Chapter One Hundred Three: Leaving

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It was hours later when the last drop of red blood trickled down his ghostly hand, into the bowl and overflowed into the growing crimson lake on the floor.

His face was sallow and translucent without the pinkish hue of blood coursing through his veins. The jaundice was now left unchecked and he appeared otherworldly in the lamplight, no longer human.

The chest no longer rose and fell. 

He was still. 

Faded.

I had cried and rocked in the corner as I watched and waited, surprised yet again that I had any tears left after all of the sorrows of the years. 

I cried for myself, for innocence long gone. 

And I cried for him. He had been dead even before this. There was no cure. No treatment. He would die sooner rather than later anyway, most likely choking on his own blood and vomit, suffocated by hemorrhaging from within. At least I had spared him that indignity, hadn’t I?  

When the flow of tears and blood had stopped, I stood and packed my few belongings. 

I stood at the doorway to the bedroom for a few moments more, staring at the shell of what had been a brilliant doctor, my lover. I wanted Nathaniel to wake, to hold me, to tell me everything would be fine. He would not. I knew he would not but the heart wants what the heart wants. 

I craved his forgiveness but I could not have it. Not in this life.

Gathering up my skirts, I tiptoed through the sticky blood covered floor and kissed him once more on the cold lips. 

Kiss me back…

I touched his cheek.

There was no life there. 

I turned on the landing to look back, panic welling up as the horror of what I had just done broke through my clouded senses. A bloody trail of footprints followed behind me, fading with each step. My stomach turned.

Oh, God.

Then I ran.

Chapter Ninety-Six: Buried Grief

  
It was October 1st, 1858. The dawn of a new life awaited me this day, surely. I had suffered long enough.

It had been a decade since I had last stepped foot off of a train onto the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and yet the place still smelled and looked the same: damp, gloomy, mysterious, and medieval. 

The wheels of the carriage jolted as they hit each pothole along the way. I could feel each one in my bones.  

There were untold secrets, magic lurking in every wynd, every alleyway…

“Here ye go, lassie. The New Calton Cemetery…” The driver paused as he handed me out of the carriage. The dim light of the moments just before sunrise made the concern on his face barely discernible. I handed him a few extra coins. “It is still dark and the ground is drookit. Ain’t ye feart?” 

The gate appeared closed but I could see the light, low fog beyond mingling with the dark stones. The graveyard stood on a hill overlooking the city. The watch tower lay just beyond the entrance.

“I will be fine, sir. I am visiting my husband’s grave, I know my way.” Lying had become second nature to me now. I smiled at him.

“Shall I wait fer ye?” 

“Yes, please.” 

I walked to the gate, pushing gently against the cold metal. I could feel the chill of the ironwork through my gloves. It gave way easily, opening with a slight groan of displeasure. I slipped inside and pulled it closed behind me.

I walked quickly. 

There was not much time.

The stones grew older as I went, skeletons, angels of death, skulls…

Northwest corner….

Soon I could see the dark figure of a woman, also in full mourning dress. Black ghosts in the mist. She lifted her veil as I approached.

“Mrs. Brierly,” I murmured, warily. I was still unsure if I could trust her.

She nodded to me, coldly, a half smile playing upon her lips. The arched stone rose up behind her. It was newer than the other stones around us, just large enough for someone to walk through.

“You are ready?” she asked.

“Yes.” I took a deep breath and drew myself up taller.

She pulled a slip of paper and a small, pointed knife with a gilt handle out of the reticule at her wrist. “Here is the address.” 

I glanced at it, then tucked it into my sleeve.

1203 Lauriston Street

“Come here.” She commanded. I stepped closer until I was standing next to the arch itself. “Let me have your right hand.”

I held out my hand to her. She pulled off the glove.

“This will hurt.”

She pricked my ring finger. I winced, resisting the urge to pull away. A drop of dark red blood rose up. Still holding firmly to my wrist, she wiped the blood across a name carved into the stone. 

The breath caught in my chest. 

It was her name. 

Died, October 1st, 1858 aged thirty-one years.

