. “You did seem determined to not come back.”
She nodded forcefully. “I did not wish to face it. I could not.” She took in a ragged breath and swiped at her eyes. “Because in returning to you I would be giving up my son. It did not matter how sensible or inevitable. Every sinew in my body recoiled from it.”
“Then…” Will ventured, “What changed?”
“The possibility of a third choice. You put me in mind of it, actually,” Sarah said, “when you said that Arthur was out of favor with Lord Melville. And that was what I needed. Hope. That there was still one last chance to have Samuel as well.”
“And so you returned, to risk everything on that possibility?” William asked.
“It was a far better prospect than I had ever had before. What other choice did I have?”
He frowned. “And what if the evidence was not to be found? What if Hill had not agreed to the bargain?”
“Well…” she shrugged and looked away.
“If he…if your husband had invoked the law and sent for the child, you would have fled again?”
Sarah turned and looked Will unflinchingly in the eye.
Her composure held for only a moment, just long enough to answer, and then her face crumpled.
Sarah’s hand came immediately to her mouth, smothering, trying to choke back the sob that made her shoulders shake with the force of it.
Horror shot through William as he realized what he had forced her into confessing.
He hastily climbed to his knees, taking her head in his hands and pulling her to him as she wept.
“Shh,” he said, “That is all in the past forever. Samuel is here. You have won him and no one shall take him from you.”
He kissed her forehead and rubbed her shoulders, doing everything he could think of to help her through her grief. He had before wondered at her detachment, her pretensions to objectivity. But that had all been in aid of enduring his impertinent interrogations. Of course it would be difficult to speak of her ordeal to him. She had been confronted with her deepest fear and had faced it down, only too well acquainted with the consequences of failure: to have her son wrenched from her arms and to be dragged off to Newgate!
Oh my poor love, he thought. My brave Sarah!
Fat tears were running down her cheeks and nose, splashing onto Samuel, and she wiped them away hurriedly. The baby did squirm and fidget in his sleep, his mother’s distress disturbing him, but not enough to fully awaken.
Will rocked them both, weeping his own silent tears.
“I am certain of our success,” he whispered, willing it to be true. He still had a small doubt – it was Sir Arthur after all, a man whose honor clearly could not be relied upon. “Even if Hill is duplicitous, it will not be the end. We shall not give up your son. We’ll all of us go to France. Or America. They also need lawyers there, do they not?”
She gave a small laugh through her tears.
“Oh,” he uttered, “I am sorry to have insisted on you recounting all of this. You were right; it certainly would have kept to another day. Or never at all!”
“No,” she sniffled. She righted up from where she had been pillowed in Will’s shoulder, her face puffy and tear-streaked. “You suffered as well, I know. You did fear that I would go and you would never see your child—”
“I did fear I would never see my Sarah again,” he said, running the backs of his fingers along her jaw. “And I would be lost without her.”
This did nothing to abate her tears, nor his. So William and Sarah held to each other tenaciously, letting the sorrows of the past flow out of them, the duet of anguish muffled into their clothes. They swayed together, and Will was hazily aware that sheltered securely between them was Samuel – was both of their children. Such they would stay if there was power in him, though the heavens fall.
Gripping to one another, they wept and wept, until they had worn through all their strife and the shirt and nightshirt were both soaked through.
When the tears had all been spent Sarah gave voice to this finally, inspecting the damp spot on the garment she was wearing. “Oh,” she said hoarsely, “This is your cleanest shirt, I think? Or it was, rather…”
“Yes,” he chuckled, swiping at his nose with his sleeve.
“And now,” she hiccuped, “it’s quite drenched!”
He shrugged dismissively. “It will dry by morning. And it shall have your scent on it, and the child’s as well…I will face the day with a remembrance of wherefore I labor.”
Sarah looked dubious yet touched that he could mean such a thing, and then wiped her face. “I am sorry for this outburst, William. It’s in no small degree due to the pregnancy, I am sure,” she explained, her voice thick. “One tends to be more easily excitable when one is expecting.”
He smiled, and thought on the state of his own feelings and his swollen eyes. “And does this also hold true for expectant father?”
Sarah laughed, and reached out to hold Will’s hand.
“Have you been relieved of your fears?”
He clasped her hand and made a non-committal noise.
She raised her eyebrows. “Pray continue.”
“No, it’s only,” he began. “I am trying to recall if during the meeting with your husband I insisted on prosecutorial immunity for you. Though…no. No juryman would convict you for kidnapping a child Hill then sold you for political ambition.”
