Evelyn sat at her dressing table while her hair was combed out for the night. It was a cool night, and she relished the warmth of the generous fire that blazed in the hearth. The room was quiet for a moment. Then there came the sound of a joyful squeal and childish laughter. The chamber door opened, and Evelyn smiled as Simon came in, carrying a giggling chestnut-haired bundle over his shoulder.
“Evelyn, I have found a sprite wandering about the halls. Should I banish it, or allow it refuge in our home?”
Beaming at the sight of her husband and daughter so playful together, she laughed, placing her hands on her belly. “I think we should keep it to add to our growing collection.” In only a few months, they would welcome their second child. And she could hardly wait.
The birth of a daughter had come as a surprise, but it was a pleasant one. Having been accustomed to her family’s tradition, which tended towards the bearing of sons, Evelyn was delighted to give birth to a girl. Although she knew that Simon wanted a son, he was a doting father to Sophia, who absolutely worshipped him.
From her upside down position across her father’s shoulder, Sophia giggled again. “Papa, I am dizzy.”
Picking her up, Simon carried her to the bed and gently dropped her, letting her land on the thick mattress with a bounce and a squeal of childish delight. While they played a back and forth game, with Sophia running into his arms and he tossing her back, Evelyn dismissed her maid for the night. She stood back for a moment, watching her little family interacting so lovingly. Sophia was a bundle of energy, but it was her comical behavior that endeared her to everyone. She had an odd love of spinning, sometimes to the point of falling over. And when she fell, she liked to declare out loud, “I am fine.” It amused her mother and father to no end.
For a two-year old child, she was also incredibly bright. She seemed to understand that her mother’s growing belly contained something special. As Evelyn came near the bed, Simon held Sophia back from the rambunctious activity.
“Remember,” he said, “You must be careful with your Mama. She is in a delicate condition.”
Simon held Sophia until Evelyn had slipped into bed. When he let her go, she moved slowly, pointing her tiny finger. Kneeling down at Evelyn’s side, she gently placed her hands on her mother’s belly.
“Baby,” she said.
Evelyn smiled. The word “baby” had become a constant in Sophia’s limited vocabulary, and Evelyn found it delightful to hear her saying it repeatedly. Pulling her daughter close, she kissed her cheek. And then, Simon held his arms out. Sophia ran to him instantly, and he scooped her up.
“It is late, my sweetheart. You must go to bed.”
As he carried Sophia away, Evelyn heard her say, in her soft little voice, “Oh, Papa.”
A smile remained on Evelyn’s face as she watched them go. After the door had closed, she reached for the rolled parchment on the bedside table. It had come earlier in the day, but there had been no time to read it. Now, the house was quiet and calm. She unrolled the parchment, and began to read.
Simon returned a few minutes later. He slipped into bed quietly at first, closing his eyes as he leaned his head back against his pillow. But as she continued to read, saying nothing, he opened his eyes. His eyes fell, with interest, on the letter.
“You are quite engrossed, my love. Pray, tell me. What interests you to such an extent?”
“Marie is to have another baby,” Evelyn said.
Simon grumbled. “May God have mercy on the child, to have such a father.”
Evelyn lightly swatted his arm, but smiled. “Rene has proven to be a good father, and a good husband. It will be a joy to see them again.”
Hearing that, Simon pulled himself upright. “Are they coming here again so soon?”
Evelyn was quick to soothe him, knowing that his tolerance for certain visitors was very limited. “No, no,” she replied. “Not until the spring, my darling.”
He became calm again, settling back under the covers. “Good God, woman. You nearly caused my heart to fail.”
She shook her head, both in exasperation and amusement. It had hardly been a shock to learn that Rene and Marie had eloped. They had now been married for some two years, and they lived a quiet life on Rene’s small estate. Despite the passage of time, Simon had never fully warmed to Rene, although he tolerated a yearly visit. But even then, it was with reluctance. Evelyn spoke to him, without taking her eyes from the letter.
“Would you rather I invited my brother and his wife?”
Simon pursed his lips. “No doubt they are too occupied with one another to consider visiting family.”
She laughed in agreement with him. Few in the family could have foreseen that Owen and Isabella would grow to love one another. Isabella’s husband had annulled their marriage and taken another wife. It wasn’t long after the incident that Owen had announced his decision to marry her. They made their home in Toulouse, away from the familiar faces of Marseilles, and by all accounts, they were a very devoted couple. Evelyn smiled at the thought of it.
“If our family tradition is any indication, they will be a most prolific couple.” She rolled up the parchment and put it aside. Snuffing out the candle, she snuggled into Simon’s arms. She sighed, a thoughtful and happy sound. “What a site it will be if we gather everyone together in the spring. Mama and Papa with Philippe. Rene and Marie with their two children. Thea and Lucien, with Gabriel and the twins.”
Thea had given birth to twin girls last year. Following in the tradition of the Gisbornes, Elizabeth and Eleanor were born healthy and strong. It pleased Guy and Cassia to no end to have more grandchildren, and the entire family was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Simon and Evelyn’s second child. Thinking of it, Evelyn rested her hands on her belly.
“Have you given more thought to the naming of this child?”
He sighed. “I have told you, my love. It is hardly up to a father to name a child. That is the duty of a mother.”
She chuckled. “Why then did I hear you speaking to your father, discussing the names of honorable men? Ones you said would be fitting to give to a son?”
For a moment, he was silent. But with gentle prodding, he confessed he had indeed been thinking of it.
“Am I wrong to long for a son?”
She shook her head where it rested against his shoulder.
“You long for your heir, of course. And we have our beautiful Sophia already. It would be lovely to have both a daughter and a son.”
“I hope for the blessing of many sons and daughters,” he said. “And I wish them the same love we have known.”
She sighed, feeling the warmth of his hand on her belly. “As do I, my love,” she said. “As do I.”