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every little piece of your life

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Every little piece of your life, will add up to one

Every little piece of your life, will mean something to someone

- The Weight of the World - Editors

 

The funeral of Francis R. M. Crozier was a quiet affair, attended only by close friends and family. It wasn’t terribly long or elaborate, although the people who spoke, spoke eloquently, including James Ross, Francis’ oldest and dearest friend. It was a beautiful speech and a relief, as well, to hear such a deeply personal account of Francis, as opposed to those who only sought to name his achievements as an explorer as if that was the only worth a man had.

It had been illness, in the end, that had claimed his life. Though all things considered, pneumonia was a more peaceful way to go than many diseases. It was called ‘old man’s friend’ for a reason, Louisa supposed. That was hardly a comfort though, especially when watching the coffin of the man who had all but been a second father to her being lowered into the ground.

Next to her, seated in his wheelchair, James choked back a sob, and Louisa gently took his hand, while on his other side Thomas Blanky rested a comforting hand on his shoulder.

Louisa was incredibly grateful that she had been home when Francis had passed, not only because she’d gotten to see him once more before he died, but so that she could be there for her father. He had been wrecked by Francis’ death, though he was presently trying very hard not to completely break down at the funeral. It was horrible, Louisa thought, that although they had spent over thirty years together, James wasn’t allowed to publicly grieve for Francis as his husband.

James squeezed her hand tightly and let out a shuddering breath.

 

After the funeral Louisa and James were accompanied home by Thomas Jopson and Edward Little, who were sharing their guest room, Henry Peglar, who was being put up in Louisa’s room, and James Ross, who was staying in the spare room that Francis had used when they had guests who didn’t know. The tradition of returning to the deceased’s home for a meal following the funeral was being overlooked in favor of letting the elderly and ailing funeral attendees return to their lodgings to rest and allowing Francis’ extended family to avoid Fitzjames.

No conversation was had until they arrived back at the house, and even then it was only brief conversation as to who would be lifting James over the front steps as it took two people to lift his chair with him in it. After that they parted ways for their own respective rooms.

“Do you want to sit in the parlor or would you rather lie down?” Louisa asked, once the others had taken their leave.

“Parlor. I-”  his voice cracked. “I’m sorry.”

“Papa, you have nothing to apologize for,” Louisa said. She leaned down to kiss him on the cheek before steering his chair toward the parlor.s “I know how hard this has been for you.”

“It’s been hard on you too,” James replied. “And I haven’t been…”

“I know papa,” Louisa said, drawing James’ chair up next to the settee. “But you’ve been having to hide so much of your grief, especially since father’s family has been here. Yes, I’m hurting too, but I also couldn’t stand to see you fall apart.”

James clenched his eyes shut as the tears he’d been holding back finally began falling in earnest.

“Do you want help getting out of your chair?” James could do it on his own, with some effort, but Louisa always asked before offering help.

“Please,” James choked out and Louisa carefully helped James to his feet.

He was shaking from the exertion by the time Louisa had him lowered down on the settee and after Louisa got him settled so he was lying down, leaned up against the arm of the couch, she grabbed the blanket that was draped over the back of his chair to cover him.

“Louisa you don’t have to-“

“Please,” Louisa said, cutting James off. “Please, let me take care of you. I need this too.”

James leaned forward, taking Louisa’s wrist to tug her towards him.

Louisa didn’t try to pull back, only pausing to seat herself on the edge of the settee next to James before allowing herself to be pulled into an embrace. That was all it took for the dam to burst.

They cried together until there were no more tears that would fall. 

 

“I never wanted to outlive him,” James said softly as Louisa helped him into bed later that evening. “I was always certain all my infirmities would take me first.” 

Louisa frowned, but said nothing, continuing her hunt through all the medicine in James’ nightstand drawer for his eyedrops.

“I don’t mean that in a…” James let out a long breath and reached out to grab Lousia’s hand to catch her attention.

“I don’t wish for my own death now, if that’s what you thought my words meant.”

“I’d hoped they didn’t,” Louisa admitted. “Do you think you need your eyedrops tonight? I can’t seem to find them.”

“I can do without them for a night,” James said. “They don’t do much to begin with.”

