By Karen Gilleland © 2014
A couple of “Doc Martin” episodes alluded to James Henry’s christening, but we never have seen it take place. I decided to write my own interpretation of what might have happened at this sacred, grace-bestowing ceremony.
James Henry, kicking furiously at his white christening gown, screamed as the vicar poured water over his head. His Godmother, Cora Parsons, dabbed at the water running down his face with a soft cloth. Chris Parsons, the Godfather, looked on, beaming with pride, seemingly oblivious to the baby’s distress. Standing behind them, Martin flinched as Louisa’s fingers dug into his arm.
At last, ceremony concluded, Martin heaved a sigh, thanked the Parsons, and sat down by Louisa, who had taken the struggling infant to the front pew. The baby continued to cry as organ music played and villagers streamed past.
Bert Large, natty in a blue suit, his silver hair slicked down, leaned into Martin, “A chip off the old block, eh, ‘Doc’? Your son really knows how to clear a room.”
Cradling James in her arms, Louisa asked, “Bert, is the cake and cider ready?”
“No worries, Louisa. All taken care of.”
“Anything I can do?” asked Aunt Ruth, looking at Martin, her paisley scarf adding a touch of color to her black suit.
About to shake his head, he changed his mind. “Would you stand in for us at Bert’s restaurant? We’ll be along after James settles down.”
“My pleasure, I’m sure,” she said, lips slanted in a half-grin.
He raised his eyebrows, and Ruth chided, “Don’t look so happy. People will think you’re enjoying yourself.”
The vicar, rosy-complexion, bushy eyebrows, greeted them and handed Martin a large envelope. “This is James’ baptismal certificate. I always enjoy a little one who’s not afraid to tell us what he thinks of the service.”
“Thank you, Vicar,” said Louisa. “It was a lovely service.” James had quit screaming, but was still shuffling restlessly.
“Stay as long as you like, but you’ll snuff out the candles before you leave, yes?”
“Certainly,” she said. “Be sure to stop at Bert’s for cake and cider.”
After the vicar had gone, Louisa pulled a blue, cotton-knit blanket out of the baby’s changing bag and wrapped it around James and across her shoulder. She began nursing, singing softly.
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring
James Henry settled down as he nursed, and Louisa said, “Peaceful, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” agreed Martin, looking about the empty church, the candles throwing soft light on the flowers in front of the baptismal font.
He inched over in the pew until his arm rested against hers. She turned toward him. “Martin,” she began, but hesitated.
“When I came back from London, and, uh . . .” she looked at the baby and then at him. “Were you terribly upset?”
He let several seconds pass before answering, thinking about that moment when she had knocked at his door, six months’ pregnant. “I wouldn’t say I was upset. I was shocked.” He shrugged. “If I’m honest, maybe even a little terrified. I never expected you to turn up, out of the blue, and tell me I was going to be a father.”
“We’re even then. I never expected to turn up and find you entertaining a former lover.” She took a deep breath. “Edith.”
“No, the timing was rotten. But to be fair, Louisa, you had six months to become accustomed to your pregnancy. I had two minutes.”
The baby coughed, spitting up a little. Louisa reached into the changing bag for a cloth to wipe his face and the front of the christening outfit.
Martin’s mind wandered back to their ill-fated wedding day, when they’d both been scared off by the thought that they could never make one another happy. He’d missed her terribly after she’d left Portwenn, and he’d determined to conquer his haemaphobia and resume his career as a surgeon in London.
“I’ve often wondered,” he said. “What was your reaction when you found out you were expecting?”
Her eyes rested on James. “I was scared. After a couple days, however, I began to feel so lucky. I was going to have a baby – your baby.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Martin felt her shoulders stiffen, and James began to fuss, apparently sensing his mother’s unease. Louisa rocked him back and forth until he quieted.
“I felt certain you would ask me to have an abortion. I was afraid if you talked me into giving up the baby, I would regret it — and resent you — for the rest of my life. You have to admit, abortion was the first thing that crossed your mind.”
“Yes, but that was due to shock. We had agreed that we shouldn’t be married, and suddenly I learned you were pregnant. I felt out of my depth.” Looking at the child, nestled against its mother, he shuddered at the thought of what he might have lost.
“When you had time to recover from the shock, you still didn’t act as though you cared that I was carrying your child.”
He shuffled his feet, hooked his leg over his knee. “I did care, but you insisted you didn’t want me involved. I figured you were right, that I would make a terrible father. I decided the best thing for everyone would be for me to go to London and leave you to raise our son on your own.”
“I’m sorry I made you feel that way,” said Louisa. “You acted so cold, so distant. And Edith kept turning up. My pride wouldn’t let me tell you that I would have given anything for us to be a family.”
“My pride got in the way, too — when you registered at the clinic in Truro.”
“We both made mistakes. Sadly, they robbed the three of us of a very special time together, a time we can never have back.”
The words hit a nerve. He thought about the morning she had come into the office because she hadn’t felt the baby move. He’d listened to the heartbeat, was stirred by a feeling of joy, but he’d pushed it back. He felt fortunate now that he’d had that quiet, precious moment, touching his unborn son for the first time.
As though sharing his thoughts, she said, “At least we were together when James came into this world.”
He nodded. “After he was born, I let things get out of hand. My only excuse is that once I accepted responsibility for being a father, I felt an overwhelming need to do everything right, like sending James to the best schools.”
Louisa shifted the baby and settled him again before responding. “My nerves were on edge, and your criticism and arrogance hurt.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, forcing out the words. “It was unprofessional of me. You exhibited classic symptoms of postpartum depression. I should have recognized the signs and been more understanding.”
Smiling, she nudged him. “And doctors counsel new mothers about that, do they not?”
He shrugged. “Apparently, I was too close to the patient.”
Fiddling with the envelope in his hands, he said, “Here’s James Henry’s baptismal certificate.” He lowered his head and asked, “When we were trying to come up with a name for our son, why did you never suggest ‘Martin’?”
She sighed, “I did think of it, but always at a time when we were at odds with one another. The truth is, I thought if we named our son ‘Martin’ and you and I separated, I wouldn’t want to be reminded of you forever more.”
“Umm,” he shrugged and set the envelope down on the seat between them.
James had fallen asleep. Louisa fastened her dress and handed the baby to Martin, who patted his back gently. She picked up the envelope and opened the seal. “I asked the vicar for a favor. We couldn’t hear because James was screaming when his name was announced.”
Louisa pulled the certificate from the envelope and held it out for Martin to read.
“James Henry Martin Ellingham,” he said. “Nice.”
She put her arm through her husband’s. “Look around, Martin. We’re neither of us religious. Why is it easy for us to talk together in this holy place?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should come more often.”
She smiled, her eyes crinkled. That smile always touched his heart, and he felt the baby respond to his emotions by snuggling closer.
“I love you, Martin. I’m miserable without you. And I know James misses you. Why do we make life so hard for ourselves when we’re together?”
He leaned back against the pew, eyes closed. “I love you, and I love our son, but I don’t know how much I can change to give you the life you want.”
She sat, thoughtful, before saying, “Maybe it’s not about change. Maybe it’s more about understanding, on both our parts. Maybe it’s more about James.”
Brushing his fingers over the baby’s head, he met her eyes and said, “I’ll try to do my part to make sure that James grows up in a happy home. I promise.”
She sighed, took his face in her hands and kissed him. Then she gathered up her purse. “We should go to the party. People will wonder what’s happened to us.”
“Not just yet.” Martin put his arm around her, and they sat together in silence, watching the flickering candles glow brighter as the chapel grew darker.
– THE END –
“Doc Martin” is owned by Buffalo Pictures.