“We must hope that Arthur has learnt his lesson this time. If not, that judge and jury will be merciful. But I believe I have a certain influence with a skillful Old Bailey barrister who can plead my case,” she said archly.
He smiled, and shook his head. Sarah could never be down for long.
“Do not despair, Will, if he adheres to his promises in all other ways, I would gladly take a flogging in recompense.”
He gave her a stern look. How she could make light of such a thing, he did not understand.
“They at least will not hang me,” she continued, her flippant manner contrasting greatly with her tear-streaked face. “I may escape that punishment by pleading my belly. And I must say your commitment to my case is quite admirable. The prosecution has not yet begun and you have already created this impregnable defense for me!”
He could not maintain his solemnity in the face of such an appalling pun, and groaned so loud that it behooved Sarah to put her hands over her sleeping child’s ears and kiss Will until his silence could be relied upon.
At last she pulled away, and sighed. “I too have fears, you know.”
He looked to her expectantly.
“I fear,” she said, “That you will not get a wink of sleep, lose your case because of it, and thus be in high dudgeon all of tomorrow.”
“That is not your only fear,” Will said, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear. She had spoken of and hinted at such things…some he could do nothing for, but others for which he might give reassurance.
“No, but it is the one I am concerned with this night.”
He smiled, nodding. He would yield. These matters would be better attended to in the light of day, after much reflection.
“Now. While I endeavor to put Samuel into his bed, you must rest.”
“Why should he not stay here?” Will said, stilling her departure with a hand to her arm. “Well, he might wake if he is moved. And he appears quite comfortable to me.”
“If you are sure you do not mind. But you are risking it becoming a habit,” she warned.
At that moment, he could not bring himself to care. Exhaustion had been held at bay by dread and misery, but now that both had been exorcized, now that dawn was approaching, it bore down once again in full force. He and Sarah both scooted with some difficulty to lie down on the bed, she in consequence of the sleeping child in her arms, he because of his aching bruises.
Samuel came to rest between them, his curled fingers landing on Will’s arm. William looked down at them, acutely aware that this was the first time they’d ever touched.
This is to be my son, he thought incredulously.
Tenderly he reached out and brushed his fingertip across the little hand, astonished at how soft Samuel’s skin was. And though it was difficult to be objective given how many features the boy shared in common with the woman he loved, Will nevertheless thought him a truly beautiful child.
He stared at the baby for some time before feeling Sarah’s eyes upon him. Glancing up, he saw that she was watching him intently, looking both puzzled and amused.
“What?” he said, ill at ease.
She paused before answering him.
“What was that before? Before all this discussion. When…Samuel interrupted?”
Will looked down at the bedclothes, his face growing hot. So she had not forgotten after all.
“It was only…something perhaps to try,” he stammered out.
“You were going to put your mouth…there?”
His reply came in a mumble. “I thought it might be pleasing to you.”
She raised her eyebrows. “And was this something you wished to do?”
What he wished to do was to bury his face in the pillow and hide from this line of questioning. But instead, he answered with as little awkwardness as possible, “Only if you wouldn’t mind.”
Sarah considered, her face taking on a mock studious air. “You know, I don’t think that I would…mind.”
And although he could see that she was teasing him, her admission was clearly genuine, and it made her look away in embarrassment. So he quickly turned the tables.
Peering up at her from beneath his brows, Will fixed her in his most sultry gaze. Given the state of his bruised, sleep-deprived and tear-streaked face, he doubted his appearance would contribute to his allurements, but the texture crying had leant to his voice gave it a velvet quality as he spoke.
“Shall I resume?”
It worked even better than he had anticipated.
She shook her head, blushing furiously, completely unable to meet his eyes. “Goodnight, Will.”
He grinned and kissed her before turning to extinguish the bedside candles.
Settling down once more, William peered into the dark space before him to see Sarah, clutching Samuel, close her eyes. He snaked his arm from around her waist up to clasp her shoulder, creating a bower above the child.
His last thoughts as slumber quickly overtook him were that his fears of Sarah’s departure had indeed been driven away... he had the best assurance of all that she would stay. Not because he had entrapped her, not because she was in need of him, but because she had chosen it. When facing an impossible dilemma, she had insisted on a third choice, and had fought to secure it. She intended to have all her loves, that much was certain.
And, thought Will, yawning, So do I.