The baby that James Fitzjames currently held cradled in his arms was quite possibly the tiniest little thing he’d ever seen. He could hear his step-brother William continuing to talk, but he was much too focused on the baby to make out the words.
“James… have you heard a word I’ve said?”
James looked up when William said his name, “My apologies, I was a touch distracted.”
William sighed, but it was fond. “I was myself apologizing for thrusting this choice upon you so suddenly,” he said. “You’ve only been returned a handful of months and I had thought to give you more time to decide. At least until the babe was weaned as her mother had offered to nurse her before she gave her up.”
James nodded, looking back down to the infant asleep in his arms. The baby’s mother, a maid in his brother’s household, had died in childbirth, if you could even call it that. She hadn’t been able to get the baby out herself and the doctor had had to cut it out.
“If you want to take her in I can put out word for a wet nurse.”
There’s an unspoken statement of, ‘This child will be sent to orphanage or foundling’s home if you don’t,’ behind William’s words. With its mother dead and the father unknown, the baby’s situation was even more precarious that James’ had been. Despite being new returned from the Arctic and still very much suffering the after effects, there was simply no way his answer could be anything other than yes.
“Of course I’ll take her in, Will,” James said, smiling softly at the small little thing in his arms. “How had you meant to handle her naming and baptism?”
Louisa Fitzjames. That was the name of his daughter, so little and new that she really would never know any parent other than James. The baptism had been incredibly emotional for James. He hadn’t quite realized just how overwhelming it would be to hear his surname acknowledged as the name of another person. Fitzjames as a name didn’t sound like such a joke when it was paired with a name like Louisa and he truly wished his aunt were still alive to see this.
He stayed with William and Elizabeth for another two weeks before he decided it was time to head back to London.They’d found a wet nurse, of good reputation, who would be available to move into Fitzjames’ house in about a month’s time to nurse Louisa, and until then, James felt confident he could manage caring for the child on his own.
There was also the matter of letting Francis know about this. Francis, who was currently visiting his family in Ireland and had been since before William had written to James to tell him about the baby. James had, of course, left for Brighton immediately without stopping to think that he might want to send a note about this to Francis. Over the course of his stay with his brother, James had started to write multiple letters concerning Louisa to Francis and then tossed them all. How did one even go about writing a letter to explain that one’s made a rather impulsive decision to take in an orphaned and illegitimate child?
In the end, James didn’t write to Francis, though not out of intentional avoidance. He would start to write, but then Louisa would need something and he’d be busy and then too tired for anything but lying in his downstairs bedroom with Louisa just next to him in her bassinet and trying to get a few moments rest. Raising a child was exhausting, both more and less difficult than he’d expected. It certainly brought on the unsettling experience of being jerked awake in the middle of the night by a loud and concerning noise, except this was only a child crying, not ice cracking and groaning or the monstrous roar of the Tuunbaq. A crying child was easier to deal with by far, James had determined quite early on.
His lasting injuries were the hardest part of caring for Louisa. There were days when everything just ached horribly. When he could hardly sit up for the pain in his back, and he didn’t trust his leg to hold him upright, and his arm would feel full of a numbness of pins and needles. Some days it was a minor inconvenience. If his leg was the worst of it, he could hobble to the kitchen with his cane to make up a bottle, though James did hate to leave Louisa crying alone in his room. If it was just his arm acting up, it was easy enough to carry Louisa about in her bassinet, as he’d gotten it for just that purpose. The worst of it was his back. If his back hurt, everything else did too and moving at all was a chore. It was why James had turned the downstairs study into his bedroom, so he wouldn’t have to be climbing stairs every day. It was also why Louisa was not yet in the guest room turned nursery, which was, after two weeks home, fully furnished with what Elizabeth had assured him were the newest and best options for a baby’s room.
His back flared up just a few days after the last of the baby furniture had been delivered and set up. He had woken in the middle of the night to Louisa’s crying, a normal occurrence, however, when he’d tried to get up he’d nearly collapsed, his leg giving out and sending a flare of pain all the way up his back just as soon as his foot touched the floor. James only just managed to catch himself on his night table, sending a book and his chamberstick clattering to the floor.
There were footsteps running almost immediately, and James thanked the high heavens for Mary, who had all but insisted on helping him care for Louisa when James was too invalided to do more than rock Louisa in her bassinet and attempt to hobble to and from the kitchen.
“Are you all right sir?” Mary asked, upon entering the room to see James half standing and braced against his night stand.
“I’ll live,” James muttered, carefully leveraging himself back to sit on his mattress. “Louisa needs your attention more than I do.”
“When did you feed her last?”
“Before I went to bed, however long ago that was.” The pain didn’t ease much as he lay back down, but he knew from experience that if he just lay down for a while, he’d be able to get up later in the day. It would be painful, but he could do it.
“Well, I’ll see if she needs changed or fed and then I’ll take her up to the nursery so you can get a proper night’s sleep,” Mary said.