“The doctor said…”

James shook his head. “The doctor has said a lot of things, Weesy,  some things I’m not sure I believe. Harry doesn’t think there’s any chance of the sight in my left eye returning, and I trust his opinion more than the other doctors I’ve seen.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Louisa said, closing the drawer to James nightstand. “Do they really not help at all?”

“They’re soothing when my eye is irritated, but besides that I’ve noticed no other effects.”

Louisa sighed. “Well, is… is there anything else you need?”

“Just come to bed. Please don’t overwork yourself for my sake.”

Louisa looked like she very much wanted to protest, but she didn’t, and James let go of her hand so she could go change into her nightclothes. 

 

James was incredibly grateful that Louisa had suggested sharing a room when their friends came in for the funeral. They would have more rooms to offer guests, she’d said, and while that was true, James also found himself incredibly relieved that, at least for a time, he wouldn’t have to sleep alone in his and Francis’s room anymore. He would have to go back to it eventually, but for now it was a comfort, when he would inevitably wake in the middle of the night, to know he wasn’t alone.

James shifted his position to relieve pressure on his back, but stilled when he felt Louisa shift next to him as well. He hoped he hadn’t woken her.

There was a soft sniffle and then, “Papa?”

“Did I wake you?” James asked, blindly reaching out for Louisa.  His eyesight was far too poor to make out anything in a dark room.

Louisa caught his hand and held on tightly. “No, I was already… I couldn’t sleep…” She hiccuped and James realized she was crying. “I can’t stop thinking about the funeral.”

“Come here,” James said, opening his arms as wide as he could.

Louisa got the message and immediately closed the distance between them, curling into James’ chest much as she had as a small child.

“I wish Lizzie were here,” Louisa murmured. “I feel horribly selfish for saying it, but…”

James pressed a kiss to the top of Louisa’s head. “You aren’t selfish for wanting the person you love with you at a difficult time, and I’m sure Lizzie would want to be here with you as well.”

Louisa sniffled. “She’s just so happy where she’s teaching right now, and I don’t want to jeopardize her position by asking her to come back to England abruptly.”

Lizzie was presently teaching English at a upperclass boarding school in France, which admittedly was rather a distance away to ask someone to return from quickly, but James also knew that Lizzie and Louisa both would drop just about anything if the other needed help. It was comforting, particularly now when James' thoughts turned toward his own eventual passing.

“Trust her to make her own choices about what is best for her,” James said softly as he began to rub gentle circles into Louisa’s back. “Knowing her as I do, I imagine she may come regardless of whether or not you’ve explicitly invited her.” 

Louisa sighed against James' shoulder, but made no move to say anything else.

“Do you remember,” James began after a few moments silence. “When Francis built you a swing for your birthday? You were very young, six or seven, I believe it was the first year we lived in this house.”

“I do,” Louisa murmured, raising her head slightly. “It hung from the big oak out back. I remember wondering how you’d managed to tie it up so high.”

“That was all Francis’s doing,” James said, smiling at little at the memory. “I’d told him we should just hire someone to put it up, but he wanted it to be a surprise you could wake up to on your birthday and we couldn’t very well hire someone to come out to the back of our property in the middle of the night without sounding like we were planning to commit murder.”

Louisa choked on a laugh and James continued, smile widening. “So Francis did the only logical thing he could think of. He decided to climb the tree himself.”

“Now, Francis is a decent climber, but spending a lifetime climbing in the riggings of ships is not the same as climbing a tree.” James didn’t even realize he’d misspoken until Louisa tensed in his arms. He swallowed and continued. “So it was dark, and he was scaling a tree while holding the swing. I was out there with him, of course, but a fat lot I could have done to catch him. If he’d landed on me that would likely have seen me in a chair far sooner. But he didn’t fall climbing up and he got the swing all tied up without incident. I even tried it to make sure the knots were tied suitably well.”

“Did he get stuck?” Louisa asked, and James was relieved to hear the smile behind her words.

“No, well, he might have, we didn’t have time to find out, because as he was making his way to climb down, a branch broke under his weight and he fell. Not terribly far—as a child you likely could have bounced up and been just fine—but Francis was sixty.”

“I’m assuming he was fine as I don’t remember him being injured from a fall like that.”

