For all the things my hands have held
The best by far is you
"Cecilia and the satellite"
Her consciousness surfaced slowly and, like waking from a bad dream, her body reacted before her mind could catch up. Her eyes scanned the wood tester above her ‒ but this was not her bed ‒ and then the small statue of the Virgin Mary, placed nearby, it seemed, to offer an added measure of protection. Or comfort, perhaps.
Her hands slid slowly down her front, falling to a belly that was not familiar. Had lost its firmness. Her breath quickened, tears already sprouting in her eyes as the knowing clicked back into place.
Jamie. Black Jack Randall. The woods. The baby.
She pressed on her stomach, which was a foreign and soft bulge. She had lost the firmness. Had lost the baby that was inside. She sat up abruptly and even though there was pain, she couldn’t care about that now.
“Where is my baby?” She called out and searched for herself and then, more urgently, “Wh-where is my baby ?”
Frantically, her eyes sought out the fast-approaching Mother Hildegarde, who swooped in with gentle hands to ease her back into bed, speaking softly to her. “You must not trouble yourself. You must save your strength.”
“Where’s my baby?” Her whole body was shaking. “Where’s my baby? I want my baby!”
The panic escalated so quickly, Claire could hardly register the gentle words urging her to stay put, to rest, because every fiber of her being called out for the child that had been ripped from her and she could not muster any ounce of sanity until -
“She’s right here, Madame.”
Those four words strung together amidst their attempts to settle her, finally grounded Claire and her gaze swept beyond Mother Hildegarde to the small bundle in one of the sisters’ arms.
“Oui Madame.” Mother Hildegarde sighed and motioned for the sister to approach. She will not rest until she sees, Claire heard her say in French. To Claire, she murmured, “She’s very small and weak. She will not make it, Madame. But you should hold her and rest.”
“Give her to me.” She held her hands out for her child, bundled up in white linen so that she couldn’t see anything of the babe until they placed her in Claire’s arms. “Oh…” she breathed, pulling the baby to her chest. Wisps of bright copper hair peaked out from the blanket above a tiny, pale face. Her eyes were closed but slanted a bit - like Jamie’s, she thought at once. “Hello, my love.” She cradled the baby’s head with one hand and leaned down ever so gently to press a kiss to her forehead.
She was tiny. Born weeks too early. Claire’s mind spun out on possibilities for the many challenges this baby might face as a result of her premature birth. Most pressing to Claire was the lungs that she knew hadn’t fully developed. Just keeping the baby breathing would be a task.
“I baptized her and gave her a name.”
Claire’s head snapped up to the Mother. “What?”
The older woman’s eyes were kind and glistening with tears. “You must understand… if she does not make it, I wanted to be sure she was baptized and could be buried in hallowed ground. We were not sure when you would wake.”
Claire glanced down at the baby to find her eyes were open, barely, and squinting into the light. Despite everything that her logical brain was screaming at her to focus on, she smiled through a fresh wave of tears. This baby was hers and Jamie’s and oh, she was beautiful.
The word hung in the air between them and it took a moment to understand that Mother Hildegarde was telling Claire the baby’s name. Faith.
“Faith Fraser,” Claire echoed, finding one tiny, perfect fist and bringing it to her lips for a kiss. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Claire pulled the baby even closer and relaxed back against the headboard with her. Despite her swaddling, Faith’s little cheek rested against Claire’s collarbone and the babe seemed to relax at once with that contact. Claire’s eyes fluttered shut and her lips pressed a gentle kiss to Faith’s head and she stayed there, breathing the girl in, feeling her warmth. Her panicked heart rate finally began to slow.
She wasn’t oblivious to their audience, but it didn’t matter to her that the sisters fluttered about like an anxious flock of birds. They all existed in holy silence as mother and child met for the first time.
Calmed now and feeling as though the tilted chaos she had awakened to had suddenly righted itself, Claire looked down at her child and gave in to the sudden and consuming instincts to protect this little life. She held Faith’s small form in one arm and pulled at her shift to expose one breast and situated the babe to feed.
“No, no, Madame.” Mother Hildegarde’s gentle hand was on her arm. “You need your strength.” Claire knew she meant for this moment to be a goodbye. Any lifesaving efforts, such as trying to breastfeed, would all be for naught. Or maybe she meant to save Claire from the physical discomfort that would only heighten the emotional pain if she proceeded and then soon didn’t have a baby to feed.
“No,” Claire growled with a ferocity that was new. “She does. She needs my strength. She needs everything I can give her.”
Tiny as she was, little Faith was rooting around at Claire’s breast. Instinct kicked in for both of them. “There’s a good girl.” Claire watched her try to latch on, struggling with the mechanics of it all, trying to suckle and swallow. “Don’t forget to breathe.” She traced the outline of Faith’s scrunched up face with one finger. Her poor, tiny girl. She fell asleep quickly at Claire’s breast with hardly anything, but it was a start. Claire’s body was responding and changing, centering around this new little life.
She was delirious with joy when her gaze met Mother Hildegarde’s again. Well, perhaps also delirious from the touch of fever. And the good Mother watched the two of them with a heavy heart, uncertain if one or both would pull through, but praying without ceasing that a miracle might transpire here before her very eyes and allow both of them to live.
Claire’s eyelids fluttered open and her gaze rested on Mother Hildegarde where she stood above her. Her body burned with fever but Claire couldn’t get warm, shaking with chills and laboring even to breathe. Mother Hildegarde mopped her forehead and murmured a prayer in French. When Claire spoke, it was a labored effort. “Where is Faith?”
“Still with us, Madame, but the same. And you… your fever is very high and it has been several days.”
