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Lady In Waiting | Thursday morning


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EASTERN TERRACE GARDEN

 

Unlike the Northern Terrace, the enclosure known as the Eastern Terrace was not merely an expanse of stone. It was instead a more gentle garden, with the familiar geometric shapes in almost perfect symmetry that allowed for a protected stroll without getting lost. Its structure was reassuring and quite different from the wild park beyond the walls of the Castle proper. With its lush greens and neatly trimmed edges and hardly a flower in sight it was perhaps most suited for those in need of contemplation.

 

The terrace was enclosed by a half way wall, inviting people to lean across it while enjoying the farther view over the Little Park.

 

 

She must have read that sentence a hundred times.

 

Every sound Sophia heard diverted her attention from her book, though she was careful not to glance up too quickly. Karl was standing nearby and she was attended by a maid who had been attending her while her own was away. If they thought she was acting suspiciously, they would report it to Esteban. It wasn’t unusual for her to enjoy the outdoors on a nice day and since walking frequently tended to tire her, she had decided to read in the garden for awhile. Diva was curled up beside her. The maid was tasked with walking the puppy now and she had apparently given her a lot of exercise this morning.

 

Her heart pounded at the sound of approaching footsteps. Was it Henry? Sophia hoped that he would ‘happen by,’ which was the real reason she had come to the garden. It was a safe place to meet, as there were always people around. He had not joined her in the Music Room yesterday, even though she had played particularly loud. 

 

Unfortunately, the footsteps did not belong to him. Two ladies nodded at her as they passed the bench. They whispered behind their fans, probably expressing their disapproval  that she was outside in her condition. Most courtiers expected pregnant women to stay in their homes all the time. At least Esteban had not insisted that she do the same.

 

With a soft sigh, Sophia returned her attention to her book, reading the same sentence yet again.

 

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Another female's footsteps approached.  This time it was a commoner that Sophia might recognize from the carnival.  It was the woman in the blue shawl.

"Excuse me milady," the woman addressed Sophia as she approached. Karl paid her little mind and the maid watched without alarm.  "I am a midwife from London and I've come to to tend some pregnancies in Windsor and I saw you at the carnival the other day and thought how lovely it might be to share English remedies to assist birth with His Excellency and his lady.  I know you must have Spanish doctors or women to assist, but I hope you'll be hearing me out."  Her speech seemed practiced, but there was still an air of nervousness.

"I brought letters ... letters of recommendation from ladies I have helped over the years."  She pulled out some parchment and slid a folded square of paper in between sheets.

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Sophia’s eyes remained on her book when the next set of footsteps approached. She didn’t want to be disappointed yet again. He wasn’t coming. Maybe he planned to meet her at the masquerade, even though disguising herself would be impossible. Everyone would know who she was because she was the only extremely pregnant lady at court. Even if there was another, she would probably not be as short as Sophia. How was she going to wait until Saturday? Though it was only two days from now, it felt like a lifetime.

 

A female voice addressed her and, startled out of her thoughts, she looked up. It was the woman whom Henry had been standing next to at the carnival. And she was a midwife! She looked a bit anxious but if she was aware of the situation, she had every right to be. The young Countess noticed the piece of paper she slipped between her letters. Was it from Henry?

 

Sophia smiled reassuringly and nudged Diva off of the bench. The puppy sniffed the newcomer curiously. “I’m interested. Please sit down.” Karl and the maid would not be able to hear their conversation if they sat close together. “In truth, I would prefer an Englishwoman to deliver my baby.” She didn’t lower her voice yet because she wanted her attendants to hear her words. “My lord husband has many enemies and I am afraid that the Spaniards he hired might try to harm our child.”

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"Thank ye lady, or should I be saying gracias?" the woman replied, not pronouncing the Spanish word well. It seemed that her anxiety lowered a bit.

"what sort of beast would wish to hurt a beautiful baby?" she replied sadly.  "I am Molly ma'am"  She did not offer her second name readily.  

"Would you care to look at these letters before I speak further?" she asked, holding the papers out with her right hand, which was shaking.  "We English have some remedies for pain that others do not use.  If this be your first, you will be wanting some aid."

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Sophia smiled. Her Spanish is worse than my own. Her proficiency was improving every day but she still had a long way to go before Spaniards didn’t wince when they heard her speak their language. It didn’t help that her accent was a strange mix of German and Italian. “I prefer English when I’m in England, and as you can tell by my appearance, I am not Spanish by birth.” She had a light German accent when speaking English.

