There was a little bit of chaos going on at Shibden presently, they were preparing for Alfred’s christening that would take place in the morrow in Halifax Minster. Currently there was a lot of people moving about the Hall making preparations. They even had all the staff on call – which wasn’t always the case. Cordingley and Hemingway were slaving away in the kitchen, following Anne’s orders by the letter – maybe a little wary of making a mistake.
John and Joseph Booth – normally outdoor staff, helped prepare the dining room for the number of guests that would attend the christening – which were closer to twenty in total.
Anne kept a close eye on all of them, helping with whatever she could, whilst Ann looked after Alfred in the company of her aunt, seeing as Marian had left them all for work in the morning. Alfred was currently sprawled out on the floor on a blanket made for him by Aunt Anne, his mother sitting next to him entertaining him with a rattle that used to belong to herself when she was a baby. He held his head up, trying to look at his mother and Ann made a face at him and he spluttered amused, before laughing gaily, making Ann’s heart soar for him.
“He is such a happy baby.” Aunt Anne commented, crocheting on the sofa, and Ann smiled up at her,
“Yes – he’s a joy to be around. Yes, you are Alfred – huh? Is that your Auntie? Yeah.”
Alfred giggled and his big dark eyes turned back to his mother, and he reached out a chubby hand to grab the rattle – managing to make it sound – laughing loudly again, almost screeching from amusement.
“Can I have the rattle, Alfie?” Ann reached out, and gently took it from his hand, and he pouted, but Ann shook it next to him, and he tried to turn to grab it.
“Come on you can do it, love.” Ann encouraged him gently, and he pushed his tiny hands against the blanket vigorously before turning onto his back instead – Ann’s mouth widened into a big grin,
“Good lad! Oh, no – Alfred…”
Ann reached her hands down, picking him up to hold him, bouncing him gently whilst running a hand over his back to stop his cries.
“Already turning on his back?” Aunt Anne smiled, “He will be walking before we know it.”
“Oh, was that too much pressure for you, love?” Ann asked Alfred amused, as he began fussing more and Ann stood up, resting him on her hip, front facing out as he liked being able to see whilst she held him.
“I think he needs a feed – don’t you love?”
“I won’t be going anywhere if you want to come back after.” Aunt Anne told her, and Ann smiled, sitting down on the sofa opposite of her,
“I thought I’d do it here – if you don’t mind?”
“No, oh no – of course not, dear!” Aunt Anne spoke hastily, smiling at her.
Ann opened up her shirt, and undid her bra from the front, letting Alfred latch on, cradling him in her arms – leaning back against the pillows.
“Are you excited for tomorrow?” Aunt Anne asked, and Ann smiled,
“I am, though right now – it feels a little overwhelming with all the people arriving.”
“Someone in particular?” Aunt Anne raised a brow and Ann ran a hand through her hair,
“I mean I’m excited to see my sister but, not her husband and then there’s the question of whether anyone in the tribe will make an appearance. Aunt Ann promised to come, and Catherine is coming but other than that – I don’t know and it’s stressing me out a bit.”
“If anyone unpleasant comes tomorrow and tries to ruin the christening – trust me Anne won’t let them – she’ll take care of it.”
“I know. I know – I just, worry a lot as usual.” Ann brushed it off with a soft smile and Aunt Anne hummed quietly,
“It will be fine...”
Ann turned her head towards the door and saw Maria Barlow stand in the doorway and she smiled at her,
“Mia, I thought you wouldn’t arrive until this evening!?”
“Change of plans. I took the Eurostar from Paris to London and then met up Vere at their place – I drove us here – she wanted to keep an eye on little Anne during the journey. They’re upstairs talking to your wife I believe. Now, let me see this beauty!” Maria came forwards, sitting down next to Ann, kissing both her cheeks before gazing down at Alfred who was partially hidden as he ate. She ran a hand over his dark hair,
“Oh, isn’t he just a beau! You did well – he seems sweet. I remember when my Jane was his age – it goes by so quickly let me tell you! Though you’d hardly believe when you’re up every other hour every night.”
“How’s Jane?” Ann wondered and Maria’s features softened further as she thought of her daughter,
“She’s well, she’s at university in Paris, studying to become a teacher.”
“Oh? Really – she should be proud of herself for getting in – which subjects?”
“French and uh, English.” Maria replied, and Ann nodded,
“What a pity she couldn’t join you.”
“Yes, I think she would’ve enjoyed a little get away, but she has exams on Tuesday, so. But I’m glad to be here – I’ve missed all of you!”
