Serial: Part 2 of Bluebell
One day, my love, I will wrap my arms around you and accept your kisses with abandon. I miss your touch more than anything
Forgetting your name is like losing a person, except that the person is you. I cannot think of anything so distressing, can you? The poor girl was certainly distressed.
She reminded me of myself when I was notified of your demise. They say you drowned. I imagined how it must have felt; to know there is nothing left to do but to open your mouth and let the water choke the life from you. I felt like I had drowned, too. For weeks, I was locked in terror at having lost you, and I did not, do not believe you are dead. Would I have not felt the essence of you within my heart wither and die? But no. It is still there, my love. It offers me comfort and I refuse to let go of it.
Oscar and Grace have grown tired of my persistence that you live. They say that is the reason I am as I am and that it is unhealthy. I no longer mention your name, but I keep my faith, my belief, to myself. It is our secret.
This morning, my dear, I woke with a strong sense of purpose. Outside my window, the sun shone gloriously. I am glad that we live a distance from the village of Bishopston, for we would not have these views. You yourself remarked at how handsome our countryside was. Being a Londoner, you were not used to such landscapes. I remember us walking together arm in arm, while I named wild flowers. Grace towed behind us as my chaperone. You reached out to pluck a flower and brushed your hand against some nettles before I could say ‘nay’. You jumped about as though you had been mortally wounded. A rub with a dock leaf soon relieved the stinging, though Grace and I could not keep our amusement to ourselves. That was then, but now…
After I had dressed, I went in search of my patient. The room was flooded with light and she was sleeping so peacefully. I went to close the curtains, for shouldn’t she be resting in the dark?
“No.” Grace had come in behind me. She was already dressed and wore her apron. “She doesn’t like the dark. I kept the candle burning all night, otherwise she frets.”
I could see that Grace was tired, from the dark rings under her eyes. “It’s early still,” I said. “Why not have a nap? I am quite capable of taking care of her.”
“Early?” said Grace, smiling. “It’s not early, Miss Phoebe. It’s already past 11 o’clock.”
I was surprised it was so late! This explained my energy. I smiled at my ignorance.
She smiled back and took hold of my hand.
“It’s a pleasure to see you smile, Miss Phoebe. I have missed it.”
My love, it felt good to feel a little like myself again and my spirits lifted further when the young lady opened her eyes without crying out.
I went to her side and took her hand in mine.
“Where am I?” she asked. Her voice was stronger today. “You are safe,” I said. “You have nothing to fear from us.
Oscar and Grace have grown tired
of my persistence that you live
My name is Phoebe Paver and this here is Grace Hopkins.”
She frowned and it caused her pain. How did she receive such wounds? One side of her face was still bloated and bruised. So much so that one eye was almost closed and her lips seemed lopsided.
“You have had a bump on your head. Fortunately, my brother is a doctor and says it’s not unusual for such wounds to cause memory loss. With time, you will remember who you are and where you come from. In the meantime, we cannot call you Girl or Child. Is there anything at all from your past that you do remember?”
She frowned and shook her head, which made her wince. “I can’t think of anythin’ at all,” she said with tears in her dark eyes.
“We should call her Bluebell,” said Grace. “That is where we found her and she was wearing a blue dress.”
“That is an excellent idea, Grace. Would you object to us calling you Bluebell?”
“Call me what you like,” she said.
I glanced at Grace and then patted her hand. “I think that Bluebell is a good name. Perhaps it will do for now.” “P’rhaps,” she said.
She collapsed into her pillows. It was quite obvious
she was still not strong, for she closed her eyes, breathed deeply and soon she was asleep.
My love, Bluebell has not taken away my focus from you but she has kept me busy. I eat when she eats. Sleep when she sleeps. Though I think her only a few years younger than Grace and I, I see her as a child. I have given her a bell, so she can get our attention when she wakes. She hardly uses it and seems quite happy to lay abed and stare out the window – when she is not sleeping.
She has brought something to the house that has caught my attention and enthusiasm. Do not worry. I still think of you. I still yearn for your tender kisses upon my bosom. And one day I will wrap my arms around you and accept your kisses with abandon. I miss your touch more than anything!
Today, something happened that filled both me and Grace with deep sadness. I have lit a candle at my desk and do not care if Oscar finds me writing to you, though I should be resting at this hour.
The wounds on Bluebell’s feet are clean and less raw. She was well enough to sit up in bed, so Grace and I arranged the pillows around her and opened the windows as Oscar had instructed.
“We have your Bible,” said Grace.
“Me Bible?” said Bluebell. Grace took the Bible from the drawer and at the same time removed the now-clean and laundered red kerchief from her apron pocket.
“Here,” said Grace.
Bluebell took the Bible and the kerchief. A flicker of recognition passed over her features, then her eyes filled up. Before we could stop her, she shoved the covers from her and swung her legs out of bed.
“Thank you for your kindness but I must be on me way.”
