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.

 

 

 

 

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Fourteen

Chapter 14 – Rochester takes the matter at hand

Proud Richester

While we hurried towards the stables Edward asked the head groom who had come to meet us, “Ah, Norton, did you tie him up like I asked?”

“Yes, sir!” the man answered, “an’ a good thing ‘t was too! He’s been trying to get away all the time since he opened his eyes!”

“Edward!” I exclaimed, “Was that necessary? The man is injured, and by my hand to boot!”

My husband laughed out loud but didn’t reply. Instead he grabbed my hand and pulled me with him inside the stables. How confident his footing had become, I noticed in astonishment. His eyesight must indeed be coming back.

We found poor Beaver in the stable shed at the back, firmly tied upon a narrow cot and frantically trying to break his bonds. Someone had put a bandage around his head, and he looked ghastly.

“Oh, Mr. Beaver! I’m so sorry!” I said gently and kneeled beside the cot. I touched his forehead with the back of my hand and found it a little feverish. Beaver seemed surprised but calmed down at my touch.

“Ma’am, I …”, he stammered but I silenced him at once.

“Shhh, Mr. Beaver, keep still. You’re hurt and it was my doing and …”

“Jane!”

Edward’s most thundering voice startled us both, and I turned to my husband, only to find him scowling at me in his most impressing manner. I was, of course, not impressed because nothing Edward did, could ever frighten me.

“Yes?” I asked in a calm voice.

His green-grey eyes were definitively looking into mine, and he said briskly, “You seem to have forgotten that this man is Blanche Ingram’s henchman who has kidnapped, imprisoned and harmed you! It is my intention to interrogate him thoroughly and retrieve all information about the wretched wench, so step aside and let me!”

I rose to my feet to give way to my husband, when an anguished cry from the stable entrance made us turn our heads. Miss Edwina Blackthorn flew to Beaver’s cot, took his hand in hers and cried, “Oh, dear Timothy, I’m so sorry it has come to this! We were both submitted to Miss Ingram’s wickedness, and neither of us had a choice!”

She turned a tear-streaked face towards Edward.

“Mr. Rochester, please? I know you have a kind heart. I beg you to take care of poor Timothy who has been a servant in my family as was his mother before him. He has no fault in this, I assure you! We were both victims of Miss Ingram’s doings.”

Edward studied her pensively before he replied evenly, “First, Miss Blackthorn, you will explain to me how you came to think that I was your father.”

She nodded and rose.

“Yes, sir, I will but I cannot leave Timothy’s bedside when he is injured so.”

“I’ve sent for the physician and I give you my word he will be taken care of. So you may leave him in my groom’s capable hands and follow me and Mrs. Rochester back to the house.”

We retired in the parlour where a tray of tea was being served by our capable Alice. I poured us all a cup of the genial beverage, and we sat down in the chairs before the fireplace.

Edwina Blackthorn began her story.

“My mother, who was sister to Mr. Eshton of the estate adjacent to Blackthorn Manor, married Thomas Blackthorn at the age of seventeen. She was, by then, four months pregnant with me but Mr. Blackthorn was not the father. On several occasions have I asked my mother who my father was, but she has always denied me the knowledge of it. Thomas Blackthorn was a cruel and violent man, and my mother has suffered for many years under his harsh treatment before she was finally forced to flee with me when … when he …”

She was weeping now, her slim shoulders shaking with the effort. Edward looked at me with genuine distress in his eyes, so I took the girl in my arms.

“Dear Edwina,” I whispered, “do not upset yourself so. Did he try to seduce you, defile you?”

“Yes,” she choked, “my mother and I ran away after he had beaten her so harshly that she had bleeding wounds in her face and on her body. She came to my defence when, one night, Blackthorn tried to rape me. We fled to the only place where he would not come looking for us, Ingram Park. Lady Ingram and my grandmother Eshton were childhood friends, and she welcomed us most heartily. My mother died a few days later of internal bleedings.  I stayed as Blanche’s companion ever since.”

“And Timothy?” I inquired gently, “How does he come in all this?”

“His mother came into my grandmother’s service when she was pregnant of Timothy. She was an orphan who had been raped. Grandmother took her on as a scullery maid and later as a nursery maid. Timothy was working in my uncle Eshton’s stables, when my mother married Blackthorn. He followed her to Blackthorn Manor to find work there. His own mother is living in a cottage that was sold to the Ingram estate a couple of years ago. Blanche threatened to turn her out if Timothy did not obey her. She ordered Mrs. Rochester to be abducted and imprisoned.”

She paused to draw breath and Edward asked, “But why? Why would Blanche do such a thing?”

“Mr. Rochester, she was furious when you married! She said you had betrayed her, you had promised her marriage and then cast her aside to marry Mrs. Rochester.”

Edward’s voice was raw with rage when he uttered, “But that is not true! I have never offered for her!”

“Of course not, my love!” I hastened to say, “How could you when you were already …”

Aghast by my own stupid mistake, I shut my mouth! How could I be so rude as to refer to Bertha!

Edwina went on, unaware of my discomfort.

“She conceived this plan of letting you think you were my father. I refused at first, but she threatened to turn me onto the streets and to drive poor Timothy’s mother out of her cottage if we didn’t do her bidding. She said she has irrevocable proof of you being my father.”

Edward raked a hand through his dark curls in a desperate gesture.

“But … that is impossible! I have never, ever touched Adelaide Eshton in my life! Besides, I have been out of the country for years, and at the time of your conception I was living in the West Indies. I was already married to Bertha!”

“Shhh, I know, my love, calm yourself!” I soothed him.

He rose so abruptly that both me and Edwina were startled by the vehemence of it.

“Well, that settles it! I want Miss Blanche Ingram searched for and found, for she has some serious explaining to do!”

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Thirteen

Chapter 13 – The reckoning

Angry Rochester

I was, of course, not frightened at all!