“We’ve missed you as well, Maria!” Aunt Anne agreed, and Maria turned to her,
“Yes, and how are you?”
“As always – but I have great company.” Aunt Anne said, not one for wallowing in self-pity,
“The baby’s not disturbing your nights?”
“Oh, heavens no! He’s an absolute dear – Anne was way worse before she settled – used to come in at all hours – making terrible noise.” Aunt Anne waved a hand making both women laugh with her,
“Especially when she and Tib had been out…”
“Did someone say my name?” Tib came into the room and Aunt Anne lowered her hook to give Tib a kiss on the cheek as she greeted her. Tib was looking rather well despite her illness – how else could someone describe her misuse of alcohol? But she was perfectly sober at the moment – or at least not noticeably drunk.
“Tib, how was the journey?” Ann wondered,
“It was lovely – I do like getting my old motorcycle out now and again for a ride.” Tib replied and Ann’s eyebrows raised,
“You didn’t go too fast right?”
“Nah – I only got one ticket – that’s a good ride.” Tib winked and Ann rolled her eyes at her amused,
“In Paris you would’ve probably been commended for your great riding – the traffic there I tell you. There was once this hilarious article in the newspaper of this Swedish woman who had owned up to bumping into another car – leaving her details so she could pay for the damage – the French were amazed – they had never heard such a thing.”
“Maybe I should move to Paris then – where the coppers aren’t arseholes.” Tib told Maria who huffed,
“There’s a baby in here!”
“Sorry.” Tib grinned, before leaning over to have a look at him, “That’s a fucking cute baby you’ve got!”
“Tib!” Maria chided her and Ann laughed,
“It’s alright – he doesn’t understand… yet. You have another couple of months to stop cursing in-front of the baby.”
“Will do – I need to grow into this role of Godmother.” Tib said seriously, “Might need to get my shit together as well.”
“Um…” Ann began, but Maria scowled,
“What? I’m the Godmother! I’m the natural choice – I was very close to Anne and now Ann.”
“Yeah – I don’t think helping Lister perfect her tongue game qualifies you to be godmother – and in that case I taught her lots of things – I should be!”
“What? I’m not Godmother!?” Vere cried out as she entered the room, “But I named my child after Anne!”
“Hold on – no, I’m not the godmother? I was engaged to Anne!” Mariana complained as she entered the room and her sister, Anne, huffed,
“Obviously I am though – I helped her a lot through her first heartbreak.”
They all turned to Ann who was rather uncomfortable with them all staring at her like that whilst she fed Alfred – and she felt sweat break out, this was too stressful,
“Which one of us is it?” Tib wondered, and Ann was panicking a little,
“Ann – tell her!” Mariana pushed, and Ann bit her lip in a nervous tic,
“It’s all of you.” Ann cried out, flustered by their stares,
“All of us?” Vere questioned and Ann tried to nod convincingly,
“Sure. We want all of you – the more the merrier.”
“I knew it.” Tib made a victory fist, “I knew I’d be picked.”
“To be fair – all of us were.” Mariana told her and Tib glared at her,
“You cannot bring me down today – I’m so happy. Now do I get to hold this baby or what?”
“When he’s finished eating.”
Ann spoke too soon, as Alfred let go – to curious probably by all the voices in the room, and Maria offered to take him whilst Ann covered up.
The women stood around the sofa admiring the baby, and Alfred made the rounds – having a go in everyone’s arms,
“He looks so much like Lister, it’s actually freaking me out a little.” Anne Belcombe said as she held him, making faces at the same time to keep him happy and the other women agreed heartily.
“Where is Anne even?” Mariana wondered and Vere spoke up,
“She’s with Anne upstairs in her study – she was showing her something with her… uh, yeah.”
“Hopefully not a dead thing or she’ll be in tears before they come back.” Maria said, and they laughed,
“I had a word with her about that – so I don’t think she will.” Ann smirked, as she was handed her son back by Maria who had a last go with him.
“I’ll be back after I’ve put him down for his nap.” Ann told them, leaving the bustling room for the quietness upstairs – reaching Anne’s study just as little Anne made her way out to go down to her mother,
“Hello, Anne – did you have fun?”
“Yes.” The child replied gleefully before running down the stairs quickly. Ann poked her head into Anne’s study – seeing her wife craned over her papers,
“Are you finished soon?”
Anne’s eyes found hers and she smiled at the sight of her wife and son,
“I am – well, I can do this another day.”
Anne shut her folder and threw her pen on the desk, standing up and making her way over to Ann to give her kiss.
