Till Death Do You Part

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
The Woodstock family gets tied up in plenty of romantic and daring adventures over two generations. This is a work in progress; more is to come!

Submitted: July 12, 2016

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Submitted: July 12, 2016

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CHAPTER I

There comes a time in every young lady’s life when she would do the most thoughtless things, the most absurd things, the most—foolish things. Such was the case with the eldest daughter of the Morten family, Elizabeth, and at a time most unsuitable for her and her family.

“Elizabeth, have you heard of the ball?” Mrs. Morten asked of her one morning. Eliza was busy with her embroidery and responded absently in the negative. Her mother seized the opportunity. “You must go, dear, and you must acquaint yourself with–ah, what is his name? Henry, yes. Henry Woodstock.” Eliza looked up now and lay her work in her lap. “Mother, you know I detest balls, as well as men. I will not go.” Mrs. Morten assumed upon her countenance a disapproving look and gave a little sigh. “Elizabeth, you are a young lady of eighteen. Someone must attract your fancies, I hope? Who? Anyone will do–of course Mr. Woodstock would be preferable, but–” Eliza cleared her throat respectfully but without a doubt firmly. “Love, Mamma, is not my trade.” The displeased mother sniffed. “Then do you mean, young lady, that you wish to leave us penniless, without hope of rising?” Her angry words were met with silence, and she sighed once more. “If love is ‘not your trade,’ Elizabeth, then what is?” Eliza picked up her work once more. “Nothing,” she said, and seeing her mother’s dismally triumphant expression, continued, “as of yet.” The look disappeared from Mrs. Morten’s face, and she left the room. A small, unintelligible word escaped her lips on her way, and perhaps that is best, for Eliza, as well as the two ladies’ relationship, would certainly have been harmed if it had been audible. Eliza knew that she had a duty to her family, for their caring for her as they did, and thus settled that further deliberation on the matter of the ball was necessary.

The embroidery was nearly finished then, and after a long hour it was all done. Eliza carried her work down to her maid, Clara, from whom she received compliments about her accomplishment. After this was completed, Eliza sat down to the pianoforte and began to play a melancholy song to match her pensive mood.

At the very same moment, a letter arrived in the post and was brought home by Laura, the servant girl, who presented it to Mrs. Morten. After perusing it twice, once fast and once slow, Mrs. Morten fell to weeping. Clementine, Eliza’s younger and only sister, was beside her and read the gloomy news as well, and she too began to cry. “Oh, Mamma!” Clementine spoke through her tears. “And stop that infernal noise, Elizabeth! It only makes matters worse.” Slowly, the instrument fell silent, and Eliza entered the drawing-room. “Whatever is the matter, Mamma?” she enquired. Mrs. Morten only weeped with more vigour, so she turned to Clementine. “Whatever is the matter?” she repeated. The grieved child managed to utter, “Pappa took ill on the seas.” Our fair lady turned pale from terror, and she could barely succeed at asking the outcome. One glance at Clementine’s eyes was sufficient for her, and she hurried to her mother’s side and read the letter. “Oh, Mamma! I am so sorry! Dear Pappa! Whatever shall we do?” she cried. Mrs. Morten applied a handkerchief to her eyes and looked up at Eliza. “Whatever shall we do?” she repeated wretchedly. “Girls, how shall we live?” Eliza’s conscience tugged upon her mind, and she said: “Mamma, I will go to the ball, and I will acquaint myself with that new fellow Woodstock, if only you'd stop weeping!” Mrs. Morten looked up and smiled gratefully through her tears. “So you shall, my daughter, and good luck with it!”

Eliza did not rest peaceful that night. What would this Henry Woodstock be like? Agreeable, or, more likely for men of his fortune, haughty? Would her father approve of their acquaintance? This occupied her mind for much time, until she fell into an uneasy sleep. In the morn, she recollected that she was in want of a decent gown for the ball, which was to be that Saturday, two days hence, and so she sent Clara to the seamstress. The dress was to be ‘not very fancy, nor very fashionable–in fact, it should be almost plain.’ The good maid was surprized, but did not object, for, as she reckoned, ‘Miss Morten had her reasons.’ Thus the seamstress was ordered to make a gown of simple spotted muslin, and the preparations began.

Eliza resolved to know more about this newcomer. She enquired about his family and connexions, his status, his reputation, etcetera, whenever the subject arose in conversations, which was quite often. From these forays she derived that Mr. Henry Woodstock was a gentleman of three and twenty who had been raised by his aunt after the passing of his parents. His fortune was considerable, at two thousand pounds annually with a starting sum of five thousand. Eliza scoffed inwardly when her friends talked of his money with glowing eyes: ‘And, my dear Elizabeth, he is very wealthy,’ they would say eagerly. The family had been situated on an estate not far from London before they moved nearby, and they were very well-known and respected. In sum, he was just the sort of man Mrs. Morten wished her daughter to marry, and just the sort of man Eliza guessed she would dislike.

Nevertheless, she was not the sort who let prejudices determine her actions, and resolved that she would give Henry Woodstock a chance, no matter how slim. Many men had before attempted to win her over, but each one had walked away with naught. Therefore, she did not harbour much hope for this newcomer.

Friday passed uneventfully–as usual, Mr. Woodstock was the only subject upon which the ladies of the town would converse. Eliza did not gather any other information than she had already, and thus spent much of the day reading a novel.

The next morning brought the excitement of preparations for the ball. Clementine was, at twelve, not to attend and therefore not as interested as Eliza. The elder sister contemplated the nature of Woodstock after completing the last chapter of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and retiring to her chambers to dress–despite the early hour. Clara was dismissed after Eliza’s hair was curled and her dress tied. As Eliza had danced but once before, and was admittedly not very good at it, she set about practising. She began with a slow waltz, and grew more graceful as the hour wore away. Dusk approached, and Eliza endeavoured to perfect a quick country routine. She was soon as lively as an Irish lady! and, quite pleased with her efforts, ran lightly down the stairs and out to meet her mother and the awaiting carriage. The ride could not have been fast enough for our eager Eliza, as her mind had been at work producing fanciful pictures of Henry Woodstock–for if she was to meet him, there could not be harm in imagining outcomes, could there?

Through the doors Eliza walked, and instantly her confidence vanished. She sat down in an empty chair, along with Mrs. Morten. After a very uncomfortable half-hour, the doors opened once more and admitted a very handsome young gentleman–Mr. Henry Woodstock. At once the ladies arose and curtseyed, simpering. Mrs. Morten whispered, “So that is him. He is charming, is not he?” Eliza was in agreement with respect to his appearance, but she was as yet undecided with respect to his demeanour.

Henry was observed hopefully by many ladies, as he was fully aware of, but he chose not to dance for the first half of the ball. At last Mrs. Morten grew tired of waiting and approached him. Eliza, coy as she was, attempted to restrain her mother, but she would go. Several ladies began to whisper at this point, and Eliza coloured. Henry Woodstock was, in her eyes, practically dragged by her mother to herself. When he bowed and introduced himself, then, she curtseyed and made her apologies through a apologetic look. He only smiled with civility and began to converse with her. He said: ‘Do you often attend balls? You do not dance much.’ To which she returned: ‘Do you? You do not dance much either.’ Henry laughed. ‘Quite correct,’ he affirmed. ‘I have not danced much. Every lady I meet wishes to marry me–I can discern this in women–and thus I did not dance with them. But I cannot figure you out, Miss Morten, upon first glance, and thus–would you honour me with this next dance?’ This was Eliza’s opportunity to learn the gentleman’s personality, wherefore she accepted, only remarking: ‘You are very unfeeling to the other ladies. They may truly care for you.’ He scoffed. ‘Care for me, after one glance? No, they care for my fortune.’ The orchestra commenced, and so did the dancing. Eliza noted that Henry danced with superiority in comparison with the other gentlemen. ‘You dance well,’ she commented. ‘Where did you learn to?’ He responded, ‘My aunt does not welcome visitors, so when I travel to London on business, I attend the occasional ball.’ Eliza gave him an arch glance. ‘Occasional?’ she asked. Henry raised his eyebrows. ‘You have much wit, for a woman.’ His eyes betrayed his true feelings about the female sex, however, which Eliza read with considerable displeasure. She said, ‘You do not think highly of females.’ Henry replied, ‘The female sex is useful for a different purpose than their male counterparts, Miss Morten,–you are learned, so you should know that, should not you?’ Eliza was surprized. ‘How should you know that I am learned? For what you know, I may be as ignorant as a lady could be.’ Henry only smiled and said, ‘Why do not you ask your mother?’ Eliza coloured, and looked down.