“He had some particularly nasty bruises and hobbled for a bit, but no lasting harm was done from the fall. And Francis did most definitely downplay his hurts for your benefit. We both did, when you were little. You didn’t understand yet, why papa could walk some days but not others.”

Louisa readjusted her position so she could drape an arm around James, and James in turn pressed a kiss to Louisa’s hair.

“Would you like me to keep telling stories until you’re asleep again?”

“Please.”

 


 

Breakfast the following morning was a quiet affair and was mostly managed by Jopson and Little after Jopson insisted that Mary deserved to take a break from doing things too.

“You’re grieving for Francis too,” Jopson had said. “Let us help around the house while we’re here.”

Mary had been exceedingly grateful and when Jopson informed James later, James had agreed, informing Mary that if she needed time off or further help to please let him know.

Following breakfast, Jopson and Mary began conspiring about future meals (for later in the day and subsequent days) and Little was roped into helping them. Louisa, desperate for something to do that wasn’t sitting around the house being sad, offered to acquire the necessary supplies from the market, as she was the most spry of anyone in the house.

“They’ve told me time and time again that I should hire some young thing to help me, and it’s not that I don’t want the help…” Mary said, sitting down at the kitchen table while Jopson puttered about making a large pot of tea.

“It’s just difficult to find someone who knows how to be discrete?” Jopson offered.

“Yes, exactly,” Mary said. “If I had my way I’d only hire lesbians, but you can’t just ask that. I suppose since it is just Captain Fitzjames now there is less to worry about, but I wouldn’t want to him to feel he had to hide anything around a new servant either.”

“That’s very true,” Jopson said. “I’ll see if there’s anything Edward and I can do to help with that when we go back to London. My tailor shop has garnered something of an… unspoken reputation. I think there’s a chance one of my girls would be more than willing to make  the switch to housework.”

“Especially considering how much Captain Fitzjames pays,” Mary said. After a few moments, she added, “I’ll pose the question to him in a few weeks. Now’s not the time for a shake up in the household I’m sure you’ll agree.”

  “Of course.” 

 

At the same time across the house James was, again, laying down on the settee, mostly listening while Peglar, Ross and Blanky talked. Ross and Peglar had taken seats in lounge chairs, while Blanky was sitting on the floor near James’ legs, leaning up against the settee.

“Aren’t you uncomfortable on the floor?” Ross asked Blanky at length.

Blanky shrugged. “That’s part of the point, but I’m fine down here, don’t you worry about me, though I will need Mr. Peglar to help me up later. I can sit down better than I stand up, and…” He nodded at Peglar. “You’re the most able bodied of us widowers.”

“Is this something to do with your mourning customs?” James asked, entering the conversation at last.

“It is,” Blanky said, turning so that he was facing James. “Did you figure that out on your own? Or was it just a guess?” 

“Francis told me, after he visited you when Esther passed.”

“Ah,” Blanky nodded, and then for the benefit of Peglar and Ross he continued. “It’s Jewish tradition to sit on the floor or a low seat when a loved one passes, to represent being brought low by grief. Typically it’s only done for family, but well… Francis was more than enough of a friend to consider family.”

“I applaud your… commitment,” Ross said. “I agree that Francis was certainly family to me as well; though I think if I attempted your tradition, I’d wind up perfectly stuck.”

Blanky laughed. “Well, it’s not for everyone, certainly.”

“Everyone grieves differently,” Peglar said, nodding in agreement.  “I didn’t find any particular comfort in God or tradition when John died… not when the church is so certain that our love was something abhorrent. The bookstore was really what kept me going. John put so much work into it, it really was his more than mine for all that we were business partners, and I couldn’t let it fall to nothing.”

James made a soft hum of acknowledgement. He remembered when Bridgens had died. Peglar had written them, distraught, not knowing what to do. Now it was James’ turn to ask for help. “Does it ever stop hurting?”

“It hurts less after a while,” Peglar said. “But I’m not sure it ever really stops.”

“I think it’s harder the more you love someone,” Ross added. “There was a reason I never sought to remarry after Ann. I knew I’d never be able to love anyone as much as I loved her and I didn’t want to.”

James nodded slowly. “I don’t think I’ll want to either,  even without considering how difficult it would be to find someone I could be fully honest with.”

