Violet reached out and took her hand, patting it gently as they both continued to study the painting. Francesca knew exactly what her mother was thinking about—her infertility, and the fact that they seemed to have an unspoken agreement never to talk about it, and really, why should they? What could Violet possibly say that would make it better?
Francesca couldn’t say anything, because that would just make her mother feel even worse, and so instead they stood there as they always did, thinking the same thing but never speaking of it, wondering which of them hurt more.
Francesca thought it might be her—hers was the barren womb, after all. But maybe her mother’s pain was more acute. Violet was…her mother, and she was grieving for the lost dreams of her child. Wouldn’t that be painful? And the irony was, Francesca would never know. She’d never know what it felt like to hurt for a child because she’d never know what it was to be a mother.
She was almost two-and-thirty. She did not know any married lady who had reached that age without conceiving a child. It seemed that children either arrived right away or not at all.
“Has Hyacinth arrived?” Francesca asked, still looking at the painting, still staring at the twinkle in the woman’s eye.
“Not yet. But Eloise will be here later this afternoon. She—”
But Francesca heard the catch in her mother’s voice before she’d cut herself off. “Is she expecting, then?” she asked.
There was a beat of silence, and then: “Yes.”
“That’s wonderful.” And she meant it. She did, with every last bit of her being. She just didn’t know how to make it sound that way.
She didn’t want to look at her mother’s face. Because then she would cry.
Francesca cleared her throat, tilting her head to the side as if there were an inch of the Fragonard she hadn’t yet perused. “Anyone else?” she queried.
She felt her mother stiffen slightly beside her, and she wondered if Violet was deciding whether it was worth it to pretend that she didn’t know exactly what she meant.
“Lucy,” her mother said quietly.
Francesca finally turned and faced Violet, pulling her hand out of her mother’s grasp. “Again?” she asked. Lucy and Gregory had been married for less than two years, but this would be their second child.
Violet nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t say that,” Francesca said, horrified by how thick her voice sounded. “Don’t say you’re sorry. It’s not something to be sorry about.”
“No,” her mother said quickly. “That wasn’t what I meant.”
“You should be delighted for them.”
“More delighted for them than you are sorry for me,” Francesca choked out.
Violet tried to reach for her, but Francesca pulled away. “Promise me,” she said. “You have to promise me that you will always be more happy than you are sorry.”
Violet looked at her helplessly, and Francesca realized that her mother did not know what to say. For her entire life, Violet Bridgerton had been the most sensitive and wonderful of mothers. She always seemed to know what her children needed, exactly when they needed it—whether it was a kind word or a gentle prod, or even a giant proverbial kick in the breeches.
But now, in this moment, Violet was lost. And Francesca was the one who had done it to her.
“I’m sorry, Mother,” she said, the words spilling out. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“No.” Violet rushed forward to embrace her, and this time Francesca did not pull away. “No, darling,” Violet said again, softly stroking her hair. “Don’t say that, please don’t say that.”
She shushed and she crooned, and Francesca let her mother hold her. And when Francesca’s hot, silent tears fell on her mother’s shoulder, neither one of them said a word.
By the time Michael arrived two days later, Francesca had thrown herself into the preparations for little Isabella’s christening, and her conversation with her mother was, if not forgotten, at least not at the forefront of her mind. It wasn’t as if any of this was new, after all. Francesca was just as barren as she’d been every time she came to England to see her family. The only difference this time was that she’d actually talked to someone about it. A little bit.
As much as she was able.