Making the Marquess – Nichole Van

King Louis the XIV had arrived to deliver the baby. Lottie feared she was hallucinating. And then, just as quickly, she feared the opposite. That the gentleman racing toward her in the antiquated purple justacorps, white-powdered wig, and rouged face paint was not, in fact, a figment of her imagination. After all, the man clutched a doctor’s bag in his hand, and their footman, Danny, was at his heels. How could this gentleman possibly be a physician? Lottie’s sister, Margaret—Lady Frank Fulton to the world at large—moaned and gasped her way through another labor pain, her hand squeezing Lottie’s in a vise. “I think the doctor has finally arrived, Margaret dearest,” Lottie murmured, wiping perspiration off her sister’s forehead. “At long last!” Margaret groaned, her blue eyes fluttering open. “He will be a most welcome sight!” Lottie wondered if her sister would feel the same in five minutes when the physician and Danny reached them. The men had left their horses back on the roadway and were hopping the hundred or so yards across the boggy meadow toward the tree where Margaret lay. Danny carried a pile of folded linen under one arm and a bucket of water in the other. The doctor, for his part, struggled to jump from clump-to-clump of dry grass, as the flared skirt of his long justacorps obscured the view of his boots. The curls of his enormous peruke extended nearly to his waist, sending white puffs of hair powder aloft with each lurching leap. And .

was that a mole-patch on his cheek? Regardless, the doctor’s clothing was a solid hundred years out of fashion—ancient attire for a man who appeared far younger. Was this the medical care one received so far out in the country? Or was this more a case of beggars-not-choosers? Lottie was unsure. She had never assisted a sister in giving birth atop carriage blankets under a sprawling oak tree. She squinted as the men bounded closer. But if not a physician, who was the man? A costumier? An asylum fugitive? A masked-ball enthusiast? Hmmm. Hallucination was still a possibility. The situation certainly had a dreamlike quality. A grunt of distress had Lottie turning back to Margaret. Her sister lay with her eyes closed, panting and whimpering through yet another labor pain. Lottie dabbed Margaret’s brow again with a handkerchief, hating that she was so helpless in the face of her sister’s suffering. This was certainly not how her sister had envisioned bringing her second child into the world.

Margaret had despaired for years, believing herself barren. She had been overjoyed to be increasing once more. Of course, Lottie considered it decidedly ironic that the actual childbirth had come upon them so unexpectedly. But, alas, babies had much in common with time and tides—they waited for no man. Lottie was encouraging Margaret through her labor pain when a doctor’s case landed near her elbow. She glanced up. The doctor stood over her, rimmed in light and appearing like a ghostly apparition of centuries past. “Good afternoon, ladies,” he said. “I see ye are in a wee spot of trouble.” The doctor’s commonplace words were a sharp contrast to the chaos of his attire.

Moreover, his voice sounded so . prosaic, laced with a doctor’s forced cheeriness and threads of Scotland. He dropped to his knees beside them, the curls of his peruke swinging forward. Margaret opened her eyes at the movement, met the doctor’s gaze, and promptly recoiled in horror, a startled shriek on her tongue. Definitely not a hallucination then. “Who the bloody hell is this?!” Margaret screeched, reaching for Lottie’s hand and attempting to scrabble backwards. Her cumbersome body resisted, barely moving. Ah, yes. Lottie had noted the rather illuminating expanse of her older sister’s vocabulary over the past several hours. “He’s the doctor, dearest,” Lottie explained, silently praying she was correct.

The doctor directed Danny to set his armful of linens on the carriage blanket beside Margaret and the bucket of water beside it. The footman bowed and beat a hasty retreat, heading back to the horses. Pulling off his black riding gloves, the doctor opened his case, retrieving a small amber-colored jar. He was young. Even through the face paint, Lottie would hazard the man had not seen a day above thirty. That said, he radiated competence. He situated a few more jars and then pulled out a pocket watch. Margaret shrank from him, yanking her wrist out of his hold as he attempted to monitor her pulse. “I don’t want this doctor, Lottie.” Her eyes turned pleading.

