He was almost asleep, when he felt Marguerite´s sweet head laying on his broad chest. His right arm went without hesitation around her waist and he moved his head a little, just to touch her forehead with his lips. It wasn´t the first time she came to his bedroom, to his bed and his arms. From that day in the cave they spent many of their nights together, sometimes making love, sometimes just falling asleep comforted by closeness of one another.
But as she laid her palms on his chest together with her head tonight, he immediately knew something was wrong. For her hands and slender body were ice-cold, but her cheeks and forehead were burning like open flame. His heavy lids fluttered open and he shifted to a sitting posotion, taking beautiful woman in his arms, her head now rested on his shoulder.
Even in the darkness of the room he could see her pale face, her bright eyes shone with fever. She said nothing, just kept staring at him.
„What is it, Love?" he asked again
„I don´t know," she whispered faintly. „I just don´t feel well. Must be something I ate."
„I don´t think so," he disagreed, his lips brushing gently her nose. „You would have had stomach crumps, not fever."
„I don´t care what it is," she claimed, little annoyed with his questions. All she wanted tonight was for him to hold her. Just his presence made her feel a little better. She closed her eyes so she could better focus on his arms around her waist and shoulders rather than his handsome face filled with concern. But that damn man just couldn´t let it go.
„I do. Have you already spoken to Challenger about it?"
„Why not? And how long you´re not feeling good?"
„Why you care?"
„Because I love you."
The simple statement drove tears in her eyes. Just like everytime he said that. She still couldn´t believe there really was somebody who truly cared.
„Oh, John," she sobbed and she burried her face in the juncture of his neck. His arms tightened around her. Suddenly this strong, brave and independent woman became a frightened, helpless little girl, who needed his devotion and protection from the cruel world. As much as he enjoyed the role of her hero, he hated her tears. He carresed her face, wiping away those salted drops of unhappiness.
„There, sweetheart,calm down and tell me what is wrong."
„My head is killing me, I feel so cold," she managed to say as the new wave of sobbing overcame her. He didn´t want to upset her even more. What she needed now was a good night sleep and if she would not feel better in the morning, Challenger´s help. He gently cocooned Marguerite in the blankets and put his arms around her, whispering the words of comfort to sooth her crying. When she fell asleep and he looked out of the window, he smiled ironically. The dawn was near. So much for resting in the night, he thought as he carefully left Marguerite and headed for the kitchen.
The picture they made wasn´t unusual for some time now. Marguerite with her hair pulled up, standing in front the mirror, Roxton behind her, pulling the straps of her corset, so nothing, what could reveal their secret could be seen. The secret John didn´t like to hide. Marguerite was awaiting a child. He remembered well how furious she had been, when she accused him of doing it deliberately to her, then she broke down. Once calmed she refused to tell the news to the other inhabitants of the Treehouse. Just to keep her satisfied in that matter, he promised not to tell anybody and to help her to hide the fact as long as possible. Just why that damn woman couldn´t see the baby as blessing, when Roxton´s heart was swelling with pride and joy? Now, after almost five moths, his patience with Marguerite was wearing out and he was getting more and more angry. He didn´t like that corset thing and he didn´t like the fact, that his beloved was eating hardly for a bird to survive in attempt to stay slim. But as much as she would like to, she couldn´t stop the baby from growing in her body.
And so now they stood in her bedroom, the sun had not arisen yet, and Roxton was helping Marguerite into corset.
Roxton sighned and pulled the straps.
„More!" said Marguerite after a while, trying not to breathe at all.
Roxton´s brow furrowed.
„We´ve been through this," answered Marguerite. She felt Roxton´s hands on her bare shoulders. He turned her so she was facing him.
„Are you ashamed of me?" he asked sharply. Marguerite blinked in surprise.
„What do you mean by that?"
„I just cannot think of any other reason for keeping this from the others."
She tried to get away, but he didn´t let her. They needed to talk.
„Think about it, Roxton!" she said a little angry. „They don´t even know we´re lovers. And you´re saying we should just tell them we have a problem?"
His heart sank and gave a very painful thumb.
„Problem," he whispered. Marguerite immediately regreted her words, but before she could explain, he spoke again: „Is that how you feel about our child? A problem to be solved?"
„No John," she quickly said and took his face into her palms. „I didn´t mean it like that. It´s just…I´m not ready for this. Do you understand me? I…I´m so affraid of the other´s oppinion. Just what would they say.."
„I don´t give a damn," he growled.
There was a silence for a while.
„I´ll tell them next week," she said with a nervous smile.
„You said so last month," he murmured, tired of all those promised she didn´t intend to keep.
„Please," she whispered and touched his face. Unable to stop himself he caught her fingers and kissed her palm.
„Next week, my Love! And if you won´t tell them, I will," he warned her silently. Then he pulled on the corset straps a little more.
„You´re hurting the baby, you know," he said as he placed a little kiss on her neck.
„And you´re hurting me," he added and with those words he left the room, so Marguerite could finish her dressing.
Veronica handed the full plate to Challenger, then she finally sat down to enjoy her breakfast as well. As if it was her morning ritual, before she started to eat, she looked to all the faces around the table. She just needed that little reassurance, that she wasn´t alone anymore. And never will be.
Never? called something inside her. How can you be so sure? After all, they all are longing to get of the Plateau. They´ll leave you, you know.
But not today, not now! ended the little disscusion jungle girl.
Her friends were there.
Profesor Challenger, explaining some of his latest discoveries to Ned. Ned pretending to listen carefully, while trying not to be caught looking at Veronica. Then there was Finn. The girl from the future was making a great progress in reading, and so now she was staring into some book across her plate.
Veronica´s eyes found Roxton´s face then, and her bright smile faded. It was not the first time, when his eyes were clouded with some untold worry and he was looking at Marguerite with that strange expression. It was something between gentle compassion and angry fear.
Veronica shifted uneasily. Marguerite and Roxton were acting very strangely for so long now, that their friends almost weren´t noticing it anymore. Except for Veronica. Her instincts, that had helped her to survive on her own before Challenger expedition came to the Plateau didn´t let her forget about it. And especially that morning it seemed to her, that the Treehouse is full of restless tension.
Oh! How she hated not to know what was going on around her!