Before I could ask, she released my hand. She pulled the glove off of her own hand and removed her wedding band, handing it to me. She pricked her own finger, wiping it also across the stone letters, murmuring a few unintelligible words. 

She pulled a gun from her belt and laid it on the ground. “That is in case this does not work.” 

“Why?” I was confused.

Her gaze was distant, far away. “My daughters died in the typhus outbreak seven months ago. Watching your children die one after the other, burning with fever and out of their minds, knowing there is nothing you can do to save them….” Her voice trailed off. She looked at me again, suddenly, fixing me with her determined eyes. “There is nothing left for me here. I would rather die than continue in this hell.”

I felt pity for her.

A few bright rays of sunshine were piercing through the gray of the morning, falling into the archway itself.

“I am running away. Far away,” she said, smiling.

She pulled off the mourning veil and slipped out of the black dress. Beneath she wore clothing that curiously resembled a man’s work clothes. Brown pants. A homespun shirt that buttoned down the front. She pulled her hair out of the braids and mussed the curls. Using the knife, she cut her hair short, jagged, letting the discarded locks fall into a haphazard pile on the ground. A hat then covered the mess. She wore work boots on her feet, thick and crude and had fashioned a pouch around her neck. It appeared heavy and I could hear coins rattling against each other inside.

And then?

She stepped into the archway without even speaking another word and was gone. 

Gone? 

I circled the stone. Indeed. She had disappeared into thin air.

How?

I touched her blood stained name and a force knocked me backwards to the ground. For a few moments it felt as though I could not breathe. 

Slowly the air returned to my lungs and I stood up, looking around. Not a soul was present. At least not of the living kind.

I picked up the gun from the ground. It felt heavy in my hand. I debated taking it but instead put it back down. 

I would not be needing it. 

I looked closely at the ring in my hand and then slipped it on over my still throbbing finger. It should have been mine in the first place. I replaced the glove.

Dressed in mourning with the long veil, I would be able to slip into the house undetected, even in the bright light of full morning.

My heart sang as I walked back to the waiting carriage. 

Chapter Seventy-Six: Grievances 

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I brushed a small buzzing insect away from my face, waiting. 

We both eyed each other. 

“Who are you?” I repeated. 

Her smile continued, unwavering. “I am looking for Nathaniel Brierly.”  

stood silently, weighing my answer, hoping my face did not betray the fear. 

Oh, God! What did she know? 

Somehow I knew this day would come.   Be sure your sins will find you out… 

“I am not acquainted with him.” I lied. “Does he live around here?”  

Anne squealed and reached behind my shoulder for some imaginary play thing. I had turned her back to the woman as we had come up the walk. Now I shifted the weight to keep her from falling but this allowed her to grab my hair. The pain from the sudden yank stung in my eyes as I untangled her fingers and turned her around on my my hip.  

“I think you are… acquainted.” She motioned to Anne as the smile faded from her face. “How old is the baby?”

“I think you need to leave.”  

For a moment the veil lifted. Fear and hurt showed in her eyes. Her skirt shifted and the red silk fabric rustled like the whispering leaves overhead as she stepped forward, holding out her hand. 

I stared at the slim, pale fingers. No resemblance there. 

“I… I….” She stopped, pulling her hand back when I did not accept it. “My name is Mrs. Anne Brierly. He is my husband.” She appeared close to tears as she handed me a calling card printed with her name in black inked script. “Please.” She paused again, seemingly unsure of how to proceed. “I am sorry. I need to speak with you.”

I wanted to scream at her, to fly into a jealous rage. Bite. Claw. Kick. Spit. She shared his life! I only had a small part of it here in my arms.  

“Why?” I whispered. 

“May I come in?” 

Warily, I nodded my head and motioned for her to follow me inside.

She left her bonnet on her head as I busied myself preparing tea.  

“May I?” She wanted to pick up Anne. 

Anne wanted to hold Anne… 

nodded but watched carefully out of the corner of my eye as I put up the newly purchased goods and the kettle heated on the stove. 