The music concluded; Eliza curtseyed and was returning to her mother to make subtle enquiries into her short conversation with Mr. Woodstock, when she noticed her partner following her. She enquired what he wished for, and he replied that he only wished to stand up with her once more. The imprudence of this was unimaginable to Eliza. The ladies had already made a fuss about one dance; what would the speculations extend to if they stood up once more? She explained this reasoning to Mr. Woodstock, but he only shook his head. ‘You think far too much, Miss Morten. Come.’ Eliza found herself being led into the set once more. ‘Why do you wish to dance with me, Mr. Woodstock?’ she protested. ‘I have neither fortune nor title, and I am not nearly as beautiful as any of the others–take Miss Wesley! she is pretty, rich, and the daughter of a count,–so why do you dance with me?’ Henry responded, ‘Miss Morten, you have wit, as I noted previously, something Miss Wesley does not. I have spoken with her, and could hardly stay awake.’ Eliza smiled, half with with pleasure and half with sympathy for Miss Wesley, whom she knew wished to marry Henry. She commented: ‘I am only a lady, though, Mr. Woodstock.’ Henry laughed once more, and the dance concluded.

Eliza excused herself from the merry party her mother was a part of in favour of solitude and night air. Henry observed this with some interest, and, being weary of dancing, followed her again. Unaware of Henry’s improper actions, Eliza made two rounds of the garden before she stopped underneath a large tree. The young man halted not quickly enough for his presence to be concealed, and when footsteps made themselves known to Eliza, she turned and discovered him. The trunk of the tree was thick enough to shield her from his vision, and she employed this meagre protection to the best of her ability. Henry proceeded to stand on the opposite side of the tree and say: ‘What is it that you are mulling over, Miss Morten? It is cold outside, and certainly you did not venture here for pleasure.’ Eliza gave up her notions of hiding and came around to face him. ‘I think of nothing, sir. What is the meaning of this? You have danced with me twice, and now–you have effectively destroyed every notion of propriety that a person may retain. Mr. Woodstock, you must realise your folly! we shall be the subject of all gossip for heaven knows how long!’ Henry only replied: ‘We are alone, Miss Morten,–as I said before, you really do  think too much. Now, it is cold outside; you had best come in.’ He returned to the ballroom, and Eliza did the same.

Miss Lenar came out from her place behind an elm tree, waited some time, and then she too hurried towards the ballroom. As she did so, she muttered, ‘I must tell Miss Wesley! What a blunder on Mr. Woodstock’s part–not even making sure Miss Morten and himself were alone.’

 

CHAPTER II

 Henry and Eliza did not dance with each other any more that evening–Henry danced once with Miss Geraldson, but otherwise not at all–Eliza did not stand up even once after her conversation outside, as Miss Lenar and Miss Wesley invited her to join them by the refreshment table. The three ladies talked of the usual subjects,–the weather and such–and this surprized Eliza. Miss Lenar was a great gossiper, as was Miss Wesley, but her companions were only very civil during the ball. Miss Wesley was also, however, quite inept at holding her tongue, and thus at last, she let slip: ‘Miss Morten, how very odd that Mr. Woodstock should choose to dance with you; simply look at your gown!’ Miss Lenar was evidently quite displeased with her friend’s folly, and attempted to change the subject. ‘Is not Mrs. Geraldson very generous? so many persons invited, indeed, Miss Morten?’ Eliza only nodded politely and put in a word of general praise for the lady, before returning to answer Miss Wesley’s observation. ‘Miss Wesley,’ said she, ‘I told Mr. Woodstock the same while we danced–’ Here Miss Wesley interrupted. ‘What did he say?’ Eliza made a prudent decision in chusing not to disclose the truth, but rather reply: ‘He said nothing. And, Miss Wesley, my dress is plain for a purpose–which I shall not make known to-night.’ The two other ladies were bewildered and intrigued, but said nothing more on the subject.

 The ball concluded within half-an-hour, and Eliza returned home quite pleased with the night’s events. Her mother, too, congratulated her on her advances. Eliza replied, smiling, ‘Mamma, I have made no advances. I have merely acquainted myself with Mr. Woodstock.’ Mrs. Morten returned the smile, but her hopes were not diluted.

 The events of the day were not altogether uninteresting. Miss Lenar called after church, and it was perfectly clear to Eliza that she wished the twosome to be friends–Eliza returned the wish, and the ladies settled upon Monday for a walk. This pleased Mrs. Morten still more; she said, ‘Elizabeth, you are doing quite well in being close to Miss Lenar–I, for once in my life, approve.’ As it happened, Miss Rebecca Lenar was the daughter of a baron and was one day to be a baroness herself; thus Mrs. Morten’s pleasure was only natural.

 Afterwards, Eliza sent for the carriage and was driven to the library. She had not money enough to rent the novel she was reading; rather, she concealed it slightly behind the rest to prevent it from being taken by another. The novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, was one that Eliza fancied more than any other: she had spent two hours with it last. The book was where she had placed it, behind A Natural History, and Eliza assumed a secluded position near a window with it. She had read but a few pages when a noise disturbed her. Henry approached her, and she stood up, considerably displeased. ‘Sir,’ asked she, ‘is following young ladies about sport to you? Do you enjoy surprizing me?’ He quickly responded in the negative, and then continued: ‘On the contrary, I thought you were aware of my presence and were  chusing to ignore me on the basis of impropriety, but I see you are sensible.’ Eliza did think that their being alone was improper, but she only asked: ‘Why did you take the trouble of searching for me, and even checking here?’ Henry smiled and took a seat beside her. ‘Miss Morten, I rather enjoy your company.’ Eliza was now sufficiently flattered, and she forgot her feelings of uneasiness. She replied archly: ‘Oh?’ The two began to converse about novels and the like, and Henry learnt that Eliza was quite intelligent–his regard for her grew–but his prejudices remained intact, and he yet saw her as merely an accomplished lady.

A half-an-hour passed. ‘Miss Morten, it has been a pleasure, but I have an untimely appointment to meet, and thus must beg your leave. I would be, however, honoured by your presence at my family's residence for tea later to-day–would you consent to this?’ Eliza accepted with great happiness, and the two parted, Eliza going home and Henry attending to his work.

Eliza was determined to make a positive impression upon Henry’s aunt, and thus she chose a rather more fashionable gown than the one she had worn at the ball to wear to tea. It was slimmer and complemented her features well–her mother could not resist a comment upon her looking ‘quite presentable.’ Eliza could not help but notice that ever since the ball, Mrs. Morten had been extraordinarily caring–meals were larger and of greater variety, and an extra shilling was added to her allowance.–Ever since Mr. Morten had passed, Eliza and Clementine’s pin money had been halved to provide for necessities, to the grief of the ribbon-loving Clementine.

Tea was to be at precisely four o’clock that afternoon, and Eliza was determined to be prompt. Jim, the carriage driver, was sent for once again, but–he was nowhere to be found. It was as yet only three o’clock, and the Woodstocks’ residence was only three miles from the Mortens’; Eliza figured she could walk, and still arrive on-time. Her mother threw quite a fit at the notion, but when the motives were explained, she acquiesced. Eliza put on her bonnet, picked up her skirts, and left.

Her plan did not go as expected; the Mortens lived in a more country-like area than the Woodstocks, so half of the journey was through fields and dirt. Half-way through, dust turned to mud as the rain began with a vengeance. Eliza’s cloth bonnet was ruined, her hair drenched, and her gown suffered—the hem was brown with mud, and the rest was soaked through with water; Eliza grew intolerably cold. Mrs. Morten was concerned, but there was nothing she could do—she resolved to punish Jim if he was ever to return. Rain turned to hail, and still Eliza had a mile to walk; it was longer to return home than it was to continue, so she went on, though—was she presentable at this point?