After a while Marguerite got up from the table and with a silent excuse she moved to corner of the room and began to sew. Despite the fact there really was a pile of clothes, that were in desperate need of repair, Veronica was almost sure Marguerite simply didn´t want the others to keep her company. She was always withdrawing, but never like this.
It wasn´t long before all of them were finished with their breakfast. It was Malone´s turn to do the dishes, so Challenger was happy and free to retreat to his lab, while Roxton, who had been planing to go hunting, sat in the oposite corner to Marguerite, cleaning his rifle.
Veronica allowed herself a quick glance to Marguerite´s direction. No matter how she tried to hide it, the heiress was awfully pale and hollow-cheeked.
„You´re ready, Vee?"
Veronica´s thoughts were interrupted by Finn, waiting next to the elevator.
„Where are you two going?" asked couriously Ned.
„To where every man´s fantasy comes true," said mysteriously Finn.
„Excuse me?" Ned winked in surprise.
„Don´t listen to her, Ned," interrupted the conversation Veronica. She didn´t like when Finn started to talk like this. It made her very uncomfortable and it always drove a blush to her cheeks. „We´re just going for a swim," she explained quickly, before the blond buddle of energy, already standing in the elevator, could said something even more embarassing. Then Veronica got the idea. It could work. Maybe she´ll finally find out what was that all about….
„Marguerite," she turned to the older woman,who seemed to be fully concentrated on her sewing. „Would you like to come with us?" And talk about what has happened between you and Roxton, that you´ve both changed so much? She added for herself.
Marguerite raised her head, when she heard her name, but in her eyes there was a blank expression for a moment.
„Wha….Oh! Errrr…No, thanks. I mean….It´s too hot for that today."
Ned, Veronica and Finn raised their eyebrows.
„That´s why we´re going to the pond," said lightly Veronica nontheless. Did she imagine it or did she saw a hint of panic in Marguerite´s eyes?
„Of course. I know. But as you said it´s hot…I…I don´t want to walk outside. I was planing to get a shower."
„Fine. Have it your way!" said Finn as she pulled Veronica to the elevator.
As soon as the two girls were on their way to the watering hole and Ned disappered to the kitchen, Marguerite dropped her sewing to her lap and closed her eyes in relief.
How could I be so stupid! I´m usually the one, who wants to go for a swim. Why did Veronica had to ask me?
She sensed someone was watching her and knew it must have been Roxton. For whatever reason it was the last thing that she wanted right now. She met his worried eyes with her blazing gaze. How dared that man blame her of anything? It was his fault she was pregnant in the first place! Just how….how could he?
The moment when she found out was the worst in her entire life.
She didn´t want children. Not any more. That desire left her during the war. No. She didn´t want to bring a child to the world full of darkness. At least her world was like that. Dangerous. Unsafe.
Plateau was unsafe. And London too.
She knew that Roxton was feeling hurt by her actions and words, but she was sure as caring as he was, he wouldn´t understand. He thought the love was strengh. But she knew better. Love was a weakness. And the great one. She couldn´t let the others see her vulnerable.
Marguerite Krux hated every weakness in her life. And she had been determined not to be weak again. Ever. But then arrogant Lord Roxton stepped into her life, uninvited and unwanted. He stole her heart. Just like that. He did not asked any permissions. In spite of loving him back with every breath she had, it took her almost three years to admit it. To herself and him.
She accepted this weakness, because she realized John was her rock, her safe harbour, where she could hide when her fears threaten to overcome her.
But this was different . Loving a child was much more complicated. In such love she couldn´t be the weak one. She could imagine that little person, so vulnerable and innocent, depending on her, on her love and care.
Too much responsibility for you, Marguerite, she said to herself.
And then she felt it. She gasped in surprise, her face paled even more, her hand lightly touching her belly, tightly fettered in hidden corset. Immediately Roxton was beside her, asking what was wrong. She couldn´t tell him. She was too frightened, scared and moved. Without any other word she tossed aside the shirt she had been mending, pushing Roxton aside, fleeting through the living area to her room.
She needed to be alone.
She felt the baby move.
And as it broke some spell cast over her, the iron wall around her soul crashed down and let her face the final truth.
She loved him. Or her. She loved her child.
And with that new finding, her eyes suddenly darkened. She caught a glance of Roxton, standing in shock in her door. In the next moment she lost the control over her body and knew only that she was lying across Roxton´s lap.
And his horrified voice: „Marguerite…"
„…can´t…breathe…" she managed to whisper, before she completely lost her counsciousness.
The visionary was wasting no time. As soon as Roxton´s anxious cry reached his ears, he forgot about all experiments and in two more seconds he was on the stairs leading to the main area of the Treehouse.
„Challenger!" another cry came from Marguerite´s room. The scientist headed right there.
„Good heavens!" he gasped, Marguerite lying on the floor, eyes closed and the hunter trying to unbutton her shirt with shaking hands.
„Roxton what…" began Challenger, but didn´t need to continue.
„She´s not breathing!"
By the moment Roxton finally managed to strip Marguerite out of her shirt, Challenger was next to him. Only then he noticed her corset.
„What the hell is that for?"
Roxton didn´t answer at first. As quickly as he could he turned his beloved over, then draw a knife and with one, sure movement he cut the straps that held the corset tightly to Marguerite´s body. The affect wasn´t immediate, but after several seconds Marguerite started to caugh as she draw several unsure, quick breaths.
„Dammit," cursed Roxton silently. The dread he was feeling a minute ago was replaced with slowly rising anger. Seeing her sway and fall was the last drop, that made the goblet of his patience oveflow.
„What happened here?" asked Challenger.
„She fainted," explained Roxton as he scooped Marguerite in his arms, laid her on the bed and covered her with the light blanket, because he held the rest of now damaged corset in his hand, looking at it with absolute disgust.
„I´m alright…" came a whisper from Marguerite, whose eyes were half-open. Roxton´ threw the corset on the floor unceremoniously.
„Liar," he said and pushed her down, as she tried to sit up.
Challenger bent over Marguerite, checking her pulse, which was faint but steady, then felt her forehead.
„She´s running a little fever," he said to Roxton. „Perhaps she´s coming down with something. Wait a minute. I´ll bring something that should make her better."
„No, George," stopped him Roxton, before he walked out the door. „She isn´t ill."