“In good time,” I said. “When you are recovered, we will help you find your family.”
I swung her legs back on the bed. She hugged the Bible to her chest and then she wept, non-stop. Soon she became hysterical and nothing Grace or I could do gave her comfort.
“Perhaps we should take the Bible away,” said Grace.
“No!” Bluebell screamed, and what a scream it was. It could have woken the dead.
I went in search of Oscar, who was outside grooming his horse. It occurred to me how much he was like Father. Tall and strong with very blue eyes that I had not inherited. Our father had passed away years ago but I still remember how he looked. He was a doctor, too, and very kind.
“I have been called to Highacre,” Oscar said before I had a chance to tell him about Bluebell.
“Yes. To check the new baby is well and such. What is it you came to see me about?”
“We gave Bluebell her
Bible and now she will not settle. Can we give her some more laudanum?”
“I could hear her scream from here. There is nothing we can do but comfort her. Hers will be a long road to recovery. In fact, I will be stopping at Bishopston on my way to Highacre.”
“Stopping at the asylum, you mean?”
He stood up from his grooming and watched my reaction.
“Yes,” he said. “The asylum.” “And what if she is from that place?”
“Then she must be returned to it.”
My heart sank.
“I agree she looks no more dangerous than a mouse, Phoebe,” said Oscar, “but we do not know what she is capable of. Can you imagine what pain she would have been in while she walked barefoot? No person in their right mind could suffer such torture.”
I did not want to hear what Oscar said and, in truth, I had forgotten what I came to him for. Oh, my love, my mind is disordered these days. I turned on my heels but Oscar stopped me. “Phoebe, ask Grace to administer two drops of laudanum,” he said. “Only two drops, mind. To help to calm her nerves. No more after that.”
Bluebell refused to take the laudanum. She held her lips tight and fought against us.
“It will make you feel better,” I said.
“I don’t want any of that stuff in me mouth,” she replied.
‘With time, you will remember who you are and where you came from’
“We can’t force her,” said Grace.
She sobbed, with her Bible clutched to her chest. I read to her from my book, until she began to settle. While I read, I prayed with all my heart the poor girl was not a runaway from that awful, awful place.
Bluebell was sleeping when Oscar arrived home that evening. Grace and I were at the table and were struggling to eat our beef and carrots.
The thought of Bluebell being taken away had put a dampener on our spirits.
“I stopped at Bishopston,” said Oscar as he sat down. “A dark-haired woman was reported missing some months ago. They suspect it’s Bluebell. I appreciate you are both upset, but we cannot keep her here.”
“She is not mad,” said Grace. “She got a bump on the head and that’s why she lost her memory. You said so yourself, Oscar Stansbury. She should stay, at least until her wounds have healed.”
“Grace?” Oscar was surprised at her tone. So was I.
“I cannot imagine that poor mite in that horrible place,” continued Grace. “A place like that would turn anyone mad! A doctor is supposed to be compassionate. Where is your compassion, Oscar?”
“Grace!” said Oscar. “This is so unlike you.”
“Unlike me?” she stormed. “You know me better than anyone and I am telling you, I will never forgive you if you let them take her.”
I looked from one to the other. My love, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. There was familiarity between them that I had never witnessed before.
Oscar sat back in his chair. “I do not deserve this.”
“Oh, yes you do,” huffed Grace. “You do!”
She left the room and slammed the back door. I have never, ever seen Grace in such a temper.
Though I was shocked,
I tried to reason with Oscar.
“Grace is right. You are being unkind. We both have feelings for the girl. In my opinion, she should not be moved, at least until she is able to walk.”
He shook his head. “There is nothing I can do about it, Phoebe. They are coming to collect her in the morning. This is the last I want to hear of it.”
I dropped my knife and fork. They clattered on my plate.
“Phoebe, I would be a very poor doctor indeed if
I did not…”
“If you did not what?” I said. “If I did not let her go.” He stood up. “I will speak to Grace and try to explain.”
“You have already caused enough upset. I will speak to Grace.”
I found Grace by the stables, wringing her hands and pacing.
“If they take her,” she said, “and I am sure they will,
I will visit her after church on Sundays and I will make a nuisance of myself. He cannot stop me from doing that!” “And I will join you,” I said. Neither Grace nor I joined Oscar in the parlour after supper that evening.
My love, last night I dreamt of cold water, and of drowning in it. I dreamt of strong hands that pulled me hither and thither. I could not see the faces of those demons but I could feel their cold, rough hands on my naked body and the rank smell of them. When I felt those hands shove something slimy down my throat and I began to choke, I awoke abruptly from my dream and found I was choking on my own spittle. I have written of that dream before, so it is nothing new.
I shoved off the covers, for I was sweating and my hands were shaking. And then I heard voices outside my door. I crept to the door and put my ear upon it.
“Not yet,” said Oscar. I wondered who Oscar was speaking to until I heard Grace’s voice. “If you don’t, then I will,” she said.