At last, Eliza arrived at the Woodstock residence and lifted the brass knocker—it was one minute to four o’clock. The butler answered and showed her inside; Eliza could not help but notice his sympathetic glance while he said: ‘The lady will not be pleased, Miss, by your attire. Did you walk?’ Eliza responded in the affirmative, and coloured. It seemed to her that her acquaintance with Mr. Henry Woodstock was causing her much embarrassment, but she resolved to uphold the twosome’s friendship for at least a little while longer, but—she knew not why she did so; her previous suitors had been cut off at the very beginning, and she had thought the same would be done to Henry. During her thoughts, however, the butler had been telling her of Henry’s actions. She began listening at the moment he said: ‘—and he went in the carriage to assist you, but you are too fast for him, Miss. He should be back in about a minute.’ Eliza curtseyed gratefully in response to his telling her this, for by this time she was in the parlour with Henry’s aunt. The lady was not old, but her hair was grey. Her countenance was marred with wrinkles—and not from laughing, either—and her expression was strict. The butler was right, also: she did not make any attempt to conceal her disapproval at Eliza’s dress. She said: ‘How did you manage to become this wet, Miss Morten? surely you did not use a gig?’ Eliza looked down and quietly responded: ‘I walked, ma’am. The carriage driver would not show himself.’ Ms. Woodstock—she was unmarried—raised her eyebrows and said: ‘Well! these clothes will not do! but I have no spares. You must return another time.’ Eliza was fairly shocked, but she only curtseyed civilly and left.

As the butler opened the door, she glimpsed Henry’s carriage stopping in the courtyard and resolved not to be humiliated in his presence. It was wisest to go around back before continuing, she reckoned, so she did. The fence had a gate, which she opened–but it was an old gate and squeaked very piercingly. Eliza attempted to hurry out of view–Henry was quicker, though, and called out to her; she was obliged to halt.

Her attempt at escape being thwarted, she tried to beg his leave–he would have her stay, however, and ask her why her clothes were in the state that they were. She could hide the truth no longer, and pointed at the sky, from which rain still fell. ‘It was raining, sir. Cannot you see thus?’ said she. He looked as yet puzzled, and asked: ‘Miss Morten, you could not have walked, could you?’ To which the soaked Eliza responded: ‘I did, Mr. Woodstock, and now I must be on my way before the rain turns into a torrent.’ Henry let out a sympathetic laugh of disbelief. ‘And why, pray, Miss Morten,’ said he, ‘did you walk?’ Eliza answered him as she had his aunt, saying: ‘The carriage driver was not present at the time.’ Henry explained that he had just been out in case of such a matter, but Eliza told him thus: ‘I set off at three o’clock.’ Henry understood and was concerned. He said: ‘Thirty minutes in such weather is bad, let alone twice that–let me feel your arm.’ Eliza acquiesced, and Henry’s countenance switched from concerned to urgent. ‘It is as I feared, Miss Morten; you are extremely feverish. You must not return home to-night–such a journey would tire you far too much. Do come in, and we shall care for you.’ To him, Eliza looked afraid, and so she was. He quickly figured out the matter and asked: ‘Did my aunt say anything? Perhaps she was strict when she asked you to fetch something?’ Upon no account did Eliza wish to tell the truth, but his expression made it clear that he thought the same of his aunt as she. It was on this basis that Eliza confessed: ‘She did not want me to fetch anything–because of my state, she turned me away, but mayhap she was in the right.’ At this, Henry’s expression changed yet again, this time to one of anger. He muttered something inaudible to himself, but to Eliza he said: ‘D— it, Elizabeth–sorry–Miss Morten, you mustn't mind her! Please, come in; you are feverish.’ Eliza was relieved that he was not in agreement with his aunt, and followed him inside, remarking in a low voice: ‘You may call me Elizabeth when we are alone, sir.’ To which Henry responded, with great pleasure: ‘And you may likewise call me Henry when we are in private, Elizabeth–I am ever so glad that we have shrugged off the cumbersomeness of last names and the like.’ Both lady and gentleman shared this feeling, and Eliza made so known.

When Henry’s aunt showed her displeasure at Eliza’s reappearance, her nephew explained the situation, and she grudgingly agreed that it was best to care for her at the Woodstock residence rather than send her home. A new gown was provided–this wounded Eliza more than anything, for it proved that the lady truly disliked her, and thus could not spare one before. Her quarters were meagre, but Henry told her ‘not to worry; his aunt would soon get accustomed to her, and be kinder.’

 

CHAPTER III

The next day proved to have more propitious weather, and Jim returned! He had been away to see his ill mother, and had left a note with George, the stable boy, but of course the boy had forgotten it in the hay. Anyhow, his mother had recovered quickly, and Jim had made haste to return to his work. His first task was to drive Mrs. Morten and Clementine down to see Eliza–the knowledge of Eliza’s illness caused him considerable grief, but Clementine whispered to her mother to ‘tell him it was alright,’ and Mrs. Morten did.

Eliza was very ill when her mother arrived, and she could barely speak; she could hear, though, Henry telling her family of the events leading up to this in a low voice. Mrs. Morten bent down over Eliza and wept a little before giving her a shilling and straightening to ask Henry if Eliza was in a state to return home. Henry responded that another day, possibly two, was necessary before Eliza could be about anywhere. Mrs. Morten asked Eliza, but though the girl could answer in the positive, she was confused and feverish, and Mrs. Morten sided with Henry. Eliza was thus to remain where she was until Tuesday at the earliest, to her distress.

‘What of Miss Lenar?’ she recalled after the two women left. ‘She and I were to walk to-day! I must go! for I am certain we were to go at noon, and it is half-past-eleven—’ Henry interrupted her. ‘You shall go nowhere, Elizabeth. Not until you are recovered.’ Eliza was far too fatigued to argue with him, and thus she only acquiesced after requesting him to ‘send one of his servants to beg her pardon.’ He did this without hesitation.

Henry felt a sense of guilt–after all, if he was a little faster, Eliza would be well–so he often brought her meals and tea. Eliza was particularly pleased when he presented her with a copy of Udolpho, and happily surprized when he told her that she may keep it. For, as he told her, ‘it was the least he could do.’

On Tuesday evening, Eliza felt well enough to venture down-stairs; going out-of-doors was out of the question, for it had grown dark, and she was still not fully recovered. It was nearly suppertime, so she went in the direction of the dining room; Eliza was adventurous, however, and a lit room with its door slightly ajar attracted her attention, and she halted. Voices from the inside could be heard clearly–Eliza could not resist listening. What she heard was this: ‘Frederick, you do not understand–’ from Henry, and from his guest, ‘I understand the terms fully well, as do you.’ Henry responded: ‘It is not a deal anymore. You understand correctly now, do not you?’ Frederick was silent for a moment, and then said, ‘Elizabeth will be mine, Henry–just you wait.’ Someone approached the door; Eliza turned and ran as fast as she could to her chambers, flustered and confused. Evidently she was not faster than Henry, who had caught a glimpse of her dress as she disappeared around a corner, for he caught ahold of her arm before she could close the door. He anxiously whispered, ‘Elizabeth, what were you doing down-stairs?’ She replied, trembling, ‘O-o-only going to have supper with you and your aunt.’ He looked only slightly relieved. ‘Did you hear anything, Elizabeth?’ asked he. She nodded, slightly ashamed, and when he asked her what, she said: ‘Enough,’ and shut the door as quickly as she could. She began to weep; for over the course of four days, her prejudices against men had vanished. She was wounded, and thus would not open the door when Henry knocked. He muttered an oath and ran back down-stairs to confront Frederick.

Eliza pondered the matter for what seemed to be hours, until the stars shone brightly outside; she decided that it was imprudent to remain at Whitemaple House any longer, despite her being as yet ill. Her fever returned even stronger than before and her mind became clouded while she devised this most unladylike plan: She would leave through the window, so as not to risk meeting Henry or Frederick again, make haste towards the coach station, and take the first carriage at dawn. There was no room for error, and there was not much time left; Eliza left immediately after writing a brief note, at the last stroke of one o’clock. She tore her dress on the frame, but was in a state of confusion and did not think to pick up the scrap of fabric. Through the town she hurried, and eventually reached the station. She sat down to wait on a bench hidden from view and tried to keep awake, but she soon dropped into a deep sleep.

Dawn broke; Eliza still slept, but at Whitemaple, Henry found a note, which read:

 

Dear Sir,

I had thought better of you. Good-bye.

-Elizabeth Morten

 

Henry instantly organised a search party of ten servants; they traveled door to door, first to Dewleaf House to tell Mrs. Morten of her daughter’s disappearance—the lady fainted, and Clementine said they had not seen Eliza either. The party continued, and they too reached the station. They enquired of the stationmaster whether he had seen a girl of Eliza’s appearance. He answered that he had not; the party continued without noticing the sleeping Eliza behind a hedge five paces away from them.