„No?" Challenger raised his eyebrows.
„She´s with a child."
The scientist stood there like statue made of rock. At first he wasn´t sure he heard well. But the soft sound of Marguerite suddenly crying brought him back to reality.
„Child," he said and it was not a questions any more. Suddenly everything made sense. The couple´s strange behaviour. Marguerite´s absent-minded answers. Roxton´s endless irritation. But that all began so long ago….
„Almost five months now," said Roxton. He sat beside Marguerite who refused to look at him, too bussy hiding unseccessfuly her sobs.
„Five months?" Challenger´s eyes widened in disbelief. „And neither of you told us? Are you both crazy!?"
After first shock professor started to lose his temper. The thoughts what could have happened were crossing his mind. Just whose idea that was? Marguerite´s without a doubt. Didn´t that blasted woman realize what danger she put herself into? And the baby? Pregnancy was dangerous even in civilized world with doctors all around. And here in the jungle…
„I´m going to the lab to take several things I´ll need to examine Marguerite," he said to the couple and disappered.
Meanwhile Roxton was sitting helplessly on the edge of Marguerite´s bed, while her sobs were slowly changing into silent hiccups. When she finally stopped crying, he reached for her hand and held it between his palms.
„You know I did the first right thing after a very long time now," he said firmly. She didn´t object. That encouraged him and he spoke again.
„What happened, Marguerite? Why did you passed out? Does anything hurt you?"
„Only my heart," she whispered, eyes closed. For whatever reason she felt absolutely exhausted. Then, without opening her eyes, she took one of John´s hands and gently placed it on her belly, right on the place, where she felt the baby move some moments ago. As if the child could feel John´s palm, it stirred again. Roxton closed his eyes too and send a little prayer to the heaven. Never before Marguerite allowed him this connection with his child, who was slowly growing in her body. They stayed like that until Challenger returned.
Roxton was sitting in a main room, staring off to the space before him. He had left Marguerite in Challenger´s care.
Despite the terror he had felt earlier, and although he was still aware Marguerite or the baby could have been hurt, he felt peace. His palm instictively pulled into a fist, as if he was trying to recall the touch of Marguerite´s skin. And the slight stirr that had felt like a gentle move of butterfly wings.
„Wanna tell what happened?"
Ned, somehow forgotten till this moment, sat down beside his older friend. Poor Malone didn´t know what to think. He had been out, going for more water to finish his daily duty, when he heard Roxton´s scream from above. Water immediately forgotten he hurried up to the Treehouse, cursing the slow elevator, but when he finally reached the house level, he saw Challenger leaving Marguerite´s room. The scientist only shook his head, mumbling something about unresponsible fools and so Malone decided to wait for the explanation for some time later. Now it seemed like the right moment.
„You look like you´re miles away," Ned tried it again, when Roxton hadn´t answered his previous question.
„Not that far actually," said Roxton, as if only now he realized he wasn´t alone.
„Where then?" asked Ned.
Before Roxton could say anything, the sound of the rising elevator told them, that the girls had already finished their bathing and were returning home.
Veronica noticed the two men first.
„Hey! Why the long faces?"
„Don´t you see Vee? They missed us!"
Finn, today in very great spirit, threw her hands around astonished Malone, laughing all the time.
„There there, boys," she said sweetly. „We´re here now. You can tell us what is bothering you. We´re listening."
Veronica was just ready to tell Finn not to behave like a twelve-year-old, when she realized she wasn´t the only one, who did notice the stuff air in the Treehouse today. In her own way, Finn felt it too, and she was trying to get up with it as best as she could – with a big smile and joyous compassion. Now she was sitting at the table with the men, hands under her chin, blue eyes filled with couriosity and questions.
„Yeah, I think we´d all like to hear what is going on," said Veronica, as she too sat down. All three young people were looking at Roxton awaitingly.
This is it, my love, thought Roxton, as he scanned the faces of his friends. No more hiding.
„I think we should wait for Challenger. Although he already knows a part of it."
Challenger appeared several moment later.
„She´s exhausted," he told Roxton. „She admited she didn´t sleep for several days. What she needs right now is a rest. When she wakes up, she has to eat something."
„Will she be alright?"
„I think so. But what you did it´s just….so foolish! Can you imagine what could have happened? I would maybe expect this from Marguerite, but you…."
„I know, George," interrupted the tirade Roxton. „Would you please sit down with us? I´d like to tell you the whole story."
„I know it is no secret the way I feel about Marguerite and how she feels about me. Yet there are some things, that I don´t suppose you know. We´ve been lovers for almost a year now, exactly from that day we were trapped in that cave, if you remember."
Roxton stopped for a moment, then continued.
„I wanted to share that with you, she didn´t. I wanted to be free to just hold her hand during our trips, I wanted to kiss her good morning at the breakfast table, I wanted to put my arm around her shoulders without any reason. But our darling Marguerite was affraid. Affraid of what would you say and what would you think about her, because for some reason - which I still didn´t figure out, she thought you´d all laugh to her. To her silliness. Marguerite Krux in love. I didn´t object, when she asked me to keep it for myself. To tell you the truth, I was too happy she finally let me in, that I didn´t want to ruin anything. You know, everything worked perfectly until Marguerite told me her news five months ago."
Roxton stopped again. Challenger´s brow furrowed, but he didn´t say a word.
„What news?" asked Veronica with suspiction.
British Lord looked directly to her eyes and smiled sadly.
„She´ll kill me for this. I promised her one whole week."
„What news was it, Roxton?"
„That we were in need of nursery."
„Why?" asked Ned, who obviously didn´t get the point. „There is no baby around here."
„I wouldn´t be so sure," Challenger growled, still angry. „Why do you think Marguerite passed out today?"
Malone´s lips rounded into surprised „O", as even he finally realized the truth.
„Are you serious?" Finn let out a breath. „I mean….if she were in the fifth month of the pregnancy, wouldn´t we notice that by now?"
„That´s why she´s been avoiding us," said Veronica as it dawned on her. „That´s why she didn´t go anywhere with us, not even for a swim. But how…"
„She used your mother´s old corset," explained Roxton. „Challenger already told me what he thinks. I´d like to hear what the rest of you say about this matter. Would you forgive us that we held it in secret? And more importantly," he said and turned to jungle girl, „would you mind us staying here as a couple with a child?" he added pleadingly. He was sure what her answer would be, but still, he considered right to ask, at least now. But what Veronica said, made his blood freeze in his veins.