“Is it a madhouse downstairs?” Anne wondered, resting her forehead against hers for a second, and Ann laughed,
“Came upstairs for a little refuge?” Anne asked amused, and Ann nodded, kissing her wife before pulling away,
“Maybe a little but Alfred needs a change and then he is supposed to be napping.”
“I’ll do it.” Anne took the fussing baby from her arms, smiling wide at him,
“Hello, Alfred – did you miss you mumma? Was mummy boring you?”
“Hey!” Ann gasped, and Anne grinned at her, lifting her son up above her head gently making him laugh – and how she loved that ringing sound.
“Come on then young Sir, let’s get you a clean nappy.”
Anne brought the baby with her to the bathroom to change him, speaking to him softly all the while – Ann thought she’d been long and so went to look for them in the bathroom only to find her wife standing with Alfred over the sink,
“And then, yes, Alfred, listen closely to Mumma – then the vicar will lower you just like this, yeah? And she will pour some nice lukewarm water like this...” Anne poured water over his dark hair, and he giggled eliciting an even wider smile from Anne and from her wife of whose presence she was unaware.
“And she will bless you! And then…” Anne dried his head off, kissing him over the head,
“We will put our hands on you – me, your mummy, the godparents and the vicar- and we will pray for you – but you’ll be a good lad, right? It’s not scary, I will be…” Anne caught Ann in the mirror, and she smiled, before turning around with their son,
“I was just going over tomorrow’s big event.”
“You are just the sweetest, you know that right?” Ann couldn’t resist giving her a kiss, before caressing Alfred’s cheek,
“I think he needs a nap now though – you will have plenty of time to rehearse the christening with him when he refuses to sleep tonight.” Ann smirked and Anne laughed,
“Well, it’s always good to be prepared. Wouldn’t want to shock him tomorrow – now he knows.”
“Mm.” Ann agreed, not bothering telling her wife that he probably wouldn’t remember his mother’s rehearsal in the morning.
Anne sat with Ann as they lulled Alfred to sleep in the nursery, both relishing a little in the quietness, knowing the downstairs would be anything but quiet.
“I’ve been thinking a little about who to ask about being Alfred’s godmother…” Anne began, and Ann suddenly remembered the conversation earlier downstairs and became rigid and flustered,
“I’ve been thinking we might ask my aunt, or you know if you like we might ask Marian and, or Elizabeth?” Anne suggested but Ann was silent, making Anne worried,
“Is something wrong?”
“I might’ve promised someone already by accident.” Ann mumbled and Anne’s eyebrows raised in surprise,
“Um, all of them; Tib, Maria, Vere, Anne & Mariana…” Ann shyly confessed, and Anne frowned,
“Because they all thought they were, and then they asked me to… and I panicked.”
“Marian will be livid.” Anne chuckled, finding it rather amusing, but Ann groaned, covering her face with her hands,
“It’s fine – Really! - Now, don’t look so distraught.” Anne told her gently, kissing her cheek, before turning her face to kiss her properly,
“You’re not cross?” “
“No – not at all. Not with you. I think the vicar might have a good laugh when she realises, we’ve got a whole crew of godmothers for him though – with them being almost half of the guests as well.”
Ann chuckled quietly, afraid that they might wake Alfred up,
“By the way we’ll need to ask Marian to be too, or she’ll kill me.” Anne turned to her, she did owe Marian after all, and Ann smiled,
“That’s fine with me – at least we’ll never have to worry about him being without one.”
“Lots of spares.” Anne winked, and her wife shook her head laughing softly,
“Come on, Dearest – let’s face the downstairs so we can retire early.”
“Don’t get any ideas, Pony – I just want to cuddle and sleep.”
“I wasn’t suggesting anything else!”
“M-hm.” Ann eyed her suspiciously, but Anne kissed her chaste,
“I wasn’t! Now, let’s go before we wake him up and disturb the equilibrium of the whole household.”
The next morning was just a whirlwind of people getting ready and having breakfast at the same time – forgetting one thing after the other until they were finally off to Halifax Minster at precisely 11 o’clock – sometimes, Ann thought, it was a good thing her wife was such a nit-picker when it came to keeping the time. They’d all but arrived at church at the same time. The whole party consisting of Elizabeth and the children (her husband had fortunately been unavailable), Catherine, Tib, Maria, Marian, Mariana, Vere & Anne, Aunt Ann, Aunt Anne, Anne, Anne, Ann and Alfred.