Eliza woke around noon, and was even more feverish than before. She heard the stationmaster announce the Noon Flyer, and she ran out to meet it. The master, recognising her from the servants’ description, attempted to call her back, but she was inside and the coach was departed before he could run after her. He did, however, send word to Whitemaple that Eliza was headed towards Scotland. Upon receival of this information, Henry uttered: ‘The girl is out of her mind with fever! she will not last five minutes in Scotland!’ and immediately sent his carriage after her.

The coach was fast, but not faster than the carriage, whose horses were being whipped enormously. The servants of Whitemaple soon caught up with the Eliza and ordered the driver to stop; the driver had a career, however, wherefore he refused. At this, the servants became angry, for they too had careers, wherefore they refused to let him refuse; they told Eliza to order the driver to halt, but Eliza did not—instead, she urged the driver to go faster—and the carriage was soon out of sight behind her.

Scotland was very far, and Eliza was to change coaches in the evening. Soon it was seven o’clock, and she was settled in the next coach—when who should she discover to be the driver but Mr. Henry Woodstock! All of her feelings of anger and hurt flooded her mind again, and she ordered him to stop; he wouldn't, and she opened the door of the coach. Henry shouted that she was in a state of delirium, and she was, for the coach was moving at a brisk twenty kilometres per hour, and her intention was to leap out of it. She was not in her right mind, however, and she lept. She landed on her feet but stumbled and rolled over and over for awhile. When she came to rest, she was in a dead faint.

 

CHAPTER IV

Eliza woke near dawn the next day in her own bed at the Morten residence with her mother, Clementine, and Henry Woodstock beside her. Henry looked at Mrs. Morten for permission to be alone with Eliza, and the two ladies left the room. As soon as the door closed, Henry cleared his throat. ‘Elizabeth,’ he began, ‘Elizabeth, you must understand—’ Eliza held her hand up and silenced him. ‘Henry,’ she said, ‘it is you who does not understand. I will not be traded around like a doll—I am a person. You may hate females in general, but surely you do not hate me.’ Henry sighed and replied, ‘I am sorry, Elizabeth. My actions were detestable, and I am mortified. Please forgive me.’ Eliza looked up at him and said, ‘I was not aware that a man of fortune would do this much for money—’ Henry stood abruptly, gritted his teeth, and responded, ‘It was not for money, Elizabeth. It was for—anyhow, the deal is off, Frederick has been sent away, and it is better that way.’ He took Eliza’s hand. ‘Elizabeth, I have fallen madly in love with you, so that I cannot think of anything else. I offer you my hand, my heart, and my fortune if you accept.’

Eliza stared at him, unable to process this. ‘Are you proposing to me?’ she asked slowly. ‘Yes,’ Henry answered, ‘yes, Elizabeth, I am.’ Eliza narrowed her eyes and snapped, ‘You have the nerve to propose to me, considering all you have done to me, after only a week of knowing me, and with me in this state? Absolutely not. I share your feelings, Mr. Woodstock, but I decline, and do not expect to change my mind.’ Henry dropped her hand and stood up. ‘Then, Miss Morten,’ he said coldly, ‘I will leave this godforsaken place, for it is drab and monotonous without you.’ With that, he threw his water glass on the floor, strode out the door, past the astonished Mrs. Morten and Clementine, and left for Whitemaple. Eliza picked up a single shard of broken glass.

Mrs. Morten, after learning of Eliza’s refusal, gave her no pocket money, disallowed her from leaving the house except to see and accept Henry, and when Eliza declared she would not, left her in the northern tower with bread and water to subsist on.

During the space of a week, Mrs. Morten tried several times to call on Henry, but each time he refused to see her. Two weeks after Eliza’s rejection, the wealthy, well-established, and wonderful Mr. Henry Woodstock was gone, and his large house was vacant and ghostly silent.

 

CHAPTER V

Eliza rested her head in her hands and wept as Clementine imparted to her the knowledge of Henry’s departure. ‘I did love him, Clementine,’ she sobbed. ‘I did love him; it was only that I could not trust him.’ Clementine hugged her tightly. ‘I know, Elizabeth,’ she whispered. ‘I know.’ Eliza sank to her knees and cried herself to sleep on the cold, splintery floor.

She was forbidden to leave the tower at all for the next six months, during which time Clementine brought her food and drink, and Mrs. Morten did not show herself at all. Eliza slowly wasted away; her healthy, round cheeks lost their colour, and her waist grew slimmer and slimmer. Clementine wept every time she saw Eliza, but Mrs. Morten would refuse to let the captive girl free, for ‘if Eliza would not give them fortune, they would not give her little pleasantries either.’ So Eliza became a pale creature, nothing like what she had been.

Three months would have been multiplied a hundredfold had Mr. Henry Woodstock not rode into town the night of March 26, 1859, on business. He was to meet with a gentleman known as Desmond Hills and would not leave until March 31, on account of certain papers being due on the last day of March.

On March 30, though, the documents were finished, and Henry took a little stroll through town, taking care not to venture near the Morten residence; however, his feelings for Eliza had not diminished, and he found himself at the door in no time at all. The knocker was there; the knocker was right there—but he could not bring himself to do it. He cursed himself, the world, and the Lord Above before turning to walk slowly away. At that moment, however, the maid Clara opened the door to run an errand and saw Henry standing with his back turned and his hands in his coat pockets. ‘Mr. Woodstock?’ she asked tentatively. ‘Mr. Woodstock, is that you?’ Henry started and turned around and said, resignedly, ‘Yes. I would like a word with Miss Morten.’ Clara’s face betrayed sorrow. ‘Why?’ Henry asked quickly. ‘Whatever is the matter?’ Clara said in response, ‘Elizabeth is not permitted to leave the tower to see anyone, because she refused you. Mrs. Morten declared it to be so.’ Henry’s face darkened in rage. ‘How long,’ he asked menacingly, ‘has she been there, without sun or activity?’ Clara looked away in fear. ‘Six months, sir,’ she responded. Henry muttered an oath and pushed past her into the house. He ran up the stairs and lifted the latch of the heavy oak tower door. Inside lay Eliza, singing a sad song in a low voice.

‘You sing well,’ he remarked. Eliza whirled around and stopped singing at the sight of him. ‘Is it you, sir?’ she asked in utter disbelief. ‘Are you really there?’ Henry pulled his coat tighter around himself. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘it is. It is cold in here, though; why do not you have a fire?’ Eliza was silent as she touched his hand. At last she said, ‘I never have a fire, sir.’ ‘Why are you so pale and thin, miss?’ he asked quietly. Eliza broke away and replied, ‘I have not seen you in a long time.’ Henry looked to the side and closed his eyes tight enough to stop in their tracks any ungentlemanly tears which would try to escape.

Clementine thrust open the door to deliver a tray of food to Eliza, but stopped in astonishment as soon as she saw Henry. Henry looked at the stale bread and cold water on the tray and pushed the stunned girl aside, leading Eliza out of the room and into the brightest parlour. ‘Wait here,’ he said, gently squeezing her hand as she rubbed her eyes on account of the light and then rummaging through the pantry. Eventually, his eyes fell upon a large sponge cake, which he drew from the cupboard and took to Eliza. She looked first at it, then at him, and she began to weep. ‘Henry,’ she said softly. ‘You should not have left. I was ill. I do not even remember refusing you, or anything at all until a couple days after you left.’ Henry patted her wrist and said, ‘I am sorry, Elizabeth. I will never leave you again. Now eat.’ Eliza held a piece of cake to her pale lips, and right then, Mrs. Morten entered the room. She stood stock still as she took in the scene, and then she walked quietly over to Eliza and held her tight. ‘My dear Elizabeth,’ she said as she looked incredulously at Henry. ‘And Mr. Woodstock… has Elizabeth come to her senses and accepted you?’ A small smile appeared on Eliza’s face, and Henry replied, bowing, ‘Yes, ma’am, she has. Was that the reason you kept my poor, dear Elizabeth locked up in a tower like some sort of Rapunzel?’ Mrs. Morten looked visibly ashamed. ‘I was still hurt because of her father’s death,’ she admitted hesitantly. ‘I extend my apologies to both you and her.’ Eliza put her arms around the lady, and they embraced as Henry looked at Eliza in shock. ‘Your father is dead?’ he asked. ‘Yes,’ the girl replied, ‘and the funeral is on April 2.’ Henry was silent in amazement for a moment, and then he said, ‘I am so sorry, Elizabeth; I am so, so sorry.’ Eliza smiled a bittersweet smile, and the rest of the day was composed of wedding arrangements.