„What? What did you expect?"
All eyes turned instatly to Veronica, who just stood there, hands on her hips.
„Veronica?" Ned started uneasily, but didn´t have the chance to continue.
„What do you think about me?" Veronica bursted. „Just how….what could you expect me to do? Did you actually thought I would threw you out of my home, out of my life…?" Pain in Veronica´s eyes was unmistakeable.
„No," Roxton said quickly, but at the same moment the weight of whole rock was lifted from his shoulders. „Nothing like that. Don´t take me wrong. But we talked about it with Marguerite, and she pointed out, that you maybe would not tolerate baby crying in the night and so on..."
„Do you remember Tommy? The baby I found in the jungle. I took him home, I wanted to keep him. I know children cry at night. And I wanted to have him as a son anyway. And as Challenger and Summerlee found out later, his parents were apemen. How could I not tolerate…no, love the child of my best friend?"
Everyone was too preocupied with the thought of Marguerite´s baby, that they didn´t notice the look Finn gave Veronica. It was a mix of surprise and hurt, but she was silent.
Roxton made two steps to the jungle girl, of whom he thought as a younger sister for a very long time, put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her forehead.
„Forgive me," he apologized
„And me?" suddenly another voice came from the stairs. They all turned and saw still pale Marguerite in her nightgown standing there. Her eyes shone from her face.
„Will you forgive me?" she asked again, leaning heavily against wooden wall. Roxton had to control himself. He wanted to take her in his arms, lead her to the bed, where she should be right now, but somehow he felt, how important this is to Marguerite. After more than a year she finally had to face their friends, no longer as the lonely, selfish heiress, but as his woman and future mother.
Nobody said anything and next few moments were filled with tense silence. And then Veronica walked over to dark-haired woman and hugged her tightly. To the amazement of the other Treehouse occupants Marguerite hugged her gratefully back. When they separated, Roxton was there to take Marguerite´s hand and lead her to the chair, where he sat, pulling his lover to sit on his lap, while the others gathered around them.
„I think I owe an apology to all of you, for not trusting you and not telling you something so important," started Marguerite and Roxton was only surprised he couldn´t hear any hesitation in her voice.
„I never thought this would ever happen to me. I thought after all these years…" she stopped and shook her head. „I never wanted to depend on someone and now I depend on all of you. I´m not ready for this. I need your help. Please."
While saying this, Marguerite felt Roxton´s arms securely closed around her. She also was surprised that she actually said those things so calmly.
„Of course we´ll help you," spoke Veronica. „Thought I don´t know if I can ever forgive you, that you didn´t let me to start preparing the nursery sooner," she added. Despite the fact she was very moved, she couldn´t help but to tease Marguerite a little.
„Yes. And there are more things we need to do," Challenger agreed. „For example I will have to visit some Zanga mid-wife to learn something about labours. From what you´ve told me earlier, I don´t think we have much time left."
„Four months," Marguerite whispered and hid her face on Roxton´s chest, where she could hear his heart beating. That was the sound she loved the most. No matter how hard or difficult her life could be, as long as she could listen to the steady rythm of John´s heartbeat, she felt safe and calm.
„Maybe less," Finn pointed out, not very warmly. „I saw several women giving birth. One of them before her time. She died. So did the baby. But of course that was in New Amazonia, in a dirty canal. Not like here."
Everybody looked at the young girl in absolute amazement. Except for Marguerite, who pressed herself even closer to John, so he felt her trembling slightly.
Never before did Finn say anything like that. She was „the shining sun of the Treehouse" as Veronica used to call her. Even in times, when the others were troubled, she would come with something that cheered them up. Not that she couldn´t be sad or serious, but ever since she lived in her new home with the members of Challenger expediton, her true character was showing itself. The merry girl who had to grow up too fast if she wanted to survive.
But now it seemed all her tender sense for other´s problems had disappeared. And her jolly mood was gone as well. Why? That was question nobody could answer.
„Finn?" asked puzzled and little infuriated Roxton.
„What? I said it was in a canal. And Marguerite is here in the clean Treehouse with all of us jumping around her as if she were made from glass."
„I don´t know what possessed you, young lady, but," started Challenger, but didn´t have a chance to finish.
„I´ll be in my room if I´m needed."
With those words Finn got up and retreated to her bedroom.
„Well, I guess I was right," whispered Marguerite, but everybody heard it. „Not everyone is happy about the news."
„Oh, nonsense, Marguerite," Veronica said. „I´ll talk to her later and you´ll see, that she didn´t mean it like that. Now, don´t you think we all should visit Zanga very soon? I mean, you two are going to be parents and…I mean…uhm…"
„We should get married? Is that what you want to say?" smiled John. Veronica nodded, blushing slightly.
„Well, I think there are more news. Old ones, but still," he laughed. „We already are married."
Marguerite turned in Roxton´s arms and slammed her little fist into his chest, not hard enough to hurt him, but enough for him to feel it.
„You call that a marriage!" she protested, but a small smile played on her lips. Roxton chuckled and kissed her forehead, remembering that day, when they run into a wandering monk – who presented himself as a servant of young king Gawain, whose kingdom was not far – and who spend a night with them, sitting by the fire. And in the morning he was more than willing to bind their hands together. It was Roxton´s idea and he had never expected Marguerite to welcome it. But she did, although she made him swear not to tell anyone.
„But, my dear Lord Roxton," she said back then , as she was braiding her black hair with white orchids, „I expect you to get me a wedding dress from finest white silk, made by the most skilful seamstress in Europe when we have a proper marriage ceremony one day. And I want long veil from Belgian lace!"
Meanwhile, listening to the laughter from the main room, Finn was sitting on her bed, hugging her pillow. The forehead wrinkled, her blue eyes staring into empty space.
There were several things told upstairs that hurt her.
She always though of Veronica as her best friend. It just wasn´t fair of the jungle girl to consider the moody and ironic heiress as her best friend.
But that wasn´t the worst thing. The worst was Marguerite´s pregnancy.