Edward, for all his brooding and hot temper, would never frighten me; he was all bark and no bite. Even so, standing tall and ramrod straight, his unseeing grey-green eyes blazing with … something which was not fury.  He was an impressing sight, and just by looking at him my heart rose sky-high!

“Well?” he asked, in a low voice, which made my pulse race. I did not reply but started undressing as silently as I could. In a couple of moments, I was only wearing my shoes and stockings.

“Well? Are you going to give me an answer, Mrs. Rochester?”

His voice was really threatening now, but when I saw the beginning of a smile dancing at the corner of his mouth, I decided to play along with the game he had in mind.

“Edward …”, I said plaintively, “I am so very exhausted. I will give you an answer but not now. I really need to get some rest. Please?”

His face was suddenly full of concern.

“Jane, are you hurt? I’m so sorry, darling, I …”

“No, Edward, please, leave me be and let’s go to bed. It’s the middle of the night.”

I carefully opened the bed and sat down. Edward began to take of his coat and dropped it in the middle of the room. My pulse started beating erratically. Then his shirt followed, and I had to smother a gasp of anticipation.

When he took a few steps towards the bed, I drawled in a tired voice, “Will you not help me with my stockings and shoes, Edward? My whole body is aching with fatigue …”

“Christ, Jane, sweetheart, why did you not say so? Why did you let me be so ghastly?”

He reached the bed, and I stuck out my feet, which he took into his hands, easing off my boots. His hands glided upwards along my stockings now, sending heat waves up to the centre of my core.

“Jane, … where are your skirts?” he smiled, finally understanding. I had already loosened his breeches, and my hands were roaming over his chest and stomach, pushing down his clothes until he was as bare as I was.

With a groan from deep within his chest, he gathered me up and lifted me away from the bed. Suddenly my back was pinned against the wall, and he pushed into me, hard and frantically. After one heartbeat, I was over the edge, my body throbbing with immense pleasure. I clung to my husband’s body, anxious to widen the distance between us. I felt the muscles of his back and legs straining up like steel cords when he cried out his release.

For the length of an eternity, we remained there against the wall, clinging to each other like two lost souls. Then, with his head buried between my breasts, Edward’s low voice reached my ears.

“Jane, you wicked witch, if you ever do that disappearing act on me again, I swear to God I will … smother you with pleasure so that you might never recover!”

I looked down and chuckled.

“Well, my Lord and Master, coming from a man who is wearing nothing but his boots and whose breeches are down on them, this does not impress me very much!”

The next moment, the Master threw me onto our bed, discarded the said garments in the blink of an eye, and was again upon me in no time.

 

When I woke up the next morning, Edward was already wide awake.

I kissed him on the mouth in an impulse and he flushed.

“What is it, my love? Am I taking you by surprise?” I asked in a playful tone.

“No, sweet Jane of mine, that is not it. I feel suddenly ashamed because I have not told you of … Jane, do not be cross with me but … something wonderful has happened to me. My eyesight is improving and at this moment, I can actually see you, not sharply, but not as vaguely as before.”

It was a lot to take in, and I remained silent for a while.

“So, Edward, last night, you deceived me in letting me think you didn’t know I took my garments off?”

“I need more than one single lamp to see, my little witch, I need daylight. No, I didn’t know. The surprise was so intense that I could barely refrain myself long enough from … well, you know, don’t you?”

“No, Edward, I do not know what you mean, so please oblige me and explain?”

It was impossible not to laugh when I saw he believed me for just a tiny moment.

“You … you wicked woman! Come here!”

 

After our morning ablutions and a very late breakfast, Edward and I retired to the parlour with a large pot of coffee. We needed to talk about many things.

“So, my Jane, tell me why you found it important to go careering around the countryside without me knowing?”

“Oh no, Edward Rochester, you first! What can you tell me about Miss Edwina Blackthorn?”

“Now that was embarrassing! I had to ask the venerable Fairfax if she would read my letters. I don’t know who of us was most flushed but I don’t think it was me because Mrs. F. was gasping in horror when she made the same conclusion you did, Jane.”

Trust Edward to make a foolishness out of something so serious!

He looked deeply into my eyes. Yes, he was truly looking, something he had not done for a long time!

“Jane, upon my honour, I have never had sexual intercourse with Eshton’s sister for the very simple reason that she was already well and truly married before I was introduced to her. If she gave birth to a child that was conceived before her marriage to Blackthorn, it had nothing to do with me.”

I wanted so very much to believe him.  My heart believed him unconditionally but my rational and naturally suspicious mind told me otherwise. It was long before I knew him so it didn’t affect me much but still … I felt uncomfortable about it.

“Are you going to see the solicitors?”, I asked him.

“Yes, that is my intention. There is more to it than meets the eye, Jane. This Blackthorn girl, whom, by the way, I’ve never met before, seems a decent enough person. Furthermore, there is Blanche’s role in all this. Blanche has disappeared from Ingram Park, did you know? Lady Ingram is beside herself with worry, or so the servant, who brought me the message, told me.”

“You will have to make a new appointment, Edward, you were supposed to meet them at eleven this morning.”

“No, my sweetling, Edward Rochester just barges in when he pleases and no one, not even a distinguished solicitor, is going to make objections to that!”

A knock on the door drew our attention away from Miss Blackthorn for the moment and I summoned the knocker in. It was Johnson.

“Mr . Rochester, sir, Mrs. Rochester, ma’am, the stable master says that Beaver has regained consciousness, and now would be a good time if you want to interrogate him, sir.”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Twelve

Chapter 12 – Hope against hope

Dying Jane

I struggled.

