This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 825 words.
The surgeon examined Agatha in the presence of her maid, to maintain decorum. He pronounced his diagnosis of a growth in her womb with a solemn expression. She had guessed as much already, given the unusual swelling of her lower belly, and the cramping pains that often preceded the loss of blood. There was little he could do, as he feared cutting her open would undoubtedly kill the poor lady. He left her a strong potion for the pain, and advised her to take a double dose when she was very uncomfortable.
Agatha had no intention of dulling her senses with the opium compound. Instead, she sent for notebooks, and set about writing down all she knew of the history of the Dakin family. Letters and journals stretching back to the time of Isiah Dakin had been discovered in a box in the attic during the last renovations, and she had kept them safe in her room, locked in a trunk. There was also an old family Bible, with notations of the births, marriages, and deaths that had preceded her arrival at the riverside house. Agatha added two loose pages to that, completing the family tree with what she knew up to that time.
Aileen proved to be a wonderful additon to the household. With Esmerelda as good as useless as lady of the house, the pregnant girl studied carefully under the instruction of Agatha. She took it upon herself to spend time with the cook and her assistants, to speak to Jarvis about his function, and to encourage the housemaids with her friendliness and down to earth manner. Despite her youth and condition, she fast became very popular, even with Oscar. The one stumbling block was her strong Scottish accent, which necessitated her having to constantly repeat herself when speaking. Agatha employed a tutor to travel daily from Colchester, so he could educate the girl in how to make herself better understood, and also give her some encouragement in reading so as to better herself. Her presence was just what Agatha needed to try to fight her terminal illness, and to hope to live long enough to see the Dakin family well settled.
Henry arrived home on leave, startled by the news that there was a new wife in the house, and a child soon to be born. But he was more concerned about the condition of James. The confusion in his mind had not healed, and he spent much of his time walking around the estate, as if in a dream. No less than three doctors had examined him carefully, and all agreed there was nothing to be done. He had been given his own rooms in the new East Wing, and a young man had been employed to stay with him at all times, lest he wander away and get lost. Henry was also appalled at the behaviour of his wife, Esmerelda. He went into her room and much shouting and reprimanding could clearly be heard, even from the floors below.
His scolding seemed to do some good, at least for a while. Esmerelda joined the family for dinner, though her tiny portions were laughable. She also sat with them in the late evening, as they discussed business and family matters. But she insisted on being close to the fire, and constantly complained of feeling cold. When he went back to his regiment, Esmerelda returned to her old ways. But it was not long before she discovered she was with child again.
Henry had obviously done more than just shout at her.
During the first week in May, Aileen delivered a healthy boy child, with the ease of a sheep lambing in a field. At the request of her absent husband, the boy was named Spencer Abraham, and his bright red hair matched that of his young mother. Not long after that, Richard returned from his education, now a strapping young man. He seemed somewhat embarrased to find his mother expecting again, and that may have encouraged him to discuss a career in the military, asking to follow in his father’s footsteps. He didn’t bother to consult his disinterested mother, so spoke about his desires with Oscar and Agatha. She was now confined to her sick-bed. Frail, and close to the end. She advised Oscar to let the boy do as he wished, adding that if it didn’t suit him, he could easily come back and study the family business.
On the day that Richard left for his training as an officer, Agatha died in her sleep that night.
Young Aileen had to step up immediately, becoming the lady of the house despite her age. Esmerelda had confined herself because of her expected baby, and was rarely out of her room. With baby Spencer cared for by a nurse during the day, Aileen took charge, putting into practice everything she had been taught by Agatha.
Though she added a few ideas of her own too.