It wasn´t that Finn didn´t with Marguerite and Roxton happiness. She just never realized, how many bad memories and forgotten nightmares would awake, just hearing about pregnancy…
Finn closed her eyes and forced her face into the soft pillow. For she didn´t want to cry. Not again. She had cried enough.
For young, merry girl the Treehouse residents knew and came to love, was only one part of Finn. Then there was the other piece of her soul she never talked about, not even with Veronica. That was Finn, the girl who fell in love with Burke once, and never stopped regreting it. It felt so right at first. Finally she had someone she thought she could trust in. He promised to love her and protect her. He promised to make world safe and better for her.
No, he didn´t know she had a secret, when he betrayed her. All of them. From that night the slavers came for them she remembered only running through the canals under New Amazonia. Alone. In the dark. Tripping blindly over piping and stones on the floor. Running for her life. They were behind her. She could hear them. Shouting. Nearing. She was tired and helpless. Her legs were heavy and swollen. She fell and hit her elbow. She couldn´t contain a cry. That was a mistake. Before she could get to her feet again, she felt someone pull her up by the hair.
„You are the pretty one!"
The foul breath on her face. Without any second thought she bit hard his hand and her nails bore into his neck. She felt blood in her mouth. The slaver yelled.
In another moment she was on the dirty floor again, beaten with the gun-stock. He was kicking into her. Then she lost consciouness.
When she woke up, dizzy and disoriented, everything hurt like devil. The slaver had obviously thought she was dead, he wouldn´t leave her there otherwise. She was too weak to get up. And so she stayed sprawled on the around for hours, bleeding, hurting. Crying. But not for Burke. For the baby she had just lost.
„Slowly, Ned! I don´t need it to be in half!" called Roxton to his younger friend. It had been only several days after Marguerite told everyone about the baby and marriage.
„I never though it would be so damn heavy," breathed Challenger.
Three men were moving Roxton´s bed into Marguerite´s room. Not only the heiress finally admited she wanted John to sleep near her, but Veronica, who seemed to be most excited from the news, insisted that she would make nursery from Roxton´s old bedroom.
She and Marguerite were just going through the things Veronica´s mother once needed when having a baby.
And Finn was out somewhere. Getting up before anyone else, leaving simple note, coming back late in the night, when Marguerite, spoilt by Roxton, was already in bed.
Finn didn´t want to talk. Neither with Veronica, nor Challenger, and she avoided Roxton like a plague. Although the Treehouse occupants noticed that, they were all too busy to be troubled with it. Finn was more than capable of taking care of herself, and if she wanted to talk, they were all there for her. But she didn´t. And so she was not at home that day, when Roxton´s former sleeping quaters were starting to transform into nursery.
„Are you sure you wouldn´t mind, Veronica?" asked Marguerite for the fifth time, as she was studying her reflection in the mirror.
„I´ve already told you, Marguerite," Veronica rolled her eyes, „You need it and there is no reason for this just lying around here."
„Well, if you insist," Marguerite laughed.
„I do," was simple aswer. „Come on. Let´s see how boys are doing!"
The two women headed for Marguerite´s bedroom, finding the men had already managed to put Roxton´s bed right next to Marguerite´s.
„Did I really agree with this?" asked Marguerite melodramaticaly, seeing, how little space there was left in the room.
„You did. And don´t think we´ll carry it anywhere else," said Ned stretching his aching arms.
„I see you´ve got a new outfit," Roxton smiled warmly at her. His arm dropped gently around her shoulders and he kissed her cheek lightly. „And it definitely suits you."
Oh yes. There was a healthy colour to her once pale cheeks, her eyes lost their previous haunted look. Dressed in a light blue loose gown and with hair pulled back she looked so different!
He remembered more than well the stunning, dangerous creature that floated across the Challenger´s study with the gracefulness of a panther. Beautiful as no one.
She still was, but in completely different way. The provocative smile was replaced with a gentle one, her eyes used to be half-closed and their look was nothing but sensual – now they were open wide and there was peace in them. Of course, now, when her body wasn´t carefully wrapped in a corset, the change of her figure was visible.
To Roxton she was more beautiful than ever.
And he told her so. Late at night, when he was waiting for her in bed to join him, she was sitting in front of a mirror, running a comb through her dark tresses. Her hand was shaking slightly. Despite the fact they had spent several nights together, the feeling of having him so close, „legally", without the need to wake him up with the first strike of dawn to send him to his own room, was completely new. It seemed to her that although she was his wife already and was awaiting his child, that today and not sooner they became a married couple. She felt it was so right to have him this close, to be able to snuggle to him at night when her nightmares returned. And yet it felt so strange and Marguerite, being herself, was panicking slightly.
Suddenly his palm covered her fist and he took the comb away from her.
„Here. Let me do it."
She felt the slightest touch of his lips on her temple, then he began to comb her hair, slowly and gently, lacing his firm fingers into the silky curls. She closed her eyes at the sensation. She didn´t want him to stop, and it really seemed like eternity, before he finally put the comb on the table, taking her hands in his, leading her to the bed.
It wasn´t that antique bed made from expensive wood, decorated with carvings, full of soft pillows and silken sheets, that Roxton once told her it´s waiting in England on his manor just for the two of them. No. There were two beds standing before her, fortunatelly of the same height, clasped together. But it was more than enough.
He tucked her in and crawled beside her.
There was a silence for a while.
„Yes?" she whispered, her eyes already closed.
„Yes," she said again, but in completely different way. In the next moment John´s fingertips found their way under the blanket and gently touched her belly. Then the sweet weight of his warm palm was placed there.
„The baby´s not moving," he said suddenly disturbed.
„But…What if something´s wrong? Shouldn´t it be moving?"
„All the time?" Her weary eyes opened wide. „Are you crazy? I know it feels wonderful to know he´s happy, but I don´t think I could stand him to make a football ground from my body! Besides, even he needs to rest sometimes."
Marguerite blushed and hid her face under the blanket.
„You need a son." Her voice was muffled, but he could hear her perfectly. With a quiet laugh he got under the blanket as well and kissed her.
„What I need is you by my side. And you know what? Maybe I´d be more glad if it is a girl. Life would never be dull with two Marguerites around."
With that he kissed her again, long and sweet.
