Chapter Ninety-Five: Drawing Closer

Moon through a telescope

The whistle blew its loud, piercing warning. I ran back through the station and was helped up the steps by a conductor. Several heads looked up to stare as I rushed to settle myself in a vacant seat. One by one they returned to their own conversations.

Several moments of deep breaths and I regained my composure.

I clutched the overfilled valise to my chest as the train lurched forward.

A black crepe mourning dress was folded up within. It would end up terribly wrinkled by the time I was able to put it on but it would have to do. I would need a bonnet and long veil at the next stop in Leeds.

The brooch, my Recuerdo, would do nicely. I touched it absently, pinned to the bodice my traveling dress. I had carried it with me all these months. I wanted to open it again, to see his woven hair within but I resisted the urge.

Maybe some jet earrings to complete the ensemble?

Not that anyone would be able to tell beneath the veil…

The fatigue began creeping up on me again, but I was afraid to close my eyes, to let down my guard. The hard wooden bench would not offer a bit of comfort and so I willed myself to remain awake, staring at the passing scenery.

I leaned my cheek against the cool glass of the window.

Soon. 

Soon I would see his hand, his fingers. His face itself was dimmed in my mind but I could remember the feel of his hands in great detail. I had spent many hours in the dark of night tracing the nails and callouses and the feel of the knuckles over and over again in my memory, how my hand always seemed to fit perfectly within his as if they were meant for each other from the beginning.

His words whispered into my ear cloaked in blackness in Edinburgh so many years ago, the words that still sent shivers down my spine… Forgive me.

Love. 

What was love that it could drive a person so mad? Was this love? Or was it something else, something more sinister? How could I really know?

I had thought that Anne would be my consolation, better than a brooch, a living vessel to pour my love into. She was not enough, though. Not when I saw him in her eyes each day, looking back at me.

God forgive me, I had not known. 

If I had it to do over again, what would I choose?

This.

This was the only way to find peace.

What would tomorrow or the next day bring?

I shifted my cheek to a new spot on the cool window glass and closed my eyes for a moment. It was such a chore to focus on the fields of the passing farmland outside with such heavy eyelids.

The color of the red sun filtered through my closed eyelids. The light faded as the train turned, moving my side of the car into the shade, becoming gray and then finally black as we entered into a tunnel…

Chapter Ninety-Four: Running Away

 sunrise through the trees 
We drove hard through the night, never stopping. 

My heart pounded all the while as I cradled my little sleeping Anne. I held her injured hand, the stiff, frozen fingers curled tightly around mine as if they were made of stone.

I did not have much time with her and each second that ticked by softened my resolve. 

How could I do this?

“Whoa!”

The carriage rumbled to a stop. I could hear the crunch of boots as he hopped down and strode around to the side. His black hat shadowed along the fogged window glass was the only visible part of him until he opened the door and stepped inside, rocking the carriage as it shifted with his weight.

A chill entered with him.

The sun was creeping up over the horizon. A train whistle caused Anne to startle and wake. She smiled up at me. I made a face at her and she giggled back before snuggling up against my chest.

“We have arrived.” He stared at me grimly. “Are you ready?”

“No.”

He nodded solemnly. “Remember it is the only way to keep her. You wanted me to remind you of this when the time came…”

“So I did.”

“They will be looking for a woman with a child, a baby girl…”

“Yes.”

“They will not be looking for me…”

I had not told him the whole truth, though. I was leaving from here to go to Edinburgh to the arms of another man, the man who haunted me even still after all of these years and miles. Why was I drawn to him? What made him special? Had we known each other somehow in another life?

The Reverend held out his arms in order to take Anne.

“She will be well cared for until we can meet again.” 

“I know.”

Leaning over to him, I gave him a peck on a scarred cheek. He reached over and pulled me in closer, kissing me full on the mouth, deeply. My stomach turned. 

His breath… 

I pulled away quickly and smiled at him, whispering, “I love you.” I must maintain the illusion. I still needed him.

He smiled back, his eyes full of hope.

I had not fully planned the lies I would tell to get her back while severing my ties with the Reverend but I knew he was the only person I could trust right now with her well being. I would think of something when the time came.

Resisting the urge to tell him yet again how to properly care for her, I gave her one last kiss on the velvety cheek and whispered softly into her ear of my love for her, how I would see her again soon…

His arms opened again, ready to receive Anne. I handed my daughter to him reluctantly and stepped out of the carriage with my small valise in hand.

