Charlotte takes to motherhood like a snail to salt.
For previous episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1840
The smallest child, Mary, rode on my back which my bruises didn’t appreciate, nor did I much like the little wooden doll sticking in my collarbone. Her sisters, Meredith and Millie, walked hand-in-hand a little distance away from me, as if they could sense the black cloud over my head.
When Father Brennan called me to the church I hadn’t anticipated a pounding from a vampire or carting three children home with me. Children were not on my evening agenda, let alone my life agenda, unless ‘avoid at all cost’ counted.
‘Are you going to be my mummy?’ Mary kept asking.
I ignored her, internally grumbling about noisy children, and Josef’s past appearances seemed less annoying by the minute.
Halfway home she switched to. ‘I’ve never had a mummy. Will you play with me? I know lots of games.’ She counted off a list of what I assumed were games at an ear-piercing pitch.
Every so often Millie, the eldest, would interject with, ‘Shhh.’
Mary didn’t notice.
By the time we got home I could’ve gone back out, fought a dozen vampires and won.
Bran came out of the library and his face lit up like he’d got all seven hundred of his birthdays in one go. Good God, how had I missed that?
‘Hello, there. Are you Charlotte’s new friends?’ he asked and took Mary off my back and perched her on his hip.
‘She’s going to be my mummy,’ Mary announced.
‘Mary,’ Millie hissed.
‘Is she now?’ Then he lowered his voice, ‘She’s soft inside, she just likes to pretend she isn’t.’
‘She saved us from a monster,’ Mary said.
‘She does that a lot,’ Bran replied.
Meredith, the middle child, clasped Bran’s hand and looked up at him as if he was a figure of paternal wonder. Millie put herself on the other side of him, well away from me. I could’ve taken it personally but I was covered in ash, blood and a foul temper.
‘I’m Mary. I’m four, that’s more than one,’ she said. ‘The grumpy one is Millie and that’s Merry, she doesn’t talk much.’
Bran lowered himself to their level, still holding Mary. ‘I’m Bran. Would you like something to eat?’
‘Yes, please,’ Mary announced on behalf of the cohort.
Bran led them towards the kitchen, chatting away. There was something surreal about shy Bran could being so comfortable with a few children, how he knew what to do with them I had no idea.
I lingered in the doorway while Mrs Stapleton ladled large servings of stew and dumplings into bowls and the children laughed at Bran’s stories and his numerous voices. Mrs Stapleton cooed over what nice manners they had. They ate daintily, with spoons, whereas when I used to hunch over the bowl and wolfed food down with my fingers as if someone might steal it from me. Not an undue concern, I thought.
I was at a loss. I could be the thinker, the fighter and the lover but whatever they were doing… I didn’t know where to start.
‘I’m going to have a bath,’ I said and went to heat some water.
I was already in bed when Bran appeared in the bedroom. I pretended to be asleep rather than have to talk about our little house guests. Those vampire senses of his must’ve told him that I was awake but he got into bed, kissed my shoulder and settled down to sleep without a word.
I woke up to Bran nuzzling my shoulder. I wished I could’ve had a blissful moment of forgetfulness where I thought he wanted something other than the pending conversation. Alas my brain went straight to the events of the night before.
‘I love you,’ he murmured.
‘Hmmm?’ I replied without opening my eyes.
He curled his arm around me and kissed the curve of my neck.
‘Is this the bit where you try and persuade me it’s all going to be wonderful?’ I muttered.
‘How much persuasion would you need?’ he asked.
‘More than my pelvis could take.’ I opened my eyes.
He chuckled against my shoulder. Oh dear, chuckling rather getting embarrassed, that was one very happy Brandon.
As he was in such a good mood I didn’t want to ask, but I had to, ‘What about Richard?’
He sighed. ‘He won’t come here when there’s children in the house. If he hurts a child Josef would kill him. It wouldn’t be quick.’
I rolled over to face him.
‘Josef had a family once,’ he whispered.
‘What about you?’ I asked.
He brushed my hair away from his face to mask his hesitation. ‘No.’
I kissed him softly.
The door burst open to the sound of Millie shouting, ‘Mary!’
Mary clambered onto the bed and started bouncing. ‘Is it time to get up? What’re we doing? Can we play today? Bouncy beds are fun.’
Millie peeked around the doorway but didn’t come in.
‘I’m up,’ Bran said. He got out of bed and snatched her out of the air before she could bounce herself off the edge of the bed.
She squealed excitedly and I winced.
Bran carried her out of the room talking about what Mrs Stapleton might make for the children’s breakfast.
I pulled the covers over my head and shrivelled up under them. I hated it already.