“That’s not necessary,” James said. “I’ll be perfectly fine in a little while if she needs me again.”
Mary scooped up the still crying Louisa from her bassinet. “Now I know that’s not true, sir,” she said. “I may not be your doctor, but I’ve seen you on days like this before and you always feel better the more you rest.”
“Yes, but that was before I had a child to take care of,” James said.
“I’m taking care of her tonight,” Mary replied, her voice brooking no argument. She took up Louisa’s bottle in her free hand and then left James alone in his room.
James was back asleep in a matter of minutes after she left.
James was ultimately grateful about Mary’s insistence on helping. He did feel better after spending a day resting when he was in pain, it was simply the worry of not being able to care of his child that ate at him and left him wanted to ignore his own pain in favor of his child’s needs. Still, once he woke again some hours later, when it was properly morning, he found not having anything to do by way of caring for Louisa left him with practically nothing to do. In the few short weeks he’d had her, Louisa had become such a fixture in his life, not having to worry about her care meant he had time to think about other things. Like how Francis might react to coming home to find a child had taken up permanent residence in their home.
Since Mary, James knew, wasn’t going to allow him to take back over care of Louisa until that evening at the earliest, he figured he might as well just sit down and actually write to Francis to let him know the situation. He should have done it weeks ago, ideally after he’d first gotten her. He’d had the time while he was with William and Elizabeth and their nursemaid was helping him care for Louisa while he learned the ropes. But he hadn’t, and he could only atrribute so much to forgetfulness. Perhaps he’d thought it would be easier to beg forgiveness later than try to negotiate with Francis about it before hand.
He pulled himself out of bed, ignoring the discomfort it brought and washed and dressed before sitting down at his desk to write.
I have a daughter now.
Just over a month ago
What are your thoughts on children?
James crumpled the paper and tossed it into the waste basket. This was exactly why he hadn’t written to Francis while he was at his brother’s. What could he say? There was no straightforward reason he’d taken in Louisa other than he’d wanted her and hadn’t wanted to leave her to a life in a foundlings home. But then… Francis knew James’ history, maybe that would be enough for him to understand.
Hope you’re enjoying your time with your family. I’ve had my own exciting family developments while you’ve been away. I have taken in a child. As of my writing this she is just over a month old. Her name is Louisa Fitzjames.
Francis loved his family, he did. However, when he’d written to tell his sisters he’d be visiting, he’d expected a more quiet visit than what had actually taken place. Of course, he really should have expected his return home to be made an affair of. He’d just returned from the most disastrous Arctic expedition to date, a return the papers were calling “miraculous.” On top of that he’d been knighted for his efforts, an honor he felt was wholly undeserved given the circumstances. Still, there was no use arguing it now.
Nevertheless, he should have realized all this would mean his return home would not be the quiet visit he’d hoped for and he regretted not taking James up on his offer to accompany him. Almost the whole extended family had gathered to welcome him home. It had been over all pleasant, if smothering at times, but Francis was relieved all the same when it was time to bid everyone farewell and return to London.
While London didn’t necessarily feel like home, Francis thought the little house he now shared with James could become something like that. While he and James were still trying to figure out their feelings and how they should move forward, Francis had started to feel tentatively happy and quite comfortable the relationship that had grown between them.
These were the thoughts occupying his mind when the cab finally pulled to a stop in front of his address and pulled him from his thoughts. It was quite dark out, Francis realized as he stepped out of the cab, James would likely be asleep. Francis hadn’t mentioned when he intended to return in his last letter to James, so there was no chance James would be waiting up for him. Though Francis suspected if he had told James, James would have done just that.
Letters had been another point of concern for Francis. He had only received one letter from James in the time he’d been gone, though he’d sent James a number. True, the post could take its time getting from Dublin to London, but surely not so long as to only get one letter in two months, unless they’d been lost or mislaid.
Francis had just paid the driver when a light in the window of the house caught his attention. It was just a sliver, peeking out of the drapes to the parlor room, but there was definitely a light, which meant someone was still up. He doubted it would be Mary, she kept normal hours, but neither he nor James had been sleeping well since their return, so perhaps James was not as asleep has Francis had thought he would be.
Francis shouldered his bag and fished his key out of his pocket to let himself in. The first thing he heard upon entering was a soft cry that sounded much like a cat. The second thing came not a moment after and was even more surprising than the idea of James acquiring a cat. James started singing.
Here, a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowline
The darling of our crew
It shocked Francis to stillness for a moment. He had never heard James sing before, though he supposed by the time he had gotten to really know James, there hadn’t been much reason to sing.
No more he’ll hear the tempest howling,
For death has broach’d him to.
Francis carefully lowered his bag to the floor, and, removing his boots, made his way toward the parlor.
His form was of the manliest beauty
His heart was kind and soft
James’ back was to him, when Francis reached the doorway to the parlor. He seemed to be pacing.
