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-Nine: Honor

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“Evelyn, I….” The hoarse words caught as his thick tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He cleared his throat. “I… Are you… Evelyn?” He leaned forward, squinting against the light from the window. It threw him off balance and he swayed a bit, then steadied himself with his free hand. 

He took a swig from the bottle again and wiped his mouth with a grimy sleeve.

All of this time I had imagined our reunion, playing the possible permutations over and over again in my heart. It always ended the same way: Love. Joy. His embrace. 

This was none of those things. 

I was too late…

I wanted to retch.

This shadow was no longer the man I loved. I had been duped. I cursed that woman under my breath. I should have known better. So foolish.

I cannot not stay here. 

Frantic thoughts.

I retied the bonnet quickly, lowered the veil. Snatching up the valise from the dusty floor, I hesitated for a moment.

“No. I am not Evelyn. I am sorry. I have made a very grave mistake.” 

He stared intently as I crossed from the window, past the chairs. Recognition crept slowly across his face, then left again.

Another uncertain swig.

Reaching the door, he grabbed my arm, pulling me close up against his body. He struggled to focus the jaundiced eyes, his face inches away from mine. Even filtered through the fabric of the black veil his breath was rancid with decay.

“Let me go!” I hissed as I yanked my arm away.

“Anne?” He moved to stand in front of me, strangely agile for a man who moments before had looked as if he would topple over. “You came back?”

“No.” I shoved him hard. 

In slow motion I watched as he fell, crumpling to the floor. 

He moaned.

Love was supposed to be unconditional? I felt nothing for this man. No remorse. No hatred. No sadness. No love.

Who am I, now?

My whole identity had been wrapped up in him for so long…

But then, there was the other half of that question:

How did I become so cold, so calculated? So unremorseful?

I stepped across his body, lying motionless across the threshold, and made my way down the stairs. 

The arrogance of pursuing what we cannot have. It is blinding, maddening.

Back in the cool morning air, I breathed deeply. My feet carried me several blocks away, weaving in and out among the men on their way to work and the women on their way to market. Walking fast. They were going toward something. 

I was running away. 

It was some time before I felt my head and heart clear. Tears stung my eyes, thankfully hidden beneath the mourning veil. 

It was appropriate, this black. 

I stopped at a corner, standing still, letting the world rush on without me. Carts and carriages rattled past, men shouted greetings to each other. 

Honor.

We should honor what was, what had been. Honor the hope of a future now passed.

He was dying. He had killed himself. 

“Are you alright, madame?” A young gentleman in a dark grey overcoat stood watching me, concerned. English. Here in Edinburgh. How long had he been there? How long had I been there? 

He offered his arm. 

“No,” I shook my head. “No thank you.”

The man tipped his tall hat, shrugged, and walked on.

I turned around, walking slowly back to Lauriston Street. He would not die alone but he also would not take me with him, I would make sure of that.

Chapter Ninety-Eight: Threshold

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The foyer was dim. It was clear that this was not a home so much as a cluster of apartments.

It smelled stale and musty, so much so, in fact, that it could be tasted as I opened my mouth to breathe to prevent the odor from permeating my nostrils.

I pounded on the worn door of a downstairs apartment only to have it opened by a scowling, stooped old woman who looked at me suspiciously.

“What?” she demanded.

“I am looking for Nathaniel Brierly.”

“Up there. Top floor.” She cocked her head, using her chin to indicate the direction.

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

She nodded curtly, staring at me for a few moments before closing her door with a slam that made me jump.

Every step I mounted creaked in protest from the weight. A different tone or pitch rose from each as I climbed to the third floor flat.

Would it be locked? Should I knock? Or just enter?

I reached the landing and stopped at the door. I put my hand on the rough wood. What future lay on the other side? Happiness? I wanted happiness. Happiness and love and rest. 

I am so tired of fighting. 

I tried the door tentatively. It cracked open. Unlocked. No knocking, I decided. I would just enter. 

Pushing the door open further, I crossed the threshold. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust further to the darkness. Small slivers of light beamed through cracks at the edges of the heavy drapes, a shard here and a shard there, trapping dust in its light. 

No fire. 

I shivered. Was it cold? 

Walking to the far window, my eyes explored the room. It appeared empty. I pushed the drapes open with a flourish letting light flood in. I moved to the next window, doing the same. I squinted in the light as it assaulted my eyes. Lifting the veil and removing the bonnet, I paused for a moment letting the warm sun hit my face.

Deep breath.

Before I could turn around a snarl came from behind me. “Close them, you fool! Close them or they will see you.”