But I want to give you a son, my love, Marguerite thought. Somewhere deep inside she was still scared he would leave her eventually. He could leave her if she had a daughter. But if she bore him a son…
Few moments later the sound of the ascending elevator told them, that Finn had finally returned from her daily trip as well.
Another month passed and the date of Christmas came near. The explorers celebrated it during a calm evening, drinking sweet wine and chatting long to the night. Everybody got a gift, something uncomplicated and simple, but given with love, but there were also several special gifts, prepared for the little fellow, that was still growing in Marguerite´s body, such as clothing Veronica was wearing when baby, and wooden crib, that Roxton made with Malone´s help.
Several days later Roxton got up early, kissed his sleeping wife and set out for a several days lasting hunting trip. Malone was going with him and also Veronica. Challenger was left behind in the Treehouse.
„I know she wouldn´t like to know it, George," John had said to the scientist. „But promise me you´ll look after her."
Challenger didn´t need to ask who „her" was. Although he trusted George completely, Roxton couldn´t help himself not to worry. But there was also Finn…
The situation with the girl from the future got better. She renewed her warm friendship with Veronica, often teased Malone about his attempts to get closer to the junggle girl, she even spend more time with Challenger in his lab, listening. She spend the Christmas with the other Treehouse occupants and seemed to be quite happy and satisfied. But still, although she sometimes talked to Roxton about common things like hunting, she never talked to Marguerite, if she stepped into the room, Finn always managed to make up some excuse not to be there as well. It almost seemed she was affraid just to look at the dark haired heiress. In fact Finn wanted to leave the Treehouse together with the rest of the group, when they decided they needed to go hunting, but to her dissapointment she had hurt her arm several days earlier, and was ordered by Challenger to stay.
Well, at least I wasn´t ordered to stay in one room with Marguerite, she thought, as she finished her breakfast, swallowing tea quickly, so she could retreat to her room before Marguerite would come to the kitchen.
She felt incredible relief when she managed to get to her room before the heiress arrived. Just when she started to hope the day would turn out to be good for her, she heard a soft knock on the doorframe.
She froze and her knucles went white, as she clutched the edges of the book she brought with her, when Marguerite´s voice filled the room: „May I come in?"
„What do you want?" asked Finn, not caring how ugly that sounded.
Marguerite carefully made several steps forward.
„I just want to talk."
„What´s bothering you?"
The question was so simple and honest that Finn couldn´t lie. Instead of it she just dropped her head and pretended to be reading, hoping, paying, that Marguerite would just leave her alone and leave.
But the brunette had another plans. Seeing she´s not wanted, she still wanted to solve the problem Finn seemed to have.
„You know, I also once thought it´s best to keep my problems to myself, but someone taught me otherwise," she started again gently.
Finn didn´t need to guess who the someone was, still she refused to speak. She was just desperately hoping Marguerite would give up now, because the girl wasn´t sure how long she could stand it. But Marguerite was still sitting on the edge of the bed.
„You´ve been acting like this since that day you learned about the baby, don´t think I didn´t notice. If you don´t like the idea of having a little troublesome baby in here…"
„You´re so selfish!" Finn exploded suddenly. Marguerite´s eyes widened in astonishment.
„You wanna know what´s bothering me? Fine! I hate the way you´re showing yourself in front of everybody else like you´re invalid needing everyone´s service. I hate you for thinking you´re the only one around here who is worth of adoring and loving. Could you give me extra pillows Veronica? I want something else for breakfast Roxton. Hand me this and hand me that! Who the hell you think you are?"
Tunder and lightning was in Finn´s eyes, as she stood above Marguerite, who was speechless. It was as if her worst nightmares came true. People she thought about as friends refusing her, accusing her of things….It was like the beggining with Veronica all over again, but much worse this time…
„Why are you still sitting here? Don´t you get it? I want you out of here right now! This is my room and despite what you think I´m going to keep my privacy. I just hope Veronica will see through you and poor Roxton will come to his senses! Maybe the little brat isn´t even his!"
That was too much for Marguerite to bear. Shaking violently from shock, she slowly stood up. She opened her mouth, but after meeting Finn´s blazing gaze, she only turned around and left the room.
Finn remained in her position for a while, not quite believing what she just said, regreting it already, knowing Marguerite didn´t deserve any of her accusations, but too proud to go and apologize.
When she heard distant heart shattering sobs from another room, she returned to her book, trying to convinced herself, she is interested in the story.
No, she didn´t want to open a white envelope, which she had just found lying on her pillow. She didn´t want to read the words, she didn´t want to know anything. It had been three days since her „fight" with Marguerite. The others were back. Despite her fears and to her surprise, Marguerite didn´t tell anyone, not even Roxton about the incident. She also seemed to ignore Finn completely, which was just fine with her, since she could see Marguerite didn´t care. Nothing unexpected, hey?
But when she retired for the night today, she found the white envelope. She was just standing there, as if trying to make it disapper into thin air. Yet the message was still there.
Finally she reached out and with shaking fingers she took out a sheet of paper, covered with Marguerite´s delicate writing.
Finn sat on the bed and in the dim light of a candle she started to read:
yes, you are still dear to me, although you made quite clear I´m not any longer dear to you. I´m sorry if my actions and words made you feel bad, it was unintetional. After what you have told me I was thinking long and hard, and finally I understood. And believe me, that I´m more than sorry for your loss. I know how you feel, Finn. Because I also became mother and lost my child."
Finn´s head jerked up. How? How could she know? She didn´t tell her, did she? In her mind Finn tried to remember everything she had said to Marguerite the other day, but as hard as she was trying to recall it, there was nothing Marguerite could have learn the truth from. So how? She returned to her reading.
„I can say you are surprised that I know. But there is something, that you have had in the eyes, when you were looking at me the past few months. And after you said those things…there are signs I learned to read a long ago, when my life was depending on it.
I don´t know what happened to you. How old were you, who was the father of your child, I don´t know how it happened that you lost it. And because you accused me of several things, I decided to write this letter, so that I can explain my fear, my worries and even my enthusiasm, that came later.