She pulled the garnet earring out of her earlobe and dangled it before the giggling baby who chased it with her hands.  

“She is beautiful. What is her name?”

I hesitated. “Anne.” The woman stopped playing with the earring and looked over at me, surprised. “I didn’t know it was your name.”

She nodded, silently, then went back to playing seemingly satisfied.

“You have girls, too, don’t you?” 

She looked up, surprised. “Yes.” 

“How many?” 

 “Two…” 

“Any boys?” 

“Yes. Well. No. Actually no….” Her voice drifted off. We both understood what that meant. 

“What happened to her arm?” She asked softly. 

“It is a long story… not one that I am ready to tell as yet.” 

“Oh…..” She put the earring back in her ear.  

I put Anne down for a nap while the tea steeped. I took my time, hoping to steel myself for whatever was to come next. 

When I returned, we sat across from each other at the table in the kitchen. I poured the tea. We made eye contact over our teacups as we sipped, punctuating time with the clink of china upon china. 

“Why do you have his smile?” I finally asked her. 

She put her cup down delicately but a tremble in her hand made it rattle as it hit the saucer. She took a deep breath, then spoke softly. 

“Nathaniel was my second cousin. I was much, much younger than he. I looked up to him. I thought he was the most gallant and handsome man I had ever met. I rarely saw him but I spent my time infatuated, thinking only of what it would be like to be loved by him.” She shrugged. “I was just a little girl.” 

“One day he showed up again. He had completed his medical training and had toured in the States, talking about something or other.” She waved her hand dismissively. “I resolved to make him mine.” She steepled her fingers in front of her face and brushed her lips across the tips. “So I used everything in my power….” 

She paused for a sip of tea, realized her hand still trembled too much, then quickly put it back down.

“I was soon pregnant and family pressure forced a wedding.” She paused. “I gave birth to a boy. He… the baby… was not right. Only one eye. His face was split from his lip to his nose. His belly was turned inside out.” 

The hair stood out on my forearms.  

Just like my little Levi. 

“He died?” I asked. 

She nodded.

“Within a few years we had two daughters. His behavior at home was erratic and I saw less and less of him as he became more well known in Edinburgh. He would stay there for months at a time. 

“Finally, one day, he sent me a letter, saying that he was leaving for the Crimea. No explanation. Just leaving.” More anguish was showing on her face. “Every now and then we would get vague letters from him about the cold or the terrible food but they were rare.”

“When he finally came back, he was a shadow. A tortured soul.” Her eyes bored into me. “I didn’t know why.” Another pause. “He started to drink. Not just a little bit. No. Heavily. Drowning sorrows, he said. I thought it was because of his leg, the fact that he could not walk well any more, or because of things that he had seen…. there.” She lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “There were terrible stories, you know.” Then she laughed. “Of course you know. You were there. You were there with him, weren’t you?” Her voice cracked.

“Yes.” I breathed. 

“One night, in a drunken stupor he called me by your name. He talked to me about his leg. About you. To him I did not exist as myself, I was his dear Evelyn.” She sobbed out of grief and rage. “I felt what it was like to be loved by him that night….” 

There was silence for a few long minutes as we measured each other from across the table. I was unsure what to say. Finally, she spoke again. 

“I decided to find out who you were.”

Chapter Two: Society

The year of 1846, my friend Jane had her coming out in Cambridge society and in short order had a large compliment of suitors.  She spared no details of the parties and balls that she attended in her large collection of new gowns of Parisian silks and Italian laces.  She listed the attributes and drawbacks of all of the young men that sought her.  Some were too tall, some too short or too fat.  One had an odd high pitched laugh that grated on the nerves.  I was overcome with envy, listening to her exploits.  Tales of candlelight, mirrored ballrooms and fine crystal, military officers in full regalia…all left me breathless and dreamy. 

