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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Nine

Chapter 9 – True colours

Blanche 2

 

I was cooling my heels for more than a quarter of an hour when the drawing door opened to let

Blanche Ingram and Edwina Blackthorn in. I had barely the time to look at the slender, dark-haired young woman with the remarkable green eyes when Miss Ingram exclaimed, “You? What are you doing here? Where’s Edward? We were expecting Edward, not you!””

Her companion turned to her in something of a panic.

“Blanche, we can’t … we mustn’t …”

“Hold your tongue, Edwina! I will do the talking as I am in charge of this!”

In a few strides she was upon me and savagely took my arm, her long nails digging into my flesh.

“You paltry little mouse of an upstart governess, why have you come here? Had I known you would turn up, I would have asked the footmen to throw you out at once! Where’s Edward, answer me!”

She shook my arm and a stab of pain shot through my shoulder, still not recovered from Mason’s manhandling. By now I was furious and I wrestled free of Blanche’s hold.

“You will have to do with me, Miss Ingram! Edward is indisposed and …”

“Indisposed?”, she said in a threatening voice, “How so? What has happened to him?”

“I’m sure that is none of …”

With a shrill cry she slapped me across the face and shoved me so hard that I fell onto one of the settees and violently hit my head against the wooden back.

“Tell me!”, she shouted and as she did so, she didn’t resemble the least of the sophisticated young lady she was supposed to be.

“Edward is in bed with a fever,” I replied, unwilling to give her more information than was necessary.

Miss Blackthorn seemed to have regained some kind of composure by now and laid an imploring hand on Blanche’s arm.

“Please, dear Blanche, recollect yourself. Mrs. Rochester was kind enough to come here and inform us of Mr. Rochester’s illness. We should be thankful for that. Let’s reconsider what is to be done.”

Blanche Ingram looked at her and then, after a few moments, nodded.

“Mrs. Rochester, allow me to present my humblest apologies. I don’t know what came over me. Please find it in your heart to forgive me and accept a restoring cup of tea before you leave.”

While she went to the wall and pulled the bell cord to summon a footman, I studied her covertly. What a turn of mood. Had I not felt my stinging jaw where she had hit me, I would not have believed it had actually happened.

The next half hour passed like in a dream. I drank tea with the pair of them and I was glad to take off afterwards and climb into my waiting curricle. Keithley drove off and we had soon left the premises of Ingram Park to ride homeward through the moors. My head swam with everything that had transpired in that drawing room. I felt strangely dazed as if I was very tired. The usual warm rays of the spring sunshine were like balm to the skin of my upturned face. Lulled by the gentle rocking of the curricle, I dozed off.

Dishevelled Jane

Almighty God, have mercy on me …

I must still be on the Moors for it was very cold. It was night … oh, sweet Lord, I’m begging you, let Death come quickly so that I suffer no more…

Edward … I had fled from Edward because I had no right to be his wife … the memory shot through me like the stab of a spear! Edward was forbidden to me, we would never be together …

Please, Lord, give me rest … let me die now …

 

 

 

A splash of freezing cold water startled me right back into life, and I gasped and spluttered to get my breath.

Blanche Ingram’s bored voice drawled somewhere above my head, “Come on, you lazy bitch, wake up! You there, man, drag her upright. I want her to see me when I talk to her.”

A ruthless hand hauled me onto my feet and propped me against the wall in a not so gentle manner. My already sore shoulders suffered a fresh stab of pain, and I winced. Then I opened my eyes.

I was in some kind of wooden shed or outhouse with an earthen floor and a straw roof. All kinds of rubbish lay across the room, and the smell of rotten hay indicated that it had been used as a stable at some point. My arms were bound behind my back and before me, all elegance and beauty, stood Blanche, a handkerchief pressed against her nose and mouth. My body ached, and I was cold to the bone but I straightened my back and looked her in the eye.

“You troublesome, interfering, lowborn busybody, have you any inkling of how much I loathe and hate you? First you thwart my prospects in marrying Rochester and now you prevent me of taking revenge on him, it is too outrageous! It is insufferable and you will pay for this, you miserable nobody of a governess! You will pay the highest price possible, your life! You will die here today, Jane Eyre, I must have my revenge, I demand it!”

“Blanche …”

Only now I saw the lithe figure of Miss Edwina Blackthorn in the background. She laid her hand on Blanche’s arm in a gesture of supplication.

“Blanche, please, we cannot do this! We must set Mrs. Rochester free and make our apologies to her and Mr. Rochester. There’s already done too much damage and …”

“Shut up, you little coward! I am in charge here and I will have what I want! She dies this instant!”