I was sixteen. And I was in Paris. I don´t know if you have any idea, what that meant – a sixteen yer old girl, alone and without money, family or friends in Paris - a city of the brightest light and the uttermost darkness at once. My place was in that darkness. Later, I made my way into that light, which proved to be even more dangerous. But I want to tell you, what happened to me. I was hired – you may find it difficult to believe – as a singer in one of the filthy bars – there are so many of them in Paris! At first I was satisfied that I had something to eat and where to sleep. Then I became quite popular among the visitors of the bar. I remember one of the evenings. I stood before the large piano, dressed in red, heavy velvet, my hair combed high and laced with slowly fading roses. I remember I was cold. My shoulders and arms were bare.
That evening I fell in love. I´m not going to tell you, how it happened. All you need to know is, that I absolutely trusted him. I gave myself to him. In every way you can possibly imagine. For some time I was happy. For the first time of my life I think. Soon I found out I was pregnant. Then it was, when he left me. Without explanation or even goodbye he was gone and I was alone and with a child. I thought everything would be fine. All I wanted was to give birth to my child in peace and young and naive I was hoping I would find a man, who would love me and my child till the end of time. But fate had something else in store for me.
I won´t tell you exactly what happened, because the memory is far too horrible for me and I can´ t even think of it without horror. But I´ll tell you what followed.
I gave birth to my child and it was a boy. But the doctor who was helping me, was unable to save my son. After what had happened to me, my child died inside of me.
I can´t describe you what I felt.
I spent several days in bed with high fever and completely oblivious of the world around me. In that bed new me was born.
When I after so long put my unsteady feet on the cold floor, I was a new person. I wrapped my heart in iron cloth, swearing to myself I would never be weak again, because I was convinced that it was my weakness that caused my unability to protect my own child.
Now you can see why I was so worried John would not want me to be pregnant. Bad experience is a great teacher. John taught me many things. The love and support of a man is one of them.
As you can see now, I can imagine how you feel. I´m sorry for causing you so much pain.
Please, tell no one about this, Finn. I trust you to keep it a secret. I don´t want others to know. Not even John. Not yet.
Roxton was awoken by a soft whimpering beside him. He blinked several times so his eyes adjusted to the darkness that sorrounded him. What was that sound? And then he heard it again, now followed by little and silent broken sob. His head jerked to the side.
Only another soft moan was her answer.
She was lying on her back, fingers clutching desperately the sheet, her eyes huge, opened and full of tears.
He distangled her fingers and held her hand.
„Please, don´t tell me it will be now," he begged as panic was taking power over him. Her only answer was weak moan as she shut her eyes, not wanting to see his troubled expression.
„I´ll be right back," he assured her hoarsely and kissed her clenched fist before hastily getting into his pants and hurrying upstairs.
Just on the top of the stairs he bounced into Finn, who for whatever reason hurried the other way with face red from crying. He hesitated for a moment, then he remembered there were more important things.
„Finn, please, get Veronica!" he quickly said and continued his way to Challenger´s room.
Finn hardly heard him, oblivious to anything but her shattered heart and bleeding conscious, but then she stopped as she understood, what must have been going on.
She closed her eyes. There will be time for explaining and excuses later.
And as Roxton told her, she headed for Veronica´s room.
The scientist was just dreaming the most lovely dream. He was at home in England and Jessie just managed not to burn breakfast...
The voice he heard however couldn´t possibly belong to his beloved wife and grew more and more urgent with every second.
„Dammit Challeger! George!"
A violent shake made the scientist to open his sleepy eyes. When he saw Roxton´s face, he was completely awake, as he realized the only possibility.
„What´s with her?"
„I´m not sure but I think...I think that..." The fearless hunter was white like sheet and couldn´t even finish the sentence, which would seem too ultimate if spoken.
„Let me get my things," Challenger said. Roxton nodded and made his way as quickly as possible back to Marguerite.
When he finally reached the spot, he could see Veronica awoken by Finn was already there, and the girl from the future standing somehow stiff nearby. Again he noiced the saddest of all the looks on her face, but didn´t have time to go and ask. There were more important things to worry about.
„I´m back, my darling," he said to Marguerite and squeezed her hand. He tried to catch her gaze, but she woud not open her eyes. She held them tightly shut and from half-opened lips escaped painful moan from time to time. The feeling of helplesness was killing him. Just what could he do to take away her pain? Pain she suffered because of him...
Veronica could see all that in his eyes.
„She´ll be fine Roxton," she said firmly, not excepting a single word of doubt. „Go to wake Malone," she commanded then.
„Malone? What for?" he asked, not able to think.
„Wake him and tell him to boil some water. We´ll need it. And get some blakets. And a clean knife."
„One would say you don´t need me here, Veronica," smiled Challenger, who finally got into the room, just as Roxton unwillingly obliged. At the sound of his voice, Marguerite opened her eyes and her relief was evident.
„George," she breathed out.
„Now, now, my dear. Just calm down. Remember this is the most natural thing in the world."
„Easy for you to say," replied mother-to-be. „You´re not the one lying on your back while everyone else stares at you crouching with pain!"
„How long is this happening?" Challeger wanted to know.
„I don´t know. I felt strange during the whole evening."
„When the pains began?"
„About two hours...ohhhhh...ago..." Marguerite said and sank onto the matress, as the latest spasm went away.
„And can you tell me how regular they are?" demanded the scientist, proving that all those hours spent in Zanga village were good for something.
„Very!" spat out Marguerite as another spasm tortured her poor tired body.
I know I´m in good hands. Challenger constantly asks, Veronica doesn´t but instead she´s trying to make as comfortable as possible. I can hear dreadful sounds Malone does upstairs. He´s boiling the water and probably because of the sleepiness he crushes into everythig in the kitchen. My John is right here beside me, holding my hand.
And yet I can´t be calm as Challenger wants me to be.
I know Finn is there, in the corner of the room, completely forgotten by the others, who are so anxious about me. But I know she´s there, I can see her troubled face. Yes, troubled. I know she read my letter. And I´m sorry, because it made her feel bad. And not relieved, as I hoped...
But that´s not the only reason why I can´t calm down. To many memories, too many vivid images are running in my head. Just like this, on my back, sorounded by merciful people, feeling the rising pain I was lying in that far away hospital. And when it was over I didn´t even see him, because I fainted...And when I finally woke up, white flowers were already beggining to bloom on his grave. I remember old nun, who sat many days beside my bed, praying. I didn´t pray. I didn´t have reason. But I have one now. And so I pray.
