Louisa had been oddly quiet ever since they’d returned from dinner at the Rosses. She hadn’t even made a fuss about going to bed, as was her wont when she wasn’t tired (or claimed she wasn’t).
“What would you like as a bedtime story?” James asked, seating himself at the foot of Louisa’s bed and hoping that the question would, if not draw her out of whatever mood she’d found herself in, prompt her to say something.
“Would you like me better if I was a boy?” she asked quietly, worrying the edge of the blanket.
James frowned. “Of course not. What on earth gave you that idea?”
“One of the ladies at dinner said that you must have wanted a boy, ‘cause I was too boyish,” Louisa replied, wiggling to sit up in bed.
James was going to have words with someone about this. “Do you know who it was who said this to you?”
Louisa shook her head. “I was under the settee with Tom, we were playing hide and seek.”
Ah. “Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about in the slightest,” James said. “And they’ve clearly never met Lady Jane or auntie Sophia have they.”
He reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind Louisa’s ear.
“I love you dearly,” he continued. “I have from the first moment I laid eyes on you and I would not wish for you to be anything other than what you are.”
Louisa smiled, revealing the missing front tooth that had fallen out a few days ago when she’d tripped directly into a door, and immediately climbed out from under the covers and into James’ lap. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Weesy,” James said, wrapping her in an embrace. “Now why don’t we settle on a bedtime story.”
“Penguins!” Was Louisa’s immediate and enthusiastic response.
James chuckled. “Uncle Francis is too tired for stories tonight, so you’re stuck with me I’m afraid.”
Louisa pouted, but she did crawl back under the covers when prompted.
“I have an idea,” James said, leaning over to adjust Louisa’s blanket. “How about I tell you a new story, about a new expedition?”
That catches Louisa’s attention immediately. It’s a been a while since she’s heard any stories about a new expedition, and both James and Francis have been avoiding this one for good reason.
“It begins off the coast of Greenland, far up North, in 1845 and I am making my best attempt at paddling about in a very small Eskimo canoe. I say best attempt, because I was absolutely no good. I couldn’t steer the blasted thing at all…”
James was sick, not miserably, but whatever cold Louisa had had he now also had. He wasn’t concerned with himself, however. Louisa’s cold had led to pneumonia and she just wasn’t getting better.
She’d been sick for over a week, and the longer it lasted the more James feared for her life. It had reached the point where he’d barely leave her side for fear that if he left for even a moment she’d be gone. He’d done everything the doctor had suggested, hair cut to her shoulders, bed rest, multiple tinctures. She’d seemed to be on the mend, but then the coughing had started and now she was worse than before.
Presently, James was seated in a chair next to her bed as she slept, a cool compress on her forehead in the hopes of bringing her fever down.
He heard the door behind him open, but he didn’t turn his attention from Louisa until Francis’s hand came to rest on his shoulder.
“When was the last time you slept James?” Francis said. “And I do mean in your own bed, not here at Louisa’s bedside.”
James slumped back in his chair. “I can’t leave her Francis, I can’t.”
“You can, and I am, in fact, going to insist on it,” Francis said. “You’re ill, and you’re not going to be any help to Louisa if you don’t take care of yourself. I’ll sit with her, you go lie down for a while.”
“Francis, I…” James trailed off, finally looking up at Francis, who looked just as worried as James felt.
Francis squeezed James’ shoulder lightly. “I will come get you should anything change, I promise.”
With a sigh James pulled himself up and out of the chair, only a little bit unsteady on his feet because of how long he’d been sitting there. All his aches and pains seemed suddenly worse now that he was standing.
Francis steadied him with a hand at his elbow as they traded places.
James finally left after a few more moments of anxious hesitation, his stomach twisting unpleasantly as he shut the door to Louisa’s bedroom.
All of James worries came to naught, however, as Louisa’s fever broke a few days later, though her cough was persistent despite the warming jacket Goodsir had given them.
“I might suggest spending some time out of London,” Goodsir said, pulling Francis aside, as James sat with Louisa. “Clean air may be the best things to help her lungs recover after such a prolonged illness.”
Francis nodded. “We’d been thinking of leaving the city already. There’s still entirely too much gossip surrounding the expedition.”
“Yes, I… I quite agree,” Goodsir said.
“I will relay your advice to James, though I can’t imagine him choosing not to follow it,” Francis said. “We’ll likely have a new address when we next write.”
Age 7 (+ a move to the country)
Louisa came running into the house, trailing mud and water, and holding an equally sodden ball of fur.
“Louisa, darling what on earth…” James began, taking in his daughter’s sodden trousers and muddy shoes. “Where on earth did you get so muddy?”
“The creek, some boys were trying to drown a kitten!” She held up the soggy ball of fur to James, who took it from her carefully.
It was a kitten, small and shivering, but still alive.
“I will get a towel… or two,” James said. “Take off your shoes and don’t move until I get back.”
