The Bairn of Brianag (Chapter Five, page 2 of 17)

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"Does she?" he asked, his face and manner anxious. "Do you believe that she is well?"

I looked at him. "Do you not believe so?"

He seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. "She will not let me see her," he said, and his voice vibrated with pain. "I have not seen her for more than a week."

I felt a thrill of horror. "Why ever not?" I said.

"She says she is well but that she is in a state improper be seen by a gentleman," he said, almost choking on his words. His hand reached for mine. "Miss Maclaine, I know that you are her dearest friend. Please, tell me-is she well? Is she truly well?"

I knew not how to answer him. How would I know how a woman so far gone with child should look? I sipped again, feeling slightly nauseated suddenly.

"She says that she is well," I said carefully. "Has the midwife been here? Or a physician?"

"Both have been, and they assure me that she is perfectly ordinary for her time," he said.

"Then surely she must be," I said.

"Then why, why will she not see me?" he said, his eyes searching my face.

I drew a breath. "She has grown quite large," I said. "Perhaps she is ashamed."

He swallowed, his eyes bleak. "It is to be expected, of course!" he said. "All women grow large, do they not?"

"Of course they do," I said, and squeezed his hand gently. "All is well, Mr. Belden. All is well. Perhaps the child will come sooner than we expect."

He raised my hand to his lips and kissed it fervently. "Please call me John, Jessie," he said. "I know how precious you are to Catherine. That makes you precious to me, as well."

"Why, thank you, indeed, sir," I said. "It is plain to see how happy Cathy is to be your wife."

"Oh, I hope that I make her happy!" he said, and the agony in his voice pierced my heart. "It is my heart's greatest desire."

"You are all that she needs, all that she desires," I said. "I know this."

He kissed my hand again, and his iris eyes were full of tears. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you."

I was relieved when I could leave the table. After a few polite sips of wine with him in the drawing room, I returned to Cathy's bedroom. She was sitting in the chair next to the window, in an attempt to catch a breeze, her feet on the stool, still wearing just a chemise.

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