I turned to see a man standing framed in the doorway, shielding his face from the light with an arm. There was a bottle in one hand. He lurched forward, spilling liquor on his clothes and upon the bare floor. A bloated belly made it appear as if he were with child. The exposed skin of his hands glowed a sickly yellow.

“I said close the drapery!” Another snarl.

He lowered the arm and took another menacing step then stopped.

Should I run? Who was this monster?

“Evelyn?” he gasped softly.

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 Ninety-One: Another Light

 Gas lit street lamp. 
“You cannot have her.” The ancient man with the gravely voice scribbled something in a ledger. The well organized rows of curls on his powdered white wig rested on his shoulders, standing sentry. 

“What do you mean I cannot have her?” I struggled to keep my voice even. I had quickly learned that any show of emotion was inevitably ascribed to my perceived insanity and affected my credibility.

He continued scribbling, dipping staccato-like into the black ink pot, then scribbling some more.

He looked up finally when he realized I was not leaving, sighed loudly, then closed the heavy leather bound ledger with a deafening slam that caused me to start involuntarily.

“You are an unfit, unwed mother.” He enunciated carefully, as if he were explaining to an imbecile.

“I was wrongly imprisoned and I am widowed.” I spoke through my teeth to keep from screaming at him. “Those are not crimes!”

“Nooooo…. They are not. Wrongly is up for interpretation, but they are enough to keep you from getting your daughter back.” He held me in his stoney gaze, unmoved. “Furthermore, you will be required to pay an allowance to Mrs. Greer towards the care of your daughter.”

“Please.” The lump forming in my throat made it difficult to speak. I blinked, my eyes burning with the promise of tears still left unshed. “She is all I have left in this world.”

“No. She is a ward of the crown and will remain so.” He stood, the wooden chair scraping on the stone floor as it was pushed back. “Now leave.”

I was frozen in place, panic rising.

What else can I do? Fall to my hands and knees to beg? Offer up my body?

My body. It was used up, spent. Nothing to be desired anymore. There were scars that ran deeper than what the eyes could see. Things had been done…

My mind stopped there. It could go no further, think no other thought than that I was lost. 

Anne was lost.

How to get her back? Kidnap her? Would that even be possible? Maybe…

A hand appeared on my shoulder and pulled me away. I turned to look at the owner and recoiled reflexively in spite of myself at the pock marked and scarred face. His right eye was opaque, unseeing. It still caught me off guard from time to time.

Heaven had turned its back on us all it seemed.

“Come.” He spoke firmly.

We walked outside the courts, onto the streets.

No solicitor would take my case. A woman shamed. No one believed that I should have my child back.

I could not give up!

He paused to a stop by a lamp post. The sky was gloomy and overcast and the flames had already been lit. I pulled the wrap around my shoulders tighter against the chill that suddenly passed through me.

“I have a question,” he said softly, taking my free hand.

Oh, please. No. Please don’t ask me anything. Not today.

“I do not know if it will help matters but I offer myself to you as a husband.” There was earnestness, kindness showing in his one good eye. 

I could barely hold his gaze. I felt ashamed. I was relying upon him heavily to help me navigate the courts. Using him.

I do not love you.

Maybe I had once. 

Yes. I had. 

What had changed?

I was used up, spent. An empty shell. 

To refuse him would be to alienate my one remaining friend. To accept would be to lie to him. I had no intention of ever following through with marrying anyone, not until I could put the ghost of my past to rest. Edinburgh was far away but any promise of that pulled too strongly now. I was haunted and it was a terrifying, unrelenting obsession. The name, Nathaniel Brierly, repeated day and night in my head, invading even my panicked thoughts of Anne.

A woman in deep red silk brushed past and my heart skipped a beat until I realized it was no one I knew. The gait was wrong, the waist was wider, the hair a different shade…

One month until that letter was to arrive. One month to stall him. One month to plan stealing back my Anne. 

Lies. I would need many, many lies. I had plenty of room for them now, inside the empty shell that had once been me. 

We were two broken shadow people standing in the street, beneath a gas lamp. 

“Oh.” I smiled at him gratefully. “Of course… Thank you.”

He squeezed my hand, smiled, relieved that he had not been rebuffed.

A yes without saying yes. I could call it a misunderstanding later.

Yes, a misunderstanding. I took his arm and we walked onward together.

Chapter Eighty-Five: Retribution

 Antique hospital bed reflected in an apothecary's window. 

Where was he?

I waited at the window for hours with Anne playing in the floor beside me. 