Upon my sixteenth birthday, it was announced that I would accompany my mother to Edinburgh, Scotland the following year for my coming out.  An odd choice one might think when if you could afford it families sent their daughters to London for the season, and yet my father had planned it in great detail in his mind.  There were no proper Scotsmen to whom to wed me located in any reasonable vicinity.  Edinburgh currently was the center of the intellectual world.  Where better to capture a future heir of sufficiently elevated breeding stock capable of carrying on his legacy than the land from which he came?  I was surprised that my father entrusted this pursuit to my mother, but he believed that he could not be spared from the business and felt that my mother would ultimately look after my best interest as her daughter, that best interest being securing a mate that could run the cotton mill and continue to provide a generous income for me. 

That same season, Jane settled on a handsome, dark haired young lieutenant named James Rush.  Her father could offer no objection, as the fellow was generally well liked, was the proper station, and had a substantial income from his family’s estate.  He was clearly besotted by her.  I was relieved to hear that she indeed loved him.  He had inherited a large estate just outside of Cambridge and thus, she would not be going far from me, leaving me overjoyed.  We spent many hours in the weeks that followed agonizing over the future events of the proposed wedding night, yet strangely very few hours agonizing over the future itself.  Neither of us had been given any instruction whatsoever aside from the raucous stories of the illustrious former governess.  Despite my mother’s clear grasp of the field she had offered no information to me, and it was with fear and trepidation that both of us looked toward that night.  Her wedding was a small, but elegant affair held in her home and attended by a select group of family and friends.  She was lovely in her white silk gown.  A light supper followed and then we said our good-byes, Jane whispering that she would tell me everything when she saw me next.  As she was bundled into the black, shiny carriage for the ride to her new home and the two dappled horses started out, Jane winked at me once then waved farewell through the window.

It was many weeks before I was able to see her again.  I traveled to her new husband’s estate by carriage for an afternoon tea at her invitation.  She had ceased to exist as Jane Smythe.  She was now Mrs. James Allen Rush.  Mr. Rush was away with the regiment and she pined for him throughout my brief visit.  By that time, it was well known that she was with child.  All conversation with her was about the impending arrival of the new little one and little else.  My curiosity about the wedding night, and my own fear of it, was not to be sated. 

My wardrobe for the upcoming season was slowly arranged under my mother’s most critical eye: new stockings, new corsets, new petticoats and crinolines.  Several traveling suits made for our voyage as well as a number of lovely ball gowns and day dresses.  New shoes and hats rounded out the ensembles.  Such finery held so much promise!  In a last push, my father insisted that I immerse myself in Scottish history.  I was forced to learn about William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scotts, the Highland Clearings… He bemoaned the fact that there was no good haggis to be had anywhere here, a fact that I must confess I was quite happy to hear once I had learned of its ingredients.

Our departure date was to be several weeks after Jane’s confinement and she sent a letter in her flowery hand requesting that I be present with her.  She would have a doctor in attendance, an idea foreign to me as all of the births I had witnessed had been to women too poor to afford such a thing.  James had been called away again she said in her letter, and it was not clear that he would be able to be present himself.  As mother and I packed for the few weeks we would spend with Jane, I was filled with dread.  I had not the heart to inform Jane of what was to come bringing this child into the world.  She had no one that could tell her of such things and had, I was afraid, entered into it with a substantial amount of ignorance and naiveté, despite the fact that her own mother had died doing the very same thing.  I was not sure if this was a blessing or a curse. 

When we arrived at the estate, the housekeeper showed us in.  I was greeted by a rather bloated, puffy version of my beautiful Jane who could only be described as blissfully happy despite her delicate condition.  We spent the next several days reading together and again enjoying each other’s company.  However conversation never could be swayed to the topic of my chief concern:  marital relations.  I had the distinct feeling that she did not wish to discuss it and could artfully direct the conversation in the opposite direction the instant I started to broach the subject without seeming too overt.  It had been almost two weeks since our arrival when I was stirred from sleep by a rather insistent knocking on the door of my bedchamber.  It was one of the maids informing me that Jane’s labor had begun and she was asking for me.  I quickly threw on a robe and followed behind the upheld lamp, led by the maid to the birthing room around the corner that had been set up with all of the necessities. 