 

CHAPTER VI

On May 19, 1859, Elizabeth and Henry Woodstock were married at a large ceremony, and two years later, a child they called Jane was born into the world. Eliza gave the shard of glass to her, as protection against anything awful; it came to some use when Jane was seventeen years of age, and a rather frightfully eventful two weeks passed—an excerpt from her diary is shown here.

 

  Monday, August 3, 1876.

I hate it all––every last bit of it. They want to send me away to some school somewhere. I don’t care if it’s in the middle of the countryside; I do not want to go, and I told them so, but they would not listen. I leave early to-morrow morning, and I shan’t see them again until Christmas this year––this will not do. I shall not be made to wear fancy dresses, curl my hair, and carry a fan; no, they daren’t tell me to do any such thing. I will run away––yes! that is what I will do! It is a perfect idea, is not it? I believe it is—no, I know it is. I shall go when the clock strikes its last at midnight: how romantic! It will be just like all the novels, indeed it shall, for I have read a very nice book, and will form my plan around it.

Now it is a quarter to midnight, and I am all ready to leave; but I am having misgivings about this scheme. My parents and siblings love me, and I love them too, so how can I leave them? But then again, they wanted to ship me off anyways––yes, they do not care for me anymore. I will go now, but I will visit them at Christmas and we shall see then.

 

Tuesday, August 4, 1876.

It is a quarter past midnight now, and I am past the back garden gate. I write this by the light of the moon, so I cannot elaborate right now. My dawn entry will fill the gaps.

It has become dawn, and I can see better now. The frightful experiences of last night––! I had quite a scare when Mum almost woke because of that confounded creaky step; she lit a candle, and then blew it out again (thank the heavens). I suppose she was more asleep than awake, as she  and Pa usually are until noon and broad daylight, for they keep London hours. I made haste then, only having enough time to swipe a couple tallow candles, a pound coin, and a piece of cake for breakfast. The gate was open, fortunately, and I passed outside. I forced myself to go on, and I soon reached the coach station uneventfully; I caught the Dawn Flyer. I write this from inside of it after paying with all my pocket change except the pound. I am having half of the cake; it is delicious, by the way, especially due to my hunger.

Now it is noon, and I am in a state of excitement, for I have reached a very pretty town, and I can only sense the opportunities it has to offer. The coach driver has been very sweet to me––he took down all my bags and did not even ask for a tip, and I could not give him my pound, so I presented him with the other half of the cake. He did not comment except to tell me that it looked ‘simply scrumptious, Miss Jane,’ and he did not ask me what I was doing on my own either.

I am inside a little trinket shop now,––I could not resist going in––and there is a length of pink ribbon which I simply must have, but I cannot buy it, for I need my money for other things. I daren’t linger here any longer; the temptation is too great.

I am becoming a little bit worried now; it is one o’clock, and I have had to save my money, and thus bought only a single biscuit for lunch. The biscuit was good, though… I shall say that for my meal, and the shop owner was kind to me, and gave me a sweet as well, which I had for dessert.

It is currently four o’clock, and I am famished. A pound is not nearly enough to last until Christmas; I must work. I am seventeen, and I am not skilled at embroidery or knitting,––which is probably why I was to go to a finishing school––but I am fluent in French. Perhaps I shall be a tutor? It is possible.

It is five o’clock, and I have been door-to-door, but no one seems to want my services––is it, possibly, the ‘bad influence’, as Mum puts it, that my boyish appearance would have on younger girls? Mayhap. I shall buy myself another biscuit for dinner.

I cannot think of another biscuit that tasted half so good as this one, but I am hungry, after all. I have five-and-seventy pence left; I suppose I must go without supper.

It is nine o’clock, and I write this by the light of a gaslamp. I must retire, but I know not where to bed. There are no kindly farmers like in the novels; there is only a wood, but I am scared to death of woods––that is out of the question.––Where shall I stay?

It seems to me like I have been up forever. It is eleven o’clock, and I cannot keep my eyes open any longer; I will make bed in the wood. Oh, Lord! grant me strength! I will certainly need it.

The woods are dark; I was obliged to strike two rocks together to make a spark, which lighted my first candle. I am glad that I am not girlish in this moment, so much that all those reprimands and fibbings seem worth bearing now. I have made my bed out of pine needles––it is more comfortable than I reckoned it would be. By my pocketwatch, it is ten to midnight. I am retiring now.

 

Wednesday, August 5, 1876.

I have risen; my timepiece tells me it is nine in the morning. The first thing I felt, and the sensation I feel now, is hunger. I wish to go back, but my remaining pence are not enough to pay for the trip. The only reason I do not weep is this very journal; I pour my feelings into it. Now I shall get breakfast, but it shan’t be a biscuit––no, it shall be berries from a rather delightful-looking shrub. Mum warned me of wood berries, but I have had some before, and I did not pass on, so they must be fine.

Well, I have had the berries, and I am still alive. They will become part of my diet, I suppose, then. I shall rest until about noon, after which I shall venture into town again.

It is noon, and good God! it pains! perhaps those berries were not good to eat after all. I cannot bear it; I cannot even rise from my makeshift bed. Please, Lord––send help! Now, what is this I hear? I do believe it is a person; I must hide myself, but how? Oh, no! it cannot be! this cannot be the help I pleaded for. I am trying to hide myself behind that wretched berry bush, but the pain is too great. I cannot budge except to write this. I can see––it is a him––I can see him now. I pray he does not see me, for I am terrified of young men. Alas! He has noticed me, and he is coming over this way. I must sit up, at least; I must be presentable. D––– it! I cannot even sit up? Those berries must be bad indeed. I swear I shan’t touch a blackberry in my life again. He is mayhap ten paces away now; I am ashamed.

The man––he was only out for a stroll––is gone back, but he is only off to get the town doctor. I could not even speak for the agony inside of me, so he does not know my name; that is something to be glad of, for I am not creative, and must take some time to devise an alibi. He is rather nice––I suppose all young men are?––I cannot see well now; my vision is blurred, and thus I lay down my pen.

 

Thursday, August 6, 1876.

 It is noon of to-morrow; or is it noon of to-day? But Richard––that is the young man’s name, Richard Langston––told me this morning that it was to-morrow, which is in all honesty, to-day. I am all mixed up on account of my fainting shortly after I lost my vision, but it is a fact that it is noon of Thursday. I am in a little bed inside of Richard’s house, and he has brought me hot porridge for lunch, by the doctor’s orders. I was well enough to speak, though, so I told him my pseudonym in place of my name: Rebecca Wilson. The doctor says I shall be well enough to continue on my way––I told Richard, also, that I was only passing through––in no more than four days, so that is another blessing: what could happen in four days?

 It is five o’clock, and I have had a full meal once again! Supposing I could have a bit of supper as well? Richard and his family—he has a sister besides his mum and pa—are very nice. Evelyn, his sister, taught me how to sew a little, and she gave me a pretty handkerchief. It has a sweet bird on it; I love birds!

 The others have gone to bed already—I would say about an hour ago—but I am still awake. Quite frankly, I cannot sleep, and thus I turn to my journal, and state the reason for my insomnia: The papers have advertisements rewarding five hundred pounds for the turning in of a ‘Miss Jane Woodstock.’ My parents are likely responsible for this; what if Richard or Evelyn has seen it? The descriptions match me exactly. I see now what I must do. My pain has disappeared, and so must I. This time, however, I shan’t have any money at all, for though Richard accidentally left a ten pound note on the dresser-table, I simply can’t bring myself to take it, and my five-and-seventy pence were in my trousers pocket—Evelyn made me change into a skirt, and I did not think to salvage the money.—There is a pair of sewing-scissors, also, and these I will use. I shall cut my hair short.

Well, that is done, and I have gotten my shirt and trousers out of the laundry—the money has all fallen out; I must go penniless. There was also a little tweed cap, which I would say is worth fifty pence, so I took it too. The innocent family had forgotten to lock the front door, and it was well oiled; thus I could simply walk out onto the road. I then began to regret having left the money, for I needed to escape from the picturesque town as soon as possible, but I dared not go back inside. I walked for awhile, and then, as if by a miracle of sorts, a five pound note revealed itself in the dust I kicked whilst I was underneath a gaslamp; I stopped immediately to write this. I now have just a little more than enough money for a one-way ticket to London.