When James returned, the kitten was dry and purring in a blanket, and he had a towel to dry off Louisa, so she wouldn’t track anymore mud and then ushered her off to her room to get changed.
“Can we keep it?” Louisa asked, as James set the bundle of kitten down on Louisa’s bed so he could help her undress.
“I don’t see why not,” James said, helping Louisa wiggle out of her soaked trousers. “We could certainly use someone to keep the mice out of the pantry.”
Louisa jumped with excitement and nearly tumbled over as her legs got tangled in her half-off trousers.
After a bit more tugging everything was off, and James wrapped Louisa in the towel before going to gather a new change of clothes.
Eventually Louisa was dressed again, though still in boy’s clothes, and she climbed up on her bed to examine her new friend. Flopping down on her belly and pressing her face against the kitten’s side.
The kitten, a tawny little thing, seemed quite content to stay curled up on the bed and only gave a small mewl at Louisa’s invading its space.
“What should we name it, do you think?” James asked, laying out Louisa’s wet clothing over the back of a chair to dry.
Louisa thought for a moment, lifting her head and the kitten chirped again. “What was your cheetah’s name?”
"Sheba,” James replied. “I think it’s a good name, if you’d like to use it.”
Louisa hummed and stroked the kittens side. “No, I like just Cheetah.”
“An excellent choice,” James said with a chuckle, though he was almost certain there was mischievous intent behind her choice of name. She’d tell her friends about her new cat Cheetah, and of course someone would assume that she meant an actual cheetah.
“She’s probably hungry,” James said. “If you think you can carry her carefully, we can go down to kitchen to get her something to eat”
It was alarming to say the least, when Louisa’s school teacher, a Miss Hamish, appeared at their gate with Louisa in tow, the teacher looking angry and Louisa with her face red from crying.
James was on his feet just as quickly as he could manage. “What’s the matter? Is everything all right?”
As soon as they were inside the gate, Louisa yanked her hand away from her teacher and ran to James, clinging to his legs. He rested a hand comfortingly on her back. “It’s alright,” he murmured.
“Captain Fitzjames, I’m incredibly glad to catch you at home.”
James frowned, not entirely happy with how unconcerned Miss Hamish seemed about her distressed pupil. “What’s this about?”
“Your daughter’s behavior is unacceptable,” Miss Hamish said bluntly.
“I would appreciate it if you would describe the behavior first, before assuming we’ll have the same views of the situation,” James replied, in a clipped and polished tone he typically reserved for the Admiralty these days.
“She… I found her out behind the school out dissecting… a dead bird. In front of her classmates, no less.” Miss Hamish let out a long breath, seemingly in an attempt to cool her anger. “I don’t mean to accuse you of poor parenting, Captain Fitzjames, but this is…”
“Louisa, why don’t you wait inside,” James said gently and Louisa nodded, wiping her eyes before running back toward the house, where Francis would surely be waiting.
Turning back to Miss Hamish, James continued. “She meant no harm, I’m sure, though I do apologize and I will speak to her to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
“What I find most unsettling is how it would occur to her in the first place,” Miss Hamish said, and despite her earlier words, James had the striking suspicion that she was accusing him of poor parenting.
“Well, she’s long been interested in the sciences,” James said. “And one of our good friends is an anatomist, I imagine she’s seen some of his diagrams.”
She had. She’d sat on James’ lap utterly enraptured as Goodsir had shown her several diagrams of human and animal anatomy.
Miss Hamish didn’t seem particularly happy with James’ answer, but it was also clear that she knew she wouldn’t be able to convince him that Louisa’s actions were plainly horrible.
“Very well,” she said. “I’ll leave you to that conversation then. I hope this is the last time we’ll have this discussion.”
It was a concerted effort not to roll his eyes until Miss Hamish had turned her back to leave.
Inside he found Louisa sitting in the parlor with Francis, pouring over one of the drawings Goodsir had left for Louisa. A bird, possibly the inspiration for the impromptu dissection.
“Is everything all right in here?” James asked, sinking down onto the settee.
Louisa abandoned the drawing to sit next to James and hug him, burying her face in his chest. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s all right darling,” James said. He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “But we did talk about not frightening your teachers. Remember the story you had to write earlier this year?”
It had been about a vicious cheetah attack and apparently had spooked several classmates and the teacher.
“We were being careful,” Louisa said. “We didn’t get caught the first time.”
Francis laughed and James sighed. “What was the first time?”
“Billy brought me a dead mouse, because I’d been talking about what Dr. Goodsir taught me about bodies. James had bet him that I wouldn’t know what to do with it, so we got a sharp rock and I cut it open.”
Francis was in tears with laughter and James could barely constrain himself either.
“Well, far from me to discourage your scientific pursuits, perhaps you should make our garden your operating theater, instead of the back of the school house.”
“Can I invite my friends over?”
“Certainly,” James said. “But only a few at a time.”