“Don’t pull on the drapery, darling…” I tugged gently at the dark silk but she did not turn loose. Instead she giggled and yanked hard back. “This is not a game!” Edginess showed in my voice.

She smiled up at me but did not release her grip, pulling hard again.

I knelt and unfurled the fingers of her good hand from the fabric. She was strong when she wanted to be. The curtain was quickly draped carefully over the chair back out of her reach. 

Anne pulled herself up on the chair, still smiling. Reaching. Standing on bare tip toes she balanced with the one arm, reaching with the other. Unsuccessful, she switched hands. Realizing she could not reach it, I was quickly met with wails of frustration. 

Still, he had not come.

Darkness descended, empty and foreign.

What did it mean?

My mind explored all possible scenarios: A carriage accident? He had finally come to his senses about me? He was ill? Someone else was ill? The diocese had called a meeting about his suspect activities on these Sunday afternoons? 

Sleep was fitful, punctuated by fear filled dreams of blood and fever.

Monday passed without word from him as did Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. Hurt. Desperation. Anger. Relief. My emotions ran the gamut. 

There was no one I could ask and pride prevented me from sending a letter of inquiry directly to him. I was not sure I wanted to know the answer, quite frankly. As long as it was possible that there had been an accident, I was spared the inevitable rejection.

Another Sunday passed at the window, alone. 

Finally, I was done with it. I would not care. I settled in the flickering shadows after putting Anne down for the night and burned his letters in the fire one by one. 

All except one. My favorite. 

“I hold you in the highest regard and pray for your wellbeing nightly…”

I would keep it as a token, a reminder of my folly. The dangers of hope. The flattery of attention, being led astray…

I traced the letters over and over again, then refolded the paper, returning it to the envelope.

Great wracking sobs came. I mourned. For myself, the loneliness. For Anne. For Nathaniel. For hoping for something better than what I had, better than this miserable existance in its perpetual state of uncertainty…

Mid morning on Wednesday, still with no word, I swung Anne up onto my hip and set out, intending to get bread but instead walking past the bakery. 

We walked on and on, the dappled sunlight filtering through the occasional trees.

There was the beginning of a strange, dull ache and I shifted Anne to the other hip. She rested her head on my shoulder and dozed off a bit, lulled by the movement.

I did not stop.

People crossed to the other side of the street as we approached, fear recognizable in their eyes even from that distance. I was used to anger and loathing. Fear was new and puzzling.

There it was. 

The modest gray stone building in traditional Georgian construct, the rectory. 

I halted at the bottom of the front steps.

There on the heavy wooden door hung my answer. Acid crept up the back of my throat as understanding set in.

Small pox.

A sharp pain suddenly broke through the dull ache in the base of my pelvis. Severe. Crippling. 

Oh, God.

Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Chapter Eighty-Four: Shadowed

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Make love to me first with words.

He had done that, and then some. I had stacks of his letters in my dresser drawer, written since I had asked him to give me words. I would take them out and reread them each night by lamplight. 

Sometimes certain phrases or even the simple curve of a letter would send my fingertips tingling. 

I looked down at the hand holding mine, the fingers that had written those powerful words of apology and devotion. There was a charge there that raced from his hand to my fingerstips to my lower spine. I had almost forgotten how intoxicating that sensation was.

He leaned forward tentatively. 

I closed my eyes in anticipation, awaiting the feel of his rough beard against my face. I could smell his soap.

Just as his lips touched mine for the first time, there was a cry from Anne in the other room. Not her sleepy whimpering wake up cry. It was a full on, angry sob as if she knew that I was betraying her father’s memory at that very instant. He kissed in earnest until it was clear that she would not settle down.

He moved away, amusement playing on his lips. A half smile hung suspended there.

“I will get her,” I sighed. 

“No, I will go.” He applied gentle pressure to my shoulder indicating I was to sit down and wait for his return. 

I eased myself down onto the sofa and folded my hands onto my lap to wait.

He knew nothing of changing diapers or feeding or soothing a child. It would not be long.

As expected. Anne would have nothing of it, of this man. The wailing creacendoed as she refused to calm down. 

Two minutes later he returned with a red faced, tear stained Anne who turned silent as soon as she saw me. 

He placed her on my lap, apologetically.

“It’s alright. Shhhhh,” I murmured.

I held her close. She rested her warm, damp head on my shoulder, fuzzy hair tickling my chin. A quiet hiccup, then a contented sigh as she drifted off to sleep again.

“I will go,” he whispered. He bent down and kissed my forehead, then the top of Anne’s head. “Until next week…”

I watched him grab his hat and let himself out.

