Were it not for the long hours her husband and his cousin spent huddled together of late, Harriette was sure she would not enjoy the privilege of half as much time with her friend Elizabeth.
A rather irritable baby commanded his mother, Elizabeth, and Harriette’s undivided attention.
“What is my little godson complaining about?” she said, maintaining a respectable distance from Elizabeth and the baby. Now that Little William was getting older and rather less delicate, her ladyship was growing more at ease in his presence.
“This little fellow is getting his first tooth. He is not too happy about it, I am afraid.”
Her ladyship drew a quick breath. “His first tooth? How do you know these things, Elizabeth?”
“Harriette, one need only look in his mouth.”
Her eyes widened. She leaned a tiny bit closer. “May I see?” Elizabeth obliged her curious friend’s request. It was all rather unspectacular as far as Harriette was concerned. She endeavoured to mask her disappointment. An instant later, she resumed her former posture. Harriette frowned. What is that odour?
Elizabeth merely regarded her friend in that same manner she always did when Harriette’s lack of maternal instincts manifested itself. “Little William needs a fresh change. Would you like to help?”
Her ladyship sprang from her seat. “Heaven forbid! Is that not the task of a servant? Where is his nurse?”
“Harriette, you know full well I do not assign such tasks to his nurse out of habit—not when I am quite capable of attending him.”
“Perhaps you should, Elizabeth. I, for one, would never attempt such a thing.”
“One never knows. You might surprise yourself.”
“Indeed, I shall not! I believe it is one thing to eschew social mores as regards ballroom etiquette and the like. It is quite another to discard those tenets when it comes to rearing a child. In that respect, you will find me quite amiable to do just as my mother did when rearing Harry and me.”
“And what exactly was that?”
“Harry and I were packed up and sent off to reside with our nurses until we were fit for polite society. I am quite content that any children that Richard and I beget will enjoy the same lot.”
“You surprise me, dear Harriette. This is the first you have ever spoken of your own children.”
“Indeed. I am in no particular hurry to suffer the pleasure of bearing a child. I prefer not speaking of such things because I see no point in tempting fate.”
Elizabeth reached out and placed her hand on Harriette’s. “You were with me throughout my entire ordeal. It would be pointless for me to argue it was not arduous, but you must admit the reward was worth every ounce of the pain. I would gladly suffer all that and more just for the pleasure of this moment with my child.”
“Of course you are right, and as laborious as it was, I can imagine no place else I would rather have been than by your side in the time when you needed me most.”
Elizabeth stood and set about the task of changing his soiled garment. “Are you sure you do not wish to observe how this is done?”
Harriette nearly stumbled in her haste to quit the room. Stopping in the doorway, she spoke over her shoulder. “I am quite certain. However, I would enjoy a ride about the countryside this afternoon. Will you join me?”
“As much as I would enjoy the fresh air, I believe I will remain close to little William for the rest of the day. Do ask me again tomorrow.”
“Indeed, and I shall not take no for an answer.”
Drawing the door closed, Harriette leaned against it. What is Elizabeth thinking? One would never see me performing a wet nurse’s task. She went to her apartment where she espied Becky, her lady’s maid, rearranging her wardrobe.
“Becky, I believe I shall go riding this afternoon. This is such a lovely day.”
“Indeed it is your ladyship.” Becky laid out a finely tailored brown riding habit. “Will Mrs. Darcy be joining you?”
“I am afraid not. As much as I wish Mrs. Darcy would accompany me, it seems she would rather spend the afternoon with the baby than enjoy the fresh, open air.” Her ladyship threw up her hands in frustration. “Please, if you ever detect me behaving so ridiculously over my first-born, do whatever you must do to stop me.”
Becky smiled. “I am certain your ladyship exaggerates. I wager you will be just as smitten with your first-born child as Mrs. Darcy is with hers.”
Harriette opened her mouth wide, readying sufficient protest. “Were I you, Becky, I would not stake too much on the prospect.” Both young women smiled. A silent truce was the only way to end that line of discussion, and both ladies acquiesced.
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