For the first few days Samuel was finally in their care, William and the child lived mostly parallel lives, with Sarah the link between them. Sarah herself was not overly concerned with this state of affairs. After such a long absence, she wasn’t particularly inclined to be separated from her son for any reason, nor to have his care removed from her superintendency. As much as she was desirous of seeing her lover form a greater connection with her child, she was well enough acquainted with Will’s character to know that he could not be rushed on that score, and necessity had yet to force the issue.
And at first, William did not go near. But he did stare. Sarah had not failed to notice that on the scant occasions Will had seen Samuel before, his gaze had tended to shift from herself to her little boy with an expression of puzzlement. In any other company he had been conspicuous with his attentions and only had eyes for her. But not so when her child was present – Samuel seemed to arrest Will’s attention nearly as much as she did.
Sarah would watch Will as he, in turn, watched her son, and wondered what he could be thinking. The wariness and concentration in his face seemed rather unwarranted for what he was observing. Whether Sam was jabbering on and waving a wooden spoon, or shaking his mother’s apron strings, or cutting new teeth on an apple, he was only doing what was to be expected of a little child of his age. Certainly it was nothing to provoke Will’s look of consternation.
However, before long he did provide Sarah with an insight.
“Do you think he is aware of what has happened?” Will said one evening as she cleared the table. He was crouched over the cradle, gently ruffling Samuel’s curls as the child slept – the only time he would venture to go near those early days.
“What mean you? Samuel?”
Will came over and took a stack of dishes in his arms. “He has been through so much change in such a short time. I wonder; does he understand who we are to him? And what he does not have any longer?” He turned to look over his shoulder at him.
“Are you referring to the lace gowns and servants, or the rages Arthur flew into in his presence?” Sarah asked pointedly.
Will nodded, methodically scraping a plate. “But perhaps he was attached to his father, in spite of the man’s behavior. There is no way of knowing what Samuel thinks of him, or of me.”
Sarah stared at him. He stole another glance over his shoulder at the cradle, and then noticed her curiosity.
“...Or of me,” Sarah replied slowly.
“He adores you, of course,” Will said. “Anyone can see that.”
Sarah nodded, finally understanding. “My fear that you would not be able to take him as your own: you found it impossible to believe, not only on its own merit, but because you believe the reverse to be more likely the case?”
William acknowledged this with a shrug.
“Will...” she began.
“I know what you will say.”
“I do not think you do. Perhaps I am relieved you're not afraid of dropping him!”
“I have a steady grip. It's only...” he glanced at the cradle once more. “I must win him over. And I am at a loss as to how that is accomplished. If I should fail –”
“You shall not. He is easy, I promise.”
“So you say.”
“For one so gifted in swaying a jury to your cause, and so proud of your skill, this modesty does not ring true,” she teased.
“It's hardly the same! What words shall I choose to make my argument? How does language compel a child of not yet one year? Besides, convincing a jury does not require them to love me. I did not win over many with my rudeness.”
“No,” she said, setting the dishes down and putting her arms around his waist. “Just the one.”
He smiled, and rubbed her shoulders. “But not everyone is so contrary as you.”
Sarah leaned into him, resting her chin on his chest and peering up at him. “Just be yourself. He will love you for it as I do.”
He leaned down to kiss her softly.
She pulled back, smiling. “And you may start with the realization that you are, in fact, permitted to take hold of him. While he is awake, even!”
Will looked over his shoulder dubiously.
“You should use the practice. You shall have one of your own soon.”
He looked back to her seriously. “I already have. But…” he glanced at Samuel once more. “…I shall give him a little more time to grow accustomed first.”
Sarah sighed. Patience was a virtue, even if she knew very well the delay was not for Samuel’s benefit at all.
As it happened, they did not have long to wait. Not because Will had grown a sudden boldness, but because the boy had other ideas. Samuel’s stepfather might have been wary to impose himself on his new child, but Samuel himself had no such compunction.