“No one’s asking you to think of it now,” Ross said gently.

James was spared having to think of a response by the arrival of Mary with tea. He invited her to sit and join them, but Mary insisted that she needed to return to the kitchen, something about not quite trusting someone else in her kitchen. It seemed an excuse, but also one James understood and he wasn’t going to press her for her reasons.

“This is the wrong day for it, but… To wives and sweethearts, who are no longer with us,” Ross said, raising his cup of tea slightly.

“Hear, hear,” Blanky said, raising his own cup. “We’ll forgive you this once, if you forgive us forgoing the normal response.”

They drank to the toast and James set down his cup on the small table between the four of them. “I once responded to that, in the company of Sir John Franklin, by saying, ‘I had not one and did not want the other.’ I never imagined then how happy I’d be with Francis.”

“I think we can safely assume he didn’t either,” Ross said, settling his cup down as well, though with the intent to refill it. “Complained about you to the last letter home.”

James smiled a touch, thinking back. “Well, between him being overlooked for magnetics and my accidental theft of his tea he did have reason to complain.”

Blanky chuckled. “He did indeed, didn’t he.”

 


 

Their friends trickled out of the house of the course of the next few days, though Ross stayed longer than the rest. He had been Francis’s closest friend, and had become quite a dear friend of James’ over the years as well.

“Do not hesitate to write should you need anything,” Ross told him as they said their goodbyes out front of the house. “I do not think I would have survived Ann’s death were it not for Francis, and I would hate to think I was not able to offer you such support in your time of grief.”

“Thank you,” James said, clasping Ross’s hand. “I’m sure I will take advantage of that.”

Ross nodded. “Good. I will look forward to hearing from you then.” 

With one last farewell, Ross left and Louisa helped James back inside.

“Is there anything you need?” she asked.

James shook his head. “I think I would just like to lie down. I can’t  remember the last time I felt so completely exhausted.”

“Should I wake you for lunch?” Louisa asked as she pushed his chair toward his bedroom.

“Please,” James said, reaching up to place a hand over Louisa’s on the back of his chair. “I think I’d be liable to sleep through the whole day otherwise.”

 

Louisa brought her father his lunch in bed, because the sky had opened up rather severely in the hours he’d been asleep, and while it wasn’t as if they would be going outside, the house did get to feel quite damp when it rained, which made James' old injuries act up more than usual.

“This wasn’t necessary,” James said as Louisa waited for him to pull himself  into a sitting position so she could put the tray of food down.

“You’d feel horrible you tried to get up,” Louisa said. “And I brought my lunch too, so we can eat together. I also lit the fire in the parlor, which will hopefully help to dry out the house.”

James sighed. “I need to hire someone to see to the house…”

Louis set the tray down on the bed next to James before climbing on herself and arranging herself at the foot of the bed. “But hiring another personal staff member would be difficult. Though I did overhear Mary and Jopson talking about how the ideal staff situation for any house would be entirely lesbians.”

James chuckled. “I know it was likely meant as a joke, but if Mary does know of anyone she’d like to hire…”

“She would I’m sure,” Louisa said. “I think Jopson was going to ask if any of the girls in his shop would be interested in a career change. However, I don’t suppose any of them would be skilled in carpentry or roofing, what with coming from tailor work.”

“No, likely not,” James agreed, taking a moment to examine the food on the tray.

It was a relatively simple meal, Louisa had made it clear to Mary that they would be eating it in bed, so it was sandwiches and other things that could survive being a bit jostled about. They ate in silence for a while until James spoke up again. 

“I don’t suppose you remember this house terribly well when we first moved here.”

“Not particularly, why?” Louisa asked.

James shook his head. “I was just thinking about how long it took to repair everything that was wrong with it. When Francis and I bought this place it had been standing empty for a number of years and it was rather apparent. Part of the reason we got it so cheaply was because we told the previous owner we’d fix it up ourselves.” He chuckled. “We, perhaps, overestimated our abilities.”

“Seems it turned out alright in the end,” Louisa said, shoving the last bit of her sandwich into her mouth.

“It did, certainly,” James said. “But not without a fair share of blunders on the way.” He paused. “If you’re finished could you move the tray aside.”

