The last time
“I cannot go in there,” Connor stood at the rail, his hands gripping so tight that surely they would leave an impression in the teak.
“Connor,” Rita said gently, “this ship is your brave new world. You do not have to follow outmoded conventions for the lying-in.”
“It is not convention!” The words spat from his lips with rifled intensity. “I cannot face this. I cannot see Isabelle this way.”
A strange expression flitted across the Madame’s face and her eyes brimmed with tears, but she schooled herself and simply said. “She is asking for you, Connor, and you will not disappoint her at this juncture. She needs you.” Rita turned from her Captain, confident that no matter how personally uncomfortable he was, he would never deny his wife’s wishes.
In the wake of Rita’s rustling silk, Connor squared his shoulders and steeled himself for the sight of his wife in child-birth. By the time he reached to door to the bedchamber, he had even managed to put a smile on his face. It was a ghastly grimace at best, but it was what he had.
The door to the improvised birthing room swung open at his touch and revealed his beautiful bride reclining on a bed of blossoming red. That’s odd, thought Connor, why would they have scattered rose petals under Isabelle while she labored? With dawning horror he realized that the bed was festooned not with flowers, but with blood. Surely every child did not arrive on such a tide of gore.
“Connor,” Isabelle’s voice was weak, her skin pallid. “Connor, we have a girl. You must name her after your mother, and after mine. You must name her Katherine Yvonne.”
For the first time Connor registered the squirming bundle on the table being fussed over by Rita and Sarah. It made no sound, simply thrashed its arms and legs. Weren't babies supposed to cry or mewl or something? The entire scene was surreal and slightly out of focus, as if time was being pulled by the steam powered taffy machine on Coney Island.
“Connor.” His wife’s faint voice pulled his focus back to the bloodied bed. “Connor, I don’t have much time. We must talk.”
“Isabelle, darling. You must save your strength.”
“Connor James! Shut up and listen.” Isabelle paled visibly from the effort of raising her voice. She shifted in the bed, attempting to sit straighter. A gush of fresh blood crested the swell of her thighs. Blood thick with clots as if it were carrying away pieces of her very soul. Blood like that, Connor realized with a sinking heart that could only mean one thing.
There was a rushing in his ears, a buzzing inside his head, as of a thousand angry bees had been let lose in his cranium stinging his brain into stupidity. He would not accept it. Isabelle couldn't die. He could never live without her.
“Connor,” Isabelle tried again. “Connor, you must name our daughter after our mothers. You must promise to give her the love of both a mother and a father. You must tell her each and every day that she is a gift. That she is wanted. The she can do anything in this life she chooses.” Isabelle’s voice began to grow faint with the effort of speaking.
Connor fell to his knees, reaching tentative hands to his wife’s shoulder and hip. Some part of his brain was screaming that he should pick her up, scoop her into his arms, and run. Run away from the deathbed. Run away from the ship and responsibility as Captain and father. He didn't want it, he didn't want any of it. All he wanted was Isabelle.
Two minutes ago, he thought he could not bear to see his wife in pain. A bitter chuckle escaped him at this thought. What a coward he was. “I can’t,” he whispered, a faint echo of that earlier declaration.
Isabelle’s eyes flashed, a taste of her usual spirit. “This is the last time I will get to command you Connor Graves, and you damn well better do as I say!”
“Why are they not helping you?” Connor stumbled to his feet, his anger blazing at the two women wasting time with the baby. “Why are you not helping her? Rita? Sarah? Get bandages, get the feverfuge, get the cauterizing wands! Do something!”
“There is nothing to be done my love.”
Isabelle’s whispered words dropped like stones into his heart. “Something has torn inside. Even if we were not leagues into the open ocean, even were I in the best hospital in Edinburgh, there simply would be nothing to be done. At least here, I can spend my final moments with you, and with my baby girl. That is more than I had right to.”
Isabelle gestured weakly toward the table, and Rita gathered up the newborn bundle, placing in the cradle of the new mother’s arms. As soon as the child was secure, Rita took Sarah’s hand a led her to the door where they slipped silently into the corridor leaving the grieving family to their farewells.