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Eight

Chapter 8 – Sins of the father

Scowling Rochester2Immediately, I knew this letter was meant to be trouble. It was extremely improper for an unmarried young woman to be writing to a married man, as propriety dictated that she should write to his wife instead. I quickly propped the letter into my skirt pocket and went looking for Alice Fairfax.

Our excellent housekeeper was overseeing the kitchen activities regarding preparing lunch, cleaning silver ware, readying fire places and tending to household linen, all these tasks performed by a small staff of five maids. It occurred to me that we would need a larger number of servants, especially when Edward was planning to restore Thornfield Hall to its former glory.

“Alice,” I said, “please, make sure that Master is always watched during his sickness. Send Leah or one of the others to sit by his bedside.”

“Yes, of course, Jane, I will attend to that instantly. Are you in need of food? I will have lunch ready in no time.”

I shook my head and thanked her, eating was now the last of my concerns. Instead I retired to the parlour and sat down at my small escritoire. There I retrieved the intriguing letter from my pocket, took one deep breath and opened it.

The content was prone to shock me to the very core.

 

Mr. Rochester, sir,

 

Please allow me to beg for your presence at the meeting my solicitors have planned, a meeting to which you will by now have been invited by the said gentlemen in an official document.

It is of the uttermost importance that the affairs of the past should be resolved in the most satisfactory way, as you will no doubt understand when you read their missive.

I am, however, prepared in meeting you previously at Miss Ingram’s family estate, Ingram Park, on Wednesday next at two pm, to make sure we can come to a mutual point of view in this matter.

It was my mother’s most fervent wish that you and I be on the best of terms, following the nature of your acquaintance with her.

 

Most sincerely,

 

Miss Edwina Blackthorn

 

Harbouring the most dire forebodings, I tucked the letter back in my pocket and rushed back to the hall. On the salver I found the said missive of Mss Wakefield, Mortimer and Shaw, solicitors in Newcastle. Not bothering to return to the parlour I ripped it open and devoured its content with eager eyes.

In a neat clerk’s handwriting the presence of Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester of Ferndean Manor, formerly of Thornfield Hall, was requested in the offices of the solicitors on Thursday next at eleven a.m. to be made part of the will of the late Adelaide Blackthorn, née Eshton, of Wolverlair Abbey in the county of North Yorkshire.

No more information was offered, but I was certain something really compromising for my husband  was afoot. The name Eshton made it abundantly clear that it could prove to be even nasty, for John Eshton, Edward’s best friend, had inherited of the family estate of Eshton Hall the previous year. Eshton Hall was situated, as I soon discovered when I went to consult an atlas in the library, near Wolverlair Abbey. They were neighbouring estates. I daren’t formulate my thoughts as yet; I wanted to hear what Edward had to say on the matter. For now, there was nothing to be done, since my injured husband was still asleep and would need to rest. I busied myself with household matters for the rest of the day, banishing the troubling thoughts to the back of my mind.

 

In the course of the afternoon, Edward’s condition worsened. By 7 pm, he developed a fairly high fever, and by the time Dr. Woodhouse arrived, my husband was tossing restlessly on his bed, shivering and sweating. Alice and I, helped by the doctor and assisted by Johnson, who acted as a temporary valet to my husband, made efforts to lower the fever by bathing Edward in lukewarm water. The doctor administered him a dose of laudanum, and we had him back in bed with the fever considerably lessened. He had not yet calmed down, so I sent everybody away and went to lie down beside him on the bed. I took his head upon me shoulder and talked quietly to him until he fell asleep.

I drifted in and out a fitful sleep all night, being called to attention every time Edward stirred or mumbled. At the break of dawn, I quietly slipped from the bed and dressed myself to go downstairs to a still empty kitchen. Even Alice was not yet up.

Although I was bone-tired, I knew I wouldn’t have any rest until these disturbing matters would be cleared. First there was Mason and his threats against Edward and on top of that there was the letters and what they implied.

I knew very well that Edward had been no saint in the years before I met him. Yet the thought he might have had sexual intercourse with someone related to his friend Eshton was utterly revolting to me. In the letter, Miss Blackthorn clearly implied that she very possibly could be Edward’s daughter. If there was only a remote possibility of this being true, I would need to know before Edward did. I wanted to become familiar with the knowledge in order to process it. It was vital in nursing my bruised self-respect rising from the proof of my husband’s philandering.

So I wasn’t going to tell him about the letters and would deal with the matter myself.

