Chapter 1: Experiment
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.
Chapter 2: Small Victories
TW: discussion of animal cruelty
From that day onward, her two loves grew steadily more comfortable with one another. Samuel lead the charge, as she knew he would, and he drew Will out with all the charms a child of his age possesses. His character was particularly suited for the task, for he was a naturally cheerful and highly sociable child. Not only would he deign to be held by his new father, he often insisted upon it. Before long he greeted Will’s return from court by bouncing and clapping, which had an effect on the man’s feelings not to be underestimated. No one can deny the appeal of such a thorough approval: that one’s very entering a room is reason for applause.
On one evening in particular Will had been in an ill humor upon returning from the Bailey. He greeted Sarah in disconsolation, and she had pressed him for details of his day to explain it. He’d picked up Samuel, who had been clamoring at his heels for attention, and told her of a case of his that had gone badly. It was a prosecution brief, which Sarah knew did indicate a personal stake in the matter.
A dray horse had fallen while pulling a load through Clapham, and broke the carriage, spliting a shaft, a wheel and the transom. In a rage, the driver took his whip to the animal, and then his cane. Many of the onlookers had begged him to stop, but he would not.
“The horse was sixteen hundred pounds or more, nearly seventeen hands high…and it could do nothing but lay in the ditch and take this punishment, lashed as it was, still, to the cart. And the driver showed it no mercy. He had a rock..." Will looked away. "He beat the defenseless animal around its head until it was dead.”
“I don’t understand how anyone could…” said Sarah. Her special fondness for horses, and the tender feelings engendered by her maternal condition made such vicious behavior especially difficult for her to contemplate, despite having heard worse at the Old Bailey. Her brows knitted together and she shook her head. “You were called to prosecute?”
“If it had happened in another place, perhaps it would have gone without comment. But there are a nest of radicals down Clapham way. Reformers. Those who believe in the 'brotherhood of man and beast.' And what’s more, they are wealthy. They paid for this prosecution.”
Sarah took hold of his free hand. “But you say it was not a success?”
“No indeed. The law is not on our side. Even when it was proved the driver had much ale in the last tavern he frequented, and the horses had not been freshly shod as they ought to have been before undertaking the journey. It mattered not that the animal was blameless. For cruelty and loss of life the cartman received no punishment. The jury thought him already punished enough to find himself without a second horse to pull his loads. But the animal was his property. To dispose of as he saw fit.”
“The outcome does not surprise you, surely?” Sarah said with sympathy. “By law, a man may beat his horse, his wife or his children.”
He made a disgusted noise. “As long as he does so within the confines of what is deemed ‘acceptable.’ He was fined. Not for the horse. But for the public display of brutality ‘in the presence of gentle ladies.’”
“Hollow ones,” he said bitterly.
It was then that Will felt something soft and very wet on his jaw. He looked down, startled. Samuel had kissed him. Inexpertly, open mouthed, but clearly intending to kiss.
Sarah laughed softly. “Oh yes. He does this now.”
Will’s face was all astonishment as he gazed at the boy. Samuel was clutching a favorite toy, a cloth doll. He looked down at it, turning it over with clumsy hands.
“Ba?” he said then, holding it out to Will.
Something passed behind William’s eyes. His whole face softened at once and he gathered the child tightly to himself, pressing a kiss of his own to the little rosy cheek.
That night they spoke a little more of the case, and of the Clapham Sect’s future plans for Will. But throughout, Sarah kept coming back to the same thought: that she was no longer in any doubt of Will’s attachment to her son. She celebrated this assurance by teaching him how to change the child’s linens when next they were soiled. He was surprisingly agreeable to this proposition, and seemed to be, in a way, calmed by menial nature of the task. Samuel giggled throughout, entertained by Will’s novice mistakes. In the end, however, not a pin was out of place.
“Now,” said Will, lifting the clean infant from the table, “at least there is one problem for which I can provide a solution.”
Chapter 3: Not Whilst I Am Here
TW: child in peril
It was more than Sarah had hoped for. Will was becoming quite practiced in changing and feeding the child, and after exhausting all the games and songs she knew, he had dreamt up some of his own. Day after day he was proving to be an invaluable source of help with caring for Samuel, and increasingly eager to provide it. Sarah smiled to see Will’s fond look whenever Sam did something particularly winsome. Which, in her admittedly partial opinion, was very often indeed. But there was one occasion which did amaze her, even in the light of all that had come before.
