The Lost Northbound Train – Part One

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Chapter One – Stepping into The Great Unknown

 

So it had happened.

They were finally going home. Just an hour ago, home had meant Milton, and Marlborough Mills. John Thornton had never known a better home than the one his mother Hannah created for him and his sister Fanny. The many responsibilities in his busy life as a cotton manufacturer had been adequately balanced by Hannah, who reigned his household with quiet efficiency.

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Now – just an hour ago – John discovered that Margaret had finally come to love him, the way he had loved her for three, long, and lonely years. They had met on a train station platform and kissed.

All this time, John Thornton had loved Margaret Hale, but she had first been repulsed by his harsh ways and flaring temper. To his shame and fury, she had rejected his marriage proposal. He had tried to convince himself that his foolish passion for her was gone, ever since, but he had failed, of course. He had and would always love Margaret and now they were finally together on their way to Milton, to begin their live as a newly betrothed and soon to be married couple. The bliss of that moment still sang in his blood, while he stared out of the train window and watched the green, lush English countryside glide by.

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When the train rather abruptly came to a stop, John Thornton jolted out of the dreamlike state he was in.

Margaret, her head resting against his shoulder, had been slumbering peacefully, her slender frame supported by his arm.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice soft and slightly hoarse after her little doze.

John had no idea why they had come to a standstill in the middle of nowhere with no train station in sight. He was somewhat dense to react after having to shake off the bliss of having Margaret so close. God knew how long he had been waiting for that final outcome to their relationship which had been so strained for so long.

 

Slowly the new situation got hold of John as he realised that the train would not have stopped here unless something unusual had occurred. He freed his arm from Margaret’s waist.

“I will go and take a look, Margaret” he said and stood. “Please, wait here for me.”

“No!”

Her sudden outcry startled him.

“No, John …” she said, rather nervously. “I … I would rather not be separated from you …”

The fierce look of pure, unmitigated love in John’s eyes overwhelmed Margaret like a ray of warm Southern sunshine. John Thornton still loved her after all the misery she had inflicted upon him. And she … she had finally admitted to herself that she loved him back, that she could no longer live without him, that she did not want to be away from him, ever again.

His hand cupped her face, drew it nearer. Margaret’s heart pounded with anticipation … and fear. How was she to deal with their sudden intimacy? Yet all these disturbing thoughts vanished like snow under the sun when his lips touched hers. They kissed, first shyly and awkwardly, then John’s hand glided to her lower back, pressing her even closer. His kiss became bolder as he opened her lips with his tongue. Margaret surrendered and threw her arms around his neck, answering his kiss with delight.

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It took some time before they were able to speak again.

“Very well, Miss Hale,” John smiled. “If you cannot be separated from me, I guess I will have to take you with me. Let me take your bag.”

As soon as they left their compartment, John became aware of the complete silence that was reigning all around them. Although they had been alone in their own compartment, he knew for certain they had not been the only ones on the train. During the earlier ten-minutes stop he had seen several passengers mounting it. Where again had that stop occurred? John was fairly sure it was in Leicester Station, although he had failed to pay attention to it, being fully distracted by seeing Margaret.

Hand in hand, they started down the corridor, looking into the compartments as they passed them.

They were all deserted. Soon the couple realised they were the only passengers in this carriage.

“John, look …”

Margaret pointed to one of the windows behind which they could only see a dense fog obscuring the view as thoroughly as if a curtain had been drawn.

“This is weird,” John mused. “I would not have expected a fog on such a sunny day, and it is not morning, too, but the height of the afternoon. Let us take a look outside.”

He helped Margaret down from the train step which was now considerably higher than the ground since there was no platform. The first astonishing discovery was that their carriage seemed to be the only one that was left of the train. Neither before nor after, there was not a single thing on the track.

John frowned in disbelief.

“Margaret, is it possible that our carriage has broken loose from the rest of the train, you think? Although I cannot recall that ours was the end carriage …”

“It was not. I clearly remember we were somewhere in the middle of that long train, John. What can have happened?”

“I don’t know but let us find out where we are.”

Peering through the thick fog, they were barely able to make out their surroundings but eventually they could make out the low brick wall on either side of the track that suggested they were on a bridge. Carefully, John looked over it.

“There seems to be a road under this bridge, Margaret. Shall we try to descend the embankment?”

Margaret nodded but gripped his hand even firmer. He gave her an encouraging smile.

“You need not to be afraid, dearest. You are in my care, now.”

While they were descending the steep slope, Margaret basked in the stunning realisation of what John had called her. She was his dearest, his … his beloved! It was too bewildering for words!