I could hear her muffled screams and sobs behind me as I moved away. They pierced my heart. I knew I left some part of my humanity behind that day as I kept walking to the train station, leaving my daughter behind.

Somehow I knew it would all be worth it. It must.

Chapter Sixty-Two: Stealing Away

The train lurched to a stop at the Bristol station, the brakes giving their customary screech in protest. It woke me up from the semi-trancelike state that I had been in for the past half hour. I looked out the window at the pillars that held up the roof of the station overhead, my face close enough to the glass that it quickly fogged up, obscuring my view.

“…and so I told him to just leave it to me…” Her lips did not stop moving, even for a breath it seemed.

The middle aged woman sitting before me had not stopped talking since we had left Paddington station. Her hands had remained folded in the lap of deep burgundy traveling dress. This had been disconcerting. Someone who talked that much and with that degree of animation, typically used their hands. I had stared at her, trying not to seem rude, but I had been irritated that I could not think my own thoughts. Fortunately she had not required much beyond the occasional nod or gasp to feel I was engaged.

Excusing myself, I stood to stretch my legs, stepping onto the platform to walk a bit before continuing the journey to Cardiff, in Wales. I could still hear the woman talking to herself behind me on the train car.

I glanced around quickly, looking for recognition on any nearby faces. Fear gripped me, momentarily as I surveyed the crowd.

I was aware of the life growing inside of me, the fullness there. My precious gift. Only I knew the secret that I carried with me.

At any moment, it could be gone, this second chance. Miscarriage. Malformation. Still birth.

My sweet baby Levi.

This could be the same. Please do not let this one be the same. I remembered Levi’s cleft lips searching for something to eat, his intestines peristalsing in my hands outside of his little body. He had wanted to live but he had not been given a chance. All I could do was helplessly love him.

I wanted to pray, to beg, but I was not sure I had the right to make such requests of God at this point… even if I wanted to so desperately. Would God hear me? Would God care? Did he understand my loneliness and my sadness?

Only time would tell.

I wore the brooch with Nathaniel’s hair and words every day. It was almost a superstition now, a belief that this, and somehow he, would somehow protect me and protect the baby I carried. The piece had turned out beautifully. The jeweler had produced quality work, true to his word.

A stranger, a man, nodded at me as I passed. No one else minded me as I walked up and down the covered platform. I recognized no one and so relaxed somewhat, deliberately slowing my pace.

I had selected Cardiff due to its rapid growth. With so much flux in the population, there would be little attention paid to me, I hoped. I would tell everyone that my husband had died of typhus after returning from the war, thus explaining the pregnancy and my loneliness. Once I had delivered, I would move on elsewhere, and then move again, putting as much distance between me and any question of my character as I possibly could.

The enormity of everything was not lost upon me. On some level I was stealing this child. I struggled with the urge to let Nathaniel know, I did not want to do this alone, but in the end what would that accomplish? Only more heartache for everyone. How could he be expected to choose between two families? And what if he tried to take this child from me? I would be destroyed. No, this was a secret I must bear alone.

The train whistle blew, startling me… piercing my thoughts.

Sweeping the stray wisps of hair back under my bonnet, I carefully climbed back into the car and took my seat, steeling myself for the onslaught of words.

Prologue

It had not been easy.  If there had been any inkling of where her words would take her through the years, she would have chosen to keep them unsaid.  Still, once done is never undone.  She looked down at the gold mourning brooch in her lap that a few minutes earlier she had removed from her chest.  It lay open, revealing the tiny lock of brown hair nestled on creamy velvet behind the bright crystal, a small piece of paper was curled and folded in the back.  She did not have to pull it out to remember the words written there in his hand.  Victo dolore.  The sunlight shot a painful glare at her off of the surface.  She winced and shut the jewel.  Let everyone think he was dead.  It was easier that way. 

She focused her gaze on the scenery rolling past her through the window.  Those distant, cold, snow capped mountains on the horizon were as far out of her reach as he was.   The smell of the smoke from the engine permeated the air.  Fortunately she had found a seat near the back of the train so that none of the ashes obscured her view.  Looking down at her left breast, she again pinned the brooch to the fabric there. 