With all my strength, with all the resolve I could muster, I drew deep into my reserves to fight the pressure of Beaver’s murdering hands. I clawed at him, I scratched his hands, his face, I kicked him in the stomach and the underbelly, but, of course, it was all to no avail. Slowly but inevitably, the breath was driven out of me. My thoughts, weakening but stubborn, seemed to float towards the one person of genuine importance in my life; Edward, my husband. Far more horrible than to die was the notion that I would never, ever, see my darling Edward again. My body, awakened by his touch, would never savour pleasure again. My heart, bursting with love for him, would never meet his again in blissful union. Drifting into total blackness, my last coherent thought was for him, my darling Edward.

 

The sound of an infernal racket dragged me back into this life; I managed to open my eyes. Someone had brought a lamp into the shed, and in its flickering light I saw shadows dancing and whirling whilst I heard grunts and thumps, consistent with fighting. Two men seemed to be engaged in wrestling, punching, and rolling from one end of the shed to the other.

I found I could breathe again, although my throat was throbbing painfully; every blissful intake of air seemed to burn my lungs. My rasping, laboured breathing was deafening to my own ears. My vision, however, was rapidly clearing and, at first, I could not believe my eyes. I must be dreaming; how was it possible that one of the fighters was Edward?

 

But it was him!

It was my Edward, sitting astride upon Beaver and showering him with hard blows. Beaver was a big man, though. He grabbed Edward by the lapels of his coat and managed in overturning him. Edward did not stop striking at him for one second, yet he was now at the receiving end of Beaver’s beefy fists.

How had he managed to get here in the first place? He was blind, it was virtually impossible for him to find his way in unknown surroundings!

Oh, merciful God! Edward was bleeding in the face! I must help him, he was weakening under the heavy blows. I crawled on hands and feet towards the heap of rubbish in one of the shed’s corners. Groping rather than seeing, my fingers found a piece of wood that seemed heavy enough to knock a person unconscious. However, to do that, I had to be on my feet, and that was very difficult since the world was tilting from time to time. Therefore I concentrated on my breathing and, seeking support against the wall, I slowly stood. My heart nearly stopped when I saw Beaver’s hands around Edward’s throat, squeezing hard. In two steps I was upon him, hitting the back of his head with the wood as hard as I could. Without a sound he collapsed on top of Edward, who grunted when the wind was driven out of him by the fellow’s weight. Using both hands, I managed to roll Beaver off him, and next I was showering Edward’s face with kisses. I was stroking him and uttering nonsense, until he pulled me into his arms and kissed me so fervently on the mouth that tears sprang into my eyes. I did not move, though; I could not move for the life of me. I was too happy to be in his arms again, to feel him, to be alive and to be his!

A flutter of movement reached the corner of my eye!

I broke our kiss and was on my feet in seconds, only to see the slender figure of Miss Edwina Blackthorn who fell onto her knees beside Beaver’s motionless form.

“Oh, Timothy, I’m so sorry. Mr. Rochester, I think he’s dead! He doesn’t move! Oh, somebody help me, please?”

The misery in her voice made me rush by her side and feel for the man’s pulse. He was alive, and I told her so. Edward was there too now, feeling the man’s head.

“Do not worry, Miss Blackthorn, he is only unconscious, but we have to put him to bed. Now, Jane, my love, is there something here that could serve as a cart, a wheelbarrow, maybe?”

I looked around but saw nothing.

“There is one outside, Mr. Rochester, I will get it!” Miss Blackthorn exclaimed and ran away.

“How on earth did you come here, Edward? And with her? I do not understand.”

Edward chuckled and pulled me back into his arms again.

“She came to Ferndean last night, and told me everything. By then I was nearly out of my mind with worry for you, witch! What business did you have, I ask you, to go traipsing around the countryside alone and without me? Keithley came back with the curricle by dusk, shot through the shoulder and with no idea of your whereabouts. He only knew about your visit to Blanche Ingram and told us about the attack while he was driving you home. It seems that he was ambushed and shot without him seeing his attacker. When he came to his senses again, you were gone. I had search parties to find you but I had no inkling as to where to start looking!”

“Blanche Ingram … oh, Edward, she’s behind all this! She … “

“Shhh!  I know, Miss Blackthorn told me. But …”

“Mr. Rochester, sir, I have the cart but I do not think it fits through the door”, came Miss Blackthorn’s voice from outside.

“Come, Jane, give me a hand. We must get this fellow here to Ferndean. I want to interrogate him thoroughly once he wakes up.”

 

Between the three of us, we managed to get Beaver onto the cart, after I bound his hands onto his back. Miss Blackthorn was begging me not to do it, but Edward was anxious that he might get violent again, should he wake up before we reached home. We then wheeled the cart through the moorland and back to the road where Edward had left the curricle. With Beaver tight up at our feet, and the three of us cramped together on the seat, Miss Blackthorn drove us to Ferndean. She was the only one who could actually drive the contraption, me being ignorant still of how to do it and Edward being blind.

Once we reached the manor, Edward’s loud orders immediately made the house spring to life.

Beaver was carried away to the stables where he was to be fastened on a makeshift bed; his head wound was bathed and bound. Miss Blackthorn was whisked away by an agitated Alice to a guest room, and I was grabbed firmly by my husband and marched up the stairs and into our bedchamber.

Edward kicked the door shut, and I had barely the chance to put my lamp down before he seized both of my arms. In a fit of rage, he barked at me, “You, Jane Rochester, have some serious explaining to do! What were you thinking of, opening my letters and acting in my place without notifying me?”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Eleven

Chapter 11 – Peril and predicament

 

I had to get away before that man Beaver returned!

My bonds were not that tight but they were behind my back. I tried to wriggle them more loose but it only gave me more pain in my shoulders. After a while I gave up and looked about me. Outside it was dark so I guessed it must be later than five in the afternoon, but I had no inkling how late it really was. I had been unconscious, and there was no way of knowing how long . Blanche must have drugged me when she served tea earlier on.

In the shed, there was a lot of clutter lying around. What if I attempted to find something that could  sever my bonds? Unfortunately, my left leg was shackled onto the wall, and the chain was but a good three or four feet long. I ventured in the direction of a heap of rubbish nearby, relieved to find the chain long enough to investigate its possibilities, using my right foot to rummage through the debris.