 

It was indeed a narrow country road that meandered under the bridge, but they could not see farther than a few yards. That, however, was not what John was concerned of. Sinking onto one knee, he touched the surface of the road, which seemed to be made of a black gravel-like substance, hard and solid to the touch. He had never seen such a thing!

“Margaret, have you noticed this? On first sight, this is an ordinary narrow country road, flanked by hedgerows that are in urgent need to be trimmed because they are overgrown by brambles. Yet, its surface is unique!”

“Extraordinary and also very efficient. No deep potholes in this road, no matter how hard it rains. What could this substance be, John? Have you any idea? We should acquire something similar for Marlborough Mills’ courtyard, don’t you think?”

John burst into a hearty laugh and pulled her close, kissing her fondly on the top of her head.

“Making plans already, are you, Miss Hale? Yes, you are right about the mill’s courtyard. It is always something of a mess after a rainstorm.”

He lifted her chin, an inquiring grin relaxing his handsome face.

“You do not seem worried in the least, my darling. You must have realised that we are in strange surroundings and that something very weird must have happened, although I have not the slightest inkling of what it could be. Yet, you do not seem afraid. How is this?”

“No,” Margaret replied softly. “No, you are right, John. I am not afraid at all. Instead I feel excited, like if I were entering an unknown, fairytale-like world, waiting to be discovered. And, John …”

She paused to lay her hand on his cheek and gently caress it.

“What is it, sweetheart …” John breathed, heart pounding because of the love in Margaret’s tone.

“Whenever I am with you, my love, I will never be afraid of anything.”

Their kiss lasted several minutes and left them both breathless.

Eventually, hand in hand, they set forth over the narrow road, walking to the North and into the Great Unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Twenty

Chapter 20 – Jane, I knew you’d do me good

Forever Jane & Edward

Prayers are good for mental support but they don’t actually help you out when you are physically in trouble. So I concentrated on trying to revive my husband. I rubbed his chest as hard as I could, and I blew into his mouth, hoping to keep him alive with my own breath. How long I kept doing this I do not recall but eventually I stopped. I was exhausted, and my spirits were very low. We would die, all three of us. However, we would not be separated in death. Determined to be as close to him as I could, I positioned myself lengthwise on top of his body. I laid my head on Edward’s chest and closed my eyes.

“Damn and blast, woman! What are you doing, you are choking me!”

A violent fit of coughing sent me sliding off Edward’s body. He sat up abruptly, I could feel it, and shook himself like a wet dog, sprinkling me with a shower of dirt.

“Stop, Edward, stop!” Then I was laughing and throwing myself against him and kissing him, I was so extremely happy!

He kissed me back and chuckled, “And I love you too, Jane, don’t worry!”

We laughed and kissed like there was no tomorrow. That’s why we didn’t hear the shouting voice above us at first.

“Sir? Sir, are you there? Mr. Rochester, sir, is that you?”

Norton! They found us! A stream of earth was raining upon us and we hastily crawled away.

“Damn it, Norton! You are busy burying us alive, would you please take care?”

“Sorry, sir!”

Light! Lovely yellow light from a lamp, no, from many lamps!

“Seems like we’re not yet in St. Peter’s book just now, my little witch! You’d probably scare the wits out of him anyway!”, my rake of a husband said and I swear I could see him smirking, even in the feeble light from above.

 

A few days later, we were all gathered in the drawing room of Ferndean Manor.

There was I, and Edward, Adèle, Edwina, Charles Mason and John Eshton, Alice, Keithley and Norton. Also present was Special Constable Jeremiah Jones, acting on behalf of Mr. Justice of the Peace Lord Brackenberry of the Newcastle Royal Court. He had a story to tell.

As soon as Edward had made a formal complaint about the attack of the Ingram women on his life, His Lordship had ordered their arrest. Edwina’s testimony provided him with sufficient ammunition to bring on a lawsuit against them. The two women, however, had made full confessions because it seemed that they were not entirely to blame for the whole miserable affair.

The present baron of Ingram Park, Geoffrey Ingram, Blanche’s brother, was Edwina’s father. Apparently, he had raped poor Adelaide Eshton during a party at her father’s estate, when she was barely sixteen years old. He had threatened the innocent, unworldly girl in keeping silent over his despicable feat, convincing her that she would never be believed if she told the truth. Later, when Adelaide and her daughter fled the Blackthorn house and came to live at Ingram Park, he again threatened the poor woman saying he would ravish her daughter if she breathed a word over what had happened. It had been Lady Adelaide’s death. She succumbed, both physically and mentally destroyed.