“Surely you wouldn’t go against my wishes and advice,” said Oscar.
“I certainly will,” said Grace. “Soon,” Oscar said. “Soon.” “Promise?” said Grace. I couldn’t make out Oscar’s reply. Then I heard the click of Oscar’s bedroom door. But I did not hear Grace’s steady footsteps walk towards her attic room or to Mother’s room at the end of the corridor. All I could hear was silence.
My love, I cannot fathom what was going on. In fact, I am muddled and not myself. I returned to bed and tossed and turned. I was scared to close my eyes, but God works
‘A dark-haired woman was reported missing. They suspect it’s Bluebell’
in mysterious ways and a memory came back to me, which is why I have lit a candle in the middle of the night and am writing to you now.
I remembered the day we first set eyes on each other. How fortunate it was that you and Oscar had become such good friends as students in London. I should never have met you had you not come for a visit. We were happy, were we not?
Mother adored you from the off. “He is a fine, upstanding young man,” I remember her saying.
By then she was not quite herself and had lost weight, but no one thought she was ill.
“Oh, I have already given him my heart, Mother,” I said.
She had smiled at me and had taken my hands to keep me still, for I had been spinning around the parlour.
“I can see that,” she laughed. “You are well suited to each other. If you marry, you have my blessing.”
You had ridden all the way from London the very next week and asked Oscar for my hand.
“Of course you can marry her,” he’d said, “for who else will take her off my hands?”
That night we ate pork pie with turnips and, afterwards, rice pudding. We ladies had a drop of port while you men drank ale and brandy and smoked until you coughed. They were such joyous times. I hear Oscar’s door open and close, so I think it is time for me to sleep. In any case, my mind keeps harking back to my dream. I am trying to remember something that is no longer within my grasp. It makes my head ache. It makes me anxious. I feel unsettled. My hands are shaking and I cannot carry on. I will blow out the candle and go to bed. Sleep well, my love, until tomorrow.
Oscar said they would arrive mid-morning but they did not. They came while we were still at breakfast. Since we were at the back of the cottage, the first we knew they had arrived was when the knock came at the door.
I confess, my love, that I did not want to waste my tears in front of my brother. I was cross with him. So cross that I could barely look at him, and I sensed Grace’s anger from where I sat. I did not miss Oscar’s attempt to lay his hand upon hers to calm her – he did not do so with me. She pulled her hand away as if his touch was fire.
“I will deal with this,” said Oscar as he stood.
“Come with me, Miss Phoebe,” said Grace. “We’ll wait in the parlour until it’s all over.”
“No,” I said. “I want to be there when they take her. Do you think it’s right to shirk our duties to Bluebell, to not say our goodbyes properly? No!”
I followed Oscar to the front door. A well-dressed man stood there, rotund and squat. He wore eyeglasses and I had never seen a meaner face.
“Doctor Thoroughgood,” said Oscar. “Your patient is upstairs. We have kept her in her nightclothes as you suggested, and not told her of your visit.”
Doctor Thoroughgood smiled at me, saying, “You look well, Miss Phoebe.”
I could not remember seeing this man before.
“Have we been introduced before, Sir?”
He did not answer. Two burly women in rough, grey gowns followed. One of them had a facial mole that grew hairs. The other was a redhead. There was a cruelness to their faces. Were these the women who would take away our beautiful Bluebell? I would not allow it.
“No,” I said. “Oscar, these people cannot take her.”
I felt myself near hysteria. Grace placed her arm around my waist and held me close to her side.
“It will be all right, Miss Phoebe.”
I pulled myself away from her grasp. “It is not all right, nor will it ever be.”
“You have formed an attachment to the girl, I see, Miss Phoebe,” said Doctor Thoroughgood. “But you are foolhardy to do so. I will not go into details but none of you are safe with her.”
“That is not true,” I said. “Grace,” said Oscar. “Take Phoebe to the parlour.”
Grace dragged me by the arms as she pushed open the door. I held on to the frame with all my might. The woman with the mole came and unlocked my fingers and both she and Grace manhandled me into the parlour.
“Take your hands off me,” I screamed.
Soon I realised I was no match for them. I forced myself calm, in the hope that they
‘I want to be there when they take her, to say our goodbyes properly’
would think I had got over it. “I am calm now,” I said.
They didn’t believe me and stayed close.
The woman with the mole was silent. Grace’s face had gone red and there were the beginnings of tears in her eyes.
If I could just reach the door before they got to me, I thought. Then my eyes were drawn to the ceiling and I followed the footsteps along to the end of the corridor. Had they reached her yet? There were no cries. Slowly heavy footsteps descended. Then Oscar threw open the door.
“She is not the woman they are looking for,” he said.
“Isn’t that wonderful news, Miss Phoebe?” said Grace. “Bluebell can stay!”
I closed my eyes. A memory unfolded and I could not stop it. CONTINUES NEXT WEEK
© Leonora Francis, 2017