I am inside of a coach now—the Midnight Flyer.—I wonder why every coach is some sort of Flyer?—It is very dark, and thus I will say only that much, so as not to strain my eyes.

 

Friday, August 7, 1876.

I have reached London—it is not at all as I thought it would be! It is certainly fancier: all the ladies are in their expensive ruffled gowns, even though it is only dawn. But it is also grayer––far grayer—the architecture is really pretty, though. I have always wished to live in a London townhouse, but I have not money enough; one pound coin is left in my trousers pocket. Oh––and I have found out that coach-drivers are nicer to ladies than they are to boys and men; this one most definitely expected me to tip him. I gave him a couple of shillings.

I am lost; so utterly lost. I have no chance of figuring out where to go––London is so d––– large! Whatever is the matter, dearest journal? Ah! you are bothered by my language? Perhaps you think me to be a proper lady? Think again!

Well, here is a biscuit shop; I did not know there were any in London, but I shall go in. I have a good impression of biscuit-shopkeepers, that’s why––anyhow, I am going in now.

You would never guess who I saw inside––it was Richard! He saw me, but he did not recognise me, for I was now George Stewardson. All the same, I bought a biscuit. He stopped me on my way out, though, and asked me in about these words, ‘whether I had seen a girl of fifteen around, who had brown eyes and hair?’ I said that ‘I had not,’ and was about to leave when a sudden draft knocked my cap off my head. Although my hair was boyishly short, it was the exact colour of Rebecca’s—or shall I say mine? and my features matched her’s—pardon, mine—exactly. Richard grabbed my arm with an obvious show of shock, but I wrested it away. I am almost ashamed to admit my actions after that, but this is my trusted journal, and so I shall. I slapped him smartly—truly, I did! And then I curtseyed apologetically, turned, picked up my cap, and ran out into the street. That is when I saw the gig; I had just enough time to dodge it. The driver shouted a curse at me, but I was already winding my way through the crowds of ladies and gentleman walking lazily, in my eyes, by the side of the road. I had lost Richard, and I was relieved. This emotion did not last long, however, for at that moment a group of urchins came tearing around the corner and knocked me down. I recall only that I hit a lamppost, and nothing more. I write this from the same spot, except that is dark and most of the crowd is dissipated, for in London, the men and women are busy—too busy to care for someone such as myself. I do suppose, however, that things would have been different if I had stayed a girl—yes, I am still a girl; what I meant was that things would have been different if I had acted as one.—Anyhow, my head is beginning to pound, and I shall lay down my pen after only remarking how d––– cruel those children (such complete gits!) were; they robbed me of all my money.

 

Saturday, August 8, 1876.

I have a massive headache. A lady approached me around dawn to-day, and took me somewhere she said was safe. She said that nobody would hurt me again. She, Evelyn Langston, also had a brother, whom she called Richard. I swear I know them, but I haven't the faintest how. Oh, Lord! I wish to go home; this place is so strange!

Evelyn placed me in a carriage going to a place they say is my home; I must take their word for it. Richard is accompanying me to this place—Whitemaple House is its name. And you wouldn't believe what Evelyn said Richard told her! she says that he called me very pretty. I blush, now, whenever he speaks to me.

We have reached Whitemaple. Mum and Pa fussed over me quite a lot,—Mum was quite upset about my new, ‘outrageous’ hairdo—and then Emmeline and Paul, my siblings, led me to a room that looks so very familiar—but I cannot remember a bit of my life in my old residence. The doctor—somehow, I know him too—said that I have a head injury, something he calls a concussion, and that my memory likely won’t return. I am glad that you exist, then, my dear journal, for I have committed all of my life’s events in you ever since I was four years old. Before then, my parents did the yet-unfamiliar work of writing for me. I must read you from cover to cover again to replenish my memories.

I have read it now, and I see that I do know Evelyn, Richard, and the doctor, as well as all the places I wondered at just hours before. Oh, but here is Evelyn; I must stop writing.

 

Sunday, August 9, 1876.

Well, what do you know? I am all in a fluster, for Richard made an offer of matrimony to me directly after church! truly, he did! and I have accepted. Here, I suppose, it is fitting to provide a description of my fiancé: he is three-and-twenty, with brown hair and light blue eyes, he is about a head taller than me, at least a thousand times kinder, and he loves me. I love him, too—our wedding is to take place as soon as I return from school. Oh! my dear journal! Thank you so much! I owe much to you—you see, I should not have been able to accept him had you not proven the existence and nature of our acquaintance. I shall continue telling my life’s stories to you, forever. And I am indebted to Evelyn as well; who knows where I should have been right now if she hadn't saved me from my own self? Miss Evelyn Langston is my heroine—and I just learned that she is going to the very same finishing school as I this year. We shall have such splendid times!

 

Monday, August 10, 1876.

I am to depart tomorrow, at six o’clock on Tuesday morning. Evelyn is to accompany me into the moors—the school is right in the middle of them—but she is nineteen, and thus we shall be separated, I going to stay in one tower, and she in another. We shall meet, despite this, during the meals and events. All young ladies attending the school must come prepared—the list of items includes a curling rag, at least ten day frocks and three ball gowns, stationery, and some pocket money.—I must get to work packing.

My bags are nearly packed now, and I pause only to note the incredible row Mum is having with Pa. I can make out but few words that they are throwing at each other—sometimes Mum says, ‘a better quality,’ and then Pa responds, ‘they are respectable,’ and so on.—From this and other snippets I can safely conclude that Mum is petitioning for Pa to give her the money to buy me expensive gowns, and Pa is refusing to do so. This is rather enjoyable to listen to, but it could escalate too far; I will intervene.

I have sided with neither Mum nor Pa, but instead assisted the two on reaching a compromise—I have much experience in this; sometimes it seems to me like I am more of an adult than they are. Pa has agreed to give Mum exactly one hundred pounds to be used for dresses and gowns, and twenty pounds otherwise. For my pin money, he has allotted ten pounds—far more than I had expected, but welcome all the same. In return, Mum has relinquished one hundred pounds of her pocket change over the course of the year, and I have agreed to curtail my book-buying for awhile.

Richard visited me just an hour ago; this is the first time he has done so since our engagement. He and I talked of the usual, but we could not skirt the topic of my going for very long. The subject was broached, and he told me that he would also be away at Bath for a few weeks around the time of my departure, and that he would be at London on business during the week of my arrival, and the he gave me a little string of pearls to remember him by. At that point, I was extremely embarrassed, for I had naught to give him in return. He told me not to worry, that he would remember me always, but I needed more comfort than that—I could not find anything worthwhile, though, and thus I revealed something I had never shown to anyone before. It was a single shard of broken glass that Mum had strung around my neck when I was born—she did not ever tell me what it signified, except that it was meant to protect me. This puzzled me; after all, it is broken glass, but I still wore it and never removed it from its place by my breast. Anyhow, this I slowly took off and hung about Richard’s neck, and he said not a word. I fastened the pearls about my neck, and the two of us parted. It has been five minutes since Richard went; I wished to note everything of our last meeting whilst it was still fresh in my memory.

Mum told me that I did not have much of an appetite at breakfast to-day, and it is true; I did not. Somehow, without the glass I feel vulnerable, too vulnerable to eat. I kept fingering the pearls, however, though they will never make me experience the same emotion as that which the glass instills in me.

I have been reading for some time now, whilst Emmeline and Paul have been raising a racket throughout the house in their games of chase—it is too gloomy out-of-doors to have any real pleasure at all. They invited me to play as well, but I, being five years older than Paul, nine years older than Emmeline, and far faster than the both of them combined, declined; they cannot have as much enjoyment with me as they can with only each other.

Evelyn has called, now—we embroidered a little; I could just make out Mum’s whispered words of praise to her: ‘Miss Langston, you have achieved in a week what Henry and I could not in seventeen years. Thank you so much.’ This brought a smile to Evelyn’s countenance. For my part, I taught her how to speak a few words in French; much practise must be had for her to be fluent, though.

I have not had an opportunity to write until now; it is nine o’clock, and I will retire after noting that the rest of to-day's happenings were of no great importance.

 

Tuesday, August 11, 1876.