Chips of wood and iron, nothing, however, with a sharp enough edge to cut the rope that bound my hands. Ah, a shard of glass! I managed to lie down, roll myself onto my back and, after a few miscalculations, was able to grab the chip of glass firmly into my fingers. Sitting upright again, I endeavoured cutting the rope.

It was hard labour. I cut myself in the wrists several times and it was a wonder I didn’t slice them. I do not know how I managed to avoid that. After a long, long time, I had freed my hands, but my wrists were bleeding, so I tried binding them with stripes of fabric I tore from my petticoat. It diminished the bleeding a little but not entirely.

My most difficult problem, though, was the leg chain. It bore a padlock the size of a fist and there was nothing at my disposal to deal with that. Discouraged and tired, I indulged in a few moments of despair. I wept; it is a woman’s ultimate way of coping with the cruel ordeals of life.

How many times in my life had I been desperate and miserable?

Since I had been a small child, since the first awareness beyond babyhood, I had experienced cruelty, first by my aunt Reed and secondly by the teachers of Lowood School. I had shed many a tear in my life and always, I had found solace in them. It lifted the heavy feeling of desperation and misery and it restored the mind and heart. It did then, too.

I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the next hurdle.

The vital thing to do was to free my leg, and I could not do so by unlocking or breaking the lock. But I could try and ease my foot out of the steel band. I have very thin ankles and feet and I am fairly lithe so I decided to give it a try. First I took my kid boot off, it was very dirty and scraped after all I had been through. What a pity, I thought, these boots were new and now they were as good as ruined! Secondly, I bent my ankle in a way that I was able to wriggle my heel through the steel ring. It was much harder than Ihad anticipated but I succeeded. My foot, hurting from the unusual stretching movements it had gone through, was free at last. I massaged it thoroughly to improve the blood flow.

Taking a deep breath of relief, I stood and headed for the door. Next problem, I thought, and gritted my teeth. Of course, it was firmly locked. Swallowing my disappointment, I looked around. It was night but there was a full moon; the wooden shed’s walls were made out of uneven boards with many gaps between them. There was a small window just under the rafters of the roof which was approximately at a distance of seven feet from the floor. This was too high for me, for I am not at all tall. Moreover, there was nothing lying around that I could use as a step-up. Nevertheless, I attempted to reach the window by means of a broken chair upon which I placed a wooden bucket upside down. It was a rickety construction but it held my weight just long enough for me to push open the window and hoist myself up. My legs tangled in my skirts, I was now balancing on my stomach on the narrow windowsill wondering how on earth I was to land outside without braking any bones.

Two seconds later, these wonderings were no longer a concern, for I was grabbed around my waist by two large hands, pulled down and placed upon my feet rather forcibly. The man Beaver had returned without me noticing, and he was holding my wrists so firmly that I feared he would break them.

Beaver2

He was a ghastly sight!

Well over six feet, broad and barrel-like, he growled and gasped, and the foul smell of his mouth wafted over me. I had to keep myself from gagging at the beastly features of this … creature while he shook me like a ragdoll.

“Bad … that was bad … you should not have done that! Milady will be cross with me now and she will do vengeance on me! She has said so and she will do it! If you run away, Beaver will have to pay for it! That’s what she said and she will do it!”

His voice was quaking with what seemed like sheer panic. He shook me so hard that my head was lolling back and forth. Although a heavy fear was threatening to paralyse me, I fought to keep my wits about me. How incredible it may seem, this giant of a man was, for some reason, intensively scared of Blanche Ingram.

“Mr Beaver,” I asked in what I hoped was a gentle voice, “Mr Beaver, please? Tell me what milady will do to you? Maybe I can help you?”

My teeth were rattling from his shaking me, and I had great difficulty in speaking those words. At least I had some result, for he stopped his movements and looked at me in disbelief.

“You? What can you do? You are small and weak; milady wants you dead! You are lying, you cannot help me!”

“Yes, I can, Mr. Beaver, I promise! My husband is Mr. Rochester from Thornfield Hall and he will stop lady Blanche!”

Beaver’s eyes grew round with panic now and he growled, “Rochester? He’s a murderer! He murdered his poor wife, milady said so, he’s the devil! You’re lying, he will kill me, he’s the devil, the devil from hell!”

With a mighty shove, he threw me down and I slit across the floor, bumping painfully into the wall. My head swam, and all little light there was seemed to vanish entirely.

When my consciousness returned, I felt Beaver’s big hands around my throat.

“I must kill you! Milady commanded me to kill you and I must obey her!”

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Ten

Chapter 10 – Poor, plain, obscure and little

Walking Jane3

It dawned on me that Blanche Ingram, this pretty little doll, this daughter of the aristocracy must be deranged, possibly even mad. The glint in her eyes made run shivers down my spine and, I knew that if I wanted to survive this, I had to be clever. Nobody had any inkling as to my whereabouts because they thought me on an errand. I had not even told Alice Fairfax. Therefore she would not begin to have concerns before dinner time. Edward was still lying prostrated with fever, he would not miss me for several hours. And where was Keithley, the groom? Had he be part of the conspiracy or had he been captured like me? If I wanted answers, my only hope would be to get them from Blanche and she would not tell me willingly. So I opted for a little subterfuge.

With a moan I let myself drop onto my knees which was not difficult since my legs were shaky enough.

“Please, Miss Ingram, I beg of you, please forgive me if I have insulted you in my ignorance. I know I have gone far above my station in marrying Mr. Rochester. I was arrogant where I ought to have been modest. I wanted to become rich because I could no longer bear to be poor. I was a nobody, as you said, and I resented that, so I accepted Mr. Rochester’s proposal.”

I dared to glance at her face after  had kept my eyes low during my supplication.

She was glowing with smug satisfaction, and I knew I was doing well. It was vital to keep her occupied.