Tonight I would not need his words. My lips felt raw from his earlier kiss. Love lingered there.

Chapter Eighty-Three: Pudding

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Such joyful sounds…. giggles and coos.

A man’s laugh.

I peeked around the corner, wiping my hands on the apron tied around my waist.

He was in the floor playing with Anne. She looked up at the Reverend with adoring eyes as she waited for the wooden ball to roll back to her. 

“Are you ready? Here it comes!”

He rolled again gently and she caught it between her good hand and the bad one.

She used the damaged hand as if she did not need for it to work like the other, as if she did not recognize that the hand was not normal. She did not need for it be normal, as it did what she wanted regardless. She knew nothing else.

Still, it hurt to watch. Joy and pain and sadness intermingled. Life. It was relentlessly bittersweet.

I went back to the formidable black oven. 

Cooking for myself was easy. Subsistence did not require anything fancy. Cooking for him was another matter. I would practice during the week, trying something new, then whip it out for his visits. 

Why was I trying so hard?

Truth be told, I had started looking forward to his visits, the gifts he brought. Sometimes they were for me. An ornately carved tortoise shell hair comb. Oranges and dates. Heavy stationary paper and ink. Sometimes the gifts were for Anne. A doll that was much too old for her. Or the ball today.

Each Sunday I would stand at the window and watch for him.

At times I worried that loneliness clouded my judgement. There were whispers about him around the town. Attendance at his church fell. Out and about I found the animosity toward me enhanced and magnified.

And then there was the question of where friendship ended and romance began. What did he want from me ultimately? Penance? Or a wife?

There was an easy familiarity developing between us, dangerous in its potential.

I cracked open the oven and tapped a towel wrapped hand on the dish resting in the water bath. 

Not yet set.

I closed the heavy door again. 

Why did I decide on baking an orange custard pudding? Granted it was with the oranges he had given me but it was taking much longer than I had anticipated. It would still have to cool before it would be edible. 

A throat cleared from behind, causing me to jump. It was then that I realized I was standing in the middle of the kitchen with my right hand still wrapped in the towel, unmoving, lost in thought. I must have been an odd sight.

“I am sorry! I did not intend to startle you,” he said.

The Reverend was now standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Anne perched primly on the crook of his elbow. When she saw me she opened her arms, indicating that her loyalty still lay with me, at least in so far as carrying duties went. He stepped forward and handed her off to me.

“Come to mama, baby girl…” I kissed her fat cheek. It felt cool against my lips. 

She hugged my neck tightly enough to squeeze my heart.

The room was warm and I could sense strands of hair stuck to my forehead by beads of sweat. I brushed them away with the back of my hand, suddenly self conscious.

He stared at me for a long moment. 

He was close enough to touch. In fact he reached out his hand toward my waist as if he would, but thought better of it, instead shoving the offending hand quickly into a pocket.

My heart beat harder in my chest. 

He had almost crossed into territory from which there would be no return. 

I realized that I could not decide if I wanted him to cross that point or not.

I stared back.

Edinburgh felt as if it was shrinking up, fading into the distance.

“I think I should go.” His voice sounded thick and deliberate.

I nodded. 

Yes.

Chapter Eighty: Into the Darkness Again

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The week passed slowly. I awoke in the wee hours each morning to Anne’s cries and then spent the days vacillating between delighting in her giggles and a building of anxious dread over what Sunday would bring.

Recuerdo.

The broach came out of hiding. It was an irrisistable plaything for little fingers whenever I wore it. It had been too precious to risk breaking so I had left it buried in the corner of a drawer. Now I took to wearing it again, pinning it each morning to my dress. Perhaps it would offer protection?

I had no intention of ever attending church services or allowing the Reverend Drummond back into my home but the threat of both loomed ahead in the dark unknown of my future.

What I really needed to do, I realized, was to move away. Far away.

And yet…

If I left, would this woman in red find me again? 

Mrs. Brierly. 

Hate and pity and satisfaction mingled together as I repeated all of the permutations of her name over and over again. Mrs. Nathaniel Brierly. Anne Brierly. Mrs. Anne Brierly. 

And now perhaps Evelyn Brierly? I repeated the words until they became a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. Then I realized the taste was not the proverbial fearful bile. It was blood. My nervous habit of chewing the inside of a cheek had drawn blood… The pain hit, reminding me of my own frailty.

I could not send her a letter myself, could I? No. And if I packed up and left town, leaving word here where I had gone, then the Reverend would follow me, wouldn’t he? Escape was not possible. 