So, of the once so proud family Ingram, only poor young Mary remained out of His Majesty’s Prison. She was to go and live with an aunt in Hampshire for the rest of her days, as it was very unlikely she would make a suitable marriage now.

Ultimately, we had reasons enough to celebrate the outcome of all this uproar. Edward cracked several bottles of champagne, and we toasted with friends and family.

Edward took me by the hand after Mr. Jones had departed, claiming he was not feeling well enough to stay up too late. Ignoring my mild protests about the presence of our guests, he dragged me with him to our bedchamber. Closing the door firmly behind us, he scooped me up into his arms and carried me to our bed.

“Now, Jane,” he murmured, “will you be so good as to clarify something to me that I do not fully understand?”

His green-grey eyes were full of mischief, and I knew where this would lead us.

“Edward,” I answered, “if you want to have marital intercourse with me, just say so. You know I could never deny you.”

It seemed I was wrong. He cupped my face and looked into my eyes in a very serious way.

“No jesting now, Jane, I’m serious. I heard you say something, my adorable little wife, when we were buried in that cellar. Now, since I was in a state of semi-unconsciousness, I do not know if I heard you correctly. You said, and I quote: ‘Don’t leave us, Edward!’ Us, Jane, whatever did you mean by that?”

“Well, Edward, it is all your doing, you know. You have been doing things to me that will have a result in approximately seven months from now and …”

He silenced me with a kiss, and I let him.

“Oh, my precious witch, this is the best of news! I insist on you seeing Dr. Woodhouse as soon as possible. Being buried cannot be good for my son.”

Your son? Why not my daughter? The chances are equal, you know?”

Edward threw his head back and roared with laughter, which vexed me a bit. He seemed so confident! “No, Jane, you are so wrong in this! We Rochesters do not breed daughters. After all, we are a weak and degenerated lot so we only produce males. A shame, for I’m convinced a daughter of ours would be as beautiful as her mother. Now, my sweet own Jane, have I already thanked you for saving my life, again? It seems that I cannot stay alive without your rescue operations, so from now on, I’m not leaving your side anymore. It might prove fatal for me one day!”

“No,” I answered in a dignified manner, desperately trying not to laugh, “you have yet to thank me, Edward.”

My words had barely left my mouth before he pushed me onto our bed, pinning my arms above my head and shoving my skirts upwards with his powerful knee. Then, however, he checked himself. Instead he laid himself down beside me and took me in his arms.

“Jane … how long do you think I can … thank you before …”

“I don’t know for sure, my love, but I think we still have some months full of thanking ahead of us.”

That was all he needed, and he applied himself in thanking me most thoroughly.

So after a considerable period of time we lay in a close embrace, resting from our exertions and Edward’s chuckled, “Jane, I knew you’d do me good. I knew you’d make an honourable man of me, eventually.”

 

The End

Next week from Luce: The Lost Northbound Train

North and South 2004A fantasy continuation of the 2004 BBC version, starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe.

What if the train John and Margaret took to go home never reached Milton?

What if some time portal was opened, and they ended up in the twenty-first century?

Would their love survive?

Read it next week on this page!

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Nineteen

Chapter 19 – Our Father who art in Heaven

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The words of the prayer whispered through my befuddled brain, and I kept repeating them because it gave me mental strength.

“Our Father … who art in Heaven … hallowed be Thy name …”

I could not possibly be dead, could I? My body ached with cuts and bruises. I was cold and wet and … oh Heaven, I was able to breathe again! How wonderfull.

However, it was pitch black all around me,and I was shivering. I was also still bound on hands and feet. I moaned with pain in my back and shoulders as soon as I tried to move.

“Jane … Jane?”

“Edward … is that you?”

Suddenly his mouth was on mine and, of all things, we kissed. We just kissed, and our kiss was dear to us like life itself. After a long time, we had to draw breath eventually but we lay panting against each other and laughing and kissing again.

“Where are we? What happened?”, I asked.

“We are in a cellar under the cottage, darling. I think the house has crashed above us and the floor must have collapsed. Are you alright? Can you move?”

To my astonishment I found that indeed I could move. Now that the smoke was gone, I could again breathe properly, and that seemed to have restored at least part of my strength.

“Yes, I can move, Edward. And, if my hands were free I would slap you! I thought they shot you, I thought you were dead!”

He laughed! He just laughed that infuriating laugh of his and I screamed, overcome with helpless frustration! “Shhh! Shhh, calm yourself, my little cat. I sensed all along that Beaver’s long absence meant something fishy was afoot so I used a little trick I learned in my West Indies days. I put a piece of armour around my chest under my shirt and a cow blather full of cow’s blood above it. That’s what you saw when the bullet hit it. However, I was knocked unconscious with the bullet’s impact, and it hurts like hell.”