The bells had chimed, and they had gathered around, well most sitting around in the pews surrounding it, the stone font with its 15th century richly decorated cover that stood in the middle of the aisle. The Vicar held an introduction, led a prayer, and then offered Anne and Ann to pray for Alfred, after which they had sung a hymn. Aunt Anne then read aloud from Mark 10:13-16 about Jesus and the children. The Vicar then looked at the gathered congregation before turning back to Anne and Ann,
“Which godmothers have you chosen for your baby?” The Vicar said, unsure of which ones of the ladies they had said it was,
“All of them.” Ann pointed at the women in the front,
“I’m sorry who.”
“It’s all of them.” Ann sighed, and the women smiled brightly pointing to themselves happily and the Vicar raised her eyebrows,
“Oh okay – if you could please join me here in-front of the font all of you. Traditionally the role of the godparents – usually two – is to take care and nurture the baby in the Christian faith and its values.”
“On second thought, maybe I’m not the right fit.” Tib whispered to Anne Belcombe who snorted, and Maria rolled her eyes,
“To be fair none of us are.”
“Um, right.” The Vicar looked confused to say the least, “Well tradition is meant to be broken. Jesus broke with tradition after all.”
“As you can see – we’re not the traditional type.” Anne smiled, and Tib cried, probably already a bit in her cups,
“We’re the lesbian godmothers!”
“When Charles dies.” Anne Belcombe added, and the Vicar looked appalled,
“Her husband.” Anne Belcombe pointed to her sister who looked uncomfortable, and a little ashamed of their behaviour in church. The Vicar opened her mouth, shut it again, furrowing her eyebrows before glancing in her book of common prayer,
“Every woman is a lesbian at heart…” Tib began singing as she thought she’d try and fill the awkward silence and Anne Belcombe joined and Ann was starting to panic,
“Not now - there is still a christening going on.”
“Oh, sorry – just thought I’d contribute to the service – shame the organist didn’t play along.” Tib apologised and Marian raised her hand as if she was in school and the Vicar sighed,
“Just for the record – I’m not gay.”
“Good for you.” The Vicar uttered a bit baffled, fiddling with her book of common prayer nervously.
“And I’m not her former lover – I’m just her sister.” Marian further clarified and the Vicar looked as though she regretted saying yes to the gays.
“Can we continue?” Anne wondered, looking less than amused with them, “This is about Alfred.”
The women conceded, apologising, thoroughly for another few minutes before the service could commence.
“People of God will you welcome this child and uphold him in his new life with Christ?”
“Hell yeah!” Tib replied happily and the others just smiled,
“You’re supposed to answer, ‘With the help of God we will’.” Aunt Anne told them rolling her eyes and the Vicar smiled gratefully at her, and Ann nudged Anne,
“In hindsight, you should’ve probably practiced the christening with them and not with Alfred – so far he’s the only one following protocol.”
“Well, that’s because I practiced with him yesterday.” Anne grinned, and Ann blew air out of her nose, praying this might all be over soon.
“Shall we try again?” The Vicar asked, and they nodded, and she repeated the question and this time they all answered, as a choir,
“With the help of God we will.”
“Excellent.” The Vicar’s forehead was looking a bit shiny as she stood herself in-front of Maria who had taken Alfred in her arms, and using three of her fingers she read,
“Christ claims you as his own. Receive the sign of the cross; On your forehead;”
“On your mouth;”
“And over your heart.” The Vicar signed the cross a third time before turning to Anne and Ann,
“What names have you given your child?”
“John Alfred James Lister.” Anne answered her and The Vicar took Alfred from Maria in her arms after blessing the water. She stood with him over the old font, smiling at him gently before pouring water over his head,
“I baptize you, John Alfred James in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Vicar dried his head with a cloth, and he was perfectly well behaved, and Anne gave her wife a proud look at that. She then proceeded, to raise Alfred over her head,
“We welcome John Alfred James into the family of God and to this congregation. May the name of Jesus always remain on your heart.”
The Vicar then walked around with baby Alfred who laughed gaily at all the people,
“Look, there’s your Auntie and your cousins – this is how a newly christened Alfred looks – oh I could walk around with you all day – but I think I might just need to return you to one of your many godmothers.” The Vicar handed him over to Marian.
“Let us pray for Alfred – please lay your hands on him.”
They did – though it was rather crowded with six godmothers, two parents and the Vicar around the one baby. Alfred was then given a candle by the Vicar – well to be fair, Mariana held the candle,
“Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God.” The Vicar prayed over Alfred, and then just like that – they had made it through the service and though it was not without some minor issues – at least Alfred was christened… eventually.