 

Edward had a fever for three days. It rose to high temperatures in the afternoon with a peak around ten p.m. Alice and I had our hands full trying to lower it, in which we usually succeeded around midnight. After that Edward sank into a restless sleep until around six in the morning, at which time his sleep became nearly comatose. I was thankful for that, for it allowed me a few hours of much needed sleep myself, before the day began. During the morning, he was usually well enough to sit up in bed and consume some broth or porridge, though he seemed never to be fully awake. After the meal, he would drift away into a light sleep until the fever came up again.

Then, on the next Tuesday, the fever slackened considerably. Edward slept through the afternoon and by nightfall he was fast asleep for the first time in days.

So was I, finally; a fact which made me get up on Wednesday in a refreshed state of heart and mind. I meticulously prepared myself for the visit at two p.m. and ordered Keithley, our groom, to take me to Ingram Park in the curricle. I had, of course, never been invited to the majestic Georgian palace-like building, set in its beautiful grounds that was Blanche Ingram’s home. A governess had no place there, not even when she was married to Edward Rochester, whose wealth largely exceeded that of the impoverished Ingrams.

When I was ushered in by a stately walking statue of a butler and let into a majestic drawing room to wait for Miss Blackthorn, I experienced some doubts about the whole business for the first time since receiving her letter. What if she wouldn’t care dealing with me and demand to see my husband instead?

 

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Seven

Chapter 7 – Edward’s tale

Bertha “After you left, I was a wreck, Jane.”

Edward paused to draw breath and grasped for my hand which he clutched hard.

“I lived like someone who was clubbed on the head; numb, lethargic, and utterly miserable. I roamed the Hall and the lands around it for hours and hours. I yelled at everyone who dared speak to me. I did not eat, could not sleep, found no rest or solace. My heart seemed to have died within my breast, my mind to have fled from my head.”

“Edward …”, I whispered, but he silenced me with a small hand gesture.

“After a time, it slowly got better. I found I could sleep for a couple of hours after I drank myself into oblivion. Mrs. Fairfax, dear soul that she was, kept forcing food on me, and at some point I began taking it in again. It was not a moment too soon, for I had lost some twenty pounds by then. When my strength came back, I began noticing my surroundings again and also, Adèle. The poor mite was as lost as I was, Jane, and I, great, big, selfish lout had not seen it.”

He leaned back somewhat tired, and I offered him a glass of water, which he avidly drank.

“So Adèle and I comforted each other. In the evenings, she came to sit with me in the drawing room and told me what she had done with her day. It seems that she had been keeping up with her lessons as if you were still there. At that point, it occurred to me I ought to take over her education and I busied myself in teaching her. I read several books with her, I took her on a visit of England’s most famous landmarks.  Through her young and unbiased eyes I, blind as I was, experienced a new understanding of those places. As a result, Jane, I found myself healed by her youthful enthusiasm, so much that my heartache did not burn so fiercely anymore. I came to be in some kind of peace, a truce after the onslaught of my deepest emotions.”

“Edward, I am so sorry for all that has happened …”

“You are not to blame, Jane, you of all people are certainly not at fault. But let me continue. Adèle wished to go to a boarding school in Newcastle, and I arranged for her to go. She was happy there and made good progress with her learning. I was alone once more, however, and it was even harder to bear than before. Bertha had become even more difficult to handle and Grace Poole, her keeper and servant, was at the end of her wits. Bertha attacked her one night, stabbing her in the chest, and we had to transfer her to the physician’s house in a nearby town. Poor woman nearly died, Jane. Nobody wanted to attend to Bertha from then on, they were all scared to death, so it was up to me.”

Fire

By now I watched with fear that he was exhausting himself rapidly.

“Edward, you must stop now and rest. I shall hear the rest after you have slept …”

“No, dearest!”, he cried and gripped my hand even more powerful.

“No, Jane, listen! Bertha, realizing I was her keeper now, began clinging to me almost in an unbearable manner. She refused to eat, to sleep, to be quiet, and she would howl whenever I came into her room. Whenever I let my guard down, even for a second, she tried to attack me, using everything she could get her hands on as a weapon. I was forced, finally, to tie her onto her bed by hands and feet, there was no other way of handling her. Then one night, she managed to escape her room; how I do not know for she was bound as usual. She had been howling for days and nights by then, and the staff was not getting any rest. I had granted them a week’s leave to recuperate, so that night I was alone in the Hall. I was lying on my bed, I had fallen asleep, thoroughly exhausted after I’d tried and failed feeding Bertha. It was just like before, on the night you found me in my burning bedroom. This time I awoke coughing and choking from the smoke, and when I managed to get out of my room, the whole North wing was already in flames! I had to cover myself with my wet cloak to pass through the fire into the tower where Bertha was. When I burst into her room, she was not there. She was outside, on the battlements, standing on the edge, barefoot and in her nightgown, her arms stretched out as if she wanted to fly away. I jumped outside in an attempt to reach her, but between her and me flames were already leaping out of the roof. I called her name, pleaded her to step away from the edge, but she just stood there, rocking and flapping her arms, a strange, insane smile on her face. I managed to jump over the fire, at some point, and edged my way to her, dodging flames, when, suddenly, she leapt from the wall like a huge white bird. I saw her crash onto the stones of the courtyard …”