Could I even trust this woman? 

I still had my doubts and yet desire, or was it love, clouded my judgement. 

So then I must remain for the next year in this place. 

How to survive?

The days ticked by. The fear kept my mind buzzing, unable to settle on a coherent plan.

Sunday dawned dark and overcast. The doors and windows were locked tight. I double checked them, triple checked them, drawing all of the curtains closed.

The bells rang summoning for services, their joyful sound standing in stark contrast against my fear. Soon he would see that I was not in the pews.

And then what?

Dark storm clouds rolled in bringing along thunder in the distance. Raindrops pattered down in a soothing staccato on the roof and lulled Anne to sleep in her bed. I had planned an early afternoon nap, not wanting her to bear witness to what might come next. I kissed her gently on the forehead and then closed the door quietly behind me.

I settled down in the dark parlor to wait.

Then it came, the knocking.

Go away.

It came again.

Go away!

Then again. Jiggling of the door knob.

Oh, God!

Then banging. Was he kicking the door?

I tiptoed to the window and stole a glance.

There he was, dressed in dark gray clothing that matched the dark skies overhead. He was standing in the rain, water pouring from the brim of his hat. He did not move but his eyes flicked to the window, searching it from top to bottom. 

Surely he could not see me?

My heart pounded until it felt as if it might burst, but then it was not my heart at all, I realized. I was holding my breath, afraid that he might hear even the intake of air as I stood frozen to the spot.

Please don’t wake, dear Anne! Stay quiet as a little mouse…

He stood there for what seemed like hours. 

So did I.

Anne woke. I could hear her stirring. Could he? 

I stepped slowly away from the window, wincing at the creak of a floorboard as I moved. I must reach her before she began wailing.

I did my best to keep her quiet in the back of the cottage, not lighting any lamps. I snuck into the kitchen to silently prepare her pap mixed with water. No milk today since I had not left the house.

The hours passed. Some sunlight appeared through the clouds as the rain stopped temporarily.

Eventually Anne fell asleep in my arms cradled among the long twilight shadows that creeped and crawled and grew across the room. I nestled her among the blankets and in the dark stillness snuck to the parlor to the front window. I pulled back the heavy drapes a crack to peer through the lace veil and my eyes searched the darkness.

Lightening flashed across the sky.

He was gone. 

I checked through the house and looked out of every window to make sure he was not lurking about and then decided to retire, to attempt sleep myself. I did not undress, however, wanting to remain at the ready. 

I stood over my baby, my precious daughter, my only tie to another life. Her gentle breathing helped me to relax some. I picked her up, carrying her to my bed and watched her peaceful slumbering with envy until my own eyelids felt heavy as lead.

This was only the beginning of the unpleasantness, I knew. I could not hide forever.

Chapter Seventy-Eight: Rest

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At last I had peace.

The heat generated by his body as he slept next to me was oppressive. The bed creaked as I shifted, kicking off the coverlet. Beads of sweat had formed between my breasts underneath my shift. I sat up and lifted the crisp, white cotton fabric up over my head, tossing it to the floor nearby. 

I did not want to sleep. Instead, I lay back down, eyes wide open, still feeling restless. I wanted him to make love to me again. 

He stirred slightly. I slid my hand up his back and softly touched the hair at the nape of his neck in the darkness then pressed my naked body into his.

He was mine again.

I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of him, laying my cheek against the warm skin of his upper back. I could feel him breathe. 

He stirred again. I kissed his shoulder. 

When he rolled over toward me, at first I thought the shadows from the fireplace were playing tricks on me. I searched his features.

That was not Nathaniel’s face, was it?

I scrambled back away from him then off the bed, scooping up my shift. I held the fabric up against my naked body as he sat up. I suddenly felt terribly cold. I shivered. 

What should I do? Run? Where was Anne?

Confusion played on his face. “Evelyn? Come back to bed.” He beckoned to me as he spoke the command. “Now!”

I knew that voice, didn’t I?

I could see his face better now. I could not breathe.

It was the Reverend Drummond.

How?

The world closed in around me and I felt myself gasping for air, falling toward some unseen terror.

Then I was awake all over again, my heart in my throat. I felt as if I had been holding my breath for hours.

The bed next to me was empty. Relief washed over and through my body as I tried to slow the movement of my chest, the tremor of my hands.

The nightmare again. How much longer would this dream repeat itself?

One year. Just one more year.

If I could trust her.

I could endure this for one more year. Surely. One could endure almost anything if there was an end in sight. The Crimea had taught me that.