Manet Hall, Louisiana
December 30, 1899
The baby was crying. Abigail heard it in dreams, the soft, unsettled whimper, the stirring of tiny limbs under soft blankets. She felt the first pangs of hunger, a yearning in the belly, almost as if the child were still inside her. Her milk came down before she was fully awake.
She rose quickly and without fuss. It gave her such pleasure-that overfull sensation in her breasts, the tenderness of them. The purpose of them. Her baby needed and she would provide.
She crossed to the recamier, lifted the white robe draped over its back. She drew in the scent of the hothouse lilies-her favorite-spearing out of a crystal vase that had been a wedding present.
Before Lucian, she'd been content to tuck wildflowers into bottles.
If Lucian had been home, he would have woken as well. Though she would have smiled, have stroked a hand over his silky blond hair as she told him to stay, to sleep, he would have wandered up to the nursery before she'd finished Marie Rose's midnight feeding.
She missed him-another ache in the belly. But as she slipped into her night wrapper, she remembered he would be back the next day. She would start watching for him in the morning, waiting to see him come galloping down the allée of oaks.
No matter what anyone thought or said, she would run out to meet him. Her heart would leap, oh, it always leaped, when he sprang down from his horse and lifted her off her feet into his arms.
And at the New Year's ball, they would dance.
She hummed to herself as she lit a candle, shielding it with her hand as she moved to the bedroom door, out into the corridor of the great house where she had once been servant and was now, well, if not daughter of the house at least the wife of its son.
The nursery was on the third floor of the family wing. That was a battle she'd fought with Lucian's mother, and lost. Josephine Manet had definite rules about behavior, domestic arrangements, traditions. Madame Josephine, Abigail thought as she moved quickly and quietly past the other bedroom doors, had definite ideas on everything. Certainly that a three-month-old baby belonged in the nursery, under the care of a nursemaid, and not in a cradle tucked into the corner of her parents' bedroom.
Candlelight flickered and flew against the walls as Abigail climbed the narrowing stairs. At least she'd managed to keep Marie Rose with her for six weeks. And had used the cradle that was part of her own family's traditions. It had been carved by her grand-père. Her own mother had slept in it, then had tucked Abigail in it seventeen years later.
Marie Rose had spent her first nights in that old cradle, a tiny angel with her doting and nervous parents close at hand.
Her daughter would respect her father's family and their ways. But Abigail was determined that her child would also respect her mother's family, and learn their ways.
Josephine had complained about the baby, about the homemade cradle, so constantly that she and Lucian had given in. It was, Lucian said, the way water wears at rock. It never ceases, so the rock gives way or wears down.
The baby spent her nights in the nursery now, in the crib made in France, where Manet babies had slept for a century.
It was a proper if not cozy arrangement, Abby comforted herself. Her petite Rose was a Manet. She would be a lady.
And as Madame Josephine had pointed out, again and again, other members of the household were not to have their sleep disturbed by fretful cries. However such matters were done in the bayou, here in Manet Hall, children were tended in the nursery.
How her lips curled when she said it. Bayou-as if it were a word to be spoken only in brothels and bars.
It didn't matter that Madame Josephine hated her, that Monsieur Henri ignored her. It didn't matter that Julian looked at her the way no man should look at his brother's wife.
From Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts, Copyright (c) October 2001, Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.
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