Clatan 23, 1015
“Now that’s better,” said Mark as he put the last log into the stove and shut the door.
It was unbelievable. They weren’t even four months into fall yet. As far as Mark was concerned, that meant this was still time for apple picking, and cider drinking, and raking leaf piles for the kids to jump in — all activities practiced when the temperature was reasonable. But today they had woken up to a bone-chilling cold that froze the water in the horses’ troughs and made going out and about impossible if you weren’t bundled up to the point where you could barely move. It just wasn’t fair.
But … Mark stepped back and let the warmth from the stove wash over him. That was the weather for you. Just when you thought you had a handle on it, it went and changed on you. In a few weeks, they’d probably be fanning themselves and searching for cold drinks as summer decided it wanted to make a comeback.
And in the meantime, he had work to do.
Mark headed to the desk and the marching columns of the accounts. Some of the numbers were in Joshua’s neat, precise hand. Most of them were in his smaller but sloppier one.
It was a bit odd, that. He had been grooming Joshua to take over the stables since he was small. If things had gone on as he had been expecting, Joshua probably would have been doing almost all of this now, with Mark only stepping in to give advice when needed. But Mark, it seemed, had succeeded too well, and now Joshua had his own business venture to take care of, leaving Mark with the stables.
Mark couldn’t even bring himself to feel annoyed or resentful of it. The bank was bringing in at least as much money as the stables ever had, and had the potential to bring in much more. If things ever got so hectic that they couldn’t keep up … well, it would make much more sense to sell the stables and concentrate on the bank than demand that Joshua take his attention from the bank and apply it to the stables.
But Mark wasn’t ready for that yet. He’d spent too long building this business up from nothing. While he could still run it himself, he would. And later …
He’d deal with later when later came.
So he drew one finger along one column, his eyes along the other, and slowly made his way down the sheet. He checked the arithmetic at every step. And when he was finished with one page, he added small initials to the bottom corner — MW — and moved to the next page.
He was about halfway down it when somebody knocked at the door. “Come in,” called Mark, not even bothering to look up.
Still, his jaw dropped when he saw who was entering.
“H-Heloise!” Mark jumped up with the speed of a much younger, or at any rate thinner, man. “What–what are you doing here? You haven’t got a break in classes for months!”
“Hello, Father,” said Heloise dully.
“Father?” asked Mark. “Who died and made me Father? And for that matter, who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”
Heloise managed a small smile. “Sorry.”
Mark’s heart began to pound. This … this wasn’t like Heloise. When was the last time his daughter had responded to teasing with acquiescent monosyllables (or close enough to monosyllables?). But for the moment, he would pretend not to notice. “Well, enough of that. Come here and give your old man a hug.”
Heloise didn’t need to be asked twice.
You could tell a lot from a hug. First there was how Heloise felt: bony and thin, much frailer than he was used to her feeling. He didn’t like that. The Allegrites were a minor order, and they didn’t go in for the fasting and the deprivation that some of the nuttier nunneries went for. Mens sana in corpore sano, that was their motto. You couldn’t have the healthy mind without the healthy body.
So if she had lost weight … that couldn’t be good.
But more than that was the way she held onto him. Mark couldn’t remember her clinging that tightly since she had been a little girl and woke up with the night terrors. Did Heloise even remember those days? She had been very young …
All of a sudden, she pulled back. For a minute, the normal Heloise stood in front of him: bold and confident, as sure of her own essential correctness as she was that the sky was blue. “So, Dad … um …”
The normal Heloise did not last long before him. She wilted.
“Can I help you with your cloak?” asked Mark.
“You’re not going to be happy with me,” Heloise finally sighed.
“What, are you naked under there?”
“What? No! Dad!”
“Then I think whatever it is I’m going to be … not-happy about can wait until I’ve gotten your cloak off.” Mark gestured for Heloise to turn around as he helped her with it. “And take that wimple off, too. Good Lord, you look like an old woman in it. Or a nun.”
