Here is chapter eleven of my novel Christobel, back with the titular lady’s diary from the past, wherein she finds that life is taking another unexpected, although not unwelcome, turn. The future looks bright.
I hope you are enjoying this read. If you would like to begin at the beginning, please go to the post Angels in the family in the January 2017 archive.
3rd February, 1911
I’ve got an awful feeling that something profound is happening to my body. My cycle seems to have stopped – I’ve lost track of the last time the monthly visitor came. It must be six weeks or more. I’m usually predictably regular, to within a day or two. And I’m beginning to feel a little nauseous in the mornings. And I don’t know whether I’m imagining it, but my breasts seem to be a little tender and perhaps just a little larger, too. Perhaps that’s due to Henri being just a little over-enthusiastic sometimes (he’s such a passionate lover!). But no, surely not. He’s always gentle and considerate; never veers towards violence, even when excited. He’s not like some men are, I believe.
Not that I’ve any experience of anyone else, of course. One man is quite enough! Sometimes I can’t believe I’m actually doing this; letting myself become embroiled in a love affair with a dashing Belgian who is almost more like a character from some romantic novel than a real man. But perhaps that’s just my heightened sensibilities telling me that. Of course he’s a real flesh-and-blood man, but he’s still my wonderful hero and all of this does still feel like a dream, even after more than nine months. Could it really be happening to me, Christobel Fawley, who’s such a God-fearing, well-brought-up girl? Could I be doing this, outside of marriage?
I don’t know what Mother would make of it, I’m sure. But then she is radical and progressive in her thinking after all. She might say, well, what’s sauce for the male gander is equally sauce for the goose. Equality between the sexes, and all that. Although I’m not going to risk telling her about it, all the same. I’ve just said that I’m “walking out” with one of the (unmarried) doctors here and spared her the details. I’ve confided in Mabel though, and sworn her not to tell Mother. I’m not sure what Mabel thinks about it all either. She’s advised me, playing the concerned, protective older sister role, to “be careful”, which is fair enough I suppose. Perhaps she’s a little envious, as she’s still single and unattached herself. Unfortunately, Mabel isn’t blessed with great beauty. Like Miss Cavell, she seems utterly wedded to her job. As I would have said I was, a year ago!
Well, Henri and I have been careful. Most of the time, at any rate. We’ve tried various things: the male contraceptive for him, although we don’t like that very much because halting things halfway through whilst he fits it seems to detract from the spontaneity of the proceedings somewhat; and the Dutch cap for me, which has the same drawback although not to the same extent. And spermicidal jelly for me, which seems to be best, because I can prepare myself well in advance, on the off-chance, so to speak. Goodness me: I’m almost making myself blush, writing about such things! There’s no knowing who might read this journal many years in the future!
But anyway, as we have been taking precautions of one sort and another, how can I be in the condition I fear I might be? Well, it is fear, if I am to be honest? If I am (say the word, try it cautiously for size) pregnant, then surely Henri and I would have to get married, for the sake of respectability? Saying it like that, saying “have” makes it sound like a cruel burdensome necessity, but I don’t think it would be. The idea of being married to Henri is distinctly appealing. And after all, I’m thirty-two now and time is racing on; I should be having children soon, before I become too old.
I think perhaps I should have a word about my condition, my symptoms, with Marie. She’s an expert in these things after all and should be able to tell me one way or the other. Or there’s Henri, although I don’t know how much he would know about gynaecology, being a cardiothoracic specialist. And besides, I’d have to confess my anxieties to him. How would he (and his mother) react if I were indeed pregnant?
15th February, 1911
Still no sign of a monthly, so I’ve had a word with Marie. She was pretty surprised that I have an affair going with the very eligible Dr. Pascal, as I hadn’t confided in her about it before, although she didn’t sound disapproving. Continentals are more liberal-minded about such things than we English, probably! She examined me, including internally (which was a little embarrassing; no one has ever touched me there before, apart from Henri of course) and pronounced that, considering how long it’s been now since my last monthly (I think it must have been sometime back in early December) and the general condition of me: my gradually increasing waistline, altered breasts and cervix, apparently, I almost certainly am with child.
She wondered what Miss Cavell would make of that, knowing her attitude to nurses and celibacy. She thought it might mean my losing my job. I fear she might be right there, although I have mixed feelings on the subject now. I’m not sure which I want most: continuation of my career or motherhood. Then she said that of course I could have the foetus got rid of, which might be the best thing, and I said furiously that no, I wouldn’t even consider such a thing. She apologised for suggesting it.
It being the weekend, today was one of our afternoon get-togethers, and after the usual lovemaking, as we lay on our backs contemplating the bedroom ceiling, I plucked up the courage to tell Henri the news. He turned and stared at me, shocked. “But how can you be?” he asked, a little crossly it seemed. “You have been using the spermicide, haven’t you?”