“The doctor has been sent for, ma’am.” The maid nodded in the direction of my friend who was on her left side, groaning.  I quickly sat down on the bed and wrung out a fresh cloth in the water basin on the table beside us.  The cool cloth as it touched Jane’s neck caused her to open her eyes.  There was terror in them as she gasped for air and then closed them again, clutching at the bedclothes as the next contraction rolled over her.  She was burning up with fever.  It was then that I realized that there was an inordinate amount of blood on the sheets already.  My heart in my throat, I grasped her hand as my heart tightened. 

“Fetch my mother, now.” The maid left obediently.

My mother arrived a short time later, taking in the scene.  It was now five o’clock in the morning.

“How long has this been going on?” she asked the maid.

“Since shortly after retiring for the evening, ma’am.”

It was over an hour before the doctor arrived with his bag.  He was a thin, wiry man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a high, furrowed brow.  He discretely slipped his hand beneath the sheets, then pulled it away just as Jane arched her back and let out a blood curdling scream of agony.  He made eye contact with my mother and shook his head as he washed his hands in another basin and motioned for her to follow him out of the room.   I also came, leaving Jane with the maid at her side.

“The baby is no longer alive.  I don’t know how long it has been so, but it is likely to have been a number of days,” he said in a low voice.

“What do we do?”

“Nothing.”

My mother nodded understanding.

I was outraged.  “What do you mean, nothing?” I whispered harshly.

The physician turned to look down at me.

“There is nothing to be done.” He placed extra emphasis on the horrid word.

“Can you not do something to dull the pain?” Bless my mother for asking.

“I can give her some laudanum, but only a small amount.”

“She has fever.” I said simply, something inside me knowing what this meant.

“Yes.  The infection means that she will likely not survive this,” he replied simply.

Another loud moan pierced the silence from within.  I hurried through the door back to her side.  The moan was drawn out and the pain clearly left her breathless.  “Evelyn, something is wrong.  It’s not right,” she panted.  I nodded. 

My mother returned with a small bottle in her hand, the laudanum.  She dosed what seemed like a tiny aliquot into a spoon and placed it at Jane’s lips.  Jane grimaced at the taste of the bitter liquid, but seemed to rest a bit afterward.  A number of hours passed with Jane stirring every few minutes, moaning, then seeming to rest.

“Her husband must be sent for.”  My mother had said, rising from a nearby chair much earlier.  “I will see to the arrangements.”  She and the maid had not returned. 

I moved back to the bed, brushing back Jane’s hair from her damp forehead as she writhed again, clearly in pain.  The fire crackled in the grate.  The clock read midday.  I was helpless to ease her suffering aside from the laudanum.  Jane had failed to pass the stillborn body, and it still lay wedged, festering within her.  I longed to ask someone how long this could go on, but I was afraid to leave her alone.  What if she died alone in this room? 

Shortly before nightfall, James arrived.  I could hear what could only be his hurried footfalls on the stairwell, coming down the hallway, pausing for a few seconds with his hand hesitating on the door itself.  I stood as he entered and backed away from the bed.  His jaw was set as he strode across the carpeting, but I could see the shock dawning in his face as he took in the sallow remnants of the woman he loved, fading away before him.  What does a man do when faced with a love like this?  I now know that he falls to his knees at her bedside, his body shaking with great, silent sobs, and with his shoulders bowed with the weight of his grief takes her hand, pressing it to his cheek.  I stood there in the corner for some time transfixed, afraid to stir but at the same time feeling great volumes of guilt for witnessing such a private moment.   Jane groaned loudly and thrashed a bit, clearly not recognizing James through her pain.  There was a strangled sound that escaped from James’ lips at this, rousing me into action.  I stepped toward the bottle of laudanum.  My hands shook as I poured a large amount into the spoon and bent to press it to her lips, gently lifting her head.  When she had taken it, I poured another spoonful and gave it, too, and a third.  Finally, I stopped and backed away.  James stayed by her side, whispering soothing things to her as the minutes ticked by until she finally passed.