I kissed him again, all too happy that he was alive. “We must find a way to get out of this.”

“We will, Jane, we will. Listen, the first thing to do is to free ourselves from these wretched bonds but I have no idea how we are to do that.”

“Wait a moment, Edward. I am going to try something.”

The way I was lying told me that I was facing Edward so I turned my back to him.

“There!” I said. “Now try unfastening my bonds, Edward!”

My husband’s chuckle rumbled in the darkness, but I could feel his fingers working on the rope around my hands. It took a lot of time but eventually my wrists loosened, and I was able to wriggle them free.

“Oh, how wonderful! Give me a minute, darling. I must restore the circulation.”

“Not too long, I hope!”, Edward answered. “Untie me, Jane, my hands are tingling.”

It was not long before we had freed ourselves completely. We were even able to sit upright.

“Stay where you are, sweetheart, I’m going to make a little reconnoitring  around this hellhole.”

I heard Edward moving about on hands and feet for a while. God! How tired I was! And hungry, thirsty, cold, damp, and probably very filthy too. Then I remembered my sickness, and the way I had vomited, so abruptly and so violently. I was still feeling weak and nauseated.

“Jane, come this way, please?”

When I reached Edward, he took my hand. “Here, do you feel that? It’s a draft of fresh air. We must try and dig ourselves out. Can you help me? But, my love, do be careful, I don’t want to be buried alive.”

We started digging, plunging our hands in the dirt at the spot where the draft was coming from. It was hard work. This is how we did it; Edward peeled away the earth, gave it into my hands, and I piled it up somewhere behind me. Slowly and carefully, we worked until we could feel the draft getting stronger, as the hole grew larger.

“Back away, my darling!” Edward croaked, his throat surely as dry as mine was.

“What? What are you going to do?” I asked, suddenly unsure.

“Worm myself through this hole. I want to know where this is leading to.”

Without giving me the chance to say more, I heard his grunt when he heaved himself upwards. A dull thud, followed by a cloud of dust into my face, told me my worst fear had come true; the hole had collapsed!

“Edward! Edward, where are you? Speak to me! Edward!”

There I was, groping around blindly in the absolute darkness, and encountering nothing but damp earth. It was like moving around in a grave. My husband was there, somewhere, buried alive. I had to find him. So I shook off every other thought. I probed and brushed, desperately trying to remember where I had heard his voice the last time. It looked like ages but eventually my fingers came upon his body and it was buried from the waist up! In frantic despair I began brushing away whatever dust and earth I could, mainly searching for his face. There! That was his head!

“Edward!”

I kept on screaming his name, I wanted him to answer me, to show me that he was alive!

His mouth, his nose! I hastily wiped my hands on my blouse and handkerchief as best as I could and started freeing his mouth and nose. It was the work of a madwoman; I could see nothing. It was pitch-dark. I could only feel, and all the time my prayers went up to whatever God might deign to hear them.

“Edward! Please, Edward, answer me! Please, don’t leave me, don’t leave us, please …”

Yes, there was a chance that I might be with child. Were we to perish in this hole all three of us and was Edward never to know he was to be a father?

So I prayed, more than I had ever done in my life … Our Father, who art in Heaven …”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Eighteen

Chapter 18 – Burn the witch

Fire

A choking smoke was rapidly filling the small low-ceilinged room of the cottage, and I knew I should try and get out. I did not move. My courage failed me for without Edward, lying dead beside me, nothing mattered to me anymore.

Why? Why was he taken from me? I could not understand why we were not allowed to enjoy a happy life together. Sobs were raking my chest as I realized only one thing; Edward was dead.

They had shot him through the heart, and I was left alone to die a horrible death.

Lying on my stomach and unable to move, I felt the fabric of Edward’s wet coat under my cheek. At least I was grateful for that; I would die with my head close to Edward’s heart. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe. Smoke was choking me and causing me to cough, but the coughing brought me no solace. My eyes were stinging now and a sudden impulse to fight made me move my head higher on Edward’s chest. It only made me cough harder.

The heat from the flames was reaching a dangerous level now. The fire had set the thatched roof alight and pieces of it were falling down. I was now so terrified that I crept closer to Edward as if searching for protection. I screamed and sobbed and coughed, all in the same, sheer panic.

“Damn it, Jane! Will you give me some space here? It’s hard enough to breathe in this vile smoke without you burying me with your body, no matter how lovely a prospect that may be!”

Violent coughing accompanied this outburst of Edward’s, and I lifted my head. He was alive!

“Edward … how …?” A fit of coughing cut my words.