 

The petite blonde did not answer Molly’s question. What did commoners know of politics? Nor did she ask for her last name. If Molly understood her situation and was willing to help her with it, she would need to know more about her. And her full name might be on the papers she offered her.

 

“Yes, of course.” Sophia took the bundle from her and started reading the first page. She didn’t want to flip through them too quickly to find the note Molly had slipped into the papers. “Yes, this will be my first child. I am quite worried about the pain."  She spoke more softly now.  "I’ve heard that childbirth is the most painful process a woman will ever go through.”

 

She looked up from her reading. “I need someone I trust to deal with ... special circumstances ... should they arise."  Would the woman understand what she meant?

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Karl seemed bored and was fighting a yawn nearby.  Her assigned maid was paying more attention, interested in the subject matter obviously.

When special circumstances were mentioned, Molly nodded.  "I have been prepared for special circumstances."  When the maid seemed curious about the topic, Molly added "like there is a problem with the babe's position coming out or he might be strangled by his own cord coming out.  I have seen plenty."

"I ain't gonna lie, childbirth hurts worse than anything you probably ever came across."  Sophia looked so small and delicate, Molly worried about her.  Lady Toledo's hips did not look wide.

The first letter was from a George Howard saying that Molly had helped the family with two successful births.  In between the letter was a piece of paper folded many times over so that it could fit in a hand or in another tight place.  It was uo to Sophia to open the letter at that moment, or wait,  "There be eel gallbladders and certain roots to chew that will dull the pain.  Laudnum works too." Behind the the secret message was another letter of reference from a William Howard.  It seemed that Molly either had experience with the Howard family, or perhaps these letters were phony.

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Sophia noticed the maid’s curiosity. Molly must have been aware of it as well, for she flawlessly covered up the true meaning of the phrase. She was also quite worried about the circumstances that the midwife spoke of. She didn't want anything to go wrong. “I’ve read about things like that and they frighten me. If I mention my fears, the Spanish midwife just tells me that everything will be fine. I don’t trust her at all. I have frequent nightmares about the problems that can occur during childbirth and I’m afraid that it upsets the baby.”

 

Molly was honest too, which Sophia appreciated. Even if there was no doubt that her child was Juan’s, she would rather this woman deliver it than a Spaniard. She had not been lying when she said she suspected them of attempting to harm the child. A midwife could kidnap or kill a newborn baby quite easily.

 

She carefully read the letters. They were all from the Howard family. It was highly possible that they had been forged, or perhaps Henry had called in some favors his relatives owed him. Or they could be real.  Maybe he wasn't the only member of his family who needed certain services.  The Howards were powerful and Catholic. How could Esteban refuse a midwife who had successfully delivered their children, especially when his wife trusted her?

 

“I can tell how experienced you are just by talking to you. No matter what I take for the pain, I want to be awake when the baby is born.”

 

Even though she was burning with curiosity, Sophia didn’t think she should read the note right away. Pretending to brush something off of her bodice, she slipped it inside. It was a hiding place that assured she would not lose it before she was able to read it. After Molly left, she would resume reading and open it between the book’s pages.

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"I would be happy to help, if'n it be approved by Count Toledo that is.  You are such a small thing, you will be needing extra attention to coax the baby out of you," she added softly.  "It may be best to have you awake, as you say.  It may be that we keep you secluded from others, so they do not see yer suffering."  There might be other reasons for privacy.

"I am staying at a boarding house at 2 Convent Road in town.  The land lady is Priscilla Willow.  You can send me a note there and I'll come at once.  If you be needing pain killers, I can get these for you.  There will come a time when a gush of water will come from your privates.  Do not be afeared.  It is normal.  It means the time is nigh and the baby wants out.  It could take a day to coax it to come out but you will be needing me to be with you the entire time.  I will bring my tonics and we will bring the babe into the light together," she explained.

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“Yes, I wish to be alone when I give birth.” Sophia chuckled softly. “Most of the time I adore an audience, but I don’t want anyone gawking at me in such a vulnerable state. Nor do I wish for a crowd in my lying-in chamber. It will be stuffy in there as it is, although there is a door leading out to the garden that can be opened if I need some fresh air.” The garden door could be used to smuggle one baby in and the other out if Henry didn't like her kidnapping idea. The thought of her own child being whisked away and replaced with another brought tears to her eyes, but what other choice did she have?