“Yes, just a moment.” Louisa wiped her hands off on a napkin, before climbing off the bed and removing the tray, setting on the floor by  the door to take back to the kitchen later.

She then returned to the bed, this time settling herself at James side. “All right, I’m ready for the rest of the story papa.” It was good, she thought, that he was able to reminisce so happily about Francis.

James smiled, shifting so he could wrap an arm around Louisa’s shoulder, and she, in turn, shifted in to press against James' side and rest her head on his shoulder. 

“I had forbidden Francis from trying to fix the roof as I’d already asked someone in from town to see about it, but he seemed to take that as a personal challenge and decided that he would be the one to re-plaster the ceiling in the kitchen.”

Louisa covered her mouth with her hand, grinning. “Oh no.” 

“It’s not as bad as you’re thinking,” James said, smiling as well. “He didn’t fall. What he did instead was upend a bucket of plaster over himself because he thought it was a good idea to balance it on the ladder before he climbed up.”

Louisa laughed. “I do think I remember that. Not the incident itself, but his hair absolutely powdered white with plaster dust for days.”

“It was impossible to wash out, every time we thought we’d gotten all of it his hair would dry and still be shedding dust!” He chuckled.

“I do recall helping you paint the house,” Louisa said. “Or parts of it.”

James hummed in thought. “I believe that was around when we were finishing everything up. I had been… perhaps rather overprotective of you when we first moved here, but you’d been so ill for so long, I just wanted you to rest and play, but you…” He laughed softly. “You wanted to do exactly what papa and Uncle Francis were doing, as you always did.”

“As I’m still doing,” Louisa said and she reached over to take James’ hand.

“You certainly are.” James smiled. “You’ve done so well for yourself. I could not be more proud of you, and Francis was too.” His voice was becoming choked with tears.  “You know that, don’t you?”

Louisa drew James’ hand to her chest. “Of course I do. The both of you never let me forget it for a minute. I’ve been the envy of all of Uncle Francis’s students since I could talk.”

James gave a wet chuckle. “He was rather stingy with his compliments. ‘They’re here to learn,’ he’d say. ‘Not to get reassurance that they’re already right.’”

“Unless it was me,” Louisa said with a soft smile, though her eyes were getting quite watery as well.

“Unless it was you.” James shook his head fondly. “You likely won’t remember this, you were very small, just over a year I think. But Francis was giving a lecture for… for…” He frowned briefly before continuing.

“Well, it was some society lecture, not long before he got his university position, and come the day of it your nursemaid had taken ill and I was also in no condition to take care of you on my own that day. I did try to convince Francis otherwise and he wouldn’t hear it, but I wasn’t backing down either, because I knew he’d actually been looking forward to giving this lecture. Can you guess what he did?”

Louisa bit her cheek to hold back a laugh. “He didn’t… he didn’t take me with him did he?”

“He did indeed,” James said, grinning. “He gave his entire lecture with you in his arms. It was in all the papers, and from all accounts you were very polite. I have the newspaper cuttings somewhere.”

“How have I not heard this story before?” Louisa asked. “This sounds like a story that you’d tell with great frequency.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” James mused. “I don’t rightly remember, perhaps digging up those old articles might shed some light on it.”

Louisa let go of James' hand, sitting up a bit more. “Where might they be?”

“The closet most likely,” James said. “I have a few boxes of old papers in there that I haven’t gone through in well over a decade.”

That seemed like a reasonable assumption to make, Louisa thought. “Do you want me to get them out?”

James seemed a bit hesitant, but he nodded. “I don’t see why not.”

“We can wait if you’d rather not do it now,” Louisa said. It had been a long several weeks, and she didn’t want to do something that might cause her father more distress.

“No, no, it’s quite all right,” James assured her. “It’s been a long day, but I’ll let you know if it’s too much.”

 

Louisa didn’t seem terribly convinced as she pulled away from James and climbed off the bed. It really wasn’t a matter of being overwhelmed by reminiscing, but rather his own memories that were bothering him. Namely, what he couldn’t remember. Like the name of the society that Francis had been presenting to then, and the fact that he’d all but forgotten about this story until now.

As Louisa rummaged around in his closet James arranged himself in a position that would be more comfortable when sorting through boxes of papers.