“Miss Ingram, I know it is too late for me but what of Mr. Rochester’s groom? Is he injured? It is Mr. Rochester’s favourite man, he will not want to lose him.”

Blanche Ingram scoffed in a very unladylike manner.

“Ha, I am afraid he has lost him for good, governess! Beaver, my helper, had to shoot him after he put up such a vicious struggle. He seems to be rather attached to you, he did not want anybody to touch you. Unfortunately for him, Beaver had his firearm with him and used it, too.”

Only now I noticed the big heavy figure in the back, a real scarecrow of a man, with long, apelike arms, a chest like a beer barrel and muscles like steel cords. His big, shorn head and blunt, mean features did nothing to ease my mind, especially when he started to sneer at me. His teeth were yellow and crooked, his grin positively evil. He must have entered just now because I had not seen him before.

Blanche did not look at him when she asked in a very level voice, “Well? Have you buried the groom and disposed of the curricle, as I ordered?”

The henchman took off his greasy cap and stammered, “No, milady, I haven’t. He’s gone, nowhere to be seen!”

“What? What did you say, you stupid sod?” Blanche barked and again she had nothing ladylike in the least.

Beaver became more nervous by the second, and I wondered what hold Blanche had over this giant of a man to install such fear in him. His stammering increased significantly, and the look in his eyes became almost terrified.

“I … I said … well, milady, … the man has gone … and so has the curricle. There was nothing I could do, milady, please …”

From the now distorted lips of Blanche now escaped a howl of rage, so full of sheer madness that she looked like a wild animal instead of a fine-bred lady. Everyone present, Miss Blackthorn, Beaver and I, we all shivered with genuine fear at the sight of that usually lovely face now contorted by insanity.

“You idiot! You pathetic lunatic! I’ll have you pay for this! Come with me, this instant! We must cover our tracks immediately!”

She turned one last time to me and spat, “Do not think yourself off the hook, governess! When I shall send Beaver back to you, he can do what he likes with you, as long as he kills you in the end.”

Then, a cruel smile curled her mouth and she said dangerously softly, “He has taken a fancy to you, you know? I think I am going to permit him some liberties before he kills you. I might even stay and watch, I have always been curious as to how the lower classes satisfy their needs!”

My stomach heaved and bile rose into my mouth which I barely managed to swallow!

“Make sure she is tied onto the wall, Beaver!” Blanche ordered.

The stinking breath of the man wafted over me when he grabbed me and shackled my left foot onto the wall by means of a chain I had failed to notice before. After that they all left the shed and I was alone.

What now? What was there to be done? My brain seemed paralyzed, numbed, and my body was in an even worse state. I was cold, wet, dirty and extremely hungry. My limbs were trembling from exhaustion. I tried the bonds at my hands but they would not yield.

One small flame of hope was burning in my heart; Keithley had escaped with the curricle. He would surely raise the alarm but would the search party manage to find me? Where was I, for that matter?

Another thought added to my growing despair. How did Edward fare? Had his fever abated? Or not?

I was weeping now, not able to retain my tears of dejection. Would I ever see him again?

 

 

 

JOHN THORNTON, LOOK BACK AT ME *CHAPTER 10

Chapter 10

     The Cottage

 

They walked arm in arm down the tree lined street, towards the cottage that John hoped someday would be Margaret’s. He was thrust into the feeling of incredible contentment welling up inside of him. He didn’t care to analyze it; he just wanted to hold this tender sensation inside him forever. John had noticed the little house several times on his courthouse days. He was still finding it hard to believe that they were strolling toward a possible residence for Margaret’s return to Milton. John suspected she might like it. Its appearance seemed to be well suited for her, he thought. To him, it looked like a tiny white fantasy house. It had intricately carved ornamental trim, dragon scale wood siding, and a spindled banister porch on three sides. If a house could be male or female, this house would most definitely be female.

As they neared the cottage, Margaret excitedly pointed to it. “John,” she asked, “is that it? Is that what you wanted to show me? It looks precious from here. Oh, I hope that’s the one.”

“Yes, that’s it,” John reassured her. “With all the fancy woodwork and white paint, I think I should be cutting a piece and having it on my plate. It appears to have icing,” he added jokingly.

“Oh yes, hurry! Oh, it’s enchanting.”

Laughing to himself, John increased the pace of his stride. Earlier, he had to fall in step with Margaret’s little strides and now he couldn’t keep up with her. Life was heavenly at this moment, bringing him hope along with Margaret’s many enjoyable surprises and her cute feminine ways. It seemed as if the years that had torn them apart, had actually brought them closer. How odd when one considered how they had parted ways.

 

Where did it all go right?

Before John could locate the key in his pocket, Margaret was already running along the wrap-around porch, from window to window, peeking inside. As he opened the door, they were struck with the stringent smell of paint; undeterred, they proceeded to cover every square meter of the “little darling,” as Margaret called it. Occasionally she would say, “Oh, look at this,” as John studied the house from a totally different perspective: possible construction weaknesses, leaks, problems with the roof, dry cellar, faulty plumbing and more. He was pleased to see the little cottage had been refurbished with the most modern conveniences, such as indoor gas lights and an indoor lavatory with tub, all of which Margaret was familiar with, having lived in London. Leaving her to her decorating whims, John headed to the rear of the house. On the ground floor, he noted, with interest, there was a nice mud room with a drain and a secondary lavatory without a tub. Glad to see the back building, he walked to the small carriage house and noted it could stable one horse, with room for a small buggy, a tack room, and quarters overhead. He walked the outside observing the painted wood siding and other facets of the restored buildings. John remembered it when it was a home, but for many years it had been a bookstore that he had visited often. Since the expansion of Milton, many of the older main street small businesses sold out, making extremely nice profits. He was pleased to see the realtor had enough vision to restore the house to its original state. Satisfied with all that he had seen, he went looking for Margaret.