 

Sophia was impressed with Molly’s knowledge and, if her maid was listening, she probably was too. It was unlikely that Karl cared at all. He was probably tuning them out and thinking of more lies he could tell Esteban about her that would result in a raise. “A day?” The blonde Countess shuddered. “I hope it doesn’t take that long.” She looked for the midwife’s last name while reading her references.

 

“I will tell my lord husband about you later today. I’m sure that he will want to interview you himself.” Her voice lowered so that her attendants would not be able to hear what she said next. “It will not be easy to convince him that you are more skilled than the Spanish midwife he hired, but if he thinks it is best for me, I think he can be swayed.” And she would do her part by letting him know that she would feel more secure with Molly by her side. She didn’t have to feign anxiety or pretend to be upset; that was her normal state of mind as her time drew near.

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The letters addressed the midwife as Molly Murphy.  

Molly nodded to each of Sophia's statements, attempting to be very agreeable.  She was left to winder how a Spaniard might favor an English woman over a Spanish midwife.  More likely, he would want both and she would find herself in an awkward situation.

"It might not take a full day," she tried to reassure the petite Countess, "but sometimes it takes an hour for a babe to move an inch."  No need to scare her more after that.  It was called labor for a reason.

"Shall I go and await your husband's summons?" Molly inquired, aware that she was getting scrutiny from the maid and the guard.  As such, she was hoping to take her leave.

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Sophia had already reconciled herself to the notion that the baby wasn’t going to pop out in five minutes, but she hoped that her labor would not last for an excessively long time. She would simply have to endure it and concentrate on how joyful she would be when the baby was born. “I appreciate your honesty.” The Spanish midwife said very little about the birth process, though perhaps that had more to do with the language barrier than with a reluctance to upset her. She spoke enough Spanish to carry on a decent conversation, but her accent left a lot to be desired. Her understanding of her husband’s native tongue was quite good.

 

“Yes, of course,” she replied. Sophia didn’t like the way her attendants were studying Molly. They knew she was a midwife and why she had approached their mistress, so why did they look suspicious? “I’m not sure how soon he will contact you, but I will urge him to do it soon. Thank you for offering your services.”

 

She decided not to open the note in the garden, even though it felt like it was burning a hole in her bodice. After Molly left, she would read a bit more and then ask to go back to her apartment to rest. Once she was alone in her bedchamber, she would take it from its hiding place and unfold it.

 

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Molly  nodded her understanding and stood, ready to depart.  It was unclear if Karl or the maid were truly scrutinizing her, or just curious about the woman.  Count Toledo would want to know more about this woman if he was to permit her participation.

"I shall take my leave then and await word from you or your husband," Molly announced before doing a simple curtsey. "Thank you."  With that, she was gone. 

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After Molly left, Sophia went back to her reading. She thought she might be able to concentrate on her book, but her mind kept reeling with anxiety. They were making headway now, but would the plan succeed? What if the baby was Juan’s but it was replaced with another Spanish child anyway? Had Henry apprised Molly of the entire situation? Her perilous circumstances seemed more real now, for some strange reason.

 

She really wanted to read Henry’s note.

 

After waiting a short interval, she turned a page, and then another. Soon, she stood up and announced that she wanted to go back inside to rest. The walk to her apartments seemed like the longest stroll she had ever taken. But soon she was alone in her room. Lying down on her bed and turning on the side that wasn’t facing the door, she slid the note out of her bodice, opened it up, and began to read.

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If her husband's spies noticed the passage of a message, they showed no sign of it.  The maid left Sophia alone for a few minutes, which gave her the time to unfold and read the note.  It was no love note, as there were fears that it could fall into the wrong hands,

 

Countess,

You can trust Molly.  She has been schooled in the challenges that will face your birthing.  She is prepared to take all steps necessary to save you, if necessary.  She is supervising the births of two other Spanish and Italian babes that are due any day soon.  This experience will benefit you in any health surprise.  So as to stay with you at your time, she will keep the other babes near, so that she need not travel to tend them as well.

Rest assured you are being watched but I may not be able to intervene in person, given my limited schedule.  Molly can pass messages.  She believes your due date may come later this month, so you must be very careful to do nothing to pressure the babe, unless necessary.. 

Yours truly,

Doctor H. 

 

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