Everything was in its place, and his lordship in his dressing gown, the signal that typically meant that it was time to bid his employer good-night.
But tonight was different because John had some good news to divulge, some very good news indeed.
It had been passed in increments; Anna wanted people to know in a certain order for a variety reasons. And she had stalled a bit in telling anyone outside of him, Mrs Hughes, and Lady Mary, for fear that she’d be counting her chickens before they hatched, a very adapt metaphor.
John did not have very many male companions. If he was asked who his best friend was, without skipping a beat, he’d answer his wife. But he and Lord Grantham did have a special bond that could only be brought with war, even if the line between servant and master was always there, sometimes rather thin. Although he’d be by Anna’s side as they informed Mr Carson the next morning, this was his one chance to deliver the news himself, beaming with pride.
Robert was about to head to his bedroom when he noticed his valet hesitating his own exit.
“Everything all right, Bates?” He grew worried, remembering troubling times from a few years ago.
“Perfectly, m’lord. More than all right.” John broke his reservation with a grin. “We are still in the midst of telling everyone, but…” he paused and then uttered the next phrase profoundly. “Anna and I are expecting a child in the winter.”
“My dear fellow!” Robert exclaimed with a large smile, clapping the other man on the shoulder. “It was about time, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“No, I don’t mind, m’lord.”
“I suppose that Lady Mary will be looking for a new maid then…” Robert commented and then eyed his valet cautiously.
“Anna will be staying on for now, before the baby is due, as long as both she and Dr Clarkson think that she can.” John sensed what his employer was getting at and added, “But no, we have not discussed my departure from service as well.”
The earl was relieved. “I do seem to remember the talk of a hotel, many years ago.”
“We might revisit that idea, in due course.”
“Yes, yes.” Robert nodded. “You’ll find that sometimes you think things will go one way, by they go entirely in a different direction. Well, you know that of course, but… don’t take anything for granted. Never take anything for granted. Cherish the time that you have with your children. They will grow up before your very eyes, with their own strong minds, and it will seem like yesterday they were just came into this world.”
John felt like is his employer wanted to say more, but the man cut himself off as he often did when he waxed poetic. English earls didn’t talk about their feelings. The valet himself was reserved, but not to Robert’s level, where the poor man felt he was embarrassing himself. He knew he was referring to Lady Sybil and Mr Matthew, two people with so much ahead of them, but their lives cut short. John had not been at the Abbey the night the youngest Crawley daughter passed, but he was there for the wake of the heir and new father’s death. There was also the sting of the baby boy Crawley that never got to draw breath. He couldn’t help fearing losing the baby, or losing Anna. So perhaps his lordship did not like that he had turned the topic of conversation into something depressing, despite his original sentiments.
“Well,” Lord Grantham ended the awkward pause, “My most heartfelt of congratulations to both you and Anna. Shall I keep this a secret for now or…?
“If you could, until tomorrow night. Everyone one will know by then.”
“Excellent.” Robert gave him one more clap on the shoulder and then headed to the door again. He then paused and turned. “You really are going to be terrific parents. Both you and Anna. I mean it, Bates.”
In amongst John’s pride, the earl could sense some worries and doubts about finally becoming a father. He knew his comrade-in-arms well. Anna tried to assuage them, but they would bubble up. While his lordship’s advice brought to mind other fears, the extra support in knowing that others had faith in him helped suppress down some for now, and all he could do was smile.
John made his way back to the servants’ hall, which was empty excluding his wife. Anna was flicking idly through an issue of Photoplay, her other hand splayed on her stomach. She was barely showing thus far, the slight bump not noticeable through the loose layers of black clothing. And with the others already in bed, there were no worries of the news spreading downstairs. Yet anyway. Tomorrow they’d tell Mr Carson, and then that evening they’d announce it to the other servants.
He paused to take in the sight for a bit, enamored with just how beautiful his wife was, the glow of pregnancy making her somehow even more gorgeous than she was before, if that was even possible. She looked up and smiled at his presence, beaming but looking tired.
“I’ve gotten Lady Mary into bed,” she said, admiring his tall figure standing in the door frame. “We’re the only ones still up, I think.”
“Well I think it’s past time I got you into bed.”
She gave a pout but then her smile returned. “I believe I am perfectly fine, Mr Bates.”
John rolled his eyes. He knew that she hated being overprotected, but he thought his suggestion perfectly reasonable. “Are you sure, Mrs Bates?”
“Positively.” But then a yawn gave her away. They laughed, and she scooted from the table as John set aside his cane and collected their coats and hats from the pegs just outside the door.
“So, how did his lordship take it?” Anna slipped her arms into the black coat he was holding out for her.
“As expected. Happy for us, but glad I have no plans to leave immediately.” He slid his hands over her shoulders similar to how he smoothed out Lord Grantham’s tails, but added in an extra squeeze of assurance. “He did not seem appalled to having a pregnant lady’s maid in the house.”
“He might change his mind once I’m the size of a whale and waddling down the gallery.”
“Hopefully at that point I will be able to convince you to stay at home and rest.”
John had shrugged into his own overcoat. Anna turned to face him and smoothed down the lapels and patted his chest. “Maybe. I am going to miss it here.”
“I know.” He wrapped his arms around her and drew her body to his, pressing a kiss into the crown of her head.
“I wouldn’t trade it for back though,” she said, nestling herself under his chin.
They stood in their embrace for a bit, allowing Robert’s words to echo in John’s mind. He had once taken this all for granted, when there had been a period of happiness after such storminess with Vera and prison. Even though he still didn’t think that he deserved Anna, he had allowed himself to be happy, thinking that the worse was behind them. But he was wrong, when their world was shattered on a horrible night now a few years ago. Things would never be exactly the same, but they were continuing on best they could. And this child – their child – was a sign of this; that their dreams would not be completely trampled on.
“His lordship did mention of a hotel, and regardless of his wishes, I do think it’s something I need to look into again.”
Anna’s sleepy eyes flicked up to met his.
“We need to.” John softly corrected himself. “I know we put that aside. Focus on one thing at a time. So we’ll see how it goes.”
“I agree, though. We should have some idea of a plan.” She leaned up and forward to meet her lips with his. It began rather chastely, but quickly it deepened, as there was no one to catch them in the servants’ corridor.
She let out a giggle as they broke apart, as she often did when they sneaked kisses downstairs. “I also agree that perhaps you should get me and baby home.”
John smiled brightly at this, brushing his knuckles against the fabric of her coat now protecting her abdomen and their child inside. His eyes met hers, both sets shining brightly.
No, he would never take this for granted again.