“You must find me another one.” “Now, Margaret—” “I have waited too long for this child to have it delivered by a . a . foppish lothario.” Margaret grabbed Lottie’s hand. “Can you imagine Frank’s horror?” The good doctor’s face devolved into pure granite as Margaret spoke—the expression utterly incongruous with his absurd attire. “I assure ye, this is my idea of a nightmare, as well.” The doctor’s tone was starkly dry. The mole-patch on his right cheek slipped downwards, as if finally ascertaining that it was far too frivolous for his stern face. The doctor startled and swiped at the patch—much like one might swat a mosquito—smearing a bright streak of rouge down to his jaw.

He stared at the pink staining his fingers, as if both perplexed and horrified. Lottie had seen that look before on her cousin Gabriel’s face after one too many glasses of brandy. It was the expression of a man with regrets. But the blush climbing the doctor’s neck implied that he was not immune to embarrassment. “I was led to believe your situation was more dire than it appears at present,” he continued. “But now that I am here, I promise that ye and your unborn babe are in capable hands, Mrs. ” His voice trailed off, waiting for Margaret to provide her name. “Lady Frank Fulton,” Margaret said, emphasizing her title. Lottie knew her sister to be kind and generous, but she was perhaps slightly less so with those she viewed as being beneath her. The doctor did not blink at her tone.

“Lady Frank, my apologies. I gather that we both have a tale to tell.” The doctor pulled a cloth from his case and proceeded to wipe the rouge from his hands with jerking motions. “For yourself, it will be how a finely-bred lady ended up here, atop carriage blankets beneath a tree, ready to give birth—” Margaret groaned again, eyes closing in pain and turning Lottie’s fingers purple with the strain of her grip. “—and for myself, it will be how I arrived dressed as ye see. This is not my habitual apparel.” He waved a hand up and down to indicate his old-fashioned dress, eyes rolling in frustration. “I ken that this entire situation appears untoward. But a wee bairn cares naught for propriety and will come into this world in the manner it chooses. We must merely make do with the hand God has dealt us.

” Lottie smiled. It might have been the exhaustion and stress clouding her thinking, but Lottie decided then and there she liked Doctor King Louis the XIV. Sunlight filtered down through the oak tree overhead, dappling the carriage blankets atop the spongy grass. Margaret continued to moan, her back arching, her breaths coming in short gasps. Lottie mopped the perspiration from her sister’s forehead. The doctor opened the small jar and stirred a spoonful of powder into the bucket of water. “Chlorinated-lime,” he said, noting her questioning look, “to ensure everything is disinfected. I’m an oddity among physicians, I know. But I believe in the importance of cleanliness when dealing with patients, particularly during childbirth.” He dipped both hands into the mixture, rubbing them thoroughly.

Shaking his hands dry, he unfolded one of the bedsheets the footman had brought and draped it over Margaret’s legs. “I need to check the progress of your bairn, Lady Frank, so please forgive this indignity.” The doctor’s tone was soft and gentle. “You will only feel a slight pressure.” Lottie’s eyes widened. Gracious, childbirth was proving a cleansing experience—scrubbing their lives of decorum and catapulting them into a sort of reluctant familiarity. The doctor lifted the sheet, gently pulling on Margaret’s ankles to open her knees. The curls of his periwig dragged across Margaret’s calves, causing her to shriek once more and jerk her legs away, pushing her feet into the blanket, as if to sit up. The doctor sighed, rocking back on his heels, hands atop the satin justacorps covering his thighs. “I am truly here to help.

” His voice held a decisive bite this time. “But in order to help, I must determine the position and progress of your bairn.” Margaret raised her head and glowered at him, hair sticking to her damp cheeks. “I want a proper physician. Or, at the very least, a competent midwife.” The doctor closed his eyes, perhaps praying for patience. Though, in this, Lottie could understand Margaret’s reluctance. The necessary intimacy of this situation was shocking. “I am a proper physician,” he said through clenched teeth. “I graduated as a fully-fledged Doctor of Medicine from the University of Edinburgh just three years past.

” Lottie swallowed. The doctor was as young as she had supposed. Margaret turned weary eyes to Lottie. “Was there no other doctor in town?” “Believe me,” he interrupted, “I dinnae want tae be here anymore than yerselves. But your choices, my lady, were myself dressed like this or one of the other three physicians in town who are currently drunk as wheelbarrows. Proper roaring fou, they are.” “Are you quite sure you are not drunk yourself?” Margaret flicked her eyes over his gaudy attire. “My lady, I am dressed like this precisely because I am sober, not the other way around.” He sighed, leaning forward and sliding his hands down to his knees. “My story is quite simple.