“Yes, of course I have!” I protested. “You should know: you usually help me apply it!”
“Yes, pardon, chérie,” he said apologetically. He sighed. “Well it clearly hasn’t worked then, has it? I don’t know how effective those substances are. Perhaps we should have stayed with a barrier method.”
I turned to him too, my hand tentatively finding his chest; asked anxiously, “It’s happened though, it seems. How do you feel about it?”
He thought about it for what seemed an age. “It is quite a shock, I must admit.”
“That isn’t an answer,” I said in a tiny voice.
He smiled ruefully. “No, it is not. I am sorry. I think I feel pleased, actually.” There was another lengthy silence. “Yes, I do. I am definitely pleased.”
“And you don’t think I should get rid of it?”
His smile disappeared. He looked scandalised. “No! Absolutely not! You know that I am Catholic, so it is out of the question. And even if I were not, I would not demand abortion. I believe in the sanctity of life. I am a doctor, remember!”
I let go of the breath I had been holding. We lay in silence. I waited for him to bring up the subject of marriage, but he did not do so.
22nd February, 1911
A week has gone by and I’ve been a bag of nerves, unable to concentrate properly on my work. I’ve been rather dreading meeting Henri again and he hasn’t helped matters by not inviting me out during the evening at all. There was nothing from him after the lecture on Tuesday other than to ask if our usual Saturday afternoon meeting was all right. Of course I said, with some trepidation, that it was. We have a lot of things which need discussing and I don’t think they could be talked about publicly, in a café.
So when Saturday finally came and we climbed the stairs to the hotel bedroom, the last thing on my mind was immediately undressing and getting into bed. And so I simply removed my hat, coat and boots and sat on the bed with my back against the headboard, and he did the same. I waited with bated breath for him to take the initiative and begin.
Thankfully, he didn’t keep me waiting. But my heart still sank when he began by saying that he’d spoken about our problem to Émilie. “Oh yes?” I said. “And what does she have to say about it all?”
He smiled wryly. “Well, like me, she was shocked and surprised at first. But Mama is a woman of the world. She has always known about my occasional liaisons with ladies; she has no difficulty with that. It is just that she has this possessive fear that she might one day lose me in marriage to one. But as far as our problem is concerned, she is pragmatic. In her view, there is no point in – what is your English expression – crying over milk which has been spilled. It has to be dealt with. She has a proposition. Well, if I am honest, more of an instruction dressed up as a proposition, really.”
“And that is?” I asked.
“Well, as she sees it, the child is as much mine as yours – which is right, of course – and she wants a solution that is in the best interests of it and of me. And of you, too. She has become quite fond of you, you know. She thinks you are good for me. So do I for that matter.”
I took his hand, feeling tears pricking. “Really? Do she? Do you?”
“Yes,” he said, “absolutely.”
“So what is it? Tell me!” I demanded.
“Well, her suggestion is that you come to live with us. You would pay a small, reasonable sum for board and lodging, so to speak, as you would not be my wife. And you would not feel, er . . .” He floundered, searching for the correct word.
“Beholden?” I suggested.
“Yes, beholden. I’ve told her that you are torn, not wanting to give up your nursing. So, when the baby arrives, you could return to it quite soon afterwards and Mama would hire a –what is your word for a professional carer of children?”
“Yes, nanny. And possibly a wet nurse too, if necessary. She is thinking of everything.”
I laughed, feeling a weight suddenly lifted. “Yes, she certainly is!”
“So do you think it is a good idea?”
“Oh Henri,” I said, “Yes I do! And she really would do that?”
“Yes, she has said so. Because, as I say, the child will be mine too. She would be helping both of us. And also, I think she would really quite like a grandchild about the place.”
“Well that’s wonderful! It would suit us all then,” I enthused. But then a dismal dampening thought occurred. “I would have to persuade Miss Cavell to retain me although I had a child, though, that’s the only thing.”
Henri smiled. “I should not worry about that. I got the impression from talking to her before about our, er, relationship that she values you highly. And after all, with this arrangement you would still be free to devote yourself fully to your calling, wouldn’t you.”
“Oh yes, dearest Henri, yes,” I agreed fervently, “I would.”
“Would you like me to have another word with her; tell her the situation, that there’s no reason why she should lose you just because of this?”
“Could you, please? I’m not sure I could summon up the courage to tell her myself. She’s not always very approachable. ”
“Of course. Good; that’s settled.” He grinned wolfishly. “Right. Now, shall we do what we usually come here to do then?”
26th February, 1911
When I saw Henri after the lecture last night he suggested a visit to the café. Thankfully it wasn’t very full and we found a quiet corner to ourselves. After the waitress had brought our drinks he came straight to the point. “I’ve had a word with Miss Cavell.”
Anxiety gripped my chest. “And?”