It is half past five; I have dressed in attire suitable for traveling, and I am just finishing my breakfast of toast, ham, and eggs. Mum relentlessly reprimands me for ‘incessantly writing in that little book, which was only meant for temporary pleasure,’ but I remember my promise to you, journal, and thus I shall ignore her scoldings.

Oh, dear.—I have met another Flyer.—This one’s first name is Ray.—I suppose that refers to the rays of sunshine that peek from behind the trees every morning? Evelyn and I are already having a marvelous time; we both absolutely love Shakespeare, and thus can have intellectual conversations—my favourite sort of téte-a-téte. Now, though, she has dropped to sleep, for she sat up with Mum and Pa until eleven o’clock at night; I awoke momentarily to the sound of her chamber door shutting. Ah! it is peaceful and silent this morning, the air is sweet, and opportunities abound.

We have met with difficulties, too many for me to count; first, the carriage had to bog itself down in mud. Second, we were stopped again, but this time by gypsies—the d——ed sods took Evelyn’s fifteen pounds, but left my money, which I split amongst the two of us. Third, it began to rain, and lightning began to flash. The scared horses reared up onto their hind legs and rocked the carriage to and fro; Evelyn promptly fainted, but I was used to being knocked about, and opened the door. The rope connexions between the frightened mares and Evelyn and me was just out of reach, and the driver had bailed in panic, so I took upon myself the weight of responsibility and the risk associated with being a savior and swung onto the narrow, delicate step. The penknife in my hand trembled and drew a thick red line of blood across my wrist before cutting the horses loose; the carriage immediately fell upside-down with a thud. I knocked my head on the luggage-rack, but that was of no concern to me—my thoughts were given to Evelyn, who still lay inside of the carriage. A moment later, the world swirled around me to no end, until everything was a bright white; after that, the lights seemed to go out, and I felt my knees give way. As Evelyn told me later, she woke up a few seconds before I passed out and saw me bleeding heavily. Her own wounds were only bruises, and she whistled for help; the coach driver then crept from the ditch beside the road, ashamed. When I woke up, the carriage was traveling at a full gallop, and Evelyn was sprinkling lavender water and smelling-salts on my face.

It was the moors for as far as I could see, marred only by the four towers of the school. The carriage did not slow until we reached the courtyard, and even then, we were moving fairly briskly. A sudden jerk, and the carriage stopped; I found myself being pulled out of the compartment and through the great double doors. This, then, was my introduction to Mademoiselle Jacqueline’s Finishing School for Young Ladies. I was dragged through passage after passage until I reached a dingy-looking doorway and a sign which read, ‘WARD. ILL STUDENTS ONLY.’ My nurse is is very kind to me; I write this now whilst I am having a piece of gingerbread and a mug of cocoa. It seems that every time I leave home, I stumble upon some misfortune or other; but now I am tired, and I will rest.

 

Wednesday, August 12, 1876.

Is it only the nurses who are generous (before I left this afternoon, Maria—she is only five-and-twenty, and cared for me the most—slipped a few chocolates into my hand, which I quickly stuffed into the pocket of my traveling-dress before Joanna—that is the name of the older, harsher nurse—could confiscate them. Our dinner was meagre; we ate only a thin husk if bread and a sliver of cheese. Perhaps breakfast shall be more substantial. It is now bedtime, or as the other girls call it, lights-out—a fitting name indeed, for Miss Clara, our tower’s ‘guard’ or ‘overseer,’ blew out every candle in the room (our tower’s name is ‘Elm’—all the towers are named after trees—because, according to Mademoiselle Jacqueline, elms are the most graceful of all trees, and we are the eldest). The girls loved me instantly on account of my daring attitude: I openly refused to remove my necklace when Mademoiselle ordered me to, and my hair is styled as a boy’s. Speaking of boys, this is a girls only school, but there is an annual ball on Christmas-eve.

Is it only my nurse who is good to me? Before I left this morning, she—Maria,—slipped a few chocolates and a block of gingerbread into my hand; I promptly relocated them to my bag before Joanna, the harsher nurse, could confiscate them.—Maria warned me of Mademoiselle’s ‘sweets policies.’  Breakfast was composed of a glass of cold milk, a dry husk of bread, and a sliver of old cheese. I could scarcely swallow a mouthful of the putrid stuff; perhaps our mid-day meal shall be better. After Mademoiselle inspected our dresses and faces for cleanliness and tidiness, we broke apart into classes. I was in the French class, with Miss Florence as teacher; thus I reckoned it would be a breeze, but—no. In fact, I received a fibbing worse than any Mum had ever given me—and the reason?—I fingered my pearls while Miss Florence was speaking. Apparently, jewelry of any sort is disallowed. Anyhow, I refused to remove the string from my neck, and thus, my beating. I bore it without a cry of pain, which made the teacher more enraged––the other girls loved me instantly. I left class with no less pride than I had had at the start—but I did notice that my lunch was more meagre than any other girl’s. Because of this, another of my classmates gave me some of her bread and a piece of her cheese—her name is Carol. Evelyn was engaged with a group of girls her own age, and did not notice my plight.

Afterwards there was History and Letter-Writing (uneventful), and then we assembled again for a cup of tea in the dining-hall. Evelyn spoke to me then, and introduced me to the group I had seen  her with earlier—Catherine, Rudy, Wendy, and Lesley. Then, two more unexciting classes, Knitting and Beauty, and then dinner, which was a small slice of cold meat and another piece of bread, and then a period of free time. I talked with Evelyn and Carol, and we had a pleasant time. There was no supper—all the girls were simply famished—and then I remembered Maria’s gift to me; so after Miss Georgiana blew out the candles, I reached into my bag and drew out the chocolates, then went around the room distributing them to the girls. The more timid ones cried for gratitude a little, and the rest shouted with glee. This seemed like an overreaction to me, so I asked them if they had not had chocolate recently; they replied that they had not had anything sweet since they had arrived at the school. This scared me quite a lot, and I resolve now to keep the gingerbread for later. Everyone else has fallen asleep a while ago; so shall I.

 

Thursday, August 13, 1876.

I have risen before anyone else, so as to have more time to wash up and write. Miss Georgiana is not awake, either; perhaps I shall take a little stroll? but the door is locked, and the window opens onto the roof. I need a breath of fresh air, though, and so I will risk being seen.

I have torn my dress a little bit—Mademoiselle will be furious, but I shan’t mind it, for I have no concern whatsoever for her or her policies, and I have seen something which distresses me; I will describe it now. I saw a carriage.—And in the middle of the moors, too! this is rare. I thought for only a moment, and no more, before I settled on a course of action; I shinned down the ivy on the wall (thank the heavens, it held) and hid behind a tall hedge. The carriage stopped, but the door did not open; instead, a girl—it was Carol!—walked out  with Mademoiselle through the main double doors of the school. She was smiling like anything, and was all innocence. Then the carriage door opened, and a man stepped out. I could not see his face, but something around his neck was reflecting the light. His hair was brown, and I began to have suspicions that it was Richard! I was surprized beyond compare, but I held my peace. Without warning, he caught hold of Carol’s arm and thrust her into the carriage—then jumped in after her—the driver gave a hiyah, and the carriage sped off—and all before Carol could shout out. I wrested the pearls from my neck with a cry of anger. That quickly changed to sadness, and I sank to my knees and sobbed. Slowly, I climbed back up and through the window. I have learnt a lesson in trust.

So Richard kidnaps girls; I must sever all ties with him. The glass is now the only thing that binds me to him—I must see him again to demand it back. I am too fatigued to describe the boring events of to-day, and thus I shall go directly to bed.

 

Friday, August 14, 1876.

Evelyn and the other elder girls are all in a buzz, for Wendy is to leave to visit ‘home’ tonight; little do they realise that she is really going to be taken by the monster I once loved. I daren’t open my mouth to speak the truth, and thus––I shan’t. Oh, God! I wish I might tell everything to everyone! but Mademoiselle would soon find out, and she is on Mr. Langston’s (I shan’t ever say ‘Richard’ again) side; she would surely silence me––in what way, I know not.

I could not concentrate at any of our useless classes, and thus I haven’t the faintest what they were about.