In this car there were only a handful of people.  There was an elderly fellow in the back corner.  His head laid back, toothless mouth wide open, eyes closed…napping she hoped.  His wispy hair waved at her in the breeze from the cracked window to his right.  Dead to the world, wasn’t he?  A father sat with his young daughter several seats ahead, their backs to her.  The red headed youngster must have been five or six, precocious and demanding as she knew she had been herself at that age.  Her indulgent father sat with his head bent over a storybook, intent on keeping her entertained.  There was a middle aged woman in a smart, dark brown traveling suit seated just ahead to her right, a deep red valise clutched tightly in her lap.  She had a large, wide brimmed straw hat atop her mostly grayed hair with bright red flowers decorating the rim and a brown ribbon tied beneath her chin into a large bow.  There was an air of discomfort about her as she sat rigidly across the seat from her male companion.  The hat succeeded in hiding the eyes, but wisps of raven hair peeked out now and again, mixed with the strands of silver.   It was with a pang that she remembered the increasingly gray strands in her own incredibly straight hair, at this moment piled precariously upon her own head with its new wrinkles around the eyes and the fading lips.

Closing her eyes, she struggled to force the image of herself in the mirror this morning from her mind and tried to remember what she had looked like to a man when she had been sixteen.  The right corset, the right dress in the right color, candlelight…she had no doubt that she had been a vision at one time.  Not that she had understood her power at that age.  It had only mystified her back then, before life had taken over as her tutor.  If only she had not squandered so much of herself then. 

The sunlight beat in through the window glass, absorbed by the sleeve of her traveling cloak, sending warm shivers up her spine.  The steady rocking of the train carriage began to lull her into a dark stupor behind the scarlet glow of her closed eyelids.

“Pardon me, madam,” a voice hesitated as she felt a light touch on her shoulder.  She groaned inwardly, not wishing to stir from her reverie, and decided to pretend sleep.

“Madame, excuse me!”  This time she felt a light shake at her shoulder.  Realizing the voice was not going to go away, she opened one eye and looked up.  It was the ticket taker, a short, balding man with a red nose and rather pudgy belly.  The buttons at his waistcoat strained against his girth.  She sat up straighter.

“Do you have your ticket?”

“Certainly.  Just a moment.”  She leaned over to the seat next to her and rummaged through her things until she found the ticket and passed it over to the conductor.

He looked it over, looked at her, raised a brow.  “Traveling alone?”

“Yes.”  She stared back at him steadily, evenly, daring him to say something further.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he punched the ticket and passed it back to her.

“For what?”  She regretted the bewilderment in her voice immediately as he pointed to the large black brooch that she wore.  In gold lettering across the face was the word RECUERDO.  “Oh.”  She took her gaze back down to the gloved hands at her lap.  He paused a moment as if he intended to say more, then shoved the tickets back into her hands and moved down the aisle to the father and his daughter.

She closed her eyes again but this time could not sleep.  She could hear the conductor rouse the elderly man in the corner and then speak a few words softly to the woman across the aisle.  Eventually, he left the car.  She could feel the ticket in her hands.  Edinburgh.  The man no doubt was wondering what a woman was doing traveling by herself that distance, widowed or not.  At least he had had the tact not to actually say anything or ask further questions.  She knew that her acquired British accent stood out in this country. 

Edinburgh.  What had drawn her there in first place?  The history?  There had been a sense in the darkness and filth of the alleyways and cobbled streets that history had happened here, over and over again.  The light was still shining through the ages, through the muddy slush of day old snow that accumulated in the gutters, a warmth that reached through the bone chilling cold of winter days in Scotland.  A romantic notion, perhaps.  The grimy faces of the waifs on the street corners could, given enough time, become the faces of the cure for consumption or some great economical or political mastermind.  It had happened there before and would happen again.  Brilliance had for centuries walked with purpose within those city walls. 

It was also where she had met him.  It was that strange, intoxicating mixture of joy and pain that drew her back to Edinburgh now.  If I can make myself hurt enough, can’t I stop feeling it?  Like a burn.  If it is deep enough, it ceases to ache.  I will hold a torch to it until it dies or I cease to feel. 

The brooch was weighty on her dress.  She could barely remember his face now.  So many details lost.  Some things remained vivid still, like the warmth that flooded her arm when it brushed against his coat sleeve or the flutter that stretched from the base of her spine to the back of her neck when his gaze rested on her.  She could remember the strength of his arms around her standing alone in the trees, the smell of him, the taste of him.  So few moments, really, to have consumed so much of her life to this point, yet they were moments that had defined her entire future.