On this particular day she was seated at the kitchen table, leafing through a law book. She was assisting Will in the preparation of a brief. Experience had shown she had more patience and a better eye for finding the relevant rulings and decrees in the texts than he did, and so did lend her aid whenever he was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by his caseload.
Mr. Pinnock was a creditable young man, and an asset in many ways, but his skills were all for investigation. Mr. Southouse’s extensive knowledge of statute and precedent was sorely missed.
In truth, Sarah was only too happy to lend the support when she could find the time. What she only ever had been able to do surreptitiously, by sneaking into Arthur’s study, she now did in full view. And she did so not only with Will’s approbation, but his appreciation, and the appreciation of his clients as well.
Fortunately for her, Samuel had also found something to occupy himself with. He was seated near the door of their dwelling and playing with one of Will’s cravats. Samuel loved clothes – one of his greatest joys was to have William’s tricorne placed upon his head, and to peer out from under it at them both. It made him glow with pride to wear the garments of a grown man, and so practiced at it whenever he had the opportunity. Will's shoes were never where he left them when Sam was around.
Will meanwhile, was pacing the length of the room, reading his brief and muttering under his breath.
Finally, Sarah spotted just the case.
“Here’s something that might be of interest,” she said, pointing to a page in the heavy book. Will went over to where she sat, and began reading the relevant passage over her shoulder.
"Here," she said, pointing again. "I'm not certain it was meant to apply in all circumstances, but surely it gives credence to the idea."
“Yes. Yes, indeed that will support…”
He was interrupted by a hoarse sound from across the room that at once made them snap to attention.
Sarah looked up. The cravat was hanging from the back of Will’s desk chair, but Samuel had somehow loosened some of the coils and slipped them over his head…
How he had done it, she did not know. She only knew that the cloth was stretched and taut…and that his face was red and turning dusky.
Sarah had only enough time to take in this this scene and to feel the first surge of horror before suddenly Will was no longer behind her.
She had not time to rise from her chair or even cry out. She knew not how he could move so quickly when her own limbs seemed made of lead. But all at once he was by Samuel’s side as the boy struggled and the cravat grew tighter.
Will seized the child and the silence of her nightmare was rent by the sound of the ripping cloth. He tore the cravat apart with one savage motion, making a low sound, wilder and more furious than Sarah had ever heard him make before.
Sarah raised herself in a daze, and a moan escaped her lips. Will threw down the ruined garment like it was a snake.
He brought Samuel's chest up to his ear and then listened at his mouth, frantic.
Samuel made a noise between a gag and a cough.
Under any other circumstances it would have sounded dreadful, but as he gained back his color and began to move with purpose in William’s arms, Will and Sarah both shouted in joy and relief.
The child had been whimpering, but the sudden violence of their outburst made him bawl, more so than any notion of the danger he had been in. Sarah joined in at once, crying nearly as loud her baby.
Will was half-laughing, half-crying as the child wailed and put out his arms for his mother. Sarah took him at once, and he clung to her neck as she kissed and cuddled him and made many soothing noises of reassurance, which she needed just as much as he.
“Thank you,” she whispered shakily, seizing a fistful of Will's coat in emphasis.
He shook his head. He was pale and his eyes were wide. "I should have been more careful...I should not have left it there..."
Will was trembling as he put his hand out to rub Samuel’s back. He and Sarah both examined his neck as best they could for any sign of permanent damage. Finding none, they sighed in gratitude. Their eyes met briefly, but they soon broke their gaze, seeing too much of what they both felt in the other’s expression. It was too real, too close for comfort, to speak of the great irony of William's service to Samuel in light of his profession.
After several minutes the child calmed and turned in Sarah’s arms to gaze uncertainly. The look lasted only a moment, and he put out his hands again to signify he now wished to be held by Will.
William lifted him gently and put out his other arm to pull Sarah into the embrace.
“You are safe now, Samuel,” he said, and kissed Sarah's forehead as she reached out to touch her boy, reassuring herself he was well.
“Nothing shall harm you," Will continued. "Not whilst your Mama and Papa are here.”
Chapter 4: Playing Favorites
Needless to say, Sarah and Will were vigilant in their attentions towards Samuel for a long while after the cravat incident. That night he was spoiled and made such a fuss over that he quite forgot about the whole episode. But they could not. Everything in their dwelling now seemed to possess hidden dangers. And as if the situation were not worrying enough, Samuel began to exhibit a proclivity to learn to walk, which would put him within reach of all manner of new hazards. No pudding cap and quilted vest was padded enough for their liking, not when the floor itself could hurt their poor child as he toddled about.