“Thanks, Dad,” Heloise muttered, but she took the wimple off. “It keeps my head warm. Is that such a crime?”
“Not at all. I just think there’s got a be a better option for head warmth.”
“Like those silly leather hats you and Josh adore so much?”
“Something like that.” He got her cloak off, took her wimple from her, and hung both up on the peg. “Now have a seat, honey, and tell me what it is that I’m going to be so upset about.”
Heloise glanced at the little meeting table in the corner of the room. Slowly, she trudged to it and took a seat.
Mark joined her. “So …” he started. “I notice you’re not wearing those new robes that are taking Camford by storm.” He still wasn’t sure how it had happened, but somehow Babette had heard that all the minor orders of Camford had had unique robes designed, and of course she spread the news to everybody. Including people who really couldn’t care less. “You know your sister has been gossiping about them for weeks, right?”
“I brought them in my trunk,” Heloise muttered.
“Your trunk?” asked Mark. “So you’ll be staying a while?”
“I don’t think I’ll be going back.”
Heloise shuddered. “I don’t think I can.”
“… Why not?”
Mark had never seen her look so lost and forlorn. He reached out to hold her hand, but Heloise moved hers away.
“For–for starters,” Heloise stammered. When had Mark last heard her stammer? She must have been about two and hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the whole talking thing yet. “For starters, I’m pregnant.”
Mark’s jaw dropped.
“But that’s–that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.”
Unfortunately, Mark spat out the first thing that came to his mind, and even more unfortunately, that was not the most encouraging of things to say. “The tip of the iceberg? What kind of iceberg has you being pregnant as the tip?”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” Heloise hurried to say. “I’ll be fine. I’m not here to ask for money or help or anything like that. At least, I don’t need financial help per se, but I might need to ask you and Josh for advice, if you wouldn’t mind. You see, Henry–Henry had some property that he never bothered to tell me about, and now I’ve got to figure out if it’ll be best to sell it, or live off the rental income, or–”
Mark wasn’t sure which was more shocking: that Heloise had gotten with child, or that she might not need financial assistance. Still, he settled one one question that would hopefully serve to provide some answers to the others: “Who’s Henry?”
“My–my husband,” Heloise replied. “Or at least … he was …”
It was only through the strength of will gathered and honed over fifty-four years and a couple of months that Mark kept his jaw from dropping again. “When … honey, when you say he was …”
“He … he …” Heloise looked away. “It’s been six weeks, but it doesn’t get any easier to say.”
“You say he left you some property.” Mark reached for her hand and held it in both of his. “He … he died?”
Heloise swallowed and nodded. Mark could see a suspicious glassy haze in her eyes.
“All right. All right.” He patted her hand. Later, he would find out just how it was that Heloise had come to get married without informing her family — that wasn’t important now. “Was it sudden? Unexpected?”
“No!” Heloise shook her head. “We–we knew he was dying. That’s why we married! For his papers!”
His what? “Honey, I’m sorry, but I really don’t follow.”
“His papers,” Heloise repeated. “His manuscripts — everything he’d written for the past five years! Maybe more than that! Henry stopped publishing because–because things were getting a bit … heretical. His thoughts, I mean. He was following where the logic led, you see, but the Robertians, the Agnesites, they wouldn’t have liked it. He said he didn’t want to deal with that at his age, and that his papers could be published after he died and was beyond their judgment. But–but Dad, his order, they knew what the Robertians and the Agnesites would have said, too. If he’d died as a member of the order, they would have had the right to his papers, and they would have burned them! All of them! I couldn’t let that happen, Dad; Henry was a genius! I couldn’t let them burn his papers! And my Mother Superior agreed! Maybe now wasn’t the best time to publish them, but somebody ought to keep them handy! So–so I married Henry.”
Mark swallowed. “Heloise, you’ll have to excuse your slow old Dad, but I still don’t see what his papers had to do with you marrying him.”