As John entered through the back door, he caught a glimpse of Margaret twirling around the empty kitchen like a ballerina. She was looking up at the ceiling, as she turned around and around with her arms outstretched. He stood there and watched the woman he loved more than life: seemingly enraptured by the probability that she would be living here soon. How precious these unguarded moments were, he thought.

Finally, realizing that John was at a distance watching her spin, she surprised him by saying, “Do you think I can afford it?”

John walked forward, catching her in his arms, and held her while her twirling dizziness subsided. Heat quickly rose within him. He tilted her chin up, looking deep into her eyes, then at her lips and back to her eyes for any sign of uncertainty. Finding none, his lips found hers, drawing her breath into him, kissing her fully for the first time. His kiss was warm and tender, possessed of passion and longing. John couldn’t help the moan that escaped between his lips. Margaret felt his lips soft in touch but firm in deliverance and her knees gave way to a swoon. John immediately caught her, delighted by her response. No other women had ever reacted like that when he had kissed them, but then he knew kissing Margaret was different; his heart was in his kiss. Pleased that she had not backed away like she had on the veranda, he gently released her. Having waited and dreamt of this moment for four years, John felt overwhelmed and he feared he might prompt an action that could have consequences she was not ready to face so quickly. Reluctantly, stopped it there, allowing the anticipation of the future to linger. Still cradling her to him, he finally answered her question, “Afford it? It shall be yours at any price.”

Margaret wrestled herself away from John and stepped back, slightly annoyed and a bit dizzy from the kiss. “John Thornton, I’m renting this house, I don’t need any help. If I can’t afford it, I will find somewhere else.”

 

Uh oh . . . the Margaret I remember first loving has returned . . . independent as ever.

 

“Well, I can tell how you love this white frosted cake of a house and I think it’s sound and solid. Let’s go see the agent, Mr. McBride, shall we?” John asked, as he extended his arm and completely ignored her little tantrum.

They walked back in silence, each dazzled in the moment they had just shared: their first kiss; a cherished moment to stow away in the chest of remembrances. Arriving back at the Professor’s place, the Professor and McBride were settling on pieces of furniture that remained in the house: these which would also be purchased by the Doctor. John and Margaret looked around at the furniture that was being discussed, waiting for an opportunity to talk with Mr. McBride.

When it eventually came, John began to ask, “We would . . .,” but Margaret interrupted him saying, “I would . . . like to speak with you for a moment, Mr. McBride, privately,” looking directly at John as she emphasized the word PRIVATELY.

“Yes, Mrs. Reed, anything you like,” he said as John handed the key back to him and he walked her to the back yard.

As much as he wanted to ensure a good price for her, John knew he was seeing what he loved most about Margaret, and that was her spirit. Smiling, he paced the room, watching from the window as he observed their conversation outside. First Margaret would frown, speak, and then smile. Next McBride would shake his head no, and then frown, speak and smile. It took some time but John thought the smiles had it by a slim margin. Twenty minutes after god knew what, John saw them shake hands, both smiling at the same time. “She’s coming to live here, and soon,” he said to himself.

Margaret had struck her own deal and she seemed quite proud. Good, bad, or indifferent, John could see by her face that she was pleased with whatever decision was agreed upon. Perhaps she would share that conversation with him later. Since the Professor was momentarily nowhere to be found, Margaret asked the agent if he had already purchased the very large upholstered wing chair in the future office room. Being told, no, she then asked that she be allowed to purchase it and have it delivered to her new cottage. She thought the chair looked large and comfortable enough for John, so she purchased it for his anticipated visits.

 

Following a lovely meal and a thoroughly enjoyable conversation at the Marlborough Mills home, the Professor Pritchard excused himself about two hours later, leaving John and Margaret to sit and talk. The three of them had been together most of the day, looking all over the city for furnishings. The Professor had bought most of the pieces that were left in the house, as he had no particular preferences other than the two desks and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves he was having made. Margaret, on the other hand, was looking for contents that would go well with the age of the house and had arranged to have several pieces custom made. John and Margaret had both agreed, since he was well known in the city, they would run the billing through him, and Margaret would reimburse him, when her finances were transferred to Milton. They had accomplished much in just a one day period and Margaret was excited about their progress. Dixon had a cook already lined up and John was to see about a chore man / driver.

 

It had grown late and Dixon came into the room and announced that she was going to bed and asked if they needed anything before she retired. Receiving “no thank you,” she went back downstairs for the night.

John sat slouched down in his chair, arms across his chest, long legs extended in front of the fire. Margaret lounged on the couch. Both felt full and tired, and especially pleased with themselves for their accomplishments of the day.

“John,” Margaret said, after a few moments of quiet, “one week ago, I was depressed, confused, and rushing towards flight out of London, and now my world has completely turned around. How is that possible?” she asked, somewhat puzzled, as she stared off through the window into the dark night, still deep in thought.

John came over and sat beside her on the couch, not facing her, but relaxed against its upholstered back, as he took one of her hands in his. “Margaret,” he said, softly, “I am sure you know how I have felt about you since I first met you. Someday I shall tell you about my first impression of you, shouting at me in the mill.” John smiled, remembering that, “I have thought about you every day for almost four years and suffered the loss of you, twice. I have dreamed of every possible way to win you, to love you, to make love to you and to possess you, forever. I am taking nothing for granted and I am not making any assumptions at this point, but you have to know how my life has changed in the last twenty four hours.” He gently squeezed her hand.

Margaret looked up at his handsome profile and spoke softly, “John, thank you for loving me all this time. You may find this hard to understand or think it woman’s intuition, but I could always feel you there . . . waiting . . . and I can’t explain how. You were always hovering somewhere in the twilight of my life and that brought me comfort, which I can hardly explain even to myself. It has seen me through many difficult times. I still have . . .”