“Not now, Jane! Move over!”

He grunted and tried to sit up and only now I noticed that he too was bound hands and feet.

All I could see just then was the ugly red stain on his chest and the next second, I was retching uncontrollably. The contempt of my stomach forced its way up into my throat; the next moment, I was violently vomiting. Water, for I had not eaten since breakfast. I gasped for breath and vomited again. Panting and heaving, I lay with my face in the dust, sick and miserable.

“Sweetheart, Jane, darling, come on, we have go get out of here …”

I wanted to move, I wanted to follow Edward’s coaxing voice, but my strength failed me. There was no air left in the room, only smothering smoke.

My husband turned his back to me and shouted between coughs, “Give me your hands, darling! Alright, that’s it. Just cling to my hands, never let go.”

He grasped my bound hands with his and squeezed them tight. With a grunt of effort, he then shoved himself forward, first thrusting his legs in the direction of the door, then pulling his buttocks towards his feet, and dragging me along with him in the process. I was a dead weight but could do nothing about it. I was so ill and weak I barely managed to stay conscious, and the coughing was raking my body even more. The fact that he had to take my weight with him with every shove was considerably and quickly draining Edward’s strength. His laboured breathing became heavier by the minute.

“Jane … sweetheart … you have to help me, we are not going to make it.”

“I … I … cannot … breathe …”

“Yes, you can! Take shallow breaths, come on, you can do it!”

I did as he asked and it helped … a little.

“Come on, my brave witch, we have to get on our feet now. Hold on to my hands. Good girl! Now put your back firmly against mine, yes, that’s it! Pull your feet up and … now push upwards!”

I failed, my legs were numb and my lungs ached from the lack of oxygen.

“Jane, will you please stop being such a weakling and do as I tell you to! Damn it, woman, I don’t want to die just yet!”

Fury rose in my chest when he spoke like that to me, and well he knew it! The next time I succeeded and we were standing on our two, tightly bound legs.

But Fate had other things planned for us. With a rumbling sound like far away thunder, the roof slowly came crashing down on us and everything went black.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Seventeen

Chapter 17 – Hell hath no fury

 Lady Ingarm2

My heart stopped!

I sank onto my knees, and with shaking hands, carefully turned Edward onto his back. A large bloodstain had spread right in the middle of his chest. I put a trembling hand on his cheek; how cold it was! This could not be true, surely not? He could not be dead, could he? His eyes were shut and his face was deadly pale but surely he was not dead?

Someone grabbed me, and a sack was pulled over my head. I didn’t care, I could not think, I could not feel. Edward! Edward! I screamed his name as loudly as I could.

“Please, let me take care of him! He’s hurt, he will die if I cannot tend to his wound! Please …”

Nobody listened to me. I was lifted and thrown upon someone’s shoulder and carried away from the deadly wounded body of my husband. That was when I fainted.

 

“Come on, man! Wake her up! Throw some water into her face or something.”

I knew that voice. It was … no, it could not be! A splash of ice-cold water brought me to my senses and I gasped for breath. But there she was! Lady Ingram, dressed in black, a man’s breeches, skirt, coat and boots. Next to her stood her daughter, clothed in the same way as her mother and scowling at me in a most ominous manner.

“Where is my husband?” I demanded haughtily, determined not to let them get the better of me.

Lady Ingram’s eyes smouldered with loathing contempt and she said in a low, menacing voice,

“Hold your tongue, you miserable piece of filth! You do not speak before I give you permission to!. Oh, I know what sort of creature you are, governess … you are like all the others of your wretched profession. Your type of commonplace whores just creeps into a woman’s home under the pretext of teaching her children, and then you are praying upon her husband. What business was it of yours to come and take Rochester away from my beautiful Blanche? He loved her! Before you showed up, he was in love with her. But you, with your humble, subdued ways, you lured him away from my child.”

During her monologue I recovered enough to make me look about me and find out where I was. I was, of course, in the cottage. The room was low and dark with the only light coming from two very small windows. The whole place spoke of extreme poverty but also of scrupulous cleanness and caring. The earthen floor was covered with freshly cut herbs and the few pieces of furniture were scrubbed until they shone. Where was the inhabitant of this house, Beaver’s old mother? And where was Beaver?

“Oh, pray, madam governess, do not seek for help!”

Lady Ingram laughed, and the sound of it was so eerie I felt shivers running over my spine. Blanche laughed too, and it dawned on me that they must be mad, both of them.

Blanche bent over me and grabbed my hair, pulling it out of its pins. It hurt so much that tears sprang into my eyes.