It was then that someone joined them, introduced to Claire as Father Laurentin, to perform an unction of the sick. The stricken face of Mother Hildegarde was enough indication of how dire Claire’s situation must be. She reached for Mother Hildegarde’s hand, finding comfort in the woman’s presence. But not enough.
“I need my husband…”
She was battling an infection while trying to bring their baby into health and she so desperately needed Jamie here with her.
“I’m sorry, ma chère. There’s been no word.”
“Please…” Claire rasped. “Write to Jamie’s sister… if I don’t make it… and Faith does…”
She knew the baby’s outlook was only as good as her own, if not worse, but Mother Hildegarde’s chosen name for this child had so perfectly summed up Claire’s heart in the matter. Despite Mother Hildegarde’s constant tempering of expectations, she had faith the baby would live, felt it in her very bones to be true.
Bones that now rattled with ache and chill… oh, she knew what it was that plagued her and there was nothing she could do in this century. She allowed Father Laurentin to continue, knowing she very well might not make it. But her baby might… she held onto that belief with everything she had.
“Madame, let me take her so you can rest.”
“No.” Claire’s voice was cool, firm, but her arms tightened around little Faith just the same. “I’m fine now. So she stays with me.” After the bizarre and miraculous night where Master Raymond visited Claire, the fever had lifted and only Claire knew why. He had healed her, removing the festering piece of placenta from within her and setting her back on a path to the living. And so she ate every bit of food they brought her and poured everything she had back into caring for Faith. When she rested, it was with Faith beside her in the bed, though Claire scarcely slept now since discovering that Faith slept best when she was laid on her mother’s chest. Faith’s breathing would even out and in those late hours of sleeplessness, what restored Claire more than sleep was the tiny, quick puffs of air caressing her skin. Every breath was sacred and promising. They would not be separated now that Claire could manage it. And anyone, even the well-meaning sisters, who tried to get between Claire and the baby… well, they had only to glimpse the flash of protective fury in Claire’s eyes to know they shouldn’t argue. The best place for Faith Fraser now was in her mother’s care.
A miracle, Mother Hildegarde declared it. Claire was inclined to agree, given how unlikely it was that tiny Faith should’ve lived without the proper care she needed while her mother had crept dangerously close to leaving this earth.
But Faith had lived through the worst of Claire’s infection, against all odds, and Claire was determined now to see this little one grow and flourish.
“You already have a glorious, pink flush to your skin,” Claire murmured to the baby, stroking her delicate skin. “And Mama won’t leave you now, I promise.” Faith’s gaze held steady on Claire while she talked. “God, you are so beautiful. If only your father -” Claire’s throat constricted and hot tears burned her eyes.
She spent every waking minute with her thoughts on Faith because she could not face her feelings towards Jamie. There was fury for his selfishness and all that he had so brazenly disregarded when he went forward with the duel. Anguish over what she had had to endure alone because of him. The pain he had caused her was nothing she had ever felt before. She hated him and in the same breath, she wanted him here more than anything in the world. It felt wrong to hold their child close and love her so immensely and know that Jamie knew nothing of her. At first believing it was his shame that kept him away, Louise had brought news a few weeks after Faith’s birth that Jamie had been arrested for dueling. What must he feel, locked away without any contact? It pained her to think of him there, despite every other emotion warring within her. But Faith needed her more right now and she couldn’t ignore that.
Get Faith well first. Then bring Jamie home. She didn’t know how she would accomplish this, but it was the solemn vow that grounded her.
Claire had recovered well enough from the birth and resulting infection, but Faith was still taking small steps in growing strong. And so today, Claire had gotten dressed and curled up near one of the windows with the baby, basking in the warmth of the sunlight that filtered through, hoping it would do Faith some good, too. Weeks had passed and though no one spoke of it, the atmosphere around them was lighter. Mother Hildegarde no longer hovered grimly about them, instead appearing throughout the day with a smile.
“M-Milady?” A timid voice called to her, disrupting her thoughts.
Her gaze sought the owner of the voice and finding the darling boy in front of her, she moved to embrace him at once. “Fergus!”
He had seemed uncertain until she responded and then he threw his arms around her waist and clung to her. With one hand, she secured Faith and with the other, she clutched Fergus’s head to her chest. “We heard you were over the worst of it. Please, Milady.” He cried. “Please come home.”
His words twisted a knife in her gut. Of course she had needed to recover and see to Faith’s well-being, but hadn’t she also effectively abandoned this boy on the heels of Jamie’s arrest? “Fergus, I’m so sorry.” He drew back to look at her and she wiped at his tears. “Of course I’ll come home.”
He relaxed under her words and though they had sent word to the house about baby Faith, he had not yet met her and his gaze swung curiously to the bundle in Claire’s arm. “This is Faith?”
“Yes.” She smiled, shifting Faith so Fergus could see her better. “This is Faith, small but mighty.” Fergus smiled softly and placed a handful of flowers on top of her.
“For you, Milady, and for le petit bébé.”
“Thank you.” She drew him to her side, one arm looped around his shoulders. Oh, she had missed this boy in a way she wouldn’t have thought possible all those months ago when Jamie brought him into their home. “Let’s go tell Mother Hildegarde that we are ready to bring Faith home.”
In all truth, Claire knew she had overstayed her welcome at L'Hôpital des Anges. Faith was not out of the woods yet but she didn’t need to be tended to there when Claire could so easily provide the same care at home. When the carriage pulled up in front of the great house and Claire entered at last with Faith in one arm, she knew she had stayed away to avoid this moment. Coming home without Jamie and having to face the reality of his imprisonment. The staff bustled around her and cooed over the babe and the joy and relief in all of them was palpable. But Claire could not be here with all of them, with the triumphant arrival of Faith, and not feel torn apart inside. Somewhere in the Bastille, her husband was alone and whatever she was feeling now towards him, she couldn’t live with his imprisonment.