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

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Come On In! - by Leonora Fran­cis

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.

“Again?”

“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

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