“Look, you commoner, you’re quite alone here! There are three corpses and you. We had to shoot that stupid Beaver fellow because he wouldn’t finish you off, not even when we killed his old crone of a mother!”

I followed her gaze, and my blood ran cold in my veins! She was right! Next to the body of a little old lady lay Beaver’s heavy form, his eyes staring blindly towards the ceiling. And, next to him … my poor brain could not comprehend what I saw; the tall, inert figure of Edward, sprawled on his back, with the ugly, huge, red stain of blood covering his chest like a giant flower. His eyes were closed and his face was smooth, even under the scars of the burning. Edward … was dead.

I must have screamed, for my tormenters were laughing even more now. I did not care; I wanted to be next to Edward. I wriggled and struggled as hard as I could but I was firmly bound on hands and feet and could not move an inch.

“Ah! Is this not sweet? Look, Blanche, she wants to be closer to her loving husband. Well, let’s help her!”

Lady Ingram put one booted foot in the small of my back and shoved me very hard. I rolled over the floor but not close enough so she repeated the movement until I was lying on my stomach with my face against Edward’s side. The irony smell of his blood filled my nose ,and I could not keep myself from weeping. All was lost now, Edward was dead and I would follow soon.

As if she could read my mind, Lady Ingram sneered, “Yes, governess, you have it right. You are about to die, and it will be very atrocious, I promise you.”

She went to a cupboard and retrieved a can of lamp oil from it. Floating about the room like a giant black moth, she spilled the oil onto the furniture, the cupboard, the table, the few chairs and over the bodies on the floor. Soon enough I was drenched in the sharply reeking substance.

Blanche, in the meantime, had shredded a few rags and propped them into the cupboard. Her mother, again sneering her blood-chilling madwoman laughter at me, pulled a tinderbox out of her coat pocket and set the rags on fire. The flame leapt up and grew higher  and higher until the wood of the cupboard caught fire and began to burn steadily.

“Farewell, miss governess. May your death be long and painful.”

They left and the door fell close behind them.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Sixteen

Chapter 16 – One obstacle after another

Dreaming2

 

 

Charles Mason crossed the distance between him and Edward in three longs strides. In one smooth gesture, he hit my baffled husband in the face, so hard that the latter staggered backwards and ended on the floor with a muffled cry of pain. Something snapped in me. I drew myself up to my unfortunately inadequate height and slapped Mason’s jaw as hard as I could.

“Mr. Mason!” I exclaimed angrily. “Will you kindly refrain from hitting my husband? He has barely recovered from the injuries you inflicted on him during our last encounter. Besides, if you would care to use your brain before acting instead of your temperament, you would know Edward once loved your sister dearly. He has never, do you hear me, never ill-treated Bertha during all those long years that she stayed at Thornfield Hall. On the contrary, he has done ample more than his duty towards her, caring for her with deep concern for her safety and well-being. Bertha jumped to her death, that night, Mr. Mason; it is as simple as that. Edward tried to safe her, to lure her back inside, but she was beyond his reach, both physically and mentally. It was Fate, Mr. Mason. You will leave Bertha’s ghost to rest from now on or you will have to answer to me.”

By now I had run out of breath and turned towards my husband who was still lying sprawled upon the carpet. I put out my hand, which he took, a strange look in his eyes. When he was on his feet again, Edward held my hand in his and, to my surprise, kissed it in a deferential way.

“My God, Jane! What a speech!” he whispered, looking deeply into my eyes. “What a beautiful sight you are … oh, my darling!”

“A sight? Does that mean that …”

In a playful way, he tweaked my nose.  “Yes, my little witch, I can see you. It must be Mason’s fisticuff’s blow. Well, my Jane, you look even prettier than I remember!”

Suddenly, I was in the circle of his arms, and he kissed me, right then and there, so ardently that I felt a wave of sweet burning desire running through me. My knees buckled under the intensity of it, and I returned his kiss with all the strength I could muster. I do not know how long we went on with this somewhat improper behaviour but eventually, an unfamiliar noise brought us back to our senses.

Charles Mason’s hands were covering his face and he was weeping in a disconsolate way. Edward and I had the same reaction. We took Mason by the arm and made him sit down. I called for a fresh pot of tea, but Edward poured him a stiff brandy, which he gratefully accepted. A few awkward moments passed in which I filled a couple of cups of tea; Edward and I waited patiently until Mason had regained his composure.

Eshton, who had witnessed the whole scene, was as white as a sheet but refrained from giving a comment. He swiftly excused himself and left us.

“Look here, Charles …”, Edward said gently, “let’s say no more about this whole wretched business. Let’s be friends again, like we used to be in the past.”