Marguerite cried out and snapped her head to the side. She wanted to look into John´s reasuring eyes. But as soon as her gaze met his, she knew it wasn´t really her, who needed reassurance. Roxton´s eyes were full of despair and guilt. And she knew it´s because of her. As much as she wanted him near, she couldn´t do this to him. When another spasm came, she shut her eyes and bit her lip to stiffle the cry. She turned her face away and snatched her hand from Roxton´s grasp.
„Marguerite?" he breathed, surprised and terrified.
„Go," she managed to gasp, still refusing to look at him, so would not see her face.
„No. No, Love, I promised you I´ll be here..."
„Go away!" she practicaly shouted. The pain was getting worse.
„Marguerite..." he began desperatly, when he felt someones firm hands on his shoulders. With a strengh no one would have expected from slender young woman, Finn draged her much stronger, but now practicaly paralized friend out of the room.
„What the hell do you think you´re doing?" exclaimed Roxton.
Finn let go of him, but stood in his way.
„You´re not going in there again," she said firmly.
„My wife is in there suffering! You can do nothing to keep me away from her!"
Roxton began to move dangerously to Finn, but her eyes grew only colder and she didn´t make a single step aside.
„Don´t you understand, you sensitive soulmate? You don´t get it, do you, you loving and compassionate husband? It is HER! SHE doesn´t want you there! She doesn´t want you to see her like that. Suffering, as you said. You´ll only make her feel terrible about you feeling terrible because of her! Think about it, hm?"
Roxton just stared at her and fought with the harsh truth.
„I...I just wanna help her...somehow..."
„Then stay here," adviced him Finn much more calmly now. „Stay here. We´ll take good care of her," she promised and turned her back to him.
„You know, Roxton, I think she´s right," said Malone, who was still heating the water. Roxton bent his head and with heavy sigh he sat down.
Never in his life he felt like this. His Marguerite, his sweet, beautiful, treasured Marguerite, was in pain and he couldn´t help her. She was in pain because of him. And she didn´t want him beside her. Did she hate him? Oh, she had every right to hate him. He only prayed she would forgive him in time. He couldn´t live without her anymore.
He was gone and so were his tortured eyes. She was glad. She was determined not to let him hear any cries of pain. After all, she had to admit to herself, that it wasn´t that bad as she remembered or expected. She sometimes moaned when spasm caught her by surprise, but she had endured worse...
But still that unspoken terror filled her mind. She was torn between two desires – not to let John see her like this, and the want for him to hold her hand.
She blinked with surprise as someone grasped gently her empty hand. She turned her head.
It was Finn. After she draged Roxton out, she returned and clasped Marguerite´s right hand between her palms. As Marguerite´s silver eyes turned to her, full of joyous surprise, she felt she had to speak.
„Forgive me," she managed to say silently. Neither Challenger, nor Veronica heard her, too preoccupied by other things, but they looked at each other, wondering without words at the sudden change.
Finn was rewarded by gentle, grateful squeeze. Marguerite didn´t let go of her hand. She felt her baby move. As if the little thing could know what was happening, it decided that this is the world it want to be born into.
Six hours. Six agonizing hours longer then his entire life.
Roxton ignored Malone, who was constantly talking to keep him distracted, while only Veronica sometimes hurried through the room to get more water. She never said anything and Roxton tried hard to hear any sounds from the bedroom. But he heard absolutely nothing, only Challenger talking. SHE didn´t cry out.
And then the moment came, when Challenger finally came upstairs. „Congratualations, Roxton!" bursted the scientist and hugged the younger man. World was swimming before Roxton´s eyes.
„How...how is she?"
„They are both well and healthy," scientist reasured him.
„I hope you didn´t tell him, Challenger!" Veronica came also, carrying a basin of pink water. Pink with HER blood...
„What did you not tell me?" Roxton demanded harshly. This had been a long day.
„Marguerite wants to tell you herself," said Veronica with a smile. „So why don´t you go down and ask her?"
Never in his life he had seen anything more beautiful. Half sitting on the clean bed, pillows supporting her back, already tidy (thanks to Veronica and Finn) and refreshed Marguerite was holding a tiny buddle of white blankets in her arms, her wonderful face glowing and full of peace, but somewhat sad at the same time, bowed over it, long lashes shielding silver eyes staring at it.
For several moments he just stood there, breathing the peace and relief that washed over him, drinking the beauty of the sight. And then her face slowly turned to him and without words she invited him to come near.
Gently he lowered his weight and sat on the edge of the bed. And then he looked at his child for the first time.
The baby was the tiniest human being he had ever seen. Wrinkled and red, if it wasn´t his and Margeurite´s child, even he would have to admit that it was quite ugly. Small fistf under chin, the infant slept, resting after difficult and exhausting arrival to this world.
„Oh, my God, Marguerite," was all he could whisper, affraid it would all disappear like a dream. He closed his ees and with a feeling of unspeakable graditude and love he kissed his wife´s temple.
„Thank you. Thank you," he repeated again and again as he rested his forehead against hers.
„What was it you wanted to tell me," he asked then, as he remembered.
She lowered her eyes as if ashamed.
„John...it´s a girl."
„That´s wonderful," he murmured, completely happy.
He looked into her eyes, as he recognized uncertainty in her voice.
There was silence for a while, then he spoke again: „Marguerite, what´s wrong?"
„Nothing," was her reply. And for once it was true. Everything was perfect. She had a healthy baby daughter and John didn´t mind. No, he was extatic. What in the world could have been wrong?
His arms went around her shoulders. No, nothing was wrong. They were family. And they loved each other.
„My little Marguerite," said John after a while, his finger caressing his daughter´s wrinkly face. His wife shifted uneasily.
„You can´t possibly think of calling her like that," she protested.
„Why not?" he resisted. „She´ll be beautiful as you are."
„And what would you like to call her?"
She sighed: „I may sound silly but...I want her name to be Anne Juliette. When I was little, I had two favourite dolls. One was Anne and the second one Juliette."
Roxton was silent. How could he not agree to this? It was a beautiful name. And he understood, that she wanted their girl to have names of someone she loved. Her dolls were the only ones, to whom she could give her love. But he also didn´t mean to let her win completely.
„Anne Juliette Marguerite Roxton," he claimed. „And don´t argue my darling."