John interrupted her, “Wait . . . please, let me speak first while I can,” he said, as he turned to face her, choking back the lump in his throat. “I have always loved you. I have waited a long time to have you near again, and I will wait forever if that’s what it takes you to accept me. I think you have some feelings for me, but I do not want you to feel compelled in any way to express them, at least not for a while. You have only been widowed for three months, and must have many conflicts within yourself to resolve, and a proper bereavement period to conclude. I know you are joyful right now, but a different reality could settle on you once you are comfortably situated in Milton. As much as I would like to carry you off to my bed right now, I know that would be wrong in so many ways. I do not want to scare you, pressure you, influence, or smother you. I’m going to keep my emotions reined as well as I possibly can, and I’ll wait for you to come to me. If I get carried away, just say no. I hope I don’t get to the point to embarrass us both, but my body doesn’t always listen to my brain whenever you are near.”

“John . . .” Margaret said, as she stroked his cheek.

Not wanting to lose his train of thought, he pulled her hand from his cheek to his lips and kissed her palm. “Margaret, let me finish, please. I love and desire you beyond all reason. I want to be everything to you, your friend, your lover, your husband, and the father of our children. I will always be at your side to protect you, to cheer you, to comfort you and to love you. But along with my depth of devotion to you, there must come honesty in your feelings. I do not want pity, or any sense of obligation, and I do not want to wear you down. I could not live with that. I will keep my self-respect, for if you turn from me, it is all I will have left. I can take a lot of rejection before it’s all too apparent that you do not care for me in the same regard. Just don’t say you love me until you are sure of your words, but I do love you and will all my life.” John leaned in and gave her a light kiss, then licked the drops, now, falling from her eyes.

Margaret closed her eyes; a hushed sigh escaped her lips, as John drank in the salt of her tears. With a silly incandescent smile, she said, “I wish I had more tears to shed right now.”

Snuggling deep into John’s strong arms, and resting her head on his broad shoulder, Margaret began her tale.

“I think I am in love with you; I am almost sure of it.” You ask me not to say those words just yet, because you fear I don’t know myself, I think. However, I will wait, as you ask, until I am sure that you know that I love you. You seem to need proof.”

John, smiled as he pulled her closer to his chest, encasing her with both arms, while his cheek rested against the top of her head.

“It is true,” Margaret continued, “that I have conflicts within me to resolve, mostly confidence. Not with regards to my independence, as you might think, but my confidence as a woman. With the Professor’s guidance and relentless soul searching, I now know why my marriage was a disaster.”

Margaret paused, wondering how to say what needed to be said.

“If you are to love me fully, you must know where my conflicts lie. I do not want to tell you this, but lying or holding back from you is worse. I now understand what I never saw before, and what the Professor discovered after my marriage to Booker. He has opened my eyes to the fact that my husband was strongly attracted to his male pupils. Perhaps, he never realized this until he married me, but young men were his preference. I will never know if he married me out of love or as a cover for his dark desires. We had no premarital relationships, so nothing was realized beforehand. Once he discovered the truth about himself, which must have been almost immediately, I knew little love and no passion at all. Unaware of any of this, I began to think it was my fault; I was too naive and inexperienced in the ways of passion. He never desired me, not even the pretense of desire. I lived with guilt over not being enough of a woman for him. In his eyes I was defective, or so I thought. This created deep scars and a total loss of confidence in feeling desirable to a man. We quickly grew apart, barely even touching. No good bye kiss in the morning, nothing – but worst of all, there was no explanation given as to why. I just continued in my misery. In all other ways, he was a decent husband, I guess, but for me, not where it counted – in my heart. I had moved from one setback in my life to another. I had reached the bottom of my existence. After my parents died, I didn’t think life could have gotten worse, but the misery became compounded with the feeling that I was being cast off, thrown away. I was of no use. This is the most terrible thing I will ever say: I don’t know what would have happened to me, had I stayed in that marriage for a life time, and I am grateful, I won’t have to know.

So she could liberate all her sorrow and clear her soul, John let her finish without making any comments. He just held her even tighter and kissed her forehead. He wanted to know all of her story. “Go on, Margaret.”

“It became painstakingly clear to me,” she continued, “that day on the veranda that Booker’s affection for me was far from what it should be, and I had taken it to heart as guilt. Then you said those words to me that I will never forget – “Oh, God, how I love you.” You said it in such a way that it tore my heart out because I felt you wouldn’t feel that way if you knew me as Booker did. I had often thought about you. I would pull you out of the twilight and I talked with you whenever I was alone. When I saw you a year later at the funeral, it was like someone turned on the light to my soul. At first, I felt ashamed thinking I was happy to be free of Booker, but then I realized it wasn’t him, it was you entering my life again, descending from my twilight. You weren’t there for him, you were there for me. It was my ‘someday’, and you rescued me that day. The Professor has tried to free me from my guilt. He told me how sorry he felt for me, as he watched the two of us, and saw the relationship spiraling down almost from the beginning. He knew it would get worse. He hadn’t been sure about Booker himself, but after we married it was confirmed, to him, in his mind.

John stroked her cheek and kissed the hollow of her neck, still holding her fast to him. Inside, he wanted to explode and put his fist through a wall or a face of anyone who could have treated her with such indifference, enough to make her despise herself. What she must have endured that year and half married and perhaps was still feeling. She believed she had married a real man only to discover disappointment; then she took the blame on herself for his lack of interest in her. This was more than John could stomach. Margaret was all the woman that any normal male could ever want and John knew she was everything to him. Wanting to find a way to reverse her wavering confidence and begin to dispel any self doubts, John initiated a delicate but passionate move. He gently picked up her hand, which he was holding and placed it lightly in his lap allowing her to feel his arousal for her.

“Margaret . . . know that you are a very desirable woman and never doubt that again.” John whispered, looking into her tear-filled eyes.