He offered his hand to Mason who took it. The two former brothers-in-law embraced each other and laughed, both now with tears in their eyes. I turned away, wishing to hide my own.

From that day on, Charles Mason stayed with us as a friend. Edwina Blackthorn took him under her wing, and the two of them passed long hours of walking in the gardens during the day and playing chess at night.

 

A few days of relative peace and quiet passed in which I had no greater challenges than to keep myself busy with my household tasks; a fact for which I was thankful. The events of the first two months of our marriage had certainly been tiresome, to say the least. They were, of course, also the most happy ones in my entire life.

Then, one day, I was met by Edwina when I came back from the garden where I had been cutting daffodils for the dinner table.

“Mrs. Rochester, I am very worried. It has been so long since Timothy went to see his mother, and he should be back by now. I sincerely hope he has not met with an accident. I know where his mother’s cottage is and I was hoping I could take the curricle and drive there?”

She was right, it must have been five days since Beaver left. We went to look for Edward who was working through the estate books in his library with his steward.

“Yes, this is odd, to say the least,” Edward mused, as soon as we had explained it all to him. “You know what, Jane, we will all go to Mrs. Beaver’s cottage in the carriage. That way you can take food and linen with you as a present to her.”

So we did, me and Edwina in the carriage, with Norton as our coachman and Edward riding his horse alongside us. It was not so very far, as Edwina told us. Once we passed Ingram Park, it was but fifteen miles to the east of it. Mrs. Beaver’s cottage lay at the outskirts of Ingram Home Wood, in a hollow providing a nice shelter from the winds blowing off the moors. There was no access from the main road, not even a trace of some path or other, so we were forced to leave the carriage there. Edward, Edwina and me went on foot through the meadow towards the low house with its thatched roof.

When we came within a distance of some 100 meters of the cottage, Edward suddenly held out his arm and stopped us.

“Jane …”

He seemed to listen, and so did I but there was nothing to hear. The silence in this secluded spot was absolute. My husband obviously thought otherwise.

“Jane, and you too, Edwina, quickly, go back to Norton! There’s something not quite right here and I want to go see what that is. If I don’t return in ten minutes, I want you to ride back to Ferndean and raise the alarm.”

“What? Ishall do no such thing! Edwina, you go back and do as my husband says, but I’m going with you, Edward!”

“Damn it, Jane! Will you do as I ask? The lost of my eyesight has enhanced my hearing. There’s a horse hidden somewhere near that cottage. Tell me, what would a poor widow do with a horse? Now, go! I will not tolerate …”

“No, Edward! You’ve nothing to tolerate! I’m staying with you, like it or not!”

He pulled out his most dark scowl and Edwina paled, grabbed her skirts and ran back to the carriage. I did not. I returned his stare with one of my own, determined to have my own way.

I don’t know how long we stood there and if our eyes would have been pistols, we’d both been dead twice over. All of a sudden, the crack of a gunshot almost made me jump out of my skin. Then, before my horrified eyes, Edward collapsed face forward onto the grass and a dark stain began spreading beneath him.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Fifteen

Chapter 15 – An organized programme of everyday life

The Rochesters

 

 

After all this disturbance teasing our tender marriage, Edward and I firmly banished all diversion from the truly important matters concerning our life together. We had work on our hands; we needed to get started on the restoration of Thornfield Hall, Edward’s ancestral home.

The next six weeks, we were diligently working, talking to architects and craftsmen, and laying out plans for the rebuilding and refurbishment. We settled in a nice enough routine, working in pleasurable companionship by day, sweetly indulging in each other’s bodies by night.

I dedicated myself to organising my household. This proved to be a gigantic task, even with Alice’s help. We hired five new maids, two upstairs and two downstairs, and one scullery maid. It also took me the whole of three weeks of interviewing possible candidates for a gentleman’s gentleman or valet for Edward. They were all, without exception, very reluctant to be examined by a lady. I had to stand firm at times but eventually, I succeeded in hiring Thomas Devereaux who came with excellent references from the service of a duke’s younger son killed at Waterloo. The most important was that Edward approved of him.

Miss Blackthorn and Beaver stayed with us, of course. The former became good friends with our dear Adèle, now quite a young lady of fourteen going on fifteen.

Ah, yes, Adèle …

Edward wanted to send her to some institute for the education of young women in London, but that was not at all what Adèle wished.

Adèle wanted to go to Paris.

As I had too many issues demanding my attention, I could not accompany her, and she was too young to travel alone. Edward was strongly against her going, even though he knew how much she longed for it. So we were in an impasse, Adèle pouting, Edward grumbling, and me at a loss as how to  remediate this.