“So–so I would be his widow, Dad,” Heloise replied. “If I was his widow — then all his property would come to me. He didn’t have any children, and — and I thought the only property he’d be leaving would be the papers and his books and his shoes and … things like that. And the law doesn’t care about things like that.”
“Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, honey, but –”
“But he wasn’t a nobleman, Dad! He didn’t have any entails saying that everything he owned had to go to so-and-so because they were his third cousin twice removed. Everything he had, he could leave where he pleased. If he died as a member of the order, the agreement was that they would get the lot. But if he got married, then he de facto left the order, and he could leave what he had to whoever he chose. He even made a will just to make sure I’d get everything.” Heloise rested her chin on her hands. “That’s why we consummated the marriage. So everything would be perfectly legal and the order couldn’t do anything about it.”
“I … see.” Mark didn’t see, not at all. Perhaps Heloise’s story had a sort of sense to it. But by the shadows in her eyes and the frown that wouldn’t leave her lips, there was much more to it. “All right … so … you consummated the marriage, and he made a will, leaving you everything. And then he died. Six weeks ago.”
“Leaving you with his child.”
Heloise nodded again.
There were so, so many questions that Mark could ask. He chose to start with the basic one first. “All right–when’s my newest grandchild due to make his appearance?”
“Osgary,” replied Heloise.
Mark nodded. That didn’t really tell him anything, but it was a good place to start. “I see. And–what about your order?”
“Mother Superior … isn’t happy,” Heloise murmured.
Mark would lay money on that being the case. “I thought you said she agreed with your plan.”
“Getting pregnant wasn’t part of it.”
“… Fair enough,” Mark agreed. “So … is that why you’re here? She won’t let you come back to the order?”
“Oh, no,” Heloise spat. “She’s got no problem with me coming back. I mean–obviously I can’t come back while I’m with child–but her plan was for me to go somewhere, have the baby, and then just — just leave the baby somewhere! She–she suggested I leave my baby with you or Josh or Rob, or else–an orphanage! She wanted me to take my baby to an orphanage!”
Given that Heloise had never expressed much interest in being a mother … but why was Mark even thinking that? Wei Li had been just as ambivalent about motherhood, maybe more so. And now look at her with Takara. Maybe she wasn’t the most confident mother in the world, but she was still a mother. Now that she had the support and ability to raise a child, she was doing her damnedest. Why would Heloise be any different?
“And I can’t do that,” Heloise said. “Not–not when the baby is all I’ve got left of Henry.”
Mark nodded. Slowly. He did understand that.
“All right,” he replied. “So … what’s the next thing you want to do?”
Heloise’s shoulders slumped; her whole body seemed to deflate. “I didn’t come to ask for help. At least — if you and Joshua are willing to give me business advice–”
“Heloise, knock that off. When your sister got into a somewhat–similar–situation, I went and bearded a nobleman in his den to get his blockhead son to marry her, didn’t I? And you think all I’m going to do for you is give you business advice? Now, I’ll admit that I can’t do much about making sure your baby’s father does his fair share, but it sounds like he’s already done as much of his fair share as we can expect someone to do from beyond the–from beyond. And … you’ve got proof that you were married?”
Heloise’s eyes flashed. “You don’t believe me?”
“I believe you, but there are some people, like your brother’s mother-in-law–“
“No, your other brother’s mother-in-law, who will demand some kind of proof before they spend any sympathy on you. I just want to make life easier for you, honey. A young pregnant widow gets a world’s worth of sympathy–”
“While a young slut who opened her legs too far doesn’t get any. Believe me, I get it.”
“I wasn’t going to put it like that, honey.”
“You didn’t have to.”
Mark sighed and took Heloise’s hand again. “Still. I don’t say those kinds of things to my daughters. So–you’ve got proof?”