Samuel absorbed all the attention with delight, but nothing would stop him from mastering the two-legged method of locomotion. Everything Sarah and Will did was observed and attempted. No cravats were ever left near him again, but he would put on their hats and shoes if he could find them. He also began to grab for his spoon at mealtimes. Being not yet old enough to master the utensil himself, he tried over and over to use it without success, watching to compare his technique with that of his parents’. Seeing the child blossom into a little person, with his own character but an inclination to be just like them was heartwarming to them both. But it became apparent before long, that when there was a difference between the two, Samuel would often imitate Will rather than Sarah.
This fact did not distress his mother, nor even did the way he would press himself against the door and beat on it despairingly when Will left in the mornings. Samuel soon learnt to say a few words, and the first time the boy had wailed “PAPA!” through the gap under the door, Will had been so moved he came back inside at once. Despite Sarah telling him with a wry smile that he was being played like a fiddle, he faltered under the child’s miserable pleas until he was late for court. And Samuel was thereafter equipped with yet another weapon in his arsenal, one that he deployed with frustrating regularity.
It was not merely Samuel’s predilection towards William's things, nor his separation anxiety – for he did not like it when his mother left the room either. These did not vex Sarah, as she knew they were quite normal for a child his age. But she could hardly be blamed for feeling hurt when Samuel actually seemed to prefer Will over her.
This began gradually, and the trend was welcomed at first. When Samuel held his arms out for Will, or became excited when he saw him, both parents thought it very sweet, and a testament to how successful the joining of their family was proving to be. The boy was still as good natured as ever, and would regularly request – nay, demand – that his Mama expound upon whatever he pointed at, return her smiles with enormous grins of his own, and cuddle up against her when she rocked him to sleep.
But before long Sarah began to notice that when Will entered the room, she was immediately second-best in her son’s estimation.
“It is only that he has not seen me all day,” Will offered as Samuel clung more tightly to his chest when Sarah moved to take him to bed. He had many explanations such as this. “He is so certain of your regard for him that he does neglect you” and “He knows you so well, he quite sees you as an extension of himself - whereas I am still a mystery.”
Upon the fourth or fifth time this happened, and after Will’s attempt to downplay her child’s preference, Sarah began to see the humor of the situation.
“I suppose I cannot fault him for choosing you as his particular favorite. Not when I share his opinion of you,” she said. She stroked Will’s hair as he sat in his chair holding Samuel.
The child pushed her hand away.
“Oh, now I see!” she said to Samuel, who was holding onto Will’s waistcoat covetously. “He is yours alone, and I am not to even come near.”
“So he is jealous of the attentions we show one another?” said Will. He rose from the chair and gave the child a pointed look. “I am sorry Sam, but my devotion to your Mama will not alter.” And he went over to Sarah and kissed her ostentatiously. “I am quite hers!”
She laughed as Samuel then gestured to be lifted higher in Will’s arms, puckering his lips, not wanting to be left out. William acquiesced immediately after a chuckle of his own. Sarah leaned in conspiratorially to her son.
“You will have to adjust your expectations, my little treasure. When your brother or sister comes, the new little one will monopolize your Papa’s attentions. Then you shall have to learn to share.”
Samuel allowed Sarah to kiss him, but then buried his face in Will’s chest.
“Nevermind,” she said airily, putting her hand her belly, posing her question to it, “You shall be my friend though, won’t you?”
After this exchange, Sarah noticed that Will was looking quite pensive and far-away. His expression was unreadable, but he gave her a little smile when he noticed her questioning look, and she dismissed it from her mind.
That night, Samuel was put to bed with relative ease, exhausted as he was from several rounds of “Maurading Wolf.” It was a game that was no more complicated than Samuel screaming in delight as he fled from Will, who growled and stalked the child on all fours.
“Oh now you do favor me!” Sarah had said as Samuel begged to be put into her lap and then threw his arms around her while fleeing from William. “Or you favor my protection at least.” She held her son close and gave the “wolf” a glare, declaring that he should not come any closer.
Will came upon them anyway, saying there was no escape, and pretended to feast on whatever tiny limbs he could reach. Samuel shrieked so loudly they were afraid he’d rouse their neighbors, so Will turned his attention to Sarah, nibbling on her ankles. A meaningful look passed between them, and Will had decided it was high time Samuel be put to bed.
And so he was, dozing off in Sarah’s arms after only a few lines of song.
“I know I am hardly without prejudice, but I do think he is uncommonly delightful,” Sarah whispered, kissing the little curly head after she had laid him in his cradle.