He smiled. “Well, she looked very disapproving at first. I am sure she really does not hold with such goings-on. But then I explained our planned arrangement and suggested that there would be absolutely no impediment to your continuing in your calling, and after a little thought she said, a little grudgingly, ‘All right, very well. It is rather irregular, but she is a very good nurse and I would be loath to lose her’. So there you are.”
“Oh Henri”, I said, “thank you!”, and forgetting we were in public, impulsively reached across and planted a kiss on his lips (wishing it were Saturday and I could show my gratitude more fulsomely!)
This morning Miss Cavell visited the hospital and called me to the matron’s office, asking the matron to occupy herself elsewhere for a few minutes. She took up station behind the desk and bade me sit. She regarded me coolly, although not unkindly. “Well, Miss Farley,” she said, “Dr. Pascal has informed me of the situation you find yourself in.”
“Yes, Miss Cavell,” I said meekly, not meeting her gaze. “I’m really very sorry.”
She frowned. “Yes, well, I suppose I cannot rule the lives or morals of my nurses entirely. These things happen and I’m sure our Lord will forgive you.”
“Yes”, I said, “thank you,” as if she were the one doing the forgiving.
She continued, “Dr. Pascal tells me that he and his mother have made arrangements for the care of the child?”
“Oh yes!” I was anxious to reassure. “Very satisfactory arrangements. I would be able to give my full attention to nursing duties.”
Miss Cavell conceded a thin smile. “Well, I do hope so. I would not wish to lose you, Miss Farley. I need all the good nurses I can get. They are in short supply.”
“Thank you, Miss Cavell,” I said, feeling ridiculously, weakly grateful. “That’s very kind of you.”
“Not at all,” she said briskly. “As a matter of fact, I do believe you would be excellent Sister material, possibly working back at rue de la Concord. I have been thinking for some time that I would like to cultivate you for that position. Does that prospect appeal to you?”
I was flabbergasted. “Oh yes; it does indeed” I managed to stutter. “Thank you very much.”
2nd March, 1911
I’m penning this from my new home with Henri in Émilie’s villa. It even boasts a library/study, so now I can write in there in comfort, rather than sitting on my bed with writing paper supported on a book in the Nurses’ Home! I still can’t believe what has happened to me; it’s still like a dream. I’m in love with a fine, kind man and carrying his child, living in some style (to put it mildly) with arrangements in place to let me continue nursing and even promotion in prospect. Christobel Farley, you really are a very lucky girl!
14th September, 1911
Well, it’s over, the long-anticipated event. I was beginning to think it would never come. I’m back to sitting in bed writing, for a few days anyway, until I feel fit enough to get up. Marie says I should have a few days resting, although I don’t feel particularly debilitated, apart from sore around the nether regions. Jacques, my wonderful little boy, is slumbering in his cot beside me, lying on his back, rosebud mouth gently blowing bubbles, tiny pink hands clasped into tiny pink fists on the pillow beside him, dreaming perhaps of the things that only babies dream of.
So it’s turned out to be “Jacques”, not “Jacqueline”, which was our chosen name had it been a girl. Henri had offered me the opportunity of giving our child an English name, but I insisted on a Belgian one (well, it’s French really of course; I hope he won’t mind my saying that) as he was born here and is therefore Belgian, and because, having made my life here, I feel I’m becoming more and more Continental as the years go by. Besides, Jacques still has an English second name: Bernard, for Father. Apart from anything else, Jacques Pascal just sounds better than Bernard Pascal would have done!
It’s already over thirty-six hours since he finally condescended to arrive in the world. I think he perhaps preferred it in my dark warm womb and was reluctant to leave! But already it’s fading into memory, all that pain and effort and straining and pushing at Marie’s command, until finally he emerged and was briefly placed with umbilical cord still attached on my chest for me to see, and I wept tears of joy and relief. I think Henri was probably misty-eyed too, although I was too exhausted to really notice. I only had eyes for my (well, all right, our) miraculous creation.
And oh, the bliss of cradling him in my arms the first time, holding him to my breast, nourishing him, feeling such an overwhelming rush of love that made me ache. I could almost have wished to freeze that moment in time, but that’s just silly of course. Then there wouldn’t be any other wondrous golden moments to come. I wouldn’t see him grow into a child, and then a boy, and then a youth and then a fine young man.
Yes, all that is ahead of you, my beautiful boy. I wonder what the twentieth century holds in store for you? Things have changed so much even in my thirty-two years that I can’t begin to image what they’ll be like in another fifty. How will it be in nineteen sixty-three, when you are fifty and I’m an ancient old crone, if I live that long? But you might live for the entire century.
Apart from anything else, I do hope there won’t be any more wars for you to squander your life in. We’ve had quite enough of those, thank you. I remember nursing the poor broken boys shipped home from the last South African war. No one should have to face such horror. But surely it won’t happen again, not with the intricate web of intercontinental royal marriages fostered by the old Queen? No, surely not. We are more civilised and sensible now.