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Valjean sat close to the fire in the old armchair that had become a sort of second home. His youngest child, now nearly ten years old, sat curled at his feet with a bit of embroidery. She was growing into a pretty thing, pretty like her mother with her mother’s distinctive hair, but every inch she grew and every birthday they celebrated reminded her father how very old he was. Kathleen was now older than Cosette had been when he had taken her from her poverty. She had never known anything but happiness, he had made sure of that, yet sometimes he looked at her and dreaded her beauty, for surely someday she would leave him as Cosette had done. He did not know if he could endure it.
He kept one hand on her head; in the other, he held a letter.
The girl asked sweetly, “Is it from Sissy, Papa?”
“No, princess, from your brother,” he replied distractedly, scanning Jean’s words a second time.
Much had changed in the past six years, but Jean was not one of them; the boy never seemed to get any older, though perhaps taller; his house was just the same, though the family too had grown, and it now rather burst at the seams, but they were happy. Celeste had never endured the same kind of melancholy as after her second daughter’s birth again.
He finally called to his wife in the kitchen: “It seems that they have changed their minds about America….things appear to be uneasy there. The captain thinks there could be war. They are coming to live here, and he thought perhaps Jean could help them find a place.” He scanned the last of the letter. “Cosette will be pleased.”
As for him, he was glad to know his granddaughters and their families would be safe from the scourge of war, but he had always felt a little distant from the twins and the long years of separation had not helped matters much.
Celeste had not has as much difficulties with her second pregnancy as with her first, but she had not realized how much of a headache life would become in the last months. Two months before the babe was due to arrive, she found she could barely endure standing for fifteen minutes at a time; chasing around an increasingly-energetic little girl was nearly out of the question. Now that Monsieur Pontmecy’s house was almost complete, she found she was foisting little Eleanor off on her father as much as she could; she did not even have the energy to feel guilty.
Before the month was out, the doctor decided to put her on bed rest as a precaution; so late in the pregnancy, no one wanted anything to go amiss. Though her ankles and back were grateful for the reprieve, Celeste herself was antsy. She could not endure being trapped in bed all day, even if she had a stack of books beside her. She had a growing child and a house to look after, and she was good at that.
Jean perhaps did not know how often she broke the doctor’s orders whilst he was away during the day.
When he was home, most of her time was divided between mending the clothes she had first sewn for Eleanor for the new babe—she had decided they could not afford a new wardrobe, nor did they need to be so wasteful even if they could—or else writing to her mother and sister and grandmother, and of course to her father as well. Her father! In reality, he was not so terribly far away, but it felt as though he was, indeed, on the other side of the world. He would of course not come until the babe was born, perhaps not even then, and she could not go to him. Yet her parents’ letters, and Aimee’s (which mostly had to do with little Phee these days) cheered her well enough, and Jean’s sweetness never failed to bring a smile to her face.
Near nine months gone, however, and Celeste was ready to endure the agony of childbirth again if it meant freedom. She of course wanted to meet her little babe (a son, she prayed), and to feel the same rush of overwhelming love as when she had first held Eleanor in her arms…
But she also wanted to resume her duties as wife and mistress of their home, and as a mother, for that matter. She was tired of being treated like a delicate invalid. Even Celeste’s goodness and patience had its limits.