“Here we are,” Louisa said, dropping a small, ornate, though rather beat-up chest onto the bed. “This one seemed more likely to hold sentimental things than the other box.”

“A fair assessment.” James reached over to tug the chest closer. “I believe I acquired this when I was in China.”

He fiddled with the latch for several moments before it popped open. “It went North with me and was one of the few things that came home.”

“That explains why it looks like it’s been run over by a carriage and dropped off a roof,” Louisa said wryly as she sat down on the bed again.

James chuckled. “That just means it’s sturdy.”

As he withdrew a pile of papers there as a soft clinking noise and a locket slipped out from between some of the pages. James set the papers aside in favor of picking up the locket.

“What is it?” Louisa asked.

“I believe…” James began as he opened the locket. “Yes, its lock of your hair.” He passed it over to Louisa. “From when you were ill and we had to cut your hair. You were so upset and I suggested saving a lock. You wore it for a while after you got better. I can’t say I remember why you stopped.”

“The chain broke,” Louisa said. “I was climbing a tree and it got caught on a branch.” She held the locket up by the chain. “It’s snapped right at the clasp.”

“We should get that fixed,” James said. He’d likely meant to all those years ago.

Louisa set the locket down on the bed. “I’ll take it with me on my next trip to London. I’m sure I can find a jeweler there who can fix it. Now, I want to find those newspaper stories about Uncle Francis.”

“Yes, yes, let’s…” and he reached for the pile of papers he’d set down.

From there they fell into companionable silence, save for the shuffling of paper.

“Oh, I found something!” Louisa exclaimed as they were nearing the bottom of the chest, and James looked up from the papers he’d been sifting through and attempting to sort. There was an envelope that was stuffed full to bursting with newspaper clippings.

Inside were a good deal of articles, some about their friends: the promotion of Captain Edward Little and the opening of Odysseys and Oddities, Bridgens and Peglar’s book shop; some about the expedition, which had likely only been saved for Francis’s enjoyment of James' rather rude doodles of various members of the Admiralty; and then there were the ones they were looking for.

“You weren’t kidding when you said it was in all the papers,” Louisa said, laughing as she sorted through the small pile.

James picked up the top few clippings. “Well, it was such a wild and unbelievable story, can you blame them? Sir Francis Crozier giving a talk with a baby.”

“And one that wasn’t his own at that,” Louisa tittered, “Oh listen to this: Captain Crozier’s young guest can hardly be called a disturbance to the lecture, she was quite well behaved and even gave a few important insights of her own throughout.

“You were a scientist from the start,” James said, laughing, before returning his attention to the papers he’d picked up. His face fell almost immediately. “I believe I’ve figured out why this didn’t make it into the annals of dinnertime stories. I do remember this, I’d just forgotten the two things were connected.”

“What happened?”

James let out a long breath and set the paper down. “Someone took issue with the fact that we were a household of two men raising a child, seemingly together. Several people noted it as odd and unorthodox, but a few went as far to make actual accusations.”

“Oh no… I mean, I suppose things can’t have turned out too badly. But what happened?” Louisa asked.

“Mary happened,” James said. This had been the moment that he and Francis had really begun to see Mary as a proper part of the family. She’d saved their skins in more ways than one.

“She… We’d hired her when we first moved into our London house, and well, we’d certainly tried to be discrete, but servants are going to notice things, though we’d been even more cautious lately because of the nursemaid.”

James shook his head, laughing quietly. “Mary was approached by a newsman while she was out running errands one day, and from her own description I’m not sure how he managed to escape unscathed.” 

Louisa grinned. “That sounds like Mary.”

“What she told us that evening,” James said, trying to hold back laughter as he continued, “was that she’d told him off as thoroughly as she could; saying that she was our housekeeper and she’d be a poor one if she didn’t know what was going in the house and everything was in perfect order as it should be with two respectable gentlemen living together, and beyond that, she washed our sheets and, therefore, would certainly be aware if we were up to any ‘funny business’.”

“Francis and I were horribly embarrassed, because it was true, she likely would be able to infer, if she didn’t know outright, but Mary was quick to assure us that our secret was safe with her, and that once the nursemaid was out of the house we could resume sharing a room if we wished.”