Wendy was to go late at night, and I sat up. She was a clever girl, unlike gentle, innocent Carol, and as soon as Mr. Langston stepped from the carriage, she tried to run; oh! I wish she hadn’t! for Mr. Langston did not hesitate to deliver a heavy blow to the side of her head. I could not hide my rage, and let out a sob into the silence. Mr. Langston looked about in surprize, and Mademoiselle urged him to hurry; she would deal with whoever had made the noise. I was up the ivy in a twinkling, though, and she did not see me. I peered out of the window lattice and saw her pick up the string of pearls––something must be done about that.––But I know not what! I must sleep; I swear I shall tell all to-morrow morn before they silence me.

 

Saturday, August 15, 1876.

No classes are to take place to-day; this is the only day—excepting Sunday—of the week that students are allowed off  of the grounds. I have arranged a meeting place with the girls in my tower as well as Evelyn and her friends—Rudy knows a little passageway underground that begins in the ward and opens near a creek. Maria agreed to cover for us after I told her of what this ‘school’ really is—a massive facility for kidnapping girls—and she told me that she had seen a different man doing the same around the back of the building, but had thought nothing of it.

We have managed to escape before Miss Florence could tell Mademoiselle of who the pearls belonged to; the passage was simply splendid! I could go on for ages telling you of it, but I shall impose some restrictions on myself. It was dark, and damp, and there were a few candle stumps lying on ledges. Rats were everywhere—they were the only bad part, but made for a proper escape like the ones in the books—and there was water trickling from cracks in the walls near the end; this is how we knew we were below the stream. Soon, Rudy pushed aside a few strands of a rather disgusting-looking plant and revealed a small passageway with a speck of light at its end. It was barely wide enough for one of us to crawl through, let alone all five of us. I am severely claustrophobic—that is the word, is not it?—and could not bring myself to go in first; but I did not have to, for that honour was given to Rudy. I entered last, and it seemed like forever before I wriggled out on the other side of the ten-metre tunnel and stumbled into the light. I blinked a little, and gradually grew accustomed to the brightness. There was not much room for such wasting of time, though, for Rudy and the others were already pushing their way through a lone shrub’s brambles and into a small pocket of earth that Rudy had dug in her first year.

All five of us jammed into the space, and, for a moment, there was a deathly silence. I broke it with a little sniffle, for I was weeping. I know Mum told me to be strong, but I couldn't—I just couldn't. Not anymore. I couldn't harbour Mr. Langston’s secret for him. Not anymore. I reminded myself that I did not love him. Not anymore. Anyhow, I began my story, and asked Catherine to note down everything I said, and to leave a little space for what I have just written. This is in her hand, then:Jane said, “You remember how Carol and Wendy went away to visit home?” We all nodded our assent. “Are you sure they went home?” continued she. We fell silent once more. She drew in her breath and told us this: “It was a man. He—he took them both—this school is a—” Her voice broke, and Lesley gently finished her sentence by saying, “a warehouse of girls?” Jane looked up, and she and the rest of us stared at Les, who was usually quiet and reserved. Les went on, “I’ve seen it too—they took my sister and—they made me watch.” Here, she too began to sob. Jane stood up in rage, only to receive an unpleasant reminder as to the height of our little hiding place. She has a tendency to become infuriated at the littlest things—I suppose it is in her nature to do so. She sat down again, and then turned to Evelyn, and said: “Evelyn, have you any idea who that man was?” Evelyn shook her head, and Jane looked down and fumbled with a  particularly long strand of her otherwise boyish hair. Evelyn demanded to know who it was, and eventually Jane met her inquisitive gaze. “My dear Evelyn,” said she, “it was your brother.” Then she stared at her shoes whilst the rest of us whispered and exclaimed amongst ourselves. Only Evelyn was silent, and got up, and strode out onto the moors. Jane was up and after her in a twinkling, and a moment later, so were Lesley, Rudy, and I. We three laggards grew fagged after about a minute of running after the other two, but we saw Jane stop Evelyn another minute later. Rudy motioned for us to go back to the school. Said she, “They need some time alone.” I will deliver this journal back to Jane now.

I am back—Jane is back, that is—and it is evening. Evelyn was so sympathetic, and not for herself, but for me. She spoke more gently than Mum would have if she had been here. I shan't be sleeping in the tower to-night; the moors suit me better. Evelyn told me she would too, but that she had some business to take care of first. I am far too tired to wait any longer; I will sleep.

 

Sunday, August 16, 1876.

We were dragged back to the tower early this morn, and I was immediately sent to Mademoiselle’s office with Evelyn. She was awful silent for an awful long time, and then asked me this: “So, Jane, you've found out my little secret! haven't you?” I told her that I didn't know what she was talking about; she only scoffed and said: “Of course you do, Jane. And so do Evelyn, Rudy, Catherine, and Lesley.” I  was surprized, but I still repeated that I did not, and she replied: “Well, then! it's about time you did. Richard Langston”—and when both of our backs stiffened—“you know the fellow, Evelyn, but you, Jane? you know him as well?” She was genuinely surprized, and I answered that I did know him. She asked how, and I turned to Evelyn, and told her to tell Mademoiselle, because I could not. She said this: “Mademoiselle, Jane is engaged to my brother—or was.” Then she was quiet, and so was Mademoiselle. Mademoiselle’s face turned pale, and she was barely able to dismiss us. Evelyn and I were both utterly bewildered, but we held our peace.

Next was church, and this was not the usual kind of church! The preacher was young but strict; whenever a girl took her eyes off of her Bible, he would slowly walk down the aisle until he reached the girl in question, and then deliver a sudden, sharp rap to her knuckles. This happened to me once, and  to Evelyn twice; but we were distracted, and thus it was only natural. Church let out, and we trudged back to the tower, but Miss Florence stopped me. “Your pearls are gone, Jane—good girl!” said she. I was relieved—I suppose Mademoiselle had not spoken to her yet.

The rest of the day was the students’; I chose to venture into town with Evelyn, Rudy, Catherine, and Lesley. We were all old enough for the pub, and Evelyn wished us to go in—she said a drink or two would ease her nerves—so we did. Instantly, we were surprized, for the pubs in our hometowns were quiet and peaceful, but here it was different. There were ladies and gentlemen alike lounging about, talking loudly. When we walked in, though, they fell silent. Someone called out, “They're girls from that finishing school yonder!” Immediately, the crowd of people stole our bonnets and brooches, and then left us alone. Sods. Evelyn ordered a drink—wine—from the bartender. The rest of us declined her offer to pay for a round, and we agreed to split up and then meet again at the door in an hour’s time. I sat down on my own in a little corner, trying to distance myself from the action in the centre of the room—a fight had broken out. I was worried for Evelyn, as the wine she was sipping was particularly potent—and then my concerns became reality. She dropped her glass—it shattered on the floor—she stumbled and fell into the midst of the fight—a blow to her head—she collapsed. I ran to her side, and then I caught a glimpse of the fighters. One was Mr. Langston! and the other was someone I had never seen before. I turned away, refusing to meet his eyes. As soon as he saw me, though, he took my hand. “Jane!” said he. Said I, “Sir.” He was puzzled at my formality, and asked me to step outside to walk with him; I did.

As soon as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, I noticed  that something was amiss—the glass was gone from his neck! I asked him where it was, and he said, sheepishly, that an urchin had robbed it from him and given it to a man whom he did not know. I flung my arms round his neck in joy—and in broad daylight, too!—and then he noticed that the pearls were missing as well. My story was not as innocent as his, but I began to explain—and I was also embarrassed. He forgave me instantly, and we both cried a little, despite the stares we received. At this point, we were back at the pub, and Evelyn still lay on the floor (oh, my heroine! thank the Lord she was punched). Richard (I shan't ever say ‘Mr. Langston’ again’) and I helped her up and found Rudy, Catherine, and Lesley. Richard was appalled by Mademoiselle’s actions as well as the true nature of the school, but he explained: “Jackie”—he truly called her Jackie!—“loved me a long time ago, but I didn't return her feelings. She vowed to take revenge on the female sex, but—I did not realise she would go to that extent!” After that, the both of us told the others what was true, and not a guess—I have learnt a lesson in truth.

The six of us have decided what we must do; we must free the rest of the girls still unknowingly part of the system, and then we must search for Carol, Wendy, and all the countless others. I doubt if you will ever understand why we shall do this—after all, we could run off right now—but we must. And so, we shall.

We stayed in town till late at night, and then us girls parted from Richard and went back to school. Fibbings awaited each one of us; the curfew was at eight o’clock. The others in my tower are fast asleep, and soon I will be the same.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

 


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