“I’ve got the ring.” Heloise swallowed. “I can’t–Dad, I don’t want to wear it, I really don’t …”
“I’m not going to ask you to do that if you don’t want to. It’s your choice. But if you could just manage to show Cressida the ring and any other proof you might–”
“You’re not angry with me?” Heloise interrupted.
Mark stopped dead.
“I mean,” Heloise muttered, “you can’t have been very happy with Babette when she … and I …”
Mark hesitated. The first answer, the socially approved answer, would have been to point out that Heloise’s and Babette’s situations were different. There was no shame in getting with child in wedlock, even if it was unintended. And even if some people might say that Heloise hadn’t gotten married for the best of reasons, there were plenty who wed for worse. If Mark was angry about anything, it was that she’d gotten married and then widowed without telling any of them, and probably would have never mentioned it if she hadn’t ended up with child.
But that was an argument for another day. “No, honey, I’m not.”
Heloise blinked owlishly at him. Then, sighing, she stood and wandered a few steps away.
“Why not?” she asked, not turning to face him.
Oh, honey … How to answer? “Well, to tell the truth — I wasn’t all that angry with Babette, either, when she got herself into … trouble,” he answered. “Maybe when I first found out, aye, certainly, I got angry. But after? I didn’t see much of a point. We had a problem, we needed to find a solution, and getting angry wouldn’t have helped with either.”
“You just found this out now,” Heloise replied.
Mark rubbed the back of his neck. Why did she have to be so logical? She was talking about emotions. There was a reason why emotions were held up as the antithesis of logic.
“Heloise …” Mark took a deep breath. Why wasn’t he angry?
Because she’s hurting.
Mark glanced at Heloise’s back. Yes. That was it, wasn’t it? She was walking wounded. He’d known it from the moment she had walked in. Babette — Babette had been frightened, but underneath, she’d had a child’s irrepressible faith that everything was going to be all right. She’d bounced back almost immediately after her wedding and had started looking forward to the baby and everything. Heloise …
Heloise started to sniffle, and before Mark could get up and comfort her, began to sob.
“Oh, honey.” Mark stumbled out of his chair and put his arm around her shoulders. “Oh, baby. Come to Daddy. It’ll be all right …”
“No, it won’t! Henry’s dead! Henry’s dead, and I’ll never see him again! How can anything possibly be all right?”
Mark held her closer and kissed her forehead, then her hair. As soon as she stopped crying, he was going to bundle her up warm, bring her home, and send for Joshua to come home NOW. Though … now that he thought about it, Cressida would be a good person for Heloise to talk to. Cressida had once walked in precisely in Heloise’s shoes. She’d understand if anybody would.
He’d still get Joshua to come home. You couldn’t have too many sympathetic ears when you were in Heloise’s position. You couldn’t have too many sympathetic ears when you were just a Sim, making your way through the world as best you could — never mind when trouble and agony struck.
“It’ll get better,” he promised. “You’ll see.” Joshua and Cressida would help her see, too.
Heloise sobbed and shook her head. But that was just like Heloise, wasn’t it? Babette — Babette had gotten herself into trouble by acting only with her heart, not her mind. Heloise tried to act with only her mind, but forgot her heart would have its due, too. And in both cases, sense or sensibility — whichever had been neglected — came back to hit his girls with a vengeance.
Mark couldn’t help but hope that Takara wouldn’t have as rough a time as her sisters had.
“It’ll be all right.” Mark put both of his arms around his eldest girl and held her close. “We’re all going to take good care of you. I know you say you’re financially set, honey, and if you’re financially all right, then we won’t worry about that. But your heart isn’t all right right now, and nobody’s expecting it to be. That’s why we’re going to take care of you.”
“I just–” Heloise sobbed, “when I found out about the baby–I just wanted to come home.”
“I know. I know, baby. And …” He swayed and rocked Heloise as he hadn’t since she was a baby. “Even if the circumstances are … well … the normal Wesleyan madness … we’re glad to have you home.”