James chuckled. “Francis and I broke down in hysterical laughter at that. There was nothing else we could do, it was simultaneously the most frightening and ridiculous situation we’d ever been in!”

“I can only imagine,” Louisa said, grinning.

“Regardless, things quieted down before long, but it was something we avoided bringing up.” James shook his head. “So much so that I forgot what event set the whole damn thing off.”

Louisa leaned over to kiss James on the cheek. “Well, I’m glad to hear the story now.”

 


 

When Louisa offered to stay for another few months to help James with the house and ensuring that the rest of Francis’s will was properly executed, James nearly protested. He had not wanted to keep Louisa from her work, but selfishly, he wanted the comfort of her being here, and practically, he realized that without Francis he did need a caretaker to help him around the house as invalided as he was.

“We’ll find someone,” Louisa said, when he expressed this concern. “I won’t be leaving until I’ve made sure you’ll be alright living here on your own.”

It wasn’t long after this conversation that they received a letter from Jopson. Two young women had come to him looking for work, having heard of the reputation of his shop, but neither of them were a particularly good fit to work for a tailor. One of them had, it seemed, dressed as a man to find work at the docks and both had admitted that their sewing was rather atrocious, but they were desperate. Jopson had been quick to assure them that, while he couldn’t hire them, he could find them work and, thus, the letter to James.

“If they don’t know the work they’ll learn,” Mary said, setting a tray of tea down in front of James, where he sat at the dining table in his chair.

Mary drew out a chair to sit across from him. “I’d rather have them than anyone else, for both our sakes.”

“You’re an absolute wonder Mary, I hope you know that,” James said. “Francis and I never would have managed all these years without you.” 

“I could say the same of you, sir,” Mary replied. “I could not have imagined a better life for myself than the one I’ve had working here.”

James smiled. “I am very glad to hear that.” He worried his thumb on the handle of his cup for a moment. “I should also tell you that I’ve made an appointment to amend my will.”

“Sir…”

“It’s merely a precaution,” James said, with a small shake of his head. “My will has been in place for some time, but I want to ensure that you and any other people in my employ are not left without should my passing come suddenly. I don’t know if Louisa will find it financially feasible to maintain this house after I’m gone.”

Mary nodded slowly. “Of course, sir, though I hate to think of it.”

“I know, it’s nothing I want to be thinking about either, but I’ve been rather forced to of late.” James' eyes grew shiny with unshed tears. “It all happened so quickly after Francis fell ill, I…” he swallowed heavily. “I fear leaving any part of my affairs unsettled, especially in light of how Francis’s family reacted to the will he’d left.”

Francis’s will had been quite reasonable, in James' opinion. He had always been one to care for and support his family, but there had been those that had taken umbrage with the fact that Francis had included both James and Louisa in the will, and more so that James had been named executor.

James, in turn, had named Francis executor in his own will, which was one of a number of things that now needed changing. He wanted no doubt to be cast on any of his intentions.

 

James passed in his sleep four months to the day after Francis. The doctor said that his heart had simply given out, suggesting stress as a reason. Louisa though lovesickness and heartbreak far more likely, but she said nothing.

James was buried next to Francis. Immediately next to, as a plot for a husband and wife might be laid out. There had been some raised eyebrows at that, but Louisa had put on her best helpless face and shrugged and pointed to the parts of both of their wills that indicated this as their preference, and as she had been made executor of her father’s will, she did have the final say. If anyone in attendance at the funeral thought it strange they didn’t mention it.

In truth, the only person there who likely didn’t know the truth of James and Francis’s relationship was James' half-brother, Fitzgerald Gambier. Louisa was fairly certain both William and Elizabeth had known by the end, and while nothing had ever been acknowledged explicitly they’d always made space for Francis as part of the family.

Her darling Lizzie, who she had agonized over asking to come after Francis died, had arrived unannounced not two days after James had passed. Louisa could not have asked for a better source of comfort in the days leading up to her father’s funeral.

She clung to Lizzie’s arm as she watched her father’s casket be interred in the ground. “I don’t know what to do.”

“For now, you lean on me,” Lizzie said. “And I know your uncles don’t plan on leaving until everything can be settled.” She twined their fingers together. “They may be gone, but you aren’t alone.”