“You will hear no argument from me,” replied Will as they both pulled the covers back and got into bed.
“In spite of his misadventures that do terrify us all?”
“Of course,” Will said. He paused, and then continued, seriously, “I think he is the loveliest child that ever breathed.”
Sarah was momentarily speechless. She had been expecting him to answer her indulgently, with a joke. But he was not laughing.
She continued, lightly, stroking her midsection as she reclined in bed.
“But I do think, given this one’s father, it shall be just as sweet.”
Will ran his fingers along her belly, his brow furrowed, absorbed in his thoughts.
Sarah watched him, smiling at his concentration. She touched his cheek to break his reverie.
“What is making you so solemn, William?”
He met her eyes, and blinked, seeming to come back to himself. He held her hand to his face and then brought it down to kiss the palm.
Sarah gave him a look. “I had thought we would have no more secrets from one another.”
Will sighed. He glanced over to where Samuel was sleeping.
“You will despise me for it.”
Her eyes went wide. “Oh dear. That is quite an assertion.”
“You don’t believe it.”
“Well…” Sarah said, making quite plain she did not.
Will spread his sizeable hand across her belly and frowned in concentration.
“You are not cast down about Samuel?” he said.
Sarah was confused for a moment by his sudden change of subject, but she recovered. “You mean him preferring you over me?” Will shook his head, but she continued. “I know it’s most likely just him…asserting his independence. No, I’m not offended. Not truly.” She smiled. “Well, perhaps a little. But I suppose I did wish too hard for him to take to you. And the result is you are his object of worship, and I must live with it.”
Will smiled, but it quickly faded from his face. “You hope for this one to console you?” he said, drawing circles across her gently curved abdomen with his fingers.
Sarah laid her hand over his. “Yes, I do rather. However, with my luck, he or she will be just the same, and adore dearest Papa more than anyone else. But it is a mother’s lot to love her children, without proportion to how that love is returned.”
Will frowned at this.
“Will, truly, what is making you unhappy?”
He hesitated. “You love so easily…so freely, and so fiercely, without condition.”
Sarah could not think of a reply at first. “…That makes you unhappy?”
“Of course not,” he said, reaching for her cheek tenderly. “Though it sometimes does amaze me that so much sharp wit can reside in one so soft-hearted –”
“This is not a description of your own character?” she interrupted with a smile. “The people’s barrister? The advocate of hard-luck cases?”
William did not look convinced.
“I recall a certain gentleman telling me once that we were of a common mind. I hope you do not suggest he was wrong.”
“I speak not of minds, but of hearts,” he said, and his eyes flickered once more to the cradle where the child was sleeping.
“I see,” Sarah said, nodding. “I think now I know what concerns you. It is what I did say before, to Samuel?”
The look in Will’s eyes when he met her gaze gave her all the confirmation she needed.
Sarah sighed, and stroked his shoulders. “You mustn’t blame yourself that your feelings are not the same as mine. A bit of partiality is to be expected.”
He stared at her in surprise.
“I am their mother, both. And you are the best ‘Papa’ Samuel could ask for. But to have special favor for the child you fathered is only natural.”
After she said this, he looked, if it was possible, even more despondent than before. He rubbed his hands over his face.
“Will, what is the matter?”
“Only natural?” he laughed bitterly. “My anxieties are so foreign to you, you cannot fathom them, and so do guess their opposite.”
Sarah regarded him, puzzled.
“You think I have ‘special favor’ for this child. But…the truth is I do not.” His eyes refused to meet Sarah’s. He placed his hand flush against her. “I want it. Of course I do. But…” he sighed. “I do not yet feel what you feel. I have tried, believe me.”
She paused, taking in his admission. “But you did seem so happy to hear the news…”
“I was! I am. I am happier than I have any right to be. The idea of it…the idea of our child makes me so very happy. When I imagine our life – two or five or ten years hence, I think of our little ones growing in our care and it fills me with gladness. But it is Samuel I see clearly. When I turn my thoughts to this child, I can see nothing.”
“Well, that is quite expected, really. We don’t know anything about its appearance, or if it will be a son or daughter…”
“But that does not hinder you. You already do speak with it. You hum and sing to it, as if you know which are its favorite songs. You already love this child, deeply and truly love it.”
Sarah looked down to where her hands rested protectively over her belly.
“You expected that I should already love this child as I do Samuel. MORE than him? I cannot even imagine it.” He sighed miserably. “I cannot.”
There was a brief silence.