 

Six weeks later matters stood as follows.

Thornfield Hall had a roof and glazed windows again. The plumbing was installed so that there was water in every bedroom. There was a storage room for wood on every floor so that the maids wouldn’t have to go all the way downstairs to see to the fires. The servants’ work would surely be a great deal easier in the Hall when it was finished.

Edward had made inquiries about the whereabouts of Blanche Ingram.

She had disappeared from Ingram Park the very night of my escape from the shed. It seemed that she had taken only a few personal possessions and all her jewellery, stolen some money from her brother’s strongbox and ridden off on her spirited bay mare to destinations unknown. Lady Ingram, so Edward was told when he went to interrogate her, was indisposed and had taken to her bed. Philip Ingram, the new baronet after his father’s death the previous year, refused to speak to Edward about his sister. It appeared he was still harbouring some disgruntled feelings over Edward’s behaviour towards Blanche. To me it seemed that Blanche Ingram had been indulging herself in wishful thinking as to Edward’s involvement with her.

We did, however, racked our brains about where she might have gone to and to whom. An unmarried woman of gentle birth had only so few places where she could hide. She could take refuge with a relative, like an aunt or a married sister, or go to a boarding house of good reputation, which was only a temporary solution, because someone would sooner or later find out who she was and tell her family or a magistrate.

 

Timothy Beaver healed more slowly than expected. He developed a fever which weakened him so badly he lost over thirty pounds. After the above-mentioned six weeks he was, however, able to resume a task as a stable hand. He was a very hardworking, quiet sort of fellow. Norton, the head groom, was pleased with him. It was no luxury to have him, especially now that Keithley was injured. Keithley’s shoulder was healing well but slowly, because the bullet had damaged his collarbone. Miss Blackthorn spent a lot of time with him when he was off duty. I suspected she harboured some remorse. It had been Miss Blackthorn who shot Keithley the day I was abducted. She had received shooting lessons from Blanche’s brother while she had been staying at Ingram Park.

Soon thereafter, Beaver came to ask Edward for a favour. My husband received him in the drawing room after luncheon where we were drinking our coffee.

“Ah, Beaver!” Edward cheerfully exclaimed when the big man entered. “What can I do for you? I trust you’re back to your old self?”

“Yes, Mr. Rochester, sir, thank you, I’m well enough. But …” He stopped speaking and bowed his head, as in great embarrassment.

“Come, Mr. Beaver,” I encouraged him gently, “what is it that you want?”

My soft words seemed to ease him and he ventured, “It’s my mother, Mrs. Rochester. She’s old and she’s not well. It’s been months since I went to see her and I’m worried. I came to ask a leave of absence to visit her.”

“Of course, man!” Edward answered, “Take a horse and go and see her. Take all the time you need.”

“You will also take a basket of food with you, Mr. Beaver, as a present from us to your mother. I’ll tell Cook to prepare one. When are you planning to leave?”

 

The next day, we had a visitor. It was John Eshton who had been in London for some time, and only now had heard what had befallen Edward. He was even more upset when he listened to our story about Blanche Ingram, and how she damaged Edward’s name by bestowing Miss Edwina Blackthorn as his daughter upon him.

“My goodness, Edward!” he exclaimed, “She must have gone mad! My poor sister and you? How could that ever be possible? Adelaide was already married to Blackthorn, when I introduced her to you at a house party.”

“Exactly so!” Edward chimed in. “It was nothing but Blanche’s viciousness  with the intention of disturbing my marriage to Jane.”

At that exact moment, Miss Edwina entered the room and, on seeing her uncle, rushed forward to throw herself into his waiting arms.

“Edie, my sweet! Oh, how wonderful to see you again! Dear girl, you have no idea how sorry I am I was not here when all this happened. I thought you were safe at Ingram Park!”

“I was, Uncle!” Edwina said, “Until Mr. Rochester’s marriage, I was. It’s only since then that Blanche grew all awkward and set up her plan to ruin Mr. Rochester’s marriage. But, Uncle, you do know that Blackthorn was not my father?”

“Well,” Eshton said, “to say I knew is perhaps a little farfetched but I suspected it, although never a word has been said about it. I don’t, however, have any inkling of who was your father, dear girl. Addie never said anything, not even to our mother, with whom she was pretty close.”

A noise from the direction of the hall made us turn our heads.

“Sir, sir, you cannot …”

Alice’s alarmed voice was heard just seconds before the door was thrown open to let a man about whom we’d banned out of our minds.

“Rochester, I demand to speak with you! Immediately! It bears no delay, sir!” the agitated voice of Charles Mason barked at my stunned husband.