I was returning to Edinburgh and stopped in Ripon to visit a school chum who has a surgery there. My friend wished to celebrate my return to Britain, as I have been abroad for a pair of years. He invited his friends and proposed a drinking game. He would add something vile to each finger of brandy, and the man who refused a drink had to don another piece of this monstrosity.” The doctor swept a hand down the front of his violet justacorps. “I dinnae drink alcohol. Therefore, I lost every round.” “How can you be a gentleman—a Scot no less—and not drink—” Margaret cut off mid-sentence, her body arching in agony. Lottie shook her head. “Please forgive my sister, sir.

You are not seeing her at her best.” She mopped Margaret’s face once more. “We have had a trying afternoon.” “Aye. I think we all have.” He managed a grim smile. “The lack of propriety for this situation has been a shock,” Lottie said. “We all supposed Margaret would be in the privacy of her own boudoir when she gave birth. Not atop a blanket beside a boggy meadow.” Poor Margaret was lost in her pain, curses dropping from her lips, breaths coming in short pants.

The doctor slipped his hands under the sheet, and this time, Margaret allowed him to examine her progress. “Ye are coming along nicely, my lady. I can just feel the baby’s head beginning to descend in earnest, though it is not quite yet crowning. It shan’t be more than another hour or two, I reckon. I see no point in moving you and attempting to reach habitation. How came you to be here?” “’Tis a bit of a tale.” Lottie wiped Margaret’s brow. “We left London three days ago to return to my sister’s home outside Darlington to begin her confinement. We spent last night in Ripon but were two hours on the roadway this morning when her waters burst. The pains came hard and fast, and we were attempting to return to town, but poor Margaret could not tolerate the jolting and rocking of the carriage.

We stopped and she paced her way across the boggy meadow—” Lottie motioned to the marsh before them. “—and then did not have the wherewithal to return to the carriage. The servants brought blankets and rushed to fetch a doctor.” The doctor dipped his hands into the lime mixture to wash them, frowning as the cuffs of the justacorps dragged in the water. “Is this Lady Frank’s first child?” Margaret grunted, moaning and cursing again. Her labor pains were certainly lasting longer with less time between them. “’Tis her second, sir,” Lottie answered. “Her first is a sweet girl, Anne, who is at home with her nurse. But it has been nearly six years since my sister last gave birth. We had supposed her barren, so this child is truly a gift.

” “I’m grateful, then, tae be part of this joyous occasion.” The doctor nodded and took a seat on the opposite side of Margaret, settling onto the blanket there. The sun had passed its zenith and was heading toward late afternoon. But as they were approaching the summer solstice, sunset was still half a day away. Margaret’s labor pain eased. The doctor smiled at her. “Second deliveries are usually much quicker than first, Lady Frank. Rest as much as ye can.” Margaret whimpered and closed her eyes, face exhausted, a hand pressed to her swollen belly. “Thank you for being here, Lottie,” Margaret murmured, eyes still closed.

“Hush. There is nowhere I’d rather be than here. Rest.” Lottie pressed a kiss to Margaret’s forehead. For his part, the doctor began digging his fingers into his scalp. “Hairpins,” he said, as he noticed Lottie noticing. “My drunken friends insisted upon it, which is why I havenae removed this dratted wig. I couldnae locate them while following the groom on horseback.” He pulled out a hairpin and set to finding more. The man was a conundrum, Lottie decided.

Underneath the face paint, the doctor was a subdued kind of handsome with a rather Grecian nose and sharp jawline. Lean and clean-shaven, he exuded a quiet competence. As if the world could go topsy-turvy, and he would simply roll-up his sleeves and set-to, cleaning up the mess. But most significantly, he had kind eyes—slate-gray and soulful, calling to mind the sky on a cloudy winter’s day. The promise of better things to come. He pulled out a final hairpin and dragged the offending wig off his head, revealing tousled brown hair. Leaning to one side, he scrubbed a hand through his hair, shaking loose the remaining traces of powder and coaxing it into some semblance of order. His hair obeyed with remarkable alacrity, falling into well-behaved straight lines. He then dipped a handkerchief in the lime water and began wiping the cosmetics off his face. “I’m Dr.