The very day after this conversation, Sarah had pulled out her copy of Duty of a Woman: A Guide for the Fair Sex, and set herself the task of making a serviceable broth of mutton and a custard for pudding.
She gave her son a spare pot to play with, and he quite happily sat on a blanket she had laid for him on the floor, and imitated her actions, apart from a few intervals where he banged on it like a drum or attempted to wear it as a hat.
Will was sat at the table with papers spread out, thumbing through a dusty law book, concentrating with all his might. He was certain of there being a certain obscure statute on ironmongery to be found therein, but was meeting no success.
Sarah meanwhile, was equally frustrated with her broth. The sprig of sweet herbs had come untied, and she’d added the barley too early, so the pot was consequently boiling over.
Samuel was the only merry one amongst them, and he seemed to sense this.
He chirruped animatedly, flapping his arms up and down, as if to shake them from their doldrums.
It was Will who looked first. Sarah glanced behind her to ensure the child was well, but went back to stirring her pot. Samuel frowned, but then looked back to William, and locked eyes with him, smiling.
Will could not help but be drawn in. He smiled in return, his place in the book quite forgotten.
Samuel cocked his head to the side, bashfully twirling a lock of hair with his fingers.
Will raised his eyebrows.
“What does he say?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Sarah, who was shaking the coals in the grate.
“Are you speaking with me, my little fellow?” Will said quietly.
Samuel stared at him for a good while, his dark owlish eyes impassive, not revealing what thoughts were passing through his infant mind. Then he pushed his rear end up in the air and began to crawl towards the table.
His gown was long enough to present an obstacle, but he was undaunted. He could just about stand, but not walk, and thus tripped and scooted and pulled his way across the floor as quickly as the clothing would allow.
Out of the corner of her eye Sarah spied that her child, having left the blanket, was now making his way towards the kitchen table with all possible haste.
“Samuel!” she called. She made to move towards him, but her work on the range drew her back. “My darling, you are not to…”
Samuel placed one hand on Will's left shoe and began pulling at the buckle intently.
“Oh,” said Sarah, stirring the custard and glancing rapidly back and forth between her son and the broth simmering in the pot. “I will attend him in only a moment!”
“No, no,” William said in a half whisper. “There is no need.” He was as still as a statue, allowing the baby to manhandle his footwear without interference.
“Do stop him from breaking your shoes, then,” she laughed.
“He does them no real harm,” Will said. “And I should not wish to startle him.”
Sarah smiled at this, momentarily taking her eyes from the range. “I can assure you he is no wild animal. He will not spook and run off.”
The child, meanwhile, had concluded his investigations on William’s shoes, and then began plucking at his stockings with both hands. He rocked backwards and forwards with some agitation, making insistent vocalizations.
“Mmm. MMMmmmm!” he said and lifted his outstretched hands towards Will.
William hesitated for only a moment. Then he placed his hands under Samuel's armpits, lifted him rather stiffly, and then sat the child on his lap.
Samuel wiggled to settle himself more comfortably on Will’s leg, making himself quite at home there. Immediately he began to reach for all that was before him on the table.
“Mind your papers. He will chew on them if given half a chance,” said Sarah.
“Will you now?” he spoke to the boy, sweeping the briefs out of range. “I promise, most are dry and insipid, whether imbibed through the mouth or eyes.”
Unable to reach the papers, Sam turned instead to the man who was addressing him. His dimpled hand came up to Will’s face, and then to the buttons on his coat.
Will sat quietly watching him, indulging his every poke and prod with supreme patience. Sarah noted with satisfaction that William’s shoulders were beginning to relax, and his eyes were alert but no longer wary.
“Well done, Samuel,” she murmured with a smile.
“What was that?”
She turned. “Oh, nothing! This custard is sticking, is all.”
The custard did stick, and burnt on the bottom, but the remainder was declared a great success. So too was the mutton barley broth. And so too, thought Sarah privately, was the other experiment.