Edward gasped, and I saw to my abhorrence that he was shaking like a leaf. Tears were running down his face and it seemed as if he could not draw breath.

 

“Dearest, stop, please?” I begged him. My heart was crying for him and the poor wretched creature that had been his wife. I stroked his face, dried his tears, kissed him. I raked my brain as how to ease his pain. When I leaned over to him, he flung his good left arm about me and buried his face against my breast, gasping in sheer misery. My trembling hands smoothed his tousled curls, and I whispered sweet little nothings to him, until he seemed to calm down a little.

“So you see, Jane, I finally paid for what I did, all those years ago by marrying her without taking the precautions of looking into her family. I was young and stupid, and I paid for it.”

Suddenly he scoffed harshly.

“Seemed I did not pay it to the full! After Bertha had jumped, I endeavoured to get out of that inferno as quick as I could, numbed by what I had seen. When I reached the great wooden staircase in the hall, it collapsed, and I fell into a sea of flames. I have been unconscious for two whole weeks, they tell me. The left side of my body was burned, and I lost two fingers on that hand. I was blind. The doctors told me I must have had a vicious blow to the head because I was found buried under a pile of rubbish in the cellars. That must have saved my life, a large beam had fallen onto my body and protected me from being buried alive. There had been enough air for me to survive until they came searching for me.”

“I cannot thank the Lord enough for sparing your life, Edward. I only wish I had been there for you. It was wrong of me to run away, I know that now.”

“No, sweetheart, you were right to do so. I was selfish enough wanting to take you as my mistress without a thought for your reputation. I will never forgive myself for that.”

By now Edward was breathing very hard with sheer exhaustion.

I hastened to give him some laudanum and a drink of water. Then I undressed to nothing but my chemise and went to lie beside him under the covers. After a while he fell asleep, his head on my chest. I, on the other hand, lay awake for a long, long time.

 

I slept very late, the following morning and woke to find Edward was still immersed in a comatose-like sleep. As quietly as possible I rose and dressed, determined to make sure no more disturbances befell upon our budding marriage.

Descending the stairs I noticed the great pile of mail George had put on the salver, and I eagerly ruffled through it. One letter instantly captured my attention because the soft, lilac colour of the paper and the round, graciously formed handwriting suggested a female hand.

My curiosity, however, was raised when I read the name of the sender, Miss Edwina Blackthorn, and the addressee, Mr. Edward Rochester of Ferndean Manor.

After I Married Mr Rochester – Part Six

Chapter 6 – Torn by doubt

Rochester's Damaged Face

 

 

I could scarcely believe it!

There I was sitting beside my husband’s sick bed, staring at his prostrated body; Edward was still deeply sunk in unconsciousness. We had been married for only one day …

During the long hours of my watch, I relived the terrifying events at the Hall. I was not shaken by Mason’s behaviour – no, not at all. In fact, I pitied the man; he had lost a beloved sister in a most atrocious way and he obviously was still in shock over it. Not for a moment had I thought myself in danger, not even when the gun was held against my head. I was convinced that, given the opportunity, I could have talked him out of hurting us.

No, my fears and worries originated from the very strange reaction Edward had when he heard that Mason had been a witness on that terrible night.

My husband, when again confronted with Bertha’s death, had been horrified, and more specifically, when Mason had accused him of murdering his sister. I knew I could never forget the look of strong abhorrence on Edward’s face, nor the frozen bearing his body took, as if a part of him was dying on the spot.

I only knew what had taken place on that dreadful night from what Edward had told me. From what the servants whispered when they thought themselves unobserved. Edward did not speak much of his wife’s death. Although his love for Bertha had died long before he knew me, he had always done the best he could for her. Moreover,  he had never harmed her, not even when, on numerous occasions, Bertha had attacked him. So, in view of all this, I did not think he had wanted her to die. If he had told me the truth, then he had done all he could to save her. If he had told the truth …

My hands flew to my face, in disgust over my own thoughts!