She startled herself, as she realized she wanted to know him in that way, but she hesitantly retracted her hand with a forced embarrassed look. Inside, Margaret was glowing from John’s physical reaction to her; it had lifted her. She scoffed to herself that propriety deemed this closeness was too soon. Awaiting the end of her bereavement period was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated. Margaret was blushing and feeling the warmth of that sensual moment from head to toe.

John did not miss a breath of her reaction.

She brought both hands to John’s face, holding him, as she initiated a light but firm kiss. John responded the same while he slowly licked her lips apart and tried to enter her mouth. Naivety surfaced, and she pulled back unsure of what he was doing.

Now radiating inwardly, and sensing her bewildered innocence of such a kiss, John pulled her back to his shoulder. He was exhilarated to find that this passionate act was new to her. Perhaps, he would be the first in her life for many other sensual pleasures. He selfishly hoped so.

“John,” Margaret said, “I want us to take our time. I want to, need to, know that I am what you want in a complete woman. Though I now know about Booker, now, I do not feel strongly about myself, yet.” Starting to laugh, she said, “I know you are anxious to help me find myself, but we must proceed at my pace. Can you bear with me?”

“Margaret, I can wait forever, because you are my life. I have no other options and wouldn’t want them even if there were. Being who you are, at your core, made that choice for me a long time ago. And yes, I . . . together . . . we will find you, you can be sure of that. But let me just say, I would still love you for the rest of my life even if real intimacy wasn’t possible. Never, ever think I love you for carnal reasons, alone. I have had experience in that area of life, and still I have waited for only you. I have had sex, but I have never made love. I have wanted only you, Margaret, to release what I know waits inside of me.”

They nestled in each other’s arms for a long time before retiring for bed. Again, a brief embrace was the only affection shown before going to their rooms. The air was heavy with unspent passion.

Separately, they each lay awake a long time, ardently cherishing the openness and honesty of the words imparted that evening. Words straight from their heart were starting to tie the bindings of love.

 

Dixon’s assignment was to gather a housekeeping staff for the Professor, which was to consist of a live-in housekeeper, a full time cook and a daily char person, whose duties included setting the fire and clearing the fireplace, scrubbing floors and a few more menial tasks. Dixon had already selected Margaret’s cook. She was also in charge of purchasing linen for the home, along with food, cooking utensils and daily chinaware for the kitchen; she would send Margaret the measurements for the window sizes. Margaret would take care of the fine china and silver later. If all of the furniture arrived, Dixon would be allowed to move in at any time.

John was in charge of finding a chore man / driver, who would be assigned all outside duties, such as cutting and stacking firewood, in addition to tending the fireplaces inside, general repairs and inconsequential yard duties. If needed, a part time gardener would be hired on a less frequent basis. The chore man would also be a coach driver, when and if that time arose, as Margaret was already planning on this for some time in the future. In the event that any major pieces of furniture didn’t arrive on schedule, Margaret and Dixon would remain at John’s residence until they were delivered. The chore man, however, was to begin as soon as he was found, and Margaret’s cook would begin next week at Thornton’s home. She had recently retired but didn’t find it to her liking. Eager to return to the kitchen, she would be preparing meals alongside John’s cook, in order to hone her old skills in preparation for her Margaret’s arrival if everything went according to plan. Margaret would return in three weeks, the week before Christmas, to her new home and life. John had promised to post to her every couple of days, and keep her informed of their progress.

 

As they waited for the Professor to come fetch Margaret for the train, John and Margaret stood at his parlor window, looking out at the workers going about their business.

“Margaret,” he asked, “Do you remember the last time we stood together looking out this window?”

It only took Margaret a moment to cast her mind back to the day of the riot. “Yes, John, that was quite a memorable day, as I recall.”

“In more ways than you know, Margaret.” John lifted her hair to see if there was any remaining mark from the stone that had felled her that day. There wasn’t, but John leaned down and kissed the spot where she had bled. “I haven’t spoken to you much about the mills; I didn’t care to waste words, with so little time, but when the strikers were at the door, the words you said to me that day changed my life and the life of everyone who works for me. Those words have been the very cornerstone of my success. I owe much of my success to you, you know.”

“Don’t talk piffle, John. I did no such thing. Don’t credit me for what you have accomplished.”

“Somehow, I knew you would say that, but one day I hope to prove to you, what that day inspired in me after your departure from Milton.”

John saw the carriage coming through the mill gate and pulled Margaret away from the window. “Margaret, I love you, and I will never tire of telling you so. I will live in anticipation until you are safely returned to Milton in a few weeks’ time. I will not have a moments rest while you are away. For you and me, our tomorrow has finally come.” John pulled her into his arms, kissed her lightly but firmly, and held her until they heard the knock on the door.

Dixon escorted Dr. Pritchard into the room and went straight to Margaret for a goodbye hug. “Miss Margaret, we will have everything ready and waiting for you. I’m so excited.”

John retrieved Margaret’s coat as he bid the Professor a cordial “hello.”

The Professor picked up Margaret’s bag, saying, “Hello all…so, Margaret… are you ready? Your carriage awaits, Milady,” and bowed from the waist.

Margaret laughed, as she told the Professor, “You’re stealing John’s lines.” Margaret and John smiled broadly at each other.

John accompanied Dr. Pritchard and Margaret outside, and handed Margaret into the carriage. He closed the door and Margaret leaned out of the window, “See you soon,” she said. John covered her hand, which was resting on the door frame, and squeezed hard on it , mouthing the words, “I love you” as the driver told the horses to ‘walk on’.

John returned to the top of his steps. Once again he was witnessing Margaret being borne away from him. His stomach roiled at the remembrance, but he was uplifted, as she looked back at him, dispelling one horrid memory with a brilliant new one, balancing the scales. He stood there thinking, long after the coach had departed the gates, how the memory of the two worst days of his life had been replaced with two new beautiful memories: This one, that had just happened, replaced the day Margaret left Milton four years ago; the other, Margaret’s appearance at his door two days ago, replaced the day he read that she had married.