Alex Whitaker, by the by,” he nodded, swiping through the rouge. “Likely should have introduced myself afore now.” “Dr. Alex Whitaker?” Lottie grinned. “I am Lady Charlotte Whitaker. Did you hear that, Margaret?” she asked. Her sister opened her weary eyes. “The doctor’s surname is Whitaker, just like ours,” Lottie repeated. “Perhaps he was fated to be here with us today.” “Our surname is hardly uncommon.

” Margaret rolled her eyes. “I fear sometimes you live too much in books, dearest.” She closed her eyes, signaling she wanted nothing to do with this conversation and preferred to rest. Mmmm. Margaret considered Lottie something of a bluestocking. Well, Lottie was something of a bluestocking, she supposed. Hadn’t Grandmère said as much last week? Our Lottie could hold her own in a meeting of the Blue Stocking Society, c’est vrai. But I find it odieuse that the term ‘bluestocking’ is now considered so derogatory. An educated mind is an elegant thing. Granted, Grandmère’s opinions were decidedly un-English, having been formed in the salons of Paris in decades past.

Lottie rubbed Margaret’s hand and turned her attention back to the doctor with a wry smile. “Margaret is likely correct. Besides, surely you spell your last name differently from ourselves. My family are Whitaker with one ‘T,’ not two.” Dr. Whitaker rinsed his rag, brows drawn. “My family uses only one ‘T’ as well.” Lottie laughed. “Next, you will say you are related to the Marquess of Lockheade, and I shall perish from astonishment.” The doctor’s brows drew down further as he continued to wash his face clean.

Margaret’s eyes snapped open, her attention piqued. “The Marquess of Lockheade?” Dr. Whitaker parroted. “Aye. We do have a connection with the family. My great-great-grandfather was the third Lord Lockheade.” “In truth?” Lottie nearly crowed with delight. “My father is the seventh Lord Lockheade. Why . Dr.

Whitaker! We’re cousins!” Margaret frowned, staring at the doctor as if searching for a family resemblance. “I am not entirely sure I trust that claim, Doctor.” “Upon my honor as a gentleman, I have not lied about my connection with Lord Lockheade, my lady.” The doctor frowned. “Margaret . ,” Lottie began, a hint of reproach in her voice. “Lottie, ’tis absurd!” Margaret turned to her. “An unknown doctor shows up dressed like he is fit for Bedlam. And then—low and behold!—he abruptly declares himself to be a long-lost cousin —oof!” Margaret cut off abruptly as another labor pain hit, her hand clenching Lottie’s in an attempt to transfer some of the agony. Given the painful throbbing in the tips of Lottie’s fingers, her sister’s plan was effective.

Lottie shot the doctor an apologetic look. The doctor appeared unconcerned over Margaret’s objections. Instead, he stood and began shrugging out of the purple satin justacorps. The long coat was truly ridiculous, with miles of silver braiding and tarnished buttons. He tossed it aside. Hmmm. Lottie surveyed him, as if finally seeing the true Dr. Whitaker. Which, she supposed in a way, she was. The remnants of the previous century were now gone.

He wore a fine waistcoat of dark-green silk with brass buttons over buckskin breeches and a pair of Hessian boots. His cravat was fashionably tied and his shirt neatly laundered. All in all, Dr. Whitaker appeared a man who could be her distant cousin. In her mind, Lottie labeled him as such—Cousin Alex. Cousin Alex rolled up his shirt sleeves. He washed his hands and checked Margaret again. “Not much progress.” Margaret nodded, panting through another labor pain. Lottie wiped her sister’s face yet again.

Margaret kept her eyes closed, her hair disheveled and sticking to her neck. Lottie bit her lip. How much more could her sister withstand? The doctor sat back on the opposite side of Margaret, tugging a watch from his waistcoat pocket and checking Margaret’s pulse. “Thank you, Doctor,” Lottie said. “Despite my sister’s misgivings, I believe you when you say we are cousins. My father always says we must value family above all else—Familae primum semper cognosce.” “Think first of family.” Dr. Whitaker translated the Latin phrase. Lottie beamed at him.

“Exactly! That is what we Whitakers do.” Think first of family was the motto for Lottie’s life. She had even taken to stitching it into the corners of the handkerchiefs she embroidered for Papa, Cousin Gabriel, and little Anne. Family was everything, was it not?


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