I loved Edward to distraction; he was my husband, for God’s sake! How could I even think such horrendous things!

But I did. At the time of Bertha’s death, Edward had been deeply in love with me. I had run away from him, abhorring the thought of committing bigamy or becoming his mistress. The only person standing between the two of us had been Bertha. The temptation of doing away with her must have been enormous for him. Had he actually pushed her? Or had he refrained from helping her in those final moments, when she stood on the edge of the battlements’ precipice?

 

When Sophie entered to take her turn to watch the patient, I went to look for Mrs. Fairfax. It was near dawn,and I knew I would find her in the kitchen, readying herself for the tasks of the new day.

“Mrs. Fairfax,” I asked, when we were seated at the large oak table enjoying a cup of tea, “do you know what happened on the night Thornfield Hall burned down?”

I had startled her. She looked at me with huge eyes in a deadly white face.

“What? What is it, Mrs. Fairfax?” I urged, suddenly very much concerned. However, she had already recovered and shook her head.

“I don’t really know, Jane, I’m sorry. The master had given us leave for a few days, and I went to visit my sister in the village. She’d just become a grandmother by her daughter, and I hadn’t seen the baby yet … but …”

“Yes, Mrs. Fairfax, but … what?”

I could see she was now very upset and I took her hand in mine. If I was to go to the bottom of this, I needed her to be my ally.

“Dear Mrs. Fairfax, Alice … my husband was very badly wounded yesterday by the hand of Richard Mason, brother to the first Mrs. Rochester. What little I know of Mr. Mason, is that he is a kind man. I cannot imagine why he would want to harm the master. They used to be good friends. Mr. Mason must think the master has done something terrible to his sister, but I cannot believe such a thing. My husband cannot be a murderer, Alice, I refuse to think him one. So I must contrive to find out what really happened that night when Mrs. Rochester died.”

Mrs. Fairfax looked me in the eye now, her face still very pale and her eyes haunted.

“Oh, Jane … there is some talk amongst the country folk about the master. Some believe him to have pushed his wife to death from the battlements.” Her voice broke with misery, and I felt my heart grow cold!

“Were there any witnesses? Has anyone seen anything?” I asked softly.

“No. There was an inquest, of course. The coroner asked for witnesses to come forward, but none came! The master was acquitted of every suspicion.”

“Acquitted? Was there a trial, then?”

“No, of course not! For a powerful landlord to be imprisoned and put to trial, a coroner needs to have impeccable proof of foul playing and there wasn’t any, only talk and gossip!”

Yes, of course, I thought, the rich and powerful answered to different laws than the poor did.

 

Later, when had returned to my husband’s bedside, I pondered over all the facts I had been given.

One question stood out clearly in my mind; how was it that people were gossiping about Edward being his wife’s murderer, when there had been no witnesses that night? Could it be true that Mason had indeed witnessed something? Why had he not come forward at the inquest if that were true?

Someone must have started these rumours. Why? Who?

Edward suddenly stirred and moaned. Thank God! He was coming round! I sprang to my feet and took his hand.

“Edward …”, was all I managed to say before my voice gave way. It was enough. His eyes fluttered open and I saw he had recognized my voice and smiled.

“Hey, my dearest witch … ouch! My head … how come I have such a splitting headache? What’s happened?”

“You were injured, yesterday. Do you remember our encounter with Richard Mason at the Hall?”

“Yes … yes, I do now …”, he croaked and tried to sit up.

“No, Edward, you must stay down, the doctor says you have concussion,” I urged him.

“Right he is! Why do I feel so weak, Jane?”

“You were shot. You have lost a fair amount of blood but Edward …”

I hesitated, afraid of having to upset him. My conscience, however, was not to be silenced.

“Edward, please, you must tell me about the night Bertha died”, I said softly. “I think that as your wife, I have a right to know …”

He turned his blind gaze to me, and I saw tears coming into his eyes.

“Jane, I swear I did not kill her! Say you believe me, Jane, I beg you, please say it!”

I swallowed back my own tears now.

“Dearest, I cannot for the life of me think of you as a murderer. But Mason said he saw you pushing Bertha over the edge and …”

“He’s lying! He’s bloody lying, Jane!”

This outburst of rage cost him a fit of coughing, and I had to steady him because I was afraid he might cause his arm wound to bleed.

“Shhh! Shhh! Calm yourself, Edward, please?”

I gave him some water to drink and then I settled him against the pillow.

“Now, tell me everything, from the very first beginning.”

Taking a deep breath Edward began recounting the events of that wretched night.