Sarah stroked his cheek. “You were wrong, you know,” she said. “I do not despise you.”
Will glanced at her and gave her the barest of smiles. “But you do think me unnatural.”
“No,” she said with sincerity. “No. I had not –”
She paused, sighed, and then began again. “I spoke of Samuel’s attachment to you, but perhaps I had not considered how attached you were to him. Dared not, to be more exact. I could only see why you would of course not feel exactly as I do…you’ve only known him such a short while. And he’s…well, I can hardly expect anyone to feel what I feel. After carrying and laboring with him, confined in the country with him for many months, and then, having him taken away.” She looked at him seriously. “There are few who could understand that.”
Will acknowledged this with a nod.
“So then why should this be any different?” she said, patting her midsection. “You haven’t known of this child long at all. And honestly, having such strong feelings for someone you’ve never even laid eyes upon is a bit mad.”
“I know, she laughed. “I’m not ignorant of what that suggests. But it’s different for me.”
“I have known longer, for one. For another, it’s with me every minute, day and night. I imagine when you are at the Old Bailey, you are not always thinking of it. But I cannot have five minutes without a reminder that our child is here,” she said, framing her belly with her hands. “Every time I eat something that it does not agree with. Every day that my stays become harder to lace.”
They exchanged smiles. Sarah put her fingers up to trace William’s lips.
“Do not torment yourself for it, Will,” she said. “I did tell you, remember, that I was not unconditionally contented whilst carrying Samuel. I wanted him, and prayed he would be delivered safe. But it was nothing to when they laid him in my arms…” she cradled Will’s forearm like it was a newborn, and stroked his fingers. “The love I bear for this child is an echo of that. And it’s the anticipation of meeting this little stranger who will be sibling and playmate to my son, and the likeness of the man I love. When it is born, however,” Sarah said, hugging Will’s arm to her body, “then I will start to love it for itself, and not only because of how well pleased I am with its father. And you will too.”
Will moved the hand she was cradling to caress her face.
“I pray it’s a girl.”
“What?” Sarah laughed.
“That way there will not be so much comparison,” he explained. “What if one day they come to me and ask who is the favorite? Then I shall be truly wretched, denying my own child. Unless I am able to say well, of course Samuel, you are my favorite boy, and you are your father’s favorite girl, Sally.”
“Well it would be confusing to call you both Sarah all the time.”
Sarah raised her eyebrows. “Let it be declared now, sir, so there is no confusion. We are not naming a daughter after me.”
“Fine. We shall name her after my mother,” Will said. “She also happened to be called Sarah.”
“Oh good Lord, Will.”
He laughed. “What shall we call her then?”
Sarah sighed. “What shall we call her if she is a him?”
He said nothing, so she continued. “This scheme of yours is sound, but for one thing. Even if it is a girl this time, what happens if there is a third child?”
She stroked his cheek. “It’s perfectly splendid that you are so fond of Samuel, but you know there does not always have to be a favorite. Besides, you should never answer children who ask that question. Answer in the negative and the poor child is devastated. Say yes, and they start to have a rather inflated opinion of themselves.”
He was too quiet after this for Sarah to not notice.
“William,” she said, turning his face to hers, “was there, by chance, a favorite in your family when you were a child?”
Will looked away. “Yes, I would say there was.”
“And…you did resent it?”
“I should say not,” he said, laughing.
Sarah frowned, confused.
He shrugged. “I could not be resentful. Not when it was me.”
She rolled her eyes and turned over in bed. “I might have known.”
“It was only a joke…”
“No, no! I see it all so clearly now! Of course you must have been the favored son. How cocksure you were when we first did meet. How arrogant…”
“…proud and self-satisfied –”
“Sarah!” he laughed.
“I am only suggesting that it goes a long way to explaining your former character,” she said with a smile. “Not to say that it has any resemblance to you now. I would not dream of proposing such a thing.”
He sighed loudly.
She looked over her shoulder at him, attempting to hide a smile, but not succeeding. “I wonder…”
Will regarded her with warm skepticism, running his hands lightly through her hair.
“If this is not a daughter, as you prefer,” she said, “Am I also no longer to be your favorite?”
He nodded to himself, choosing not to dignify that remark with a response.
He rested his chin on her shoulder to whisper in her ear. “I do believe the wolf has returned.”
With that he turned and quickly blew out the bedside candles, and in the sudden darkness, recommenced the role of hungry beast.
It was very fortunate indeed that Samuel slept so soundly, and thus was not awakened by his mother’s squeals of laughter.