Faithful below, he did his duty
And now he’s gone aloft
Tom has gone aloft
As James finished the verse, he finally turned and his eyes met Francis’ and Francis was shocked at just how exhausted James looked. For a brief, frightening moment, he worried James might be getting ill from being unable to sleep, but then his eyes trailed down from James’ face and, sweet Jesus, there was a child, red faced and very recently fallen asleep, in his arms.
Silence fell as James did not continue with the second verse, and Francis opened his mouth to speak, but James quickly shook his head and Francis shut it again. James carefully lowered the baby into a basket on the settee and then, basket in hand, disappeared in the direction of his room.
Francis, not knowing what else to do, moved further into the parlor and seated himself in an arm chair to wait for James to return. There had been a number of things he’d expected to find when he returned, an infant, particularly an infant seemingly belonging to James, had not been one of them.
It was just a few minutes before James returned, but Francis’ mind had been whirling with thoughts of why James had a child the entire time. It couldn’t actually belong to James, the times wouldn’t line up. If it had happened before, the child would be much older, and they hadn’t been back nearly long enough for a child to have been conceived and born. So just how had James come to have a child that he himself would care for.
Francis was preparing to ask that question as James sat down on the settee, but James got there first.
“I suppose I owe you an explanation,” he said. “I had meant to write to you about it, but I only just finished the letter yesterday.”
James sounded so exhausted that Francis was very much considering telling James to just go to bed, that they could have this conversation in the morning when he had rested, but then James continued.
“She’s not mine by birth, that’s likely clear, but she is mine. I- I suppose I should start from the beginning.”
“Or we could sleep and you could tell me everything in the morning,” Francis said. “You look almost as bad off as you did on King William Land.”
It was a poor attempt at a joke, Francis knew, but James laughed all the same and some of the tension in his posture eased.
“I don’t know how much more rested I’ll be in the morning,” James said. “She’s been quite colicky of late.”
“Does she not have a wet nurse?” Francis knew very little about childcare, but he knew nurses were standard for childcare if one could afford it.
“She’ll be here in a week,” James said. “Elizabeth, my brother’s wife made all the arrangements… she was very particular and, as you might imagine, wet nurses are much sought after. Mary has been helping me, but I can only ask so much of her. She’s a housekeeper, caring for a baby is not what we hired her for.”
“Was it your brother and his wife who helped set you up with the child?” Francis asked. Having to tease out information about his friends children seemed to become something of a recurring problem for him.
“Yes, yes, I’m sorry, I did say I would start from the beginning,” James said. He stretched briefly, wincing, Francis noted, before continuing. “I had mentioned to William and Elizabeth before we left for the Arctic that on my return I might consider taking in a child. I knew I wanted children, but at the time I was having reservations about marriage due to my background.”
From there James explained about the servant in his brother’s household, the child being conceived out of wedlock, the mother dying in childbirth.
“I had meant to write you about this, I truly did. And while, I have been quite busy, I must admit I avoided it. I didn’t know what you’d think, and there was some part of me that was worried you’d leave or think me unfit to raise a child.”
“I know the latter is very uncharitable of me,” James continued. “But you must understand that I have those doubts of myself. I was raised well by the Coninghams, but the specter of my father is always there when I think about if I’m doing right by Louisa.”
Francis could understand that. James had clearly been much impacted in his life by the situation of his birth, which was no easy thing to shake.
After a few moments of contemplation Francis spoke. “I think you have done something very brave, James. Unconventional, certainly, but that in no way reflects poorly on you or your daughter. Now, I haven’t seen much of how you’ve cared for, Louisa, you said her name was?”
“Louisa Fitzjames,” James said softly. “I named her for my aunt, Louisa Coningham.”
Francis nodded, and something twisted in his chest at the soft admission. It was no small thing that this little baby had James’ own last name.
“Well, I’ve only seen you with her the once, but you seem to have done quite well with her, particularly considering you don’t have a wet nurse for her yet. Although, I do question your choice of Tom Bowline as a lullaby, James.”
James laughed quietly, attempting to muffle the sound with a hand. “And you would know better lullabies?”
“I’m sure I could think of a song that wasn’t about the tragic death of a sailor,” Francis said and James smiled broadly, shaking his head.
“You’ll have to teach me them,” James said. “Or perhaps you can just sing them to Louisa yourself.”
James grew quiet almost immediately, which made Francis think he hadn’t intended to say the last part out loud. Still, there was no harm done for him saying it.
“Perhaps I will,” Francis said. “I’m certain I’ll be seeing much more of her in the days to come.”
“So you will stay?”
“I hadn’t considered anything else,” Francis admitted. And it was true, child or not, Francis had no desire to live apart from James.
A few more minutes of quiet conversation and assuring James that the presence of a child didn’t need to change anything between them, Francis finally managed to pursued James to go to bed.
James went without resistance, and he also didn’t object when Francis came back downstairs from his bedroom to join James in his. Although that may have also been not wanting to talk in the same room as a very recently put to bed infant.
Regardless, Francis had already made up his mind that he would be the one to take care of Louisa if she woke again before morning.